Something for the girls!
Just kidding, the boys really enjoyed this author too, but Phoebe Gilman’s books are best known for the strong female characters who dance, run, create and swashbuckle through her stories.
One of the things I liked best about her work is that she really started as an artist who wrote her first story as a way to console her daughter when her balloon broke (The Balloon Tree). So the fact that she illustrated the stories herself means that they are very expressive and have such entertaining pictures of the characters and events that it makes it so easy for children to comprehend the events of her books.
Many people are most familiar with the wonderful series of books about Jillian Jiggs. Jillian is a truly creative, fearless girl who leads those around her through imaginative, exciting adventures. Magical games of dress up and make believe are beautifully illustrated in the first of the series Jillian Jiggs, which includes a chantable rhyme to encourage non-readers to join in as you read along.
My absolute favourite though is The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs as it is not just a great crazy adventure, but it even includes directions for making the wonderful pigs using old stockings, a bit of stuffing and other odds and ends. We were fortunate to have an author’s visit in my classroom with the wonderful Phoebe Gilman shortly after that story was published and we spent a few weeks making the pigs in preparation for her visit. She was magnificent! The kids were spellbound by her presentation as she described and even illustrated some of her process for writing and illustrating books, and there was a noticeable improvement in the quality of the books that the children wrote in the following months.
[K: check it out, we made a pig! Way harder than I remembered it being!]
As much as we enjoyed Jillian Jiggs and her many adventures, we also enjoyed Phoebe Gilman’s many other stories. Pirate Pearl and Grandma and the Pirates were great stories, (full of colourful language) for pirate lovers. The Balloon Tree and The Gypsy Princess included not only princesses, but a wizard’s evil spell and a dancing bear (excellent ideas for making stories exciting).
Something From Nothing retells a story from a Jewish folk song and beautifully illustrates the relationship between Joseph and his grandfather as it teaches an important lesson.
I always enjoyed reading Phoebe Gilman’s books to my grade 1, 2 and even grade 3 students. We always found things to discuss and they were books I often had to replace in my class library as they were well loved. If you do check out some of her stories, be sure to visit her web site for information about what inspired the books and a list of “Can you find?” which tells you what to look for in the pictures ( she liked to hide characters and objects from previous stories in her pictures).
Sadly Phoebe Gilman passed away in 2002 so there are no really recent books, but there is a cheerful, imaginative air to her stories that makes them timeless.