Monday, October 29, 2007

Grandpa's Farm

Grandpa's Farm
James Flora ~ Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965


Everybody loves this guy. King of 50s jazz album art and a highly collectible children's book author. Like most of his titles, this one seems so modern and vibrant, you're shocked to find that it was published decades ago. The humor is titillatingly subversive and the storytelling so completely hip, if you have just one of his books you find yourself doing anything to get the others.

Thus, I didn't have this one and was delighted to find it at a monster library sale. My son wags his tail for Grandpa's Farm in particular because... well, it has the word farm in it and all the animals that go hand in hand with that term. The storyline is delightfully kooky, a old codger spinning tall tales for his excited grandson.


When I sit on Grandpa's lap, his beard tickles the top of my head. Only he says it isn't really his beard. It's his eyebrows.

"Years ago I didn't have any hair on my chin," Grandpa said. "I just had big bushy eyebrows. Then along came the Big Wind of '34. That wind was so strong that it blew my eyebrows all the way down my chin."


Flora had such an eye for design and irony, and a wonderfully wicked spirit that just bounces off the page. His books are real treasures.

(If you like this one, the Grandpa who comes back into play here and here, and there's a chicken that turns back up here.)

Also by:
Pishtosh Bullwash and Wimple
Kangaroo for Christmas
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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Little Tiny Rooster

The Little Tiny Rooster
William Lipkind and Nicolas Mordvinoff
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960


Ran into some old favorites at the monster book sale at our local library. The Little Tiny Rooster is one of the most endearing children's books around. The story of the little, tiny rooster who kicks some big butt and saves the day. Always writing under the pseudonyms Nicholas and Will, these two had a long and illustrious children's book career including a Caledecott medal winner, Finders Keepers.

And it began like any other day in the spring.
The chickens strutted around the yard, stopping
now and then to scratch for worms. The ducks
waddled down to the pond and swam off in a line.
The horses and cows nibbled at the grass in the
near field. The dogs ran back and forth barking,
then settled down to their morning nap. The cats
were already asleep. They had been out all night.


So yea, this wee little rooster is born, and he grows up and is still wee, and to win the respect of the other fowl in the coup, he must prove himself. The ultimate underdog story, it just goes to show you that anyone can do anything they set their mind to. The illustrations are bright and intense and really jump out of the page, saturated in color. You almost wanna every page of the thing on your wall!


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Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Year is a Window

paintings by Erik Blegvad with verses by Richard Jackson/ published 1963 by Doubleday

Following the months of the year, not only do children learn about the seasons, but they get their first look at the flowers and birthstones of the birthdays. I loved these kinds of books as a small girl because they seemed to me so dainty and precious; like you really had a special treasure.

March
When the rain is splashing down
On fields and in the town
Singing winds begin to blow
And flowers start to grow
FLOWER: Daffodil or Jonquil
BIRTHSTONE: Bloodstone


I bought this copy from a local used bookshop, not really because the story and pictures are darling, but because of the sweet inscription. Two real autumn leaves are pressed into the end pages with the words....

Dear Jenni - The years come and go -- and leave us in bright memories. Each day is important in life. Be sure to look out of your window every day and love the whole wonderful year. With love -- Grandma Jo XXX

At the bottom is written...

I picked these pretty leaves in my garden -- just for you. October 1964

What I can't believe is that the leaves are still pretty intact. I just love picturing this little granny out in her garden, stuffing the little things in her pocket.

Also by:
Mud Pies and Other Recipes
The Last of the Wizards
The Diamond in the Window
Plenty of Fish

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tommy Grows Wise

Tommy Grows Wise
Romney Gay
Grosset & Dunlap, 1939


When I tried to Google the author, you can imagine what came up when I typed in the words Romney and gay. Got the inside look at good 'ole Mitt's online news portfolio. But that aside, this tale is for all the tots who ever refused to eat their peas. I should have whipped this one out last night when my son had an absolute fit over having to eat steamed squash. Who knew that all that talk about kids and veggies was true?

But when Tommy found any
CARROTS or SPINACH or nice
green PEAS on his plate he
wouldn't eat them, and when he
found any MILK in his glass he
wouldn't drink it.


So Tommy begins to feed all the healthy foods in his dish to his beloved pets and one by one they become so big and strong (hint, hint) that they run away from poor Tommy. So what's a boy to do except eat all his veggies and milk so he becomes big and strong instead of his wandering animals. I suppose the aforementioned wisdom comes from putting two and two together.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Ghost Named Fred

A Ghost Named Fred
Nathaniel Benchley with pictures by Ben Shecter/ published 1968 by Harper Collins


Not that I enjoy torturing my child with ghost stories, but watching his eyes grow bigger and bigger as I read him A Ghost Named Fred for the first time was really neat to watch. He never really got scared, but he was totally sucked into the story and fell for it completely.

Algonquin round table member and father to Peter of Jaws fame, I've always loved his stuff. I guess it is just the romance of the written word and how so much of his own history is intertwined as an American literature footnote. This story of an only child who makes friends with a friendly, elderly ghost is super sweet, but again, I was stuck with trying to explain what a ghost is to my son. Not even fully gripping what it means to be dead, much less that a ghost is a dead person. Particularly vexing with my two-year-old firmly planted in the defining "why" stage.

He went into another room,
but still he felt the thing
coming closer.
It made his skin feel cold,
and his hair began to prickle.
"I think I'll go upstairs,"
he said.
"There is something wrong down here."


I love that last line. The boy in the story is dressed like an astronaut so watching him try to unfreak himself out is funny while at the same time actually brings you into his creeped-outed-ness.

Also by:
The Hating Book
Oscar Otter

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Dead Bird

The Dead Bird
Margaret Wise Brown with pictures by Remy Charlip
first published 1938 by Addison-Wesley


I originally heard about The Dead Bird from a friend of mine who referenced it while helping her daughter understand the death of her pet goldfish. It is the captivating story of a group of children who find a dead bird in the woods and decide to give it a proper, if morose and melancholy, send off.

The children felt with
their fingers for the quick beat of the bird's
heart in its breast. But there was no heart
beating. That was how they knew it was dead.


Since Ms. Brown gets so much love from me, I'll give props to Mr. Charlip who not only illustrated a ton of kiddie books, but was also a world renown choreographer; famous for sketching his dances on paper. That natural flow is evidenced here ten fold through serene color and simple yet alive drawings that do, quite literally, dance on the page.

Whimsical yet slightly over dramatic, the tale perfectly nails a child's penchant for hyperbole in the face of trauma. Those little scenes of childhood, when we behave in the way we think we should behave based solely on how we've seen others react in similar situations. Not yet fully understanding our feelings yet still participating in the solemn pageant of life.

And every day, until they forgot,
they went and sang to their little dead
bird and put fresh flowers on his grave.


If you are looking for a title to use as a conversation starter about death with your children, pick up this out –of-print classic from your local library.

Also by:
The Quiet Noisy Book
On Christmas Eve
Christmas in the Barn
Little Chicken
The Golden Egg Book
What good luck! What bad luck!
The Friendly Book
Mother Mother I Feel Sick Send For the Doctor Quick Quick Quick

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Day We Saw the Sun Come Up

THE DAY WE SAW THE SUN COME UP
by Alice E. Goudey with illustrations by Adrienne Adams/ published 1961 by Charles Scribner's Sons


How do you explain to a child what the earth is, why the sun rises and just how small we all really are in the big scheme of things? The Day We Saw does a pretty fair job of it. It is such an enormous concept, but I love how the book begins with a small boy and girl waking up before anyone else and sneaking out of the house to see the wee early morning hours for the first time.

We'd never
in all our lives,
been up so early in the morning.
The world was very still.
It seemed as if someone had said,
"Hush! Go quietly!
The world is not awake."
The grass was wet with dew,
and all about,
spread out on the grass,
were lacy spider webs.


Outdoor nut that I was when I was wee, I would drag large shipping boxes into the yard (particular during thunderstorms) and camp out... sleeping outside you usually awoke with the sun and it was such a different feeling to see the world like that. All silent and still and foggy.

The book goes on to explain the concept of night and day through the rotation of the earth. I can tell my son can't quite wrap his mind around it yet, but I envision a eureka moment someday soon. I remember it took me til high school to really appreciate the vastness of it all.

Also by:
Mr. Biddle and the Birds
A Woggle of Witches
The Wounded Duck
The Easter Egg Artists
Butterfly Time
Ponies of Mykillengi

Friday, October 19, 2007

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm

Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm
Alice and Martin Provensen ~ Random House, 1974


Our Friends opens with...

WHO LIVES AT MAPLE HILL FARM?

In the series of over sized pages that follow, we meet a cast of characters with all their own dramas and hilarity -- past, present and future.

The animals that were...
the animals that are...
and the animals that will be...
bring joy, laughter and life to the lives of the people
who live in a house that needs painting,
at the end of a road full of holes...
MAPLE HILL FARM.


My son likes this book because it is jam packed with animals and each one has its own little legend. This is one of those reads that is so story heavy, it is hard to get all the way through in one sitting.

Similar to Richard Scarrey in a way, a two-page spread is filled with a dozen scenarios, so you're never sure which one will win the boy over at a particular reading.

Not that I refer all my author histories to Wikipedia (ahem) but... these two had a very interesting life together... his creating Tony the Tiger only being a small piece of the tale. Check it out if you get a minute.

Also by:
A Child's Garden of Verses
Roses are Red. Are Violets Blue??
Funny Bunny
Fireside Book of Folk Songs
The Mother Goose Book
Animal Fair
My Little Hen

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Who Am I?

Who am I?
Sally and Al Fabry
published 1952 by Whitman Publishing Company


Got this out of the same lot as the previous Lucinda... and in researching and reading about these authors, it is funny to think of the thin line between the books that have stayed on as classics and others that have been lost in oblivion. Is it truly because the books remembered were better... or did they have say, a better marketing team? Makes me think of Kennedy and Jackie O. It seems to be common knowledge that Kennedy would not have been remembered the same had it not been for Jackie's Camelot creation. That said...

Way-down
Way-down
I dig the coal to heat your town.
Far from the sun and the yellow stars
I load the coal in little cars.
With a light in my cap like a twinkling eye
I work in the darkness.
Who am I?


So the book goes on like this, alluding to some mystery occupation which is easily guessed through the rhyme and pictures provided. I love the fact that the jobs listed in the book are... train conductor, coal miner, farmer, pilot, cowboy and fireman. WOW. My son's been listening to a Sesame Street classics album of late and has become obsessed with the song "Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood" so this one helped to bring it home. Though unfortunately, along with the milk man, I'm gonna have a hell of a time pointing some of these guys out in our walks about town.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lucinda the Little Donkey

Lucinda the Little Donkey
Irma Wilde
illustrations by George Wilde
Rand McNally & Company, 1952


One of the ever-popular Rand McNally Elf Book series, Lucinda is a naughty little donkey who takes great pleasure doing exactly the opposite of what Mr. Pinkney, the farmer, tells her. She prefers to break out of the barn nightly and act like whatever other farm animal strikes her fancy... leaving Mr. P more than a little flummoxed.

Mr. Pinkney looked and looked next morning and finally found her in the pigsty! She was eating corn and rolling in the mud -- pretending she was a pig!

That is until she wanders in the path of train No. 49 and inadvertently saves the day! Love it when the under-donkey turns hero. Couldn't find much on what I assume to be a husband wife/team except that they published a lot of similar books in the 50s. My copy, bought off of E-bay, was obviously well-loved and includes a masking tape spine with the child-scribbled inscription "Judy Vopat and Jim Vopat."

Monday, October 15, 2007

What Do You Say, Dear?

What Do You Say, Dear?
by Sesyle Joslin
pictures by Maurice Sendak
Addison-Wesley, 1958


I know it seems like we read a lot of Sendak, but there is just an endless parade of titles to be discovered. This one has to be the strangest I've seen so far. Quirky and delightful. I just love his stuff, the way he thinks about kids and the writers he hooks up with. Similiar to early Peanuts, his books touch on the cynical, subversive side of childhood.

You are picking dandelions and columbines
outside the castle. Suddenly a fierce dragon
appears and blows red smoke at you, but just
then a brave knight gallops up and cuts off
the dragon's head.

What do you say, dear?


Each situation is absolutely absurd, yet the answer to the question is always some delightful, everyday reply. Teaching manners through the wildest scenarios. Too funny! Not surprising though, as kids think in these type of outlandish story lines all the time. Also.... like the use in this picture of a bad cowboy holding a gun to a kid's head... you're not gonna see that flagrant sort of honesty in today's PC day and age.

Also by:
A Very Special House
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
Moon Jumpers
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale
Some Swell Pup
Let's Be Enemies
Chicken Soup with Rice
Lullabies and Night Songs
Outside Over There
I'll Be You and You Be Me
The Juniper Tree
Where the Wild Things Are
Seven Little Monsters
The Giant Story

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Yellow House

The Yellow House
Blake Morrison
pictures by Helen Craig
Walker Books, 1987


Again, not really a "vintage" book, but 20 years is at least a classic right? Anyway, found this one at the library, and I just loved it. For any parent who read To Kill a Mockingbird and/or had that mystery house in the neighborhood that you always wondered about. I had one right next door, a large mansion-type home abandoned as-is by a woman whisked away to a nursing home. We would run up to the door and knock, fully expecting a ghost of some kind to answer, then we would run screaming when we thought we saw something (or someone) move within.

Every day we passed the yellow house
on our way to the park, Mom and me and my little sister Jenny.
The house was on its own. It looked
old, sad and rather scary.


The imaginings this girl has are far more spectacular, including tigers, panda bears and laughing gnomes... no witches or goblins here. I like a lot of the books from the 80s that have those pinched tight illustrations. I guess it harkens back to the fact that most little girls love little things, and for me, that always included little pictures.

Love the spooky, exciting feel this book provokes. Makes me wanna search out my own yellow house in the hood so I can start building the legend for my son.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Little Chicken

Little Chicken
Margaret Wise Brown
pictures by Leonard Weisgard
Harper & Row, 1943


As I've said before, you could do a blog just on these two collaborators. Getting into reading more and more of Ms. Brown's titles, many of them could be extensions of others as the language and imagery are so similar. Of course there is the ever-loved Golden Egg Book, but this one is like how that story could have continued on if the duck had been a chicken.

Once there was a little chicken
who belonged to a Rabbit.
The Rabbit found him one day just
breaking out of an egg,
so be belonged to Rabbit.


All of the books by these two have such a wonderful innocence for kids about nature and animals and love and friendship. However, I find it interesting that through this entire book the name "Rabbit" is capitalized and "little chicken" is not. You could stretch here and say the chicken is just a plaything for the rabbit or that because the rabbit is a mammal, he is somehow superior to the little egg-layer. The whole point of the story seems to be that after soliciting all kings of animals, only birds and monkeys would want to hang with a little peep-peeper while his rabbit friend is off doing more important things.... But I doubt there was that much though put into it.

Also by:
The Quiet Noisy Book
On Christmas Eve
Christmas in the Barn
The Dead Bird
The Golden Egg Book
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Treasures to See
The Big Book of Nursery Tales
The Friendly Book
Sir Kevin of Devon
Cynthia and the Unicorn
The Mouse and the Lion

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Chanticleer and the Fox

Chanticleer and the Fox
by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted and illustrated by Barbara Cooney/ published 1958 by Thomas Y. Crowell


Any book adapted from the Canterbury Tales gets a double thumbs up from me. This Caldecott Medal winner is a tale of the woes of flattery, and the illustrations and language are impeccable.

Now this fine rooster had seven hens, all colored exceedingly like him. The hen with the prettiest throat was called fair Demoiselle Partlet. She was polite, discreet, debonair, and companionable, and she conducted herself so well since the time that she was seven days old that, truly, she held the heart of Chanticleer all tightly locked.

It's funny because my copy bought at a library sale is all marked up, obviously where a story teller had updated words so that his audience would follow and also altered any religious references. The back flap has a description of the author and her life and my favorite part reads: Research for the pictures in the book went on both at home and in libraries. A neighbor loaned Miss Cooney some chickens and the local Grange contributed a pen, so that she could keep the chickens in her studio to use as models for Chanticleer and his harem.

Also by:
Christmas in the Barn
The Crows of Pearblossom
Wynken, Blynken and Nod
Ox-Cart Man
The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Let's Find Out What Electricity Does

Let's Find Out What Electricity Does ~ Martha and Charles Shapp
pictures by Ida Scheib
Franklin Watts, 1961


You gotta love a book that starts out telling you the tale of Aladdin, his magic lamp and (abracadabra!) its genie, and then likens said genie to electricity.

You have a genie who can do things for you.
Your genie is electricity.
Wires bring it to your house.
Let's find out what you can do to get your genie to come to you.


I'm not going to lie to you, my son doesn't really love this book. In fact, it confuses the crap out of him. But that's OK, he's still a little young, so there is plenty of time. Apparently, there is a series of these books written by the same authors. I just love how the story romanticizes electricity and highlights how easy it can make even the most menial chores. A real time capsule of laughs!

Opening Books

Opening Books
Albert J. Harris
and Mae Knight Clark
published 1965 by Macmillan


Of the Dick and Jane variety, this one is part of the Macmillan Reading Program, and I assume must have been a school book. My son has a D&J collection given to him by a friend and this one looks the same and reads the same, so it was obviously done in the style of basal but even more simplistic.

Mike (you see a picture of "Mike" holding a broken rope swing)
Mary (you see "Mary" rolling over a tire to where "Mike" is)
Jeff (you see "Jeff" tying the wheel onto the rope from Mike's broken swing)
Jeff and Mike and Mary (you see "Mike" getting pushed in the tire swing by "Jeff" while "Mary" stands by and watches)

Animals, cops and cowboys is enough to keep any kid entertained for a while, Even though there isn't a whole lot going on in the words, there is plenty occurring in the pictures to keep my little guy's mind occupied. He spends so much time just looking through books himself, sometimes the words aren't as import. I read a study that wordless books are "in" right now, so it's cool.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp

Liza Lou And The Yeller Belly Swamp
Mercer Mayer ~ Aladdin, 1976


This book absolutely haunted me up until a few years ago. Once on a family visit to Nantucket when I was a girl, I spotted this book in a bookstore and had been enchanted by it. I only read it once, and we didn't buy it, and I never saw it again, but the story stayed with me. More than ten years ago now, I Dogpiled (ha! remember those days before Google!?!) the words swamp/little girl/swamp monster/book and was reunited with the pictures that had so long ago influenced me.

It was funny, too, that it would be by Mercer Mayer since I probably had every Little Critter book known to man at the time.

Yeller belly cottonmouth,
Possum up a tree,
You can catch the swamp fever
But you can't catch me.


I suppose being from the south and actually living nearby to real swamps made this book come alive all the more... the evil ghost of a Confederate soldier, the swamp witch, cotton mouths, and how the brilliant little girl outsmarts them all. She even sticks it to the devil himself!

I guess since I had my own swamp monsters of the imagination, it was gratifying to see a female kicking butt on the creepy crawlies of the dark. I have to give this book 80 thumbs up... plus my son gets a huge kick out of it which is all the more awesome.

Also by:
Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp
One Monster After Another
Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-A-Zoo
Me and My Flying Machine
Beauty and the Beast
A Special Trick
Bubble Bubble
OOPS
One Frog Too Many
How the Trollusk Got His Hat
Little Monster at Work
AH-CHOO
The Bird of Time
Herbert the Timid Dragon
Professor Wormbog's Gloomy Kerploppus
Boy, Was I Mad

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