Thursday, May 31, 2012

School's Out

Last day of school! And tomorrow, I fly to NY to visit friends and attend Book Expo America. I'm in but mostly out next week, however, I'll be Instagramming, Tweeting and Facebooking all things books and more from the Big Apple so stick around for the fun!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Granny's Fish Story

Granny's Fish Story
Phyllis La Farge ~ Gahan Wilson ~ Parents' Magazine Press, 1975

Sometimes when I'm library sale-ing with my friend Thingummery, she talks me into buying a book I would have otherwise tossed aside. If I remember correctly, her case for this one was... "Crazy, spooky New Yorker/ Playboy cartoonist? You're seriously gonna pass this up?"

Now... of Mr. Wilson's drawings, these aren't his best, but what they illustrate is a quirky little story about two friends, a trip to grandmas, and a tall tale turned terrifying. When Julie gets invited to her Granny's house, she decides to bring along a friend, Sarah, to meet her, and describes her Granny as a woman who wears blue jeans and sneakers and lives in the woods and knows lots about animals. She isn't like other grandmother's Julie tells her. In turn, Granny tells Sarah all about the terrifying "swamp halibut" and the "bush mackerel" that live in the woods. Once the girls fall asleep that night...

...Julie was awakened by Sarah's cries.

"Get them out of here! Help! Get them out of here!" she screamed.

Just then, a white flash of lightning lit the room and thunder racked so loudly that Julie thought it would split Granny's house.

"What's the matter?" Julie asked?

"The swamp halibut and bush mackerel are sitting on my bed! Get them off!"

"No, they're not," said Julie, "you're dreaming. I'll turn on the lamp."

But the lamp didn't work.

The lesson here being, think before you speak. I totally empathize with the grandmother of this book as before my son was old enough for me to know better, I've at various points acted like the button-eyed, "other mother" from Coraline, pretended to be a flesh-eating zombie, and told him that werewolves live in the woods by our house.... all of which have come back to bite me in the butt in the form of 2am nightmare wake-ups and the jacked up electricity bill from his closet light staying on all night. Whenever my husband used to scold me, I'd brush him off and tell him to leave me alone. That I was trying to raise Tennessee Williams. Good mommy, right?


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Monday, May 28, 2012

An Alphabet by Molly Brett

An Alphabet by Molly Brett
Molly Brett ~ Medici Society, 1980

It's Memorial Day here in the U.S., meaning it's time for solemn celebration, the summer is here at last, and for those of us still in it, there's no school. My son has exactly three days left of first grade, so I'm sure the last thing he needs to do is bone up on his ABCs.

However, that doesn't mean some other sweet child out there isn't looking to learn. A myriad of nature words for every letter in the alphabet, nothing is quite as adorable as Molly's forest creatures, especially her hedgehogs!

In a matter of days, I'll be a full-time mom again for the summer. I'll still be hanging around, but I hope you'll forgive me if a miss a day or two here and there. In the meantime, thoughts of peace and hope to all the families who've lost a loved one while in service to this great country of ours.

I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Also by:
Guinea Pig Podge


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Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Sesame Street Book of Fairy Tales

The Sesame Street Book of Fairy Tales
Emily Kingsley, David Korr, Jeffrey Moss ~ Joseph Mathieu
Random House, 1975

Because I don't feel like being artsy-fartsy this morning, I'm opting instead for some pure commercial fun. Now, my son will still listen to his Sesame Street records (How to Be a Grouch and The Sesame Street Pet Show, respectively). And if it falls into the realm of "Muppets", he's cool with it, but for the most part, he's moved on from all things Sesame Street. That doesn't mean I'm about to throw out all of the vintage SS loot I've collected for him over the years. I was reshuffling the shelves to move some of the younger titles out and came across this old favorite from the Random House years.

Illustrated by the awesomely awesome Joe Mathieu, here we have six classic (and not-so-classic) fairy tales told as only the Muppets can tell. The King's Nose is about a king (d'uh) who finds himself in the unenviable predicament of having a bright pink rubber ball stuck on his sniffer.

Smash! went the royal window,
and before the King could duck,
The ball bounced off
King Marvin's throne...
and hit his nose...
and stuck.
"What is this thing?" said Marvin
as he felt the ball and sneered.
But before he could remove it,
his Prime Minister appeared.
"King Marv!" cried the Prime Minister.
"A rubber ball! How cute!
It really is magnificent! I'll get one for my snoot."

A twist on The Emperor's New Clothes, soon all the kingdom is sporting pink rubber balls. The King (as played by Mumford the Magician) is hysterical while Bert and Ernie are perfect players in the story.

The Legend of Linda the Lonely is the tale of Lord Ludwig of Liverwurst, his niece Linda, and the love she finds with Lloyd of London, Lord Ludwig's lowliest lackey. The King of Cauliflower's Castle has the moral that bigger does not always mean better. In between, Big Bird attempts to tell some children the puppet tales of The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens, but he keeps getting thwarted by The Count's uncontrollable urge to tally.

All the Sesame Street books Random House created during this time are so awesome, and are such a higher quality than a lot of the movie and TV tie-ins that get published today. This one, in particular, was published when I was three years old and is a nostalgia overload, for sure.

Other Old Sesame Street Titles:
Sherlock Hemlock and the Great Twiddlebug Mystery
Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum
The In and Out and All About Sesame Street Coloring Book
The Together Book
The Many Faces of Ernie
The Great Cookie Thief
Sesame Street 1,2,3 Story Book
The Amazing Mumford and His Amazing Subtracting Trick
The Sesame Street Bedtime Storybook
The Pecan Tree
The Sesame Street Decorate a Tree Book
I'm a Mommy, I'm a Daddy


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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Masquerade Hare Necklace on View in UK

Just read that the Masquerade hare necklace is on display for the first time at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London as part of their British Design 1948 – 2012 exhibition running through 12th August.

Be there or be square anyone across the pond.


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The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes
Bill Watterson ~ Andrews McMeel, 1988

Again, I must apologize for being MIA. Seeing as this was really my first time, I had no idea what sort of funk losing an animal puts you in. Package that with the last few weeks of first grade for my son and you have a whole lotta woe mixed with busy-busy.

However, that intersection can be amazing.

Case in point, a few days ago I was headed into school for the library volunteer thank you breakfast, and ended up on the phone with my husband talking about Sugar. I found myself stuck in the school hallway, crying, looking for a place to hide. I set my iced coffee down on the banister and slipped down a ramp to cry into the wall and talk it over. When I finally pulled it together, I came back up only to find someone had tucked a few tissues beside my cup. It was such a touching gesture, it made me cry even more.

That said, librarians are exactly who you want to be around when you lose a dog.

Anywho, I'm back, and will be here through next week when I head off to Book Expo in New York. In celebration of life and the end of first grade, I thought I would talk Calvin and Hobbes today, as it is my son's new favorite thing in the world and possibly the best comic strip EVER in the history of the entire universe.

The strip ran daily for ten years starting when I was 13 years old. My sister got into them before me, and I remember she came home from boarding school one holiday with the first Calvin and Hobbes book and I was hooked. In a way, the timing of the strip was perfect in my life. I was old enough to understand the cultural nuances of the strip while at the same time, I was still young enough to appreciate "the funnies". And when Calvin and Hobbes signed off in 1995, I was a young woman, growing up and finding my way in New York, so the final strip has become a mantra of mine. (My boyfriend at the time actually kept a copy of it in his wallet.)

It was hard to have grown up during that time and not have some intense emotional connection to Calvin. Even thinking about it now, I get misty. The character is that vivid and alive and amazing, and so tied into so much wonderful nostalgia of being young. For those who grew up under a rock or are too young to know better, Calvin and Hobbes is the story of a elementary school boy, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who is also his imaginary friend. The boy has an incredible imagination and the creative ability to turn his teacher into a slobbering space alien and a simple card board box into a time machine.

What makes Calvin and Hobbes even more wonderful is that despite its immense popularity, its creator, Bill Watterson, has refused to license the characters... with the exception of a few calendars back in the day, some stamps a few years ago and apparently a textbook that is listed online as having one of the most bloated collectible price tags imaginable.

Occasionally, you will be see Calvin's image on illegal bootleg merchandise, like the infamous bumper stickers of him peeing on various truck logos. But Watterson has stuck by his word to keep the strip pure. Not that I'm faulting Mr. Schulz, who I read somewhere made a million dollars a day off the licensing of the Peanuts characters, but there is something especially extraordinary about a guy who sticks by his guns no matter what the financial gains might be. I heard he stopped even signing books when he realized people were just turning around and selling them for their own financial gains.

My son has about ten of the 18 or so Calvin and Hobbes books that have been published (this one being the third) and loves the strip not only because it's funny, but because he relates to the only-childness of Calvin and the fact that they are the same age and do sorta look alike. Plus, the genius humor and human honesty of Calvin is hard not to get mesmerized by.

I weep for my own grandchildren in the future who will be around when Mr. Watterson passes away and inevitably some family member sells Calvin's image to the masses. I'll have to stand idly by and watch as the exclusive Walmart line of Calvin underwear goes on sale and the official feature film starring one of Tom Cruise's grandchildren as Susie Derkins hits theaters. Though, I will admit, one cartoonist did do a nice 26 years later homage a while back.

For now, I'm won't worry about the distant day when some random marketer (probably in preschool now!) will ruin Calvin and Hobbes for the future children of the world and just focus on being happy that my boy will grow up loving the characters for what they are.

Simple, unbridled joy.

The first strip in 1985...

The last strip in 1995...


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Friday, May 18, 2012


William Steig ~ Farrar Straus Giroux, 1972

Today's post is going to be about reading and dogs...

First off, we did end up putting Sugar down on Wednesday. We've been fighting cancer with him for a number of years, and having been through two surgeries to remove tumors, the one that began growing behind his eye a few weeks ago was simply too much for his precious body to bear. My husband took him out to rest at our farm, and although I'm heartbroken to lose a friend, I'm happy that he's not suffering anymore and has a nice quiet forever spot among the oaks.

Secondly, being a massive reader and book person, you all know I've struggled with my expectations of the Spanish immersion program my son is in. The not reading in English until the third grade aspect of it has really freaked me out, and this year has been, not necessarily a struggle for him, but a real uphill battle in learning a new language which has translated into a minor reluctance to read on his part. Obviously the Spanish learning has sucked some of the fun out of reading for him, and I was beginning to lament all the age-appropriate classics he would miss in these years between.

Soooo, this year has been about reading books in Spanish (which up until a few weeks ago, he was able to read beautifully but still struggling as far as comprehension goes), getting read aloud all sorts of wonderful novels by yours truly, and continuing to read the sort of books in English that he read in kindergarten. I love Mo Willems, but really, how many times can you read the Elephant and Piggie books before your brain begins to tweak?

That said, last night we had a breakthrough. Apparently, this week the school librarian explained to his class about summer reading lists and all the contests that occur at various libraries and book stores regarding just that very thing. He was so jacked up about it that he made a chart right away, and sat and read ten books, both in Spanish and English without my even asking, and then he turned around and read me aloud the first quarter of Esio Trot (in English!) by Roald Dahl with relative ease. He genuinely seemed excited, as if a light switch went off in his head and all of a sudden he knew in his heart that he could read in English, and that he was actually pretty good at it, and even better still, he might even get rewarded for it.... with more books!

After Sugar died, my son and I spent that day talking about how much we loved him, and then I finishing off the night reading aloud the last few chapters of possibly the best children's novel about a dog ever written, Dominic, one of only three middle grade works by famed New Yorker artist and children's picture book ledgend, William Steig. (The other two being The Real Thief and Abel's Island.)

Like most of his books, it's the story of an adventure punctuated by a fair amount of magic and menacing animals. In Steig's world, rabbits and donkeys and geese and pigs and dogs are always good and foxes and weasels and cats are always bad. Oh, and there is ALWAYS a witch.

So it begins...

Dominic was a lively one, always up to something. One day, more restless than usual, he decided there wasn't enough going on in his own neighborhood to satisfy his need for adventure. He just had to get away.

And indeed he does. Shortly after setting off, he encounters a witch-alligator...

"And would you like to know your fortune?" the witch asked, adjusting the fringes of her shawl. "I can see the future just as clearly as I see the present and more clearly than I can recall the past. For twenty-five cents I'll reveal your immediate prospects -- what is in store for you during the next few days. For half a dollar I'll describe the next full year of your life. For a dollar you can have your complete history, unexpurgated, from now to the finish."

Who doesn't love a dog with a bindle, right? What follows is the discovery of a fortuitous doll - a repeated crossing of paths with a dreadful Doomsday Gang that robbed, ravaged, cheated, attacked creatures at large and travelers especially, and did all sorts of damaging mischief - a treasure - some philanthropy - lots of new friends - a wedding and at last, true love. Steig's brilliance shines on every page and every page is a gift... every end the beginning of a great new adventure.

For all the Sugars and Dominics in the world, wouldn't it be lovely if that last sentiment were so?

As the late, great Will Rogers once said: "If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."

Wouldn't it be nice...

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


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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Houn' Dog

Houn' Dog
Mary Calhoun ~ Roger Duvoisin ~ William Morrow, 1959

Sorry about the miss yesterday folks, but I've been nursing my sweet Sugar Dog. Unfortunately, it looks like we'll be losing him today. In honor, I thought I'd highlight another lender (thanks Thingummery) about one particular pooch with a knack for smellin' and bellin'... though Sugar was always more of a snuggler than a fox chaser.

Of all the noses and all the voices of all the dogs back in the hills, Houn' Dog was the very best. Old Houn' Dog had the sharpest smeller and the sweetest beller. With that nose of his he could smell out a coon two miles away. He could track down Old Man B'ar when B'ar hadn't been by for three days.

And when he picked up the smell of Slyfoot the Fox -- well, you could hear Houn' Dog's beller clear over in the next county.

Reading about the exploits of this spunky little hound, it reminded me of another dog memory. When I was little, my family used to vacation in Saluda, North Carolina every summer, a town somewhat famous for its annual Coon Dog Day Festival. That town was also the first place I remember being heartbroken by the loss of an animal. One summer, we picked up a sweet stray that we found on the tennis courts and aptly named Tennis Ball. He spent the whole vacation parading around town with me and my sisters and sleeping at the foot of our beds. We were so enamored with this pup, that come the final day, we decided to take him home with us. As we loaded the car, we couldn't find him anywhere. After a thorough search of town, my mother finally found him by the railroad tracks, where he'd been hit by a car. I think we cried all the way home over that dog.

He was a good one, but not as good as this one has been. Now I'm off to get some snuggle time and spend the day with proper goodbyes. I'll leave you with a quote from one of my all-time favorite books, My Dog Skip by Willie Morris.

The dog of your boyhood teaches you a great deal about friendship, and love, and death: Old Skip was my brother. They had buried him under our elm tree, they said—yet this wasn't totally true.

For he really lay buried in my heart.

Thank you, Sugar Dog, for sharing nine of the best years of my life.

Also by:
Petunia, Beware!
The Rain Puddle
A Child's Garden of Verses
Veronica and the Birthday Present
Donkey Donkey
Petunia's Christmas
The Old Bullfrog
Petunia Takes a Trip
Our Veronica Goes to Petunia's Farm
White Snow Bright Snow
A Frog in the Well


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Monday, May 14, 2012

The Chas Addams Mother Goose

The Charles Addams Mother Goose
Chas Addams ~ Windmill Books, 1967

My good friend Thingummery let me borrow this little wonder, a book she picked up recently at an estate sale that's getting ready to get birthday-gifted to her eldest daughter. I thought it apropos to share as those of us in the U.S. celebrated Mother's Day yesterday, and Mother Goose is the ultimate storybook mother... even if Addams' procreator is a wee bit on the creepy side.

I grew up loving Chas Addams, even if all his books were on my parents' bookshelf. The renown American cartoonist published many collections in his time, and his macabre cartoons and characters appeared often in The New Yorker, some of which were the inspiration for a television show, The Addams Family, that ran for a few years in the sixties and has reappeared throughout the years in various incarnations.

There's a bit more over here on how this book came to be, the result of a publishing collaboration between Addams and the illustrator Robert Kraus, who founded Windmill Books, an imprint of Harper & Row, and brought in other New Yorker cartoons to begin creating children's books... most famously publishing William Steig's Roland the Minstrel Pig and the Caldecott Medal-winning Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

In this cadaverous collection, there are more than two dozen nursery rhymes, all filtered through the lurid lens of Mr. Addams.

Dickory, dickory, dare!
The pig flew through the air;
The man in brown soon brought him down.
Dickory, dickory, dare!

Here am I,
Little Jumping Joan;
When nobody's with me,
I'm all alone.

All your ghastly favorites are here...

Humpty Dumpty, Three Blind Mice, Pease Porridge Hot, Solomon Grundy, Mistress Mary and more. Never before has childhood seemed so delightfully devilish. First editions like this one can get a bit pricey, but you can still get the 2002 reprint for not too hefty a sum. I'm off to secure one for my own son, but I doubt I'll wait til his next birthday to gift it!


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