Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Friday, August 30, 2013

Book 213: The ABC Murders

The ABC Murders, by Agatha Christie.

I adore Agatha Christie's writing, so even if this book is not my favorite of her mysteries, I still enjoyed it. 

Agatha Christie was not a technically brilliant writer -- She never claimed to be. But where she is unmatched is in her study of human nature. She knew that people will say one thing, and project an image one way, and could be almost entirely opposite of what they were saying or projecting. She could see the cracks where the "real" person could be glimpsed. And she could write her characters so that they projected an image that was contrary to their true nature. Her detectives could, and close readers can, always see the cracks, and that is how the mysteries are solved. The clues are all there, but don't expect her detectives to point them out to you along the way. The ending with either surprise or validate you, depending on how closely you read the story. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book 212: Every Friday

Every Friday, by Dan Yaccarino, Henry Holt and Company 2007.  Toddler, Preschool, Early Elementary.

My four-year-old son checked this book out from the library last week. It was the first book he wanted to read when we got home. 

I love everything about this book: the story, the writing, the distinctive and timeless illustrations, the interesting effects (like how the inside of the diner looks black and white when viewed from the outside), but most of all, I love, love, love the author's note. Every Friday, since his son turned three, the author has taken his son to breakfast. What a wonderful tradition!

So I bought my son his own copy of this book. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book 211: Just a Day at the Pond

Just a Day at the Pond, by Mercer Mayer, Harper Collins Children's Books.  Toddler, Preschool and Early Elementary.

My son received this book for the Christmas right after his first birthday.  He liked the book so much that he ate the back cover.  I took it away from him because I'm a mom.

Over the past few months, I've been giving my now-four year old son back the books that he literally devoured when he was younger.  Now he just figuratively devours them.

Little Critter books are wonderful because my little critter has no trouble seeing himself in Mayer's adorably drawn Little Critter.  This past weekend, he spent quite a bit of time with his grandparents, so a Little Critter book featuring grandparents was perfect.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book 210: The Shy Little Kitten

The Shy Little Kitten, written by Cathleen Schurr, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, Little Golden Book, 1946.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

A few months ago, I bought a stack of Little Golden Books from a thrift store.  About a third of them I gave away to the local library.  I did, however, keep the classics.

For the past few nights, my four-year-old son has been taking a few of these books to bed.  I'm not really sure if it is because of the stories or the shiny gold spines.  The Shy Little Kitten he seems especially fond of.

We have three cats in our house.  Not one of them was shy little kitten.  They all, however, were just as cute as the shy little kitten.  I think the story might have been written around the adorable illustrations, but it still works.  What is really great is not only is this book old enough for me to have read, it is also old enough for my parents to have read.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book 209: Robots, Robots Everywhere!

Robots, Robots Everywhere! written by Sue Fliess, illustrated by Bob Staake, Little Golden Books, 2013.  Toddler, Preschool, Early Elementary.

I gave this book to my four-year-old son today.  I have to review it now because he wants it back so we can read it tonight.  It's just that good.

The text is simple, with an unforced rhyming scheme, so reading the book is a pleasure.  Also, although the text was simple and straightforward, even I learned something about robots.

And then there is the illustration.  The text may be simple and straightforward, but the artwork is not.  Manic would be a fair description, but manic in a good way.  Manic as in "it explodes off of the pages" way.  The two-page spreads have five to twelve words -- the rest is given over to the illustrations.  From corner to corner.  And cover to cover.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Book 208: The Twelve Dancing Princesses

The Twelve Dancing Princesses, told by Marianna Mayer and illustrated by K.Y. Craft,  Morrow Junior Books, 1989.

This is another book that I would have bought solely for the artwork.  And this is another book that I keep in my bookcase and not in my son's.

Marianna Mayer's retelling of the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses is beautifully, wonderfully and movingly executed.  Her version is strong enough to stand alone, without any illustrations.  That would be a pity, however, because the artwork is phenomenal.

K.Y. Craft paints with such brilliance that you can hear the silk dresses rustle and feel the kiss of every flower's petal.  And every single illustration is so breathtakingly beautiful and detailed that I, like the princesses, become lost within the tale.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book 207: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, William Morrow 2013.

Once I started this book, I wanted to read it all in one gulp.  Unfortunately, I started reading it too late in the evening, so I had to read it in two gulps.  How could I not love a book that knows that kittens grow in a field and name themselves, and that the ocean can fit into a bucket (like in a story by my four-year-old son) and that no adult truly grows up?  I've believed these truths for years.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a beautiful, sad, sweet, strange tale that somehow feels more real than mundane reality -- which is to say, it was imagined, conceived and written by Neil Gaiman.  When I reached the end of the story, I was breathless and wanted more.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book 206: The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

I liked this book, but I didn't love this book.  At first I was amused by the pervasive metaphors and similes.  I was even quite fond of the one in the middle of chapter eight:  Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.  But after a while, I found myself wading through them, and then swimming in them, and finally drowning from them.  (See?  I can do it, too.)  They made the narration feel like it was escaping through the side of the mouth, past a gasper.

I've never practiced legerdemain, but I do know misdirection when I see it.  If you take away the picturesque phrases and the gritty narration, you are left with an adequate, maybe even a good, but not a brilliant, story.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book 205: Many Moons (illustrated by Marc Simont).

Book 205:  Many Moons, by James Thurber, illustrated by Marc Simont, Harcourt Books 1990.

The first time I encountered Many Moons by James Thurber, it was read to me.  I was in third grade.  If the illustrations were shown, I didn't see them.  And they weren't necessary for me to enjoy the book -- I could picture it perfectly in my head.  The story stayed with me for many years.  If I ever knew, I soon forgot the name of the author.  I've since forgotten the name of my third-grade teacher.  But I've never forgotten how much I loved this book.

Years later, in my early twenties, I began reading Dorothy Parker.  Which led to reading Robert Benchley.  Which led to reading James Thurber.  Thurber quickly became one of my favorite authors.  But still I did not realize he wrote Many Moons.  Not until about ten years later, when I was browsing in a bookstore, and I stumbled upon Many Moons.  The version I found then was illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, which was good, but a bit manic and not quite as I remembered the book.  Still, I bought the book.  And read the book.  And enjoyed the book.

A few years after that I was working as a children's librarian.  In our department, we had been turning classical literature into puppet shows with quite a bit of success.  I decided that Many Moons would be a great choice, so I pulled the book off of the shelf to type up a screenplay.  The book on our shelf wasn't the Slobodkin version, though, it was the Marc Simont version, and the illustrations almost perfectly matched the illustrations I had carried in my head for thirty years.  I was delighted.  And the puppet show, by the way, was delightful.

Marc Simont passed away recently.  He was 97, so his passing was sad but not surprising.  Although he has illustrated many books, including other stories for Thurber, whenever I see any reference to him, I always think of this book, his Many Moons.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Book 204: Emma

Emma, by Jane Austen

I first discovered Emma by Jane Austen when I was nineteen.  I had a sharp and ready wit, and I could turn a clever phrase.  Just like Emma.  I thought I was observant and discerning.  Just like Emma.  I wasn't.  Just like Emma.  Back then, I thought the humor in this book came from what Emma said.  Now that I am many years away from nineteen, I realize that much of the humor comes from Emma's misunderstandings.

I am a huge Jane Austen fan -- not so much that I dress up in costume or anything (except for one Hallowe'en, but then I was a dead Jane Austen, so that's OK) -- I will read anything she writes.  In fact, I will study anything she writes, and read anything about her.  She, unlike Emma, is very observant.  She is brilliant at delineating characters and breathing life into them.  I recently re-read Pride and Prejudice.  I thought I was in love with Mr. Darcy.  Now I remember that it has been Mr. Knightley all along.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book 203: Seashells by the Seashore

Seashells by the Seashore, by Marianne Berkes, illustrated by Robert Noreika, Dawn Publication 2002.

Two months ago, I took my four-year-old son to the beach.  He collected shells.  A lot of shells.  Some of the less disgusting ones made it home.  For two months, I dried them out in the garage.  And then, a few days ago, my son and I made a beach collage.  That collage recalled this book.

I first encountered Seashells by the Seashore about seven years ago.  I was working as an assistant children's librarian at the time.  In Florida.  Marianne Berkes was the guest for a special summer program.  Long tables had been set up along one side of the room.  When Marianne arrived, the tables were covered with all different types of shells.  This was the first book she presented that day.  I also think it was the first book she wrote.  As she read the book, she held up the corresponding shells.  The children (all 100 or so of them) were entranced.  This was in Florida.  These kids had grown up with seashells, seen them all their young lives, and yet after Seashells by the Seashore, the kids were looking at shells in a new light.  Good books can do that.

The illustrations for this book were rendered in watercolor, so that have an open, loose, "beachy" feel.  The seashells, however, are more detailed and therefore more easily recognizable.  I live in South Carolina now.  About an hour from the ocean, so we don't go to the beach very often.  My son can recognize his shells in this book.  Good illustrations can do that.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book 202: Put Me in the Zoo

Put Me in the Zoo, by Robert Lopshire, Random House 1960

As a child, I had this book.  And as a child, I liked this book.  And as a child, I was not bothered by the fact that the animals in the zoo were in small cages, or that there were animals in the circus, or that what is called "violet" in this book is really indigo or just purple.

Now I have a child, and he likes this book.  Maybe it's because the animal who want to join the zoo is unidentifiable.  He is like nothing you've ever seen before, kind of a polar bear/wild cat hybrid with perfectly round, colorful spots that he can change on a whim.  Or maybe it is the colors.  Or the reactions of the boy and the girl in the story.  It could be the text, which is simple without being boring, although my son can only read two words of it yet:  "look" and "more".

Whatever it is about this book, I liked it when I was a child, my son picked it out and he likes it.  Clearly the author/illustrator got the combination right.