Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Wonderful Tree House

The Wonderful Tree House
Harold Longman
pictures by Harry Devlin
Parent's Magazine Press, 1962

Full disclosure. I took my son to see How to Train Your Dragon last week, and he fell for it, hook, line and sinker. He's a sucker for any sort of enchanted animal and has swallowed the story whole, making the past week thoroughly dragon-filled. The moment we walked out of the theater, we headed over to the bookstore to purchase the story in its original form, while picking up a copies of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Remember the Alamo and Treasure Island for a trio of birthday parties we have coming up. I love the fact that my son is ALWAYS the only one who gives books. Even if the kid ends up hating it, it still stands out from all the plastic and robotics and superman stuff that is usually gifted. Plus, ten bucks says that book will still be on the child's bookshelf even after he goes off to college while that long forgotten plastic monster truck is rotting at the bottom of a landfill.

Recently, gifting books has started to annoy my son. He wishes we could go to the department store and pick out some big flashing toy with sounds and lights that would illicit the loudest ohhhs and ahhhs at the party, but I've held strong. A good thing too, as while shopping for those gifts I noticed this book waving sweetly at me from the nostalgia shelf.

Two iconic books that I remember fondly from my childhood were Old Black Witch! and How Fletcher Was Hatched, and although I'm not a huge fan of the Cranberry series, I'll pick up a Devlin book anytime I see one. Here we have the story of a boy who dreams of building a wonderful tree house.

What kind of house
Should a tree house be
A castle, maybe,
Strong and tall
With towers and
A high stone wall?
Why not?

Or maybe a fairy tale house or an airplane or a nest or a fort? The possibilities are endless, though in the end, good old dad knows just what to do to make the house come alive. Because, after all, a tree house can be anything we want in our imaginations. My husband is dying to build a tree house with my son, but we have a few birthdays still to go before that happens. Makes me insane that he'll be in kindergarten next year. Where has the time gone?

As my son and I sat on the couch this morning, finishing up the last two chapters of How To Train Your Dragon, both admittedly weeping openly at the end.... I made a pact that as long as my son will let me, I'll keep dishing out books to birthday boys and girls. I'd rather give even the chance of that moment... sitting there in the morning light, weeping over a lost dragon... to a child than some old stinky Lego set any day.

Also by:
How Fletcher Was Hatched
Old Witch Rescues Halloween
Old Witch and the Polka Dot Ribbon
Old Black Witch!
Cranberry Thanksgiving

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Some of Us Walk Some Fly Some Swim

Some of Us Walk Some Fly Some Swim
Michael Frith ~ Random House, 1971

Granted, the last thing my son needs is another animal encyclopedia, but you all know I'm a sucker for Michael Firth (of Muppet and Animals Do the Strangest Things fame.) Plus, there's really no such thing as too many animal guides in our house. Truly "246 animals every beginner should meet", the illustrations are so fun and vibrant, I look at this book sometimes when my son is not around. And guess what? There are tons of BIRDS! (Surprise, surprise.)

We come in all colors,
all sizes, all shapes...
Some are pretty
Some are not...
Some are plain...
and some are frilly
Some of us look sort of silly

(Sigh. My personal apologies to the gavial and the star-nosed mole.)

A litany of animals and their behaviors are listed and matched in a way that show insight into the hidden lives of species. The extra cute element here is that we (meaning human beings) are included in the roster, thus the use of the word "us" in the title... bringing your child that much closer to the animal kingdom.

Seriously, a good library sale is like a time machine. Only without the dinosaurs. (And for all you cootie-shy readers who've often asked what I use to clean my finds... I've discovered the secret to getting the gunk off nonporous old books. EASY-OFF Oven Cleaner. It's a fricking miracle!!!)

Also by:
Prehistoric Monsters Did the Strangest Things
Birds Do the Strangest Things

Monday, March 29, 2010

Great Monday Give: This Is Texas

UPDATE: I've decided the book is not a mystery anymore. The book up for grabs in the Great Monday Give this week is an awesome ex-library copy in great shape of This is Texas by M. Sasek.

Today... today is like the best day of my recent life. If last night was the worst (which is was), then today outshines it a million fold. The boy got a shot this morning and didn't scream and only shed one tear. He then proceeded to eat an entire eel roll without pushing the insides out and refusing to eat them (as he is prone to do). And in about 15 minutes, he will be officially enrolled in kindergarten. A mere month away from his five-year-old birthday and all the stars are aligning for this to be one great spring/summer.

In celebration of this new dawn, I was gonna pick something incredible for the Great Monday Give. Sadly, my son locked the door to my office and I have not the key and I have no idea what's in there to giveaway. Worry not my comrades in words. Today's give will serve as a mystery give. I will pick a book from my collection to give and it will be guaranteed positively awesome! Take a chance on winning by commenting on this post between now and 11:59 PM on Easter Sunday, 4-4-10. A winner will be selected and announced the next day using the highly technical blind-scroll-and-point method. Take a chance and roll the dice and know that if you win, your selection will be hand-selected by me and totally great!

Just in case you were wondering... Last week's give of Little Bear goes to Katrina. Congrats and send me your info to webe(at)soon(dot)com. Ta for now!

Friday, March 26, 2010

No Such Things

No Such Things
Bill Peet ~ Houghton Mifflin, 1983

I'll leave you this week with another Bill Peet fave that has the remarkable distinction of being able to both confound and thrill my son at the same time. (Recognize the scary-tailed peacock?) Happy weekend all.

The blue-snouted Twumps feed entirely on weeds,
And along with the weeds they swallow the seeds,
Eating seeds causes weeds to sprout on their backs,
Till they look very much like walking haystacks.
When a mother Twump has young ones to raise,
Her weed-covered back is where they all graze.
Of all the odd creatures, you won't find another
Who supports its young as both fodder and mother.

Also by:
The Spooky Tale of Prewitt Peacock
Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventure

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Tomi Ungerer ~ Harper, 1959

Please tolerate my obsession a wee bit further and join me in celebrating another Ungerer book with a one-word title--of an animal's name--who invariably saves the day--that also includes Crictor, Adelaide, Rufus and Orlando. I'm not sure if he meant them all to be a series, but they certainly fit into the same theme.

Captain Samofar, a famous deep-sea diver, was walking on the bottom of the ocean one day. Suddenly a ferocious looking shark appeared. The shark attacked Captain Samofar. But a kind octopus named Emile saved him by throwing a rock into the fish's open mouth. Then Emile carried the diver to the surface. When Captain Samofar revived he shook hands gratefully with his rescuer. He invited the octopus to come and live with him.Very similar to the other single-named-saviors in that they're all helpful and taken in by some understanding human being. In this story, Emile builds a life on land, becoming accepted and popular... rescuing drowning children, thwarting swarthy smugglers. Ultimately, however, it is in the deep blue sea that he belongs.

Though I love Tomi's lush color work, there is something about his books with the simple line drawings (The Mellops) that totally win me over. They're so childlike in their effort and so accessible that even when the moment might seem frightening or strange, you are invited in by a heart full of innocence. Two glub glubs up.

Also by:
The Hat
Zarelda's Ogre
Seeds and More Seeds
The Three Robbers
Moon Man
Orlando The Brave Vulture
Christmas Eve at the Mellops'
I Am Papa Snap and These Are My Favorite No Such Stories
The Beast of Monsieur Racine
The Mellops Strike Oil
Book of Various Owls

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cynthia and the Unicorn

Cynthia and the Unicorn
Jean Todd Freeman, pictures by Leonard Weisgard
WW Norton, 1967

Over Spring Break, we went to the coast with a friend and her son and daughter. After a long day at the beach, the two wee friends brought out their prospective videos to watch. An upset began when the girl wanted to watch a Barbie movie and my son and his friend freaked out about watching a chick flick. The fight was only settled after I pointed out that the movie was Swan Lake, and my son quickly switched sides. He grabbed the box from the sister and looked at the cover and upon seeing a unicorn exclaimed, "Ooohhhh, I just love enchanted animals!" That he does, indeed... and though this book is about a little girl and her want of a one-horned steed, all it took was a Gryphon on page six to win him over.

The day before Christmas, Cynthia said,
"This year, Mother, I don't want a sled,
I don't want candy or skates or a doll.
I'd like a little Unicorn, and that is all.
A unicorn, you know, is a little white horse
With the tail of a lion, and a horn, of course."

"What?" laughed Mother. "Don't be absurd:
'Unicorn' is a storybook word.
Have you ever seen, since the day you were born
Anything at all like a Unicorn?""There's a Gryphon in the attic,
A Troll beneath the stairs,
And a Mermaid in my bathtub who eats chocolate eclairs.
I've seen them," said Cynthia, "and I know they're true,
So why can't I dream of a Unicorn too?"

Now, I know this is kinda a holiday book and the rhyme is a bit clunky and the mother slightly condescending... but hey, unicorns are good anytime of the year, in any rhythm and any mood. So, when her patronizing parents won't help her obtain a Unicorn, she seeks the assistance of her enchanted friends. The Gryphon tells her a white nightgown in the woods will trap one. The Troll says she needs a bowl of cream. And the mermaid suggests she snatch one in a dream.As always, Weisgard's drawings shine, and I especially love the blue tones. Perfect for this sort of wistful story. In the end, her wish does come true, even if her silly mom and dad don't believe. And isn't that the point to begin with?

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
The Secret River
Pilgrim Thanksgiving
The Mouse and the Lion

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hi-Yo Fido!

Hi-Yo Fido!
Ron Barrett ~ Crown, 1984

Stumbled on a chuckler some weeks back at a library sale and was stunned to find I hadn't seen it before. Written and illustrated by the artist behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, this out-of-print wonder is a cute idea illustrated in minimal color to huge comic effect. Take a listen...

A long time ago, before TV, thousands of poodles, cocker spaniels, and collies roamed the western plains in search of biscuits, fire hydrants, and rubber balls. Boys and girls called "dogboys" and "doggirls" watched over the dogs and took care of them. They lived together on great ranches like The Lazy Poodle.Lead by a little girl called Dale Jeans, well... you can see where the story is headed. One silly pun after another (my fave being "Over hill... and dale" and you see the dog crawling over Dale herself), Dale finds herself in a pickle when her dogs are rustled (by a band of people all named Russell) and she and the dog Woo-Woo must save the day. Funny funny stuff.

In the end, the plot thins out so that the dogs are recovered, cowgirls and cowboys are created, and all is right with the world. I love the color and dark lines here, signature Barrett, for sure. I know I've said it before, but these pages send my son into giggle fits, and as a parent, that always gives me the ultimate satisfaction. Plus, any book with hand-draw borders (super classy) gets two thumbs up right out of the gate as far as I'm concerned.

Also by:
Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House

Monday, March 22, 2010

Great Monday Give: Little Bear

I can't believe it's almost 3 o'clock! I can't believe Spring Break is over! I can't believe I have so many great books to write about and so little time! That said... a few things...

One) My free-shipping-in-the-Continental-U.S-for-anyone-who-buys-over-$20-in-books-in-my-Etsy store sale runs through tonight at 11:59 PM. Be sure and check it out. Just make a purchase of at least $20 worth of merchandise from my Etsy shop, and mention you are a reader in the notes and I promise to refund the shipping costs.

Two) All you Jack Kent fans who live in San Antonio or close by, this Friday night, our local independent bookstore, The Twig, is hosting a Jack Kent event in celebration of the release of King Aroo Volume One. San Antonio poet and children’s author Naomi Shihab Nye will share her memories of Kent, her neighbor and friend. Kent’s son Jack Jr. will trace the development of this artist’s work and his intimate
connections with the city he loved. Where: The Twig Bookstore at Pearl Brewery. When: Friday, March 26, 5-7 pm. Be there.

Three) Today's Great Monday Give is a copy of the Maurice Sendak illustrated Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. Gotta love the Little Bear. To be entered to win this newish and super-clean hardcover from my son's collection, simply comment on this post before 11:59 pm on Sunday night, March 28th. A winner will be selected at random and announced the following day.

Four) And speaking of winners... last week's give of Kit William's The Bee on the Comb is Christine! Simply e-mail me your info to webe(at)soon(dot)com and I'll get it out to you ASAP.

I really will try and get a review in this afternoon. It's feels like forever!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Break Etsy Sale

Looks like Spring Break has engulfed me and we are only in day two. That said, I'm taking a break until Monday. For all my readers, I'd like to offer a special on all my Etsy sales. Free shipping in the Continental U.S for anyone who buys over $20 in books between now and Monday, March 22 at 11:59 PM. Just make your purchase of at least $20 worth of merchandise from my Etsy shop, and mention you are a reader in the notes and I promise to refund the shipping costs via Paypal by Saturday evening. Or if you are paying by check, simply leave off the shipping. Anyways... Have a great one!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Great Monday Give: The Bee on the Comb

Good morning kids. My sister is a high-powered record executive in NYC (wink Weez) and is here this week on her way to SXSW, so I'm not sure how much time I have before the boy wakes up and she gets rudely awaken demanding Starbucks and a breakfast taco. That said, I've never reviewed this book, but I have reviewed its prequel (Masquerade) and I found a great copy for a dollar and anything Kit Williams sneezes on is gold in my book so here it is. The Great Monday Give for today is a stellar hardcopy of Kit Williams' treasure-hunt book published here with no name (that was the hunt, to guess the name) but was eventually revealed to be called The Bee on the Comb. All you have to do to be entered to win this stunning artistic achievement is comment on this post between now and Sunday, March 21 at 11:59 PM. A winner will be chosen at random and announced the next day, as usual!

As for last week's give, a pretty swank copy of The Tyger Voyage..... goes to..... Kristie. Simply send me your mailing info to webe(at)soon(dot)com and I will see if I can figure out what my son did with it and mail it out right away. Congrats and .... oops, the boy just woke up. I may or may not be back today with a review.... wish me luck.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tell Them Anything You Want

Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak
by Lance Bangs & Spike Jonze

All you cable-free families out there (like myself), do yourself a favor and rent this documentary, right now. He is exactly the person I thought would write his books. Nearly two hours since I turned the thing off, and I've only now finally stopped crying. Wow on Outside Over There and the Lindbergh baby revelation. Wow on the handmade toys Maurice created with his brother. Wow on his thoughts about death and childhood and art. Wow on his sifting through life and the meaning of it all. Just wow. He is the real thing, my friends. Plain and simple.

Friday, March 12, 2010


William Steig ~ Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990

This morning, I realized that the wonderful Shrek! was having its 20th anniversary... meaning that now, it's officially a vintage book. Let's welcome it into the fold, kids! As you longtime readers know, I was turned off by this book even before I read it because of its affiliation with the movie. Not that I'm bashing Mike Myers, mind you... I just naively assumed that, like its celluloid cousin, it would be full of fart jokes, potty humor and Smash Mouth references. Then, I checked out an audio compilation of Steig's books from the library, and through divine performances by Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep, the whole family fell in love with both Shrek and Steig-- hook, line and stinker. (Not to mention it was the beginning of my son's undying devotion and love for the audio book format. One Charlotte's Web, one Trumpet of the Swan, countless Roald Dahl, tons 'o Kevin Henkes-Dr. Seuss-Shel Silverstein-Maurice Sendak, The Little Prince, endless rounds of the My Father's Dragon trilogy, two Narnia books, Seven Harry Potter books -- we love you Jim Dale! -- and two Lemony Snickets down and you could actually call my son's audio love an obsession. But anyways...)

Of all Steig's books, I believe the writing in Shrek! exemplifies his genius. Steig's words are beyond witty and so hugely original that you can spot his signature in a line or two of text.

His mother was ugly and his father was ugly, but Shrek was uglier than the two of them put together. By the time he toddled, Shrek could spit flame a full ninety-nine yards and vent smoke from either ear. With just a look he cowed the reptiles in the swamp. Any snake dumb enough to bite him instantly got convulsions and died. One day Shrek's parents hissed things over and decided it was about time their little darling was out in the world doing his share of the damage.

So, Shrek makes his way and meets a witch "busy boiling bats in turpentine and turtle juice." She tells him his fortune--that he is to meet a donkey who will take him to a knight he must battle to win the heart of an ugly princess. The hilarity continues...

Wherever Shrek went, every living creature fled.
How it tickled him to be so repulsive.

He meets bad weather and a dragon and a peasant and has a horrid dream that children are hugging and kissing him in a field of flowers and finally hooks up with the jackass who takes him to "the nutty knight. Who guards the entrance. To the crazy castle. Where the repulsive princess. Waits."

They soon came to a drawbridge where a suit of armor stood. Shrek knocked on the breastplate and demanded:

"Who dwells inside this armor, and also in yonder castle?"

"In here a fearless knight, in there a well-born fright" was the answer.

"It's my princess!" said Shrek. "The one I'm to wed!"

"Over my dead body!" roared the fearless knight.

"Over your dead body," Shrek agreed.

It isn't until Shrek meets his disgusting doppelganger that the story comes to a brilliant close.

Said Shrek: "Oh ghastly you, with lips of blue, your ruddy eyes with carmine sties enchant me...."

Said the princess: "Your nose is so hairy, oh , let us not tarry, your look is so scary, I think we should marry."

Shrek snapped at her nose. She nipped at his ear. They clawed their way into each other's arms. Like fire and smoke, these two belonged together. So they got hitched as soon as possible. And they lived horribly ever after, scaring the socks off all who fell afoul of them.

Really, I can't recommend this book highly enough. Steig was a master and a brilliant soul. A true artist with a knack for a turn of phrase. He made all things ugly into fairy tales, and allowed us to cheer for the ogre, warts and all. No small feat in a world where beauty is king.

Also by:
The Amazing Bone
Amos & Boris
Rotten Island
Yellow & Pink
The Zabajaba Jungle
Gorky Rises
Tiffky Doofky
Father Palmer's Wagon Ride
Solomon the Rusty Nail


Read along on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter and Etsy!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fungus the Bogeyman

Fungus the Bogeyman
Raymond Briggs ~ Hamish Hamilton, 1977

Oddly, my husband hates this book. He finds it lacking in plot and tiresome to read. He even goes so far as to feel a slight animosity towards it for dragging the same joke out page and page after page. That said, my almost five-year-old son thinks it is (quote/unquote), soooo awesome!!! Who do you suppose wins in that battle?

Little known in the U.S., I imagine this to be somewhat of a classic across the pond in Great Britain... am I right? Now, if you find the word "damn" offensive when used in a children's book, read no further. If you think things like slime and mold and slugs and curdled milk and cow patties are revolting, hit that little red X in the right hand corner of you screen and don't return here until tomorrow when this post will be nothing more than a memory. But if you are into existential thinking and skin boils and poetry and mucus and pus...The sun sinks below the hills. The birds are hushed. NIGHT is coming. But...... far, far below..... in THE TUNNELS in the wet, dripping tunnels of Bogeydom, (a land where the light is as darkness) the Bogeyman are stirring in their beds.... the roofs of the houses are wet, the walls are slimy and dank. A damp chill hangs in the air. Now, as the light fades from THE TUNNELS, it is the black dawn of a new Bogey day.........then meet Fungus the Bogeyman as he goes about his day and ponders the very meaning of his existence. Told in comic book style, the story is part children's book, part nature guide, teaching you everything you ever wanted to know about the Bogeyman while following a day-in-the-life of Fungus. Did you know Bogeymen coat their bodies in muck when they wake up in the morning? That they eat rotten eggs and fish for breakfast and scatter the walls of their underground world with grave philosophical statements like SILENCE IS DEEP AS ETERNITY SPEECH IS SHALLOW AS TIME? Did you know their favorite drink is slime and that their "night job" is scaring the crap out of YOU? That they have three nipples?

Ahhh yes, my son can tell you everything there is to know about the Bogeyman, thanks to Mr. Briggs and his terrible book. A book for anyone who has ever wondered "what it's all for". Or at the very least... their offspring.

Also by:
The Snowman
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