Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to be a Nature Detective

How to be a Nature Detective
Millicent Selsam ~ Ezra Jack Keats
William R. Scott, 1958

How did I manage to drive through three states over the last five days and only visit one used book store? Oh, I hate vacations that are jammed packed with so much fun you don't get to shop! And to think of all those lovely New England shelves I could have explored. No matter. The one I did manage to loot gave me a handful of great titles the boy did not yet possess. (Plus, the burn was numbed somewhat when I arrive home to a bulging envelope of Random House fun from my new and most awesome blog friend, the apple and the egg. Thanks Nikalas! Now, how to reciprocate? Oh, the options!)

So, instead of rummaging through old children's books, the boy and I spent the vacation time searching tidal pools and digging up sand... bird watching and splashing in the frigid surf of the Atlantic. Basically, just being nature detectives. (Did you know my son can pick out a loon from a grebe from a eider duck now?) Lucky this find was towards the beginning of the trip so it got a number of reads to help propel us along the nature-loving trail. Penned by our favorite science writer and drawn by the wonderful Mr. Keats, books like this make me wish I had more time away from the modern world to explore the small signs around us.

You can be a detective too, a special kind of detective -- a nature detective. nature detectives find tracks and clues that answer these questions:

What animal walked here?
Where did it go?
What did it do
What did it eat?

Where does a nature detective look for clues? Almost anywhere -- in a backyard, in a woods, in a city park.

With drawings done in signature Keats style, each page sets us along the path to using our eyes, ears and noses to solve the constant mystery of the natural world that most of us are too business to notice in the everyday. A splendid pick for parents wanting to get children back to nature. At four, my son is really beginning to get into reenacting things that he sees and reads about, so all these views into the wild are great for him. In that vein, if anyone knows of bird-related vintage books, please pass the names along. The fowl frenzy is reaching a crescendo around these parts and any and everything featuring a bird is devoured whole upon sight.

Also by:
In a Spring Garden
Maggie and the Pirate
Whistle for Willie
Benny's Animals
Plenty of Fish
Seeds and More Seeds

Monday, June 29, 2009

Greetings from Maine

Hey, everyone. I'll be home tomorrow with a new review, and if you haven't already, be sure to post a comment here to be entered to win The Great Monday Give for next week. Bye!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain
Edward Ardizzone ~ Oxford University Press, 1936

Just wanted to let you guys know I'll be East Coast bound in a few hours, so my next book post won't be until Tuesday. (Though I might check in here and there with a book related photo or two.) That said, as we are headed to Bar Harbor, Maine, I thought a good seaworthy story was in order to celebrate. Oh, how I love a children's book featuring real life dread and bravery. Imagine a time before TV and distractions when a young boy might have been completely wrapped up in a tale like this and taken away completely by the thrill of it. I have to believe Tim is exactly who little boys who are honorable and true of heart want to be. You see, little Tim very much wanted to be a sailor...

The Captain would tell him about his voyages and sometimes give him a sip of his grog, which made Tim want to be a sailor more than ever. But alas for Tim's hopes. When he asked his mother and father if he could be a sailor, they laughed and said he was much too young, and must wait for years and years until he was grown up. This made Tim very sad.

The story that follows is one that would put hair on even a toddler's chest. Tim eventually stows away in a steamer ship and becomes a cabin boy in trade until one day the ship hits a rock and...

Tim crept on to the bridge where he found the captain, who had refused to leave his ship. "Hullo, my lad," said the captain. "Come, stop crying and be a brave boy. We are bound for Davy Jones's locker and tears won't help us now."

So Tim dried his eyes and tried not to be too frightened. He felt he would not mind going anywhere with the captain, even to Davy Jones's locker. They stood hand in hand and waited for the end

Spectacular watercolor and ink drawings illustrate the drama, alternating between full color and black and white. The emotion and beauty are felt in the pictures with just a few strokes of ink and a dash of solemn color, truly taking the reader back in time to when boys were only an adventure away from becoming men. Over the span of more than 30 years, Mr. Ardizzone wrote and illustrated a number of books about Tim, this one (a library sale find) being the first in the series and the only one I've actually read. To be sure, they've all been added to my wish list.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Angus and the Cat

Angus and the Cat
Marjorie Flack ~ Doubleday, 1931

Ms. Flack's books always impress from the start, if for no other reason than the fonts always rock. Her use of soft, primary colors. Her dark lines and familiar but tense situations. I think all of her books are divine, and although The Story About Ping will probably go down as my son's all time favorite children's book (for bird-related reasons), he just might think Angus is a whole lot funnier. One in a short series of books that follow the exploits of a frisky Scottish terrier, here we find him pitted against a neighborhood feline in a friendly game of catch that cat.Now as Angus grew older and longer he learned MANY THINGS. He learned it is best to stay in one's own yard and FROGS can jump but NOT to jump after them and BALLOONS go POP! Angus also learned NOT to lie on the sofa and NOT to take SOMEONE ELSE'S food and things like that. But there was SOMETHING outdoors Angus was very curious about but had NEVER learned about, and that was CATS. The leash was too SHORT.

Oh, Angus learns alright and as the book progresses and the cat continues to elude, the story is a series of just-missed-him funny situations that bring my son to his knees in peals of laughter. The tale is spectacularly well-written, and the language isn't the least bit dated (which explains why it's been in print all these years). That black dog is a charmer, big time. If anyone has an extra copy of Angus and the Ducks sitting around, please send it my way and maybe we can bump this puppy up to Number 1 status in the boy's heart of hearts. A little quack, quack will surely put him over the line.

Also by:
The Country Bunny
Tim Tadpole and the Great Bullfrog
The Story About Ping

Monday, June 22, 2009

For Rent

For Rent
Charles E. Martin ~ Greenwillow Books, 1986

The simplicity and charm of this story is almost shocking, really. Ordinary magic tinted with a bit of mystery. A wonderful tale that unfolds after a group of school children are gifted a small shed on the seashore.

It was the last day of school. Mrs. Gray held a letter in her hand. It was from Mrs. Burton, a lady who had grown up on the island and had recently moved away. It was addressed to the island children. It said:

"When I was a little girl, my family gave me the small shed on the cove. My friends and I spent a lot of time there. It was our clubhouse and our second home. Now I want you to have it. Clean it up, take good care of it, and be as happy with it as we were."

The children were very quiet. They had all like Mrs. Burton, but they had never expected anything like this.

Indeed! The children break out the elbow grease and paint and create a wonderful hideaway. So wonderful, in fact, that they decide to rent it for the summer to raise money for a school trip. A few mismatches are made, but finally they find a tenant worthy of such a fine clubhouse.

I wish all children's books were filled with this kind of quiet heart. Bravo Mr. Martin, wherever you are. Bravo.

Also by:
The Big Orange Thing
Hooper Humperdink...? Not Him!

Great Monday Give: Where the Wild Things Are

When I did the post on the Best in Children's Books last week, one reader mentioned a version of The Velveteen Rabbit illustrated by Maurice Sendak in Volume 35 and ~ of course ~ I just had to eBay it ASAP. In honor of this delightful find, and the fact that I've been digging the terrible yellow eyes project (MAJORLY) since it was mentioned on We Heart Books, I will be giving away a very nice, ever-so-gently used paperback copy of Where the Wild Things Are and posting a few scans from the aforementioned story. Enjoy!

I'll be out of town through the weekend, so this Give will run for two weeks instead of the usual one. All you have to do to be entered to win is comment on this post before midnight, July 5 ~ Sunday. I will announce a winner the next morning. So without further yadda yadda, here are the promised scans. (Oh, yea... and scroll down to the bottom for last week's winner.)

The winner of last week's give is Dawn D. Lion... Congrats and send me your mailing info to webe(at)soon(dot)com and Amigo will be on the way shortly. I bye.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Apple Pie

A Apple Pie
Kate Greenaway
George Routledge and Sons, 1886 ~ reprinted by Frederick Warne

My son's been enjoying early phonics for summer camp these past two weeks, so to reinforce, I've pulled out all the letter books we haven't bothered with since he was younger. I must say, I've thoroughly enjoying seeing my old friend Kate again. Her drawings hold so many memories as my mother spoiled my sisters and me with her books in hopes that we would idealize her perfectly-bonneted girls and abundant 18th century English gardens. Who wouldn't, really?

In this particular title, we see the alphabet framed against the drama of an apple pie. A myriad of colorfully-dressed children do everything from cut it to bite it to fight over it to (strangely enough) mourn for it. An interesting peek into early phonetic representation.

Revered more for the clothing she drew on her characters that for the actual drawings themselves, I find it fascinating that a woman back then could reach her level of fame and fortune on her own two feet. I'd love to know more of her history. She must've lived quite a life. For anyone who loves Victorian style, her drawings are quintessential, and I remember always having a few greeting cards bearing her images hanging around for the random thank you note or birthday card. Lovely, lovely.

Click here to see the non-library binding cover and full page spreads.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Old Witch and the Polka Dot Ribbon

Old Witch and the Polka-Dot Ribbon
Wende and Harry Devlin ~ Parent's Magazine Press, 1970

When I first started out tracking down books from my childhood to share with my son, two long-lost titles immediately came to mind. For years, I searched for them as a young adult in NYC, then the miracle of the Internet arrived and I ultimately had a super sweet reunion with both... first with Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp and then, shortly thereafter... Old Black Witch. Both of which I didn't remember the title, only a vague recollection of the story and what the pictures looked like. (That's why God created What's That Book, by the way.)

Though the stories in the Devlin books are a little vague and underwritten, I have to admit, nothing screams growing up in the 70s like the matching nose/chin action of the stout Old Witch. Thus why her books are often the most talked about and collected of the era. The art is cool and iconic, and the main character mischievous and fun loving.

So, Polka Dot Ribbon is the second in a series of three... and in this story we find our heroine doing what she does best, baking...

Nicky's mother carefully explained about the contest. Oldwick needed a new bandstand and the townspeople agreed that a carnival, with a cake baking contest, would be a fine way to raise money.

"A new bandstand!" Old Witch screeched, "What's wrong with the old one? It's got everything--spiders, mice cobwebs and bats."

Regardless, Old Witch gets cooking, discovers a cheater in the midst and makes all that is wrong right again before she snags a polka dot ribbon for most original recipe.

Really, since she first fell down the chimney and into our hearts in 1963, she's been haunting Generation X-ers with her upbeat anxiety and black soul full of love. She speaks for all of us in that she is anxious, competitive and a little bit rascally, but still has warmth in her heart. She's everybody's alter-ego, bless her. I'm gearing up this weekend to try the recipe on the back cover. Children's book as dessert revelation? I'm down with that.

Also by:
How Fletcher Was Hatched
Old Witch Rescues Halloween
Old Black Witch!
Cranberry Thansgiving
The Wonderful Tree House

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pugwash and the Ghost Ship

Pugwash and the Ghost Ship
John Ryan ~ The Bodley Head, 1962

I picked this one up at a library sale months ago because my son thought the pictures were funny. Only after I let my fingers do the Googling did I realize just how expansive this tubby pirate's lineage is. (I'm sure our more savvy Euro-readers are not so daft.) Created originally by Brit John Ryan as a comic strip, Captain Pugwash and his mates went on to star in countless books and cartoons in the 50s and on into the 90s. There's even a bit of naughty urban myth surrounding some of the characters names. Oh, how I love controversy in children's books. Delightful!

This tale finds our fair Captain with a load of seemingly colorless paint with which to paint his ship, The Black Pig... at the same time, Cutthroat Jake (his worst enemy) is lurking around the corner waiting to sink the vessel. When the captain accidentally falls in the bucket of paint and becomes luminous, the pirates hatch a plan to scare the willies out of Cutthroat and his crew.

"Load up the cannons, sharper your cutlasses and mind the powder's dry," ordered Jake. "We're going to settle with that old rogue Pugwash once and for all. There won't be a man left alive on The Black Pig by morning!"...

... "There's something coming, Cap'n Jake! Look! Look!" There, before the horrified gaze of the pirates appeared a strange and terrible sight. A ghostly ship gleaming in the darkness with a silvery light sailed slowly around the rocks and made straight for them.

"That's not The Black Pig, it's a Ghost ship," cried one.

These rolypoly pirates are a riot to read about, and the illustrations are marvelous. The characters have great depth and color, sporting fabulous pinched faces, scruffy mugs and giant black-eyed pea eyes. Simply enchanting, and if you've a kid who's a pirate buff, I would think these titles to be a must-have. A good number of the Pugwash books seem to be in print in the US, but vintage copies are available all over. As for me, ARRRRR... I'll be keepin' me one eye out for the old salty dog in hopes of catchin' us some booty, yarr!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Great Monday Give: Amigo

Hello there, everyone. Welcome to the Great Monday Give where we give a vintage children's book away to one lucky reader. The Give for today is a paperback copy of the wonderful Amigo by Byrd Baylor with pictures by Garth Williams. All you have to do to be entered to win is comment on this post before midnight, June 21 ~ Sunday. A winner will be announced the following morning.

MJ is the winner of last week's give, a very cool paperback copy of Babar's Travels. Congrats and send me your info to webe(at)soon(dot)com, and I'll ship in within the week. Ta ta for now kiddos.

Dirty Beasts

Dirty Beasts
Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1983

My heart is being filled and my wallet emptied anew now that I've started wandering into the young adult section of my local bookstores. Darn you Roald Dahl and your awesomeness. I'm very interested in longer chapter books of oldish that have some pictures and this past week we've been devouring Mr. Dahl at bedtime (a turn of phrase Dahl, more than anyone, would've appreciated.) I'm continuing to read picture books during the day, but in the evenings, tucked under the covers before bed, we are branching out. Thus, My Father's Dragon, some Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear books and all the shorter titles of Dahl's I can get my hands on. First, we read the fabulous Esio Trot, then came The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, then The Fantastic Mr Fox... The Magic Finger, The Enormous Crocodile, and last night, our first reading of the shorter but highly-poetic Dirty Beasts. All of these are right up my son's alley. Totally, his sense of humor, and it doesn't hurt that they're fun for grownups to read, as well. My husband keeps wanting to take over the reading half way through, and I won't let him because I wanna find out what happens. I must admit the only Dahl I had actually read previous to this was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so discovering his books, for me, is a giant revelation.

Nothing is more sinfully delicious that reading your child a selection of funny poems about beasts doing horrible things. The pig that eats the farmer instead of the other way around. The anteater that eats Aunt Dorothy. The flying cow that poops on a horrid man's head. The little devil who lives in a boy's tummy and demands food. And who doesn't love a killer croc...No animal is half so vile
As Crocky-Wock the crocodile.
On Saturdays, he likes to crunch
Six juicy children for his lunch.

Ahhhh... Dahl's books with Blake's illustrations.... never have an author and illustrator belonged together more. 80 thumbs up.

Also by:
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
Mouse Trouble

Friday, June 12, 2009

Best in Children's Books

various authors and illustrators
Nelson Doubleday, Inc., various years

I'm probably way behind the curve on this, but here goes. It all started a few weeks ago when my friend gef snaked me by 15 minutes at a library sale and walked away with what she described as this "series of really cool old books." A week later, I am thrifting and I come across two coverless books from a Doubleday series I've seen before but never cracked open and what was inside was a collection of the most vivid and wonderful stories, all illustrated by different artists.

As I was flipping through one of them later that night, I happened across a story called The Magic Porridge Pot and noticed the author was Andy Warhol. And I thought to myself, "THE Andy Warhol". It took about two seconds of Internet searching to find this blog post explaining the Warhol/ Nelson Doubleday connection and in an instant, I was hooked to find more. Not just the Warhol volumes, but the collection includes early works (some commissioned just for this) from everyone: Leonard Weisgard, Feodor Rojankovsky, Ezra Jack Keats, Paul Galdone, Adrienne Adams, Peter Spier, Richard Scarry, Barbara Cooney, Ruth Ives, Don Freeman, Garth Williams, Leonard Kessler... I could go on but my wrist is cramping. Really, it is a nauseatingly fabulous array.... like a yearbook of illustration from my favorite era and beyond.

In the last week, I've been buying them wherever I can. (Needless to say, these were the books "my friend" snaked me on. Blah.) I think there are more than 40 volumes, but I don't know for sure. Anyone have anymore history? I won't go into every story, but they include folk tales and fairy tales and silly stories and historic reenactments and even some photo travel essay. Way, way, way beyond cool. Here is a sampling of just some of the awesome illustration you will find. Really, don't be fooled by the high pricing on some of the volumes when you start sniffing around. The less expensive volumes are just as good. Every book has something that will blow your flipping mind. (I've added some of Sendak's Velveteen Rabbit drawings at the end.)

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