Thursday, January 31, 2008

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost ~ Susan Jeffers ~ E.P. Dutton, 1978

I mean who doesn't like this poem? Probably more than any other, it has moved elementary school children to love the written word. Jeffers (beloved in my house as the illustrator of the McDuff series) does a fine job of bringing us into the mystery of the poem without giving too much of the secret away. On one read I thought the old man might be Santa. On another, just a kind old stranger making sure the woodland animals are comforted in the snow. Then again, I thought maybe he had a secret wife and family he kept tucked away in the woods.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I seem to be on this black and white with a little color kick, but something about this kind artistic of rendering just makes the magic of the book so clear. And in this case you can picture the cold, cold day, with the only warmth coming from the cozy little man and his blanket and sleigh.


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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Fox Went Out On a Chilly Night

Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night
Peter Spier
Doubleday & Company, 1961

Peter Spier is the children's book king of realism... who can forget the animal dung that Noah has to contend with in Spier's 1977 Noah's Ark? Not for the faint of heart, this one is a veritable blood bath for the poor geese and ducks, but ends well for a family of foxes with full bellies and family love around the fireplace. If you've never seen a fox actually pluck a goose, you're in for a treat.

Then the fox and his wife, without any strife,
cut up the goose with a fork and a knife.
They never ate such a dinner in their life
and the little ones chewed on the
bones-o, bones-o, bones-o.

Spier's books are very detailed and researched, and I especially love the scene where the fox wrestles his catch in the tobacco shed with the leaves hung out to dry from the ceiling. Still in circulation by Dell Yearling, the words are an old song, and a musical arrangement by Burl Ives is printed in the back.

Also by:
The Star-Spangled Banner
Noah's Ark
Peter Spier's Christmas
Gobble Growl Grunt
Little Bible Storybooks
Bored -- Nothing To Do!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House

Old Macdonald Had An Apartment House
written by Judi Barrett with illustrations by Ron Barrett/ published 1969 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

A very silly book with lots and lots of things to discover, my kid way gets a kick out of the story. An apartment superintendent becomes bored with his humdrum life and decides to turn his city dwelling into an organic greenhouse. The black and white illustrations (with a splash of veggie green, carrot orange and tomato red!) are a hoot to look at, and the cartooning style isn't the least bit dated.

"Why not get rid of the rest of the hedge," Old MacDonald said.
"Then instead, I could plant vegetables in the yard.
They're better looking than the hedge and better tasting, too."
So he cut the whole hedge down to the ground and in its place he
planted rows of corn and melons and beans and radishes.
The fountain became a self-watering pea patch.

These are the type of pictures that might have spooked me when I was a kid, but now I love the detail and the interesting use of color throughout. Being a former city-girl myself, the whole idea of an apartment building that doubles as a farm is way, way, way cool. It's always fun to juxtapose one thing against something unfamiliar, and kid's really find that stuff hilarious. When my son saw the carrots growing out of the ceiling, he had a massive giggle attack and rolled himself silly.

Also by:
Hi-Yo Fido!

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Crows of Pearblossom

The Crows of Pearblossom
Aldous Huxley ~ illustrations by Barbara Cooney
Random House, 1967

In the freakiest kids' books of all time category is this little ditty by the 20th Century master of modern thought himself, Aldous Huxley. I couldn't resist buying it when I found it tucked on the bookshelf at a library sale, and I have to say, it is a pretty whacked-out book. Illustrated by famed children's book illustrator Cooney, the story is dark and realistic about a sinister snake who gorges himself daily on the eggs of a naive mother crow.

By and by Mrs. Crow came back from the store, and at first, when she saw the snake, she was frightened. But as soon as she noticed how tightly he had tied himself up she felt very brave and proceeded to give the snake a very long lecture about the wickedness of eating other people's eggs.

The crows plot a plan against the snake involving clay eggs and ending in the snake becoming a clothesline on which mother crow hangs out her new hatchling's diapers. It's pretty freaky, and the crows and snake both possess eerie human qualities that make you shudder being on the receiving end of any personal revenge Huxley might ever have exacted.

As this was the only children's book ever written by the author, there's a little historical background in the back about how the story came to be. Apparently, Huxley wrote the tale for his niece, Olivia de Haulleville, who lived in Pearblossom. He would make up wonderful stories for her, and he wrote this one during the Christmas holiday of 1944. There were only two copies of the story in existence, one given to Olivia and one given to her neighbors who are featured in the tale. Olivia's copy was destroyed in a fire at Huxley's home, so it was the neighbor's copy that made it possible for the story to be published several years after his death. What a fabulous legacy.

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

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Millions and Millions and Millions!

Millions and Millions and Millions!
Louis Slobodkin
The Vanguard Press, 1955

My son has just started to say things like... "Look Mom! There are hundreds of cars on the road." Usually, what he's really talking about are just a few dozen cars going back and forth, but I understand what he's getting at. Often it seems as if things go on into infinity, and for a child that must be a zillion fold. So many things to see, and just when you think you've seen it all, your world view grows and you realize there really are millions and millions of things more.

There are millions of stars and millions of cars
and millions of dogs and cats.
There are millions of beds and millions of heads
and millions of bonnets and hats.

I especially like the illustrations of the heads and beds. Seeing books like this that are so well done, makes me lament that so many children's books today are so realistic and lavish. Like everything has to be so real looking. I guess perhaps that is a byproduct of the Internet and computer animation, but it just seemed so much cooler when illustration left some things to the imagination.

Also by:
Too Many Mittens
Many Moons
Dinny and Danny

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Do You Know What I'll Do?

Do You Know What I'll Do?
Charlotte Zolotow with pictures by Garth Williams/ published 1958 by Harper & Row

Read this book for the first time yesterday, and it made me weepy-eyed about having an only child.... seriously, I cried at the end. This is the sweetest book I've ever seen about what it means to have a sibling or be an older child.

Do you know what I'll do
at the seashore?
I'll bring you a shell to hold
the sound of the sea.

Do you know what I'll do at the party?
I'll bring you a piece of cake with the candle still in it.

Garth Williams' illustrations are always so warm and fuzzy feeling, that you can't help but want to hug your kid when you're done reading. Except for the little boy in the one about the dog who belongs to himself, this is the first one of his I've seen that isn't about animals, so it was interesting to see his human take. You will adore this book, and I have to imagine for any child with a little brother or sister to love, this would become an all-time favorite. 

Also by:
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
Wait Til the Moon is Full
I Have a Horse of My Own
The Hating Book
Flocks of Birds
The Rabbits' Wedding
Three Bedtime Stories
The Friendly Book

Friday, January 25, 2008

Over in the Meadow

Over in the Meadow
John Langstaff with pictures by Feodor Rojankovsky/ published 1957 by Harcourt, Brace & World

I've owned a few versions of this story, but this is by far my favorite. I had John and Feodor's Frog Went A-Courtin' when I was little but only found this first edition recently at a library sale. It includes nine different verses of the tale along with music in the back.

Over in the meadow in a new little hive
Lived an old mother queen bee and her honeybees five.
"Hum," said the mother, "We hum," said the five;
So they hummed and were glad in their new little hive.

A paperback version is available from Voyager Books new I believe, and as far as I'm concerned this title is a must have for anyone who loves old kid's books. These illustrations are just marvelous and detailed... from the lace of the spiderwebs to the hearts of the blueberries growing underneath a toadstool... lot and lots to see on every reread.

And again the dedication gets me: For Deborah who loved this song about baby animals so much when she was two that she sang it wherever she went.

Also by:
Tall Book of Nursery Tales
The Golden Bible

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lion Award

Esme Raji Codell just passed me the love with a "Lion Award" from the Shameless Lions Writing Club.

Which is SUPER awesome as she is a children's book bad ass!

Thanks Esme!

Pop Corn and Ma Goodness

Pop Corn and Ma Goodness
Edna Mitchell Preston with illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker/ published 1969 by The Viking Press

This is one of those books that at first glance looks a little spooky, that is until you realize it is actually a hippy love story about family and building a life with another person. I picked up a library-bound copy at a local sale and put off reading it due to the dark illustrations, but once I got past judging its cover, I realized what a great book it is. It has an awesome message for kids about finding a life mate, and the story really hit home for me as its made up of what being a mommy and daddy is (ideally) all about.

Old Ma she sees stars go a-skippitty skoppetty
"He loves me," she says, heart a-flippitty flopetty.
Old Pop's brains are addled and dippity doppetty
"She loves me, he says, heart a-hippitty hoppetty.

I even like the weird part where a bear kills one of their goats... they have a funeral for said goat... "Pop gives that old b'ar his come-uppitty-oppetty"... and two pages later you casually -- without mention -- see the bear hide tacked to the side of the house. How cool is that!?!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Forest Hotel: A Counting Book

Barbara Steincrohn Davis with illustrations by Benvenuti/ published 1972 by Golden Books

I'm always intrigued by artists who only use one name, so I dug a deeper to find out a little something about the illustrator. Apparently Gianni Benvenuti was an Italian painter and sculptor who was able to make a living illustrating books including Italian editions of Winnie the Pooh. This little book has an interesting style using very design heavy lines. I love the way he draw bubbles and leaves. And the Hippo from page two is fabulous!

The door opened, and in clumped ONE huge hippopotamus.
"I'd like a place for ONE, please," said the hippopotamus
to the rabbit behind the desk.
"Somewhere a fella can really roll around."

It goes on like this through the numbers. Animals (by number) show up, and a friendly little rabbit shows them to their appropriate places in the forest for the night (with the rabbit always hippety-hopping back to his office). Really fun story!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wait Till the Moon is Full

Wait Till the Moon Is Full
Margaret Wise Brown with pictures by Garth Williams/ published 1948 by Harper & Row

I know, MWB again, but I can't help myself. This was one of the first vintage kids' books I bought for my son after he was born. It's just a little crappy two-tone TRUMPET CLUB paperback, but the story is great.

Once upon a time in the dark of the moon
there was a little raccoon.
He lived down in a big warm chestnut tree
with his mother -- who was also a raccoon.
This little raccoon wanted to see the night.
He had seen the day.
So he said to his mother,
"I want to go out in the woods and see the night."

But his mother said, "Wait. Wait til the moon is full."

So he waited, deep in his warm little home under the chestnut tree.

That anticipation for everything that is youth. The coveting of all that is unknown, and the titillation is waiting for it. Plus, it's got loads of adorable animals which to me is what children's literature is all about ;). I mean, isn't it cool that since the beginning of time people have used animals to connect to kids (or adults even for that matter). I suppose we see so much of ourselves in them, it is easy to imagine parallel universes where rabbits dress in petticoats and racoons have mommies that rock them to sleep at night. I especially love the dedication: This book is dedicated to all the things that love the night.

Also by:
Do You Know What I'll Do?
The Quiet Noisy Book
On Christmas Eve
Christmas in the Barn
The Dead Bird
Little Chicken
The Golden Egg Book
The Sky Was Blue
The Rabbits' Wedding
Three Bedtime Stories
The Friendly Book

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed
Karla Kuskin
Illustrations by Marc Simont
Harper Row, 1986

Political cartoonist and children's book illustrator Marc Simont has got to be one of my favorites. His pictures are so effortless, yet say so much, they are an absolute joy to look at. And I can't get over what an innovative way this is to bring a child into the world of the symphony. Through the back drawers as they say... Each member of the orchestra gets clean and dressed and embarks to the concert hall via bus, car, limo... and finally appears onstage for the warm up and concert.

First they get washed.
There are ninety-two men and thirteen women.
Many take showers. A few take baths.
Two men and three women run bubble baths,
and one man reads in the tub while the cat watches.
One woman sits in the bubbles and sings.

I remember going to the symphony as a child and thinking that world was so grownup and glamorous and exciting. If I'd read this book then, it would have made the experience that much more thrilling and captivating.

Also by:
Roar and More
A Tree is Nice
I Know a Magic House

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fly High Fly Low

Fly High, Fly Low
Don Freeman ~ The Viking Press, 1957

How is it that when you and your husband are sick, your child will find every opportunity to ask you to read a book and then some? Had gotten this title from Santa, but yesterday was the first - ahem - three readings, and I have to say I like it a lot. It's about a pigeon and a dove who make their home in the letter B of the Bay Hotel sign in San Fransisco. The illustrations are just gorgeous, and you can tell Mr. Freeman must have really thought the city beautiful. The curls of China Town... the arch of the Bay Bridge, the trolley cars and skyline..

The pigeons who roosted along the ledges of the building across the
street thought he was a pretty persnickety pigeon to live where he did.
"He's too choosy! He's too choosy!" they would coo.

The only one who never made fun of him was a white-feathered
dove. She felt sure he must have a good reason for wanting
to live in that letter.

I find the bulk of Mr. Freeman's books to have very simple and rough illustrations, but these are fully-fleshed out and lush, almost like landscape paintings. It has the same-ish theme that a decade later PD Eastman would use in My Nest is Best.

Also by:
Quiet! There's a Canary in the Library
Space Witch
Mop Top
The Guard Mouse

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit
Or How Toys Become Real

by Margery Williams with illustrations by William Nicholson/ published 1922 by Doubleday

Of late, I've decided it might be time to begin introducing longer books with less pictures to my son to see if he can go through several pages of imageless text without losing interest. His surrogate grandmother brought him a copy of Babe, but that seemed a little too thick for me. I remembered the perfect book, and I dug deep in his bookshelf to find my childhood copy. Even now, reading this tale still breaks my heart.

"Hurrah!" thought the little Rabbit. "Tomorrow we shall go to the seaside!" For the Boy had often talked of the seaside, and he wanted very much to see the big waves coming in, and the tiny crabs, and the sand castles.

Just then Nana caught sight of him."How about his old Bunny?" she asked.

"That?" said the doctor. "Why it's a mass of scarlet fever germs! Burn it at once."

I know that in the end the little rabbit becomes a "real boy", but still, losing the person who loved him most is heartbreaking none-the-less. When I was wee, I would cry and cry over this story. Apparently, the author's father died when she was still a child which makes the emotion all the more real. Great book!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

One Morning in Maine

One Morning in Maine
by Robert McCloskey/ published 1952 by The Viking Press

One of my all time favorites as a child, I'd been holding off reading it to my two-year-old son for fear that he'd find it too long and boring. Quite the contrary. At first reading yesterday, he stayed engaged from beginning to end and then asked to hear it again, even though it took at least 20 minutes to get through it the first time around. I hadn't read it myself since was a kid, and now it is easy to see why I dug it. It is full of all sorts of grownup talk and unknowns all within the landscape of water and harbors and sea animals. I don't think there is a better book out there on losing a tooth... or making concessions and dealing with disappointment. It's such a great read and really takes you into a world most America kids don't get to see nowadays.

"Why it's gone!" she said sadly, feeling once more to make sure.
The loose tooth was really and truly gone.
The salty mud from her fingers tasted bitter,
and she made a bitter-tasting face
that was almost a face like crying.

Both my sisters were born in Maine, and my family used to live there, so I am pretty familiar with the lifestyle myself. But this read completely evokes that coastal sub-world that is filled with all sorts of wonders for the imagination to feed off of. The illustrations are gorgeous with curved strokes of black on white that give every person and scene a feeling of being giddy. Truly a classic.

Also by:
Burt Dow Deep-Water Man
The Man Who Lost His Head
Make Way for Ducklings
Journey Cake, Ho!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Round Trip

Round Trip
by Ann Jonas
Greenwillow Books, 1983

A friend turned me onto this one at a book sale. And, yes, I have firmly decided that if a book was published 20 years ago... it can most certainly be referred to as vintage.... even if I was 11 when it was written (boo-hoo). A black and white flip book... look at it one way, and it takes you through a the day, then flip and read back again and it takes you on a journey through the night. Pretty cool illustrations and well done as far as top to bottom goes. This illustration in particular...

Then we went to a movie,

then flip it....

Then we had dinner in a restaurant..

Married to fellow children's book illustrator and writer Donald Crews, they both have a very graphic style that is fun to look at, even if, in this case, there isn't much to the story.

Also by:
Aardvarks, Disembark!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Albert the Albatross

Albert the Albatross
Sid Hoff ~ Harper & Row, 1961

As I've mentioned before, I'm not the biggest Sid Hoff fan because all his animal characters tend to love being caged and kept. Danny and the Dinosaur aside, this was one of my son's first favorite books, and it really is a delightful little tale of a bird, the sea and the sailors who love him.

Albert was a bird.
He lived on the ocean.
He was an albatross.
Sailors liked to see him.
An albatross is good luck.

But when Albert loses his sailors, it looks as if the luck thing really goes both ways. He ends up finding his way home via a hat in a hilarious turn of events. I love reading this one in a silly English accent, particularly when the woman with the hat talks. It always cracks my son up. And, I like how the albatross is presumed the smartest bird of them all. Ever since I saw an actor preform The Rime of the Ancient Mariner when I was in the fourth grade, the mere mention of that bird has given me the willies, so it's nice to have the animal put into perspective.

Monday, January 7, 2008

On Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve
Margaret Wise Brown with illustrations by Beni Montresor/ published 1961 by Young Scott

I promise this will be my final holiday book of the season. I was packing up the last of my Christmas lights, and realised I'd forgotten to put this one into the attic with the rest of the yuletide tomes. People love MWB's books because she really gets to the heart of what children know. Every page of this book perfectly describes that Christmas Eve/Morning feeling of wonder and mystery and specialness. A group of children are too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve and sneak downstairs to steal a peak at the decorations and presents, and then are quietly serenaded by a group of secret carolers.

Then the children went into the room
and stood close together on the soft rug
in front of the fire.
They couldn't speak or move.
It was as though magic had come true.

I had so many friends this year lament giving their children too many presents. That the overwhelming sense of abundance really drove the morning and days surrounding it. That next year, they wanted to do it different. Much like the sentiment of Dr. Seuss, it is the moments in this book that speak directly to the spirit of what makes Christmas so wonderful. To quote the Grinch himself... "It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"

Also by:
The Quiet Noisy Book
Christmas in the Barn
The Dead Bird
Little Chicken
The Golden Egg Book
The Friendly Book

Saturday, January 5, 2008

the marcel marceau alphabet book

the marcel marceau alphabet bookGeorge Mendoza
photographs by Milton H. Greene
Doubleday & Company, 1970

This alphabet book featuring black and white photographs of the famous deceased French mime begins...

Marcel marceau
is a sea of faces...
his body bends
an alphabet of spaces...

For each letter of the alphabet, we see him miming a word that letter begins with. A is for awakening and you see the mime stretching. E is for escape and you see the mime running away. N is for narrow and you see the mime making his body long and thin. The picture you see here is V for vanish. It's a pretty cool book that has a high collectible factor since he was so well-loved around the world. Miming seems such an innocent pastime, I don't know much about his inner life, but I'd be interested to find out. Personally, this is the sort of children's book I wouldn't mind leaving on the coffee table as it is definitely an oddity.

I love the sales copy on the cover:

In this unique alphabet book, the world's greatest pantomimist, Marcel Marceau, performs a series of miracles in "the art of silence."

I love that.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Some of the Days of Everett Anderson

Some of the Days of Everett Anderson
Lucille Clifton with illustrations by Evaline Ness/ published 1970 by Henry Holt

This one is definitely a weeper. I bought it a while back at a library sale, and haven't yet shown it to my son, but I personally love it. Poems that follow the seven days of the week for a city boy named Everett. Each poem is different. Some happy. Some vaguely sad. But either way, they gives crystal clear insight into the psyche of a lively and smart young man. This poem is entitled "Saturday Night Late".

The siren seems so far away
when people live in 14A,
they can pretend that all the noise
is just some other girls and boys
running and
laughing and
having fun
instead of whatever it is
Everett Anderson.

Lucille Clifton is a poet of some fame and the words in this book make it easy to see why. Really, the first time I read it, I was moved to tears, not really because the story is unhappy, but rather because it is so real and honest and true. A
lot of six-year-olds in this world could learn volumes from little Mr. Anderson.

Sam, Bangs & Moonshine
Fierce the Lion

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How Fletcher Was Hatched!

How Fletcher Was Hatched
Wende and Harry Devlin ~ Parents' Magazine Press, 1969

Fletcher was reprinted in its 30th Anniversary Edition in 1998, and I doubt there is a person my age who didn't grow up wanting to have a dog like him. Or better yet, didn't want to have that nauseatingly-perfect head of blond hair that his mistress Alexandra sports. So yeah, Fletcher is this big old hound dog who gets jealous when his lady is fussing over a mess of new born chicks.

He and his buddies Beaver and Otter hatch a plan to hatch Fletcher. Building an enormous egg of mud and sticks, the team of three cause a huge stir in a little town... and help solidify the love of a girl and her pup.

Then and there Fletcher knew it was time to hatch. He pushed and stretched and with a rising howl he fairly exploded out of the egg. The crown screamed and moved back. Fletcher shook himself and the mud flew. Feeling that something was expected of him, he turned to Alexandra. "Peep!" he croaked.

This husband and wife team also brought us the timeless (and controversial) classic Old Black Witch.... which always gave me the titillating spooks way back when. Some of their later stuff is a little cornball, but Fletcher and Witch were always two of my library favorites.

Also by:
Old Witch Rescues Halloween
Old Witch and the Polka Dot Ribbon
Old Black Witch!
Cranberry Thansgiving
The Wonderful Tree House


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