Bunnies! Bears! A llama, a hamster, a couple of apes and holy crap I hope I am never face to face with a wolffish!
And in the end, a little girl who just wants a giraffe for her birthday. Enjoy!
Bunnies! Bears! A llama, a hamster, a couple of apes and holy crap I hope I am never face to face with a wolffish!
And in the end, a little girl who just wants a giraffe for her birthday. Enjoy!
I live in Baltimore City. If my city were a character in a middle grade novel, it would be described by reviewers as "a mass of contradictions," "quirky" and proud, "intensely loyal," and the kind of kid whose self-destructive outbursts camouflage a wounded heart. Readers would be fascinated by Baltimore's mercurial nature: he is strict but playful as he distributes lunch money to his younger siblings; goofy and creative hanging out with his friends; but can become ferociously confrontational when he believes himself opposed.
Anger and love, the urge to destroy and the will to build - not mutually exclusive, not in people and not in a city.
By now, everyone has seen that Ugly Volvo post on everything that is wrong with Goodnight, Moon. Many of us were already quite firm in our understanding that Goodnight, Moon is abominable - in my case I find it suspicious that we say goodnight to AIR and to SOUNDS - much as one might if one were being nailed into a COFFIN because of premature burial, which people are not afraid of as they once were but maybe that is just because we're not reading as much Poe as we ought to be.
RIGHT?! Here in Baltimore, where we are generally pretty well up on our Poe, we know that the 'great green room' is a good place to lie in your bed scared shitless. So does Emily Carroll, apparently - this is one of the final spreads from her deliciously creepy graphic novel Through the Woods. I think it's the only use of green in the entire book - there is noooo way that's a coincidence.
In fact, one of the themes of that Ugly Volvo post is the utter hideousness of the great green room - and I mean KELLY green, SHAMROCK green, not apple green like my living room or swampy green like my basement bathroom (I am a big fan of green walls) but screaming pure uninflected green - with a red floor. And it's true, we can do better.
Here I am back at work after a little Holiday holiday. I can see my tan hands on the keyboard and still don't actually believe that they were paddling through salt water a little more than a week ago. SIGH.
Before we get down to this big ol' stack of picture books I've devoured since returning (FROM THE CARIBBEAN HOLY CRAP), may I politely mention a series of posts on Pink Me's red-headed step-sister blog, Your Neighborhood Librarian. Children's literature devotees of legal drinking age may enjoy these posts featuring authors and characters from teen and young adult fiction. There's more swearing over there, but you're a grownup.
Speaking of swearing, let's have a look at the picture books that have caught my eye this chilly first week in January:
But first! the ballots have just been announced for the 2017 Newbery and Caldecott award committees. I am so proud and overjoyed to see the names of talented friends on there - Betsy Fraser! Jamie Watson! and Lovely Laura Lutz! are nominated for the Newbery Committee! Stacy Dillon (mytweendom) is on the Caldecott ballot and Laura Given (liblaura5) is on the 2016 Caldecott Committee!!
If you are a member, vote for these fabulously smart and well-read women! That is all.
SO! I came in to work this morning after a long weekend immersed - IMMERSED - in violence and depravity (and that was just the soccer game!) (no, kidding - I worked on our new Tumblr Something Wicked Comes of Age, developed as an on-the-go Reader Advisory tool to go along with the "Something Wicked This Way Comes of Age" presentation Paula G. and I are giving at the 2014 YA Lit Symposium and could I pimp that event any harder?? I could? Ok well then we are giving away candy and books to people who attend, how's that for pimpin'?! Still time to register!).
The warmness, it is all around. I live in Baltimore, and a large percentage of our Gross Domestic Product this time of year (mid-April til October) is humidity. Humidity and 90-degree temperatures.
It's kind of ridiculous. I have spent an August weekend in New Orleans that was more temperate. I have crossed the Equator and been more comfortable. I have ridden in an open boat on the AMAZON and not chafed so badly. Camped in THE SAHARA. Hiked THE BADLANDS. I experienced nicer weather in THOSE PLACES. Where else have I been that's hot? MADURAI, INDIA. No, Madurai was hotter than this. I actually thought we were going to die in Madurai.
Nothing for it but to go to work, help kids with their summer reading assignments, and read picture books. What have I read this week that knocked my socks off? These books:
I do this about quarterly, don't I - maybe I should make it a regular thing. Oh who am I kidding. One of the benefits of writing your own blog is you don't have to adhere to any schedule. Well, that and you can swear.
Froodle by Antoinette Portis
YES I like books by Antoinette Portis and NO I am not going to change my mind. Just like Crow is not going to fall victim to the silly craze sweeping through the yard. Little Brown Bird is supposed to say "peep." Cardinal is supposed to say "chip." THAT'S JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE. Until that malcontent Little Brown Bird opened his daggone beak and... WELL. I just want to come out and say I'm on Crow's side.
That Little Brown Bird. Damn hippie.
This is what's wrong with me. This is what's very very WROOONNG with me - and that was Bill Murray in Stripes in case you missed the reference ("We're ten and one!") (Not anymore, brother).
I have been neglecting the crap out of Pink Me for MONTHS because I've started reviewing for Booklist Online and those guys send me I swear 5 books a month. And not five 32-page picture books, although sometimes yeah I get picture books. No. I get five NOVELS. Five middle-grade books about burping and zombie pets. Five YA sci-fi barnburners. Shit involving fairies.
And some decent stuff, for sure.
Plus I've been neglecting Pink Me because I am churning through as much YA horror as I can stomach. Funny horror, ghostie horror, horror that turns out to not be terribly scary after all. Lotsa horror. I'm doing this because my colleague Paula and I are giving a talk, called "Something Wicked This Way Comes of Age" (Paula's title and is that good or what?!), at the YA Lit Symposium in Austin next fall.
I didn't need those boots. Nobody needs $600 boots.
Dot, Clem, Ozzie, Ollie, Maya, Nalah, Loula, and Ripple. Henry, Dorothy, Francis, Betsy, Willow, Jemmy Button and Anna Hibiscus. Plus French film icon Jacques Tati and former Vikings defensive end Alan Page.
These are my new best friends. And they are just a very few of the main characters of picture books nominated for Best Picture Book in the Cybils Awards. Go on, take a peek at the nominations list. Wow, right?
It's a diverse bunch of folks - there's a dolphin, a dog, foxes, monsters, princesses, squirrels and more than one bunny. Loula is French, Noah and Na'amah are South Asian in The Enduring Ark, the Lucky Ducklings live in Montauk, the Tiny King is Japanese, and Anna Hibiscus lives in "Africa, amazing Africa." Jemmy Button was real. Mr. Hulot was the fictional alter ego of the real actor Jacques Tati.
Man, I do love talking about books on the radio. Last week, the Marc Steiner Show needed a librarian for a segment about what kids are reading this summer, and I was lucky enough to be in the supply chain for that request.
I had never been to the WEAA studio at Morgan State University, and it was spacious, bright, and airy. Plus, it was extremely wild to conduct a conversation with That Voice. Marc has been on Baltimore radio for ever - he is smart, friendly, and uncompromising, and I've tuned in to his wave a thousand times I'll bet.
Enoch Pratt librarian Jessica Brown and I tag-teamed Marc with some great books we'd brought for the occasion. It was a great dynamic - Jessica and I propped each other up, collaborated, illuminated more than one side of some of the books discussed, and were mutually stumped when Marc brought up a book that sounds like a political parable about Jerusalem's West Bank.
Here's the audio of our talk:
Well, I read a hundred new picture books yesterday. I do that sometimes, just chew through a teetering stack of new ones. There's no time - no time! to write reviews, so here are my snappety-snap judgements and random associations. Aren't you glad I'm not on the Caldecott Committee like our friend Travis? Those guys probably have to get all reasoned and articulate, instead of, like, holding up a book in front of my colleagues and going, "Look! Ha ha!"
Well, the cutest thing happened a couple weeks ago. I was in the studio at WYPR, Maryland's NPR station, preparing to record a segment about comics for kids with Tom Hall of Maryland Morning and Snow Wildsmith, librarian, blogger, and co-author of A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love. Snow's great. She knows EVERYthing about comics, and she sometimes wears tiny hats. AWESOME tiny hats.
Snow lives in North Carolina, so she couldn't come in to the studio, but she called in on the phone. The producer needed to get a level on her voice, and asked her to just sort of read whatever she randomly had on her desk. What did Snow have on her desk? Vampirina Ballerina. What was on my own desk? Vampirina Ballerina. Coincidence? Yes! A spooooky coincidence!
Once, very briefly, I worked in publishing. I learned a lot in that short time, and I learned things that have come in handy in most of my subsequent jobs. (I have also briefly worked in museums, in software, in ice cream, and in men's pants, and the knowledge that I gained in each of those venues has had unexpected applications later in life. For example, I can still estimate a man's inseam at 25 paces.)
In my capacity as an Editorial Assistant, I had occasion to sit in on those production meetings that were really budget meetings, during which line items like color, paper, coatings, die-cuts, and binding options were discussed with a sometimes brutal disregard for the needs of the content. Those meetings would make a grown man weak in the knees.
Liam is a little pig who insists that he is a bunny. His family assures him they love him just the way he is; his sister tells him to get over it. He is still insistent: "Hello, my name is Liam and I'll be your Easter Bunny." The neighbors are skeptical but his parents continue to love and support him.
And I say, "Love it."
I have in the recent past poked (gentle) (I hope) fun at Jon Klassen's illustration style, saying that in the future, people will be able to pull a book illustrated by him off the shelf and say, "Oh yeah... 2011! Remember that, with the slightly spattery browny-gray inks and deadpan expressions? I Want My Hat Back! I loved that!"
Totally. I have worn that rich but drab palette for the past five years. I've wanted a skirt with his blocky animal figures on it ever since Cats' Night Out. His cover for The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place almost made me want to read that book.
But now, reading Extra Yarn, we learn about his color, too. It's good color.
Whew! Glad to be done with the Newbery post! That award is so loaded, so hard to talk about without hurting someone's feelings. On to the Caldecott!
From Ice by Arthur Geisert
Why is it that, while Newbery conversations feel like minefields, Caldecott conversations feel like wildflower-strewn Alpine pastures? Is it because every artist whose work even gets mentioned in the same breath as the C-word is by definition inarguably talented? Is it because you get to look at pretty things while you're looking for examples, rather than getting paper cuts leafing through novels trying to find that passage where the author really nails it?
From Me... Jane by Patrick McDonnell
I think it's because it's a lot easier to put your finger on what you find worthy in a particular book's illustration program than it is to pinpoint what you like about a big piece of prose. You can say, "Marla Frazee is a wizard of the color black," or "The fat contour lines that Kevin Henkes uses make his shapes so accessible to little kids." And I think that unfortunately, Newbery conversations often switch around to what you didn't like about an author's characters or style.
From If You Lived Here by Giles Laroche
But I've spent some time cross-referencing the Cybils picture book finalists (fiction and nonfiction - on which panel I served this year) with the few Mock Caldecott lists that people dream up, along with all the illustrated things I've read this year, and I came up with a list of some books that I think are among the items the 2011 Caldecott Committee spent time talking about on their way to conferring one Medal and up to four Honors.
Don't take my word for it though (really, DON'T) - motor on over to your library and check out a huge batch of picture books so you can play along yourself! I'll be running down some of these books on the radio January 13 at about 9:40 am, on WYPR's Maryland Morning program. 88.1 on your FM dial in Baltimore, and online at www.wypr.org.
There is a secret joy that librarians are allowed at holiday time. Although we are ardent in encouraging people to borrow, not buy, most of us... well, we're kind of into books. We can't help wanting to own them. And though librarians vary in the extent to which they successfully keep themselves out of bookstores - some don't even try - all bets are off when it comes to buying gifts for our family and friends.
I stopped in at WYPR's Maryland Morning to talk to host Tom Hall about this subject. I brought a great huge stack of books and asked Tom to pick out the ones he wanted to know more about. If you miss the broadcast, you can listen to our conversation on the Maryland Morning website by the end of the day. The station has also posted a list of the books I brought to the station, or click "Read more" to see an expanded version (book trailers! whee!).
When I was a kid, we had a big fat book called Golden Treasury of Children's Literature. It was full of excerpts from longer books - a chapter from Mary Poppins, a chapter from The Wizard of Oz. Some poetry, some obscure stuff. A really scary Rapunzel. I ate that book up and then forgot it, although I think it is the reason that I have an unexplained but vehement dislike of excerpts. I felt terribly cheated, not getting the whole story.
I forgot the book, but the images from it nonetheless live strongly in my head. Kind of like a K-Tel record, the book excerpts it contained were not illustrated with the canonical illustrations one associates with these works. They were very good - I think Charley Harper illustrated the Bambi story - but they were different, and they imprinted strongly on my mind. For example, despite multiple readings of an edition of The Hobbit with the Tolkein illustrations, and despite the towering charisma of Ian McKellen, I still envision the Gandalf in that book when I see Gandalf in my head.
I swear to God, I thought the last thing I needed was One More Butterfly Book. And I also thought, when I saw that this book had been nominated for a Cybils Award in the Nonfiction Picture Book category, for which I am a first-round judge, that maybe I had finally outgrown my susceptibility to Sylvia Long's gorgeous watercolors and graceful calligraphy.
After all, I am well aware that A Seed Is Sleepy and An Egg Is Quiet - I have bought those books, I have gifted those books, and I have recommended those books. They make good baby shower gifts, among other things. I mean, as well as being informative and inspiring. I thought there was probably not one more serene natural subject worthy of Ms. Long's well-researched scrutiny and Dianna Hutts Aston's tranquil prose.
But holy crap, I could stare at this thing for hours. Lovely.
So if you have Waiting for Wings and Arabella Miller's Tiny Caterpillar and Laurence Pringle's An Extraordinary Life in your school or classroom library and you thought you were done, well, better make a little room on the shelf. And give your kids sketchbooks and some colored pencils - they're going to want to go outside and draw something.
Something like this owl butterfly, caligo memnon, with a 5-inch wingspan.
Misnomer. False advertising. NOT picture books for parents. This is NOT a review of Go the F**k to Sleep. What I think about that book was expressed quite soundly - and strongly - by Roger Sutton of The Horn Book. Roger Sutton is a modern-day hero.
No. These are picture books that are fully for children. Funny, sweet, colorful, devoid of swear words. BUT. They are books that grown-ups will legitimately enjoy themselves. It is one of the perks of having little kids - you have an excuse to consume picture books. Some picture books are insipid or tedious. But some are sly and sparkling.
If I owned as many plastic bugs, letters, numbers, dice, marbles, dolls, blocks, dollhouse furniture, and Matchbox cars that Valorie Fisher does - and at times it feels like I do - those objects would be broken, tangled, mangled, and covered in dust, not bright and sweet and clean like the hundreds (thousands?) of little treasures in this book.
Not that this is important or will contribute to your enjoyment of Everything I Need to Know Before I'm Five, it's just an extra image to conjure. Valorie Fisher's living room, I bet, isn't carpeted with this toy mulch; nor are her plastic roosters living with their plastic kin in the bottom of a plastic bin that has not been excavated SINCE THESE KIDS WERE THREE I mean come on can't we get rid of SOME of this stuff?!
On the other hand, I will bet her house isn't some hyper-organized scrapbooker's heaven, either. I bet it's adorable. I used to know a couple who had decorated the rooms in their house in themes: there was the Maya Room, with frescoes and faux Pre-Columbian statues; and the Fresnel Room, papered in plastic Fresnel lenses. The fireplace in their kitchen was a mosaic of bottle caps, and the mantel was a parade of hundreds of salt and pepper shakers.
I'm a little distracted. We had an earthquake yesterday, it's possible you heard about it. Nobody was hurt, power and water stayed on, looks like we're going to have to have our chimney rebuilt la la la I'm not thinking about that right now... and as I walked around the house picking up framed photographs and art from the floor where they had fallen, I thought of my friends and their house full of knicknacks. What a mess I bet it is over there. My office is floor-to-ceiling books, and when the house started shaking I remember making a very specific wish that I not be buried under them. If Valorie Fisher keeps her doodad collections in her studio on shelves, she might have been buried under half a ton of particulated kitsch.
That's no way to go.
I am still on a brief break from the teen novels about serial killers and grave robbers and cannibals and cannibalistic grave-robbing serial killers. And Direct Instruction.
I swear, it's true. Along with all the war-torn future Earths and vicious madmen I've been reading about this summer was one novel the villain of which was nominally an unknown sneaky-Pete serial killer but structurally and actually? the villain was the (admittedly rather joyless) teaching model known as Direct Instruction. Specifically, the Slavin variant of DI, developed at Johns Hopkins University right here in the beautiful burg of Baltimore.
I read that and I was like, "Hey!" Slavin's approach, called Success For All, is a wholly scripted 90-minute intensive daily session of phonics instruction, and was designed for use in failing schools in this city. And believe you me, I spent some time in Baltimore City District Court this week, and this town could use a lot more reading instruction.
But it was just kind of weird. You've got a serial killer, perhaps two, running around town murdering cats, clearly working his or her way up to killing a human, and yet a huge amount of authorial energy was expended on describing and excoriating Direct Instruction. I'm not here to defend DI, but it was like having a character attend a Waldorf school and then spending half the book describing how oppressive and creepy it is to spend one's days in a classroom with no corners.
(These are terrible sentences I'm writing. Maybe I could use a little Slavin-style finger-snapping rote learning myself.)
Anyway. That book was called Deviant, and I think I'd like to read more by Adrian McKinty (go read his blog and I think you'll fall in love), but I'm not going to actually review this one - just note its weird little obsession with educational theory and then mentally catalog it as something to recommend to those kids slouching around the teen section who roll their eyes at paranormal horror because they Just. Want. Murderers! I should not forget to also tell those kids to read Seita Parkkola's evil school novel The School of Possibilities. And then Janne Teller's Nothing. Dan Wells's I Am Not A Serial Killer and its sequelae.
Aggh! I can't quit! BUT. I am reviewing a board book here - I need to get my head out of that trunk full of disarticulated body parts and get on with it.
Speaking of Baltimore. This bright, fun little board book counts as a Direct Instruction tool - our friends One through Ten appear on successive pages, printed in big Arabic numerals, along with objects to be counted that demonstrate the meaning of the numerals. None of your exploratory, inquiry-based learning going on here: this is an ordinal-number practicum.
I jest, of course. 123 Baltimore is blissfully free of dogma, but full of love. Every Baltimorean will recognize the colors used on page four, on which four footballs bounce around the page's edges; visitors will smile at page nine, which features Baltimore's unofficial city symbol, the pink flamingo; but it may take a true city nerd (me!) to identify the seven funky robots on page seven as the World's First Robot Family by DeVon Smith on permanent display at the American Visionary Art Museum.
I also believe quite firmly that the six row houses on page six are not, as noted in the key at the end, the "Painted Ladies" of Charles Village, but rather the two-storey bowfront rowhouses on Keswick Rd. My friend and colleague (and fellow city nerd) Mrs. McSweeney fingers the porch rowhouses on Abell Avenue as the illustration source. I bet when I get home Mr. Librarian (the ultimate city nerd!) will be able to cite what exact block of which street they are.
It's a souvenir of our gritty city, a reminder of our kitsch credentials, a fun way to learn to count to ten, and does not contain even one gouged-out eyeball.
Well, I've been on something of a YA kick this summer, as all both of my regular readers could tell. I'm preparing to be a facilitator at Books for the Beast this fall, in the Horror/Suspense category (join us, won't you?), and so there have been a lot of cannibals and nail-biting (do cannibals bite their nails?) around my house lately.
Maybe that's why I responded so warmly to this dumpling of an ABC book that I found on the New Picture Books shelf. It has pie! A girl in ponytails! And an extremely winsome dog of the beagle-y terrier-y variety. WHAT could be more wholesome than that?
The beagle's name, I find out from the book's website, is Georgie. And the little girl in the blue jumper is Grace. A is for apple pie, and B C and D are the verbs Grace uses to bake it, cool it, and dish it out. After that, it's all Georgie, finding a crumb on the floor and then obsessing over that fat pie, plotting and pining in a realistically single-minded puppy way. Alison Murray's text is cool and simple and perky, getting around the tricky letters so smartly that I had to go back and look - what did she do about X?
The art features a subtly unusual palette of navy blue, blood red, burnt orange, and the slightly off pastels that are produced when those colors are watered down. This scheme results in contrasts that are graphically strong - the navy blue jumper against a watery blue background, for example - while maintaining color harmony.
This looks to me like good confident ink and brush drawing on top of chunky, forthright shapes done in some kind of print process - silk screen I guess, given the texture. The ink still looks sticky, which is an effect I love for children's books. After watching dozens of kids visually reverse-engineer the illustrations in dozens of picture books so that they can try to duplicate a style or effect, I am partial to art techniques that reveal process or bear the imprint of the materials used.
More of this Scotswoman's art is on her blog, called everything is pattern.
My Dad Drives a Roller Coaster Car by Crab Hill Press
Zoomy! Dad drives a roller coaster car, Aunt Frizzy drives a spinning teacup, Grandpa drives a log flume - but young Hank is not allowed to drive any of these things! Retro illustrations by Daniel Guidera are vivid and poppy, and even the action is kind of retro - each of the exciting, silly vehicles will take off if you touch them and pull back, just like the classic spring-loaded cars, trucks, jets, nuns, and frogs that we've been annoying the cats with for decades.
My co-reviewer, three-year-old Baby A, delighted in making the vehicles go, but didn't pay much attention to the text. I myself was very amused by the multitude of sound effects and surprises that reward exploratory screen tapping. Tappity tap! Also, Mom and Aunt Frizzy have pink hair - my kind of family!
The Three Pandas by Valerie Mih and See Here Studios
Little Mei Mei goes walking in the forest and smells something yummy. Why, it's the three bowls of bamboo porridge that Mama, Papa, and Baby Panda left on their table while they took a walk! Mmm, that baby panda's porridge is 只是权 (just right)!
Layered photo collage is the medium for the gorgeous but friendly illustrations. Not too flashy, with homey interiors featuring Chinese furnishings and decor, and lovely misty exteriors depicting a sunny clearing in the bamboo forest. Mei Mei is adorable, with a giant toothy smile, and the pandas are just the giant balls of fluffy fur that pandas always are. I like the unobtrusive music, all tinkly piano and clarinet notes, though I confess I might have wished for more Chinese instrumentation.
AND IT'S BILINGUAL. Why does not every single dang iPad app give the user multiple language options? (Note: IT'S EASY.) The Chinese narration is clear and expressive. My picture book app review buddy, four-year-old Baby A, got a big kick out of listening to the app in Chinese and telling me the story, as if she were translating.
If I weren't already fully developed, brain-wise (and probably on the downward slope, a likelihood that is difficult to deny, given how frequently I leave my phone at home and my inability to Tweet with any regularity), I would expect to be about fifteen points smarter by the time I closed this book.
There's a striped bee. On the head of a red bird. In a green-leaved tree. In the bed of a yellow truck. And then our perspective shifts so that the truck appears to be driving across a black and white landscape as the bird flies away. What was that?! Oh. We were looking at the truck across the back of a cow. Hi, cow. The cow is standing in a flat green field next to wavy blue water.
What's next for the bird? What will that big white thing turn out to be? And why would a bee ride on a bird's head?
Craig Frazier (Lots of Dots, the Stanley books) gives us a wordless picture book full of large shapes, bold patterns, clear colors, and a surprising amount of personality. Rather than leave his giant color fields plain and flat, often a subtle gradient will indicate contour or volume.
Wordless books are the most wonderful investments. The best ones allow the reader to conjure endless stories, like the protagonist of Still Life With Woodpecker, who meditates on a Camel pack for several years. Or like Jane Eyre, filling the blank endpapers of books with her own thoughts.
Maybe I am not all that far gone after all. I've been through Bee & Bird three or four times now and I'm still finding new things that tickle me. And my husband and I finished the diagramless New York Times crossword puzzle last Sunday. We should just keep exposing ourselves to patterns and shifting perspectives, and maybe watch Powers of Ten every couple months.
Put Bee & Bird on your short list of things that are mind-blowing and fun at the same time. Bubble wands, kaleidoscopes, wordless books.
You know what would make a great picture book app for the iPad? Bang on the Drum All Day. Yes, the Todd Rundgren song. It speaks of the cathartic power of music, how it can transport us, and testifies to the bliss of creative activity. Plus it is super-hooky and unapologetically stupid.
I don't want to work,
I just want to bang on the drum all day.
I don't want to play,
I just want to bang on the drum all day.
Ever since I was a tiny boy,
I don't want no candy, I don't need no toy.
I took a stick and an old coffee can,
I bang on that drum til I got blisters on my hand!
Right? Any kid can play the drum. You could make an iPad app with drum pads of various tones, let a kid tap the screen to make rhythms and hear the difference between a tom and a snare and a bass drum - heck, they could even learn how to play a backbeat or a paradiddle. It would be so fun!
Sigh. Nobody ever asks me.
But the ever-amusing Rundgren is kind of just the guy to do it, so here's hoping he gets an iPad and befriends a couple of youthful fans/software developers. Til then, I will have to content myself with what's actually out there in picture book iPad app-land. To wit:
This morning, I'll be talking to host Tom Hall on Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast, sometime between 9 and 10AM, on Maryland's NPR station, WYPR 88.1 FM. Later in the day, the audio of our conversation, plus my usual exhaustive booklist, will be up on the program's web site. Listen in!
Tom and I will be talking about movies that are being and have been made based on children's and young adult books - good, bad, and whether or not the book is always better.
While I was researching that conversation, I made some terrible and grotesque discoveries about the movies and young adult literature. Like for instance: OMG YOU GUYS APPARENTLY THERE'S AN APOCALYPSE COMING!! And love triangles! With some reincarnation and a few throwback vampires.
Thankfully, few zombies and no mermaids. YET.
But check it out, there are like a million YA series that have been optioned for movies - some of them, even before print copies have kissed sunlight - and half of 'em Look Like THIS:
There are some picture books that I gravitate to so strongly, it's like they are the Sun and I am a speck of planetary debris.
Hm. "Debris" sounds so drab. Brightly colored planetary debris. Planetary crayon shavings. Or... planetary confetti. I am wearing my calavera cowboy shirt today, and feeling not at all drab.
Plus I am looking at this orangey yellowy and bright white picture book, which is probably what made me think about the Sun, and that book is not making me feel drab either.
I am going to sing a song about Hervé Tullet. Heck, his name is practically a song already.
The kids all say:
Let me have that!
This one's blue!
I made a match!
The teachers all say:
What do you see?
Use your finger!
Can I keep this?
We could play all day,
While our tiny brains develop
In a million different ways.
(Hmmph. This is why my husband is the extemporaneous lyricist in my house, not me. I do a good melody, but he's the guy who, pouring the bubble bath in the tub for our younger son, rhymed "car key" with "Gethsemane" in his extemporaneous Jesus bubble bath song. I can't top that.)
My guest reviewer today - my very first guest reviewer, by the way, but I have a couple more lined up - is my colleague Christina, aka Dances With Chickens.
I give most of the real people in my life blogonyms when I mention them on the interpoops, partly because I love giving people nicknames and I'll use any excuse to do it, and partly because if they get pissed off at me I can say, "Er... whaddaya talking about? When I referred to 'my colleague Token Boy Librarian' I was talking about... uh... the other... boy librarian."
Let's just get this right out of the way: Emily Gravett earned my undying devotion long ago, with Monkey and Me, and she's never let me down since. So - no surprises - I am going to gush about this book. Get ready.
Chameleon, who is drawn using the most vibrant colored pencils on the roughest paper I've ever seen, is sad. All that throaty texture and voluptuous color is for nought - he is nothing but blue on the inside. So, gamely, he tries to make friends.
He turns himself yellow and curvy to try to fit in with his potential new friend Banana. No dice. Turns orangey sunset gold and blub-blub-blubs at his potential new friend Fish. That fish's expression is priceless, as is the green grasshopper's when Chameleon hops after him in pursuit of companionship.
Poor Chameleon. He has all but given up, faded whitely into the page, when a there's a tap on his tail.
Look! Someone who shares his appetite for fun, his bangin' dance moves, AND his fashion sense! The other chameleon, I mean - I'm sure it was just a coincidence that this book arrived the day I wore my new purple suede cape embroidered with multicolored flowers over a green and blue striped sweater.
This is your storytime: you read the book, then we all get to do our best imitations of bananas, snails, socks and rocks. And at the end, we strike our most fabulous pose! Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! And if you live in Baltimore, join us Sunday at The Chameleon Cafe to eat the amazing small plate creations of chef Jeff Smith (the man who taught me how to carve a pig head) in support of The Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville! 4pm to 7pm, $40 prix fixe.
Cloudette. Cloudette is a little bitty soft white cloud. A friendly little cumulus cream puff whose name, as I say, is Cloudette. I could say that all day: isn't it satisfying when you come upon something that is that just-right and self-evident? "Yes," you think. "Of course her name is Cloudette." It's so clever - not show-offy clever, just cute clever. Clever like putting bacon in a chocolate bar. Anyone could have thought of it. But you know what? Tom Lichtenheld thought of it.
And since Tom Lichtenheld thought of it, he got to write a story for Cloudette, too. It's not a very complicated story. It's got a status quo, a note of dissatisfaction, crisis, venue change, and resolution. That's a nice arc, and in Lichtenheld's hands it has balance and excellent pace. It's a story that's built like a brick... rainbow.
When an idea is so simple you can't believe nobody's thought of it before - and to my knowledge, IN the whole history of books, which is a pretty long damn history, nobody has - and when that idea works SO well that everyone who encounters it, from age 3 to, well so far I haven't discovered an upper limit, gasps at its cleverness... well, that's magic.
(Contrary to what the tag line of this video avers. Screw you guys, I know magic when I see it!)
Press Here is a book that's been compared to an iPad app. Simple instructions ("Press here." "Rub the dot on the left." "Clap once.") create the illusion that the reader is rearranging a series of dots, causing them to multiply, grow, change color, etc. But I'll tell you - don't worry about the iPad app comparison. I've shown this book to plenty of people who've never touched an iPad, and they are charmed and blown away, just as I was the first time I saw it, at ALA Midwinter in San Diego.
This is the rare picture book that I feel compelled to carry with me wherever I go. Delightful, simple, and everyone who sees it wants to show it to someone else, to share the magic. Best of all, it invites imitation. If it weren't French, I'd expect Hervé Tullet to win the Caldecott Medal for it. Bravo. And thank you to Chronicle Books for sending me a copy.
Speaking of my grandmother and non-sequiturs, it's Dr. Seuss's birthday.
Before marrying my grandfather, my mother's mother was a librarian in Springfield, Massachusetts, not far from where Theodor Seuss Geisel grew up. Family lore is that she was working at a branch on Mulberry Street when his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was published.
(My other grandmother, by the way, was a page in the public library system I currently inhabit. I wasn't fully aware of all this heritage until I was halfway through library school - and it was the nail that sealed the coffin on any notion that I was some kind of rebel. You can wear all the motorcycle boots you want, but if you are in the same profession as both of your grandmothers, you are an acorn that has not fallen far from the tree, and there is nothing punk rock about acorns.)
I have this friend who really loves film. He's all Day for Night this and Satyajit Ray that, and he thinks I'm the same way, probably because I used to live in New York and I've read some Thomas Pynchon. But it's a lie, what he thinks about me. Just because I can use the word 'Satyricon' in a sentence does not mean I want to go see Synecdoche New York. "I thought Philip Seymour Hoffman was really great in Twister," is how I try to explain things to him, but he never seems to entirely believe me.*
Which brings us to Oliver Jeffers's newest picture book. Yes, it does.
I once yelled at one of my kids so hard I gave myself a cold. No lie. What had he done? Um. He forgot a thing. He forgot a thing something like 65 days in a row, and I admit I kind of lost it. I lectured, I harangued: I got so upset I picked up a kitchen chair and banged it on the floor a few times like Krushchev or Baltimore's former mayor with a shoe. And when I stopped for breath, I sneezed four times and then had to go lie on the couch for three days.
The kid in Sneezenesia has the opposite problem. Poor kid has sneezed so hard he's forgotten his own name! Shopping at the supermarket, he's forgotten what his mom looks like! And then he keeps sneezing and keeps sneezing until all the facts he's ever known - dinosaurs, presidents (none the worse for wear, but Richard Nixon is covered in snot) - pop out of his nose and lie scattered on the floor in the canned foods section.
This book came out last year but somehow I missed it. I'm glad I caught it now. I'd put it together with A Sick Day for Amos McGee and do an unexpectedly fun cold-and-flu-themed storytime. Anybody know a good song about sneezing?
How many times have you been reading a picture book aloud, maybe to your own children, maybe to a classroom full of kids, maybe just to the people waiting on the subway platform or in line at the grocery store (they love that, trust me), only to be interrupted by some goldfish-cracker-eater clamoring for this or that or the other?
"When is the dragon going to eat her?"
"They should not be cooking waffles they should be cooking CANDY."
"You skipped the tizzle-topped Tufted Mazurka!"
Aw, yeah... it's ON up here in the room we call the Homework Room... No fact families or sight word lists now, though, the kids are in school, and I've got Ted Leo on the iTunes, the willow tree out the window, and a stack of picture books I haven't had time to get to lately.
This is how I started all this review nonsense, actually - I would take a stack of like TWENTY picture books, read them through, and write two-sentence impressions of each, just so I could remember which ones I should recommend to my library customers.
So this is a ROOTS post:
Since we've been on a singing, storytiming kick lately, I thought I'd offer this Bizarro World Christmas carol my husband Bob made up once:
Christmas is going, the goose forgot his hat,
Please throw a penny at the old man's cat.
If he hasn't got a cat, then throw it at his head -
If you throw it at his head then he might be dead.
You got that? Have we set the tone, as it were, for this review?
Here is good news: My friend Cara has opened a shop! All the stompin' sweet Coney Island tattoo-inspired, graffitiesque baby and toddler clothes (plus a few toys, accessories and books) that she has been selling online at Urban Baby are now available for fondling in a bricks and mortar space. I stopped in last week and now I need all my (younger) friends to start having babies so that I can buy them Milkshake-inspired raggedy tutus and baby-sized Carhartts-like coveralls.
Anyway, Cara was talking about maybe doing a storytime in the shop, and wondered if I had any book suggestions. And you know? It's something I have always wanted to do - compile a list of picture books that are ALL hip and illustration-y and design-y. Picture books for art school graduates. Picture books for people who listen to college radio.
BUT. While it is not too difficult to quickly I.D. the books that make design consumers go "ooooh!" I want to be sure that Cara's storytimers have books that work out loud. Not too much text, art that reads from 6 to 10 feet away, and the opportunity to bust out funny voices or do some singing. There's a science to this stuff, you know.
So! Let's get down to it, boppers:
Here is a little song for Lemniscaat Books:
I don't know if people here buy your books
With their luscious touch and high-class looks
But please keep making them
Your European illustrators communicate like Turkish waiters
Wordlessly supplying me
With nuts and sweets and strong coffee
Ink, pastel, collage, and then
I turn it over
And start again.
Ok my kids may be only 7 and 9, but after reading this book I want them to get right on having some grandchildren! Barbara Joosse scripts a syncopated, swingy, stop-start love song for a granddaughter and her grandma. They have a tea party, they paint, they listen to a thunderstorm snuggled on the front porch. They know, "the very best way to fall asleep is inside a hug."
HOW long til my boys start dating, settle down, and give me a granddaughter?
Toothy, bold ink lines give the illustrations an almost woodcut quality, while the color palette, done up in watercolors, is jaunty and varied. It's the composition and details that I like best, though - penguins and other birds, many wearing hats, observe the action... the little girl's apartment is littered with some very suave midcentury modern, and Gramma's comfy little house is cheerfully eclectic. Dutch illustrator Jan Jutte also illustrated Barbara's Roawr! (see image below), and I am looking forward to see more from him on this side of the ocean. And of course, I am always happy to see anything from Barbara Joosse. Her sense of rhythm and her insight into what's fun about childhood make her books small daily treasures to share with little kids.
100 things I like about this 100th day book:
Ok not. What, come on, do you really need a hundred? Would you even sit still to read a hundred? Yeah one would think not. One would need to have written a book as appealing and clever and also thoughtful as Bruce Goldstone's new book in order to get a reader to actually sit still to read 100 of virtually anything. Or so one might think...
Ergo. A few things I like about this 100th day book:
Since returning from our vacation (long, excellent, TROPICAL PARADISE did I mention?) (and if you accuse me of gloating, please allow me to mention that my last two vacations were to Lake Erie and DETROIT - we deserved this), I have been feverishly reading picture books, trying to catch up. I consider it a responsibility to try to clap eyes on just about every picture book we get at the library. They're short, you can get through a big stack in half an hour, and the difference between a truly extraordinary picture book and an average everyday picture book is immense.
Click through for my short stack of recent favorites...
Ever since the Christ-like Aslan, he of the foaming blonde mane and the deep wise sorrowful Christ-like insights about forgiveness and sacrifice, pulled a Christ-like resurrection, rising Christ-like from the dead in order to help the Pevensey children... win a war (cue needle-scratch sound effect), I have had a special smirking place in my heart for metaphors that just don't quite go the distance.
If I have just pissed you off beyond imagining by saying something critical about The Chronicles of Narnia, please have a nice weekend with my blessings and enjoy the weather. But if you are in an ornery Friday mood, by all means, click through to read the rest of this post.
We are Room 2K.
We are fine!
Assertive. Clear-eyed. Defiant-like. Almost... anthemic. And, written as it is beneath a drawing of three little kids hanging upside-down, big smiles on their faces and their belly-buttons showing, "fine" begins to assume a whole bunch of meaning: