Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book 247: Henry P. Baloney

Henry P. Baloney, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, Penguin 2001.  Early Elementary.

My son is not quite five.  He is not in elementary school.  He is not even in Kindergarten.  He loves this book about "the green alien with big ears".  Go figure.  Actually, that may not be too surprising since I bought this book in 2001, long before my not-quite-five-year-old son was born.  He must have inherited my sense of humor.

This book is a challenge to read out loud because some words are in a different language, some are transpositions, and some are Spoonerism.  That challenge actually adds to the appeal of the book for me.  My son is learning to read and struggles with words in English.  The story is funny, silly and absolute nonsense, as you would expect from the "Baloney" in the title.

Lane Smith does a marvelous job with the illustrations, from "the green alien with big ears", to the zimulis, to the razzo, to the Planet Astrosus, to the sighing flosser... The book is cover to cover wonderful.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book 246: Bug Drawing Book

Bug Drawing Book, by Ralph Masiello, Charlesbridge, 2004.

Today we didn't have to go anywhere:  Today was a stay-home-and-draw day.  My almost-five-year son had finished coloring his Hallowe'en pictures, so I thought he might like to draw some spiders and spiderwebs.  I was right.

The directions in the Bug Drawing Book are simple enough that my son could follow them (if I was right there talking him through them), and yet the illustrations are interesting and complex enough that I can see him using this book as reference for many years.   I'm especially grateful that Mr. Masiello examined the spiders and insects up-close so that I did not have to.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book 245: Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book

 Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book, by Diane Muldrow, Golden Books 2013.  All Ages.

Lately, I've been building up my almost-five-year-old son's library of Little Golden Books.  I had quite a collection when I was a child, but somewhere in the many moves of my childhood, my books were lost.  Diane Muldrow's book could not have come out at a better time for me.  I was thrilled to see that we already have the five LGBs featured in her foreword.  I knew then that we were on the right track.

In  Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book, Diane Muldrow took illustrations from classic LGBs and linked them together with some basic and good advice for life.  Some of the advice is obvious, but that makes it no less sound:  For example "Don't forget to enjoy your wedding".  I can't count the number of recent weddings that I've attended where the bride looked like she forgot to have fun.  And "Let your children know you love them".  Actually, I think that is the best advice in the book.

The artwork is phenomenal -- the best of the best in vintage Little Golden Book illustrations.  I am happy to say that we own at least half of the books featured, and now I know which ones I need to replace.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book 244: The Saggy, Baggy Elephant

The Saggy, Baggy Elephant, by K & B Jackson, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, Little Golden Books, 1947

This is another Little Golden Book illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren -- he had quite a prolific career as a LGB illustrator -- so the artwork is extraordinary and extraordinarily good.  I liked the tiger and elephant illustration that was used for the front cover, but the best illustration in the book has to be the line of dancing elephants.  It is so incredibly sweet and quite funny.

The overall story is fine, even good, although I probably would have sat on the mouthy parrot a long time ago.  I don't know how the very young elephant ended up on his own in the first place, but it is always wonderful when you find out where you do belong, even if there are dangers and distractions along the way.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book 243: Meg on the Moon

Meg on the Moon, written by Helen Nicoll, illustrated by Jan Pienkowski, Penguin Book 1973.

I didn't actually buy this book.  A very long-time friend from England bought this book and sent it to my story-telling son.  I vaguely remember Meg and Mog books, and had I recalled this one sooner, I would have bought this book.

This book is perfect on so many levels.  My almost-five-year-old son tells stories about as fantastic as this one.  He has a love/hate relationship with owls.  We have three cats.  My husband was a space shuttle engineer (when there was a space shuttle to engineer), and my son is fascinated with space.  On top of all that, this story is funny, silly and delightful.

Jan Pienkowski is an artist of staggering range.  So wide a range, in fact, that I did a double-take when I saw he was the illustrator.  Normally, this overly-cartoony style does not appeal to me; however, because Pienkowski is so incredibly brilliant with any art style or medium, the artwork in this book works perfectly.  And it suits Meg from her buckled shoes to her pointy hat.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book 242: Owl At Home

Owl At Home, by Arnold Lobel, HarperCollins 1975.

For the past few weeks, my almost-five-year-old little boy has been having nightmares about owls.  The only way he will go to sleep is if our youngest cat, Molly Kitten, will curl up on his bed with him.  She will stay awake until my son falls asleep.  We thought these nightmares were imaginary because neither my husband nor I had seen an owl... until one night.  My husband was just putting my son back into bed and telling him there are no owls when he heard, "Whooooo.  Whoooo."  He looked out the window and saw two glowing owl eyes.  Molly jumped up to the window, tapped on the glass with her paw, and the owl flew away.

The other day, I took my son to the bookstore and let him pick out any book he wanted.  He picked out Owl At Home, so we bought it and took it home and read it.  Owl At Home is a very likable owl, as likable, in fact, as Frog and Toad.  He just doesn't get the same attention that Frog and Toad do.  It's a pity, really, because apparently owls do need a positive mascot when it comes to kids.

This book, like the Frog and Toad books, is written and illustrated with scads of charm that holds up well to repeated, and often very slow, readings.  Sometimes the "classics" really are the best.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Book 241: The Poky Little Puppy

The Poky Little Puppy, by Janette Sebring Lowrey, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, Little Golden Book, 1942.

The Poky Little Puppy is another Little Golden Book and Gustaf Tenggren overlap, so, of course, I had to buy it.  Also, I had a copy of this book when I was a child, so it is always fun to revisit some aspects of childhood.

I'm not quite sure what the lesson/moral of this story is.  Maybe it's just that puppies don't read very well.  Maybe it is that it pays to be poky if you want rice pudding or chocolate custard, but it doesn't pay to be poky if you want strawberry shortcake.  Maybe it's just that puppies don't listen to their mother any better than little boys do.  Whatever the lesson/moral, this book is adorable because of Tenggren's artwork.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book 240: Greetings from Nowhere

Greetings from Nowhere, by Barbara O'Connor, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008.

Greetings from Nowhere is about four main characters, five if you count the motel, which I would.  Every character has his or her own story, and, of course, the stories will overlap during the course of the book.

There is something so very sweet about Barbara O'Connor's characters.  On the surface, they seem simple, lacking complexity and perhaps even facile, but that is only because she does not write down every word of their stories.  She leaves it to the readers to fill in the framework of the characters' story, and, so, no two people will ever read this book the same way.  In a way, the reader becomes part of the book.  If the reader chooses to skim this book, the characters may never take on life beyond these two hundred or so pages.  If the reader, instead, tries to relate to the characters, tries to see the world from the characters' point of view, then the characters will gain depth and complexity and even immortality.

It doesn't take me long to read a Barbara O'Connor -- three or four hours, maybe -- but her characters will stay with me for a very long time.

A writer with a light touch should not be mistaken for a light-weight writer.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book 239: May Finds a Way

May Finds a Way:  Peril in Paris, by K.C.  Frantzen, Rushjoy Press 2012.

This book is the second in the K9 Spy series, and this book is even stronger than the first.

It took me a chapter or two to fall in with "dog-speak", but I am pretty fluent in "cat-speak", even if the cat is a "Chat Parisien".  Once I caught on, though, the story was very enjoyable.

In this book, May hits the ground running, and then she leaves the ground, and then she's off running again.  I wouldn't be giving anything away if I told you that May ends up in Paris, since "Peril in Paris" is part of the title.  Paris is probably my favorite city; I even love the seedy, dark underbelly, but I have not seen all the sights that May saw in this book.

Along the way, May helps, and is helped, and makes friends.  Most of the friendships I thoroughly approved; one seemed a little odd and forced, but maybe that's how it is between dogs and insects.

The near-conclusion of this book struck a wrong chord for me.  There is a pivotal scene where I would have expected more remorse and sympathy from a sweet and intelligent dog like May.  I'm also not sure how much of this book the targeted audience (Middle Grade) would fully understand.  My preferred genre is Thrillers/Mysteries, and some of espionage and intrigue lost me for a while.  Even so, this book was flat-out fun.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book 238: Bedtime Stories

Bedtime Stories, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, Little Golden Books, 1942.

Recently I've been on a Little Golden Books kick and a Gustaf Tenggren kick -- it is really great when my kicks coincide.

There are three "Once upon a time" tales in Bedtime Stories:  Little Red Riding Hood, The Gingerbread Man, and Chicken Little.  Interestingly, the villains are a wolf and two foxes -- poor canines, always get a bad rap.  These classics are all wrapped in the one of the best children's book covers ever.

The stories are competently told, and interspersed with the delectable artwork by Tenggren; artwork that is almost as luscious as the front cover.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Book 237: Country Tied

Country Tied, by Robyn Buttars, Country Stories, 2008.  Young Adult.  Christian. 

I didn’t actually buy this book; I was given this book in exchange for a fair review.

I had a really hard time getting into this book at first.  My brain kept chanting the mantra "Show, don't tell.  Show, don't tell".  But then, about halfway through this book, something wonderful happened -- and I don't just mean the birth of the calf, although that was wonderful -- a spark of life entered this book.  Suddenly, some of the characters seemed so much more fleshed out.  Suddenly, the story became interesting.  Suddenly, I was engaged and actually cared about what happened to some of the characters in this book.

It took me about four hours to read the first of the book, because I had to keep re-reading passages to understand what was happening.  Major event only merited a sentence or a very brief paragraph.  And then two months or more were gone.  The characters and the events kept blurring together. 

It only took me two hours to finish the book after the calf-birthing scene.  And I actually cared about the protagonist and her decisions.  There were still some flawed passages in the second half, but the difference was remarkable and quite staggering. 

There is an entire cast of characters from the first half that are left hanging like limp marionettes at the end of the story.  I would have either cut those strings, or reanimated them by bringing them back in the concluding chapters.

I once read that you should always begin your book on the third chapter.  Whether that is literal or figurative, that seems like very good advice. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Book 236: Oh My, Pumpkin Pie!

Oh My, Pumpkin Pie!, written by Charles Ghigna, illustrated by Kenneth Spengler, Random House 2005.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

It is always a delight to read a poem by Charles Ghigna, no matter what the context.  But a poem in Easy Reader form, about pumpkins, and read in mid-October?  That is enchanting.

This poem is about pumpkins, so, as expected, Hallowe'en makes an appearance, but this is not a poem about Hallowe'en.  It is perfect for reading now, almost three weeks before Hallowe'en, and it will be perfect for reading well into November.  Unlike most Easy Reader books, Ghigna wrote a poem suited for young readers; he did not write an Easy Reader book in forced verse.  There is a difference:  one is poetry, the other is doggerel.

Kenneth Spengler's illustrations are perfectly suited for the text.  They convey so much joy and delight that they make me want to make a pumpkin pie, or pumpkin bread, or pumpkin cookies.