Well, doggone it. I was all set to begin today with a recommendation of Kate Banks’s Peter and the Talking Shoes, but it seems to be out of print. You can find a used copy, but that’s not so great for gift-giving, which was supposed to be the point of this series of posts. Well, track down a copy at your library for your own enjoyment. This is a really charming twist on the cumulative or round-robin tale like the old story about the old woman and the pig. Peter sets off in his new shoes to buy a loaf of bread, but he loses the money on the way to the bakery. Turns out the baker has lost the feather he uses to make his loaves light as a feather, and if Peter can replace the lost feather, the baker will give him the bread. Fortunately, Peter’s shoes used to belong to a farmer, so they know exactly where to go for a feather. But the farmer needs a button…and so it goes. Come to think of it, maybe this exactly the sort of book you ought to buy a used copy of…if your copy could talk, what marvels could it share about its previous owners?
*Note: some used copies are going for over a hundred bucks. Don’t do it! There are $3.95 copies out there too. Also, for the record, I would like to state that as a general rule I do not buy used copies of books by authors who are still living. I try to make sure those hardworking folks get the little bit of royalty they earn on the sale of a new copy. In this case, of course, this principle doesn’t apply, since the book is (stupidly) out of print. C’mon, Knopf, bring it back! And while you’re at it, I want It’s Not My Turn to Look for Grandma back in print too!
OK. Back to my list. Except I’ve spent so long ranting about out-of-print Peter this morning that my time is running out. So here’s a quick list, no commentary. (Oh just cool it on the sighs of relief!)
When Moon Fell Down by Linda Smith. A perfect picture book. I know, I know, I said no commentary. Humph.
But back to Little Bird—OH DRAT! I just discovered that this title too is out of print! Come on! Well, so much for the “what to buy your nephews and nieces for Christmas” theme. This has become a list of library treasures. Which is not a bad thing, just not what I was intending and also it’s really disappointing to see a good book go out of print. What I was going to say about Little Bird is that there’s a sequel, but the author’s name is different. Perhaps she got married between books. Anyway, my children have all adored this gentle hide-and-seek story. It’s Alfonse, Where Are You? by Linda Wikler. And (sigh) I see that it, too, is out of print. Hmm, I think these were all Dragonfly Books (a Knopf picture book imprint). I wonder if the imprint was scrapped after its editorial director moved to another publishing house. I’ll have to ask my pals at Knopf. JS, NH, are you reading?
Leaving picture books behind, here’s a beginning reader we are screamingly huge fans of: Newt, an I Can Read by Matt Novak. If it’s out of print too I really will scream. Except then I’ll wake up the rest of the house and since the bird clock is just now orioling six, that would be a really bad idea. Here goes, let’s pop over to Amazon to check…AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH! I don’t believe it. HarperCollins, seriously, what were you thinking? Beginning readers don’t get any better than Newt. It’s of Frog and Toad caliber, no kidding! Better art, in fact. Scott, who (with seven years of hiring and firing artists under his belt) knows a thing or two about illustrations, considers Matt Novak a storytelling genius. The expressions, the delicacy of detail so difficult to pull off in a comical, cartoonish style—and then to pair this charming art with text that manages to be both simple and nuanced at once, fresh and funny and lyrical without being heavy-handed—do you know how hard it is to pull that off? Beginning readers are reeeaaaalllly hard to write—even harder to write well—because the text is so spare, there’s no room for a single weak syllable. Well, I’ve said my piece. Snatch up a used copy of Newt while you can—too bad, small cousins, you’re getting something else for Christmas—and enjoy the gentle misadventures of this amiable salamander and the ugly bug he adopts.