Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book 322: Life Doesn't Frighten Me

Life Doesn't Frighten Me, poem by Maya Angelou, artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1996.

Right after I saw the movie Basquiat I found this book.  Admittedly, I originally watched the movie for Bowie as Warhol and Gary Oldman as Schnabel, but by the end of the movie, I was completely entranced by Basquiat.

I had read a few of Maya Angelou's poems before, but not this one.  The beautiful, eloquent poetry and the harsh, fascinating artwork at first seemed like a strange combination.  My first reaction was:  Life doesn't frighten me, but this book does.  And, yet, somehow that combination does work.  It is both jarring and weirdly comforting.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Book 321: The Happy Hocky Family

The Happy Hocky Family, by Lane Smith, Viking, 1993.

I love this book so much, I can't believe I haven't reviewed it until now.  Making up for that oversight right now.

I have owned this book since 1993, when I was unmarried and not even thinking about having kids or becoming a children's librarian.  I bought several copies of this book and gave them out to my adult friends as gifts.  About half of my friends thought the book was great; the other half just thought I was really weird.

I love every little vignette in this book, but my absolute favorite is, and always has been, The Coat Story.  It is such a brilliant and simple study in optimism.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book 320: I'm a Monster Truck

I'm a Monster Truck, by Dennis Shealy, illustrated by Bob Staake, Little Golden Books, 2011.

I am NOT a monster truck person.  School bus races aside, demolition derbies and monster truck rallies are not my idea of fun.  I'm also not a five-year-old boy.  But I do have a five-year-old boy.  And diesel fuel seems to run through the veins of five-year-old boys.

Dennis Shealy did a better job with the writing of I'm a Monster Truck than he did with a I'm a Truck.  The writing is shorter and tighter, and more action-packed and less descriptive.  Descriptive writing is fine in chapter books, but for picture books, especially picture books that are "geared" for boys, descriptive writing slows down the pace of the book.  And, if you have an exceptional illustrator, descriptive writing is redundant.

Bob Staake is an exceptional illustrator.  I'm not a monster truck person, but I find the bright red snaggletoothed Mudenstein (and the cats in the audience) utterly charming.  And my five-year-old son finds Mudenstein utterly irresistible.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Book 319: Here, There Be Dragons

Here, There Be Dragons, by James Artimus Owen, Simon & Schuster, 2006.

By the time I had read the first third of this book, I began formulating an equation in my head to describe the story.  I had to adjust my proportions slightly as I read further, but I was delighted to find that by the time I had read the last page, my equation was justified.

Here is my equation:  This book, text and illustrations, is two parts C.S. Lewis; two parts Jules Verne; two parts mythology (all mythology); one part H.G. Wells; one part T.H. White; one part Tolkien; and one part Victorian fairy tales and fiction (which would include George MacDonald, J. M. Barrie, Conan Doyle, Dickens, Arthur Rackham and the PreRaphaelites).  And all tied together with humor and a fresh and unique voice.

Other readers might adjust their numbers, and probably with their own personal bias.  But no matter how the math is done, the parts should add up to a perfect 10.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book 318: The Wonderful O

The Wonderful O, by James Thurber, illustrated by Marc Simont, The New York Review Books, 1957.

This is not Thurber's best work; that would be Many Moons, and followed closely by The 13 Clocks, but this is still Thurber's work, illustrated by Marc Simont, and, therefore, it is still wonderful.

The beginning of the book is fun -- Pirate Black's mother got stuck in a porthole, so now Pirate Black hates Os and decides to banish them.

And the ending is great -- There are four O words to always remember:  Hope, Love, Valor and FREEDOM.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book 317: Splat the Cat, Good Night, Sleep Tight

Splat the Cat, Good Night, Sleep Tight, written by Rob Scotton, illustrated by Robert Ebertz, HarperCollins 2011.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

This one is not my favorite Splat the Cat book.  The writing and the overall story are not as strong (or as funny) as some of the other ones.

The illustrations, however, are still flat-out perfection.  Any humor missing in the text can be found in the artwork.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book 316: The Sailor Dog

The Sailor Dog, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams, Little Golden Books, 1953.

How can a Little Golden Book that was written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Garth Williams be anything less than perfect?

Margaret Wise Brown wrote poetry -- not the forced rhythm, attempted rhyming couplets (or quatrains) that so often results in doggerel poetry -- not necessarily with a rhyme at all, but it was poetry none-the-less.  Her writing, for the most part, should be read out loud and savored.

I grew up with Garth Williams' illustrations.  From the time I was about six, we had all the "Little House" books in our house, and I devoured them.  His work shaped the way I thought about illustrations.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Book 315: Princess Matilda

Princess Matilda, by Eva Montanari, Paragon Books 2010.

I picked up this book on a whim.  This is not usually a good practice for me.

There is a lot to like about this book.  Matilda has a wonderful imagination and loves books.  There is also a lot to not like about this book.

Not only am I fine when the protagonist is not perfect, I usually prefer it.  However, the underlying tone of the text slips from emotional to bratty,  Bratty I do not like.  The tone could be an error in the translation, but it does affect the entire book.

The story itself is a bit weak; it does rely heavily on the illustrations, which might have worked better if I liked the illustrations more.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Book 314: The First Pup

The First Pup, by Bob Staake, Fetwel and Friends Books, 2010.

This is an extremely well told story of how the first family ended up with a first pup.

The text is perfect, but the illustrations are phenomenal.  Bo is so adorably drawn, I actually thought about getting another dog for a second.