Odd Love

“Otter and Odder; A Love Story,” by James Howe, illustrated by Chris Raschka; Candlewick Press, $14.00, 40 pages, ages 5-7.

An otter falls in love with a fish that he might normally consider eating, and so begins this tale of discovering l’amour and the challenges of keeping an unlikely love alive.  Author James Howe’s hallmark read-aloud style (for which he won the E.B White Read Aloud award for 2007’s “Houndsley and Catina”) is in top form, with breezy, rolling, flowing lines of poetic prose: “But when Otter gazed into those eyes – those round, sweet, glistening eyes, he knew that he had found what he had not known he was looking for.”  Subtle humor throughout ensures that adults reading this will also smile during Otter’s journey to be with his beloved Myrtle.  Standout pencil on watercolor illustrations are by Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka (“A Ball for Daisy”). They are deceptively childlike, almost appearing to have been completed on a whim. Yet closer examination reveals a master at his craft, who brings together elements of fanciful expression in vibrant hues and layers of texture that will appeal to multigenerational readers. 

Thanksgiving Quick Pick

The holiday rush begins early, so here’s a bright book that will keep little ones entertained.  

“Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure,” by Matt Luckhurst; Abrams Books for Young Readers, $17.95, 48 pages ages 4-6. 

Matt Luckhurst’s debut children’s book spins a classic North American folktale about the giant man and his equally enormous blue ox by weaving joyful hand lettering with bright gouache illustrations.  The adventurous duo travels across the country on a gastro-quest that leads them to reshape the Rockies and carve the Grand Canyon. Luckhurst’s research, which the author discusses in a lovely end note, informs a story that stays true to to the myth of Paul and Blue.  The book is an ode to insatiable appetites and reminder of those early Americans whose pluck and ingenuity helped shape the country, two timely themes to consider as we celebrate Thanksgiving.  

Sometimes, a bowl of soup is perfect, except when it’s not.

“Happy Harry’s Café,” by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Richard Holland; Candlewick Press, $16.99 32 pages, ages 3-5. 

 

English poet Michael Rosen (“We’re going on a Bear Hunt”) takes a classic Jewish joke  and crafts a quirky rhyme around it in this warm and toasty picture book.  Harry, who appears to be a polar bear, makes the best soup in town. Ryan the Lion, Jo the Crow, even Matt the Cat rush in to taste this perfect potage.  “Take it easy!” Harry admonishes his hurried customers, but perhaps Harry has taken his own advice once too often. One day Matt the Cat says the soup is no good, and from there develops the gag to its quirky punchline. Rosen’s easy to follow rhymes are printed in large type which resemble woodblock cuttings. This allows budding readers to pick out words like “soup” and “spoon” on their own. Veteran illustrator Richard Holland’s mixed-media illustrations are whimsical and fill each page.  “Happy Harry’s Café” is great for reading aloud. This story, like a good bowl of lentil, chicken noodle, or matzo, will totally satisfy and warm the spirit on a cold winter day. 

Frankenstorm Reads!

With the pending arrival of the “Frankenstorm” here on the East Coast, parents may find themselves homebound this Halloween. Perhaps these spooky titles will help weather the storm.  If we could hand out books instead of treats on Halloween anyway, we would tuck these into outstretched bags instead of candy.

“The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” illustrated by Richard Egielski, paper engineering by Gene Vosough; Atheneum Books, $19.99, 12 pages, ages 2-4.

Millions of people on the East Coast will likely experience the effects of Hurricane Sandy this week, so why not read about a spirited little spider in baseball cap and overalls who also faces an oncoming deluge.  This version of the classic hand rhyme gets an update with the arachnid climbing up the side of a building in a bustling downtown area constructed just for insects – salt shakers and teapots are transformed into apartment buildings, and bright daisies are the towering flora in this neighborhood.  Caldecott-winner Egeilski’s charming illustrations jump off the page with the help of paper engineer Gene Vosough, whose other books include “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and “Here Come the Firefighters.” 

image 

“Icky Sticky Monster,” by Jo Lodge; Nosy Crow Press, $12.99, 12 pages, ages 3 and up.

“Icky Sticky Monster has an itchy nose. He pokes his grubby finger in – and all around it goes!” And so go the exploits of this “super yucky” monster in this delightfully disgusting pop-up book. Preschool children will delight in searching for the monster’s whereabouts in the overflowing potty and will squeal when he guzzles a jug of cabbage juice spiked with bits of slimy slugs.  Five pop-ups in blindingly neon hues accompany rhymes about this revolting, nose-picking, garbage rummaging blue troll. Bestselling author and paper engineer Jo Lodge has crafted a bright and quick reading romp that harnesses the power of all things smelly and grimy to entertain young readers. 

“The Monsters’ Monster,” by Patrick McDonnell; Little, Brown & Co, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 4-7.

While parents may tire of “Icky Sticky Monster” before their children, both parties will enjoy  “The Monsters’ Monster” over many reading sessions. Patrick McDonnell, Caldecott honor winner and creator of the syndicated comic strip MUTTS , crafts a story of three self-described “bad” monsters whose ambition is to breathe life into the meanest monster who ever lived. Wreaking destruction and striking fear into the local villagers may be the trio’s ultimate goal, but Monster has other, less dastardly plans that involve pats on the head and jelly doughnuts. Indeed, this green giant bounds around the village repeating the phrase “Dank You,” to everyone he meets.  Adults will pick up on the “Frankenstein” send-up, from the bolts and wires sticking out of Monster’s body to the green skin-tone to the life-giving bolt of lightening.  A story of gratitude makes “The Monsters’ Monster” a timeless tale that will carry this book from the Halloween reading rotation throughout the rest of the year.

 image

“The Insomniacs,” by Karina Wolf, illustrated by Ben and Sean Hilts; Putnam Juvenile, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 4-6.

image

Normal
0
0
1
137
781
6
1
959
11.1539

0

0
0

Mrs. Insomniac takes a job that is twelve time zones away, and her family makes the journey by ship across the cerulean sea to their new home. Unfortunately, the Insomniacs’ internal clocks never adjust to the new place, and the foreigners are stymied by their inability to sleep at night. Exhausted by daytime activities and unable to remedy their nocturnal rousing, the Insomniacs make the bold decision to renounce the day and to become “a nighttime family.” Mother, Father and little Mike blossom and embrace their new world. This enchantingly beautiful tale is a knockout debut picture book by Kira Wolf. A celebration of diversity and quirkiness is treated to moody illustrations of pencil and charcoal courtesy of Ben and Sean Hilts, the fraternal illustrating team who gave “The Insomniacs its decidedly Edward Gorey flair.

image

Normal
0
0
1
16
94
1
1
115
11.1539

0

0
0

“The Dead Family Diaz,” by P.J. Bracegirdle, pictures by Poly Bernatene; Dial Books, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 5-7. 

image

The Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) is presented from the point of view of the departed but certainly not lifeless participants in this Mexican holiday. Angelito is a plucky bow-tie wearing skeleton boy whose family is preparing to visit the living, and he is unsure what to expect – he’s heard so much about the living’s hot, squishy skin, red tongues and bulging eyes. But perhaps the most frightening of all is that on Halloween, the living carve creepy faces into pumpkins to scare the dead away.  The boy reluctantly joins his family on the elevator up to the world of los vivos (the living) and unknowingly meets a fleshy boy who changes Angelito’s perspective on the yearly trek. Illustrator Poly Bernatene’s digitally saturated images are brilliant, reflecting the same pigments found in traditional Day of the Dead decorations. However, the white skeletons with their dark, hollow eye-sockets and visible spinal columns may make this book better suited to kindergarten-aged children and older. A brief explanation at the end provides helpful background information on the holiday. 

image

The power to inspire children through books

I am so happy to post this story because it is about one of my former students who has chosen to inspire children through reading.  In October 2011, Paul Naanou, then a junior at the Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Virginia, organized an event called “Destination Text-ploration.”  The event was coordinated through an after school club called Book Buddies, whose ongoing mission is to encourage children from kindergarden through sixth grade to discover the magic and joy that comes from reading. Around eight hundred children from Fairfax County participated in book readings, author interview sessions and culture demonstrations. Book Buddies also gave away over two thousand new books to enthusiastic new readers.  

The event was such a success that a second event is scheduled for this December.  Below are links to two videos put together by Fairfax County.  

Bravo and good luck to Book Buddies for the upcoming festival! I hope you continue to help unlock the secrets and the power of curling up with great books.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mne9sgvUi-E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twdI0hB2Lzs

Beatrix Potter

Peter Rabbit is one of the most recognizable children’s book characters created, and now the Morgan Library in Manhattan is hosting an exhibition of Beatrix Potter’s picture letters, which include numerous sketches of the curious bunny. Initially these letters served purely as entertainment for children of friends. Later they became an inspiration for Potter’s books throughout her career. (She borrowed them back from the original recipients in order to publish them.)

Also in the show are objects demonstrating the author’s relentless attention to her artistic creations, from documents showing she personally paid for the publication of her books, to overseeing the design of toys and games that were merchandised with her publications. This is a must-see exhibit if you’re in the area. 

Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters
November 2, 2012 through January 27, 2013
The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
New York, NY 10016

Omnia vincit amor

“Boot and Shoe,” by Marla Frazee; Simon & Schuster, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6.

 

Two-time Caldecott Honor medalist Marla Frazee introduces us to Boot and Shoe, an inseparable pair of pups who share everything – a bed, a food bowl, even a communal arboreal latrine. The majority of their time is spent on opposite ends of their ranch-style home. Boot is a back deck kind of dog and Shoe naturally resides on the front porch. A squirrel, bored and mischievous, confuses the canines to the point that they spend the rest of the book on opposite porches mournfully waiting for the other to return to his rightful spot.  This adorable misadventure is rendered in black pencil and gouache, giving the dogs a soft and lighthearted feel while the hand-lettered text by Frazee adds more charm. Younger readers will delight in being in on the joke that the dogs need only bark to hear each other, while older children will appreciate learning about a true friendship that conquers loneliness and grief.