Friday, September 21, 2012

Library Round-up #7

More mini-reviews of our recent borrowings.

Picture Books

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs as retold by Mo Willems.  As soon as I got home with this book I handed it to, nope, not my kids, but my husband.  I knew he'd appreciate the parodic, absurdist, sarcastic humor.  And he did.  A few days later I read it to my girls and, not surprisingly, they didn't really get it.  It went over my 4-year-old's head completely.  My seven-year-old got that there were jokes and got that the sarcastic parts meant exactly their opposites, but didn't understand why that should be funny.  This is, in my opinion, one of those picture books that is really meant for grown-ups or older children, both because of the humor and because of the fact that it refers to other literature.  Willems has the luxury of being so popular that parents are going to buy this either not realizing that it's not meant for (young) kids or not caring.  It is, however, perfect for an older class's unit on fairy tales.

Woof Meow Tweet-Tweet by Cecile Boyer.  Another picture book for grown-ups, this time for those interested in design.  In each place where you would expect to find a picture of an animal, you find the word that represents the sound the animal makes.  The book is beautiful but has no plot, being called halfway through (and rightfully so from a story-oriented perspective) by my 4-year-old, "boring."

Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten! by Hyewon Yum.  This book about a boy's first day of kindergarten is really about the truth that the parents are often more anxious about this big day than the new student.  But while the concept is sweet, the execution, starting with the title, lacks any subtlety.  A nice but not necessary addition to the first-day-of-kindergarten canon.

 The Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer.  This book is just impossible to read.  With words and letters that fly in all directions over the page it was very frustrating to read; so much so, in fact, that there is actually a guide at the end of the books, which reprints the text of each page in usual left-to-right fashion.  Of course, flipping to the back after each page is not practical.  Finally, I found the blunt message about the power of words to bring peace, love and understanding sappy as well.  Tangent: The format made me think of the new Haggadah edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I was excited to check out and then so disappointed with - with footnotes and commentary placed perpendicular to the main text, the book is unwieldy under even the best of circumstances, which being at a table full of nice china and ritual items certainly is not.

Middle Grade Fiction

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead.  Less intricately plotted than her amazing When You Reach Me, Liar and Spy is still a fun, enjoyable read with a believable narrator in Georges (the "s" is silent).  I guessed one of the twists but not the other.  A city child myself, I especially like Ms. Stead's depictions of city life in both books.  And as a parent, I appreciate the good relationships her protagonists have with theirs.  A water tower on top of the building would have made the great cover perfect.

Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman.  Another middle-grade book about identity and fitting in, popular themes for this age group.  Gabe, desperate to impress his about-to-be-stepbrother Zach, tries to keep the true nature of his summer camp (it's a gifted enrichment program) a secret.  The format, in which lists Gabe makes are interspersed throughout the narrative, is funny and appealing.  One side itemizes the cool, non-nerdy things Gabe does (e.g. karaoke); the other lists the nerdy aspects of each (e.g. the song Gabe sang was a list of the countries of the world... in alphabetical order!).  Although the themes are addressed overtly, I'm starting to realize that the middle-grade audience may not be quite ready for subtlety... or at least that books which address these themes overtly have a place.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.  A spunky heroine, quirky Southerners, a small town - this sounds like books you've read before, right?  Here the ingredients add up... if not to something new exactly, to something very enjoyable. The lesson that your family is comprised of those you love you, and whom you love, is a nice one.  Some heavier themes, including domestic abuse, not to mention kidnapping and murder, make this a book for the older end of the middle-grade audience.

What books have you checked out from the library recently?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Searching by Illustrator

I came to children's books because of the stories, but I stayed because of the pictures.  As I've become more interested in the world of children's literature, I've discovered more and more illustrators whose art is just... beautiful, unique and compelling.

We all know that fiction books are organized by the last name of the author, which leads us to search for books that way.  My 7-year-old is frequently writes on her reading responses to books "I would like to read another book by this author." or something else along those lines, but she never mentions the illustrator, despite her interest in art.  Luckily, it is easy to search for books by illustrator these days (sadly, I can't remember if you could do so with the card catalogs of yore). 

I've taken to searching for books by illustrator.  Admittedly, the results are mixed when you judge the books in their entirety.  But it's worth it to see more work by some of my favorite illustrators.

Here are a few:

Tom Slaughter.  I discovered him in Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan Shea and immediately recognized his primary-colored, strong artwork when I saw it again.  Unfortunately for us, most of us his books (generally collaborations with Marthe Jocelyn) are truly "baby" concept books (numbers, over/under, animals, etc.), for which his illustrations are well-suited, but they are far too young for my daughters.  However, we were able to make a game out of Same Same with my not-quite-reading 4-year-old guessing what the items on each page had in common. 

Christine Davenier.  The first book we read illustrated by Davenier was Samantha on a Roll by Linda Ashman.  It prompted me to look up books by both of them, individually, as I haven't seen any other collaborations by this pair.  This one is still my favorite of both of theirs, but I also have a soft spot for Leon and Albertine, a funny barnyard romance illustrated and written by Davenier.  Although the text in other books she's illustrated is weaker, I still love her artwork.  Her style is warm, exuberant, joyous, and realistic and makes drawing look easy.

 Jan Ormerod.  Ms. Ormerod's wordless books, Sunshine and Moonlight, are two of my favorite wordless picture books.  Actually, they are two of my favorite picture books, with words or without, ever.  Her art in her other books never disappoints.  And strangely enough, she also illustrated a book by Linda Ashman, Mama's Day, a sweet tribute to the loving work mothers do every day.

Brian Wildsmith.  I had never heard of Brian Wildsmith until I began my search for different illustrated versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses (more on that... someday!).  My 7-year-old and I were both captivated by his vibrant, modern style, which stood out especially among the more traditional art that usually accompanied these classic poems.  He is also the author-illustrator of several stories perhaps best described as modern animal fables as well as an assortment of concept books (alphabet, animal, counting), and has illustrated several other works.  Again, these are not my favorites in terms of the stories, but the art is consistently stunning.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Final Tally

So my daughter diligently kept a reading log throughout the summer, in order to be inducted into her school's Reading Hall of Fame.  While I am opposed to reading logs, this one was merely a list of every book she read - she didn't have to count pages or minutes - and it is kind of nice to see what books she read this summer.  I have been keeping a similar list for myself using the NYPL's "completed" shelf feature.  In any case, the final tally, after 75 days of vacation is..............(drum roll)............. 85 books!  They vary widely in terms of length and difficulty but still, what a difference a year makes!  I'm kvelling.