Monday, August 31, 2009

Great Monday Give: The Philharmonic Gets Dressed

This week I'll use the Great Monday Give as a platform to honor two children's literature legends: Karla Kuskin, who died last week at the age 77, and Reading Rainbow which was canceled due to funding and aired its last episode on Friday after 26 years on the air. Well-loved as an illustrator (Roar and More), Karla is best known for penning the Marc Simont-illustrated classic The Philharmonic Gets Dressed which just happens to be a former Reading Rainbow title. So in honor of both these greats, I'll be giving away a nice, ex-library edition of the book to one lucky reader. All you have to do to be eligible to win is comment on this post before midnight, Sunday, September 6. A winner will be selected at random and announced the next morning.

Last week's Give of A Tree is Nice goes to Annette. Congrats and send me your info to webe(at)soon(dot)com. See you kids in two shakes of a lamb's tale!

Tell Me Mister Rogers About

Tell Me Mister Rogers About
Fred Rogers ~ pictures by Sheldon Secunda ~ Platt & Munk, 1975

My son has finally moved on from his nonstop listening to the audio book of Charlotte's Web (21 times this summer, I kid you not) and is now in the midst of his fifth listening of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with us reading Charlie and the Glass Elevator to him in the evenings. We've been sticking with the picture books by day/ long reads by night theory and it seems to be working really well... except, make no mistake... as with almost all of his long readings, if he picks up My Father's Dragon and I start it, I better be ready to finish it. Bedtime be damned.

Without a doubt, Dahl is the favorite author in house at the moment. Whenever I hear the chapter coming where Charlie finds the dollar and buys the fated chocolate bar, I always go into the boy's room, curl up in his bed and cry. Seriously, that part gets me every time. Particularly when the shopkeeper leans in and tells him to run home as fast as he can. Such a fabulous moment!

Anyway, I didn't come here (believe it or not) to talk about Willy Wonka. I came here to talk about a figure who is fast fading in my boy's life. I'm still holding on to the half hour every other day video rule.... with a full length feature sprinkled here and there. Though I do think the boob tube on the whole is bad for kids, there is a world of learning there (he's in love with The Life of Birds) and I don't want him to grow up completely under the pop culture rock (he watched the 1960 picture Swiss Family Robinson for the first time last night. The part where the boy rides the ostrich almost blew his mind.) I've never allowed my son to watch TV, as I want to keep him ignorant of the fact that certain things come on at certain times. (And the commercials, ugh!) So, all the boy knows of Mr. Rogers are a few VHS tapes I bought at a library sale. For this reason, I doubt his love of the man runs as deep as it does in the heart of this thirty-something mom. Still, what child doesn't love a book that's about children? Particularly when it speaks to soothe their fears.

If you don't get distracted by the awesome retro photographs with their bellbottoms, Fisher Price Little People and rad fabric patterns (not to mention this bookshelf photo... oh, man how I'd love to go all time-travelin' McFly on that bad boy), you'll find a title that is sweet (as all things Rogers are) and hugely helpful. Covering five key issues (Learning to Read, Sleeping Away from Home, Going to the Dentist, Thunder and Lightning, When Pets Die and Nobody Feels Perfect), the lessons span from the importance of reading time...

Hearing the voice of a grown-up reading often gives you a special feeling -- a feeling that the grown-up loves you and wants you to know what's in the book.

... to putting that most-beloved pet into the ground...

When a pet dies, it may look as if it were just asleep and it may be hard to let someone bury its body. But when living creatures die they can't use their bodies anymore and their bodies need to be buried.

... all done with the gentle hand Fred was famous for. These little fears are fragile in children, so who better to trust than a old master in touching these points. Really, Mister Rogers was more than a television character. He was a teacher, a saint, and I'd even go so far as to call him a friend. Even though I probably spent far too much time watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood as a child, there's a part of me that's sad my son won't know him as I did. Then again, he'll have to just find his own small screen hero to love. I suppose that is what Mr. Attenborough is for.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Noah's Ark

Noah's Ark
Peter Spier ~ Doubleday, 1977

As mentioned previously, you all know my son is an animal freak, so it comes with the territory that we would have to possess every Noah's Ark title we come in contact with. Hands down though, this is the favorite. It's awesome because it is Peter Spier and he is known for his realism, and more than any of his books, this one cuts right to the heart. A story told without words (except a reprint of a Dutch poem called "The Float" written in the 1600s by Jacobus Revius), the imagery is pretty hard core. From the beginning, it's obvious this isn't your usual ark story.

On page two, we see all the animals gathering. In a hoard of flies, Noah turns them all away except for the required two. A few pages later, the actual left-behind animals are leg deep in flood waters looking at the ark longingly. In the next illustration, they are gone. As the flood waters rise, the animal dung builds, Noah visibly worries and tensions rise.

When Noah finally releases the dove and it returns, Noah and his wife embrace on the deck, and in one of my favorite moments, Noah leans in to give a hungry cow the olive branch. Though I was raised Episcopalian, as an adult I am not hugely religious, but still, you'd have to be dead of heart not to be moved by the telling of the story. I'm gonna use the word breathtaking here and know, it wasn't written lightly.

Through God's hand,
Who forgave,
And did save.

As the doors open and all the animals pour off, it becomes obvious that during the year they've been on the ark, the animals have definitely been getting busy... you can't even count how many rabbits there are. Awesome.

Also by:
The Fox Went Out On a Chilly Evening
The Star-Spangled Banner
Peter Spier's Christmas
Gobble Growl Grunt
Little Bible Storybooks
Bored -- Nothing To Do!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Little Fur Family

Little Fur Family
Margaret Wise Brown ~ Garth Williams ~ Harper & Row, 1946

As an infant, the boy was obsessed with the rub-the-tummy "Fur Edition" of this title, but when I purged his board books, it got tossed with the rest of them. Last year, I came across a copy of the more big-boy-sized Children's Choice Book Club Edition, and it happily found its way back into rotation. The Little Fur Family is quite possibly my all time favorite first book to give to a child (even more than Goodnight Moon). It's quirky. Funny. Weird. And totally sweet. And little... don't forget little. Though I am a sucker for Eric Carle and Pat the Bunny, I always thought these pages held a little more poetry, abstraction, nuance and soul for a baby book. Case in point..

It was a wild wild wood.
Wild flowers grew all over the ground
and wild winds blew through the air.
Wild nuts fell from the wild nut trees
and wild grass tickled the fur child's nose,
tickled his nose and made him sneeze...

and later...

Then he caught a little tiny tiny fur animal
The littlest fur animal in the world
It had warm silky fur and
even a little fur nose.
So he kissed it right on its little fur nose
and put it gently back in the grass
and the little tiny tiny fur animal
ran down a hole into the ground.

Weird, right? Weird in the most wonderful way. As a child, I know I loved to imagine little things, little creatures especially that might be living right outside my window, shuttling around unseen in the dead of night. All the more wonderful to imagine them as furry little creatures in little fur coats rushing off to a hot bath, a snuggle and a goodnight song from Mommy and Daddy.

Sleep, sleep, our little fur child,
Out of the windiness,
Out of the wild.
Sleep warm in your fur
All night long,
In our little fur family.
This is a song.

Makes you feel all warm and fussy inside, don't 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
The Friendly Book

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Golden Book of Nature Crafts

The Golden Book of Nature Crafts
John R. Saunders ~ photos by Roy Pinney
drawings by Rene Martin
~ Golden Press, 1949

I can't even remember where I bought this a few weeks ago as I think its sheer awesomeness blinded me instantly and for several hours afterwards. Seriously, I'm lucky I even made it home without causing a major traffic accident. And had I not found this book, then I doubt I would've stumbled across this delicious little bite of a blog, The Magnifying Glass, which (among other awesome nature/child activities and thoughts) highlighted in a post a section of this book called "Spider Webs Are Amazing" that details how to "catch" a spider web.

The book is filled with retro photographs and illustrations from Golden Nature Guides and houses instructions and tips on doing any number of cool nature activities. Like rigging up a field camera to catch animals in action, casting animal tracks, making leaf prints, creating an insect zoo, nut gathering,... and my absolute favorite, making a wood collection.

Make a wood collection. There's no better way to make closer friends of trees, which are usually taken for granted as something to give shade, to bear fruit, or to climb. But the minute you saw cuts into a branch (dead or fallen), you'll see a tree in a new light. The simple procedure of cutting into wood in order to prepare a specimen reveals texture in bark and grain as many-faceted as a jewel.

Again, this was the sort of book that if I'd had as a child, I would have done every single thing on every single page, probably many times over. One of my son's friends has already mastered the section called "How To Be a Rock Hound", and my son is nuts for the portion on feather collecting. He started his own collection in a box long ago, but to see it reinforced in print is a huge thing for him.

Seriously, this book reminds us that one of childhood's most precious moments can be created by simply scooping up a firefly in a mason jar and watching it glow. Get outside gang!

Great Monday Give: A Tree is Nice

Happy Monday kids.... for many of you (at least in Texas) the first day of school is today so you are probably home relaxing after what has been a super full morning. The perfect time for the Great Monday Give, no? Mondays are the days I gift an old kids' book from our collection to one lucky reader. Today's give is a 1987 edition, lightly pre-loved paperback copy of a wonderful classic A Tree Is Nice. Great, great book. To be entered to win, simply comment on this post before midnight, Sunday August 30th. A winner will be selected randomly and announced the next day.

As for last week's give of Sam, Bangs & Moonshine, the winner is Jen (Pink) Williams. Sorry it took so long and congrats! Send me your info to webe(at)soon(dot)com. And thanks for reading everyone! See you with a review shortly.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm

The Juniper Tree
Grimm Brothers
translation by Lore Segal ~ pictures by Maurice Sendak
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973

When I first tiptoed into the early readers/young adult section at my local used book haunt, I asked one of the sales ladies if she knew of any authors like Roald Dahl or books like My Father's Dragon that were older, short and illustrated, and she handed me this gorgeous two-volume boxed set. She said it'd been in stock a while, so she marked it down to $4 dollars and I was on my way. Though, at this point, I've been doing more of the reading for myself than for the boy, it thrills me that this collection is on his shelf, ready to be enjoyed in the next few years.

According to the book jacket, the Grimm brothers released their first collection of stories in 1823, and in the early 1970s, Segal and Sendak got together and selected 27 of the original 210 tales to translate and illustrate. Many of the stories are old favorites (Hansel and Gretel) but others are relatively unknown (The Story of One Who Set Out to Study Fear). We all know that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were deep in the study of linguistics when they became intrigued with European folk takes of old. Many of the original stories they set to the printed word might have been lost to time had it not been for their retelling. Without them, Disney would be lacking a back-to-school Princess Collection at this very moment (think Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White... not to mention the soon to be released Princess and the Frog, i.e. The Frog Prince.) Apparently, the Segal translations here are as close to the original German stories as they have ever come in English, and it was the first time Sendak had wandered into his more "serious" realm of illustration. Though sparsely illustrated (there is about one drawing for every six pages of text), the black and white plates are simply lovely... each one a little gift alluding to the plot-at-large.

I must warn you however, these stories are not our childhood fairy tales. These are the real things often filled with a little gore and magic and creepy, awful things. Take the title story, for instance. A mean mother kills her stepson, makes her daughter think that the daughter did it, boils the boy up into a black stew and serves him to his own father for dinner. Then, magic takes over. At the foot of the family juniper tree, the sister places the boy's bones and his soul takes possession of a bird that floats around town singing a beautiful song of woe.

"My mother butchered me,
My father ate me,
My sister, little Ann Marie,
She gathered up the bones of me
And tied them in a silken cloth
To lay under the juniper.
Twee twee, what a pretty bird I am!"

In the end, the boy avenges his own life, kills the stepmother, is born again and lives happily ever after with his father and stepsister. Grim is right, no? And, why is it the stepmothers who always get the bad wrap? Were second wives looked at as witches back then or something? Poor ladies. Anyway, 80 thumbs up. Totally.

Also by:
A Very Special House
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
Moon Jumpers
What Do You Say, Dear?
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale
Some Swell Pup
Let's Be Enemies
Chicken Soup with Rice
Lullabies and Night Songs
I'll Be You and You Be Me
Outside Over There
In the Night Kitchen
Where the Wild Things Are
Seven Little Monsters
The Giant Story
Open House For Butterflies
Dear Mili

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Dwindling Party

The Dwindling Party
Edward Gorey ~ Random House, 1982

Care to battle with me over whether or not this is a children's book? No matter. The deal is any Gorey pop-up is usually collectable and high-priced and though I've often dreamed of them... alas, I have no budget for such triflings... but when fate serves me a mint condition copy at the thrift shop for 49 cents of one such book, my heart knows that God has spoken and rather than sell it for a huge profit online, I should take this book and share it with my son. Allow him to pull when it says PULL... turn when it says TURN and know that not many young ones get the chance... for their parents are fearful of losing a small fortune to sticky fingers and preschool ripping tendencies.

I LOVE Gorey. And thanks to a kind stranger who knew not of the book's worth when he/she tossed it into the donation bin... my son's eyes will get to devour something boys his age will only dream of in years to come. Once, they too, become aged Gorey junkies... prone to goth and line drawing and melancholy.

There once was a family whose name was MacFizzet
(Two parents, five children) who only last fall
Put on their best clothes and then set out to visit
The varied distractions of Hickyacket Hall.

Past the gates all the shrubbery was cleverly fashioned
Into creatures of every conceivable kind;
They were so much intrigued, not to mention impassioned.
They quite overlooked Lambert lagging behind.

Oh, delightful. The entire family gets gone, eaten or disappeared until finally, on the last page (or rather the back of the book, as in this case the front and back covers are the first and final pages) the smallest boy in the family, Neville, is the last who remains. Wonderful, wonderful. This book tickles me beyond words. Beyond happy. Into a realm of 2-D awesomeness unparalleled in my life up until this point. The drawings and the costumes and the color. Oh! The color! A zillion thumbs up. Happy Wednesday folks. Sigh.

Also by:
Sam and Emma

Monday, August 17, 2009

Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse
Leo Lionni ~ Pantheon, 1969

Though I do try and stick with obscure finds and books readers might not have seen in a while, every now and again I have to give props to the classics. Even when the selection might seem pretty obvious to me, lots of folks out there might not have the same feeling and posting a book like this could reunite it with a long lost love. So, without further chitchat, I give you one of the books that I most remember from my own youth. A Velveteen Rabbit/Toy Story-ish tale about a real mouse and a fake mouse and a psychedelic lizard that used to scare the bejesus out of me.

Said toy mouse (Willy) and real mouse (Alexander) meet and mutual sparks of admiration fly... but when a box full of throwaway toys threatens to separate them forever, it takes a wily lizard and a full moon to set the story right.... well, that and a magical purple pebble."Lizard, lizard, in the bush," he (Alexander) called quickly.
The leaves rustled and there stood the lizard.
"The moon is round, the pebble found," said the lizard.
"Who or what do you wish to be?"
"I want to be..." Alexander stopped.
Then suddenly he said,
"Lizard, lizard, could you change Willy into a mouse like me?"
The lizard blinked. There was a blinding light.
And then all was quiet. The purple pebble was gone.

A great grass-is-always-greener story with Lionni's iconic illustration style utilizing pen and ink, stamping and cut or torn pieces of colored paper. A three-time Caldecott Honor winner, it's a shame he never pulled in the Medal because his books are so known and well-loved the world over. Plus, he was also an advertising guy. Hum... I wonder why so many advertising guys in the 60s turned to children's books, and why it doesn't happen nowadays like that? Or does it? Anyone, anyone?

Also by:
Fish is Fish
Little Blue and Little Yellow
Tico and the Golden Wings

Great Monday Give: Sam, Bangs and Moonshine

School is inching up. Some have already started. Some are days away... in our case, weeks, but the summer is still fleeting and winding down to its bittersweet end. For all you slackers out there, now is the time to cram in that last minute summer reading. Which leads me to the give. A nice vintage paperback copy of Sam, Bangs & Moonshine. Great pictures. Great story. All you have to do to be entered to win is comment on this post before Sunday ~ August 23 ~ midnight. A winner will be selected and announced the following day.

Oh, and in case you were wondering... The winner of last week's give is Amy. I will ship it off to you as soon as I find it. You see, the boy has this nasty habit of pinching freebies off my desk and making off with them in the night. It's somewhere though... Send me your mailing info to webe(at)soon(dot)com. Tra la la and happy Monday!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From Afar It Is An Island

From afar it is an island
Bruno Munari ~ World, 1971

Italian design sweetheart and sometime children's book author, Munari brings together art, science and the natural world in this amazing little book that begs us to take a different look at something we see everyday. The man had a brilliant eye, and not many children's books show the meeting of the real world and the imagination so well.

Stones are like small worlds. If you look at them well, you discover many things images, stories, strange markings. And stones become jungles, oceans meadows, hills. Or the earth--as seen by an astronaut strolling on the beaches of the moon!

Some pages show simple photographs of rocks that one might imagine look like something else. (Lots of those gorgeous smooth beach stones you find up North in Maine.) Others, Munari has taken the natural image on the rock and draw on it to complete a simple but deeply thoughtful scene. A wonderful art project for an adult or an rainy day activity for a child. This book is what happens when you unleash a real artistic thinker on a children's book. The little rocks remind me of the sort of things you might see sitting on the window sill of an artist's home. An everyday object turned inspiring with some dabs of ink and a sprinkle of creativity.

I'm keeping this one for me.

Also by:
Jimmy Lost His Cap

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Where's Wallace

Where's Wallace
Hillary Knight ~ Harper & Row, 1964

Seriously, I might be this man's biggest fan. Eloise was one of my favorite books as a child, and it was only when I began collecting books for my son that I came to know some of his other titles. All total eye candy. I found this one in a junk shop for 49 cents, and a few days later, a reader mentioned it. A far more imaginative and brilliant precursor to the popular Where's Waldo series, the panoramic spreads are marvels, and they invite the reader to find a rascal of an orangutan hidden within their details. I LOVE this one of a natural history museum. It knocks the socks off my son as well. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

These scans don't do justice to the illustrations, so be sure and click to enlarge to get a better view of the awesomeness. Knight's sense of style and space and typography and costume really deserves heaps of praise. I still get a huge thrill whenever I find his drawings in a Vanity Fair. The only way to describe them is that they are complete. Totally full of life and looking. A real wonder. If I could wish to draw like anyone it would be him. Anyways, before I wax so poetic that somebody slips and breaks their neck, on with the story...

Wallace is a monkey. A monkey in a zoo who is loved by everyone and who happens to be a lover of life and a roamer. His kindhearted zookeeper makes a habit of turning the other cheek to allow Wallace his adventures, and the rushing off (eventually) to find him is all part of the fun.

One late afternoon when the crowds had gone and Wallace was alone, he heard a plane overhead and looked up. His keeper saw it too and knew he would have a busy evening ahead of him.

Great story with lots of action and funny and silly business, and my son, for one, could spend hours flipping through these pages trying to find Wallace on the beach or at the department store or at the circus. There are reasonably priced copies all over the Web so do yourself a favor and get one. I promise it will be in high rotation for years to come.

Also by:
The Circus is Coming
Sunday Morning
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