Images from Now Open the Box by Dorothy Kunhardt. Reproduced with permission from the New York Review of Children’s Books © Dorothy Kunhardt.   (See my review here.)

Thanks to Maya Bradford at Abrams for sending some fabulous images from Faeryland by John Matthews and art by Matt Dangler.  (See my review here.) 

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.   

Books at the Beach

MARTHA’S VINEYARD (August 3-4, 2013) 

            Every other summer, authors from across the globe descend on Martha’s Vineyard for a whirlwind weekend of signings, presentations and bookish discussions. This year’s event drew writers including Pulitzer-Prize winner Tony Horwitz, notable nonfiction writer (and Smith College alumna) J. Courtney Sullivan, Tom Reiss, (another Pulitzer winner) and other literary luminaries. 

photo credit: William Lazarus

            The festival was held at two island locations this year – Saturday’s events took place at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, and tents welcomed festival-goers at the Chilmark Community Center on Sunday.   The Harbor View hosted a series of moderator-led panels where topics such as the future of journalism, gangsters, and matrimonial fiction were discussed.  All authors were available at both locations to greet fans and sign books. 

            The humidity that notoriously plagues the island during warmer months was happily absent for the weekend, and temperatures in the seventies made browing stalls and chatting with authors a pleasant experience. 

Sweet summer reading

As the heat of July gives way to August, what better way to fill in that sweet down time between lounging at the beach and an evening chasing fireflies than with a great book.  Below is a quick run-down of a few of the best titles available right now. 

Joe and Sparky go to School, by Jaimie Michalack, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz; Candlewick Press, $15.99, 48 pages, ages 5-7. 

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The kids may have just finished classes and want nothing to do with school, but this caper involving Joe the giraffe and Sparky the turtle will delight kindergarden-age readers.  Michalak’s third book in this award-winning series sets the spunky duo loose on a class full of children and a vision-impaired teacher. 

Good Night, Sleep Tight, by Mem Fox, illustrations by Judy Horacek; Scholastic Press, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-5.

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Acclaimed Australian children’s book author Mem Fox and fellow Aussie Judy Horacek have another hit for young readers. The duo, who created the outstanding Where is the Green Sheep? share a story of two tireless youngsters and their heroic babysitter. Skinny Doug attempts to lull his charges to sleep by reciting seven nursery rhymes, each to the delight of the little Bonnie and Ben. This book will encourage memorization skills in early readers and likely be requested frequently as a read-aloud.  

The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett; Simon & Schuster, $15.99, 40 pages, all ages. 

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This wordless book is an ode to a boy who devises a unique way to retrieve his toy airplane that he stranded on a rooftop. The sepia-toned pencil and watercolor drawings by veteran cartoonist Mark Pett illustrate a timeless and charming tale of patience and ingenuity while sharing the magic of aviation and imagination.