Archive for the 'Kids Books' Category
I can say with some confidence that the St. Paul Half Price Books on Ford Parkway, conveniently near Quixotic Coffee, has the best selection of used children’s and young-adult books around and a generous clearance section. I can also say I probably did not need to bring home FOURTEEN new (used) books.
But, but, I didn’t bring home even more, because I wanted even more, so that makes it better, right?
It is a problem because:
1. we don’t have unlimited funds (but this stack only cost $43!)
2. We ran out of bookshelf space a long time ago and now have teetering stacks…
3. …of unread books, because there’s no way I have time to read all I buy.
And yet, there is always a reason, which seems compelling at the time. I am a master of because reasoning. Herewith, the book stack and the becauses that are in addition to Drake being almost 9 and thus totally ready for many of these, right?
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis: for one of my book groups, only $1
Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle: from Shelf Discovery, old-school MMPB
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl: because nearly 9yo Drake just finished his dad’s old copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, unearthed from Grammy’s basement.
Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman: Trina Schart Hyman cover (my favorite children’s illustrator)
Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren: Ditto above
The Girl with Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts: From Shelf Discovery, plus got a lotta love in the SD Readalong
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: Ditto above
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I love Oxford editions
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder: one of my favorites as a girl; want to revisit after reading Shelf Discovery
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth Jr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey: from Shelf Discovery
My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews: From Shelf Discovery, a teen edition(?!)
Pride and Prejudice: I am slowly collecting all the Austen novels in these lovely Penguin editions.
Here Comes Charlie Moon: by English author Shirley Hughes, whom I fell in love with after discovering her Alfie picture books
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder: See The Egypt Game above.
The teacher has been reading Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie aloud to 8yo Drake’s class. When she was close to the end one night, the next morning before school Drake “needed” to know the ending, so he asked to see our copy. I told him it was on the shelf with the other books by Kate.
“We have a whole section for her?” he asked wonderingly.
I told him to look in the D’s. Given that the first author he saw was Dickens, it took him rather longer than I expected to find Kate’s books.
When he pulled it off the shelf, he asked about the stuff inside: an article on Kate in the local paper after it came out, and some other Kate-related things. I showed him the inscription, which had an illustration of a dog.
Downstairs, Drake would not leave the house for the bus until he’d finished the chapter. I asked, I sternly asked, I raised my voice, then I realized I should just be quiet and let him finish his chapter.
As we walk/jogged to the bus, he said, “Our family is really lucky. Other families don’t have books signed by Kate.”
I responded, “Yes, we are a lucky family.”
Ostensibly, I bought Sarah Varon’s graphic novel Bake Sale for my kids, who enjoyed her Robot Dreams and Chicken and Cat books. Really, though, it was at least as much for me. Sarah Varon art and story with recipes? I’m in.
Cupcake runs a bakery, is in a band, but dreams of going abroad and meeting his culinary heroine, Turkish Delight. In his quest to meet his idol, his priorities get a bit mixed up (no pun intended, sorry) but his friend Eggplant helps set things straight. Like all of Varon’s work, it’s charming without being twee and emphasizes friendship and loyalty in ways that speak to this adult as well as my kids.
(I’m beginning to suspect the English are going to try and take the US back. Spell check insists on English spellings lately, not American ones. It wanted me to correct to “emphasises” in the above paragraph. What’s next? Aluminium instead of aluminum? GUESS WHICH ONE WAS UNDERLINED? You heard it here, first. The British are coming…)
Russell Hoban died earlier this month. I read his books about Frances the badger and the out-of-print Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas when I was a child. I read them now to my own children. I watched the Emmet Otter muppet adaptation with my family earlier this month. This lesser-known holiday special was written up both at NPR and the Onion AV Club this year.. I read Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child to my sons earlier this year. And I finally read his cult classic, Riddley Walker, which has now become one of the first books I think about when some book/movie/comic trots out an apocalyptic trope. Hoban’s books have been and are so important to me. I’m sad for his passing, but will continue to celebrate his weird, lovely and wide-spanning works. Via.
A few times, I’ve picked a longer, less-illustrated book to read to 5yo Guppy and 7yo Drake at bedtime. Last year, I found a new copy of The Mouse and His Child written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Caldecott artist David Small in a re-issued edition. I remembered reading it as a girl, and that I liked it, but nothing beyond that.
A wind-up mouse and child are displayed in a toy store at Christmastime.
As the tramp watched, the saleslady opened a box and took out two toy mice, a large one and a small one, who stood upright with outstretched arms and joined hands. They wore blue velveteen trousers and patent leather shoes, and they had glass-bead eyes, white thread whiskers, and black rubber tails. When the saleslady wound the key in the mouse father’s back he danced in a circle, swinging his little son up off the counter and down again while the children laughed and reached out to touch them. Around and around they danced gravely, and more and more slowly as the spring unwound, until the mouse father came to a stop holding the child high in his upraised arms. (2, 3)
They are purchased and taken out into the world, where many strange, wondrous, sad and happy things befall them. This is an often dark book that wanders sometimes in parts that weren’t of interested to me or the boys; visits with a muskrat and a snapping turtle went on too long for us. Yet the story moves along as the two windups are pursued by the villain Manny Rat. Often when I’d stop reading, 5yo Guppy would be able to say what had happened, or what he thought was going to happen. I figured if he was keeping up, I’d keep going. Both he and Drake said they wanted to hear the story, and in spite of its darkness and sad parts, both boys always said they wanted me to continue reading. They were much more engaged on pages with the lovely black and white illustrations.
I was reminded very much of Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Those who find that book too dark and scary, either for themselves or children, would likely not enjoy this book. Conversely, if you liked the complex, mythical tale of Edward, then I think you’ll appreciate this. This is an especially good tale of a devoted father and created families.
English fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones passed away March 26 after a long bout of cancer. I feel fortunate to have read her work, which I owe to my dear friend Thalia. I met English Thalia in Philadelphia in the mid-90s, and in the back and forth of new friends who are also book geeks, she lent me The Lives of Christopher Chant, and told me about how she’d read that instead of studying for one of her critical final exams. I devoured that, then quickly sought out Jones’ other work, which was easy to do. DWJ was a prolific writer over several decades, and so popular in England that most of her books were not only still in print, but also available in American editions. Neil Gaiman has said her books were an influence, and J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series has many similarities to it.
Her intelligent and beautifully written fantasies are of seminal importance for their bridging of the gap between “traditional” children’s fantasy, as written by CS Lewis or E Nesbit, and the more politically and socially aware children’s literature of the modern period,
Reading her obituary in the Guardian, I am amazed at authors whose lives she crossed: Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien. And her work now stands deservedly alongside theirs on bookshelves in homes, libraries and bookstores across the world.
If you haven’t yet read Diana Wynne Jones, you are missing wonderful things. I particularly recommend Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant (in that order), Howl’s Moving Castle, and Deep Secret.
My younger son, 5yo Guppy, has recently become enamored of baby loons. He saw a picture of a baby taking a ride on its mama’s back in a book and hasn’t stopped talking about them since. So when I saw Loon Baby, written by Molly Beth Griffin and illustrated by Anne Hunter, on display at Magers & Quinn, I showed it to him and asked if he’d like me to get it for him. I had trouble prying it away from him so the bookseller could ring it up. We read it at bedtime, and he took it to bed with him. You can see the result, above.
Loon Baby is a sweet story about a mother loon and her baby out on the lake. The mother goes for food, but the baby is too small to dive, so can’t go with her. When she is gone a long time, he worries, then becomes lost. Only when he begins to cry is his mother able to find him and they return home to their warm nest on the lake.
I’m a Minnesotan now, so the setting of a north woods lake fills me with longing for a trip to the shore. The text doesn’t rhyme, but has distinct rhythms that make it a pleasure to read aloud.
Loon Baby waited
and paddled in circles.
The breeze ruffled his fluff.
The art, a combination of watercolors and ink, is beautifully colored and crosshatched for texture. The baby loon is nothing short of adorable. Or, as Guppy says, “CUUUUUTE!”
It does, however, bear more than passing similarities to other missing-mother-bird stories, especially Come Along, Daisy and Owl Babies, two long-time favorites in our family. The family bookshelf has more than enough room for ones as charmingly told and illustrated as Loon Baby. But could we have a move away from the absent-mother-and-worried/lost-child motif, please?
Move over, Curious George. There’s a new monkey in town. His name is Chico Bon Bon, he is a Monkey with a Tool Belt, and he is AWESOME.
Here is Chico Bon Bon. He is a monkey. Chico is a monkey with a tool belt. He is quite handy with tools. He builds and fixes all sorts of things.
The list and illustration of Chico’s belt is impressively detailed and hilarious. There are rhymes and riffs, with real and imaginary tools. We get to know Chico a little, then something happens:
One day, Chico noticed a banana split on a tiny table across the road from his house.
He went over to investigate.
What transpires is a simply written and cleverly drawn adventure story. Chico is a smart protagonist; kids and parents alike will cheer for him. In the sequel, Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem, Chico is bothered by mysterious sounds in his house, and frustrated:
But Chico couldn’t use his tool to FIX the noisy problem, because he couldn’t FIND the noisy problem.
The reveal is priceless. My 3 and 6yo boys and I burst out laughing. Monroe’s simple text, funny stories, and distinctive line drawings in bright color have made these new family favorites.
6yo Drake picked up Meno: Wet Friend! by Tony and Angela Deterlizzi from our public library. It stood out on the shelf; it’s small, bright and visually striking. As it notes on the cover, it’s “presented in vibrant Meno-Color!” What was inside, though, was initially disarming, and eventually charming. We quickly borrowed book one, Big Fun! Short, simple sentences sound like Japanese translated to English:
It is sunshine time in the house of Meno.
The art shows the influence of Japanese manga and has a 50’s retro, Astro Boy style. Meno is a cartoony kid with big eyes and a bigger head; he wears a school uniform and beanie, and is an elf from outer space. His best friend is Yamagoo, a floating, bespectacled sea creature. In Book One: Big Fun! Meno searches for Yamagoo, finds him, talks about breakfast:
We enjoy moo juice and dough with hole.
then announces it is time for big fun. I won’t spoil the joke, but Meno’s idea of fun was very funny to my 3 and 6yo boys.
In Wet Friend! Yamagoo wants a sea-faring companion, and several are offered, including one that’s clearly a shout-out joke to parents, as is the fractured English.
My 3 and 6yo boys laughed a great deal at the pictures, the silly language, and the jokes. These books are so simple they don’t even have a story, but they nonetheless got picked again and again at bedtime by my boys. We found them bizarre, but entertaining. Public reaction varies widely in the customer reviews at amazon.com, though the editorial reviews are full of praise. Many criticize their lack of story, poor English grammar and toddler humor. Others, as we did, find them weird but funny.
You can check out the artwork and style at PlanetMeno.com. Tony DiTerlizzi is the author and illustrator of the Spiderwick Chronicles, but this is for a much younger audience, and was inspired by the couples 2yo daughter.
At The Believer, Chris Batchelder writes:
the vivid surprises of child-rearing seem so similar to the vivid surprises of good literature.
(Link from The Morning News.)
and offers examples. Recently, I was reading The Very Busy Spider to 3yo Guppy, for what may have been the gazillionth time. As happened to Batchelder, though, my kid surprised me when I least expected I could be surprised.
In the book, a spider spins a web and a series of farm animals ask if she wants to do something else with them, e.g. Want to roll in the mud, said the pig? After I read one of those questions, Guppy said, “But spiders don’t do that.” It took me a moment to put together that not only was the spider ignoring the questions as she spun her web, but Guppy had just crystallized that what they were asking her to do weren’t things a spider could or would do, until the very end when the rooster asks if she wants to catch a pesky fly. I’d read this book hundreds of times, and Guppy’s statement revealed a whole new facet of the book to me.
This year, with both boys off from school and G. Grod taking off most of the week after Christmas, and since we only set up our tree on Christmas Eve, I decided to embrace the entire 12 days of Christmas as the celebration.
I already wrote about the first day.
On the second day of Christmas, we ventured out in the snow to our grocery coop for necessary basics like yogurt and heavy cream. The streets were still bad from the Christmas storm, so we walked and took the sled, 3yo Guppy hitching a ride for most of a mile downhill. G shouldered the food on the way back up the hill, and both boys wanted to ride in the sled. I lasted about 2 blocks, then, sucking wind with thundering heart, told them to GET OUT! and WALK ALREADY! (The walk home is particularly steep, and challenging in the best of weathers.) I was in need of a nap when we got home.
After that, I had to convince the boys (what?) to watch Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. But the penguin, I insisted! Burgermeister Meisterburger! “Put one foot in front of the other…” Grudgingly, they allowed me to play my DVD, and not so grudgingly, they enjoyed it.
For bed, we read more of our Christmas library: Cranberry Christmas by Wende and Harry Devlin, The Mole Family’s Christmas by Russell Hoban, and The Night Before Christmas ill. by Jessie Willcox Smith (one of three different copies we have.) G and I very much enjoyed Bridget Jones’ Diary on dvd (which opens and closes at the holidays!) later that night.
On the third day of Christmas I went to yoga class while G. made biscuits and sausage gravy, then we met friends at the park for sledding. G and I geeked out and watched Part 1 of the David Tennant Dr. Who finale. Disappointing, but we were glad not to see any Daleks.
On the fourth day of Christmas the boys played with snap circuits and G. and I watched Death at a Funeral that night. It tried to be funny, but was instead mostly unpleasant. Alan Tudyk on hallucinogens saved it from being a total loss, I thought.
On the fifth day of Christmas we met at a friend’s house for a huge gathering of families. Great company, good coffee and snacks, but twenty two kids make rather a lot of noise. I finally got back to writing holiday cards. The boys watched Schoolhouse Rock, a gift from my aunt. That night, G and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time. I’d seen the Marlo Thomas remake several times as a child, (Orson Welles as Mr. Potter, Trapper John as her husband, Chloris Leachman as the angel and Christopher Guest as her brother!) yet somehow never the original. It’s good, but long and repetitively tragic before its happy ending. I prefer American Madness (which has some of the same banking/money details) or It Happened One Night as Capra films, and The Shop around the Corner as a Jimmy Stewart holiday film.
And on the sixth day of Christmas, I made oatmeal from Damn Good Food, a gift from my aunt. Then we read Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas by Russell Hoban, after which we took a family walk as the snow fell, fiercely and briefly, yet again.
More Christmas doings to come, I hope.
G. Grod and I accompanied 6yo Drake and 3yo Guppy downstairs, where they stared, wide-eyed and silent, at the tree in the living room that had not been there the day before. (Shh. G put it up Christmas Eve while I wrapped presents and helped.)
In past years, G and my parents have sent so many stocking stuffers that we haven’t needed to help. This year was a scaled-back celebration for lots of v. good reasons, so I was on stocking duty for the first time. Friends helped with lots of suggestions, and in the end I put in: a chocolate, a peppermint, a small box of Altoids, a pack of Glee gum, a candy cane, a temporary tattoo (free from a store sometime last summer), mechanical toys they got at a birthday party and forgot about, a roll of quarters (for video games and gumball machines), a tiny satsuma mandarin orange, a finger puppet and a pack of Annie’s bunny fruit snacks. The boys decided on their own that Santa had filled the stockings.
The boys’ Auntie Sydney managed to score a Zhou Zhou pets Giant Hamster City Playset, which was the hit of the morning, though Lego Secret Agents and Snap Circuits also got a lot of attention. We watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, then I made snow Totoros
which the boys had no interest in while G shoveled the heavy, wet snow. Good for building, bad for shoveling. Since the roads were bad we didn’t go out for Chinese, but instead made pepperoni pan pizza. G discovered that vodka makes the cooking process a lot easier. We had pumpkin whoopie pies for dessert, then watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
At bed, the boys and I read several of our favorite Christmas books, the new Christmas Magic, beautifully illustrated by Jon Muth (Zen Shorts and Zen Ties), Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, Olivia Helps with Christmas, Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present, and James Marshall’s The Night Before Christmas. Then we sang all the carols we know from Tomie DePaola’s Book of Christmas Carols, which we borrowed from the library for the fourth year in a row.
Then G and I snuggled down on the couch to watch The Shop Around the Corner, which charms me anew every time I watch it. Is it perfect? I think it might be.
I consumed a lot of books and food over Thanksgiving; Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants was the beginning of my book binge. It’s a sweet fable set in Norway of a crippled boy named Odd, who helps out a few Norse gods in distress. It’s a short tale, told briskly. Odd is a good foil for the strong-willed gods, and an easy hero to cheer for.
There was a boy called Odd, and there was nothing strange or unusual about that, not in that time or place. ‘Odd meant the tip of a blade, and it was a lucky name.
He was odd, though. At least the other villagers thought so. But if there was one thing that he wasn’t, it was lucky.
While $14.99 seems a steep pricetag for this slim volume, it is beautifully bound in blue cloth, and contains lovely pencil illustrations by Brett Helquist. Overall, this runs a big lighter than much of Gaiman’s work, and would be a great readaloud for children who can manage to listen when there aren’t pictures on every page, and for young readers to read on their own. Gaiman wrote it for World Book Day in the UK, an event that seeks to inspire children to read.
And for Sandman fans, I think the cover illo is an homage to one of Shawn McManus’ from “A Game of You” of Barbie riding atop Martin Tenbones. But I can’t find an online image to back that up.
Picking picture books for kids can be hit or miss–the art’s good, but the story’s not, or vice versa. The text is too simple, or too long for my 3- and 5yo boys. I like it; they don’t. Or worse, they demand it and I groan. Inwardly, usually. But we’ve had some good successes recently, which makes happy readers, and listeners of us all.
Harry Hungry by Steven Salerno is about a baby whose appetite grows, literally, out of control. Salerno’s retro illustrations, and the fanciful images of baby Harry eating ever-larger items, are delightful visuals to accompany a pleasantly simple text:
Harry headed outside. He ate the flower bed. He ate the garden hose. He munched the mailbox!
Salerno’s bio says he’s a graduate of Parsons School of Design. His design background is clear in this cool, funny, attractive book.
David Lucas’ Robot and the Bluebird is more lovely than cool. A broken robot and a homeless bluebird become friends, and give each other things the other needs. It’s a timeless story, made fresh with Lucas’ sweet but not saccharine story and pictures.
Leslie Patricelli is a longtime favorite in our house. I’ve read her board books, like Quiet Loud, countless times, yet didn’t tire of them. Her new picture book, Higher! Higher!, is very like the board books. A girl goes to the park with her dad and asks him to push her on the swing. She goes higher and higher, and the illustrations show this fantasy taken to its nth degree. Loyal readers will recognize other Patricelli characters, like the baby and the dog. The book has only a handful of words beyond those of the title, but there’s much to see, and charm, in the acrylic-painted pages.
Emily Gravett’s art, in The Odd Egg, is a fetching combination of pencil and watercolor.
All the birds had laid an egg.
All except for Duck.
Duck’s lack of egg isn’t hard for a grownup reader to figure out; Duck’s a he, not a she. So he finds an egg–a big, beautiful speckled one.
The other birds’ eggs hatch one by one in sequentially wider pages. Duck’s, though, does not. Until…
I won’t give away the ending. It’s a clever one, and funny. Duck’s not the one with the last laugh; it’s us, the readers.
All the books above received multiple readings this week. I wonder if part of their appeal, both to the boys and to me, is that they’re by author/illustrators. In music I tend to favor singer/songwriters, and I suspect the same bias in many of the books we like.
Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest by John Lechner, published by Candlewick Press, is another gem of a graphic novel-ish book for kids. I discovered it in the increasingly well-stocked shelves in the kids section at my comic store.
Sticky is an iconoclast in the burr community. He doesn’t like to prickle, he prefers music and problem-solving, to the annoyance of his nemesis, Scurvy Burr. Scurvy tries to get Sticky kicked out of the village and wacky adventures ensue. Danger! Romance! Music! Heroics! Plus really cute art and laugh-out-loud moments. The art, humor and style reminded me pleasantly of the Doreen Cronin and Harry Bliss “Diary of” picture books: Worm, Spider and Fly. This was a joy to read, and was requested repeatedly by my sons 5yo Drake and 3yo Guppy.
Otto’s Orange Day is another outstanding selection from Toon Books, a new line of graphic novel-ish books for kids. The line has solid artistic cred. It’s part of Little Lit, a division of RAW Junior, founded by Art Spiegelman, the creator of Maus.
Otto’s Orange Day, with three chapters and forty pages, is about a kitten who learns the hard way to be careful what to wish for after his favorite aunt sends him a dusty lamp. The particulars, and their depictions, are funny and silly, even as there’s a hint of deeper, darker things that older kids might pick up on. And Otto bears more than a passing resemblance, both in looks and behavior, to another beloved comic character, Calvin.
The book is available in both hard and soft cover. Both editions have thick paper, sturdy bindings, and attractive covers. My sons, 5yo Drake and 3yo Guppy, both loved this book and asked for it repeatedly, as they have with other Toon Books like Luke on the Loose and Stinky, which I wrote about previously. As a comic-book loving mom, I’m thrilled at the expanded selection of comics for kids, like the Toon Books.
From Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan, about Umberto Eco’s home library:
Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight read-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.*
My friend Jack, who blogs at Knowledge Volt, sent me the link, from Matthew Cornell, in response to my guilt over book-buying binges. In keeping with the antilibrary, my trips last week to Half Price Books and Barnes and Noble in St. Louis Park:
Laura by Vera Caspary
For the kids:
Starting School by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Three Scooby Doo easy readers
The Firefighters Busy Day by Richard Scarry
I put the books on top of our built-in buffet, near the ceiling. My 5yo son Drake was so eager to get his hands on them that I barely got that photo taken before he started climbing, and dismantled the display:
Here’s 3yo Guppy, who can’t yet read, asleep on Sammy the Seal. Perhaps any book they can’t yet read themselves is part of the boys’ antilibrary.
Spoon, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Scott Magoon, is a good example of an age-old story made fresh again with new details and engaging art. Little spoon has always been a happy utensil, until he feels like friends fork and knife get to have all the fun.
And Fork, Fork is so lucky! She gets to go practically EVERYWHERE. I bet she never goes stir-crazy like I do.
His friends respond, though, with what spoon can do that they can’t. The art expands on the text and makes it even funnier, and the ending is utterly charming.
I’m sure we’ve read several books with a similar theme, but the one that comes to mind is Lucky Little Duck, which I could hardly stand to read to my kids. The art was kitschy, and the story saccharine and unsubtle. That was a dud; Spoon is a winner.