Magic in the Margins

Summer isn’t over yet, so here are a few books that capture the whimsical spirit of these final days of the season.  


Now Open the Box, by Dorothy Kunhardt; The New York Review of Children’s Books, $16.95, 72 pages, ages 4-7.

Before Clifford the Big Red Dog, there was little Peewee the circus dog. Originally published in 1934, Dorothy Kunhardt’s Now Open the Box tells the story of a beloved red canine and his opening act at the circus. 


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Now Open the Box by Dorothy Kunhardt. Reproduced with permission from the New York Review of Children’s Books © Dorothy Kunhardt.   


To beckon spectators, the ringmaster stands in front of a large red tent while holding a yellow box that fits in the palm of his hand.  Inside is Peewee. Although the tiny pooch can’t perform a single trick, everybody loves the cute canine, from circus-goers to fellow performers. Unfortunately the dog begins to grow, and this threatens his place under the big top.

The New York Review of Children’s Books has just reissued this book by the author of Pat the Bunny. A torrent of words, coupled with bright illustrations and simple sentences lend a childlike, innocent quality to the storytelling.  Kunhardt’s iconic line-drawn illustrations employ a basic color scheme of fire engine red, canary yellow, black and white. 

At times, the story may seem lengthy and very young children might lose patience, but most readers will enjoy following Peewee on his adventure extravaganza. Kunhardt aficionados will surely want to add this edition to their collection.  


The Green Bath, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Steven Kellogg; Arthur Levine Books, $15.95, 40 pages, ages 4-8.

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The Green Bath by Margaret Mahy and Steven Kellogg. Reproduced with permission from Scholastic Inc. 

After a full day of ambushing pirates, Sammy desperately needs to clean up before his grandmother visits.  Not only does the boy require a bath, it must take place in a green tub his father acquired secondhand at a tag sale. This is no ordinary bath, and sudsy mayhem involving sea serpents, mermaids, and soap ensues. H.C. Andersen Award winner Margaret Mahy’s freewheeling prose coupled with Steven Kellogg’s good-natured, high-energy illustrations will invite children to explore using their own imaginations long after the suds have gone down the drain.  


Faeryland; The Secret World of the Hidden Ones, by John Matthews, illustrated by Matt Dangler; Abrams $27.50, 64 pages, ages 6 and up. 

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Faeryland by John Matthews, illustrations by Matt Dangler © Abrams Books, 2013 


Faeryland isn’t a storybook; it’s an interactive encyclopedia of Faeries, Peris, Elves and Djinns. Matthews explains the origins of fairy lore, defines names, and explores enchanted places. The concept of fairies – mythical, yet timid beings who live beyond human reach – exists in every culture. Faeryland documents the lore of the Hidden Ones, from the Selkie seal people of Northern Europe, the ant-sized Abatwa of South Africa, and the good-natured Brownies of Scotland.  Also included are fairy postcards and a reproduction of a nineteenth-century Faerie map. (The original is in the Library of Congress.) Matt Dangler’s fantasy paintings illustrate this enchanted almanac, and work by artists such as William Blake and Randolph Caldecott complete the book.   


Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander; McElderry Books,  $6.99, 240 pages, ages 8-11.

William Alexander’s 2012 National Book Award winner has just been released in paperback, making Goblin Secrets a great and affordable choice to pack for a quick weekend getaway. The tale follows Rownie, son of Graba the witch, as he searches for his missing older brother.  Our hero encounters a traveling troupe of performing goblins who teach Rownie their magical craft while also helping find his sibling. Middle grade readers craving magic and fantasy adventures will find Goblin Secrets enchanting and rich with original storytelling.   

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