Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Farm Friends

Farm Friends - Real Live Animal Book
Virginia Hunter ~ pictures by David W. Corson
Rand McNally, 1956

My time today is short, so I'll phrase this post accordingly. Old children's books that use photographs to tell a story are awesome. Old children's books that use photographs of baby animals? Even more awesome. (Even better when dressed up and put in ridiculous situations.)

Witness the awesomeness of these Farm Friends (part of the Real Life Animal Book Series) as they cuddle their way through 12 pages of Rand McNally Elf book adorableness.

Our papa crowed excitedly
When we began to hatch.
Our mama clucked importantly,
"My, what a lovely batch!"

Created in an era where I certainly can't say "no animals were harmed in the making of this story", I have to turn the other cheek and assume that piglet's smile tells me all I need to know.


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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Berenstain Bears' Science Fair

The Berenstain Bears' Science Fair
Stan and Jan Berenstain ~ Random House, 1977

Of course, you all knew I would chime in the moment I heard of Jan Berenstain's passing. Death is always a sad thing, but to die suffering from the aftereffects of a stroke is heartbreaking. I extend my warmest sympathies to her family at this time.

You all know I am a lover of the older Berenstain titles, and have often lamented the fact that my son loved the Bears' newer morality tales with so much loyalty and passion. I am not alone in my annoyance, as for years, all sorts of book watchers have griped their way through the Bear bibliography. But to dance on the grave of someone who built her life around bringing such joy and color to the lives of so many children, is just a totally (excuse my French) jackass thing to do.

No matter how tiresome the Bear library might seem to parents, they are gold to children. I remember being small and reading Berenstain Bears for what felt like hours at the bookstore, and no matter how boorish my adult self felt them to be, the child in me always remembered. To my own son, the Bear family are dear friends.

I know that my opinion, like that of so many culture commentators, is just an opinion. My blog is often riddled with typos, and I overuse all sorts of trite words like awesome and cute and adorable and dear. But my words are just words. Hot air blown into the wind. The world that Stan and Jan created together will be around, if not forever, then for a very long time.

All us hot air blowers should be so lucky.

Speaking of hot air, I'll take today to celebrate and finish what I feel to be the Bear family's trifecta of awesome. (There, I said it again, awesome, awesome AWESOME!) I've reviewed the other two books in the Bear Facts Library, The Berenstain Bears' Nature Guide and The Berenstain Bears' Almanac, and now let me take you to their science fair.

Seriously, these three Berenstain titles are must-haves for any young person's library. They're busy and educational, over-sized and full of fun. Of all the Berenstain Bear titles that riddle the shelves of book stores everywhere, it's true shame that these have fallen out of print. Sure, in an updated incarnation, they'd probably need to add a section on computers, but hell, my kid gets enough about computers all day long, it's nice to get back to the basics like levers and wedges and energy and gas and how to make your own tin can phone.

To make a good project
for the Bear's Science Fair,
you must learn about science.
Follow me, Sister! Come along, Small Bear!
As an old science student
I know just where to start...

It's lucky for us, Dad,
that you are so smart!

Ah yes, predictably, Papa Bear muddles his way through such topics as "Machines and How They Work", "The Science of Matter" and "Actual Facts About Energy", but in the end, each member of the family has a project to display. Mama Bear, always the cool and steady voice of reason, helps the cubs find a better understanding of the world around them. No matter how you feel about the package or the voice, isn't that what's important?

Last night, my son pulled all his Bear books from the shelf and piled them on the floor. Then, he curled up in bed with his dad to read a selection of faves (The Bear Scouts and The Big Honey Hunt, respectively). When I came in to kiss him goodnight, he looked at the pile and said, "Wow, we have so many. Isn't it wonderful?"

Mama Bear will surely be missed on this sunny dirt road. Any artist who my son loves with so much of his heart is OK in my book.

Thank you, Stan and Jan, wherever you are.

Also by:
Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree
The Big Honey Hunt
The Bears' Activity Book
The Bears' Almanac
The Berenstain Bears' Nature Guide


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Monday, February 27, 2012

RIP Mama Bear

The boy selected a few of his favorites to read at bedtime tonight... Sweet dreams, Mama Bear.

Please write in and tell me what the Bear family has meant in your life and tune in tomorrow for a special tribute.


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Where Did Tuffy Hide?

Where Did Tuffy Hide?
Isabel and Frederick Eberstadt ~ Leonard Weisgard
Little Brown, 1957

If you weren't around this weekend, make sure you check out my interview with Jon Klassen, here, the latest in my contemporary author series.

Now, reaching back to the 1950s for this dear fave drawn by the amazing Mr. Weisgard -- written by two of New York's old-school artist elites, Frederick Eberstadt, psycologist and photographer, and Isabel Eberstadt, a writer and daughter of Ogden Nash. The two were outspoken fixtures on the NY scene during the 50s and 60s, and were also the parents of writer Fernanda.

Interesting that the two would pair together to write a funny little story about a puppy who likes to hide and the loving family who always go looking.

Tuffy puppy belonged to Nell,
Who treated Tuffy very well.
But little Nell quite often sighed,
For Tuffy puppy liked to hide.

Oh, where is that Tuffy? In the bread box? The doll house? In the grandfather clock? That's for Tuffy to know, and the reader to find out! Framed in sweet hues of green and peach, that little rascal Tuffy really gets around. The perfect search for wee minds.

Also by:
The Mouse and the Lion
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
Cynthia and the Unicorn


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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Meet Jon Klassen: Part Two

Interview with Jon Klassen continued from yesterday...

VKBMKLs: Seeing as your roots are in animation -- having worked on films like Neil Gaiman's Coraline and Kung Fu Panda 2 -- are there any old animated films that inspire you?

JK: For sure - Pinocchio is my favorite of the Disney movies. It's so crazy that it was the second one they made. It's so vague about the rules in the story but it's just enough to hold it together. There's also a ton of black in the design of it - dark corners and shadows that things fade into, but it's not a morose or intentionally dark film - it's a really warm story. I also really love a Russian guy named Yuri Norstein - he's pretty well known in animation, and I will probably always in the back of my head want to totally rip off his film called "The Hedgehog in the Fog".

VKBMKLs: Do those roots help to inspire you visually when you go to create a children’s book?

JK: Sort of, but you have to be careful because what makes a good visual idea for a film doesn't necessarily work for a book. With doing artwork for a film, especially in a studio, it's like you're building pieces for a train set that have to work when you're not going to be around. You're working on how they might join up in different ways later. But with a book it only joins up that one specific way and it only has to work for those few pictures and you're in charge of the whole thing. It's pretty scary.

VKBMKLs: The first picture book you both wrote and illustrated, I Want My Hat Back, has garnered great kudos and praise. The story has also been scrutinized because (SPOILER!) of the bear-on-rabbit mealtime action. How did the idea come about and what do you hope children will get out of it?

JK: It started out just as a cover - I liked the idea of a book called I Want My Hat Back with just somebody on the front, under the title, not wearing a hat. The story came out of the decision to do it all in dialogue. I was nervous about writing something, and so that took a lot of the pressure off, and it sort of implied the tone that it ended up having. The ending really was the only one that worked. I don't know what children will get out of it, although I think they might recognize people like the rabbit. He doesn't really have a reaction when he's confronted about this thing he did, he just sort of looks blank and indifferent, so the bear does pretty much the only thing you can think to do when you run into something like that.

VKBMKLs: Your latest book Extra Yarn, a collaboration with Mac Barnett, reads and looks like an old-school story. I love the contrast in color of the drab world against the little girl’s knitted creations. It gives it a very Tomi Ungerer, mysterious edge. Seeing as you and Mac are friends, did you work together in ideas for the pictures or were you in more of a silo? (And is the drawing of the bear supposed to resemble the I Want My Hat Back Bear, as when my son gets to that page he breaks out into peels of laughter making the connection?)

JK: Thank you very much! The Tomi Ungerer connection is especially nice - both Mac and I really like his books. We worked together on that book more than I have with other authors on other books, because we do know each other, and I think Mac did me a lot of favors in the writing of it. He knows what I like to draw and what I don't like to draw, and the tone of the story felt like a good fit. He also wrote in a lot of ideas for the wordless spreads at the end that helped me pace it out, and it really is written well for the page-turns throughout, I think. (The bear in this book I guess is supposed to be a different bear, or at least he isn't supposed to be the same bear. I was working on both this book and I Want My Hat Back around the same time, so my range in bears, or lack of it, shows especially hard. I am glad it goes over well, though.)

VKBMKLs: As someone who collects and covets old books, I’m always curious to find out about the people who created them. Generations from now, when you are old and gray and your books end up on thrift store shelves and some child stumbles upon them, what do you hope they will find in your work? What part of yourself do you hope to convey to the world?

JK: All the books I loved when I was little were older books, but I never really saw them as being old or dated because they weren't overly designed to the styles of the time, and they stuck to the story, mostly. I guess that's probably the best I could hope for for my own books, is that they kind of look like their own thing a long time from now.

Thanks again Jon. To check out his world, visit his Website at


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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meet John Klassen: Part One

Welcome to another installment of my weekend contemporary author's series, wherein I interview an artist who is creating children's books now but has a solid foundation in and an acute love of books of old.

Today's artist is one of my new favorites. Fresh off a Geisel Honor award for his fantastic I Want My Hat Back, meet Jon Klassen. Perhaps you've seen his name in the credits as an illustrator for one of your child's favorite movies like Coraline or Kung Fu Panda 2. He's cool like that. Nowadays, however, Jon has turned his attention to creating books for children.

After working with other authors on books like Cats' Night Out and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, I Want My Hat Back is the first book for children that he both wrote and illustrated. Right out of the box, it was hailed by The New York Times as one of the Ten Best Illustrated books of 2011. The Canadian-born artist has only just begun his career in children's books, but man, oh, man is he a natural. His latest book is Extra Yard, which he illustrated for Mac Barnett, and I seriously can not wait to see what he does next. So without further blah, blah, please welcome, Jon Klassen.

VKBMKLs: I am in the business of how picture books and stories of old connect to people in a nostalgic way. That said, what books influenced you as a child?

JK: I was mostly given older kids books when I was little - picture books from the 60s that came out when my dad and his siblings were kids. We'd get them from my grandparents house, and I don't think I was ever conscious of how old they were. But my memories of those books for sure influence my work in books now. My favorites were mostly by P.D. Eastman's - Sam and the Firefly was the one I liked best. There's so much mood in it. Go Dog Go! is still a great and mysterious book. There were these books by Benjamin Elkin about kings and riddles and stuff that I liked a lot, too. One book of his called The Big Jump I read over and over. It had this terrifying Bad King who was the worst.

VKBMKLs: Were there any images from books you loved or owned as a child that haunt you into adulthood?

JK: One image I remember was an Edward Gorey drawing for the cover of The 39 Steps by John Buchan. It was this big rock hanging in the air over a staircase going down a cliff. It was a really cool drawing, and I remember thinking that it wasn't literal, that it was representing something instead, which is a big thing to think when you're little.

VKBMKLs: Do you collect any vintage children’s books as an adult, and if so, who are some of your favorite authors who you’ve come to later in life?

JK: I do collect some vintage books. There was a lot of stuff I never saw till I was in college or even after. Leo Lionni, Brian Wildsmith - both of those guys for the design as much as the actual illustrations. There's so many good ideas in them. I never read any John Bellairs books when I was the right age either, but I love those ones - The Mansion in the Mist, especially. I never had any William Steig, and I don't know if I would've connected as hard with them when I was little as I do now. His longer stories - Abel's Island and Dominic - are especially amazing to me. His writing is so so great.

VKBMKLs: Do you remember the first thing you ever drew, and can you describe what your childhood was like as a budding artist?

JK: I don't really remember the first thing I ever drew - I liked houses and cars and garages to put the cars in. The idea of a home with things in their shelves and compartments really appealed to me - carving out a little corner of the world for yourself. I always drew, but I was never very good at keeping a sketchbook or anything like that. I went to a drawing class when I was in 4th grade and we copied Looney Tunes characters onto a big newsprint pad with a black marker and I was pretty proud of those drawings. Books and comics didn't seem like something I could ever do, though. I liked looking at them, but it wasn't with a mind of picking them apart or thinking this is what I wanted to do, specifically. For some reason I always thought of animation as a possibility, though.

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the interview!


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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fox Eyes

Fox Eyes
Margaret Wise Brown ~ Garth Williams ~ Pantheon, 1951

Late day review to share with you yet another collaboration between the great Mr. Williams and the eloquent Ms. Brown.

There was once a spy,
a red fox who came to
spy on the opossums.
There were five of them
and they were supposed to be asleep.
But they weren't.
They each had one eye open.
They were playing possum.
The fox noted all this and
went on his way.

Throughout the day, the fox spies all the forest creatures, but still, he goes on his way leaving an ocean of anxiety in his wake. Each rabbit and frog and bear (and child!) spends that night in a rush of anxiety wondering what the fox knows. While sly Mr. Fox sleeps peacefully in his den.

Sleep tight, all.

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
Little Fir Family
Sailor Dog
Tall Book of Make Believe
Three Bedtime Stories


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Just in case you were wondering who won the mystery box of 25 books a few weeks back...


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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In the Middle of the Night

In the Middle of the Night
Aileen Fisher ~ Adrienne Adams ~ Thomas Crowell, 1965

Every blue moon, my friend Gillian (my vintage book muse and author of the awesome estate sale diary, Thingummery) and I get to spend a weekend away from our kids thrifting, drinking wine and generally having much needed adult conversation. Plus, she lets me loot her kids' book collection which still holds a ton of treasures I don't have. Like this one.

A fabulous father/daughter story of what happens in the night.

Similiar somewhat to The Moon Jumpers or Switch on the Night, a girl wonders what goes on while she's fast asleep.

I always wondered
how it would be
in the middle of the night
away from the light
of the town
where only stars winked down.
I wished I could dally
along the brook
where it made a crook
through the valley,
and sniff,
and look,
and listen to the quiet
of night, standing by it.

She ends up taking a birthday walk with her father and a flashlight and experiences the world in a way that is completely new to her.

She spies butterflies and bugs and meets a skunk, an owl and a bat. She watches the moon shine on the surface of a brook and gets acquainted with the stars. A sleepy story full of wonder and love, all beautifully illustrated by the incomparable Mrs. Adams.

When I was linking to bios of Adams and Fisher, I saw that not only did they create a number of books together, but curiously, they died exactly one day apart of each other, back in 2002.


Also by:
The Day We Saw the Sun Come Up
Mr. Biddle and the Birds
A Woggle of Witches
The Wounded Duck
The Easter Egg Artists
Butterfly Time
Ponies of Mykillengi


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