Friday, February 29, 2008

Gladys Told Me to Meet Her Here

Gladys Told Me to Meet Her Here
Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
pictures by Edward Frascino
Harper & Row, 1970

Written by the author of Nate the Great and illustrated by the famed New Yorker cartoonist, Gladys Told Me is an interesting glimpse into the future for me as a mother. My son is already pretty social and speaks about the girls he knows as his "girlfriends", so it cute to see this little boy Irving and his utter adoration of wee Gladys. As the book opens, Irving is waiting for Gladys by the entrance to the Central Park Children's Zoo in Manhattan, and when she fails to meet him at exactly noon, his emotions begin to run the gamut. Jealousy, worry, anger, fear, and so on.

It's such a hot day I could melt walking around. Or I could be stretched out on the sidewalk with people bending over me. Then if Gladys came along, she'd be sorry.

The backdrop to Irving's worries are the animals of the zoo. The polar bear, the tiger, the orangutan et al, each existing oblivious to the boy's minor anxiety attack. It's a wonderful setting for a story where the drama builds in the span of about five minutes.

Nothing short of a love story from one friend to another, the tale ends with shared popsicles and smiles all around. A great, great read (though admittedly, my son -- as usual -- seems to be in it for the wildlife alone!)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Maggie and the Pirate

Maggie and the Pirate
Ezra Jack Keats ~ Four Winds Press, 1979

Yea, so I really only have one friend that is as obsessive about collecting vintage kids' books as me (she perhaps even more so), so the next couple of days (including yesterday) I'm gonna highlight some titles she turned me on to of late.

We were having a discussion about cricket cages a while back and she brought up this little ditty by Mr. Keats. At the time I didn't remember it, but once I got a copy in hand and read it a few times, the pictures and story began to become eerily familiar. It surely passed through my childhood library card at one point or another.

A strange little book, the main character, Maggie, lives in a semi-psychedelic bus with her parents. Maybe on an island. Maybe beside a small island. It is hard to tell, but I do know that the illustrations include water, palm trees and a beach. (I mean, did Keats retire to Florida or something to become a pot-smoking hippie or what? Going from following the life of an inner-city black kid to a curly, redheaded cracker seems like a major life change. He keeps us guessing in genre for sure.)

Maggie has a pet cricket named Niki, and if that isn't cool enough, she (and the cricket) get stalked by a stranger who refers to himself only as "The Pirate". When the Pirate cricket-naps Niki, it is up to Maggie and her friends to save the day. I mean if this doesn't smell of The Red Hand Gang I don't know what does.

In the end, Niki becomes a fatality of one of childhood's most mysterious games -- friendship -- and the book ends on a somber, open-ended note that truly echos the realities of life, death and love.

They all sat down together.
Nobody said anything.
They listened to the new cricket singing.
Crickets all around joined in.

No forced happy ending. No clean-cut resolution. Very refreshing for a children's book. Anywho, check out this clip from a film adaptation of the book.

Also by:
Whistle for Willie
In a Spring Garden
How To Be A Nature Detective

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Switch on the Night

Switch on the Night
Ray Bradbury~ pictures by Madeleine Gekiere
Pantheon Books, 1955

(See my interview with Madeleine, here.)

A friend turned me on to this one, calling it one of her favorite vintage children’s books of all time. Apparently, she bought a first edition for a song at a used book shop a few years back, and it became her daughter's before-sleep must-read for months. Currently in print with a different illustrator, the new drawings are lovely (LOVE THE DILLONS!), but they don’t even begin to touch the soul and rhythm of the originals by Swiss artist Gekiere. So small and whimsical and delightful. And who doesn't love Ray Bradbury, right?

The tale of a boy who didn't like the night and was quite fond instead of things like lights and lamps and the sun and such, until he meets a little girl called Dark who teaches him of the wondrous things he'll see when he switches on the night.

They climbed up and down stairs,
switching on the Night.
Switching on the dark.
Letting the Night live in every room.
Like a frog.
Or a cricket.
Or a star.
Or a moon.

The first time I read it to my son, he just flipped for it, and it has since become one of his faves. I think every child has some inherent fear of the dark, and the simple drama here puts those apprehensions into perspective. I hate to use the word "cosmic", but that's exactly what this book is. It is so dear, in fact, that on most reads, I have to hold back the tears. What a special man Mr. Bradbury was. Kudos to him for having the heart to imagine a story like this.

Also by:
Who gave us...


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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

count and see

Count and See
Tana Hoban
MacMillan Publishing Co., 1972

If you are familiar with the works of Ms. Hoban, then you already know how totally cool they are. An artist and photographer, she used her knack for composition with a camera to create kids' books that very much capture the essence of the era. Her books use inner-city graffiti, cute retro kids in bell bottoms, lines of trash cans and other ordinary objects to portray concepts like colors/shapes, push/pull and, in this case, numbers. That pseudo-modern feel of the seventies is abundant, while the black and white photographs are filled with nooks and crannies that make the moments come alive.

A slice of watermelon shows 20 black seeds, stark against the white of the inside flesh. Nine fireman's hats lined up -- each marked LADDER 9 -- make counting a part of everyday life. One fire hydrant creates a single digit that stands out, alone on the street. An artist in the truest sense of the word, the woman spent the last 23 years of her life living in Paris and was sister to writer Russell Hoban who created the popular series Frances based loosely on the lives of his own children.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Who Took the Farmer's Hat

Who Took the Farmer's Hat?
Joan L. Nodset
pictures by Fritz Siebel
Harper & Row, 1963

As you may remember, A Fly Went By was one of my son's most favorite books when he was very small (and still is one of my faves to read aloud), so Mr. Siebel will forever hold a spot of endearment in my heart. This title is very similar in theme and tone -- sort of a one-thing-leads-to-another shtick -- but starring a round little farmer rather than a boy.

The farmer had a hat, an old brown hat.
Oh, how he liked that old brown hat!
But the wind took it, and away it went.
The farmer ran fast, but the wind went faster.

The fact that his old, brown hat eventually ends up as a nice, brown nest for a bird really brings home a non-materialistic message. That even though you love to have something as your own, sometimes when you give it away it can bring even more joy to someone else. My son's just starting to pick up on these sorts of themes in real life, so it's nice to have printed reinforcement. Still in print from HarperCollins, a new copy is easy to score, though you can probably get it vintage for under a buck.

Also by:
Tell Me Some More

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Little Boy Brown

Little Boy Brown
Isobel Harris ~ illustrations by André François
J.B. Lippincott Company, 1948

Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god, I love his book. Picked it up recently at a library sale. I've never heard of it or seen it before, but it easily slides in as one of my top ten faves. It's kinda like Eloise, if Eloise were a boy and more sweet than sass, and if Nanny took her out for a day in the country.

My mother is Mrs. Brown and my father is Mr. Brown--
that's why I'm little boy Brown.
I'm four and a half years old.

From those first lines, you absolutely fall in love with this little guy. He lives in a hotel in the city with an elevator that goes all the way to the subway, and both the establishments where his parents work have tunnels to the subway, so his parents never have to go outside. You can tell too that little Brownie doesn't get out much either. When his mother leaves him with the chambermaid for the day, he has the most ordinary but amazing time with her family... one that has you remembering how wondrous even the everyday seems to a child.

Each drawing has such a wonderful perspective; my favorite being this one where the boy imagines Jack Frost, hanging from the ceiling upside down, biting the nose of his doorman. Illustrated by the famous French cartoonist and New Yorker cartoonist, I could find nothing online about the writer, but her words are so innocent and true to the way children really think.

Mister Snow hadn't been finished a minute when Hilda's mother opened the door and called: "Tea is ready!" We were certainly glad, because we knew there was the chocolate cake in the house. I had milk and bread and butter too. It was the first time I had ever had a Policeman with my tea. It made it better.

Such a great story. Such great illustrations. TEN THUMBS UP!!!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Birthday Tree

The Birthday Tree
Ethel Collier with pictures by Honoré Guilbeau
Young Scott Books, 1961

I've always romanticized that it would be cool to plant a tree on my son's birthday and then watch it grows as he grows; documenting every year with a tree-side photograph and a smile. Sadly, I haven't gotten around to planting one yet, and the years continue to tick by. In this little girl's world however, the birthday tree happens by complete serendipitous chance, which is the loveliest way for stuff like that to come about.

In the fall when the leaves are red,
it was my birthday. My father said, "Let's go
and see Mr. Green on his farm."
I always like to do that.

And so the birthday adventure begins... spotting pigs, dodging rabbits, swinging high and finally falling head-over-heals for a small, ten-leafed tree. When the farmer gifts it to the girl as a birthday treat, she dreams of the thing growing so large someday that all her friends will be able to sit underneath in the shade. What a nice birthday wish, eh?

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Woggle of Witches

A Woggle of Witches
by Adrienne Adams/ published 1971 by Charles Scribner's Sons

If a woggle is a device used to fasten a neckerchief, then this ring of witches is eternal. What completely endears me to this book is that all the witches look exactly alike, and they all wear the same expression of absolute glee. The sharp white faces and the wisps of grey hair flowing from under tall pointed hats.... dancing across the sky on their broomsticks so fearlessly. Luckily, these witches don't spook the boy too much. He thinks they are more rascal than rotten. What does chill him to the bone is the very thing that scares the witches... a tribe of trick-or-treaters with their monster masks and skeleton suits.

"What is that coming our way?"
"Oh, mercy, what-on-earth?"
"It's a parade of those monsters!"
And they hide however they can.
"Let's get out of here," they cry.
All quivering and quaking,
they leap on their brooms,
and slant toward the sky.

This is the sort of book that makes you want to believe in hobgoblins and wizards, for if they are nearly as much fun as these quick-witted, airborne devils, the netherworld must be a fantastic place indeed. For the feminist child at heart, these ladies sure can teach us a thing or two about running with the wolves.

Also by:
The Day We Saw the Sun Come Up
Mr. Biddle and the Birds
The Wounded Duck
The Easter Egg Artists
Butterfly Time
Ponies of Mykillengi

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Nose Book

The Nose Book
Al Perkins ~ Roy McKie
Random House, 1970

I mean who doesn't love Random House's Bright and Early books? We grew up with them. They have their own section in most big-box book chains. They are still pretty rockin' today. But what I don't understand is why RH feels it must constantly muck with a good thing.

As I pointed out in my review of Summer (where some key pages were axed to make the book more friendly), a nose -- even by the same name -- is not the same. Then, last week, I was over at a friend's house and saw that she has a new copy of The Nose Book that looks very different from the one I own.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the illustrator Joe Mathieu. He's old school Sesame Street and a very whimsical and enjoyable artist, but what was wrong with the drawings of Roy McKie? I mean, if they wanted an updated nose book, could they not have just written another nose book? Why did they have to use Al Perkins' words? And this isn't just a mere re-imagining of the book. They obviously asked Joe to redraw the pictures to make them more contemporary... so essentially they are the same pictures, just updated. I happen to think Mr. McKie's drawings are still pretty rad and hysterical, and my son has certainly enjoyed his vintage copy time and time again. I mean, I am biased because I sort of have a crush on Roy (for unknown reasons), and lament that I'll never get a chance to meet the guy.... but still.

Everybody grows a nose.
I see a nose on every face.
I see noses every place!
A nose between each pair of eyes.
Noses! Noses! Every size.

Maybe there is something political at play here that as a collector of old kids' books I am not privy to... copyright law... who knows? That said -- not to rain on Joe's parade (I STILL LOVE YOU MAN!) -- if you have a chance to get hold of an original, it's worth it. (Hey, there are copies on Amazon now for only a penny!)

Also by:
Travels of Doctor Dolittle
Bennett Cerf's Book of Animal Riddles

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

April's Kittens

April's Kittens
Clare Turlay Newberry
Harper & Brothers, 1940

Nobody has much room in New York because so many people are trying to live there at the same time. So April and her mother and father and Sheba lived all crowded up together in a very small apartment. It was so small that there wasn't even room in it for April to have a real bed, and although she was six, she still slept in a crib.

And thus it begins... the mini saga of April and her kittens... April and her wee, one-cat apartment... April and her stern Daddy... When Sheba gives birth to a litter of adorable felines, April has to make the decision to keep Sheba or one of her babies. Like Sophie's Choice, who will she pick? The tale unfolds mainly in words, but with select charcoal drawings that are too dear to ignore. (Those delicious little pink tongues!)

I love how the drama of this book centers around the size of real estate in NYC. They can only have one cat because there is only room for one cat. What really amazes me is that at the end her parents decide on a whim to get a bigger apartment (a TWO-cat apartment) and don't have to worry about being able to afford it. I mean come on, was their apartment rent-stabilized? Will they have to downgrade in neighborhood to upgrade in size? I guess that is New York new and not New York of old. Way back in 1940 - coming off the Depression and into the war - city folk had other things to worry about.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

If the Dinosaurs Came Back

If the Dinosaurs Came Back
Bernard Most
Harcourt Brace, 1978

This is one of those books I've seen a million times, but never actually read until today. Still in print, I think it's backlist life is pretty vibrant as I imagine over the years since this was written, dinosaurs have became more and more popular with the under 10 set. Apparently, the author is from an advertising background, and that is easy to see because the design is simple yet very catchy and effective. Written because his son loved dinosaurs, Mr. Most shows us all the wonderful things that dinos could bring to our world if they were still around.

If the dinosaurs came back,
giraffes would have
someone to look up to.
If the dinosaurs came back,
they could push away rain clouds
so the sun would always shine.

I love this book! Perfect for a little tike like mine who is obsessed with anything that walks on two, four, six or eight legs and is not a human. The dinosaurs in the rear glossary are adorable, and you can't help but be charmed by these endearing line drawings. (Though somehow I doubt dinos would be that "friendly" if they were magically brought back. Me thinks there are a great many that would be a bit too carnivorous ifin' you know what I mean...)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mother Goose and Nursery Rhymes

Mother Goose and Nursery Rhymes
wood engravings by Philip Reed
Atheneum, 1966

Mother Goose books always have a few nursery rhyme gems tucked away within. Short stories with thinly veiled morals and violent themes. In just the first few pages: children are whipped soundly and sent to bed, an old man is thrown down the stairs, a pussy cat is drowned, a mouse is bitten in two, a pig is shot with an arrow and children are asked to remember the Fifth of November.

Gunpowder treason and plot;
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes included, this is a great selection of rhymes. Sometimes collections like this include so many ditties that the book ends up being an encyclopedia that you never want to pick up because of the heft. However, this is a sensible collection, not too long and not too short with enough old faves and undiscovered treats to keep everyone happy. Plus the engravings are quite nice. The people all have cherub, pinched faces and the animals are full of personality.

As a side note: I wanted to mention that I picked this copy up at a library sale this weekend and noticed someone going through the collection with a handheld scanning device. No doubt a dealer of some kind looking for a quick resale value. This really pissed me off to no end. Library sales are one of the last places where you can get reasonably priced vintage books for yourself, and to have greedy little sales people picking through and taking out the good stuff is really annoying. Do you really think the library is giving books away for 50 cents apiece so someone can turn around and sell them for $10 on eBay? I mean come on, if you were a book dealer who really and truly loved and knew books, you wouldn't need the damn scanner anyway. Cheater.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Harold Littledale ~ Tom Vroman
Parent's Magazine Press, 1964

Wish I had a pet horse like Alexander that I could blame everything on. Chris is a little boy who uses an imaginary red & green striped horse to express his remorse over being bad. Alexander looks alot like the Fruit Stripe zebra (my gum of choice in the 70s), so I can't help but get a sweet taste in my mouth every time I read it.

It was bedtime. Chris and his father sat side by side on Chris's bed.
"Alexander was a pretty bad horse today," Chris said.
His father lit his pipe, "Alexander, the red horse with green stripes?"
Chris nodded.
"What happened?" Chris's father asked.
"He wouldn't eat his cereal," Chris said.
"He wouldn't sit up at the table and he spilled his milk.
He made a terrible fuss."
"That's too bad," said Chris's father.

I particularly dig the dad chilling with his pipe, and his super laid back attitude toward his kid's behavior. Lesser dads would be freaking out, but he keeps his cool and just listens, never passing judgment. The drawings are really swinging and retro, very of the era and hip. I looked up the illustrator and came across this Web site. I'm pretty sure this is the same guy... a commercial designer and an artist... funny that his firm did the Pyrex logo.

Also by:
A Very, Very Special Day
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