Why Write

imageI struggled this week to find purpose to what I do – how do I continue writing children’s book reviews in the wake of last Friday’s unspeakable tragedy? I couldn’t sit at my desk and find anything relevant, soothing, even angry, to write.  So I called my parents. My mother, after reflecting awhile, had the answer. We face a new world. Children will now likely grow up where no location can offer complete sanctuary.  Yet, there is one place, my mother reasoned, where children will still be able to escape, and that is in the world of books.  Fortified with this sound logic I share with you those books that I hope will bring joy and happiness to those who need them the most. 

“Picturing the ABC’s at the Norton Simon Museum,” created by the Norton Simon Education Department; 108 pages, Norton Simon Museum, $15.00, ages 3-5.



imageThe first book developed by the Education Department at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California is a striking alphabet hardback that will make a sophisticated holiday gift for any art aficionado. Twenty-six die-cut images were selected from over 4,000 objects housed in the Norton Simon Museum. The museum was originally part of the private collection of business mogul Norton Simon, founder of the eponymous corporation whose holdings include Hunt, Max Factor cosmetics and Avis Car Rental. Images in the book include masterpieces by artists such as Degas, Cézanne, Rembrandt and Manet. Children will enjoy the peek-a-boo cutouts (“H is for/ Hat”) then turning the page to reveal the entire image. 

“The Nutcracker; A Magic Theater Book,” by Geraldine McCaughreaen, illustrated by Kristina Swarner; 24 pages, Chronicle Books, $19.99, ages 5-7.


This is the time of year when visions of sugarplums dance in the minds of young and old alike. This inspired rendering of Tchaikovsky’s ballet captures the whimsy and charm of the spectacle. Carnegie medal winner Geraldine McCaughrean condenses the story into 24 exciting pages. The story almost takes a back seat to the outstanding and glowing three-dimensional mixed-media illustrations rendered by Kristina Swarner. Paper engineering allows Marie and the Nutcracker to skip and leap off of the pages, which will no doubt charm young and old alike.

“Charley’s First Night,” by Amy Hest, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury; Candlewick Press, 32 pages, $15.99, ages 4-6.


Harry carries cuddly Charley home on a cold winter day, and so begins a lifelong love between a boy and his faithful pooch.  Charley is only a puppy, but Henry is gentle and cares for his charge like any doting parent would.  Amy Hest’s story flows beautifully, making the tale a joy to read aloud.  As always, warm and inviting illustrations by Helen Oxenbury invite the reader into this wintry wonderland. 



Odes to Odd Creatures

“A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & The Animals That Call Them Home,” by Marilyn Singer, illustrations by Ed Young; Chronicle Books, $16.99, 44 pages, ages 6-10. 

Mudskippers, snow monkeys and limpets are three of the fourteen remarkable animals profiled in this poetry collection by award-winning author Marilyn Singer. This book would be an exciting introduction to poetry for the young reader who may not yet  understand that poems can take many forms. A compact lexicon explains the types of poetry found in the book, and which poems are examples of them, such as free verse, sonnet, and villanelle. “Well-Oiled,” for instance, is a cinquain homage to insects born in petroleum.  (Thousands/of them are born/in carrion, water, /or soil. But not this crew. /They hatch/in oil.)  A second glossary details the animals described in verse. Collages of land and seascapes by the unstoppable Ed Young (“Nighttime Ninja;” see our review here) capture perfectly the essence of these dangerous dwellings.