Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Biggest Shadow in the Zoo

The Biggest Shadow in the Zoo
Jack Kent ~ Parent's Magazine Press, 1981

It seems as if every time I turn around another Kent (happily) pops up. The cool thing about having a four-year-old who gets read to a lot is that when we get a new book, if the illustrator has been on our shelf in some other form before, he can basically tell you who illustrated it just by looking at it. And he knows lots of the writers names too so whenever we start a new book he reels off whatever else that person has written. Neat to watch. I am raising a future librarian or bookseller! (Like many a tiny bookstore now, I remember back to the days of bookselling before computers when the stock was all in your head. And if you were lucky, you had microfiche to tell you if the distributor at least carried it! But as usual, I digress.) So yes... my son can pick out the Jack Kent books from a lineup. It's the little things that make me proud.

That said... As you know, we love all things Jack Kent in this house. Even the later books like this one, and I have to say, the plot here is ingeniously funny.

Goober was an elephant who lived at the zoo. Goober was very special. At least HE thought so. All the other animals lived in cages or behind bars. Goober lived on an island with a moat around it. But that wasn't why Goober thought he was special.

Yes, yes. There are a medley of reasons why Goober could be special, but it ends up the thing he's most proud of is the wide girth of his shadow. And because of that girth, he thought rather highly of the shadow itself.

Goober was very fond of his shadow. And his shadow seemed fond of Goober. They were always together. They were very good friends.

But one day, when Goober's shadow falls in his moat, Goober is heartbroken. He stands there for days and days watching it, but it won't move out of the water. When on a cloudy day, he finally decides it must have drowned, he is devastated. It is only until a doctor's lamp reveals the shadow's true whereabouts that the spirits of our hero are restored and all is made right again. A delightful (and adorably non-narcissistic) take on the Narcissus tale. On the 'About the Author' page in the back of the book, there is a silly little quote from Kent, further confirming his wonderful child's-eye-view of the world...

Mr. Kent says, "Like Goober, I have noticed that my shadow is only around on nice, sunshiny days. On rainy days, when I'd like to have some company, my shadow is nowhere to be found. It's probably curled up in some nice, dry place, waiting for the rain to stop."

Also by:
Jack Kent's Twelve Days of Christmas
I Was Walking Down the Road
The Grown-Up Day
The Fox and the Crow
The Animobile Book
Jack Kent's Book of Nursery Tales
Dooly and the Snortsnoot
Mr. Meebles
Cindy Lou and the Witch's Dog
The Blah
Jack Kent's Valentine Sticker Book
The Bremen-town Musicians
Round Robin
Just Only John
Fly Away Home
Fat Cat
Piggy Bank Gonzales
Socks for Supper


Read along on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter and Etsy

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes

The Man Who Didn't Wash His Dishes
Phyllis Krasilovsky ~ illustrations by Barbara Cooney
Doubleday, 1950

I'm surprised it took me this long to get around to this book. Found at a thrift shop but instantly remembered from my own youth, it's one of those old school titles that is lovely in its simplicity and innocent humor. Each drawing is a little wonder in green and black and holds a unique scene that can be studied time and again. I just love the man's hands and the way his cat appears here and there, nose in a bowl of milk or on tiptoes peaking out a window. Not to mention that Cooney was a children's book legend who peppered most everyone's childhood bookshelves with her black outlines and wonderful sense of color. The sad thing is, I don't believe I own or have ever read her opus (I know, I know, loser) Miss Rumphius.

Cooney was a lover of life, for sure, and had a wonderful take on the world of children's books, one that was echoed when she received the Caldecott Medal in 1959 for Chanticleer and the Fox ~ "I believe that children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting.... It does not hurt them to read about good and evil, love and hate, life and death. Nor do I think they should read only about things that they understand.... a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. So should a child’s. For myself, I will never talk down to—or draw down to—children." Too true. And so...

Once there was a man who lived all alone and...

One night he came home hungrier than usual, so he made himself a big, big supper. It was a very good supper (he liked to cook and could make good things to eat), but there was so much of it that he grew very, very tired by the time he finished. He just sat in his chair, as full as he could be, and decided he'd leave the dishes in the sink till the next night, and then he would wash them all at once.

Never put off today what you might get stuck dealing with tomorrow. As each day passes, a new load of filth gets cast to the wayside and soon dirty dishes fill the house and the man finds himself eating out of soap dishes. It's not long before there is nowhere for him to go that isn't filled to the brim with undone chores. Well, fear not. It's nothing that a little precipitation can't take care of when he loads the dishes onto a truck and lets nature do her thing. Funny, funny stuff. Again on some of these pictures, I am wishing someone would start a t-shirt company that licences old children's illustration. I must have one for the boy with that cat. Those green eyes just kill me.

Also by:
Christmas in the Barn
Chanticleer and the Fox
The Crows of Pearblossom
Ox-Cart Man
Wynken, Blynken and Nod

Monday, September 28, 2009

Great Monday Give: The Sailor Dog

The Great Monday Give is here folks. Today, I am giving away a like-new copy of The Sailor Dog. Not a vintage copy, but still a great read nonetheless. To be entered to win, simply comment on this post by midnight ~ Sunday ~ October 4. A winner will be selected at random the next am and announced shortly thereafter.

As for last week, the winner of the Grimm/Babar combo is Jill. Congrats and e-mail me your mailing info to webe(at)soon(dot)com. Later all you peoples.

Wally the Wordworm

Wally the Wordworm
Clifton Fadiman ~ illustrations by Arnold Roth
Macmillian, 1964

OK, I know I gush about seemingly everything, but every once in a while in my children's book travels I've run across a book I know is special even before I crack it open. Something about the cover design, the heft and even just the way it feels in your hand makes you know it's gonna be good. I instantly fell in love even before I recognized the illustrator's name. Even before the boy read it for the first time and squealed with delight over the outlandish humor of it all. Once you peek the pedigrees of both writer and artist here (Clifton was the ultimate man of letters and Roth's stuff we should all recognize from everywhere), it's almost hard to believe that a book as wonderful as this exists. Seriously. (And to think a publisher saw fit to reillustrate it in the 80s. For shame!)

It would make the perfect gift for a librarian. The child of a librarian. A grammar girl. An academic. A word wrangler. An intellectual. A person who knows what a HOUYHNHNM is. Or just someone who thinks worms are funny. (ME!) Oh my goodness, this book is so perfect that I am seriously not smart enough to come up with a word to describe it. I'll leave that up to Wally.

So, there's this worm, see. And his name is Wally. And he's not just any ordinary worm. He's a wordworm. And after already eating the headlines on Page One of the morning paper, six Good Humor wrappers and a picture book, he's still hungry. Enter THE DICTIONARY, where Wally will enter a culinary linguist Olympics unmatched by any I've seen before.

Wally the Wordworm not only liked to eat words, he liked to
meet them
greet them
and repeat them.

And so the story goes... he works his way through a book that is "filled, stuffed, packed, bulging, crammed, and jammed with words of all shapes and sizes." A etymological buffet, of sorts.

After swallowing a SESQUIPEDALIAN and getting sick on a little PARADICHLOROBENZENE, he tries his belly on more silly words like SOMERSAULT and SLOOP. There are palindromes to ponder like MADAM and DEFIED and MOM. There are animals to appraise like the AUK and ROC and paths to maneuver like the ESCALATOR. My son was overjoyed to find his favorite word on the menu, PTARMIGAN. And I was happy that he was happy. And after all, isn't that what children's books are all about? Happiness.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon A Time (Story of the Frog Prince)
Brothers Grimm ~ illustrated by Elizabeth Webbe
Rand McNally, 1960

The family stayed up a little late last night going to see the HD rerelease of The Wizard of Oz and I have to say... FABULOUS. More than anything, the sets knocked my socks off... geez, and the acting and the costumes and the MUSIC! That film is about as perfect as perfect gets. But I digress. I am also off for a ladies overnight in Austin in a few hours, so this one will have to be quick.

I wanted to say a little something about Rand McNally Junior Elf Books. If you love vintage children's books, you're sure to have run across more than a handful of these little treasures here and there. They are delightful, pocket sized and full of wonderful illustrations and stories. Perfect for little hands and hearts. The Internet is flooded with their images and lots for sale, so if you are really hungry to get started collecting, there are plenty to be had.

This volume in particular was a favorite when I was little, a sweet, small version of the Frog Prince story by the Grimm Brothers. More than any other fairy tale book, its frosted pictures and golden ball entranced me.

Once upon a time a beautiful young princess went into a wood near her father's palace and sat down beside a spring of cool, clear water. She amused herself by tossing up a golden ball and catching it again as it fell. But one time she threw the ball so high that she could not catch it, and it fell into the spring.

Gotta love a story that genuinely begins 'once upon a time'. And so the girl's trouble begins. To retrieve her ball, she makes a deal with a frog... but when it comes time to pay, the spoiled princess balks but keeps her word. Forced to eat and sleep with the slimy beast, when she is finally so grossed out by the frog that she flings him against a wall, SURPRISE, he turns into a prince and the two live happily ever after.

Now, I'm not sure what the moral is... be a spoiled brat who reluctantly keeps her word and you will be rewarded with marriage to a hot prince? How knows. What I do know is that I spent many a hour dreaming of the frog and the golden ball and what the lips on the prince must have tasted like. Sweet and luscious like royalty or wet and slimy like the swamp from whence he came? Ha!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bubble Bubble

Bubble Bubble
Mercer Mayer ~ Troll, 1973

By now you should all know I am a huge vintage Mercer Mayer fan, so anytime I stumble across one I haven't seen since 1976, it totally blows my mind. I was at my local used book shop this week, flipping through the paperbacks like I always do, and I came across this $2 treasure... but seriously, I would have paid $50 for the memories it instantly evoked within me. Me, sitting Indian-style (or criss-cross applesauce as they call it in these evolved times) in the library... I remember loving Mercer's often frugality of words. His trust in letting the pictures tell the story so thoroughly. His sense of spooky, just titillating enough to give goosebumps but not scary enough to make you put it down. The wonderful nostalgia his characters create with their innocent hearts and period dress. And here, the bubbles, oh the wonderful bubbles!One day as I was walking, I bumped into a bubble. It wasn't just one bubble, but lots of bubbles. And they weren't just any kind of bubbles, they were magic bubbles. So I bought a magic bubble maker and said good-bye. I started blowing bubbles, magic bubbles, everywhere. Then suddenly, something strange happened!

Something strange indeed! In a flash, a long bubble turns into a fanged reptile... that is then chased away by a fierce feline... that is then scared by a giant elephant... frightened away by a tiny mouse. After the boy has had enough of this crazy magic, he pours the bubble juice onto the ground and walks off.

Anyway, everyone knows there's no such thing as magic bubbles.

Well, tell that to the creature rising from the bubble pool. Pure magic. Mercer's stuff just kills me with delight, and this one in particular holds such fond memories of childhood for me. Wonderful drawings, great story. Seeing it again there on the shelf took my breath away.

Also by:
Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp
One Monster After Another
Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-A-Zoo
Me and My Flying Machine
Beauty and the Beast
A Special Trick
Little Monster at Work
How the Trollusk Got His Hat

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sherlock Hemlock and the Great Twiddlebug Mystery or The Mystery of the Terrible Mess in My Friend's Front Yard

Sherlock Hemlock and the Great Twiddlebug Mystery
by Betty Lou as told to Sir Arthur Conan Rubberducque
illustrated by Roger Bradfield

Western Publishing, 1972

Eventually, we'll get through all the old school Sesame Street titles I've amassed for the boy, but not any time soon... so to celebrate, here's another oldie but goody from my Muppet-fueled youth. Starring old fave Sherlock Hemlock as well as the inspired Twiddlebugs, the rad Roosevelt Franklin and the lovable but slightly scary Herry Monster. Ten bucks says there is more than one of you out there having some freaky flashback right now because of that illustration of him throwing birthday candles at the Twiddlebugs. Awesome, no? Ah, ain't memory grand?

OK, so, Betty Lou is flummoxed as to why a terrible mess has appeared in Roosevelt's front yard. Enter Sherlock, who promises to solve the mystery...

"I'm glad you're here, Mr. Hemlock," I said. "Maybe you can tell me what on earth has been happening here."

"Aha!" said the man. "Has something been happening here?"

"Indeed it has," I answered. "There's a terrible mess in my friend's front yard."

"A terrible mess!" said the man. "That sounds like a job for Sherlock Hemlock."

And so, the two go through the yard clue by clue... party hats... crumpled wrapping paper... a half eaten piece of cake with a candle in it. Sherlock creates a wild scenario involving Twiddlebugs and their famous jellybean dance and Herry Monster attacking them with birthday candles. Betty Lou is not amused. When Roosevelt finally arrives and explains the mess is from his birthday party (one that, oddly enough, his "friend" Betty Lou was not invited to), Sherlock is heartbroken. Of course, in pure Sesame Street style, after the downtrodden detective has fled the scene...

"Well," I said to my friend, "let's go inside and look at your presents!"

"I'd love to invite you in," said my friend, "but I can't. You see, we were having the party when all of a sudden all these little bugs came and started doing a dance, and then a monster ran up and threw candles at everyone and chased us into the house. You can't possibly go in there right now."

Egads! Sherlock Hemlock was right after all. This book spooked me something crazy when I was little (that look on Herry's face is positively menacing), as did many things Sesame Street (dark alleys, talking monsters and mistaken situations), but in a good way. I find today's 123 stoop to be a tad bit too bright and cheery for my taste. I'm definitely not in the 'Elmo's World' fan club, so despite the disclaimer at the beginning of the Sesame Street Old School Video Collection...

blah, blah... vintage episodes are meant for grownups and not today's preschool set... blah, blah...

... I still let my son watch them. Hey, every childhood needs at least one scary robot to make it thoroughly memorable, no?

Other old school Sesame Street books:
Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum
The Together Book
The In and Out and All About Sesame Street Coloring Book
The Many Faces of Ernie
The Great Cookie Thief
Sesame Street 1,2,3 Storybook
The Amazing Mumford and His Amazing Subtracting Trick
The Sesame Street Bedtime Storybook

Monday, September 21, 2009

26 Days

Having watched the Where the Wild Things Are trailer once again this weekend (at Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), it's cemented that (surprise, surprise) Douglas is the boy's favorite. Go figure.

The Secret River

The Secret River
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings ~ Leonard Weisgard
Charles Scribner's Son, 1955

I feel very lucky to have stumbled across this book for the asking price of less than a dollar. It is one I never would've paid full price for at the going rate.

It's finds like this that make the ride worth it, for sure!

That said... though Ms. Rawlings is best known for writing The Yearling, this story was the only one she ever wrote expressly for children, and it wasn't published until after her death in 1953. Apparently, there aren't many copies of this Newbery Honor winner floating around, so it's a real treat to be able to share it with my son. The illustrations are pure Weisgard and lend a lovely air of mystery to the story. As for the story itself, Ms. Rawling's letters show she wanted it to 'stand as a conception of the universal child and of the imagination of childhood.' I would say that sounds about right.

And so... at the urging of a cosmic friend, a Floridian child of poverty heads out one day in search of a secret river and returns with not just a bounty of food, but a mess of heart and soul as well.

She said, "Child, I have not breathed this to a living soul, but I will tell you. There are big fish in the secret river. Oh my, the fish! Catfish, perch, bream, mudfish and garfish. Especially catfish."

"Is the secret river far away?"

"Nobody knows. I will tell you this--you will be home by nightfall."

"How will I find it?"

"Just follow your nose. You will know the river when you see it."

Along the way the girl writes splendid poetry and meets one magical creature after another...

I wish
We had fish.
Then hard times would end.
But I am not the least little bit worried because,
Everybody be's my friend.

... ultimately, the secret river belongs to her and she is rewarded with all the fish she can carry... Later, she tries to return to the secret river and is unable to find it. When she confronts her friend, the truth is revealed...

"The secret river is in your mind," she said. "You can go there any time you want to. In your mind. Close your eyes, and you will see."

Ahhh... the reoccurring themes of youth we see played out so many times in books... Peter Pan... Winnie the Pooh... The Chronicles of Narnia... The Wizard of Oz. If there really were such a secret spot where all our childhood dreams come true, the world would be a better place indeed. Even if there are no such places, at least we get to love darling books like this. Clap if you believe, my friends. Clap if you believe.

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

Great Monday Give: Grimm's Fairy Tales/Babar

Wow. I feel guilty for only posting on two books last week, so get ready for some zingers during this one. And to start it off right, here's the Great Monday Give. I've mentioned the books in the 'Dandelion' series also known as the 'Read Me a Story Program'... yes? no? Well, I came across a duplicate copy of one I reviewed, and I want to pass it along to one of you guys. The hardcover, vintage flip book of Grimm's Fairy Tales and Babar the King. To be entered to win, all you have to do is comment on this post before midnight ~ September 27 ~ Sunday. I'll select a winner at random and post the results the next day. Two books for one, can't beat that with a stick.

As for last week's give.... the winner of I am a Bunny is Urban Farm Wife. Send me your mailing info to webe(at)soon(dot)com and I'll send it out this week... congrats! And bye bye birdies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Story of Harmony Lane

The Story of Harmony Lane
Naida Dickson ~ Mel Crawford ~ Golden Press, 1972

My favorite thing about this hobby (other than having hundreds of cool books to share with my son) is getting introduced to all sorts of rad writers and illustrators that I otherwise might not have discovered. Case in point, Mel Crawford. Though I've been familiar with his work on sight for years and years, I never knew a thing about him. That was, at least, until yesterday when I walked into a thrift store, put my hands on this book and was prompted to begin sniffing around. So, for those of you new (like myself) to the charms of Mel, let me fill you in with a little info I lifted from the ASIFA Hollywood Cartoon Archive.

Canadian who came to the U.S. in the 1940s to work for Disney Studios. He worked in animation for a while but disliked the repetition. He began working on backgrounds and then books and album covers. He worked on "Alice in Wonderland," "Snow White", "Cinderella," "Jungle Book," and more. He later worked for the program Sesame Street.

He illustrated some of the most awesome and memorable 'Little Golden Books' and a few stories in my favorite Sesame Street storybook. When you Google his name, hundreds of familiar images come up like this, this, this, this and this. The point is, the man was prolific (and from what I can tell from his web site, still painting and creating today). I love this guy, and I didn't even know who he was.

Bringing me to the tale today. Harmony Lane... a street that is fabulously inhabited by all forms of musician except the sort with talent. When the neighbors complain of their wailing, soundproof rooms are built and air conditioned to save the ears of everyone involved. That is until the day the electricity goes out taking the air conditioning along with it...

"My, my!" said Mr. Plunk. "It is certainly getting hot in here!" He opened the doors and windows, and then went back to his playing. Mr. Howly and Mr. Boom and Mr. Blast did exactly the same thing. So did Mr. Sweet and Mr. Slide and Mr. Voom, and Miss Twink Twank. But the noise they made was terrible. Everyone was playing a different melody, and all those tunes flew through the open windows and mingled to make a sound that was loud and strange and most unpleasant to hear.

After some loud noise making, the players get into a groove and discover when taken together, their medicine isn't half bad. Sometimes several wrongs do make a right and all we need is a little 'Turkey in the Straw' to make things OK.

The drawings here are just great and full of these wonderfully bright (but soft and almost frosty) colors. I particularly love the lines in Mel's people. (Check out the baby nurse. It's she lovely?) If you've been asleep at the wheel like myself and haven't tuned into Mel Crawford yet, do so now. It's music you definitely don't wanna miss hearing.

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