Friday, November 28, 2008

Santa's Toy Shop

Santa's Toy Shop
The Walt Disney Studio ~ Golden Press, 1950

After having spent the better part of my 20s and 30s decidedly anti-Disney, the arrival of my son four years ago heralded my return to loving all things Disney... or at least all things Disney created before 1960. As many of you know, my son and I love watching Uncle Walt's old flicks... with the 1944 film The Three Cabelleros being his current fave while I like seeing Roy Roger and Trigger jam cowboy-style in 1948's Melody Time (though my husband says Dale's horse Buttermilk was waaaaay cooler.) That said, most old Disney stuff is rad, and in particular, really any of the old school Little Golden Books that are illustrated by "The Walt Disney Studio" are usually pretty great. Santa's Toy Shop included.

Oh, everyone is busy in Santa's toy shop. But Santa Claus is busiest of all. He shows the doll makers how to paint on smiles. "I'll take a day off soon," says Santa Claus, "and play!" But letters keep coming from boys and girls, wanting talking dolls and cowboy boots and rocking horses and fireman suits. "I'm just too busy!" Santa Claus sometimes says. "I never have time to play with the toys."

And so goes Santa's dilemma... like being a diabetic trapped in a candy store... or like me and my boy in a Starbucks, but they won't serve us any chocolate milk and iced coffee. Talk about nightmare. No deep meaning here about the true spirit of Christmas or any of that heavy stuff. This title is totally about the toys, which is OK with me when you get a gander of Santa's tubby belly and rum red cheeks. Do you just wanna squeeze him or what!?!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Polar Express

The Polar Express
Chris Van Allsburg
~ Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985

First off, I want to apologize for my absence yesterday, but funerals and family called. Second off, I want to say Happy Thanksgiving. And lastly, I want to apologize in advance for the book I am about to review, as it is highly out of character for me... but here goes. Now, some of you might wonder why I would pick The Polar Express as my first holiday offering of the season. It is hardly rare, still totally in print (odds are you can buy it everywhere from the grocery store to Walgreens), and was recently made into a massive feature film that has grossed millions worldwide and still sells huge on DVD. Well, I happened to look at the copyright page tonight and noticed the book is... are you ready for this?... 23 years old!!!! I was totally shocked. I thought it ten, 15 years old at best, sooooo, as you know, anything over 20 years is classic and fully reviewable here at VKBMKL. So here goes.

Like many of you (or maybe not), I was one of those people who turned my nose up at this book. Thought it too mainstream and sentimental. Thought it over exposed and corny. And then, I actually read the book... and I would be lying to you now if I said I didn't weep like a baby at the end.

Yesterday, for the holidays, my father gifted my son the book, the movie and a "circle C" Polar Express train set complete with silver bell, and though at first I sighed and rolled my eyes, by the end of this evening my son was sold, hook, line and sinker. He was so entirely rolled up in the imagination of the story, that it usurped all conversation for a good day and a half. And so it begins...

On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets. I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound -- a sound a friend had told me I would never hear -- the ringing bells of Santa's sleigh.

"There is no Santa," my friend had insisted,
but I knew he was wrong.

I won't get into it too deep for fear of giving away the punch line (for those three of you out there who actually haven't read it), but basically, the story is about believing. Needless to say, no matter how many train sets it has sold or how much dough it has put in the pockets of Tom Hanks and the people who animated its strange, big screen, IMAX version... taken all by itself, it is quite simply a great story. Perhaps even one of the last classic Christmas tales ever written.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Big Book of Nursery Tales

The Big Treasure Book of Nursery Tales
Evelyn Andreas ~
Leonard Weisgard ~ Grosset & Dunlap, 1954

What's up with us and anthologies this week? Freaky. Well, the great thing about books with multiple stories is that you can keep them by the bedside for a few nights without having to rely on rotation. (Unless you are one of those parents mired in the AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN faze, and in that case, Godspeed my friend.) Plus, there are a ton of books like this out there, and if you are cutting back on frivolous purchases... what beats buying used AND (in this case) buying 12 stories for the price of one. Sweet, right?

Here you will find the classics: The Fox and the Little Red Hen, The Ugly Duckling, Henny-Penny, The Gingerbread Boy, The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Elves and the Shoemaker, Little Red Riding hood and The Three Billy Goats Gruff... not to mention three I have never heard of ~ Drakestail, The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids and The Half-Chick. Whew. That's alotta read. All illustrated by the vintage kids' book master, Mr. Weisgard... meaning all you Generation Xers (and beyond) most certainly either had this book or at least borrowed it once from the library in your younger days.

"Who's that tramping over my bridge?" roared the Troll.
"It is I," said the big Billy Goat Gruff in a great big voice.
"I am coming to gobble you up!" said the Troll.
But the big Billy Goat Gruff had two strong horns. When the Troll came up, he lowered his head and butted the Troll right into the river. And that was the end of the Troll. So -- Snip, snap, snout, this tale's told out.

Though, honestly, that troll doesn't look too spooky to me. He bears an odd resemblance to the roly poly mayor from The Wizard of Oz... more likely to give you the key to the city than a tour through his intestinal track.

Also by:
The Quiet Noisy Book
Little Chicken
The Little Island
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Treasures to See
Cynthia and the Unicorn
Sir Kevin of Devon
The Mouse and the Lion

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Golden Treasury of Children's Literature

edited by Bryna & Louis Untermeyer ~ Golden Press, 1966

Scored this amazing and hefty tome for a mere 49 cents, and believe me, it will bring this household hours and hours of family fun. Not only does its 544 pages hold one of my favorites ~ Switch on the Night ~ with illustrations by Hillary Knight (who knew?)... and a wonderful selection of Aesop's fables illustrated by the Provensen's, but it has this excerpt (Bambi Finds the Meadow) from the original Bambi story by Felix Salten illustrated by cult fave Charles Harper (Charley).

No mommy dies in this particular section, and it is still a weeper.

Bambi was a child. If he had been a human child he would have shouted. But he was a young deer, and deer cannot shout, at least not the way human children do. So he rejoiced with his legs and his whole body as he flung himself in the air. His mother stood by and was glad. She saw that Bambi was wild. She watched how he bounded into the air and fell again awkwardly, in one spot. She saw how he stared about him, dazed and bewildered, only to leap up over and over again. She understood that Bambi knew only the narrow deer tracks in the forest and how his brief life was used to the limits of the thicket.

I think any parent can relate to this and knows exactly how Bambi's mother feels here, which makes the inevitable all the more heartbreaking. I don't think I'd ever read this story in its original form, but it is elegant and profound. Even though ~ all on its own ~ the movie has traumatized children for generations, I doubt I'll ever view it in the same way. It certainly takes the "umbilical connection" (that's what my mom has always called that mother/child love) to a whole new level. Here I am, off to find the full text. With Thanksgiving just a few days away, let's all give thanks for mommies why don't we?

Great Monday Give: The Story About Ping

Though not as fabulous in abundance as last week's Great Monday Give, this week's is a must-have for every kids' library. Sooooo, without further blah blah blah, one lucky reader will win a like-new Scholastic paperback of The Story About Ping. All you have to do is comment on this post before Sunday ~ November ~ at midnight CT. The next day, the winner will be announced.

And now... by the highly technical, blind scroll and point method, the winner of last week's give, that awesome collection of Ms. Potter, is... drum roll... longtime reader and vintage kids' book advocate... Jonathan's Mom. (I can't remember if she's ever won before, but if she did it was a while ago, so there.) Congrats.

Of further note, I am running a holiday shipping sale at my Etsy shop. I am offering a flat shipping rate in the Continental US of $3... buy one book, it is $3 to ship. Buy 10 books, it is $3 to ship. Buy all the books on the site... it is $3 to ship. You get the point right?

Of even further note, beginning next Monday, I will try and feature a holiday book every day until Christmas. I might step off the theme if I find something super cool, but for the most part I'll be highlighting holiday faves and forgottens.

Of even farther out further note, if you get a chance, check out my guest post on the Savvy Source today.

Stay tuned for a very special book review shortly....

Friday, November 21, 2008

Three Bedtime Stories

Three Bedtime Stories
Garth Williams ~ Golden Press, 1958

Another oversized Big Golden Book I came across last week, here, Garth has included three nighttime tales that feature characters of three: The Three Little Kittens, The Three Little Pigs & The Three Bears.... using the cover and end pages as an opportunity for them to interact. As soon as I saw it, I thought what a wonderful third birthday present it would make, but then, I'm a dork like that. I will admit that my favorite part is that Garth hasn't sugarcoated the Three Little Pigs story... the two lesser, lazy pigs do die at the hand (fangs) of the wolf while we actually get to see the bad guy getting boiled alive. Awesome. Preschool gore is always the most refreshing! And so...

The three little kittens, they lost their mittens, and they began to cry, "Oh Mother dear, we sadly fear our mittens we have lost!"

The second little pig built himself a house of sticks. He was just putting the finishing touches to the window curtains when the big bad wolf knocked at the door and said, "Little pig, little pig, let me come in!" "Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin!"

One day a little girl, who was called Goldilocks because of her golden curls, went for a walk in the forest. And she came to the house of the three bears. Knock knock knock at the door went Goldilocks. But of course there was no answer.

As always, the fussy illustrations delight, and the stories do seem to connect in a way I'd never associated these tales before. Short, sweet, mildly horrifying, and to the point, these really are the perfect nightcap. (Particularly for those of us who are newly mourning the loss of nap times and look forward to that twilight time of day.)

Also by:
Wait Til the Moon is Full
Do You Know What I'll Do?
The Sky Was BlueThe Rabbit's Wedding
The Friendly Book

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More Animals

More Animals
Oliver Herford ~ Charles Scribner's Sons, 1901

Though my edition is a '66 Dover reprint, it always amazing me that people were really this funny back then. Sometimes you see old photographs and dress style, and it is easy to assume things about the generations that came before... when they were as snarky and sassy as the rest of us. As such, this ticklish book of humorous poems about animals is a gem. It was the followup to the wonderful Child's Primer of Natural History ~ the full text and pictures of which can be seen here. With an animal nut in my house, these orange and black images please every time.

The Mouse
Consider now the Humble Mouse.
He is an Outlaw in the House.
He makes his Hiding in the Wall.
And lives upon the Crumbs that fall.
And yet, my Child, although we deem
A Mouse a Pest, he stands Supreme,
The Wonder of Creation's Plan,
The only Subject known to Man
Concerning which we're safe to find
No Woman ever Changed her Mind.

The book covers 23 animals and even includes four varying views and poems on the dachshund. (As if it ~ over all the other animals in the kingdom ~ deserves special attention to detail. Ha!)

Ahhhh... takes me back to my youth... those days when I did have a dachshund and Dover books really were just a dollar.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Little Dog Lost, Little Dog Found

Little dog lost, little dog found
Esphyr Slobodkina ~ Abelard-Schuman, 1956

A protege of Margaret Wise Brown and most famous for her book Caps for Sale, I snagged this quote off the Slobodkina website from Esphyr because her insight about children's books it is just soooo right on...

In her memoir she wrote, “The verbal patterns and the patterns of behavior we present to children in these lighthearted confections are likely to influence them for the rest of their lives. These aesthetic impressions, just like the moral teachings of early childhood, remain indelible.”

This, my friends... right here... this is why I do what I do. This is why I collect these books. This is why I spend one to three hours a day reading to my son. And I imagine, this is why you guys are here too. Awesome.

And so the story goes of Johnny and his best little dog Jet...

But Jet had one very bad habit!
Jet was careless, and no matter
how Johnny tried to teach him
to be more careful, he always
managed to lose his dog-tag....

And thus, Jet eventually becomes lost, impounded, and adopted by a nice, old woman. Though eventually Johnny and Jet are reunited, it is not before they change one lonely lady's life forever. An innocent story, which in an era where my son's after-preschool rambling often include killing, dieing and Pokemon (wha!!) is very much needed to keep his good guy alter-ego intact. Thank heaven for boys who still wanna snuggle and read at the end of the day.

Also by:
Pezzo the Peddler and the Circus Elephant
The Wonderful Feast
Caps for Sale

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The King, the Mice and the Cheese

The King, the Mice and the Cheese
Nancy &
Eric Gurney ~ Random House, 1965

In retrospect, I have no idea why I used to obsess over this title in the school library. It's not that the illustrations are particularly special... in some kind of broad generalization/sexist way, they are probably better suited for boys. And still, I used to take it from the shelf over and over again and read about the king with the mouse problem with such rapt attention to detail, that it shocked me how much of the story I remembered when I became reacquainted with it through my son. (Whew, that was a mouthful!)

Now, despite my better (and snootier) judgement, here it is, in all its primary color glory. Soooo, there's this king, see. And he loves cheese, and we all know who else likes cheese. When his kingdom becomes infested with the little critters, he calls on his wise men to find a solution.

"How can I get rid of these mice?" he asked them.
The wise men thought of a wonderful idea.
The wise men brought in cats...
big cats, little cats,
fat cats and thin cats.
The mice-chasing cats did a very good job.
Soon all of the mice
were gone from the palace.

But then of course, the king finds himself with a cat problem... and when the dogs are brought in, well, you can see how the story progresses from there. That is until the kingdom becomes overrun with elephants, and guess who gets hauled in to do the scatting? Ha! Maybe it was the fact that the book is so tickling and the good guys win and small guys can outsmart big guys, who knows? I do know that my boy is just an enamored with the king and his mice. It must be something in the cheese, I guess.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Great Monday Give: Beatrix Potter Collection

To celebrate the opening of my Etsy store (and by the way, I just posted new books on there today and marked some books down, and remember, buy four books or more and get a mystery book free!), and to usher in the holiday season, this week's Great Monday Give is gonna be a whopper. A set of ten books from the Beatrix Potter Tale of Peter Rabbit collection. (Somehow Jeremy Fisher didn't make it in the shot, but it's included as well.) Slightly oversized compared to the original small editions, these books are in like new condition, perfectly suitable for under-the-tree gift giving. All you have to do to be in the running to win these kids' classics is comment on this post before midnight CST ~ Sunday ~ Nov. 23. The winner will be announced the following day.

That said, the winner of last week's Give .... Petunia... is TRUPEACH, a southern belle after my own Carolina girl heart. (I grew up in Pawley's!)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Lively Little Rabbit

The Lively Little Rabbit
Ariane ~ pics by Gustaf Tenggren ~ Golden Press, 1943

As far as Little Golden Books go, Gustaf may very well be the most famous artist, illustrating such classics as The Poky Little Puppy and The Tawny Scrawny Lion... not to mention being the chief illustrator on Walt Disney's very first feature film Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. Looking at this book, it is easy to see his influence in all of Disney's early movies. Such a master, thus why I felt compelled to post a few extra pics this morning. (That owl just knocks me out!) Moving on... There is a wee little rabbit and his squirrel friend, see. And there is an evil, awful weasel who wants to eat them!

"Hello! What's the news?" said the lively little rabbit. "Oh, dear!" cried the little rabbits. "The mean old weasel came again this morning and ate our great grandmother on Daddy's side for breakfast!"


This made the lively little rabbit very sad. "Something must be done," he said. "What?" said the other little rabbits.
"I think I know," said the wise squirrel. "We must give that weasel a terrible, terrible scare."

So, they and their woodland family and friends (including the owl who in real life is probably way more trouble to them than any old weasel) get together and come up with a genius plan... They build a faux dragon and scare the living daylights out of that mangy, nasty weasel. Whew. Great book. I love it when small, snugly creatures kick butt. Poor, stinky weasel.

(This is a reprint from 1982... the original cover can be seen here.)

Also by:
Tenggren's Pirates, Ships and Sailors

Friday, November 14, 2008

White Snow Bright Snow

White Snow, Bright Snow
Alvin Tresselt ~ Roger Duvoisin ~ Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1947

Since I saw snow for the first time in seven years this week and our neighborhood just put up its community Christmas tree (already, can you believe!?!), I thought I'd celebrate with a wee bit of snow love. Winner of the 1948 Caldecott Medal, more than any other book (save maybe The Snowy Day), this one highlights the magic of the first snow, celebrating the wonder of the winter season.

The postman said it looked like snow.
The farmer said it smelled like snow.
The policeman said it felt like snow, and his wife said her big toe hurt, and that always meant snow. Even the rabbits knew it, and scurried around in the dead leaves. While the children watched the low grey sky, waiting for the first snowflake to fall. Then, just when no one was looking, it came.

So sweet the way the whole community (kids, fauna and all) celebrate in the majestic splendor of the new fallen landscape... right through to the moment when spring appears and the wonder is reborn. I doubt there are many out there (adult and otherwise) who don't become kids again when the seasons shift and we all get a second chance. What a wonderful world, no?

Also by:
Petunia, Beware!
The Rain Puddle
A Child's Garden of Verses
Veronica and the Birthday Present
Donkey Donkey
The Old Bullfrog

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Tale of Two Bad Mice

The Tale of Two Bad Mice
Beatrix Potter ~ F. Warne & Co., 1904

This post is way overdue. I'm not sure why I've neglected one Ms. Helen Beatrix Potter. Maybe I thought her books were too obvious. Maybe I thought the way I feel about these books would be too difficult to portray in 300 words or less. Maybe I thought my words could never do justice. Whatever... the point is, I'm over those hangups now, and I'm ready to tell you about my... AND YOU WILL ONLY HEAR ME SAY THIS ONCE... all time favorite books EVER EVER EVER of my childhood. (And I am lumping all her The Tale/Story Of books together because to love one means you've love them all.) That's right. For all you folks out there who were wondering what my number one pick would be. From her first book in 1902 (The Tale of Peter Rabbit) to the last of the series in 1930 (The Tale of Little Pig Robinson), Ms. Potter created a world so divine, so elaborate, so imaginative... that for over 100 YEARS, she's been making children fall in love over and over again.

Really, there are no books better. If you are looking for the holy grail of children's literature, look no further for ye shall find it in a complete box set of the series. That said, this particular ditty is about two very bad mice who ransack a dollhouse.

The doll's-house stood at the other side of the fire-place. Tom Thumb went cautiously across the hearthrug. They pushed the front door - it was not fast. Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca went upstairs and peeped into the dining-room. Then they squeaked with joy! Such a lovely dinner was laid out upon the table! There were tin spoons, and lead knives and forks, and two dolly-chairs - all so convenient!

When they come to find out that the food isn't real, they trash and loot the joint leaving a couple of dollies stupefied. A jolly good show really. One of the lead players in this book (Hunca Munca) was always my sister's favorite make-believe character, though I was more of a Jeremy Fisher girl myself. (He gets eaten alive for goodness sake... how marvelous!)

Potter's drawings are delicate and perfect, spinning a wonderful world that is interconnected and alive with possibility. And her words are pristine, though it is hard to read them aloud without putting on the Brit. Really, eight million fingers and toes and any other extremities you might care to point up, up.

(This is my original childhood copy, so excuse the scribbles.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


You Are Ri-Di-Cu-Lous
André François
~ Pantheon Books, 1970

By the famed French artist and New Yorker cartoonist, I have vague, vague, vague memories of these characters from being a child, but have no memory of this specific book. Perhaps these were reoccurring characters, perhaps Monsieur François had some backdoor way into the collective subconscious of the 70s toddler set. Who knows. What I can tell you is this book is funny and weird and great and puzzling and shocking and sweet, all at the very same time.

There are these two friends, see. Mister Punch and Mister Poo... and they like to make fun of each other and make asses of themselves...

You look pretty funny.
You do too!
You have a big nose!
You are terribly fat!
I can paint my nose blue.
I can wear a green hat.

But when these two tricksters ban together and head out to sass a two-headed dragon, fatal mistakes are made...

I don't like being called funny names!
said the dragon offended and spitting hot flames.
In fact, Mister Punch,
In fact, Mister Poo...
I'll swallow you up and
wear your hats too!

As my son is prone to ask, "What is the moral of this story, momma?" Well, son. Don't ever call anyone fat, and never, ever, ever make fun of a two-headed dragon lest you want your flesh soaked in stomach acid.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Friendly Book

The Friendly Book
Margaret Wise Brown, Garth Williams ~ Golden Books, 1954

I seriously doubt I will ever meet the day when I've read all the titles by this dynamic duo. These two authors alone give me such great hope every time I walk into a used book shop or lean over to root through a wire rack full of Golden Books.... what new treat will I discover today. Her with her slightly eccentric rhyming, and him with his fussy lines and wistful rabbits. Since I am spreading the love here, it is only right that this book is all about spreading the love, anywhere and everywhere...

Yellow stars
Green stars
Red stars
Blue stars
I like stars
Far stars
Quiet stars
Bright stars
Light stars
I like stars
A star that is shooting across the dark sky
A star that is shining right straight in your eye
I like stars.

Trains, cars, snow, dogs, boats, whistles, people.... there is room to love everything here on these pages. Such a happy book for a happy time, my friends. My son still is the snuggle king, but this book just reinforces the importance of enjoying your kiddos while you can before they get all grownup and cynical, darn it.

Also by:
Wait Til the Moon is Full
Do You Know What I'll Do?
The Sky Was BlueThe Rabbit's Wedding
The Quiet Noisy Book
On Christmas Eve
Christmas in the Barn
The Dead Bird
Little Chicken
The Little Island

Monday, November 10, 2008

You and Me

You and Me
Florence Parry Heide ~ Ted Smith ~ Concordia, 1975

Not sure what the cultural significance of You and Me is, but as I grew up in a good Episcopalian 70s home, you know we had the red dot and his friends hanging around. I rediscovered this book a few weeks back, and still find it to be enthralling. Using dots as people, we are introduced to the concept that everyone is a different individual, each with our own thoughts and feelings and ideas. I actually remember the exact moment when this epiphany hit me, so I know this sort of self discovery is important to a child. Otherwise, I think we'd all grown into little Jeffery Dahmers, but I digress.

Here I am.
(Now don't forget!
Every time you see the red dot in this book - that's me!)
If I want to go somewhere I can go up or down
or back and forth
or around.

Conceptually, the story is very intelligent, and links us all back to God in a way that is nondenominational, and the way I remember all religious things being when I was little before so many zealots started pulling us in lots of different directions. But again I digress. I believes the closing of the book says it all....

God made every single person
their own person
their own separate
different special selves.
Isn't that wonderful!

Isn't it?

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