Archive for the ‘Picture Book Spotlight’ Category
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009. Review copy received from publisher.
Read to: Huck.
Gorgeous art in this sweetly captivating tale of a boy who, wandering the sterile streets of a bleak city, finds a little outpost of thriving weeds and wildflowers on an abandoned elevated rail track. He begins quietly tending the green and growing things, and his found garden begins to spread, gradually transforming the city—and its people.
We’ve loved every Peter Brown book that has walked through our doors, and this was no exception. It’s the art that makes it magical, the wave of vibrant green creeping across the city. Makes a lovely companion to an older picture book that has long been a favorite here: This Is Your Garden by Maggie Smith (now out of print, alas, but available used).
Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn. Clarion Books, to be published Sept. 15, 2105. Advanced review copy received from publisher via Netgalley. Read by: me.
Middle-grade horror story about a (formerly) wealthy Connecticut family who moves into an old West Virginia house near a haunted cabin in the woods. Every fifty years an evil, ancient ghost—known locally as Auntie—kidnaps and ensorcels a young girl. The main character is Daniel, a 13-year-0ld boy who doesn’t believe the wild tales he hears from kids at school—until his little sister goes missing. A suitably creepy tale which will appeal to readers of Vivian Vande Velde’s Stolen.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. HarperTrophy. My copy: purchased with my employee discount at the children’s bookstore I worked at during grad school—with a dream in my heart of one day having children to read it to. Read to: Huck and Rilla (chapters 1-4).
After we finished Winnie-the-Pooh, my youngests picked this for their next read-aloud. Great joy is mine because they are the perfect ages (six and nine), just absolutely perfect.
*In related news, I need to add another row to my Rillabooks post. Conversations ensuing its publication resulted in the addition of four more books to her already overstuffed shelf:
Charlotte’s Web (which it turns out she didn’t remember hearing before—she was probably pretty little last time it came around);
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (because OBVIOUSLY, and what was I thinking, leaving it off?);
The Mysterious Benedict Society (which I had thought to save for another year or two, but I am informed I was mistaken); and
The Two Princesses of Bamarre (whose appearance in a photo of books that almost-but-didn’t-quite make the original list sparked a flurry of happy reminiscences among Jane, her 21-year-old cousin, and Alice’s oldest daughter, aged 22, causing me to reconsider its omission).
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. Harcourt Young Classics. My copy purchased when Jane was about eight years old. Read to: Rilla.
This was Rilla’s first read-aloud pick from the Rillabook shelf. She was quite keen to have me read it just to her (no brothers involved). She giggled mightily over the meet-cute of Mr. and Mrs. Pye (with Jane popping in to shriek over the startling fact—which went over her head at age eight—that Mrs. Pye was just seventeen when she married. We began this book the day after Rose’s seventeenth birthday, which put it into stark perspective). Methinks Rilla and I will have fun with this. I’m not sure I’ve read it aloud since that first time (gulp) twelve years ago.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. Read to: Huck and Rilla. Rose’s copy, purchased some years ago to replace her first copy, which was read to tatters. Read to: Huck and Rilla.
Monday and Friday are our Greek Myths days. This week’s selections were about Hera and Io, and Hephaestus and Aphrodite.
The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book by Bob Hartman. Lion Children’s Books. Our copy, purchased for Beanie at age four. Read to: Huck and Rilla.
Tuesday and Thursday are folk and fairy tale days.* This week, they picked “Tortoise Brings Food: A Story from Africa.” A grumble with this otherwise charming book: that nonspecific from Africa. The other stories are “from Greece,” England, Finland, Puerto Rica, Australia, Wales, Japan, and so on. How about “from Kenya” or Ethiopia or Nigeria? Native American stories get a similarly vague treatment: “from North America.” I’d like a word with this book’s editor. But the stories themselves are amiably written and a good size for reading aloud.
*Any day is a great day for a fairy tale or Greek myth. I just assign them days in my head to ensure that I make the time. The kids don’t know about it.
Among the Dolls by William Sleator. Knopf Books for Young Readers. An old copy I brought home from work. Read by: Rilla.
Me: So how do you like it so far?
Rilla, emphatically: I DON’T.
Me: Too scary?
Rilla: It’s terrible! She’s trapped in the dollhouse and they’re being mean to her AND HER MOTHER WALKED RIGHT BY WITHOUT EVEN HEARING HER.
Me: Are you going to keep reading?
Rilla: ::doesn’t hear me, is already immersed again::
Batman Adventures: Rogues Gallery by the devastatingly handsome Scott Peterson (oh, fine, and Dan Slott and Ty Templeton too). Read by: Wonderboy.
This is a digest-sized compilation of several Batman Adventures stories. The Batman Adventures and Gotham Adventures comics of the 90s were aimed at kids, unlike most Batman comics. It’s nice to see them a book-sized edition that can survive on a library shelf.
Huck enjoyed this collection too, and it only took him five times through to notice that his daddy was listed as an author.
The Story of the World, Volume 4: The Modern Ages by Susan Wise Bauer. “The Boxer Rebellion” chapter. Read aloud to: Rose and Beanie.
While aimed at slightly younger readers, I find the Bauer series to be useful in setting the stage for more advanced studies. We’re doing the 20th century this year, my teens and I.
The Usborne History of the Twentieth Century. Read/explored with: Rose and Beanie. Again, for context. Mostly we just pored over the overview page at the start of the century. We’d read about Teddy Roosevelt last week in Landmark History of the American People, and this week we found a few videos about him.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang. First Second Books. Copies received from publisher. Read by: me. On deck for Rose this week. Bean has already read them.
Gene is a friend of ours whom we see far too seldom (mainly at SDCC). He is spectacularly talented, but no one on the internet needs me to tell them that. I’d been meaning to read Boxers & Saints, his graphic novel duo about the Boxer Rebellion—told from two different points of view, thus the two books—since the day they were announced. Reaching this time period in my teen’s history studies meant now was the perfect time. Deeply absorbing, unsettling, moving, and educational. I always appreciate Gene’s thoughtful exploration of people’s motivations, and the fearless way he unpacks his characters flaws along with their strengths. Beautiful, beautiful books. Highly recommended.
Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Audiobook. Listened to by: Rilla and me.
The current pick for our Saturday night sketchbook date. After all the Roald Dahl we enjoyed all summer, this Streatfeild gem got off to a bit of a slow start for Rilla, but she’s well and truly hooked now. Hilary is about to perform her Dulcie-Pulsie dance in the talent competition. Pulses racing. Delicious.
The Best of H.P. Lovecraft. Scott’s copy. Read by: Rose.
Her first encounter with his work. I haven’t heard her reaction yet—looking forward to it.
An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. My old copy. Read by: Beanie. (And I need to revisit it this week.)
A friend of hers is reading it for her homeschool program, so we and some other chums have joined in. We’ll be discussing it soon. I’d better revisit it right quick!
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Kindle copy. Read by: me.
Woolf is one of my gaps, which is odd when I think of it—she’s so right for me. I’m sure we did A Room of One’s Own in women’s lit, but somehow she never appeared on a syllabus after that. I’ve been determined to rectify this glaring omission and this summer I have finally found the time. And OH MY. She’s just…she…I want to quote everything. Her prose—I mean, I knew that about her. But only from the outside. Now I’m inside and I can barely speak. I’ve highlighted so many passages, it’s a bit ridiculous. I’ll pull some quotes into a commonplace book when I can.
Scott is rereading Sandman, and I couldn’t begin to tell you what my older girls are reading these days—I can only keep up with so much. Rose got a bunch of T.A. Barron’s Merlin novels for her birthday, I know that. (Since I wrapped them.) 😉 Beanie pops up with interesting tidbits gleaned from National Geographic (her favorite magazine). Jane was toiling through some Kant in preparation for a philosophy class she’ll take at school this year. I’ve also seen some Maggie Stiefvater in her library pile.
Do you know, I thought this would be a quick and easy post? I’d just dash off a list of things read around the house this past week. Turns out I am delusional. But it was fun!
I’m working on the big Huck-book companion to my Rillabooks post, but, well, you can fit a LOT of picture books on a shelf, see? So when I went around the house pulling things for Huck, I wound up with a mammoth amount of books. And of course we’re reading them faster than I can get them catalogued. That Rilla post took me an entire weekend and I expect this one will be no different. In the meantime, here’s a peek at things Huck has particularly enjoyed this week.
Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal.
This one landed on our doorstep recently from Chronicle for review. Huck claimed it right out of the package. The concept has fascinated both him and Rilla; it has been requested three times this week. “In one lifetime, this spider will spin 1 papery egg sac.” “In one lifetime, this caribou will grow and shed 10 sets of antlers.”—and on it goes, through many species and an ever-increasing, rather incredible range of numbers. (One seahorse! One THOUSAND babies! And here I thought I had a big family.)
I really love the art—bold yet simple colors against a black background. And you know we are suckers for good nature art around here.
Dinosaur Dinner (With a Slice of Alligator Pie): Favorite Poems by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Debbie Tilley.
Looks like this one has gone out of print, more’s the pity. But there are used copies to be found, or maybe you’ll luck out and your library will have it. A giggle-inducing collection of nonsense poetry (arguably the best kind). I pulled this one out yesterday when a certain someone needed lifting out of a grumpy mood. I expected to read a sampling of the poems, but Huck begged for the whole book. No arm-twisting required.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.
Sure, Rilla has heard this one so many times she knows it by heart. But somehow Huck had altogether missed it. This grievous oversight had to be rectified posthaste. He loved it, of course. Kept telling me to slow down so he could study the pictures. Especially “and frowned at the bad.” And that tiger in the zoo, of course. Now, I know no one on the planet needs my recommendation of a book so tried-and-true, but I include it here as a reminder (much-needed in this household) to make sure the smallest fry don’t miss out on all the gems you read one thousand times to older siblings. (Rilla very nearly missed Miss Rumphius this way!)
The Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature. I thought for sure I’d written about this one at length before. Must have been on a message board, because all I found in the archives was this—from March, 2005! (Oh my heavens.)
Too chilly to stay long. Back inside, the 9yo copied out a passage from Mossflower (a la Bravewriter) while the 6yo practiced piano and I read to the 4yo. She is loving the Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Nature. Also the Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book (which we never read at bedtime.)
Oh, you guys. Ten years later, those little girls are now so OLD. And here I am still reading the same books to my younger set. Lion Storyteller is on Huck’s shelf this very minute and is slated for my big post. And the paragraph right above the one quoted here, I talk about “our current read-aloud, Ginger Pye.” When we conferred to select a new read-aloud today, that very book was Rilla’s first choice—until she realized I meant a book to read to both her and Huck. For some reason (this comes up now and then) she has zoomed in on Ginger Pye as a book she wants me all to herself for. I grok that impulse. One-on-one time is important when you’re one of six.
(Another tidbit from that old post: I’m giggling at the bit about Jane “settling in to watch a History Channel show about gasoline.” As one does.)
But back to the Berenstains. This Big Book of Science and Nature is tremendously appealing to the four-to-seven crowd (judging by my kids). It explores seasons and nature in an almanac style and is full of the interesting facts. I pulled it out for Huck this morning and he fell into it immediately. I thought I was going to be reading it to him—or with him, at least—but he was so instantly and deeply absorbed that I wound up doing something else. Glad this one is still intact (and a bit surprised, given all the attention it has received over the years).
All right. Back to Giant List-Making.
Huck came to me with How to Read a Story by Kate Messner and Mark Siegel. “Mommy, will you be my reading buddy?” (That’s Step 2 in the book.) Why of course I will!
He starts reading me the book. And then, halfway through, only a few pages after the sneaky video I took below, he…stopped reading out loud. Got sucked into the story and read silently for the first time. Thanks to this charming picture book, I got to be there for the moment of transition. It was magical. And yes, since he’s my youngest, a little bittersweet–the last one to cross the bridge to solo, silent immersion. But only a little bittersweet. Mostly just magical.
It’s been a while since I did a big fat Rillabooks post. The books are piling up! Literally and figuratively. When I want to blog about a book, I leave it out after we’ve read it. This means:
1) There are stacks of books on every flat surface of this house; and
2) We keep reading those books over and over, because they’re out where we can see them.
Which is fine, because I wouldn’t have had the urge to blog about the book in the first place if it weren’t in some way delightful.
Another thing that’s happening a lot lately is that Huck collects favorite picture books to read in his bed at night. I could probably skip writing about them and just post a picture of his headboard every morning. No stronger recommendation for a children’s book than being made part of a five-year-old’s hoard, is there?
But here, I’ll do a proper post. Kortney, consider this my thank-you note for that lovely write-up the other day.
Mix It Up by Hervé Tullet. Here’s a book that beckons a child in and invites him to touch and “mix” blobs of color on the page. Drag some red into the yellow blob, and when you turn the page, naturally you’ve got orange. What interested me is how completely Huck entered into the conceit, touching and swirling those painted spots on the page just as if he were playing an iPad game. “Like this?”—tentatively at first, touching the dot as instructed, and then turning the page and crowing in glee at the change. He engaged just as thoroughly as if it were an app, red + yellow magically turning to orange under his finger. This thrills me, I have to say—the willingness to enter into a game of make-believe with a book when so much in his world trains him to expect animations for every cause-and-effect. The book is full of fun, with dots of color skittering across the page as if alive. Gorgeously designed, too: big bold colors against clean white space. We also enjoyed Tullet’s Press Here which similarly invites interaction. At five, Huck seems to be exactly the right age for these books. We’ve read Mix It Up together several times but most often he carts it away to his bed to enjoy solo.
(You’ll want your watercolors handy after you read this book. Or do as we did and whip up a quick batch of play dough: 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup salt, 1 cup water [add slowly; you may not need all of it]. Knead until it isn’t sticky. I go sparingly on the water and leave a lot of loose flour in the mixing bowl for the kids to rub their hands in before I start handing out lumps of dough. Then, for each lump, a drop of food coloring. They love working it in, watching it marble its way through the blank dough. After the colors are well mixed, I like to add a tiny drop of lavender or cinnamon oil, or a bit of vanilla extract. The smells make them so happy! “I’m probably going to play with this for one or three hours,” Huck informed me when I got him set up the other day—after I’d remembered such a cheap and easy cure for listlessness existed in the world. Why do I forget about this for months at a time? A batch will last in the fridge for about a week. Rilla can measure and mix it by herself. Very handy when, say, an older sister is wrangling with Algebra 2 and needs mom’s attention for a while.)
Borreguita and the Coyote by Verna Aardema, illustrations by Petra Mathers—over and over and over again! Beloved by Rilla too (and all her older siblings before her). Utterly satisfying rendition of a Mexican folk tale in which a clever little sheep outwits, repeatedly, with comic effect, a coyote intent on eating her for dinner. Might I recommend reading this one while lying down so that all of you can stick your legs in the air when you get to the part about Borreguita “holding up” the mountain.
Creepy Castle by John S. Goodall. Out of print but if you can track one down you’re in luck. All six of my kids have loved this book to pieces. No! Not to pieces, fortunately! It’s got flaps inside, each spread flipping to become a new picture. An almost wordless book, which means the kids and I get to narrate the adventure as the two hero mice make their way through a seemingly deserted castle. There’s a sinister fellow hiding in the bushes; he locks them in a scary room with a dragon guarding the stairs, but they climb out the window and splash into the moat. My littles especially like the moment when the villain gets his comeuppance at the end. I can’t count how many dozens of times I have read this little book. They never seem to get tired of it.
Another book back in circulation these days is Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime. (Sniffle: two-year-old Huck in that post.)
Meanwhile, I’m making my way through the leeeeennnngggggthy list of Cybils YA nominees and will have some to recommend in a post coming soonish.
Borreguita and the Coyote, Creepy Castle, Herve Tullet, John S. Goodall, Mix It Up, Petra Mathers, Picture Book Spotlight, picture books, play dough recipe, Rillabooks, Verna Aardema
Here’s a book I thought I’d blogged about before, but it seems I only mentioned it briefly.
by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf.
We first read this absolute gem of a picture book last year during the CYBILs. Fell so utterly in love with it—the lot of us—that a library copy wouldn’t do; we had to have our own. Huck and Rilla were overjoyed when I pulled it out this morning. Sophie’s instant bond with a butternut squash is utterly believable, and not just because Huck formed a similar attachment once upon a time. “Bernice” becomes Sophie’s best friend and closest confidant, all through a bright and beautiful autumn. But as winter approaches, Bernice begins to get a bit squishy about the edges. Sophie’s parents make gentle attempts to convince Sophie it’s time to let her friend go, but since their suggestions involve treating the squash like, you know, a squash, Sophie’s having none of it. Her own solution is sweet and heartwarming, and it makes my kids sigh that contented sigh that means everything has come out exactly right.
It is Wednesday, isn’t it? I’m off kilter somehow.
Every now and then one of my littles will shout “ELIZABETH!”—I would say ‘for no apparent reason,’ because it’s always a non sequitur, but there is a reason and it’s very apparent: what they mean is “I want to read My Name Is Elizabeth!“ Elizabeth doesn’t like being called Lizzie, Liz, Beth, or Betsy, and although my two youngest children have short names that don’t lend themselves to nicknaming, they wholly sympathize with Elizabeth’s plight, and approve of her insistence on proper nomenclature.
(They also approve—heartily—of the exception she makes for her little brother.)
Whenever this book is rediscovered, I seem to be called upon to read it several times a day for a week or so. This has been one of those weeks. I’m not complaining.
Just finished e. lockhart’s We Were Liars. Utterly unsettling. I mean that in a good way. More on it later.
And a heads-up for you.
I got an email from FutureLearn about this upcoming course—Literature of the English Country House—and I honest-to-God squealed.
We’ll be using a wide range of texts spanning the history of literature from Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ to Oscar Wilde’s ‘Canterville Ghost’. Along the way we will examine sections from a play by Shakespeare, poetry by Margaret Cavendish, and brief passages from novels by Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. We will even look at fiction by a country house resident Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Starts June 2. Thought you might like to know.
Here’s a little moment in time. Right after I read The Little Fur Family to Huck (for the first time!) the other day, he wanted to read it himself. This is one of my favorite picture books to read with very young kids, and I can’t imagine how it slipped past Huck until now—I found this copy of the book at the bottom of a box of toys earlier in the week. Of course the very best edition is the tiny one with the faux-fur cover. It’s around here somewhere, but I don’t recall seeing it in ages. It’s probably under a bed.
Anyway, when I grabbed my boy for the read-aloud, he was reluctant to listen, as he very often is right at the beginning. And then, as nearly always happens, before I finish the first page, he’s hooked. It went double this time around. He fell hard for the little fur child in the wild, wild wood, like so many before him.
I caught a good chunk of his reading on video. There’s background noise from his big sisters and brother, but you can hear him pretty well. I love watching the leaps kids make at this age—the substitutions where they think they see where the word is going and plug in one they know, like his “fun children” for “fur child” and “mom” for “mother.”
I don’t know if I caught this stage on video with any of the other kids. I have a pretty young Rilla reading an Ariel speech from The Tempest—you can’t hear much in the recording but it melts me to see the confidence with which she attacks some quite challenging text—but nothing, as far as I can recall, of the others at Huck’s stage. I’m glad I captured this much. Those sneezes!
I think I mentioned before that I’m trying to take a picture of all our readalouds—an easier way to record the books than writing them down.
These are a few of our recent lineups. All out of order, but the dates don’t matter, do they?
Rilla is so in love with the Post-Impressionists right now. I kept saying, We need to go to the library to get the Katie books, and then a bunch of things slid off a shelf and there was this one right on top. I’d forgotten we owned a copy!
The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher fills me with all kinds of warm, wistful feelings. One of my first-ever purchases from Chinaberry, I believe, way back in the day. How many hundreds of times have I pored over its pictures with a wonder-eyed little one?
Okay, this one—a stunner. At the Same Moment, Around the World. Just what it sounds like: one moment in time, chronicled time zone by time zone, country by country, in beautiful illustrations full of cheer and heart, and rich in visual detail. We’re in love. (It doesn’t come out until March; this is a review copy.)
Cat Says Meow is charming, too, a bit of typographical fun that tickled Rilla’s funnybone especially.
Linnea is another one that carries me back to earlier days—in this case, before I even had children. I bought my copy of Windowsill Garden with my employee discount at the children’s bookstore where I worked during grad school. I grew millions of houseplants in those days, and Linnea was a girl after my own heart.
And these two, oh how beloved. Rilla and I read a chapter of each, every day (or nearly so). She was skeptical about Milly-Molly-Mandy at first—the cover didn’t do much for her—but I started reading the first chapter and as I suspected, she was swept right up by the magic of MMM holding all those separate errands in her head. And then chapter two, when Milly-Molly-Mandy has to decide how to spend a penny? I’m not being the slightest bit ironic: this is seriously captivating stuff. Every day I’m so excited when it’s time to curl up for our double-header.
Gonna try, at least.
Failed utterly last year at keeping up my Rillabooks log. Of course, it’s really a Rilla-and-Huck-and-sometimes-Wonderboy log, which makes the keeping-up all the harder.
My strategy this year is to snap a picture each day after we’ve finished reading.
One thing I like about this method is that I can track frequently requested rereads alongside newer books. It’s been fun to see a book appearing two or three days in a row as it moves into the Favorites position and then is eventually superceded by a new charmer.
I’m posting the pics on Instagram, when I remember, tagged “today’s #readalouds.”
A few remarks:
Cookie the Walker. They love this book. If I’d thought of the photo idea sooner, it would have appeared in about ten in a row. I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t have expected it to spark such an obsession—but it’s on its way to Scoopy the Steam Shovel territory, if you know what I mean. Twice now I’ve taken it back to the library, but the librarians keep shelving all my returns on the display rack, so every other time we go, Huck grabs it again.
But oh you guys, if you haven’t checked out Sophie’s Squash yet, do. It was one of our Cybils finalists—the whole darn judging panel was crazy about it. It’s delightful. Sophie adopts a butternut squash as her baby and best friend, and, well, to say people in my house can relate to that notion is an understatement.
(Sophie’s a more devoted companion than my guy was.) 😉