Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Monday, September 30, 2013

Book 232: My First Counting Book

My First Counting Book, by Lilian Moore, illustrated by Garth Williams, Little Golden Books, 1957.  Toddler and Preschool.

After reading so many books written in choppy rhyme, this book was a delight to read out loud.  The rhyming schemes do not match from number to number, but within each "verse" the rhyming scheme and meter work beautifully.  It was reminiscent of reading nursery rhymes.

Garth Williams illustrated this book.  Garth Williams. the illustrator of Little House on the Prairie book and of Charlotte's Web, illustrated this book.  Yeah, that Garth Williams.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book 231: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925.

This is one of my favorite banned books -- now.  Just like everyone else, I read this book in high school.  Just like everyone else, I didn't get much out of it back then.  I remember "Blah, blah, blah, Jazz Age" and "Blah, blah, blah, symbolism" and "Blah, blah, blah, foreshadowing".  The problem was never with this book; the problem was the way that literature was taught.  If I could have just read the book cover to cover on my own, I would have enjoyed it so much more.  So, when I was in my twenties, I did, and then bought a whole lot more Fitzgerald.

The Great Gatsby IS about the Jazz Age.  There is strong symbolism in this book -- the green light. And there is quite a bit of foreshadowing (and foreboding) in this book -- "the all-seeing eyes".  But there is also layer upon layer of wonderful in this book.

When I first read this book, I wasn't the least bit sympathetic toward Daisy.  Now, almost thirty years later, I do have some sympathy, but it is limited.  When I first read this book, I didn't even really think about the child, much like Gatsby doesn't.  Now, when I have a child, I kept wondering what happened to her.  And that, I think, is the genius of this book and Fitzgerald's writing.

Like Jane Austen before him, he is excellent at portraying his times and making his character breathe by having them speak and act in a way that is so very real.  I can relate to this book at different times in my life because I can relate differently to all the characters (and symbolism) at different times in my life.  I'm older now than Daisy, Gatsby, Tom and Nick.  I can stand back and know what will happen before it does happen, and I can change nothing.  I am "the all-seeing eyes".

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book 230: The Wild Party

The Wild Party, by Joseph Moncure March, illustrated by Art Spiegelman, Pantheon Book, 1994.

According to the introduction by Art Spiegelman, this is the book that made William Burroughs want to become a writer.  It was also written in 1926, when March was 26, and it was "too hot for publication" for two years.  When it finally was published, it was banned in Boston.

The first thing I noticed about this "lost classic" when I opened it was the red velvet end-papers.  They alone made me want to buy this book.

The writing itself is Jazz Age brilliant.  It is a poem -- William Burroughs said it is -- "it rhymes".  But a poem with a staccato rhythm, not unlike a machine gun.  It's a nursery rhyme hopped up on bathtub gin.  And the descriptive lines come so fast my head spun.  I'm pretty sure this is the first time the word "ambisextrous" was used in literature.  Like most things hopped up on bathtub gin, this story doesn't end well.

Clearly, Art Spiegelman loved this poem when he illustrated it.  Not only does he say that he fell in love with the poem within his introduction that comes a few pages after the red velvet end-papers, he shows that he fell in love with the poem with every wonderful and sometimes decadent illustration.  This edition is almost as much about the artwork as it is the writing. Almost.  It's hard to beat "so dumb that it hurt".

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book 229: Meg the Egg

Meg the Egg, by Rita Antoinette Borg, CreateSpace 2012.

Meg the Egg tackles some pretty big themes:  Real courage is not a lack of fear; it is overcoming the fear and acting.  And no one is too small to make a difference -- or in this case, you don't even have to be hatched.

Meg was the third egg, after Peg and Keg, and was destined for the rubbish heap as rotten egg because she would not hatch.  In the end, she does hatch, and rather spectacularly.

The illustrations are easy to follow and enhance the text of the story.

Book 228: The Walrus & The Carpenter

The Walrus & The Carpenter, by Nick Bantock, from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass.  Viking, 1992.

Today, September 23, is at the beginning of Banned Book Week, so I'm starting off slowly.  This book, The Walrus & The Carpenter, has not been banned or challenged, but the Alice books from which it came have been.

Some years ago, apparently twenty, I discovered Nick Bantock's pop-up books.  They aren't especially sophisticated or complicated or even very beautiful, but I really liked them.  In fact, I still do.  Something about them is highly intriguing.  I'll be passing this book on to my almost-five-year-old son to see if he enjoys it as much as I did.

As a side note, we recently watched Disney's Alice in Wonderland, and a version of this poem is sung by Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.  You can use that same for this book.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Book 227: Sea Queens. Women Pirates Around the World

Sea Queens:  Women Pirates Around the World, by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Christine Joy Pratt, Charlesbridge, 2008.

Today, September 19th, was Talk Like a Pirate Day, so I thought today would be the perfect day to read Sea Queens.  I was right -- I love it when that happens.

Sea Queens is wonderfully well-researched, but it does not read like a textbook.  Actually, if textbooks read like this, I would have been far more interested in history when I was in school.  It reads like a well-told tale that happens to be factual.  I devoured it quickly, I learned quite a bit, and I will be re-reading it over the years.

The illustrations are not necessary -- this book would still be interesting and accessible without them -- but they do add a layer of intrigue.  The woodblock style artwork is a perfect choice for the subject matter.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book 226: All Aboard!

Book 226:  All Aboard! A Traveling Alphabet, by Bill Mayer, concept by Chris L. Demarest, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2003.   Preschool to Early Elementary.

My four-year-old son checked this book out from our local library -- twice.  At the end of the second three-week check-out period, I knew that I had to find a copy of this book for his home library.  So I did.

The first time we "read" this book, I'm not sure that he fully understood the concept.  He knew he was supposed to look for letters, but he expected them to look LIKE letters.  The second time, about six months later, he was fine with letters not always looking exactly like letters -- his standard was looser and he found almost all of them by himself.

The artwork in this book is based on 1920s travel posters.  I absolutely love 1920s travel posters.  In my younger years, I decorated my apartment with 1920s travel posters.  So when my son wanted this book for his own library, I was not at all annoyed -- I was thrilled.  And when he no longer wants this book for his own library, I will not be at all annoyed -- I will be thrilled, and I will add it to MY own library.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book 225: May on the Way

May on the Way: How I Became a K9 Spy, by KC Frantzen, illustrated by Taillefer Long, Rushjoy Press 2011.   Upper Elementary.

May on the Way is not a book I would typically pick out for myself.  I tend to avoid anthropomorphic animals, because I generally find them to be too cutesy and annoying.  Also, it is just strange getting inside a dog's head -- a cat, I could probably manage, but that would be another story.  This book, however, was brought to my attention as something I might enjoy, so I read it, and, I was surprised, but I did enjoy it.

May on the Way is not a perfect book.  I find the adoptive family's motives a bit suspect at first.  I think the husband yells at the dog that he knows has been abused far too much.  I wish the exciting spy stuff had started a whole lot sooner in this book.  This book is the beginning of a K9 spy series, so I can understand spending time setting up the characters and the situations, but it is still more than halfway through the book before the spy stuff is hinted at, much less, introduced.  Even so, I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book 224: Toys Galore

Toys Galore, written by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake, Candlewick Press, 2013.

One of my pet peeves in children's literature is books written in clunky, forced rhyme.  Usually about halfway through reading those books out loud, I will stop and just tell the story in prose.  I read Toys Galore out loud, all the way through, and using the original text.

Off the top of my head, I can think of three authors worth studying for learning how to write in rhyme for children's books:  Karma Wilson, Jane Yolen and Peter Stein.  Karma Wilson and Jane Yolen excel at regular metered rhyme; Peter Stein is also very good at it, too, but he is also very good at breaking up the meter, which is useful for longer stories in rhyme.  Toys Galore is way fun to read out loud.

Toys Galore is also way fun to look at.  My four-year-old son studied the artwork with all the intensity I used to put into the toy section of the Sears catalogue at Christmas time.  He's going to be really disappointed when we go into Toys R Us or Target and he can't find any toys just like the ones in Bob Staake's illustrations.  Heck, I'm probably going to be really disappointed, too.

Here is my son studying the kind of creepy author and illustrator pictures on the jacket flap.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Book 223: Scuffy the Tugboat

Scuffy the Tugboat, by Gertrude Crampton, illustrated by Tibor Gergely, Little Golden Book, 1946.

I bought this book for the artwork.  That is not to say that the story is bad -- it isn't bad -- it's just that the artwork is better.

Scuffy, the toy tugboat, thought he was too big for the toy shelf, so the toy store owner brought him home.  Then Scuffy thought he was too big for the bathtub, so the toy store owner and his son took Scuffy to the brook.  But it was Spring and the brook was in high spirits.  And high-spirited brooks lead to rivers, and rivers lead to the sea.  And toy tugboats are far too small for the sea.

So, the story isn't bad.  In fact, it is quite good.  But the illustrations are so perfect that I remember them after nearly forty years.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book 222: The Adventurers

The Adventurers, by Rachel Elliot, illustrated by Valeria Docampo, Parragon 2011.

I bought this book back in January, but I'm not actually recommending it.

I really want to like, and I do like the IDEA of. The illustration is not my favorite style, but it is still quite eye-catching and lovely. And the book is beautifully laid out.

I bought this book not long after my four-year-old son started telling his stories. I thought he would be able to relate to how an ordinary object could lead to an extraordinary adventure. THAT part I like very much. What I don't like is how it is written. It is not written poorly; it is just not written well. The text brings us to a place of adventure, nothing fun happens, and then abruptly something quite frightening will appear or happen. Instead of conveying daydreams or dreams as the illustrations would indicate, the text is conveying nightmares.

I will still give this book to my son, but I will let him tell me his own stories.

Book 221: How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends?

How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends?, by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague, Blue Sky Press, 2006.  Toddlers, Preschoolers, Early Elementary.

Every one of Jane Yolen's "How Do Dinosaurs..." by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague is brilliant.  Jane Yolen has perfect pitch for rhythm, so reading her books out loud is a delight.  I have preferred different ones at different stages of my four-year-old's son life.  Right now, he has been taking on the playground by himself and learning to share and take turns with other children.  So, right now, this is my favorite "Dinosaur" book.  Of course, he laughs at the "bad Dinosaur" behavior, but he usually exhibits "good Dinosaur" behavior.

I am so in awe of Mark Teague's illustrations.  His dinosaurs are realistic enough to be in school textbooks, but they are riding tricycles or throwing a temper tantrum.  And that just makes the books even funnier.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book 220: Don't Squish the Sasquatch

Don't Squish the Sasquatch, written by Kent Redeker, illustrated by Bob Staake, Hyperion Books, 2012.

When I read the opening lines of: "Hello, Mr. Blobule!  May I please ride your bus?"  I knew I was in for a book of unsurpassed silliness.  Don't Squish the Sasquatch is a simple, repetitive, ridiculous, and, therefore, completely brilliant book for beginning readers.  And if the repetition starts to get to you as an adult, just look over the child's shoulder to see the equally ridiculous (and, therefore, completely brilliant) illustrations.

I don't know a whole lot about the publishing of children's books, but I think normally a book is written and then the illustrator is found.  In this case, however, I tend to think that Kent Redeker knew that Bob Staake would be illustrating his book as he was writing it.  I can't think of anyone better suited for bringing Mr. Octo-Rhino to life.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book 219: Duck & Goose, It's Time for Christmas!

Duck & Goose, It's Time for Christmas! by Tad Hills, Schwartz & Wade Books, 2010.

It is September and about 90 degrees outside, but, according to my almost-five-year-old son, it is time for Christmas.  That's why he had to use a snowman mug this morning.  And that's why this book keeps jumping off his shelf every time I put it away.

When the original Duck & Goose book came out, I was working as a children's librarian.  There were three of us in our department and we all did story times.  I think we ended arm-wrestling to decide who would get to use the book first.  I didn't win.

Duck and Goose are irretrievably adorable.  It's Time for Christmas is a bit silly, but that's not the point.   The point is that kids, from babies to early elementary students, love Duck and Goose and everything they do.  And this book is full of winter fun.  My son has had this book for three years and he still loves it.  Maybe because it is a bit silly.  Or maybe because he is.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Book 218: The Party at Jack's

The Party at Jack's, Thomas Wolfe, University of North Carolina Press, 1995 (from a 1937 outline)

It is entirely possible for a book to be wonderfully-written and poorly-edited.  If you don't believe me, read this book.

It took me three days to read this 240-page novella.  I had to read some sentences, paragraphs, and even pages over a few times to gain clarity and understanding.  Repetition of phrases can be a useful device for emphasis or effect, however, if over-used, the effect becomes annoying.  I think the daughter's name was changed somewhere about a third of the way through the book, and then back again toward the end of the book, only for the daughter to disappear altogether by the close of the book.  The first few chapters, told from Mr. Jack's viewpoint, did not really fit with the rest of the book, told from Mrs. Jack's viewpoint.  It is fine to switch viewpoints, but I needed a bit of help to get from the fire to the return of Mr. Jack to his childhood home.

I can't fault Thomas Wolfe; first of all, because he IS Thomas Wolfe, but more importantly, he hadn't finished writing this book before he died.  So, while I am happy the The Party at Jack's has seen the light of day, I would have preferred that someone with a stronger ear for Thomas Wolfe had edited it.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Book 217: Color Kittens

Color Kittens, written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Martin Provensen, Little Golden Book 1949.  Preschool and Early Elementary.

Yesterday, my little boy painted.  He mixed his water colors and came up with some unusual color combinations.  And when he finished painting, his rinse-water was brown.  Last night, he pulled this book off of the shelf to read.  I think he connected the two.

Margaret Wise Brown wrote with amazing clarity and beauty and with a ear for rhythm.  It is no wonder that her works have endured and are still adored.  Color Kittens is a great example of her typical writing for children.  And it is also a useful book for teaching basic color theory (for paints, not light).

Martin Provensen did a fantastic job with keeping up with Brown's writing.  His kittens are utterly charming, and the mixed paint scenes are delightfully wonderful.

Our grey kitten, Molly, knocked over some of my son's paints when he was painting.  Perhaps she wanted to be a Color Kitten.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Book 216: Animal Homes

Animal Homes, written by E. K. Davis, illustrated by Jane Goldsborough, Little Good Book, 1982.  Toddler, Preschool, Early Elementary.

This is not much to say about the text of this book, because there is not much text in the book.  That's fine, though, because what is there works quite well.

The illustrations, however, deserve paragraphs.  I will settle for sentences.  They are realistic, without being frightening.  They are soft, without being cute.  The animal faces are expressive -- especially the eyes -- without looking human.  Although the style is different, the illustrations of the animals remind me of Nancy Tafuri's work, which is always perfect.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book 215: The Little Red Caboose

The Little Red Caboose, written by Marian Potter, pictures by Tibor Gergely, Little Golden Book, 1953.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

I bought this book for my young son because I remembered having a copy when I was a kid (no, it wasn't a first edition copy).  And also because my son has caught my husband's train-craziness.

This book is about the perfect length for reading to Preschoolers.  The text per illustrations is pretty light, and, while longer in places, the additional length adds emphasis.  It is easy to understand the caboose's internal and external conflict, and, therefore, both resolutions.

The artwork is stunning, which is what I remembered about my copy.  It is absolutely perfect for young train-lovers.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Book 214: The MONSTER at the End of this Book

The MONSTER at the End of this Book, by Jon Stone, Little Golden Book, 1971.  (Preschool to Early Elementary)

I don't remember reading this book for myself, although it certainly has been around long enough.  I do, however, remember reading this book to one of my younger siblings, probably my younger sister.  Anyway, today I read it to my almost-five-year-old son for the first time.

My son wasn't at all anxious about the monster at the end of the book.  He kept pointing to Grover and saying "That's a monster!"  So the ending did not surprise him at all, although it did make him laugh.  I don't remember how my sibling reacted when I read it to her (or him), but I'm pretty sure it was pretty close to my son's reaction.  Despite the "monster" in the title, there is nothing frightening about this book.  And that is a very good thing.  It's also a very good thing if we learn to laugh at our "monsters".