Sunday, December 30, 2007

Billions of Quacks

Billions of Quacks
Faye Tornquist
pictures by A. E. Kennedy
Samuel Gabriel Sons & Company, 1939

My mother has been obsessing about getting Quacks for my son for a while now. She had a copy from when she was little, but the binding was all broken. So this Christmas, he got about a dozen of the pages framed from her original as well as a purchased vintage copy. Billions of Quacks quite simply rocks!

Once upon a time there was a dear Little Duck
who couldn't stop quacking.
"Stop quacking", said his mother.
The Little Duck tried, but he couldn't!
"Stop quacking", said his father.
The Little Duck tried, but he couldn't!...Little Duck tried as hard as he knew how.
He cried. He worried. He took sips of water.
He held his breath. But it didn't do any good!
The quacks just kept coming out
one right after the other, like this,
Thousands of them! millions of them! billions of them!!!
The illustrations are vibrant and the story of the Little Duck who gives his quacks away to the Toy Maker is completely delicious. It has a high collectible factor, so if you ever run into one at a book sale, grab it! You can't help but fall in love with the proud little duckling, and the slight old-time "kids should be seen and not heard" moral is endearing yet dated. I LOVE THIS BOOK!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Kangaroo for Christmas

Kangaroo for Christmas
James Flora ~ Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962
reprinted Enchanted Lion Books, October 2011

So this is my last post for a few days... headed to the family in Virginia... but as I am a Flora fan and it's Christmas Eve, I thought this number would be appropriate. The often hilarious story of a small girl who receives a -- HAAAAZAAAAA -- kangaroo for Christmas.

On the day before Christmas a truck came.
It left a big box on the porch.
On the box was a card.

As you can imagine, havoc ensues with the bouncy bugger wrecking the joint... from the grocery store to the bakery to the top of Grandma's old electric automobile. This one is a riot, and completely far out (as expected).

Mine is a first edition library copy, and it has a wonderful book plate in the front that reads --


It made me laugh to think of the hundreds of librarians my son has horrified with his sticky finger marks.

Merry Christmas!

Also by:
Grandpa's Farm
Pishtosh Bullwash and Wimple
Stewed Goose
Great Green Turkey Creek Monster
Leopold the See-Through Crumbpicker
The Day the Cow Sneezed
Little Hatchy Hen
Grandpa's Witched Up Christmas
My Friend Charlie
Sherwood Walks Home
The Fabulous Firework Family

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Scuttle the Stowaway Mouse

Jean and Nancy Soule with pictures by Barbara Remington/ published 1969 by Parent's Magazine Press

I hate to sound sexist, but it is hard to believe a woman did these illustrations. The pictures of the rats and the pirates in particular are pretty creepy, so it's kinda cool that a woman could come up with them. According to one of the back pages of the book, Ms. Remington illustrated the first paperback volumes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy - which makes sense. The two authors are a mother and her thirteen-year-old daughter who published several books together during this time period.

In the midst of that battle he was so small
That nobody noticed the mouse at all.
Quickly Scuttle hunted around
Till over the railing he looked and found
The captain's hat with the turned-up brim
A perfect boat for a mouse like him.

Mouse looks for home. Mouse find adventure instead. Mouse escapes pirates. Mouse steals pirate loot. Mouse ends up with nice house. That's basically the gist. I thought my son would be tweaked by the pictures, but he's actually pretty into them. We purchased it earlier this week at a Goodwill, and it has been through at least six reads already without one creep out.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat

The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat
Eugene Field with illustrations by Helen Page
Follet Publishing Company, 1945

My son received this one as a Christmas present this week from a friend in Colorado. This is a reprint from 1963 and includes not just Dog & Cat, but also a story called The Dinkey-Bird. Both tales are pretty far out by today's standards. The namesake story is about a toy cat and dog that get in a fight while a horrified clock and China plate look on. The poem ends with the revelation that the two stuffed dolls have eaten each other.

Next morning, where the two had sat,
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!

The bird story is about the land of Wonder-Wander, an island where angelic boys and girls go to do whatever they want.

There the gumdrops grow like cherries,
And taffy's thick as peas
Caramels you pick like berries
When, and where, and how you please.

It almost seems as if the Dinkey-Bird is a winged Pied Piper, luring the kids to his land of plenty with his siren song. Spooky. This book rocks in so many ways. The pastel illustrations are evocative and the poems as sweet as they are bizarre. And my son has been mesmerized with it ever since it came in the mail. "Again Mommy. Again." Obviously the Dinkey-Bird's evil plan is working....

Also by:
Wynken, Blynken and Nod
Favorite Poems

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Happy Egg

The Happy Egg
Ruth Krauss with pictures by Crockett Johnson
Scholastic, 1967

How romantic would it be to spend your day creating children's books with the person you love? I mean, I don't know much about these guys in their deep personal life, but to the outsider, their marriage looks pretty dang cool. The Happy Egg is my favorite of their collaborations, and tells the story of a little little egg and how it came to be cracked.

There was a little little bird.
It was just born.
It was still an egg.
It couldn't walk.
It couldn't sing.
It couldn't fly.
It could just get sat on.

This is the last book the two created together, and I can't imagine it took him longer than a weekend to do the drawings (unless I am sorely underestimating the creative process here). The illustrations just as sweet as they could be, with words that are as humdrum as they are uplifting.

Also by:
A Very Special House
I'll Be You and You Be Me

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas in the Barn

Christmas in the Barn
by Margaret Wise Brown with pictures by Barbara Cooney/ published 1952 by Thomas Y. Crowell

The story of the immaculate birth, Christmas in the Barn has not only helped inform my son of the Baby Jesus, but also of the fact that women carry babies in their tummies and that once he was a baby living in my tummy and that someday he will be a daddy. We actually have two versions of this book and in the updated version illustrated by Diane Goode, it is pretty clear that Mary is "with child"... in this original version, not so visually apparent. Of the era I suppose.

The child was sleeping in the hay
And there they were
All safe and warm
All together in that ancient barn.

I suppose I'd better leave out the part of how the wee Baby Jesus was actually conceived, as I am walking on thin ice on that subject anyway... I wouldn't want to confuse my son's wee little mind further. But I digress... Such a great Christmas story if you are wanting to remember the reason for the season.

Also by:
The Quiet Noisy Book
On Christmas Eve
The Dead Bird
Little Chicken
Chanticleer and the Fox
The Crows of Pearblossom
Wynken, Blynken and Nod
The Golden Egg Book
Ox-Cart Man
The Friendly Book
The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Tree is Nice

A Tree Is Nice
Janice May Udry with pictures by Marc Simont/ published 1956 by Harper & Row

Author of one of my faves, The Moon Jumpers, Ms. Udry created a read that is so totally innocent and sweet it makes you ache for a world here the wonder of trees is an everyday contemplation. I love the simple pen and ink strokes of the pictures and the way all the children depicted look so sure of themselves and the world in which they live.

Cats get away from dogs by going up the tree.
Birds build nests in trees and live there.
Sticks come off the trees too.
We draw in the sand with sticks.

I love the second to the last line there, because these sorts of things are what stick in your child's imagination for a lifetime. Since reading Keats' The Snowy Day, my son is constantly smacking on trees with sticks and this book kind of brings it full circle. Just those sorts of things we lose as an adult. That sticks do come from trees and how cool it is that they are lying around everywhere, waiting for us to pick them up and write in the sand.

Also by:
The Philharmonic Gets Dressed
The Moon Jumpers
Let's Be Enemies

Friday, December 7, 2007

ABC Book

ABC Book
C.B. Falls/ published 1923 by Books of Wonder

I got this book as a freebie while I was working in New York over 15 years ago and held onto it for my future kid. It was one of the earliest books I read to him, and I really just love it. An alphabet book for the design-conscious, the wood cuts are stunning. C.B. had a style that was copied by many, and still is today because his pictures are so much fun to look at and get lost in. Each letter of the alphabet is given a corresponding animal...

X is for Xiphius
Y is for Yak
Z is for Zebra

...though the antelope looks a lot like a goat to me. You can actually buy prints and see all the illustrations from the book here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Circus is Coming

The Circus is Coming
a picture parade by Hilary Knight/ published 1978 by Golden Press

Circus was recently reissued, and I saw the new version at The Red Balloon, and decided to buy a vintage copy for myself. This book is totally lavish, a little sexualized and almost indescribable. It's awesome! There is very minimal text, but the reason to buy here is the pictures. Each two-page spread illustrates a circus float with different themes: clowns, acrobats, the Arctic, pirates, cowboys and Indians, monkeys, etc... The text is simple but tells a story. Literally, the pictures are worth a thousand words (and reads!)

Snarling and spitting tigers make me shiver.
But cats can be gentle too.

Silly, silly apes in wigs...
I laugh so hard my sides hurt.

Brrr. A frosty float all covered with ice...
...and Eskimos and penguins and furry seal babies.

Best known for his work on Eloise, there are undertones of Knight's second life here and the pictures are utterly fascinating. Those who really get into it, can even buy signed prints of some of the artwork here.

Also by:
Where's Wallace
Sunday Morning

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Roar and More

Roar and More
Karla Kuskin/ published 1956 by Harper and Row

A library find (thus the wrinkly picture), Roar and More is a super cool book. Obviously from that time period when artists started playing with design... Namely two-page spreads with words the appropriate size of their sounds.

Fishes are finny.
Fishes are funny.
They don't go dancing.
They don't make money.
They live under water.
They don't have troubles.
And when they talk
It looks like bubbles.

The animal illustrations are primitive and simple, and the little poems about each animal lyrical and witty. The back cover says the book was created as part of a project for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Yale School of Design... which sounds pretty right on. If reading this aloud... be ready to put on some voices. HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK.

Also by:
The Philharmonic Gets Dressed

Monday, December 3, 2007

Quiet! There's a Canary in the Library

Quiet! There's a Canary in the Library
Don Freeman/ published 1969 by Scott, Foresman and Company

By the author of Corduroy and the previously reviewed Space Witch, I first saw a new edition of Quiet in a local bookstore and found a vintage copy on What an awesome book! This is what I was talking about in that just when you think you've seen it all, you come across something that is so good, you can't believe you haven't seen it before.

After a while Cary slowly closed her book
and started talking silently to herself.
"If I were a librarian
I know what I would do," she said.
"I would have a special day when only
animals and birds would be allowed
to come in and browse."

Since this covers my son's two favorite places... the library and the zoo, it has everything.

You know, it's funny to look at these books now, because a little pen and ink drawing book like this would never pass in today's market. The charcoal looks almost like crayon strokes, and the illustrations are very childlike. Something you don't see much of with all the oil paintings and detail that are on kids' bookshelves today.

Also by:
Space Witch
Fly High Fly Low
Mop Top
The Guard Mouse

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
by Barbara Shook Hazen, adapted from the story by Robert L. May with pictures by Richard Scarry/ published 1976 by Golden Books

The other reindeer in the book play an old (imaginary?) game called tumble bones... one of the games Rudolph isn't allowed to join in on. Happily my son has made up his own version of the game that includes falling (ahem, tumbling) on the ground and rolling around. Hilarious.

All the reindeer loved to play games.
They played tree tag and snow slide and tumble bones.
But Rudolph was never asked to play.
He stood behind a pine tree and watched.
He was very lonely.

After about a thousand reads over the Thanksgiving holiday, I can now recite this book by heart, even though it barely resembles the song. My son talks about Toyland (you know, where Rudolph lives?) like it is down the street from our house and is totally jazzed about the whole idea of a deer with a nose that glows. I can't say that I blame him. I had a copy of this book way back when, since as we know, Scarry was THE illustrator of my generation. I just can't say enough about how cool and sweet his pictures are. And, I have to say that the holiday books of today blow... If I have to look at another Dora story/sticker Feliz Navidad paperback, I'm gonna scream. I mean, since when did all children's books have to come with stickers?

Also by:
I Am a Bunny
Chipmunk's ABC
Great Big Air Book
Rabbit and His Friends
The Bunny Book
Richard Scarry's Best Rainy Day Book Ever
Tommy Visits the Doctor

Friday, November 30, 2007

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree
Robert Barry
McGraw Hill, 1963

I am so in the Christmas spirit right now. I've pulled out my son's box of Christmas titles, and whereas last year this one was too long for him to get into, this year it is a fave. It was one of my fave holiday books, too. With the cute animals and the mysterious other life that the tree finds. Starting with rich, old Mr. Willowby's too-tall Christmas tree... trickling down to the smallest mouse in the house.

Barnaby Bear was padding by --
It almost hit him in the eye.
"Now who would throw a tree away
So very close to Christmas day?"

Mr. W's tree gets the top cut off again and again and again so that joy spreads and everyone gets a little bit of the magic.

Also produced as a TV movie in the 90s starring Robert Downey Jr. and the Muppets, this is still one of the best holiday books for kids in my opinion. Just the feeling of goodwill and how everyone has different ideas of beautiful. Not to mention the adorable illustrations.

A true, true classic.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Bruno Munari's Zoo
Bruno Munari/ published 1963 by The World Publishing Company

The copy I have of Italian design guru Bruno Munari's Zoo is the reissue from a few years back, but the bold color and illustrations hold up so well, it might as well have been published yesterday. So much of that design sense from the 50s and 60s is right in line with the look of today. Bruno's zoo tour begins with a series of signs, the first of which is pretty tickling.

Don't feed the animals:
don't give the birds to the fox,
the fox to the lion,
the parrot to the tiger.
Don't annoy the butterflies.
Leave the signs where they are.
The lion will be offended if you pull his tail.
It is forbidden to sit on the tortoise
or play with the bears.
Applaud the seals.

If I pull this one off the shelf, I am definitely looking at four or five reads before my son lets me tuck it out of sight. Ah well, it is short and sweet with large eye-popping illustrations so who can fault the boy for wanting to hear it again and again? Funny to notice the two little butterflies Bruno puts on each page. Lots of people do that sort of thing now, but it is funny to wonder just what he was thinking. Like an old time master painting himself into his pictures... are the wee flutterbugs the narrators?

You know, sometimes I wonder if the well will ever run dry on these books, and when I do... about 20 always pop up. It seems each vintage kids book I find to is a million times more incredible than the last. I suppose at some point I'll have to do a top 20 pick.... Maybe for the 1 year anniversary!

Also by:
From Afar It Is An Island

Monday, November 19, 2007

Jenny's Birthday Book

Jenny's Birthday Book
Esther Averill/ published 1954 by Harper & Row

Fans of Esther's classic, The Fire Cat, will love this one. Pickles (the fire cat) makes a guest appearance at Jenny's birthday bash in what could possibly be the cutest animal party ever. The illustrations welcome more color than the ones in its sister book, which is nice and really gives life to the rosy-ness of the story.

This is the day - the day of days -
the birthday of the little shy black cat named Jenny Linsky.
Somehow it seems as if the sun were shining
and the roses blooming just for her.

New York Review of Books has republished this and the other books in the Jenny series, so if you can't find a vintage copy, new copies abound. The NYROB only picks the best out-of-print titles and you can totally see why they'd want to get these back into circulation. Any cat with a last name is OK in my book.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sam, Bangs & Moonshine

Sam, Bangs & Moonshine
written and illustrated by Evaline Ness/ published 1966 by Henry Holt and Company

OK, come on, before this woman wrote this book, she was married to THE Eliot Ness. How awesome is that? That said, this is a powerful story, touching on the overwhelming nature of the imagination. The story of a fisherman's daughter, it is the often sad tale of giving up childish things for the real world. It's a little bit of a bubble-popper for those who want to live in the world of fantasy forever, but in this case, growing up means letting go of some not so happy things.

Sam said her mother was a mermaid,
when everyone knew she was dead.
Sam said she had a fierce lion at home, and a baby kangaroo.
(Actually what she really had was a old wise cat called Bangs.)

Beautifully written with muted illustrations, it is so infused with melancholy and mystery that it almost makes you feel five again. That feeling of exhilarating escape that the imagination can bring even in the face of great sadness. We've all been there before, pretending so we do not have to see. If you can't relate to this tale, then you must be dead.

Also by:
Some of the Days of Everett Anderson
Fierce the Lion

Friday, November 16, 2007

Even the Devil is Afraid of a Shrew

Even the Devil Is Afraid of a Shrew ~ retold by Valerie Stalder, adapted by Ray Broekel and illustrated by Richard Brown/ published 1972 by Addison-Wesley

Hands down, this is the freakiest book I have ever bought my son. I'm not gonna lie and say it is one of his favorites, because I've actually never shown it to him. As it is the retelling of an old Scandinavian folktale, I assume there is a moral, but what that would be is any one's guess. Basically, it is about a guy who gets nagged by his wife nonstop.

He had a wife who was very bad-tempered
and unpleasant -- a real shrew.
She was always scolding and grumbling at him.
Nothing he ever did was right, poor man!
But everything his wife did was right,
according to her.

And then one day he comes across a deep hole in the ground that he promptly pushes her into. Eventually, he gets around to rescuing her, and when (three years later) he finally drops a line down, who should crawl up but the devil -- climbing up the rope in hopes of escaping the tormenting vocal cords of the man's wife himself. The story goes on from there, but basically it must have been told to young Lapish girls to keep them from nagging their future husbands. The illustrations are very vivid and lively, and I suppose the story it isn't any worse for the self-esteem of our nation's little girls than the ever-kowtowing stories of princesses old.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Just Me

Just Me
Marie Hall Ets
The Viking Press, 1965

In 1960, Ms. Ets (great last name huh?) won the Caldecott Medal for her illustrations in the book Nine Days to Christmas. I particularly like this one though because it reminds me of my son. It's a story of a little boy who saves a bird from the claws of his pet cat, and then spends the rest morning acting just like various barnyard/wild animals.

A rabbit was nibbling some leaves off a bush.
"Rabbit," I said.
(He didn't have any name because nobody owned him.)
"Rabbit, I can't fly like a bird, but I can hop like a rabbit.
Let me see how you do it."
So rabbit went hoppety, hop, hop.
And I hopped just like him.

This book is wonderful, showing genuine interaction between child and nature, something lacking tremendously in the modern world of the suburban adolescent. A cool footnote on Ms. Ets life is that she also wrote a biography of a woman she befriended during her days as a social worker. Rosa:The Life of an Italian Immigrant is an incredible story that really captures the post WWI era and the plight of the American immigrant. I just love people who bounce around from one creative expression to the next, and better yet, have the passion to do both.

Also by:
Gilberto and the Wind

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Too Many Mittens

Too Many Mittens
by Florence and Louis Slobodkin/ published 1958 by The Vanguard Press

Most known for the Caldecott Medal-winning illustrations in James Thurber's Many Moons (1944), Louis and his wife Florence did this book as a nod to their own twin grandsons. The story is about how the boys and their grandmother accumulate a load of missing red mittens. Simple yet enduringly precious, it is a tale filled with seasons and melancholy and what it means to be lost and found again.

They counted, "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10...!"
There were now TEN RED MITTENS in the drawer!
And for the next few days, whenever anyone found a red mitten
anywhere, that person brought it over to the twins' house.

The dainty pictures are so delicate... the red of the boys cheeks seems rubbed on with just a hint of rouge. And the mittens just a few strokes of the pen but still iconic and evocative of an era. These sorts of books are the kind I love, an imaginative theme told without a great deal of drama. Simple storytelling.

Also by:
Many Moons
Millions and Millions and Millions!
Dinny and Danny
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