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Charlotte Jane Battles BedtimeCharlotte Jane Battles Bedtime by Myra Wolfe. Illustrated by Maria Monescillo.

Charlotte Jane is the daughter of two pirates, who have built a beautiful ship-shaped house in the suburbs. They use endearments like “doubloon” and “pomegranate”, managing to seem both devoted parents and still-fierce pirates. Charlotte Jane grows up wanting the very best of life, and at one point decides that “Bedtime [is] not juicy.” She stays up later and later, until one night, she manages to stay awake until sunrise. Victory turns out to be less sweet than she’d expected as she says, “Arr. My oomph’s weighed anchor!” Then follows a hunt, aided by her parents, for Charlotte Jane’s missing oomph. The illustrations are charmingly bright and stripy watercolor and ink drawings. It’s a bedtime book with a fun pirate twist that’s great for older toddlers and preschoolers. My own toddler did not, alas, decide to learn a lesson from the book, but she did enjoy reading it multiple times.
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Laundry DayLaundry Day by Maurie J. Manning.
Laundry Day falls somewhere between a graphic novel and a picture book, with a comic book-style layout of cells in a picture book size and target age. Our hero is a little shoeshine boy in a big city, probably around the 1910s. He’s looking fruitlessly for customers when a bright red cloth drops down on him from the tall buildings above. One level up, he sees a Chinese laundress, so he climbs up to ask if it’s hers. It isn’t, but she offers him a moon cake and sends him to a neighbor whom she thinks might be the owner. The little boy’s journey goes on, as he climbs up balconies and across laundry lines, meeting and helping neighbors in small ways. In one case, he takes a penny to an Italian organ grinder from a Ukrainian mother with a crying baby, to see if some music will calm the baby. They are Chinese, Italian, Polish, Jamaican, Ukrainian, and Jewish, as revealed by their hanging laundry and tiny bits of their native languages sprinkled in (pronunciations and definitions given in a glossary at the end). Not until he reaches the roof of the building does he meet the owner. Once he is down on the ground again, the neighborhood is filled with friends instead of strangers and his shoeshine business is booming. One of my youth librarians points out that this is a rare book for preschool/early elementary that takes place during the “Olden Days” in a city rather than on the frontier. This is joyous celebration of the New World and of community.

Cross-posted to and .
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I just counted. Right now, I have seven library books at home waiting to be read, six reviews waiting to be written, and six books on hold. I hope they won’t all come in at once, though the pile at home says that they’ve been coming in faster than I can read them. Swamped in books I’m excited about is a good kind of swamped, right?

The MicroscopeThe Microscope by Maxine Kumin. Illustrated by Arnold Lobel. I read this book to my son’s class in April, for Poetry Month. I like a funny poem for kids, especially, and this one is funny enough that I memorized for a high school poetry assignment, too. That time, I found it in a Cricket magazine, and though I have about half a bookcase devoted to my lifetime collection of Crickets, I couldn’t find the poem when I went looking for it a couple years ago. This year, I tried Google again, with better results. Now I have the perspective for the name Maxine Kumin to sound familiar. Right – former poet laureate and Pulitzer prize winner for poetry. Not only was the poem published as a picture book in 1984, but my library had it on the shelf, shelved with the biographies. It’s a tiny little thing, maybe 5 by 6 inches, so Teacher A. was kind enough to set up the document projector for me so the class could see the pictures. I’m not sure if this is irony or appropriate for the topic. In any case, we had fun.

The poem itself is a bouncy little thing, gleefully relating the contrast between Anton Leeuwenhoek, Our Hero, absorbed in making his microscopes and the slightly gruesome things he sees in them, and the townsfolk, who would just like him to keep his dry goods store open. The complete text is up on the Web, but here are the closing verses:

Impossible! Most Dutchmen said.
This Anton’s crazy in the head!
We ought to ship him off to Spain!
He says he’s seen a housefly’s brain!
He says the water that we drink
Is full of bugs! He’s mad, we think!
They called him dumkop, which means dope.
That’s how we got the microscope.

The closing notes that Leeuwenhoek didn’t invent the microscope, but built over 200 of them, refining the design and sharing his findings with many other scientists. Lobel’s drawings, while still distinctively his own work, call to mind seventeenth century-style copper engravings and illustrate the poem brilliantly. Read it for the poetry, the science history, or just the humor.
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The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee BoyThe Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy by David Soman and Jacky Davis. When Ladybug Girl first came out a few years ago, I loved it, but the premise of a preschooler left out by her older siblings needing to come up with her own superhero way to play didn’t quite mesh with our family. My son, then an only child, had never been left out of the older kids games and couldn’t quite relate. He and I both loved the next book in the series, Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, where Lulu and her friend Sam take multiple tries to come up with a way to play together and end up having a fabulous playground adventure as the titular superheroes. We actually bought this one, and I brought it up for years whenever the boy had his frequent similar difficulties playing with his friends. There have been other books in this series, but this one has been the first since Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy that once again grabbed the whole family with that perfect balance of real-life dilemmas and fabulous but true-to-life imaginary adventures. In this book, Sam – probably aged 4 or 5 - is playing Bumblebee Boy at home, when his little brother, probably around 2, keeps wanting to join the game. What to do? “Bumblebee Boy flies alone” – but Owen is really determined about wanting to join in. And Bumblebee Boy, busy with pirates, saber-toothed lions, bank robbers and aliens, might find that he needs an assistant. The illustrations alternate between showing the real and imaginary worlds, and the endpapers look like they could be photocopied and cut out for action paper dolls of Bumblebee Boy, Owen and their enemies. Once again Soman and Davis have made a hit for everyone in my family.

Cross-posted to and .
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Thanks to my colleague S. for pointing out this one! Also, I'm trying a bigger picture size to see if Pinterest will see it. Let me know if it makes things too slow to load for you.

The Astonishing Secret of Awesome ManThe Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon. Illustrated by Jake Parker. Awesome Man himself takes through a day in the life of… Awesome Man. He describes his costumes, his powers (the “Awesome Power Grip,” aka hugging), and his sidekick dog, Moscowitz. We see Awesome Man beating villains like Radioactive Jell-o from Outer Space and Dr. Von Evil. And then, alas, Awesome Man is beaten by his arch nemesis. He must flee to his secret fortress, a small patch of suburbia in an undersea bubble. After some deep reflection huddled on his bed, Awesome Man realizes that the problem is that he’s out of positrons. He needs to eat to regain his strength! But once on the job again, will he ever stop long enough to reveal his secret identity to the reader? The ending is undeniably sweet. The bright, smooth pictures have occasional retro-feeling dot fills, giving a hint of old-school comics. There are just enough details to let you discover new details in subsequent readings. This is ideal for superhero-obsessed preschoolers and early elementary kids, with just the right blend of action and innocence.
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I found this one using a keyword search looking for books similar to Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude. My mother laughed so hard she almost couldn’t finish reading it to my son, who then took it in to school for his class. It got a 100% thumbs-up rating from them – not even a single thumbs sideways.

An Undone Fairy TaleAn Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler. Illustrated by Whitney Martin. Once upon a time, a beautiful princess was trapped in a tower. Her wicked stepfather, the king, locked her away so that she could bake her famous pies only for him. “Not even her mother could help her.” Naturally, princes and knights came to rescue her, but they all failed the three impossible tasks her stepfather set for them. Up until this point, straightforward fairy tale, told in a fancy typeface. And then, things start to go wrong. The brave, famous Sir Wilbur arrives to meet the king – and finds that he is wearing a doughnut instead of a crown. This, we are informed in plain sans-serif typeface, is because we, the readers, are reading too quickly, and the artist didn’t have time to fill in a proper crown. The artist is right there, in fact, hanging from some scaffolding trying to paint the wall behind the king. Now we are begged not to turn the page – the artist hasn’t gotten his delivery of horses or armor yet. But of course we do, and in the subsequent pages, poor Sir Wilbur is forced to fight a dragon which turns out to be a pretzel, riding on a fish and wearing a pink tutu. Things get more and more out of hand, with the drawings looking less and less polished, until the princess takes matters into her own hands, for a very silly happily-ever-after ending.

Cross-posted to and .

Extra Yarn

Jan. 21st, 2012 04:10 pm
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Fair warning: I have not yet read this book to either of my children. No, my good friend and colleague S. pointed it out to me on the shelf waiting for the head children's librarian’s attention. It has not yet been stickered and is not yet available to the public in my library. Since that librarian isn’t in today, I snuck it off the shelf to read and put it back before she noticed its absence.

Extra YarnExtra Yarn by Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. “On a cold afternoon in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.” She starts to knit. She knits a bright sweater for herself and for her dog. People start finding her brightness distracting, so she knits sweaters for them, too. When she’s knit sweaters for every person and animal in town, she starts knitting cozies for the buildings. The illustrations show the change in the town as it gradually fills with color and warmth. All the while, the box stays full of its beautiful yarn, which seems to be magic both in never running out of yarn and in allowing Annabelle to knit with amazing speed (that last isn’t commented on in the book, but really… she knits a cathedral cozy.) Then, an evil Archduke comes from across the sea to take the box for himself. Annabelle says no. The Archduke is powerful and used to getting his way. What will happen to the box?

The story is told in simple, direct language, with little enough text to the page that my two-year-old would likely be able to sit for it. But there’s enough meat to the feeling of it that it holds up for older readers, too. The art fits and expands on the text perfectly, showing a kind of 1960s minimalism. It starts on white pages with buildings and figures in shades of brown and grey. The constantly falling snow shows brown in the sky and white against the brown buildings. They look to me like watercolor with especially crisp edges, as if they were first painted, then cut out, then had details like the snow added. Aside from a tiny bit of pink on the noses and cheeks of the people, the yarn is the only color throughout, with bulky variegated watercolor stitches covering first Annabelle and then of course nearly everything in the town. I’m fascinated by the technique. It looks like Klassen (who also illustrates The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Placefirst painted sheets of mixed colors with watercolor, then – maybe digitally – overlaid that with the knit stitch pattern. Those pieces are then, by my guess, cut out to make the required. This is a book about the joy and peace that hand-knitted love can bring, and it’s a forceful peace. Annabelle may not do anything but knit, but that knitting transforms her community and is powerful enough to withstand the evil plots of the outwardly more powerful Archduke. May it always be so.
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Another delightful recommendation from my good friend Dr. M., who loved it so much that she read it to me over the phone, despite much of the charm of the book being in the illustrations.

book coverOnce Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude written and illustrated Kevin O’Malley. Illustrated by Carol Heyer. Illustrated by Scott Goto. Two children, a girl and a boy, are assigned to give a school report on their favorite fairy tale. Only as they couldn’t agree on a favorite fairy tale, they decide instead to write their own. The girl starts, telling a romantic tale of a sweet and beautiful princess whose beloved unicorn ponies are tragically being kidnapped by a giant. Then the boy interrupts, having a cool motorcycle dude come and battle the giant every night while the princess spins golden thread for him in payment. Then the girl interrupts again, incensed at her princess’s new role. Princess Tenderheart now goes to the gym to pump iron and becomes Princess Warrior, so she can rescue her ponies herself. From here, the interruptions from one side and the other become more and more frequent, until the children find a story and characters that they can both enjoy. The story is funny to start with, and the illustration really make it. O’Malley draws the two children in a fairly realistic cartoon style with pen and ink. Heyer illustrates the girl’s story in oil paintings that look like a mash-up of Beautiful Fairy Tale book and Barbie-level cheesy girl appeal. Goto illustrates the boy’s story in bright, vigorous pastels where the motorcycle dude and his motorcycle vye for space with the hideous giant and exploding volcanoes. This book was a hit with everyone who saw it, including adults, my son and his K-1 class, and my two-year-old.

Cross-posted to and .
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My favorite Hanukkah book for years has been Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. I’ll happily pull it out and read it to whoever wants to listen every year. As I noted in my review, though, it’s really too wordy for very young children.

This year, I also fell in love (not surprisingly) with Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda. Those who know the name Robert Sabuda, though, will know that this is an elaborate pop-up book. The text is simple and moving, and would probably be fine for little ones, except for the fragility of the art work. Last week, though, I was challenged to find a Hanukkah book that would appeal to two-year-olds, and so ignored the three other books I have notes for reviews on to hunt some down. Here are a few I found:

book cover Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah. Illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov. The lyrics to the classic Hanukkah song are paired here with appealingly bright acrylic paintings featuring a modern family – grandparents, parents, two children, and a dog. The tune is written out on the first page, so those unfamiliar with (or rusty on) the song can still learn it. It’s bright, bouncy and short while covering the basics of Hanukkah – perfect for young children.

book coverHooray for Hanukkah by Fran Manushkin. Illustrated by Carolyn Croll.
Here, a menorah tells about growing brighter and brighter on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, and what its family does to celebrate each night. While still fairly brief, this one has a sentence or two on each page, and so has room to get a little more into the holiday. The pictures show a large and happy early twentieth-century family, done in what looks to my untrained eye like watercolor with colored pencil.

book coverHanukkah, Oh Hanukkah by Susan L. Roth. It’s the same classic Hanukkah song, and the music is still included. This smaller format book is illustrated with paper and fabric collage featuring a family of mice. This version has a sweet and clearly handmade look.

book cover Hanukkah: A Counting Book by Emily Sper. This is a counting book - from one to eight, obviously - with the names of the numbers written out in English, Hebrew masculine, Hebrew feminine, and Yiddish. All of the non-English words have American phonetic pronunciation written out as well as the words being written in Hebrew letters. After the shames candle is introduced, the counting proceeds with an appropriate number of Hanukkah-related objects, from one menorah to four dreidels, six heroes, and eight nights, on one page. The facing page is all black, with the numbers in the different language and cutouts of that number of candles, so that they show up brightly against the blackness . The combination of all these elements makes for a sleek, attractive book.

Do you have any favorite Hanukkah books?

Cross-posted to and .
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book coverPocketful of Posies by Salley Mavor. I recently reviewed Salley Mavor’s book Felt Wee Folk, and discovered this book in the process. This is her latest effort, a collection of nursery rhymes illustrated with her signature felt and found object dioramas with the little dolls, here looking more involved yet than in her how-to book. It is stunning. I hauled this book around everywhere with me for three weeks, showing it off to people whenever I could pry it away from my toddler, and everyone I showed it to was sucked into exploring the details. There’s the look of exasperation on the Old Woman in the Shoe’s face, embroidered rain drops, little silver jingle bells growing on plants in Mistress Mary’s garden. There are branches used for roofs, shells and acorn caps, buttons and beads mixed in. I read that she spent a month on each page, and it’s easy to believe. Some rhymes have a whole page devoted to them, while others are grouped thematically, with illustrations flowing from one rhyme to the next. For example, one spread shows a street full of village shops and includes rhymes relating to them. The rhymes seemed to me a good mix of familiar and new, including things like Simple Simon and Polly Put the Kettle on, but also I Eat my Peas with Honey. The language is slightly modified from what I grew up with, but, unlike many modern nursery rhyme collections, the rhymes are not updated to fit modern values. (Though I won’t whip my children, I think I’d rather edit the text on the fly myself if I think they’ll be bothered by it than have it edited out for me.) This is now my favorite nursery rhyme collection, and I’m planning on adding it to our home collection this year.

Cross-posted to and .
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So far, my series on The Twelve Dancing Princesses has focused on novel-length retellings. I love novel retellings, but I also love picture-book versions of fairy tales. Picture books have a few important differences from novel-length retellings. There is the opportunity for lots of beautiful artwork, for one. A novel has to flesh out the characters to work while fairy tales in their short and historical form are meant to have fairly blank characters onto whom listeners can more easily project themselves or their neighbors. A picture book can choose whether to leave the characters blank or draw them more fully. Finally, an issue that I noticed especially with this particular story: A novel has to address just why it is that twelve royal girls of adult age are dancing their kingdom into poverty. Are they dance-mad or under some sort of spell? The shorter versions go by so quickly that it’s enough to solve the mystery of where the princesses go without needing to know why. Those interested can read the original Grimm’s version from Project Gutenberg.

Ray book coverThe Twelve Dancing Princesses retold and illustrated by Jane Ray. Jane Ray is one of my absolutely favorite illustrators. I have yet to see a book of hers that I didn’t love the illustrations for, and this is no exception. Her two-dimensional folk art style is filled with rich colors, arching branches, and bright spots of gold. Based on the variety of hair and skin colors and body shapes, her princesses had a variety of mothers, though she doesn’t get into that. All the princesses are drawn as beautiful, including the two with glasses and the one with a double chin and non-traditional-princess figure. Where most books just don’t show the hero when he’s in the invisibility cloak, Ray’s is there, cleverly shown in shadowy folds that are a puzzle to find. The retelling is fairly straightforward, leaving characterization to the illustrations. It leaves out the bloody bits of the original, and visually explains the youngest, who guesses that they are being followed, not being the one to marry the old soldier by her looking too young to be married. The only addition to the original story is, at the very end, having the new queen hire a royal cobbler and increasing the opportunities for dance throughout the kingdom (yay, dancing!) This is a perfect version for those who like their art beautiful and their retellings traditional.

Corvino book coverThe Twelve Dancing Princesses retold by John Cech. Illustrated by Lucy Corvino. Cech’s retelling adds some nice characterization and a more animated tone to the storytelling. Here, rather than being beheaded, earlier princes are eventually found in the mystical kingdom, from which they eventually escape to marry the other princesses. As in Jane Ray’s version, if any reason for the dancing is to be found, it is that the princesses love dancing, and so the eldest princess makes continued dancing a condition of her marrying the soldier. Lucy Corvino’s illustrations are beautiful, lively swirls of color, very different from either of the other two picture book versions here. While I like the style in general, the historical purist in me could not get over her combining fifteenth-century hairstyles with nineteenth-century dresses. I know it’s fantasy, and it shouldn’t matter… but somehow it does. It is still really beautiful.

Sanderson book coverThe Twelve Dancing Princesses Retold and illustrated by Ruth Sanderson. This version is the one that I bought for myself with my own money when I was in high school. It’s still in print, and, while not the first version in the list of picture book adaptations on Amazon, is the first one with a creator name that suggests itself in the search box – not at all bad for a retelling over 20 years old. Sanderson, like Ray, both retells and illustrates the story. The pictures are the lush, detailed oils that you expect of a quality fairy-tale retelling. It’s clearly set in the 15th century – a note even says that she research 15th century dance to try to get the dance pictures right, though not all the poses look right to me. I can tell by the hairstyles that this was done in the late 1980s, alas, though I am sure that this would not even be noticed by a child reading this, or even necessarily by a person less familiar than with the Middle Ages than my fellow medieval buffs and I. Her princesses are a little older and her hero is just a youth looking for a job rather than a retired solider. That makes the youngest and the hero the right age to be interested in each other. She names them Lina and Michael and lets them develop a romance over the course of the story. The princes who tried previously are given a potion to freeze their hearts and leave nothing but the love of dancing. She makes a few other twists to the story, like the princesses giving Michael an official invitation to the secret ball to try to trap him. A beautiful version, with the storytelling updated to slightly more modern ideas of relationships. In the end, I think, the princesses let Michael share their secret because of the relationship they’ve developed with him rather than just being busted.

Cross-posted to and .
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book coverIvy Loves to Give by Freya Blackwood. I brought this one home from the library just on the strength of the sweet cover illustration. It’s turned out to be a favorite at our house. Ivy, who appears to be about two, loves to give, even though her presents don’t always work. Illustrations show Ivy giving her gift – a slipper to a slug, glasses to the dog – with the actual owner of the previous page’s gift looking in puzzlement for their missing belonging. Will Ivy realize her mistakes? Will there be a present for Ivy, too? The words are economical, just four sentences for the whole story, but the pictures really carry the book. They are expressive pencil and watercolor drawings, with a perfect balance of detail and lots of white space. I’ll give a shout-out to Blackwood for a rare picture book portrayal of a nursing baby. We get a glimpse of everyone in Ivy’s family, including parents, big sister, baby brother, grandma, and multiple animals, and though there is no dialog, the affection is clear. Everything fits together just so in this book. My own toddler loves to hear it over and over again, and it’s beautiful enough for me to enjoy that, too.

Cross-posted to and .
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I brought this home for my six-year-old – ninjas are big in his set right now. But the two-year-old loves it, so I get the incredible joy of her toddling over to me with the book saying, “Ninzha! Ninzha!”

book coverNinja Cowboy Bear Presents: the Way of the Ninja by David Bruins. Pictures by Hilary Leung. The ninja, the cowboy, and the bear are all friends. Usually they have a great time together, but “One day, the ninja’s ways came between him and his friends. This is what happened.” There is a moral, of course – the ninja wants to play with his friends, but only his way. When they don’t want to play his extremely active, often injury-inducing way, he goes off to play by himself. You can guess the message, of course, but the telling is delightful. The language is the perfect combination of concise yet formal, giving the simple story an epic feel. The art is brightly rounded and looks digitally created, each character with a distinctive style. When the text describes the characters talking, they’ll be shown with thought or speech bubbles filled with descriptive pictures rather than text. The ninja’s has kanji alongside the beautiful Japanese-style pictures in his thought bubbles. (Transliteration and translation are both supplied on the copyright page, for those who don’t read kanji.) In this book, the ninja’s detailed half-page picture descriptions of what he’d like to do with his friends contrast vividly with his friends’ tiny black and white ideas. Small bluebirds around the edges of the page give occasional one-picture commentary on the action. In the end – hooray! – the ninja finds a way to work the action and adventure he craves into the activities his friends want to do. The only caveat that I have to give for this book is that it is not for bedtime reading. I was alone with the kiddos the evening I brought this home from the library, and kept hearing loud thunks from downstairs while I was trying to put the toddler to sleep. It transpired that my son had been inspired by the book to try great ninja leaps across the living room. Otherwise, this book is perfection.

Read more about the triumvirate of Ninja, Cowboy and Bear in these books:

The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear
Ninja Cowboy Bear Presents: The Call of the Cowboy
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Thanks to my colleague S~ for bringing me this sweet book.

book coverCinnamon Baby by Nicola Winstanley. Illustrated by Janice Nadeau Miriam is a baker. She sings and bakes every morning in her bakery, all different kinds of delicious bread, always finishing with her favorite cinnamon bread. One day, Sebastian rides by on his bicycle. Lured in by the smell and Miriam’s sweet voice, he buys bread from her every day for a year. Then, they marry and have a baby. Though it’s not noted in the text, Sebastian is dark-skinned and Miriam pale; their baby comes out the color of cinnamon. After a few blissful days, though, the baby starts crying. Nothing either Miriam or Sebastian can do soothes it. Finally, Miriam wakes the exhausted Sebastian early in the morning to bring the baby with her to the bakery. When the sweet smell of cinnamon and the sound of its mother’s voice fill the air, the baby is finally soothed.

The story is sweet and simple on its own, but has many touches that add to its charm. I loved that the interracial marriage wasn’t a big enough deal to mention in the text. I loved that Sebastian – again, just in the pictures – cycled around playing his violin. Bonus points, too, for both parents making music. Taking a full year to fall in love and decide to get married is a welcome antidote to the one kiss insta-romance of fairy tales. The thin and swirly watercolor lines of this help make this a book to be savored.

Originally posted at .
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book coverSt. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges. Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. I am writing up this old favorite because, after several attempts at finding the perfect book, this is the one that Lightening Bolt settled on for doing his big Book Project on at school. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators of all time, and this book is a fine example of her work. These are glorious full-page pictures (watercolor and ink if I am not mistaken), with borders and marginalia around the facing page of text. It’s a long picture book for older readers (LB was disappointed not to be able to read it to his class) and the text is beautifully written. Every time that LB asks for it at bedtime on an already late night, I look for a way to abridge the text to make it a more manageable length. Every time I end up just reading the whole thing, because the words are just right, with strong metaphors and alliterations adding to the medieval feel of the book. And for kids too old for little-kid picture books and not quite ready for all chapter books, this is a book detailed and exciting enough to capture.

Crossposted to and .

Snow Party

Dec. 21st, 2010 05:21 pm
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book coverSnow Party by Harriet Ziefert. Illustrated by Mark Jones For those people who are looking (even if only sometimes) for a celebratory winter book that is not a Christmas or even a Hanukkah book to share with children, I humbly offer a title. In this book, a large group of snow people – made out of snow people – are coming together to celebrate the first day of winter. It is a great and glorious party, filled with color despite every page being filled with snow. My only beef with it is that this amazing party (secret to those who haven’t read the book) happens only in years when the first snow fall coincides with the winter solstice. That’s putting off the party for too many years in a row, I think, so I read it as when there’s snow on the first day of winter. That's tonight in my neck of the woods. I hope it's a good one. Happy solstice.

You may also be interested in Lucia and the Light or The Return of the Light or the new, beautiful and brief Counting on Snow by Maxwell Newhouse.

Crossposted to Dreamwidth and Livejournal.
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book coverEveryone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like by Jay Williams. Illustrated by Mercer Mayer. Here is an old-but-good one, fortuantely still available from Amazon as well as at my library. Young orphan Han is a cheerful street sweeper who tends to the gate of the city of Wu, between China and the land of the Wild Horsemen. One day, a messenger brings word that attack by the Wild Horsemen is imminent. The Mandarin calls together his advisors - the Captain of the Army, the Leader of the Merchants, the Chief of the Workmen, and the Wisest of Wise Men – to discuss what to do. They decide to pray to the Great Cloud Dragon to save them. Shortly thereafter, Han meets an ragged and fat old man at the city gate, who says he is the dragon and asks to be taken to the Mandarin. Naturally, the Mandarin and his advisors refuse to believe the man – they all know what a dragon looks like. Only Han is polite and hospitable to the old man, and his courtesy of course saves the day. This is a beautiful, slightly twisted fairy tale from Williams, whose “The Practical Princess” I remember vividly reading in Cricket as a child. This is both absorbing on the surface and provides plenty for more conversation. The beautiful pictures are recognizably the prolific and versatile Mercer Mayer’s fairy tale style, but also clearly Asian in palette and layout. Lightning Bolt loved it so much that we read it regularly for six weeks before I brought it back to the library.


Aug. 4th, 2010 02:44 pm
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book coverWink: The Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed by J.C. Phillips. Wink has always wanted to be a ninja, but when he finally is admitted to ninja school, he keeps getting into trouble. His kicking and jumping skills are fine, but he has difficulty with the silent and stealthy part. Every day, he returns home dejected and listens to advice from his grandmother over their evening tea. Finally, he finds a career where he fits in perfectly. The bright illustrations appear to be either cut from patterned paper or computer graphics and suit the story perfectly. I have met many young children enamored of martial arts, and never yet met one who really mastered the silent and stealthy aspect, making this book perfect for young would-be ninjas.
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Lightening Bolt asked for books to help with being sad about his uncle. Here are two that I picked off the helpful bibliography one of our fabulous children’s librarians put together, and which LB asked to be read more than once. I was looking specifically for books that weren’t about a grandparent, as that’s a quite different situation than what we had. Also, my favorite book which a friend recommended to me.

book coverAnd What Comes After a Thousand? by Annette Bley This book opens by setting up young Lisa’s friendship with the elderly Otto. They have special ways of counting together, deep conversations, a victory dance to do if Lisa manages to hit the copper buffalo in the garden with her slingshot. Then, Otto gets sick and dies. Lisa is confused by the strangers at his funeral who don’t understand the victory dance and who all talk quietly, which Otto hated. Where has Otto gone? She finds the answer in their discussion on numbers – where do they live and how high do they go? This is translated from German, which I mention because the art looked German to me the first time I picked it up. It is a gentle and moving approach to a thorny subject.

book coverAlways and Forever by Alan Durant. Illustrated by Debi Gliori A family of woodland animals lives happily together, until Fox gets sick and dies. Then for a long time, no one in the family can laugh or enjoy life anymore. It takes help from a friend and considerable effort on their part to go on with life and find happy ways to remember Fox. Here, the gentle animal pictures help to remove the story enough to make the raw and real pain bearable. The story feels honest both about the pain and the possibility of recovery.

book coverThe Other Side of Sadness by George A. Bonanno So it turns out that both Freud and Kuebler-Ross were wrong about grief. People don’t need to sever their emotional connection to the deceased as Freud thought, nor do they need to express and work through grief in defined stages as Kuebler-Ross thought. Really studying bereavement is quite recent - within the past 20 years – and Bonanno shares what he’s learned in a career focused on it. He talks about the evolutionary uses for sadness (making you slow down enough to figure out how your life is going to worked without your loved one); when grief counseling hurts more than it helps (if you were already recovering on your own); the ranges of normal recovery, experiences with talking to or feeling the presence of the deceased after death (common for some, but nearly always kept secret in our science-loving society); how to tell and what to do if grieving is going to far (if you’re still not able to function after six months). He talks about the experience of grieving in other cultures, particularly those which are more community than individual focused. This means that the society pays more attention to whether people follow the proscribed rituals than to what they are feeling – which turns out, as often as it’s been studied, to make recovery much easier for people. I especially liked the story of the African tribe which traditionally tells lascivious tales about the deceased at the funeral, saying that applying the morals of the living to the dead is extremely inappropriate. Most of all, he says that bereavement is part of the natural order of things. Humans are made to be resilient and recover. I found this very helpful, and recommend it highly to anyone dealing with grief or helping the bereaved.
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book coverI Need My Monster by Amanda Noll. Illustrated by Howard McWilliam Young Ethan is shocked at bedtime to discover that his personal under-the-bed monster, Gabe, has gone on vacation for a week. Since he can’t possibly get to sleep without a monster, he sends for a substitute – but can any one else can live up to his exacting monster standards? It’s a fun and unusual premise, and the pictures match perfectly. They are (according to the note) pencil on paper filled in with digital acrylic paint. It’s a vivid style reminiscent of Pixar, with lots of inventive monsters and Ethan’s big-eyed reactions. This is perfect both for kids enamored of monsters, as mine is, and could help those afraid of monsters to put a more pleasant spin on them.


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October 2012

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