Tag Archives: adventure stories

Top 10 Summer Family Read Alouds

While picture books are my bread and butter, all families should be reading aloud longer chapter books with their children.  With summer peeking over the horizon now, it’s a good time to plan out your summer read-aloud(s).  Reading as a family, morning, noon or at night, is an excellent way to stay connected with all the activities of a freewheeling summer.  Audio books make for a superb option as you are road tripping. And certain books are just perfect for this warm season in particular…  here are my choices for optimal summer reading that the whole family will enjoy:

 It’s a classic for a reason. The four siblings are slightly more grounded in this world than the Narnia children, but the similarities are still there.  I was unsure that my children would really get into the fairly descriptive, not-exactly-cliff-hangar-chapters, but they ate it up! Sailing, adventure, independent children soaking up summertime bliss. Something about Ransome’s style just weaves enough magic into the story to make a solid impression on children aged 7-13 in this house! The only unfortunate thing is that while this book makes its way on lots of “best of” lists, not a lot of people make efforts to continue the series; the books are a bit lengthy… but so worth it.  We are knee deep into the sequel: Swallowdale in our family and loving every bit of it.

Don’t be mislead by the sweet cover. While it’s tempting to want to curl up with your 5 year old daughter with this for a cute innocent adventure (try Milly-Molly-Mandy for that), the book is admittedly best suited for slightly older children… maybe age 10 or so. Feuding and intrigue and happy endings… all taking place in the heat of the south. Grab some iced tea and enjoy!

So, it sounds like a Roald Dahl comedy: boy finds a bunch of monkeys who escaped from a circus train.  A large reward goes to whomever can return them to the owner.  But the book isn’t a funny book by design. It’s full of adventure and suspense and for the sake of all that is good, do NOT get the paperback version which has a photograph of the boy on the cover. Photograph covers on books constitute a cardinal sin in my opinion (more on cardinal publishing sins to come)—no room is left for a child to form his own personal impression in their own minds; photograph covers ruin imaginations! Anyway, it’s a great book!

We love Homer Price in this family!  He is just the bee’s knees if you asked my boys and easy, independent chapters of his adventures back in the ‘good ol’ days’ will be perfect for lazy summer reading… don’t forget the sequel! Light, enjoyable reading at its finest.

Boys only please (okay, I would’ve read and loved them as a tomboy ‘tween but your mileage may vary).  These guys have a clubhouse, impressive IQs and adventures galore that would fill your child’s brain with plain old good stuff during summertime.


Summertime is E.B. White time!  This is the time to bust out the glorious, early chapter books to your 5 and 6+ year olds.  Be it Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little or The Trumpet of the Swan… all are so perfectly suited to long, slow summer days.  I re-read Stuart Little recently with my children and was reminded again at how unique White is in the children’s literature world: the ending is moving and poignant… but not your typical super-happy, loose ends tied up conclusion. Same with Charlotte’s Web now that I think about it. I remember feeling sad at the dear little spiders floating away to find their place in the world… (even though I can only WISH that spiders in my house would float away…)

Oh my! Oh my! Have you seen the “Puffin in Bloom” collection yet?! The covers are stunning!  Yeah, yeah, Heidi is fantastic summertime reading (watch out for the photograph covered editions, blech!). What could be greater than the Alps and a wild child and new friendships?! But seriously, check out this new cover by artist Anna Bond.  And there’s a whole set of them coming soon!  What a stunning gift even an individual title would make here.  Take a look at the individual covers here.

Often called “The boy’s Little House series”, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers is great for boys and girls in my opinion.  And this title is where it all starts. And let me tell you: these stories are so incredibly satisfying for both parent and child. There is just enough of a hat tip to adult sensibilities to make these books fantastic for everyone.  I bought it on audio and we listened to it on our way to a camping trip last year.  So, so, so good. A must have for anyone who loves the value of hard work, simple humor, and excellent storytelling.

But of course!

Back in print! Back in print!  I’m so excited to find The Happy Hollisters revived in popularity. What is so lovely about this family of five children who get mixed up into lots of little mysteries and adventures is that they are always positive and fun. I devoured almost the entire series of these books when I was about 10 or so and longed for more titles. My cousin and I used to spend hours reading together, pretending we were just reading them to make fun of the funny, vintage language some kids used (“Gee whillakers!”) but that’s because we thought we were too cool to actually enjoy the fun in these books.  Thankfully, my children don’t think they are too cool for these books and they are eating up every copy I manage to acquire. They are all great reading, don’t need to be read consecutively, and some particularly summery titles are The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip and The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach

 

* * * The Honorable Mention “Next 10″or “After Further Thought” Additions to this list. * * *

 

Like? Share:
Share

The Best Treasuries, Sets and Collections

This is the time of year to be thinking about meaningful gifts. Perhaps even heirloom gifts!  Each Christmas, one of the gifts our kids receive are books… often picked up throughout the year at a thrift store and saved, but sometimes a special title I’ve been eyeing a while and know a particular child would love. Sometimes, we gift a set or deluxe collection of something to a child and these have become treasured components of their personal growing libraries.  You have to be a little bit careful when buying “sets” of books because a couple mistakes are often made:  1- the set is incomplete of what you consider to be essential favorites.  2- The set includes abridged versions of stories. Or the biggest grievance I have: the set includes illustrations that have been truncated, altered or deleted to the point of ruining a good story. (Don’t mess with McCloskey!) But sometimes, despite some of these mistakes, the collection can still be an wonderful investment and treasured gift. Here are a few of what I think are the best of the best offered right now.

BOARD BOOK SETS

 

Gyo Fujikawa’s Little Library. What a deal!  Happy art. Simple text. Tiny books. Perfect for a two year old maybe…

Jan Brett’s Little Library. Contains three of her must have board books: The Mitten, The Hat, and The Gingerbread Baby.

Brown Bear & Friends Board Book Gift Set. All three of the infectious rhyme books that get read over and over again in our home…

Margaret Wise Brown’s: Baby’s First Library A perfect gift for new babies!

The Little Red Box of Bright and Early Board Books. I love P. D. Eastman and my three year old does too.  I don’t mind that these are abridged versions of the classic books (in fact I welcome the shortening since I am currently asked to read Go, Dog Go twice a day, every day.)

 

PICTURE BOOK SETS or ANTHOLOGIES

 

Mad about Madeline. Doesn’t every girl between 5-8 need this collection (and not the later, added on versions…)?!

Frederick and His Friends: Four Favorite Fables. There is another one by the same author but I prefer the titles in the first set if I had to choose just one.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George. Again… the original tales are so beloved! No need to scramble after the dozens of after-tales by other authors. They aren’t “bad”… just not quite as charming as the original.

Once There Was a Boy… Boxed Set. Delighted to find this new this year!!!  I have a son who loves Oliver Jeffers and this just may go under our tree next month!

Eloise Wilkin Stories: Little Golden Book Treasury. For nostalgic mothers who love Wilkin’s work and want to pass the beauty onto their daughters…

Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories by Virginia Lee Burton. Unabridged and complete illustrations!

Lois Ehlert’s Growing Garden Gift Set. A lovely collection for budding gardeners.

Jan Brett’s Snowy Treasury. Four of her best, snowy books!

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Storybook Treasury. Lyle is an odd one. Some children don’t really fall in love with him. Others engage and won’t let go. To those children, this is a wonderful collection.

Richard Scarry’s Best Little Golden Books Ever!  A collection of just plain, old fashioned good stories illustrated by the incomparable Scarry.

Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library. My favorite… everybody needs Alligators All Around!

Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection. Pares down the vast Dr. Seuss collection to just the must-have classics.

Babar’s Anniversary Album: 6 Favorite Books. Originals only!

Joy to the World: Tomie’s Christmas Stories. Worth the collection for the Three Kings book alone in it…

The Paddington Treasury: Six Classic Bedtime Stories. Good old Paddington, delighting British children for ages now.  Let’s reignite love for him on this side of the water!

The World of Peter Rabbit: Books 1-23, Presentation Box. Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without this:  the pièce de résistance‘!

CHAPTER BOOK SETS

Pooh’s Library. Individually bound.  Or in one volume if you prefer.

Mercy Watson Boxed Set: Adventures of a Porcine Wonder.  Let’s be honest. These are barely chapter books.  Indeed, I give them to my eager 8 year old who still stumbles to read independently.  But he feels such a mastery at reading these “official big kid” books… Mercy Watson is a great bridge to real chapter book reading.

Little House Nine-Book Box Set. C’mon. Every home needs this.

Favorite Thornton Burgess Animal Stories Boxed Set . Lots of bang for your buck with the Dover produced classics here!

Old Mother West Wind and 6 Other Stories. Same great bargain, but different titles as above.

Anne of Green Gables, Complete 8-Book Box Set. Because I have a ginger-haired girl who will love this someday.  Well, she acts more cayenne than ginger!

The Chronicles of Narnia. Please, please be certain to buy a version of these books WITHOUT the movie tie-in photographs on the covers!!!  Let imaginations come alive before putting real actor images in their minds!

The Chronicles of Narnia Complete 7 Volume CD Box Set (Unabridged). Audio book to own and play in the car!!! I’ve had my finger hovering over “Buy Now” on this for a couple years now!

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set. This set is leather bound. Are you kidding me?!  I might buy it for MYSELF since it lends itself so well to re-reading.  And these books do need to be reread many times through one’s life.

Like? Share:
Share

Top Ten Best Authors for Media Saturated Kids

Maybe you want to give a child a book for a gift but you are worried that the book will get tossed into a pile of irrelevancy in favor of Junior’s tablet or the new video game his much cooler aunt bought him.  Maybe your own child has been fed too many cartoons on the tube.  It’s okay; I won’t tell. (I’m not proud of how much “e-living” happens in my own home, after all.) But now, our media saturated children are rather uninterested in the written word— especially when it competes with flashy animations. After all, you can give a kid books, but you can’t make them like ’em… much less even read them.  But I have come to give you hope! And to have it in abundance!

Before we can expect a media glutton to love the beauty of simple things like Make Way for Ducklings or Stone Soup, we have to ease them into the transition of still life and still ink on still paper.  In response to this need for a segue, publishers have been printing a bloated genre of books that supposedly children will love but typically parents hate. These generally include sharp, digital illustrations, flatulence, underpants, aliens and/or mucous emissions. I suppose the idea is that the shock value of these things will get kids reading. Toilet humor—especially to boys— is highly appealing.  So the battered down, desperate parent feels it’s their only hope to get Junior interested in books.  It’s not the only hope… but I’m not going to lie and say that you can just give a child a classic book and expect them to swoon over it.  This is very much like very picky eaters who’ve been given too much junk food and refuse all their vegetables. Once the intellectual appetites have been soiled (in this case by too much electronic stimulation) it is very difficult to reorder it to enjoying the wholesome books. Difficult… but not impossible. The first thing to do is eliminate or drastically limit media of course.  Otherwise, no matter how good your intentions, books will always lose to the drug inducing power of TV (video games are even more destructive to cultivating readers). Then, find some good books to introduce.

Thankfully, there are a number of excellent authors out there who are especially well suited to “reordering appetites.”  Think of them as a good probiotic or something… replenishing the gut with good bacteria (all right enough of the food analogies). Like all my Top Ten lists, this isn’t an exclusive compilation; there are certainly other books and authors that would make for great transitions. The things to look for are humor, weird or unexpected plots, interesting typeset, detailed pictures, and/or novel or irresistible concepts.  Believe it or not, these things can be found without resorting to pooping, iPad wielding aliens in underwear.

After the child has been fed a good diet of these transitional books, they can slowly move onto realizing that there are some true delights to be found in picture books and they’ll want to explore more—even ones with less catchy covers.

So here is my list of the authors to look out for once you decide to move away from media and into the glory of the printed word.

Chris Van Dusen. Van Dusen has the most excellent illustrations to captivate an unsuspecting media glutton. His style LOOKS animated and he’s got a superb natural rhyming that fits all his books so well. If I Built a House would make for a perfect “starting over” book to try and hook kids into the adventures in reading.  And  Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit also has really big appeal. Be sure to also read all the Mr. Magee stories too!

David Weisner.  Weisner is the wordless book master and as we all should know by now, wordless books are not just for kids. Tuesday is his classic tale of bizarre flying frogs but Sector 7 and all his other titles certainly shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle either.  These books are great ones for bored children to just “discover” lying about on an end table somewhere.


Lynley Dodd.  Dodd isn’t so well known in the states for some reason but her Hairy Maclary is quite well known in her New Zealand homeland and elsewhere.  ALL of her books are great.  She has an extraordinary talent for rhyming and for made-up words that just roll off you tongue with delight.  These books are best read aloud and with enthusiasm to capture the full cadence.

Oliver Jeffers. A favorite among boys especially.  Don’t be fooled by Jeffers youthful, simple illustrations—he has an uncanny perception of what is funny and how children think.  I’ve discussed before about my favorite title of his This Moose Belongs to Me, but my children adore Stuck and also The Day the Crayons Quit which he illustrated.

Richard Scarry.  Everyone knows Richard Scarry by now right?!  His characters should be well known in any childhood.  But there is a golden window of opportunity for introducing Scarry to the recovering couch potatoes—and it’s probably only up to age 7 by my estimates because he is aimed toward the younger set. What makes books like What Do People Do All Day so interesting is their very busy-ness. Scarry is fantastic at creating little stories within the story with funny side pictures or car crashes etc.

Chris Van Allsburg. Where Scarry appeals to younger kids, Van Allsburg specializes in the slightly older demographic. And you have to be careful at first because his tales of mystery won’t automatically attract the flies.  You have to start with something peculiar and ever so slightly morbid like The Z Was Zapped— where the demise of alphabet letters is chronicled in a fascinating way. Then go to Two Bad Ants before moving into his more sophisticated works.

Jerry Pallotta. Pallotta gets included in this list for his very high score on the “strewing” factor. He manages to come up with excellent, informative compilations that a kid can’t help wanting to crack open. Even when a child has passed the ideal age for alphabet books, he can’t help but wonder what’s in something like The Icky Bug Alphabet Book, The Yucky Reptile Alphabet Book, The Skull Alphabet Book or his intriguing Who Would Win Series like Polar Bear Vs. Grizzly Bear.  Boys love Pallotta.

Mo Willems. I’ll be honest… I didn’t get the hype about Mo at first. I thought his debut title Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! was silly and overly simplistic when I first saw it.  But the masses have overwhelmingly defied this blogger’s opinion and Mo has since written a bunch of other books that I really like much better.  When it comes to feeding media-hungry kids though, it doesn’t really matter if MY tastes are satisfied (so long as they aren’t offended), kids know what they like and Willems knows what to do. He is a great segue author. The typeset is excellent, short and appealing. And his characters, while simply drawn are engaging to the max. Begin with We Are in a Book! which, if read in an engaging manner, is rather hilarious even to the adult. Other titles are just funny enough to draw in even the most reluctant souls: Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct.

William Steig. Steig is one of those quirky authors that you’ll find on a lot of unrelated lists: best authors for boys, funniest authors, classic authors not to miss, and on. If you asked me my favorite, I’d say it was Doctor De Soto, but if you’re looking to ease kids into books, a more obvious choice is something like Pete’s a Pizza or the puzzling C D C ?

Sesyle Joslin. You want shock value mixed with vintage? Pick Joslin. Buried in the fantastically brilliant book on teaching manners from the late fifties, Joslin comes up with things to offend today’s PC parents. In What Do You Say, Dear?, parents get horrified that the character says “Would you like me to shoot a hole in your head?” I don’t really see the big deal.  The kids politely declines: “No, thank you.” This book and its companion What Do You Do, Dear? are a riot of unpredictability. Highly recommended.

 
 
We need desperately, I feel, a noncommercial alternative to what commercialism is trying to do to us. I’m not for censorship, but I’m certainly for self-censorship when it comes to producing or purveying products to America’s children. I think that for people who make anything for children, their first thought should be: Would I want my child to see, hear or touch this? And if the answer is no, just don’t make it.
-Mr. Rogers
Like? Share:
Share

Wiesner on Tuesday

Speaking of wordless books, I was reading one of the Caldecott Acceptance speeches author/illustrator David Wiesner gave and I loved this context he offers on his book Tuesday:

“At least as often as people ask me where I came up with the idea for the book, they want to know, “Why Tuesday?” When I decided to punctuate the story with the times of the day, it became clear that the mysterious element had to do with the particular day of the week when these strange things happened. So I tried to decide what the funniest day of the week was. I immediately discounted the weekend; Saturday and Sunday had too many connotations, as did Friday. Monday was next to go, being the first day of the work week, which left Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Wednesday’s spelling had always bothered me, so it was out. Thursday was all right, but the more I said “T-u-e-s-d-a-y,” the more I like the “ooze” quality it had. It seemed to go with frogs.

A wordless book offers a different kind of an experience from one with text, for both the author and the reader. There is no author’s voice telling the story. Each viewer reads the book in his or her own way. The reader is an integral part of the storytelling process. As a result, there are as many versions of what happened that Tuesday night as there are readers. For some, the dog in the story is rightfully defending his territory against amphibian invaders, and their sympathy lies with the dog when the frogs get the best of him. For others, the dog is a humorless bully who gets his comeuppance. As the author of a wordless book, I don’t have to concern myself about whether the reader’s interpretation of each and every detail is the same as mine. My own view has no more, and no less, validity than that of any other viewer. Since my intent was for the book, as a whole, to make people laugh, all that matters is that the pictures are funny.

A series of individually funny pictures, however, does not necessarily add up to a successful story. The book was very carefully plotted, and details were developed in ways that move the story forward as logically as possible, from the full moon that rises slowly in the sky that first Tuesday night, to the gibbous moon that appears a week later at the end. By placing my characters in the context of a familiar reality, I hoped to entice readers to take that great leap of faith and believe that frogs, and perhaps pigs, too, could fly—if the conditions were just right.”

Like? Share:
Share

Top 10 Wordless Picture Books

This article was originally written for and printed in the Spring 2012 issue of Soul Gardening Journal. I have since substituted in two titles (listed at the end) that came to my attention and taken out the original listings for The Silver Pony about which I had this to say: “This is a sort of strange, magical book that might not be guaranteed to win everyone’s hearts… but its peculiarity won mine.  I love the old fashioned, black and white sketches here.”  

And also I removed Rainstorm, originally saying this: “Barbara Lehman is more well known for her Caldecott honored The Red Book but this one tickles me just a bit more.  A young, well-to-do boy feels the restlessness and boredom of a rainy day before finding a magic key that offers him a magic portal into his imagination.  There’s something clean about Lehman’s illustrations that make her a refreshing read.”

Finally, I gave a shout out to one of my very favorite Christmas books ever: A Small Miracle and would also add The Snowman.

Willfully Wandering Wordless: A Top Ten List

Some of my very favorite picture books are completely devoid of words.  I used to sort of smile and write (no pun intended) these kinds of books off as novelties without any real sort of lasting merit.  But as my bookshelf space shrunk and my exposure to children’s literature grew, I was proven wrong… very, very wrong.
Wordless picture books can be an excellent vehicle for pre-readers who want to “read” books like big brother/sister.  They can serve beautifully for creative narration prompts too.  Instead of playing the memory game and asking your child “Okay, what was the story about”… to which they promptly regurgitate a couple of quoted sections word-for-word to show that they’ve been listening, kid’s are forced to tell a story in entirely their own words.  In the wordless world, it’s all about attention to the details, to sequencing, to the art of what’s happening.  Many are written in comic book fashion which gets little ones used to the concept of left to right to down directional reading.  Teachers have often used wordless books for question prompts to creative thinking: “What do you think he’s looking for?”  “Why might she be feeling sad?” etc.  Since none of the answers are ‘given away’ with text, even shy children might open up with some interesting interpretations.
With regards to wordless books in this family, my children take a few different approaches that are refreshingly different from the reactions I get with traditional picture books. My five year old son likes to take a wordless book off to a corner by himself and study it through.  Then he asks me to “read a story with him” which entails us sitting on the couch together while he tells me everything that’s going to happen on the next page.  He gets a giddy delight out of finally being the one in the know with a book, while I am simply the willing audience to his interpretation.  My seven year old boy does a great deal of personification in his life.  If he sees an image he likes with just enough figures for our family, he promptly names us all.  I am honored to have been labeled an ant, a banana, a Chinese spinster, and a flying frog among other things.  With wordless books, he’s in hog heaven describing who’s who and bringing in all the people from his real world into the story with unnamed characters.  My nine year old boy is a bit more like me with the wordless books.  He just curls up somewhere with a blanket and reads it quietly to himself, slowly turning the pages and letting his eyes feast on the artwork. The canvas is totally blank when it comes to these kinds of stories and imaginations can run wild.  Here is a Top Ten list of my very favorite wordless books, though it really is cruel to limit myself in this wonderful genre:

 The Arrival by Shaun Tan. This book is stunning and the artwork will weave you right into its spell.  I spent the better part of an hour reading this book by myself; it is living proof that picture books aren’t just for kids. I’d happily keep this surrealistic story of an immigrant on my coffee table.  While it was fun to go through with my children, the message really can be quite profound for adults too.

 Peter Spier’s Rain. A perfect springtime book full of lovely, poetic imagery.  Peter Spier is one of those wonderful authors that the world seems content to forget.  So many of his gems (some others are wordless also) are out of print and I curdle my nose in disgust sometimes to think of some the fodder that’s replacing his books at stores everywhere.

 Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno.  Get all of Anno’s books; you won’t regret it!  This book doubles as a superb and innovative counting book with folky artwork that I adore. Anno’s Journey is another title in this category that is a lot of fun to follow with children.

 Tuesday by David Wiesner. Wiesner is the master of the wordless genre.  While we love his Flotsam, Sector 7 and Free Fall too, this book about flying frogs (yep, that’s me!) on an adventure in the middle of the night wins my boys over every time.  These pictures are feast-worthy indeed.

 The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. Now Pinkney was fortunate here in that the story was already provided for him– remember that fable from Aesop about the mouse who helps out the lion?  Pinkney just happens to be an incredible artist who took this story for a beautiful spin in 2009 with the release of this book.

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog by Mercer Mayer. My very first introduction to wordless books was this one.  I love the size; I love the limited color scheme. I love all the sequels to this book. I have to admit that I came into it biased because Mercer Mayer illustrated my all-time, very favorite series of childhood chapter books–The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald– and I was delighted to see this kind of art again. One way to sneak out of the limiting Top Ten is to throw out other titles to reference by the same author. In this case, I’d point you to a very recent fun title by Mayer called Octopus Soup.
 The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard by Gregory Rogers. How refreshing!  Are you studying Shakespeare?  Add this to your unit to round out all the romantic, poetic imagery of the man.  Here a contemporary boy gets lost on a stage hosting the Bard himself who becomes enraged at the interruption and chases the boy through old London.  The great thing about graphic novels is that you get lots of bonus perspectives to complete the comic book boxes… so an extreme close up of Shakespeare’s face or a panoramic bird’s eye view of the city fill out the pages quite nicely.

 Mirror by Jeannie Baker.  Baker is a collage artist and she uses an assortment of materials, fabric and natural foliage to construct this very novel book.  It is testament again that wordless stories aren’t just for preschoolers; in fact I think you’d really need to be about eight years old at least to really appreciate what’s going on here.  When you open this book you have two stories side by side on each side the outside covers, so you are flipping pages from the inside binding to show the daily lives of an Australian child and a Morrocan child.  It’s a beautiful social studies lesson on the uniqueness of two very different cultures but the same threads of family, meals, and home life bind us all together.  Jeannie Baker is also well known for her other wordless story called Home which will be one of the subjects for some other season in this Book Basket column as I explore a couple of books that reflect on urban relationships.

Magpie Magic: A Tale of Colorful Mischief by April Wilson is a gorgeous and fun tale of words coming to life. I wrote about it a couple years ago: “The book a feast of imagery from the first person perspective as we see artist’s hands draw the magpie outside her window.  As any good story book would have it, the bird then comes to life and what happens next is a witty sort of duel between the bird and artist which ends in a very satisfactory way.” 

 Journey by Aaron Becker is one of the very best books of 2013.  There is something about the wordless genre that lends itself perfectly to fanciful travels or surreal experiences.  This book is that. A girl goes on an incredible journey in a very similar way to Harold did in Harold and the Purple Crayon. Exquisite details in this thoughtful book.

Like? Share:
Share

Little Black Sambo/Little Babaji

The new and the old

The Preface to the version of The Story of Little Black Sambo  by Helen Bannerman that we have reads like this:

The original

Applewood Books is proud to reissue this classic edition of Little Black Sambo. During the last thirty years, the book and its little hero have been the center of a big controversy.  Sambo became, to some, a symbol of racism, and to others, he remained a long-remembered favorite.

Many may wonder why we are reissuing this book.  As with all the books we publish, we are reissuing the book as a window on our past. Recently, I read this book to my two young sons. When I asked them what they thought, they said they thought Sambo was a hero and marveled at his bravery.

This was my experience with the story as well.  I loved hearing the story when my mom read it to us kids and I never once thought anything of the pictures or the use of the term “black” to describe Sambo and his parents Mumbo and Jumbo.  I can’t remember a single incidence of racism in my household growing up and I had plenty of shades of brown among my friends in school.

The new, PC Babaji

There are now politically correct versions of this story available. These are well done. We have and love The Story of Little Babaji —illustrated by Fred Marcellino—as well as the original tale and it is faithful in essence and spirit. The only difference is the culturally appropriately named and colored Babaji, Mamaji and Papaji.  My children seem to like both stories equally while only one son prefers the crude-ish drawings of Black Sambo over Babaji.

I think it’s a shame to overthink race and to ignore the heritage that shaped our culture. Whatever you think on the issue, I encourage you to BUY at least one of the versions of this story because it is an absolute favorite of children everywhere and one of the most requested items on our own plentiful shelves.

Like? Share:
Share

Top Ten Best Disney Alternatives

Well everybody has an opinion on Disney, I may as well chime in with my two cents. In a nutshell: I love classic Disney movies. I also appreciate the occasional recent movie from the company as well.  What I don’t love is the current huge, bloated, over-commericalized Disney industry. I have other complaints from an artistic and ethical standpoint also, but I’ve not the energy to lay all that out there.  Generally speaking, I am disheartened by the commercialization of children. I want my daughter to love princesses sure. But do they have to always come with a trademark symbol after their name?!

So, here we have it then. My top ten alternatives to the Disney Empire. Keep in mind that many of the original fairy tales were actually written for adults, so the themes can get very dark, graphic or mature.  The books I have here are much more faithful to the original fairy tale (or myth or history) than the movies Walt and his contemporaries have made and may have some of those darker elements. Even if you are a Disney lover, reading these books would be an interesting lesson in “compare and contrast” for children of multiple ages.

1. Snow White illustrated by Charles Santore. Rich, traditional illustrations make this a great choice, and my boys especially love what they call “the big head dwarves.” But I do confess to having a soft spot also for the version by Paul Heins because Trina Schart Hyman adds the detail of a Marian image on one wall… plus the princess seems to age a little more congruently in her story.

2. Cinderella by K.Y. Craft definitely takes the cake here. Craft’s vibrant and ornate style is especially suited to this fairy tale. Barbara McClintock’s version of the story gets an honorable mention for a fun story and a young George Washington looking prince!






3. Aladdin And The Enchanted Lamp will substitute nicely for the letdown of Disney’s version; if you aren’t familiar with the story, you will be surprised at the liberties taken and unnecessary changes the movie made. Aladdin and the Magic Lamp by James Kunstler also looks promising (not having read it myself) as well as this version adapted by Eric Kimmel (of whom I am generally a great fan).

4. Hercules by Robert Burleigh is my favorite picture book alternative to the Disney movie.  Though this story only details the final of the twelve labors, it’s just the right size for younger children. While James Riordan’s book The Twelve Labors of Hercules is extremely well done and faithful to original story, it is fairly long and pretty graphic. There is the question of whether or not some of those images need picture representation at all. However, if we want to leave the book category altogether, I don’t think you’ll find a better retelling of the Hercules tale than that done by Jim Weiss.

5. Rapunzel by Alix Berenzy is my favorite adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tale. This one is far more popular but I think the author got a little sloppy with how Rapunzel got pregnant. In the original tale, and in Berenzy’s work, the symbol of her laying her hand in the prince’s seems to be what suffices for marriage vows. Then the story tastefully goes on with the prince finding Rapunzel at long last with their twins. At least with this there is no question of Rapunzel’s virtue being held intact.  The version of Rapunzel done by Barbara Rogasky (illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman) is also a winner and deals with the marriage situation artfully through omission. Rogasky actually states when the twins come in that Rapunzel and the prince were married by then and it’s done in a way that children won’t be asking “Wait, when did that happen?!”

6. Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg is my favorite. The illustrations by Angela Barrett are just right: full, captivating, moody, and evocative. This particular version isn’t 100% accurate to the tale, but it is still full and rich and  the very minor embellishments just add to the beauty in my opinion. There are two other good options out there as well: the one by Jan Brett is clean, fairly simple and of course features the always lovely Brett artwork. And then the book by Marianna Mayer is pretty neat too. My only aversion to this one is that the illustrations of the beast (done by Mercer Mayer) are truly frightening. His eyes pop out in a very sort of disturbing way… but maybe it’s just me.

7. Pocahontas by the D’Aulaires is the only really solid alternative to the mediocre Disney movie. The movie itself was fairly informative but it of course avoided some of the uglier sides of the story (e.g. how the English treated her tribe). Reportedly, Disney turned down the offer of Native Americans who wanted to help the company produce a more accurate movie, but that’s just hearsay. But at least we have one great biography by the excellent Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire. Their fun and appealing art is always a treat for children. I have seen a couple other books on Pocahontas but none stick out in my mind as pushing past mediocrity.  I think it’s time for someone to produce a beautiful and lavish book on this fascinating princess!

8. The Little Mermaid is the reason I wanted to write this post. Like any other little girl, I loved the Disney version of Little Mermaid. When I grew up and finally read the original tale, I was shocked at how dumbed down the cartoon version was… and how the ultimate ending of sacrifice and references to the eternal life were entirely omitted. But hey, Disney is in it for happy endings and I get that. The original tale is kind of an ambivalent ending: mermaid doesn’t get her prince, but she will get the chance to earn her afterlife. The versions available are tricky… I wanted to find something that still guarded the modesty of the mermaids without it being obvious or kitschy (e.g. clam shell bras). That unfortunately ruled out some beautiful versions of the story, most notably that done by Charles Santore (there is a new version available for pre-order on this one). I also was looking for something that preserved as much of the original language of the story as possible since it is just so extraordinary. This combination, tasteful illustrations and excellent text, was hard to come by. Robert Sabuda has a pop-up book (and I’m certain that ‘hardcover’ price will change in time) coming out later this year that could be excellent. Initial pictures of the pop-outs are incredible but I don’t know how the text will be yet. So I eventually settled on the the version the adaptation by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Chihiro Iwasaki. The story is simplified somewhat so the text isn’t as wonderful as Santore’s, and I was a little disappointed that the sea witch didn’t seem very evil but I really appreciate the watery, ethereal illustrations by Iwasaki. Even if they aren’t traditionally rich and bold, the simple sketch and watercolor technique is very fitting for this particular tale.

9. FA Mulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior by Robert San Souci is a very well done story about the Chinese folk hero, Mulan. This book is the actual one Disney used for the basis of their movies. And I have to admit, the movie version of this tale isn’t too far out there or ridiculous at all! For a later-released Disney flick, it was surprisingly well done all said and done.  Anyway, as usual though, the book is better!  And the illustrations here by Jean & Mou-Sien Tseng are, like Iwasaki’s Little Mermaid, the perfect fit for this story. They are bright, ornate and faithful. China’s Bravest Girl is another title you can look up in your library if this one is missing…

10. The Sleeping Beauty by Trina Schart Hyman is a narrow winner for this story. I also really love this version illustrated by K.Y. Craft.  But in the luxurious pictures in Craft’s book, the good fairy’s good body is fairly suggestively shown once (hey I’ve got four boys who don’t need that titillation!) and the witch in the tale is incredibly scary looking. In Hyman’s book, she gets major points for having the most handsome prince of all the fairy tale books I’ve ever seen. I admit this is just personal preference, but I really have no use for effeminate looking men in tights who’ve never needed a razor.  Craft’s Prince Charming comes with facial hair and looks manly and rugged and like someone who could definitely defend a princess from a dragon!

Like? Share:
Share

The Summerfolk

The Summerfolk by Doris Burn is an excellent summer story that is out of print and not too cheap to find unfortunately.  Because of my deep love for Doris Burn, I splurged the $11 on this used title and am happy to own it now.  But when I bought it, I knew nothing about its contents.  There were no reviews that really gave me any idea of what I’d be purchasing so I really took a leap of faith this time (knowing I had a solid foundation with all her other art, plus the story line of Andrew Henry’s Meadow).  So here today, is a brief review with pictures (I obviously didn’t try very hard to take good shadow-less photos; but you get the idea).  This is a story about friendship and dispelling prejudices and adventure of the best kind.

Willy Potts (who appears to be about 9-12 years old) and his dad dislike the tourists who visit the beach where they live each summer.  They are loud and reckless and an all around disruption to the simple, fisherman’s life Willy and his dad have.

“Thick as sand fleas and twice as pesky,” muttered Joe Potts.
“Summerfolk,” grumbled Willy.

But one day, Willy takes his rundown old boat into the swamp and meets a “summerfolk” who has created an exciting pirate ship raft that wants to pull Willy through the swamp to meet other kids with other strange abodes or boats.  They commence to pick up other strange, exciting, kind children with exotic names as Twyla Loo and Cork and Fedderly.  They eat and climb trees and tell stories and have a grand old time until it is time for the summerfolk to head home.

As you can imagine, Willy has quite changed his mind by now (still needs to convince his dad of this) and ponders carefully at the end of the story:

“I reckon there’s summerfolk and summerfolk.”

Like? Share:
Share

Night Knight: Pick of the Week

Here is a fresh bedtime story!  Released in the US just this year, Night Knight(not to be confused with the fun little homonym book: Night, Knight is an excellent end-of-the-day ritual book. There are few words… but it is the artwork  that is truly memorable.  The limited palette is so rich to look at; I was surprised that this was done entirely with digital media. It reminds me just a tad of some of Maurice Sendak’s work.  One reviewer hit it spot on: you could essentially buy the book just to cut up (*gasp*) for the artwork to hang in a young lad’s room… it’s that good.  Anyway, this was one of those welcome surprise grabs from the library and my five year old son and I had a good time exploring some of the pictures.  I am eager now to check out author/illustrator Owen Davey’s original, wordless story: Foxly’s Feast.

Like? Share:
Share

Andrew Henry’s Meadow: Reissued

I’ve said dozens of times that asking a book lover to choose a favorite book is tantamount to asking a mother to choose a favorite child.  There is however one particular author/illustrator of whom I am especially fond.  If there was a forced admission of my Top Five children’s books of all times, two of her titles would be in that list.  This is Doris Burn.  She illustrated a book very dear to me (which incidentally was republished in 1999 with inferior artwork and a reduced family size) which sent me on a search for other Doris Burn titles (I am so excited that The Summerfolk will be showing up in the mail soon too!!!).  She is most famous for Andrew Henry’s Meadow.  

Until yesterday, that book was out of print, selling on the used market for $35 or more. But thank heavens publishers have some sense and aren’t committed to just churning out “newer, better” books all the time.  Andrew Henry’s Meadow has delighted young and old alike for several generations.  And now, you can purchase it for the bargain price of $11 at amazon.  It’s worth every penny.  Best of all, the publishers didn’t mess with the story at all.  There are still five children in the family.  The only discernible difference is the childish font they used for the front cover (I’m not a fan.) and the size of the book overall is slightly reformatted.  While the story takes place in the springtime, it makes for fine summer reading as well.  Now, there is a movie being made based on this book (I am both frightened and excited to see what Hollywood will do to this) and I’m sure that’s why it’s back in print, but we still can voice our appreciation in one major way: go purchase this book!  Our dollars speak and publishers hear the almighty dollar.  If we buy mediocre garbage, they’re happy to continue publishing it.  If we buy excellent, innovative books, they’ll publish them.  The book makes for excellent gift giving to any middle child you know, any creative child you know, any 7-12 year old boy you know, or any child at all really.  It is a standout picture book.  Thank you Philomel Books for reissuing one of the great titles in children’s literature… may there be many more to come!

Like? Share:
Share