Monday, November 28, 2011

Real Poems by Fictional Children

I'm embarrassed to admit that when I first picked up This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness, I wasn't sure if the children who'd allegedly written the poems were real or not!  The fact that the book was written and not edited by Joyce Sidman should have tipped me off, but I was a little slow on the uptake.  While I was a little disappointed to realize that the children poets of the book are all fictional, the poems themselves are wonderful.  A set of apology poems paired with responses (although, oddly and inconveniently, the apologies are responses are not on facing pages but all the apologies are in a section at the front of the book, followed by all the responses), the poems ring true.  Based on the famous William Carlos Williams poem of the title, the subjects range from dodgeball injuries to sibling rivalry, to parental neglect.  Some are sincerely apologetic; others are not.  And not all the offenders are forgiven.  My 6-year-old loved this book, as did I.  It would be great to read it with real kids and then challenge them to write their own apology and response poems. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Alphabet Books for All Ages

While I loved the accurately self-described "retro-modern" art of Paul Thurlby's Alphabet, I was a little surprised when both my children did as well.  Usually I think of alphabet books as being geared towards younger children or being so sophisticated that they are really for adults.  But this one appealed to my 3-year-old, just because of her love of letters (she is learning to write and loves figuring out what letter a given word starts with) and the illustrations.  We had borrowed it from the library and when she received it as a gift she exclaimed, "I love this book!"  Meanwhile, my 6-year-old really appreciated the visual puns.  In this book, as is typical for alphabet books, each letter is assigned a word (e.g., A is for Awesome, etc.) but then, in a unique stroke, the picture depicting that word also incorporates the shape of the letter itself.  When my 6-year-old grasped that the arms "catching" the ball were shaped like the letter C, her face registered understanding and delight.  My favorite is J for Jazz, with a saxophone in the shape of the letter J.

A few weeks ago, my mom handed me Animalphabet, published by the Metropolitan Museum and which she bought for $4 at the Strand who-knows-when.  Thanks, Mom!  Here the puns are verbal (and, befitting the title, animal-related) and matched with works from the museum's collection.  So K is for Kitty Litter and is paired with a Currier & Ives painting of a cat and her kittens, a group of donkeys is an Ass-embly, and C shows the emblem of Luke the Evangelist, or a Holy Cow.  While this is more of an alphabet book for adults, I love having it in my collection.

What is your favorite alphabet book?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Sounds of the City

Symphony City by Amy Martin is, to put an already-overused term to work again, visually stunning.  From the endpapers with overlapping circles of color  to the black-white-taupe-and-red first page to the spreads with tree branches outlined against brick buildings, every page is gorgeous.  She uses both line and color in bold, eye-grabbing ways as she tells the story of a lost little girl following the music she hears in the city, from musicians playing at the subway station to those practicing in their apartments.

The book opens with that little girl getting separated from her mother.  Her mother boards the subway and the little girl loses her grasp of her mother's hand and fails to get on the train with her. This scenario is probably one of my children's (and my) worst nightmares. If you are reading this to a sensitive city child, I'd expect, at a minimum, a lot of questions.

I think this book, like Frank Viva's Along a Long Road, another triumph of illustration, would be better if it were wordless.  I don't think the text adds all that much to the story and in some ways takes attention away from the illustrations.

Ultimately, though, this book is simply so beautiful to look at that it is worth picking up, despite my reservations.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How'd I Do?: Librarian for A Day... Or Two Hours

My daughter's public school library is run and staffed entirely by volunteers.  I work a two-hour shift once a week.  The job consists mostly of checking books in and out, shelving, and handling clerical tasks (pasting new bar codes on books, for example).  But every now and then a student comes in who really loves books and actually asks my advice.  One of them came in last week and again today.  When I first met her last week, she was looking for a book on John Adams because, "he's my favorite president."  Today this fourth grader, clearly a strong reader with lots of interests told me, "I'm just looking for a really good book.  Any recommendations?"  Browsing our (fairly limited) shelves, I suggested Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Doll's House by Rumer Godden, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Half Magic by Edward Eager and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  She ended up taking Anne of Green Gables and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (her own idea), both of which she was adamant about wanting to make sure were not "children's editions."  I assured her I would never give her a children's edition!  She spent so long making up her mind that her teacher sent another student from her class looking for her.  She made being a librarian for a few hours really fun!

With my oldest child only 6 and having only recently started reading middle-grade and YA fiction as an adult, I am still working on recommending books for this age group.  So, how'd I do?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Library Round-up #2

Once again a recent library haul yielded some longed-for books.  Here they are:

My Side of the Car by Kate Feiffer and illustrated by her father Jules Feiffer was one of those rarities that lived up to my expectations!  Based on a true incident that occurred between author and illustrator many years ago, Sadie (based on Kate) insists as she and her dad drive to the zoo, that it is not raining on her side of the car.  I love Sadie's stubbornness and willingness to stick to her story in the face of (very wet) reality ("people are putting on their sunglasses and going to zoos all over the world on my side of the car") and her dad's abundant patience.  Ultimately, the sun comes out to save the day.  The illustrations are perfect - Feiffer makes them look so easy to just dash off, with the pencil outlines visible, yet they are really the product of so much talent.  The pictures add to the text, not just depict it (note Sadie's change of clothes after she gets wet).  The brief dialogue between (actual) daughter and father at the end of the book discussing the real event the book is based on is entertaining and the author-illustrator photo on the book jacket showing the pair from 30 years or so (give or take) is a nice touch.  We all love this one.

Frank Viva's Along a Long Road, which follows a bicyclist on his trip on a yellow (not brick) road, fell short for me in terms of language and plot but the illustrations, which are the point, in my opinion, are unique and beautiful.  With a retro -seeming palate of black, gray, white, light blue, red and the orangey-yellow of the road (the texture of which is smooth and shiny, making it stand out even more), this is more a picture book for adults interested in design.  But my three-year-old said she liked it.  I think it would work better as a wordless book.

Hallie Durand's Mitchell's License, illustrated by Tony Fucile manages to make a full picture book out of a single joke: that three-year-old Mitchell "drives" the Daddy car to bed every night.  With lots of analogies to real elements of cars and driving, this might go over better with transportation-obsessed children.  I had to explain some of the jokes and references (putting the car in neutral, turning on the blinkers) to my city girls.

I couldn't decide how I felt about Nadia Shireen's Good Little Wolf, the second story about bloodthirsty predators I read this week (for the first, see my first Library Round-up).  I guess that's a throwback to the fairy tales of yore but these days it's a little jarring.  Here, especially, I found the ending shocking as the book first seemed to be a feel-good type of story: a good little wolf tries to become a big, bad wolf.  He thinks that he is failing but when a wild, fierce feeling overtakes him and he uses it for good, not evil, he realizes he can be a good little wolf after all.  I expected the book to end there.  But in a final twist, the good guy doesn't finish last.  I found this juxtaposition somewhat disjointed and wasn't sure it worked.  But the twist delighted my six-year-old who, after a few seconds of staring intently at the two-page spread, figured out what had happened (as in I Want My Hat Back, you have to read between the lines and/or pictures to understand the surprise ending).  For another take on the book, head on over to Playing by the Book.

What long-awaited books have you read lately?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A New Take on Noah and the Ark?

This past Shabbat, Jews all over the world read the story of Noah (and Hebrew school students made ark-related art projects - see below!).  There are many books (and songs)  retelling the story of the ark and the animals but almost none mention the women who were present - the wives of Noah and his sons.  In Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, at attempt is made at telling the story from Noah's wife Naamah's point of view.  While it's a great idea in theory, I found it lacking in execution.   The story follows Naamah, whose name according to some interpretations means great singer, as she sings the animals and people on board to sleep.  However, the book is unique in that it plays with a largely unknown (to me and probably you) form of Arab poetry. 

What is your favorite children's book about Noah?  How does it approach the story?  From a Jewish or Christian perspective?  Traditional or modern?