Friday, April 02, 2010

The Garmann Sequel

The Excelsior File reviews Garmann's Street, the further adventures of the wild and wacky kid from Garmann's Summer.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Everyone's Been In Monet's Garden

I stumbled upon The Magical Garden of Claude Monet by Laurence Anholt, a story based on a real incident.

The book made me think of Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork. Then I learned that Philippe has been there, too.

Everyone has been in Monet's garden. My sister has been in Monet's garden. That would make a great picture book. Constance in Monet's Garden and Why Gail is Bitter.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

So Is Starting School Like Dying?

I'm going to admit that I sometimes have trouble grasping what's really going on in books. Sometimes I think too much while I'm reading. Sometimes I don't think enough.

I think I get Garmann's Summer by Stian Hole. I think it's about fear--everybody's scared. I was just left feeling, Well, okay. And?

Garmann is a six-year-old boy who will be starting school soon. The coming event frightens him. Three extremely elderly aunts, who, as illustrated, would probably be his great-great aunts, come to visit. Garmann asks them if they're afraid of anything. He also asks his parents. Each adult is afraid of something. Grown-ups, too, feel fear, and I guess that's supposed to be comforting.

But one of the aunts, it turns out, is afraid of dying, and Mom is afraid Garmann will be hit by a car while crossing the road. And, you know, those fears just aren't on the same level with being afraid of starting school. Okay, maybe I'm not taking Garmann's fears seriously enough. But I think a fear is serious even if it isn't as big a fear as the fear of death. It doesn't have to be on a par with death to be important.

For a much more positive response, check out Fuse #8's review.

I'm guessing the plot for this book began with premise--the idea of a child fearing the unknown of starting school.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sally Goes Everywhere

Recently I happened upon some of the late Stephen Huneck's picture books about Sally, a dog that really got around. Though Huneck did attend the Massachusetts College of Art, according to a New York Times article, more than one account says he taught himself to carve and do woodcut prints, making him more of a folk artist than you usually find these days. The Times article called him an outsider artist and said that at the height of his success he was running a multi-million dollar business.

My favorite of the Sally books that I've seen so far is Sally Goes to the Farm. Sally's Snow Adventure would have beat it, but it has a strange shift in the doggy point-of-view from first to third person, something the publisher should have caught.

You don't see much in the way of humans in these books. The dogs take part in human activities--driving tractors, riding on sleds--but they're always dogs. They never wear clothes or hold jobs. These are simple stories that are illustrated with a strong style. I can imagine a family collecting all of them and wearing them out with repeated readings.

Sally's Great Balloon Adventure will be published next month.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stephen Huneck

Vermont artist Stephen Huneck, who was also the author and illustrator of a number of children's books, has died. We have seen his work at a number of Vermont galleries over the last few years and were sorry to hear of his passing.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This Pretty Much Ruined Picture Books For Me

The Defiant Ones, a New Yorker article by Daniel Zalewski, left me rigid with fear that I won't be able to figure out the behavioral lessons that picture books are evidently supposed to teach. Perhaps I should just avoid them for a while and look for lighter reading.

Link from child_lit.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dinosaurs Romping In The Snow In Connecticut

Here in central Connecticut we had a nice, floppy snow today--our second snow this week. So I thought it was neat to learn this afternoon that a launch event for Tyrannoclaus--a Christmas book about dinosaurs--will be held November 8 from 1 to 4 pm at Connecticut's own Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. If it's already snowing here in mid-October, might we expect a bit on the ground at Dino State Park by November 8th?

Dinosaurs? Snow? Christmas? Come on! I can't be the only one who's seeing the way this whole scenario is coming together.

By the way, there's a fee to tour the museum, but the readings at 1:00 and 2:30 and the booksigning in the gift shop are free.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

They Really Aren't For Us

I can sympathize with author Daniel B. Smith, in his article The Very Grouchy Daddy in Slate. Eric Carle's books don't have a lot of "narrative creativity." They weren't read a lot at Chez Gauthier, because the mom here needed more story. We went to things like Curious George just as fast as we could.

But I can't agree with him that the task of children's authors is to "entertain, educate, stimulate the imagination of, etc., the parent" as well as the child and that "lesser writers...serve only the child."

Entertaining, educating, and stimulating the imagination of parents is a marketing ploy. Parents are gatekeepers for young, nonreading children. They have all the money. Authors and publishers may well want to entertain, educate, and stimulate them for that practical reason.

But your gutsiest children's writers serve only one master--their child readers. If adults, like myself, don't get their books, that's just tough. Is Eric Carle milking a monotonous, winning formula for all it's worth? Maybe. Maybe even probably. But the fact that adults like myself don't care for that formula is meaningless. He writes for children--or he should be writing for them--and not for us.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Since We Were Talking About Nonfiction A Couple Of Days Ago...

...this might be a good time to mention The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton with illustrations by Tony Persiani.

Disclaimer: First I want to mention that I kind of know Chris Barton in that bizarre way you know people on the Internet you've never met in the flesh and have never been anywhere near because you live in different parts of the country. Which is to say that we've left comments on each other's blogs, which is like knowing someone, but barely.

The Day-Glo Brothers is a picture book describing how Bob and Joe Switzer created Day-Glo paint. This is a really impressive book for three reasons:

1. It truly is written for the age group to whom it is marketed. I've seen a number of beautiful nonfiction picture books that included way too much text for grade schoolers and text that was way too sophisticated for grade schoolers. Usually both at the same time. They were very fine books, but they were really for adults.

2. The "story line" makes sense. Barton does a good job of finding something about each brother that explains why he did what he did. Even traditional, adult biographies sometimes fail to do that for their subjects.

3. The art work is simple and easy to take in. It's not of a "fine art" type. Hey, I like fine art as much as the next person. But it's sometimes too complex to help carry a story, as art needs to do in a picture book. The art work in The Day-Glo Brothers is also reminiscent of 'fifties and 'sixties film strips and brochures. It fits the period during which the Switzer brothers lived and worked.

I've been talking about this book for days.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Christmas In Prehistoric Times

I'm sure I've mentioned before that a lot of book trailers leave me cold. However, this one for Tyrannoclaus by Janet Lawler with illustrations by John Shroades should draw a few readers in.

It's really very simple--just a voice over reading the text with stills of the illustrations to look at. No hype. No sales schtick. Just a taste of a clever concept and lovely illustrations.

I'll remember this book.

Oh, look! Janet Lawler will be at the Connecticut Children's Book Fair this year! So will I.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Bringing Pets To School

I met Nancy Poydar back in March. She has a new book out called Fish School. It's a picture book for ages 4 through 8.


Monday, August 17, 2009

This Ought To Encourage The Young To Read Nonfiction

Underwear: What We Wear Under There by Ruth Freeman Swain, is a little heavy on text and probably a little too technical for the younger kids in its age range (6 to 10 according to the author's website). But it is very high interest. And while the illustrations are kind of on the traditional picture book side, they are good traditional picture book illustrations. I'd describe the writing style as clear, straight nonfiction. Overall, I think Underwear would be a nice book for helping kids make the transition from reading stories to reading fact.

A Gauthier family story about this book: I like to put books out next to the bed for houseguests. I put Underwear out for an elementary school teacher staying with us, who made the mistake of telling me afterwards that she enjoys picture books, meaning I'll have some waiting for her whenever she arrives. She shared the book with another houseguest, who took particular note of the following passage:

"The bottom half of a union suit got the name "long johns" from John L. Sullivan, an American bare-knuckles boxing champion of the 1880s and 1890s. Besides being a prizewinning boxer, he was known for fighting in his long underwear."

Well, it turns out that the second houseguest works in a financial-type office that shall remain nameless with a guy who will also remain nameless except for the fact that his middle initial is "L" and his last name is "Sullivan." And my houseguest had heard that his Something L. Sullivan was descended from the John L. Sullivan.

Text messages were sent. The passage in question was copied. And when the dust settled, it turned out that, yes, indeed, we have a family member who knows one of John L. Sullivan's descendants. I love it when this kind of thing happens.

Training Report: We're just not going to talk about this anymore.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Transcendentalism For The Picture Book Crowd

I discovered Henry Hikes to Fitchburg and Henry Builds a Cabin, written and illustrated by D.B. Johnson, when I read about the first title at our local library's blog. (See, blogs do encourage reading.) They are both wonders and what makes them so wonderful is that they are truly picture books for little readers that really do express something about the adult historical figure that inspired them.

The "Henry" in these books is a bear, but he's modeled on Henry David Thoreau and these books clearly draw on Thoreau's Walden, which I just happen to be rereading this year. (I say "this year" because at the rate of a few pages a couple of times a week it appears that it's going to take me that long to finish it.) Sounds kind of adult philosophical, does it not?

The illustrations for Johnson's books are lovely and all kid with plenty of focus on the bear characters. And the text is limited to one or two simple lines per page. What's amazing is that those few words tap so well into my understanding of Thoreau and Walden.

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg illustrates what I think was Thoreau's contention that we become enslaved to jobs to buy ourselves things when we could live fuller lives by doing with less. In this case, Henry's friend puts in a great deal of time working at jobs to earn the money to pay for a train ticket to Fitchburg, while Henry just makes the trip on foot.

"Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!" Thoreau said in Walden. In case he hadn't made his point, he added, "Simplify, simplify." Henry Builds a Cabin certainly illustrates that as Henry Bear points out to his bear friends, Emerson and Alcott, the areas outdoors that will serve as his dining room, library, and ballroom.

I couldn't find a passage in Walden that stated that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott lent a hand, but Thoreau does say, "At length, in the beginning of May, with the help of some of my acquaintances, rather to improve so good an occasion for neighborliness than from any necessity, I set up the frame of my house. No man was ever more honored in the character of his raisers than I. They are destined, I trust, to assist at the raising of loftier structures one day." He also says he moved in on the 4th of July, just as Henry Bear did.

I think these picture books do a great job bringing a philosophy to child readers.

Johnson has written and illustrated three more Henry books.

Training Report: All was quiet with the injured and worn family elders last week, and I had a fantastic few days of work. We're back to what has become normal at Chez Gauthier--medical appointments, research, and e-mails to relatives. And, seriously, we don't even have anyone with a crisis.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Catching Up With Picture Book Biographies

Yesterday was the first Tuesday in over a month when I didn't have family duties. Since in the preceding forty-eight hours I'd decided to get started on three new projects, while continuing with two I was already working on, I was most excited about having a few extra hours for work. So what did I do? I locked myself out of my house. After depositing some perishable groceries with a family member twenty minutes away, I hunkered down at the library for an hour, hoping I could do something there.

What I did was read four picture books. Two of them just happened to be picture book biographies, one of which I found far more successful than the other.

Boys of Steel by Marc Tyler Nobleman with illustrations by Ross MacDonald tells the story of how Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman during the Depression. It ends with Superman becoming successful. Information at the end of the book tells how Siegel and Shuster lost the rights to Superman and struggled to make a living, but the actual picture book story is one of teen misfits who create something different ("The other heroes Jerry and Joe read about were regular humans in strange places. This hero would be a stranger in a regular place.") and lasting. Siegel and Shuster actually do something.

That doesn't seem to be the case in What To Do About Alice?, a picture book biography of Alice Roosevelt Longworth by Barbara Kerley (who also wrote The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins), with illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham. The book covers Longworth's youth, when she was still just Alice Roosevelt (Teddy's oldest girl), and she comes off sounding like the Paris Hilton of her day. There is an over-the-top character here, but not a lot of story because from everything I've ever heard about Roosevelt Longworth, she didn't actually do anything, the way Siegel and Shuster did. In What To Do About Alice? she's much more of a celebrity, someone who's famous for being famous.

A celebrity tale just doesn't have the natural narrative arc you find in stories about real achievers.

What To Do About Alice? was named a Siebert Honor Book this year.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All Things Picture Book

Booklights, a new children's book blog at PBS Parents, opens with lots of discussion of picture books.

Author Paula Yoo is establishing National Picture Book Writing Week, which will be coming up May 1 through 7. She's shooting for 7 picture books in 7 days.

I'm wondering if just anyone can start up a national week, and, if so, what kind of national week I'd like to set up. I will probably be dwelling on this for months, if not years.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Basic Black And White

A commentor on yesterday's post noted that you don't see a lot of black and white picture books even though black and white is good for you. While checking to see if yesterday's book Cat and Fish by Curtis and Grant had received much Internet buzz when it was published in '05, I found a pixie stix post on "books that do awesome things with black and white illustration." Included is the sequel to Cat and Fish, Cat and Fish Go To See.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Black And White And Read All Over

I was attracted to Cat and Fish because it is so incredibly black and white. The illustrations are riveting. So much so, in fact, that the illustrator, Neil Curtis gets first billing on the cover over author Joan Grant. Since the illustrations came before and inspired the text, that certainly seems legitimate.

Cat and Fish is a slight, charming tale of two creatures who meet and choose to stay together despite some extreme differences in background. It reminded me of The Owl and the Pussycat, which I was very fond of when I was a...a...okay...I was a teenager.

Curtis and Grant produced a sequel Cat and Fish Go to See.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Small Presses

Last week the subject of small presses was covered at the kidlitosphere listserv. And what do you know? Yesterday while I was at a NESCBWI Salon, I heard about two small presses that were new to me.

Linda Crotta Brennan's picture book, The Black Regiment of the American Revolution, has been rereleased by Apprentice Shop Books, located in Bedford, New Hampshire. Apprentice Shop Books "produces high interest history books for children." It publishes both new titles and reprints.

An interesting marketing sidenote--Linda will be speaking soon to a dinner meeting of retired military officers. Now, retired military officers are probably not your traditional market for children's books. However, I've spoken at a couple of League of Women Voters author luncheons. They liked to have a children's author there for parents and grandparents. Military people are as likely to have offspring as LWV members, right? Wouldn't a book about a military regiment be just the gift they'd like to get for the kiddies? Don't we all like to buy books on our interests for our kids? Linda is making exactly the kind of outside-the-box promotional effort all the marketing books tell us we ought to be making.

Jeanne Prevost's first picture book, It's Raining Cats and Cats!, was published by The Gryphon Press of Edina, Minnesota. From The Gryphon Press website: "The Gryphon Press is dedicated to publishing picture books for children that explore the human-animal bond. The books will feature themes of animal advocacy and animal well-being. A portion of our book sales profits will be donated to shelters and animal rescue societies."

The Gryphon Press publisher, Emilie Buchwald, was a founder of Milkweek Editions, a literary publisher.

Notice that both these presses have a specific interest. Instead of trying to publish everything, they're specializing in one area.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

An Alphabet Book For A Niche Market

We at Chez Gauthier are into Rail Trails because we don't bike up no hills. (Though, personally, I don't believe the perfectly flat railroad bed has yet been created. There is always an incline.) In case any of you with little ones are also rail trail fans, take a look at Rail Trail Alphabet Adventures!


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Possible Read-aloud Title?

A few years ago while killing some time during the lunch periods at a school where I was appearing, I listened to the librarian do a read-aloud event with a kindergarten class. She used some kind of instructive picture book about nature because, well, this was school and at school it's appropriate to be instructive.

I think Bee-wigged by Cece Bell could easily find a home with librarians looking for read-aloud titles. Bee-wigged is the story of a misunderstood bee who, while wearing a wig, is mistaken for a child. All his good qualities make him a big hit at school until his secret comes out. Then a talking guinea pig offers up a lesson in acceptance.

This is a story with an overt lesson for adults and a sense of the ridiculous for kids. A bee at school! A talking guinea pig! A talking guinea pig who...Well, I'm not one to give an entire story away.

Bee-wigged's really strong point is its artwork. Jerry Bee is a simple, striking image that I suspect would lend itself to art projects for preschool story hour. (Hmmm. Maybe some story hour art projects at the author's website would be a neat idea.) The text is kept to a minimum, giving the pictures pride of place on each page. Visually it seems like a good choice to hold up in front of a group of children sitting on a rug listening to a story.

By the way, Bee-wigged will be published in November.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

This Would Make A Good Children's Book, Don't Ya Think?

For a number of years, we had flocks of turkeys on our street. In fact, our local turkeys made it into A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers. Though I no longer live in a hunting culture as I did when I was growing up in Vermont, the turkey population has plummeted to the point that this year we've only been seeing one down at the other end of the street.

Yesterday morning I was out for one of the the three or four attempts at jogging I've been making each month this summer. I was on my way back home, in walking mode, when I see the lone turkey in the road. Just two days before a neighbor had told me this bird had attacked an acquaintance, so I crossed the road to stay away from it. I also picked up a big stick. Actually, it was a branch. I felt like a fool, but, hey, this was a turkey. I passed the thing, thought I was safely away from him, dropped my branch, crossed the road so I'd be walking into traffic again, and continued up the hill.

I haven't gone far when I notice this gobblie little sound behind me. I look over my shoulder and the beast is jogging up the hill after me.

My jogging is not so good that I want to do it going up hill. Plus, I was afraid that if I started running, it would chase me. Don't wild creatures take flight as a sign that humans want to play tag? I hurry along, cross the road again, the bird stays with me. Fortunately, a car pulled out of a driveway and by the time the turkey had chased me up onto a lawn, the driver and her husband pulled up alongside me. To make a long story short, they'd had run-ins with the creature before. By the time the turkey's tail feathers were displayed (which I took as a sign of aggression and not some kind of mating ritual as my computer guy later suggested), the guy in the car was out in the street with me. The two of us were able to shout and clap our hands enough to finally chase the feathered fiend off so I could go on my way.

By the time I got home, I was thinking that maybe this incident was something I could use in a book. A lovely picture book, perhaps. Some possibilities:

Toxic Turkey: A violent, mad turkey is created as a result of exposure to toxic waste. The book will be a cautionary tale instructing children not to pollute.

Turkey Bully: A big, nasty turkey is mean to all the other turkeys on the street. A hunter teaches him a lesson about getting along with others.

Misunderstood Turkey: The turkey isn't really violent and mad or big and nasty. The other turkeys just don't understand him.

Turkey Hogging Attention: A rough, noisy turkey tries to attract attention to itself. A hunter might figure in this story, too.


Monday, July 07, 2008

I'm A Little Confused

If I ever write a picture book, I want it to be illustrated the way Matt Faulkner illustrates Laurie Halse Anderson's Thank You, Sarah.His artwork is realistic but witty. It pops and carries some of the story.

The text of the book is a little confusing for this reader, though. Thank You, Sarah is the story of how Sarah Josepha Hale managed to get Thanksgiving recognized as a national holiday. That is an interesting take on a Thanksgiving book. Seriously, just how many stories about Piligrims can a kid (or anyone else)take? But Hale comes across in this tale like one of those small town cranks, the sterotypical busybodies who nag and nag until they get what they want. I didn't see exactly how she was "bold, brave, stubborn, and smart," at least, in the context of this story.

In all fairness, kids may not know the nagging small-town gadfly stereotype and may not see it in Hale as she's portrayed here. The youngest readers (the publisher is marketing the book to grades K through 5) may very well appreciate the fact that someone created a holiday for us.

At the end of the book are four pages of an odd assortment of information. The information about Thanksgiving and Hale is appropriate and intereting, but then there's the equivalent of a page on the Civil War that seems out of place, even though Thanksgiving was finally made a holiday by Lincoln in 1863. I felt this section of the book could have been more focused.

Hale is a fascinating figure, having served as an editor of women's magazines back in their very early days. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, women's magazines definitely had an impact on American culture. They are supposed to have been influential in getting controls on patent medicines, for instance. Maybe Thank You, Sarah is a good introduction to Hale for very young children who can't be expected to have much interest in her more significant work, but I'm not sure.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

What's A Cord Doing On That Phone?

I think Slate does wonderful slide shows. They are a marvelous innovation, a great use of technology. IMHO.

Right now Slate has a great slide show called I'm Talking to You, Corded! by Erica S. Perl about the "mismatch of technology and picture books."


Monday, March 10, 2008

A Dinosaur Book For Nonfiction Monday

I can take dinosaurs or leave them, myself. What I really like reading about are the dinosaur hunters of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins wasn't a paleontologist, but a sculptor. In the 1850s, he created sculptures of dinosaurs using information from paleontologist Richard Owen. The dinner party given inside one of his sculptures is the stuff of legend. Seriously, I heard about it years ago back in the day when I used to read dinosaur books aloud to a young relative.

The whole Hawkins' story is told in TheDinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley. The book covers the famous dinner party and the Waterhouse dinosaur exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1854. In addition, Kerley tells me some things I didn't know. It turns out Hawkins tried to do for dinosaurs in the U.S. what he did for them in England.

The lengthy Author's and Illustrator's Notes at the end of the book make good reading, too.

And who illustrated this lovely book that Blogger won't let me show you this evening? Why Brian Selznick, of Hugo Cabret fame.

In her Author's Note, Barbara Kerley says that what drew her to Waterhouse Hawkins was the dinner party given in one of his dinosaurs. What draws me to his story is that he and Owen were wrong in their depiction of dinosaurs. This is not to belittle the two men. On the contrary, what fascinates me about this whole situation is that knowledge changes as we discover more of it. It can happen to anybody, even the greatest talents of any particular age.

Talk about something that's hard to accept.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Adding With Monet And Picasso

I think many people think of art only as something that is stored in museums, and they steer clear of those places. I loved Math-terpieces by Greg Tang (illustrated by Greg Paprocki) because it connects Art, which may have elitist connotations for some, with something most of us probably believe is far more practical--math. Talk about a multi-tasking opportunity! Parents can get in reading time with their kids, expose them to art, and teach math concepts all at once. Or a parent can hand the book to young readers so that they can get some reading time in with their art and math.

Each two-page spread includes a reproduction of a well-known work of art, a poem related to it that includes the artist's name and a math problem related to groups of items on the opposite page that were "lifted" from the original art work. For instance, if you're looking at Claude Monet's White Water Lilies, the math problem will involve adding together the different groupings of water lilies on the opposite page.

It's lovely to look at and functional, too.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"I Realized That That Was The Beginning Of A Story."

It's a Picture Book, a Novel, a Movie in Book Form... is another one of those how-they-done-it articles that I like so much. This one is about Brian Selznick and Hugo Cabret.

By the way, I've been seeing questions raised about Hugo getting the Caldecott this year because of the whole question of what is it? A picture book or a novel? Fortunately, I'm pretty ignorant about picture books, and I don't have strong feelings one way or the other on the subject.

Thanks to child_lit for the link.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where Have I Been For The Last Ten Years?

Living in my celler, for the most part. That must explain why Olive, the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh was just the tiniest blip on my radar. According to the press release I received with a copy of the tenth anniversary deluxe edition, the thing has sold more than a million copies. And there was a cartoon, for crying out loud.

Really, I am embarrassed.

Olive has a very ingenious premise. A dog named Olive is wrapping presents and listening to the radio when she hears a song that includes the words, "All of the other reindeer..." She hears them as "Olive the other reindeer." She experiences an identity crisis and comes to believe that she's not a dog at all, but a reindeer. Of course, she heads off to the North Pole, and what follows is essentially Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with a dog and no laughing and name calling on the part of the real reindeer. (If they couldn't take Rudolph, who was at least of their species, you'd think a dog would never make the team. But here, surprisingly, they are most gracious.)

Olive actually is a charming, clever story.

For those of you for whom charm and cleverness are not enough, it's also, like Rudolph, an outsider story. Check out Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein's page on plots and popularity in which she discusses how Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one of two plot structures that outsider stories usually follow. (The other, she claims, is The Ugly Duckling.)

The whole outsider thing gave Olive the Other Reindeer an extra level of meaning that I quite enjoyed. Bring up the concept of "the Other" (as in "the other reindeer"--get it?) when you're reading it with the kiddies and make Christmas extra special this year.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Could This Be The End Of Captain Raptor?

I was browsing near the new children's book shelf at my local library when a book called Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates by Kevin O'Malley and Patrick O'Brien caught my eye. "Another Captain Raptor Adventure!" was printed above the title, so I went over to the stacks to see if we had the first one. Sure enough, we also had Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery. (According to the cover, this one was written by O'Malley with O'Brien illustrating. Both of them are listed as authors on the second book with O'Brien still illustrating.)

And that's how I discovered these clever, shall we say, graphic picture books.

You know how there are some young kids who are into space travel while there are other young kids who are into dinosaurs? Well, these books are for kids who are into either or both because Captain Raptor and his brave crew are dinosaur space heroes, traveling in their ship on missions to save their planet, Jurassica. Their adventures are both thrilling and tongue-in-cheek. Whenever the going gets rough, the question "Could this be the end of Captain Raptor?" arises. That's always a sure sign that we'll turn the page and see him pull his tough hide out of another tight spot.

Lovely to look at and delightful to know. I hope that Captain Raptor and the Space Pirates will not be the end of Captain Raptor.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

You Always Have To Watch Yourself

Recently I read The Best Winds by Laura E. Williams. It's a pleasant picture book about a very contemporary child who laughs at his Korean grandfather's "ancient ways." Grandpa has moved in with Jinho's family after the death of his wife, and he still wears hanboks and likes to drone on about his own grandfather.

I thought the two main characters were quite well developed, but I wondered how many Korean grandfathers who come over to the United States are that old world. It was a nice story, but maybe not all that believable.

Then I was driving in the car the next day when a thought relating to this book just appeared in my mind, fully formed. Why was I assuming the book was set in the United States? If the action took place in Korea, an old world granddad wouldn't be quite so far-fetched.

So I took another look at the book. On the very first page, grandpa is sitting under a long piece of what looks like Asian caligraphy. That might suggest this book is set in another country, but not necessarily. But one of the scenes in the kitchen definitely shows a canister set with what I assume are Korean labels. Then I realized that all the children were Korean. Oh, and, yeah, the main character's name is Jinho, remember, which isn't exactly Billy or Bobby.

This was a humbling expience for me. A reader is just a little too into her own culture if she assumes whatever she reads is set in her own country.

Eujin Kim Neilan's illustrations definitely enhance this book. While her human figures are sharp, the kite that draws Jinho and his grandfather together often appears a little on the abstract side, giving it an air of mystery.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Splendid Surprise

Back in the day when I was regularly reading picture books to little nippers, I was always frustrated by books that had few words. And if they had no words, I barely knew what to do. I needed words! I definitely remember my joy when we graduated to a meaty book with chapters. It was an old beat up Disney version of The Sword in the Stone left over from my childhood.

Ah, good times, good times.

Anyway, after I brought home Flotsam by David Wiesner and saw that it has no words, I immediately thought, Ick. But by the third beautiful page I was snagged. What a marvelous book.

And what a marvelous story it tells.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Seeking Inner Peace Through Picture Books

I have never meditated for more than five minutes, tops, and then only because I was in a yoga or martial arts class that required that I sit there and not get up and walk away, so I figured I might as well try. Nonetheless, I think meditation is probably a very good thing. It's one of those activities that I plan to get into someday.

So I was attracted to Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee MacLean when I stumbled upon it at my local library. (Not yours R.F.).

For someone like myself, whose meditation skill is on the level of a preschooler's, this seemed a good introduction to why a person might want to meditate and how to begin.

I kept getting distracted, though, because the pigs were naked. Distraction isn't great for meditation. Of course, I didn't beat myself up for it. I just called my mind back to the book.

Though this book was published back in 2004, I found it on the New Book Shelf in the children's area. That was a very encouraging sight for a writer. I often get the impression that my books are toast as soon as the following season's book catalogue comes out. It was good to see a three-year-old book still selling.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cinderella Is All Over The Place

This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I tend to pick up picture books that are on subjects of interest to me, hoping, I guess, that I'll pick up information written on a level I have some chance of understanding.

For years now I've been thinking of writing a book with some Egyptian material, so when I saw The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo on the new book shelf at a local library, I snatched it up. Sure enough, this is an Egyptian variation on the Cinderella story. It is a little creepy that the Cinderella figure is rather fair-haired and pink-cheeked while the servant girls who take the place of the evil stepsisters are much darker. I'm not sure what to make of that, since Rhodopis (the Egyptian Cinderella) is picked on for her looks. Is it some kind of subtle racism since the white girl gets the pharaoh? Or will young readers think of race differently, since the palest character is the one who is treated badly?

In spite of that worry, I do like the idea of Cinderella stories from other cultures. Climo and her illustrator, Ruth Heller, also produced The Korean Cinderella, and with another illustrator Climo published The Persian Cinderella.

By the way, though I found The Egyptian Cinderella on a "New Book" shelf, it is not a newly published book. It was published in 1989. Way to go, Shirley. That's a good long time for a picture book to be in print.

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