Just press play.
No, I mean it. You want to know what an iPad does, and why? Just hit the play button on that trailer for the new children's science app Bobo Explores Light up there.
What an iPad does, and why:
Just press play.
No, I mean it. You want to know what an iPad does, and why? Just hit the play button on that trailer for the new children's science app Bobo Explores Light up there.
What an iPad does, and why:
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.
I love my friends, and when I think of the friends I have, I realize what a fortunate person I am.
First: A few years ago, I got to chatting with a brilliant, funny author at the annual KidLitCon - Laurel Snyder. It turned out that in addition to sharing certain opinions, vices, and an inappropriate sense of humor, we share weird geographic coincidences: she grew up a couple blocks from where I live now, and in high school she moved to the neighborhood where I grew up. Her friends were the younger siblings of my friends. When she lived in freakin' Iowa, her downstairs neighbor was a woman I've been friends with since birth. We might actually be the same person.
So I can't review her book.
Next: Also a few years ago, we got a new librarian at work. Yes I know that's a weird construction, but that's how we say it. We got a new librarian. She had the same name as me! Then we found out that we both have a kid the same age, a kid who loved to read and went to a Baltimore City charter school; and we also discovered that we both read a lot of teen fiction, and have almost the same taste! In books, accessories, food, you name it. We might actually be the same person. On Pink Me, I call her Eerily Similar Paula, and she's helped me out before.
Today, she and her Eerily Similar Kid, Thespian Girl, have contributed a mother-daughter review of Laurel's new book, Bigger than a Bread Box.
ESP: How did you get your hands on an advance copy of Bigger Than a Bread Box, Thespian Girl?
Okay, so me and Daddy were walking around at the ALA conference, and the lady at Random House said “Oh honey, I have a few books that you might like!” and I picked one up and started reading the back of it. Meanwhile, Daddy poked me in the ribcage and said “You have to get this book. Look at the dedication. It’s for Baltimore.” I said okay and I took it even though I didn’t really like the cover. I thought it might be a murder mystery or something about wizards.
ESP: What made you read it anyway?
Well, it was on my shelf and you told me I needed to read the next day and not watch any “stupid TV shows”. I read the first page and I was like “huh.” Then I read the next page, and the next page and the next page….”
ESP: I remember you read a part out loud to me. You said “this author really is from Baltimore. I can tell because of the detail when she describes Rebecca’s row house.”
There weren’t doors or walls between the downstairs rooms of our row house. The flooring just changed colors every ten feet or so. You knew you were out of the kitchen/dining room when the fake brick linoleum stopped and the pale blue carpet started. Then you were out of the living room and into the front room when the blue carpet changed to brown. That was like a lot of row houses were in Baltimore, like tunnels.
ESP: Kind of like our house?
ESP: So that made you keep reading? What’s it really about?
Yes. And the book got better and better as it went on. I read it mostly in one day while you were at work. It’s about a twelve year-old girl named Rebecca. She lives in Baltimore with her mom and dad and her toddler brother Lew. Her mom and dad have been arguing a lot, and then her mom decides it’s time to “take a break.” She drives Rebecca and Lew all the way to Atlanta, Georgia to stay with their grandmother. She doesn’t bother to tell Rebecca that they’ll be staying for a long time and that she’ll have to go to school there too. During the first night her and her mom get into an argument. Rebecca misses her dad. She gets mad and runs upstairs to the attic, where she discovers a collection of bread boxes. She only knows that’s what they are because they say “bread” on them. While she’s poking around up there, she says she wishes she had a book. She starts opening the bread boxes. They’re all empty except for the last one, which, coincidentally, has an Agatha Christie book in it. She brings the box down to her room.
ESP: Does she know right away that it’s magic?
No. She figures it out that night when she’s feeling homesick. She’s crying about all the things she misses about Baltimore. She says “I wish there were gulls” into her pillow, and then she hears a skreeeee noise coming from the breadbox. There are two seagulls inside!
ESP: So what does she wish for next? Is it a unicorn?
No, and I don’t want to ruin the story. She can only get things that are real. And that fit inside the bread box.
ESP: So it’s a book about a magic bread box? Is that how you would describe it?
Not just about a magic bread box. It’s about school drama, family, and how unfair it is when adults make decisions for you that you don’t like.
ESP: How did the book make you feel when you were reading it?
I was excited and on edge! I couldn’t guess what was going to happen at all. She (Laurel Snyder) did a great job with the entire story. There wasn’t too much of anything or too little of anything. It was a perfect book. The ending is a good set up for a sequel, hint-hint!
Paula is a good friend and I want to thank her and Thespian Girl thoroughly for this thoughtful take on a terrific book. My only regret is that when either of them starts writing books herself, I won't be able to review them. Maybe I'll get Laurel to do it!
Here's some more help, from 12-year-old kid named Lily, who made this beautiful book trailer for Bigger than a Bread Box:
I swear, tween girls should be running this country. They are so smart!
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 love it when an author slaps a reference to another book into his or her own, especially in kids' or YA books. It's a sly way of suggesting to the reader, "If you are enjoying my book, here's what I like - you should try it!" Rebecca Stead not only drew inspiration from A Wrinkle in Time when she wrote When You Reach Me, but she wove the older book firmly into the narrative. I don't know anybody who finished that book and didn't at least consider re-reading Madeleine L'Engle's classic. If there's bookshelf in a picture book, I always squint to see what titles the illustrator has drawn.
Charlie Higson wrote a bookworm character into The Dead, and that kid's finest moment was when he defended himself from a mindless cannibal attacker using his copy of The Gormenghast Trilogy as a weapon. That's a great little glimpse into Charlie Higson's head.
The book that Tom Angleberger slides into Darth Paper Strikes Back is Robot Dreams, Sara Varon's nearly wordless graphic novel about a dog and a robot who are pals. That book is full of emotion without being mushy. It says a great deal about loyalty and love without embarrassing the reader.
Hm. Hmm, I say.
I made it to page 12 of Dead End in Norvelt before I was giggling so loudly that my family made me stop and read aloud to them. You may not get that far.
Jack Gantos writes two kinds of books: good books and great books. (Also Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, which might be either, but which is so spectacularly weird that it's hard to tell.) Dead End in Norvelt is one of the great ones, for sure. It concerns an eleven-year-old boy named Jack Gantos who lives in a New Deal planned community in Western PA in 1962. He is a kid who likes "history or real-life adventure books, mostly," a mostly-good boy with frequent nosebleeds, an active imagination, and a knack for getting blamed for stuff that is not entirely his fault.
The dour child dressed like a vaudeville tap dancer does not belong in the muddy woods.
In her tiara and satin flapper dress, she frowns at you accusingly before a scabby-looking canvas backdrop. Just about the only consolation for this displeased moppet is that her shiny Mary Janes do not actually have to touch the scattered dead leaves and packed dirt beneath her feet.
She is, of course, merely a figure in an amateurishly faked photograph.
Or maybe she is Olive, a girl who can levitate.
Jon Scieszka has five brothers. Jon Scieszka is a funny writer. Ergo, Jon Scieszka's stories about growing up with his five brothers = funny. Oh, I laughed out loud, all right. I read bits aloud to the librarians in the workroom who wanted to know just what was so damn funny, and they laughed out loud. But we're moms. Moms of boys. We have to think boys are funny, or else go googoo and end up carted away in a van.
I first reviewed this book two years ago. I read it to myself while our house was undergoing extensive renovation. It was kind of a distracted review, touching on Peruvian hats, Luke Wilson and my great-cousin Margaret's nose.
But such a funny book. I really needed the laughs during those dark days - my kitchen was open to the outside world for about a week, making it less kitchen-y and more like, let's say, a shed.
We have revisited Knucklehead this summer, now that it is available on audio, read by Mr. Scieszka himself. I checked it out of the library specifically for the benefit of my husband and his multitude of siblings, many of whom were going to be in from out of town and spending copious hours in our minivan last week.
The first book in the Guys Read Library, Guys Read: Funny Business, is one of my favorite shortcuts when I'm at work in the children's section. When I see Mom hauling her cranky middle grade boy over to the shelves, I will grab a copy of Funny Business, crack it open to the Christopher Paul Curtis story or to Jack Gantos's The Bloody Souvenir, and start to read. When I get to the part about the blood poisoning, that's when our young man usually stops farting around and looks at me.
I hand him the book, and say, "When you come back - if you come back - come find me and I'll give you something else disgusting to read." Mom looks at me and can't decide whether she's repulsed or grateful.
Oh, the pleasures of an old-fashioned Something Is Not Right in the Town of Stepford/Sandford/Antonio Bay/Milburn/Celebration novel. It's a premise that allows an author to explore themes of conformity and artifice while creating a claustrophobic, paranoid atmosphere in which the protagonist becomes increasingly convinced that the familiar, friendly fixtures of his or her youth might be harboring Terrible Secrets.
Not a bad metaphor for a teen novel, wouldn't you say? And perfect reading for a hot summer night.
Exclusive private school full of duplicitous bitches carrying designer bags!
Hot guys - gorgeous girls!
And you know, that's really all I need to do to booktalk this book to teen girls. Teen girls? Sure. Also tween girls, grownup girls, and a select few guys I know. We kind of love all those novels with fancy clothes and scheming.
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'd have had this book reviewed earlier, but there was a manners emergency.
One of Zhou's teachers came into the library with her almost-three-year-old son, who has got to be one of the cutest little guys in the whole world. She was looking for ABC books, truck books, and dinosaur books (I love three-year-old boys!) - and also a manners book that wasn't too heavy-handed.
I kind of pooh-poohed her - at almost three, there's plenty of time to teach him about elbows on the table. At almost three, they're so cute that we still forgive them if they forget to say "excuse me" when they burp. We're programmed that way. But Kayisha had this story to tell:
When I was a kid, I didn't really like children's literature. Sure, I read Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and Judy Blume (especially the spicy ones!), but mostly I would sneak books off my parents' shelves. I read Saki and All Quiet on the Western Front. I read Tropic of Cancer at about age ten. (BO-RING!)
What I liked the most, though, were the books my dad would bring home from traveling. Airport paperback crime novels and true crime. Oh, how I ate up that true crime.
Now that my job is helping kids find books that they'll want to read, I have noticed that there's not much true crime for kids. I can't give them what I read at that age - Helter Skelter gave me nightmares for years - decades! So along comes Chris Barton (The Day-Glo Brothers, Shark vs. Train) to fix this flaw.
Maybe I should save this one for the hot weather that is to come. Because right now I have heard that it's going to snow one last time in our neck of the woods before Spring (and, immediately on its heels, Summer) shows up for good. Sigh. Quit, already!
Meanwhile, I have the sunny skies and sepia tones of a new Arthur Geisert book to keep me warm. Arthur Geisert is an etcher of pigs, a devotee of hot-air sailing ships, a contraptionist if there ever was one, and yes I just made up that word in his honor. Hogwash and Oops and Lights Out delight kids and adults who enjoy cause-and-effect, who dream of a better mousetrap, who can't see a stream of water in a gutter without building a tiny dam.
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.
What does it take to suck a kid into a book of nonfiction? You can't use a drag net, or barbed hooks. Robotic arms cannot scoop a child into a lucite barrel, and very few children old enough to read are small enough to pick up with two fingers and stuff into a test tube.
But those are just a few of the methods that scientists use to collect marine specimens for study. Rebecca Johnson tagged along with the Census of Marine Life on several collection expeditions and had a chance to observe firsthand all the going and the getting and the looking and the recording. She does an amazing job describing the research activities - clearly, economically, accurately, using sensory details to extend the you-are-there impression that begins with her use of second person narration.
And the spectacular photos of fantastic-looking creatures that accompany these descriptions - those are the seine nets, the robotic arms, the probing fingers that snag the kid reader.
Here is a fun exercise in creativity:
Yay! You have made a simple version of the super-cool spreads that populate this masterful visual feast from Bob Staake.
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.
Andrea Davis Pinkney is well known for her biographical picture books, biographies, and historical fiction. She does terrific research, mining family as well as archival sources so that her books assemble themselves around the reader like comfortable clothes. When she writes about Duke Ellington, you can tell that she was listening to Live at the Blue Note the whole time.
Bird in a Box is a more purely novelish novel - although Joe Louis's 1937 World Championship boxing match provides a backdrop and a connection point for the novel's characters, the book is not about the fight.
You know, there is so much right with this book, I'm just going to cut to bullet points.
Aaaand... this is a different type of YA novel. Another type that I like. There are no superheroes coming to terms with their newfound powers in it (except metaphorically), we are not living in a dystopic landscape (except metaphorically - the setting is mostly Paris), and there is no grief (not even metaphorically).
Instead we have an introverted, buttoned-down teenage boy who meets a fierce, wild-eyed girl, falls instantly in love, and is swept along by her insane momentum until he finds himself dog-bit, tattooed, guilty of criminal trespass, and listening to unfamiliar music.
This is not a great YA novel. Sure it won the William C. Morris Debut Award for YA novels, up against two of my very favorite, most cherished YA novels in recent years, Lish McBride's Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and Karen Healey's Guardian of the Dead. Sure I'll urge every teen I see at the library or pass in the street to read it.
But The Freak Observer is not a great YA novel. The Freak Observer is a great novel, period.
When you were in sixth grade - think back - did you have questions? Were there conundrums? Navigational issues? Did gym class make you cry? Was there a kid who wouldn't quit buggin' you? What about that embarrassing nickname you couldn't seem to shake?
And who can you go to for advice? Mom and Dad are nice, but a little out of touch; and teachers - well when the teachers aren't busy enforcing all those those weird arbitrary rules (can you really get detention for eating chalk?) they're spouting aphorisms that either everyone already knows or nobody can understand.
Sixth graders need Yoda. Wise, cryptic, all-knowing Yoda.
Ok, listen. I know I have something of a reputation for being able to find a book for any kid, but it's not like I'm some kind of genius. I ask them what they've been reading and what they've enjoyed and I try to come up with a book that's kind of like what they say they like, and when all else fails, I give them one of the Lunch Lady books. (Preorder Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit today!)
My usual question to a reader, adult or kid, is, "What's the last thing you read that you really liked?"
But I asked a sweet little brown-eyed first-grade girl last night what was the last book she read that she really liked, and she thought about it a little and said, "I guess it was that biography of Neruda."
Yummy looks at you from the cover of this book and you can't help but stare back. His glare is impenetrable, challenging, blank, hostile. The coldest stare you've ever seen.
Yummy's eleven, and he was a real person, and that cover picture is a faithful reproduction of his mug shot, the only known photo of him. It's almost impossible, meeting that gaze, not to want to break it, not to want to find something that is not hard, not injured, behind those eyes. No eleven-year-old should seriously look like that. He ought to be playing, with that look.
Last night we took our kids to a concert of choral music, and right in the middle of the program, one of the second grade mommies from our school stepped to the front of the ensemble, opened her mouth, and let loose with some of the purest, most accomplished, happiest music I have ever heard a human being produce. We had no idea.
Such moments are revelatory. To see a person stand at the intersection of discipline and imagination and bring forth something as unexpected as art... well it blew my mind, I can tell you. What could you do, what could any child do, what could any child not do, with an idea and hard work and desire?
What god of publishing comes up with these illustrator pairings for Joyce Sidman's books? It's extraordinary. I honestly thought nothing could match the pair-up of Joyce's precise word choice and Beckie Prange's precise art in Ubiquitous. The work of both women managed to be scientifically accurate and lyrically lovely at the same time.
But in Dark Emperor, Rick Allen uses an old-fashioned medium - linoleum-block printing - to illustrate the mystery and fascinating life of the world at night, and the synergy between the images and the poems is just as perfect.
There's something about a woodcut. The organic texture of the printed ink and the shape of the gouged lines will always invoke early illustrated books. Compositionally, because the block of wood already has a shape, woodcuts almost always have their own frame, even if it is only implied, and even if that frame is broken, as it is in many of the prints in this book. This formal quality tends to lend the images a little extra authority.
Anyway, all that gallery talk jibber-jabber aside, these illustrations are just gorgeous. I can only guess how many layers of printing Rick Allen piled up to make such sophisticated color blends and juxtapositions. Each picture is a world one could sink into.
Isn't that amazing?
And the poetry, shouldn't I talk about the poetry? About the mushrooms:
they spread their damp
and loose their spores
with silent pops.
"Silent pops." Can't you just see it? And smell the musty damp earth? Aren't you just a kid, scrunched down close to the ground, examining the miraculous weird perfection of a mushroom?
Well I am.
And I always love Joyce Sidman for providing a paragraph or two of prose information about the subject of each poem.
Rick Allen has this to say, in part, about the process of making the illustrations for this book:
The prints for Dark Emperor were each printed from at least three blocks (and in some cases as many as six) and then hand-colored with a strongly pigmented watercolor called gouache. There are definitely faster methods of making a picture, but few more enjoyable in a backwards sort of way.
Hail. Hail to the artist/craftsman. And to the poet/scientist.
I read a lot of books, right? I read a lot of books that are not necessarily for me. That's what Pink Me is for - I review books for people who choose books for kids. I'm happy with this state of affairs. I wouldn't do it if I weren't. And it's not too often that I have to read something that I truly dislike.
But. Even I have needs.
So, you wanna know what I love? You wanna know what I really, really love? I mean, besides the Spice Girls (obviously), and Peter Stormare? Besides Lou Reed's voice, the Pacific Northwest, fringe on just about anything, and making fun of Martha Stewart (have you ever read her blog? Consumption hasn't been that conspicuous since the Gilded Age!)?
Judith Viorst, by virtue of that book she wrote last year when Alexander and his family moved in with her temporarily and made her shiver for the fate of her velvet upholstered parlor chairs (Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days: An Almost Completely Honest Account of What Happened to Our Family When Our Youngest ... Came to Live with Us for Three Months), sticks in my mind as some kind of Joan Didion character. Sharp-eyed, funny, a little uncompromising, extremely self-aware. She lives in D.C., not New York or CT, and D.C. to me implies a certain Nina Totenbergitude.
Or a Mrs. Basil E. Frankweileriness. Like she'd be a person who speaks to children directly and appraisingly, a person who has no patience for the kind of performances that adults sometimes put on in front of children, and who finds the recitations of cuteness or precociousness that children are sometimes expected to roll out in front of adults likewise appalling.
Am I assuming too much about Judith Viorst? Well, clearly. What do I know? Maybe she speaks baby talk to grocery clerks and wears amusement park souvenir sweatshirts every day. But nothing in her new book Lulu and the Brontosaurus would lead me to believe that she is anything but the classy, smart-alecky dame I imagine.
Two families - one in Sydney, Australia, and one in Morocco. Jeannie Baker takes us through each family's day, showing us warm domestic scenes and sweeping landscapes, making subtle, everyday connections across the seemingly vast gulf of difference separating the two settings.
The Moroccan family gets around by donkey, while the Australians drive a yellow minivan. The Australian kid wears a red t-shirt and jeans, and the Moroccan kid wears his jeans under a red djellaba. Both boys have a baby sibling in a fuzzy yellow sweater. Tea is poured, pets are fed. The Moroccan boy likes to draw: the Australian one writes a story. Maybe they'll write a book together one day.
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!"
FIST STICK KNIFE GUN. It is a brutal chant of a title, a provocative confession from an avowed defender of childhood, a clear-eyed reminiscence, and a concisely laid out description of what happens to a child when violence is an accepted aspect of his social system.
In prose, it's laudable. Everyone should read it. In graphic novel form, it's a bucket of ice water to the face. Everyone can read it.
I am sure that very little has to be said about The Lost Hero. Author Rick Riordan is rightly beloved of readers from 8 to 18 and beyond - I know many moms who have read the Percy Jackson books with their kids only to become slaves themselves to the exciting plot, likeable characters, and imaginative scenarios. I myself considered buying The Titan's Curse at Target one Sunday even though I knew the book was waiting for me at the library and I could pick it up when I went to work the next day. I needed to find out what happened next.
But something happened at our school's Lost Hero release party that made me appreciate Rick Riordan anew. Not a big thing, but an important thing to me.
Transcribed from recording made on hidden micro-spy recording device. Subject: Mao (not his real name) age: 9. File: Barnett review 10-20-19-46. Indoctrination sequence begun...
Your Neighborhood Librarian: Ok, so Mao, here we have the The Ghostwriter Secret, the second of the Brixton Brothers books by the perilously undershaven Mac Barnett and compulsively undercapped Adam Rex.
M: Well I think that it's good, and the cover gives you a really good idea of how it is -- exciting, but also like kind of suspenseful. On the cover, you see them underwater in a pool with bullets coming down, and that is really suspenseful.
M: Because, well, I don't want to ruin anything if you haven't read the book...
YNL: But I have.
M: Ok well then because THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS IN THE BOOK!!
YNL: The bullets raining down on them in the pool.
YNL: And that's important to you because...
M: Kids do not usually get shot at in kids books! That part was great!
Bird. Despondent. Cake, Convertible. Mezzo-soprano. And eight more. Write a story using these thirteen words. It doesn't have to make sense. Nope. In fact, it might be more fun if it didn't. (If you can wedge a song into your story, do it.)
I would read this book to a class and let them come up with guesses about how it came to be. I myself am guessing. For all I know, Lemony Snicket startled a pigeon one day and it flew up and hit him hard in the head and when he came to, he only knew thirteen words, so this story came about as therapy. Could be. You don't know that guy's life. Neither do I.
Maira Kalman is at her very best here, layering thick pasty paint in ultra-saturated colors, adding lots of interesting details that could be the result of her own random-word assignment. Tambourine. Porcupine. Pocket square. Nap.
I'm going to come right out and call this a classic. If it were published forty years ago, New York Review of Books would be republishing it right now. That kind of classic.
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.
ZOMG! Check it:
What is moister
Than an oyster?
Can be damper.
And that's not the worst of it! In three stories and a bunch of poems, Simpsons writer Mike Reiss deploys gleefully subversive wit to merrily bash the stuffin' out of cute fuzzy animals, exposing them for the gluttonous freeloading nonconformists that they really are. Hee-YEAAAH!!
Think http://www.fupenguin.com/ for the grade-school set, kind of.
I LOVE THIS. I mean, I do not mind funny middle-grade books that rely on farts and pratfalls, dumb insults and dumber adults - but it is a special kind of joy to find someone writing real wit for kids.
Johnny Yanok is a great choice to illustrate this festival of irreverence, adding detail and furbelows to already well-described scenes, pumping the page full of pattern and hot midtone colors. His style, a kind of modified mid-century geometric thing, will be familiar to Cartoon Network viewers and the kind of kid who watches the Pixar shorts that come as bonus features on the DVDs.
That's going to help get this book into the right hands - even though it's shaped like a picture book, this thing is clearly for middle grade readers, who sometimes balk at picking up anything that looks like it's for younger kids. So art that scans older is a plus.
Hipster aunties and uncles, take note. This is just the kind of thing you're going to really enjoy watching the nieces and nephews unwrap come holiday time. Thank me later.
Is it just me, or is this The Year of the Superhero in middle-grade and YA books?
I'm all up in the Michael Owen Carroll right now of course, having just reviewed Super Human here on Pink Me; and The Rise of Renegade X is sitting on my to-read pile; I just finished Michael Grant's The Magnificent 12: The Call last night: plus we're listening to Mike Lupica's Hero in the car, and holy god - not since I took one for the team and listened to The Da Vinci Code have I been more appalled by an author's lazy writing, glacial pace, disrespect for the reader...
...oh wait, where was I? Ahead of myself, that's where. That's what happens when you try to write book reviews while listening to The Flaming Lips. "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song", off At War With The Mystics, is what inspired the title of this post. By the way, if you have food issues, don't click that link, just watch them perform on Letterman, below.
It is also apparently The Year of Superhero Books Written by Guys Named Michael. Weird. Take that, trend trackers.
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:
I am not sure I even need to write about this book, given that title. You are either going to think that's the funniest thing that has ever entered your house, or you are going to think that's appalling.
Wait, I have 4 elementary school boys around my dining room table right this second. Lunchtime poll:
YNL: Look at the cover of this book. Would you read this book?
YNL: No? Too scary?
Secondo: No. I just won't say yes to anything you ask me ever.
YNL: Always suspected as much. Zhou?
Zhou: Yeah, sure, I would read it!
Prime: Looks good to me!
Mao: Ehhh... I'd rather read LEGO Star Wars.
YNL: Like, not right now... would you read it ever at all?
Mao: I've already read it and it's really funny.
Well that wasn't very satisfying. Maybe I'll ask a followup question.
YNL: If you were to eat whiny children, how would you prepare them?
Secondo: With pepper and salsa - a lot of salsa!
Zhou: I would bake them and then I would put them with a little bit of bacon, one egg, and all the materials for making a burrito except the tortilla.
Prime: I would probably chop them up, donate them to a restaurant, go to the restaurant, and order something good.
Zhou: With them in it.
Prime: That's what I mean.
Mao: I'd put them in a burrito with salsa, a lot of cheese, and some beef.
Zhou: But that makes you fart.
Better! Me, I would braise those whiny children. I like a slow braise. But there is no actual cooking in this book, although the oven does get preheated preparatory to baking the whiny children in a cake, which doesn't happen because somebody spills the flour. Sorry if I gave away a plot point. I thought it was maybe important to note that no children are actually consumed in this book. You'd be surprised what parents sometimes don't take for granted. Although, come to think of it, almost anything can happen in a picture book. That one book that I thought was about classroom manners and turned out to be about sexual abuse of a child? I have never gotten over that book. And this book is written and illustrated by a New Yorker cartoonist, and some of those guys have an odd sense of what is funny. There was a whole Seinfeld episode about that. And in fact, the guy who wrote that Seinfeld episode wrote this book. Huh.
Endpaper bonus: funny endpapers.
Zhou, rising 2nd grader, seven years old: So what's up, Mom?
Your Neighborhood Librarian: Tell me about Tashi.
Z: Tashi is a book for boys and girls, and it's kind of a fairy tale. It has fairy-tale creatures and not-fairy-tale creatures in the same book. I love how there's the big actual story, which is this little elf man called Tashi comes to a new country after he's been sold to this really mean warlord by his parents for some reason, and then Tashi meets Jack, his new friend, and this Jack has his own garden and when he goes up the tree he tells stories, at lunch, and he tells Jack stories, and Jack tells stories to his mom and dad, and his dad is all worried about socks in one story. That's why dad is kind of funny.
YNL: So there are multiple stories in one book, and some of them are told by Tashi to Jack and some are told by Jack to his parents.
Z: Yup. It's very common to see parents telling a bedtime story but in this one it's the parents saying, "Tell me a story! Tell me another Tashi story!"
It happens to just about everyone. Sometime in your early to mid-teen years, you wake up one day and realize that, gradually, every adult you know has become a stranger to you. You have begun to understand the fears, jealousies, and appetites that really motivate grownups, and you are appalled. They in turn suddenly do not recognize you as the child they have harbored lo these many years. And so your life becomes a series of surreptitious forays punctuated by skirmish - if your paths cross, there will be conflict, so you do your best to skirt their presence, to avoid their taint. You forge alliances with your friends or toughen up and go it alone, hoping against hope that you will make it.
Hmm. Maybe I'm overstating it. It's been a while, after all - all I can remember is being truly freaked out when my father threw my Kings of the Wild Frontier LP down the stairs because, I think, he was afraid I was on drugs. And my own kids won't be prompting me to mystifying moments of violence for a good 5 years yet.
Charlie Higson certainly sees adolescence that way, though. In The Enemy, all the grownups have turned into zombie-like cannibals. Some plague or something. The kids live in fortified big box stores and send out foraging parties to look for food and weapons. Yup. It's excellent.
You are going to want this book.
This is a rare story, beautifully told, illustrated with power, and it has ties to things that children can touch and do.
What, you want more?
Heh, just kidding. Of course you do. How about you want a story that will help educate children about the time when slavery was legal in the United States, that does not flinch from the tragic inequities of that period, but which nonetheless is not unremittingly bleak? A story that celebrates a person whose skill and artistry transcended status and transcends time? Now you know. You want this book. I knew you would.
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:
Hummunah-DANG that is some lineup of writers, huh?! And each has contributed something that will make a modern boy laugh right out of his tighty-whities. It's like an old-fashioned hippie potluck, but with a big sack of Halloween candy where you'd expect the tabbouleh salad to be. But JEEZ I have been having trouble writing this review! I start off all right, I'm all, "Oh, I love guys, don't you love guys? Yeah, guys. Guys are gonna love this book," but then I get into having to give examples of why they're gonna love this book and all of a sudden the thing sounds just APPALLING.
So I'm not going to give any examples. Nope. Ok, here: in Christopher Paul Curtis's story "Iron John," the title character tricks his young children into thinking that he is so cold that his nipples have frozen, and he pretends to rip them off. And then his oldest son eats them.
I had to check the copyright date on this suave wordless sliver of an epic tale over and over again. You see, like many French things (and it somehow seems important to point out that when I use the word "French" I always pronounce it "Fronsh" because of an ancient mocking nickname my friend Jaime and I once habitually applied to a perfectly nice person - the nickname now seems absurd and petty, but my inability to say the word "French" without sounding like a spastic drunk lives on, which only proves my point about French things), uhhh, like many French things - Fronsh things - The Chicken Thief, with its timeless one-joke story, well-crafted loosey-goosey pen and ink and watercolor art, and enigmatic title... could have come from any age.
A lot of French pen and ink illustration (and Belgian) has a gestural quality, a breezy confidence that works particularly well with energetic stories. Think Asterix. Spirou & Fantasio. Bob de Groot. And this story, being wordless, is told entirely through action and expression. The arc of a smile is just a tiny line, 5 millimeters, but in that 5-millimeter line, Beatrice Rodriguez tells us whether her character is smiling in triumph or embarrassment, with joy or with anticipation.
I love it when something so brief and easy is treated with respect, and this edition is printed on good paper, in a binding size that is fairly common in Europe but less so here. The Chicken Thief goes on my list of superior wordless books for a child to savor.