Miscellany – Thoughts on Childrens Book’s, Reading with My Daughter, and More

This is the hodge-podge section. This is where you’ll find my random thoughts about children’s literature, finding books for my daughter, reading with kids, publishing, random stuff, videos, links – that which defies categorization.

Art & Max by David Wiesner

Take a look at how David Wiesner got started on “Art & Max”

Here’s a very cool video with David Wiesner, creator of Art & Max, one of my favorite picture books about art, talking about the origins of the book and how playing with different art media inspired his lovely, lizard-filled story about the creative process. The video not only offers up some interesting insights into how Wiesner works, but it also shows you some of the earliest images that Wiesner created during the book’s evolution. (Fun fact – In the early stages, Art was a bear, not a lizard.)

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The Berenstain Bears and the Big Blooper

If Sister Bear can be fallible, can’t we all?

I write a lot about the joys of reading aloud to your kid. This is a cautionary tale about what happens when reading aloud goes wrong.

Before we begin, for the record, I am a fan of The Berenstain Bears. While I know some parents who find their books to be provincial and occasionally preachy, I think, for the most part, Stan and Jan Berenstain are extremely skilled at crafting very engaging and accessible stories for early readers. (I should note that I, personally, very much prefer the earlier Berenstain Bear books – Old Hat, New Hat; The Berenstain Bears’ Science Fair; The Berenstain Bears and the Sitter, etc – to the newer editions that Jan co-wrote with their son Michael.)

The Berenstain Bears series was the first example of series fiction that my daughter really fell in love with, and I think that’s a pretty common occurrence. Many parents are comfortable buying their young children Berenstain Bears books for a variety of reasons – the stories are well told, the art is consistent, the books are inexpensive, the characters are captivating, the quality of the storytelling greatly outshines the other books on that one spinning rack at the bookstore (normally, cheap Barbie or princess books) – the list goes on and on. Berenstain Bears books have become a foundational pillar of modern children’s literature because they’ve created this very warm, very safe place for young readers to return to again and again.

Which was why I was so surprised when a Berenstain Bear book made me say the F-word in front of my daughter.

LET ME EXPLAIN…

The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies

It looks SO innocent on its cover, doesn’t it?

OK, in reality, the incident was maybe 90% my fault, 10% the book’s fault (maybe more like 70/30). The book in question was The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, a fun little tale of Brother and Sister Bear learning not to expect toys, candy, and presents every time they go out to the store. It’s a book designed to tell children not to lose their minds in front of the candy rack at the supermarket checkout, so I fully support Stan and Jan‘s intentions behind writing the book. It has a great lesson at its core. HOWEVER, it also features a tongue-twister that completely got the better of me one night at bedtime. [read the rest of the post…]

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I wrote a lot of words about a word book yesterday, which seems appropriate, but, to be honest, reading the 1983 edition of The Sesame Street Word Book is a primarily a visual experience. It’s telling that there isn’t an author listed for the book – the only credit on the cover is “illustrated by Tom Leigh.” Because, while it is great that The Sesame Street Word Book teaches us obscure terms like “pancake turner”, “otoscope,” and “hod carrier”, the real fun of the book lies in Leigh’s illustrations. So, in an attempt to convey just what an entertaining book this is to flip through, here are my personal picks for my fifteen favorite illustrations from The Sesame Street Word Book.

Some of these are sweet, some are funny. Some are unintentionally funny. Some are only funny because they remind you that, yes, this book was indeed published in 1983. But, regardless, they all just make me love this book all the more.

1. Hello!

Sesame Street Word Book - Rodeo RosieQuestion: What’s cuter than a semi-obscure Sesame Street character saying “Hello”? Answer: Nothing. Have a great rest of the day, Rodeo Rosie.

2. Bathroom Sandwich

Sesame Street Word Book - ErnieThere is a recurring visual joke that runs throughout a lot of Sesame Street books in which the perpetually bathing Ernie is always pictured with a sandwich that he has apparently brought into the bathroom with him. (It shows up pretty often in the 1980s Sesame Street Book Club books.) This is both hilarious and really, really gross. [read the rest of the post…]

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Happy Holidays from Krusty the Clown

It’s always good to remember the reason for the season – our sponsors.

I’m never sure what holidays people celebrate, so, at this time of the year, I always swipe a line from my personal favorite spiritual leader, Krusty the Clown, and declare, “Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Kwazy Kwanza, a Tip-Top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan.” And, if I missed your preferred celebration, I truly do apologize. As 2012 grinds down to halt, I mostly just hope that all parents, kids, and everyone in between are healthy, happy, and have some great reading material at their disposal.

And, if you are celebrating Christmas today, I hope your morning is more like this:

And less like this:

Happy Holidays!

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This isn’t totally library or kid lit-related, but I felt I needed to post it. Both because I feel it’s relevant to today’s events and (mostly) because it makes me laugh. And laughing feels really, really good right now.

My daughter wasn’t at school today (she had a fever), so I haven’t had to explain the Connecticut school shooting to her yet. I’m not looking forward to the discussion. She tends to get panicky about guns and “robbers” whenever she hears about a local crime, but she’s going to hear about it eventually, so, as her parent, it’s my job to make sure she has the necessary context to help her try to process the event.

Context – the search for clues that lead toward deeper meanings – is one of the most important things in the world for a kid, which is one of the reasons why I’m such a big proponent of reading.  Reading gives kids the ability to access context and meaning on their own and that’s an incredibly empowering skill to have. All kids go through a period where they keep asking their parents “WHY?”, so giving them the ability to answer that question themselves is just one of the most important things in the world.

BUT it is good to know that, even without her father clumsily trying to help her find deeper meaning in the world, my daughter still knows that some truths are simply self-evident, even for a six year old.

Case in Point – Around Thanksgiving, two of our best college friends came into town, both with daughters right around my daughter’s own age. The trio of girls became BFFs at an alarming speed (at a scary speed) and then immediately retreated to our basement where they said they were playing “spies.” Hours went by without a peep and, when they were done, they came back upstairs without a word. I went downstairs later to clean up and found, in their handwriting, their self-authored “RULES FOR PLAY.”

These were the rules that the three girls decided were SO important for playing that they felt the need to write them down. And, so, without further ado, here are the TEN COMMANDMENTS OF PLAYING SPY, as written by my daughter and her two newest best friends forever.Rules for Play
If you can’t read their handwriting, I’ll translate: [read the rest of the post…]

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Santa reading his holiday mail

Dear Santa – Please bring me these kid’s books that don’t exist yet. Signed, A Blog You Probably Don’t Read…

Have you ever gone looking for a particular book for your child only to realize, after a few days of furious Googling and bookstore calling, that the book in question simply does not exist? I have. Once you realize it, you just sort of sit there and go, “Wait a minute, you mean there aren’t ANY kid’s books about the first time you chip your tooth at the zoo… or the fictional outer space adventures of Neville Chamberlain… or the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota? How is that possible?” (If those books do, in fact, actually exist, the world is an even cooler place than I thought it was.)

Sometimes, the non-existent book in question is just a random idea that pops out of my head. And, trust me, they’re not always solid concepts. (“Wouldn’t it be cool to have a book about the history of macaroni that was made out of macaroni and you could then boil it and eat it when you’re done?”) Other times, I am legitimately surprised to find a topic that doesn’t have an accompanying kid’s book to help my daughter better understand it. I am just so used to having libraries upon libraries of age-appropriate children’s books at my disposal to help my kid contextualize anything and everything that, when I find a gap in that coverage, it can be a jarring experience. (Last month, I spent a solid week trying to explain the Large Hadron Collider to my very curious six year old. I really could’ve used a Caldecott-nominee to back me up on that one…)

So, since the holiday season is a time for wishing to omniscient bearded deities, I decided to collect this list of Seven Children’s Books That I Really, Really Wish Existed. These are all the kinds of books that, as a book fan and as a parent, I would love to read with my daughter and that I hope someone, somewhere decides to write and publish one day.

(And, if these books already exist, TELL ME. I did cursory research on all of these ideas before posting this article, but I will gladly admit my mistake – and probably buy the book – if I missed any major titles.)

1. Kaiju for Kids

Kaiju from Gumby's Winter Fun Special

Kaiju monsters go wild in a panel from one of the greatest comic books ever – “Gumby’s Winter Fun Special”

What does “kaiju” mean? Here’s a link to the Wikipedia definition, but the shortest, most direct answer I can give you is “Kaiju = Godzilla.” Fans of the kaiju genre might debate that over-simplification, but, when you hear nerds talking about kaiju, they’re normally talking about the giant monster movie genre, most typically identified with Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra, and their ilk. Big monsters (a.k.a. men in suits), breathing fire and firing lasers, having battle royales in the middle of a cardboard city as the miniature locals run away screaming. Sometimes the giant beasts are good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re just an unstoppable force of nature. But they’re always big, tough, and looking for a brawl.

I think kaiju is just a PERFECT genre for kids. I mean, for a young child, what could be cooler than a 50-foot-robot and an impossibly big dinosaur throwing buildings at each other? (Seriously, what Fancy Nancy book could ever compete with that?) Plus, visually, the kaiju-style battles nicely parallel how kids play with their own toys. Give a kid some action figures and toy cars and, eventually, those giant toy men and women are going to roar and step on those cars. It’s imprinted in our DNA. And, even though there’s fighting in kaiju, I wouldn’t say that the genre is particularly violent. There are a lot of men-in-suits being thrown around balsa-wood cities, but there’s not a lot of bleeding, death, or pain. There’s mostly just stomping, roaring, and shoving things out of the way… which kind of sounds like a kindergartener to me. The definitive visual style of kaiju movies is based on contrasts – huge monsters transposed on top of relatively small cities. I think that contrast of images can be very fun and very powerful for kids, particularly for younger children who are still working on their motor skill development. If you’re a kid who’s still learning how to tie your shoes or properly hold a pencil, I think it would be incredibly satisfying to watch these lumbering beasts, bigger than anyone else around, stumble and fall and wreck things with impunity.

Godzilla Pooped on My Honda

Final image from the poem “Godzilla Pooped on My Honda” from Adam Rex’s brilliant “Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich”

A quick Amazon search turned up a few out-of-print Godzilla picture books from the 1990s – copies of the best-looking title, Godzilla Likes to Roar, is now selling for more than $180 – but I can’t believe there aren’t more kaiju kid’s books. And they don’t need to be Godzilla books per se. I think a talented author or illustrator would have no problem coming up with new original kaiju monsters, replete with zippers down their backs, to populate a fictional metropolis, and I would love to see a children’s book creator really nail those parallels between the oddly-sized awkwardness of both fifty-foot dragons and five year olds. It just sounds like way too much fun.

2. First Trip to the Movies

First Trip to the Movies

She promptly shushed me soon after taking this picture…

This one really surprises me. As a parent, you are very aware of historically “big” landmarks in your child’s life. Their first step, their first haircut, their first day of school, and so on. And most of those landmarks have some sort of picture book or Berenstain Bear book to acknowledge and/or commemorate those momentous rites of passage. However, I couldn’t find any picture books about one of my daughter’s biggest “big” moments – her first trip to the movies. [read the rest of the post…]

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When I Grow Up book trailer

We open on a tracking shot of a publishing executive giving Weird Al a million dollars to make the best book trailer ever….

While I was still reveling in my excellent recent purchases at a holiday book sale, I decided to go online and see if any of the titles I bought had book trailers available. Although, I should note right off the bat that, even though they’re growing in popularity, book trailers can be pretty hit or miss. Sometimes, they do a great job of stoking your interest in a title by using exciting, cinematic imagery or offering interesting insights from the authors. And, other times, they look like half-assed junior high AV projects that a student threw together in an hour in lieu of turning in an English paper.

Fortunately, three of the books I purchased this week – Along a Long Road by Frank Viva, The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin and Kevin Cornell, and When I Grow Up by Al Yankovic and Wes Hargis – all had very decent, very well-produced book trailers available, which I thought I’d pass along.

For starters, the trailer for Along a Long Road does a cool job of showing off Viva’s rich, stylish artwork and making it clear that the illustrations really were created as a single 35-foot-long piece of art (which still blows my mind).

Next, we’ve got the trailer for Doreen Cronin‘s The Trouble with Chickens. I will admit – when Cronin came on screen in a trenchcoat and fedora, I was worried that I was going to spend two minutes being really embarrassed for one of my favorite children’s authors. Fortunately, the cheese factor was gloriously low in this trailer. Instead, we get some solid interview time with Cronin where she really goes into detail about the crime noir inspirations behind the book. (She likens J.J. Tully the dog to Humphrey Bogart, which just made me love her all the more.)

And, finally, we get the trailer for When I Grow Up. This trailer is mostly just excerpts of Al Yankovic reading from the book, accompanied by slightly animated versions of Wes Hargis’ artwork, but I think that was a great choice for this preview. Weird Al has such a distinct and downright wacky reading voice that he’s a great ambassador for the book. If I was a kid and I heard Al’s narration on this trailer, I’d want to read the book ASAP.

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Building a Library

Get it? She’s wearing a hardhat because… because we’re “building” a library. And she’s reading an inappropriate book, so… that’s funny, right? RIGHT? Is this on?

I have to update my profile on Twitter. At the moment, the text reads: “I’m trying to build a library for my 5-year-old daughter. And I’m blogging about the noble quest of searching for great books for your kid.” But I don’t have a 5-year-old daughter anymore. As of today, I have a proud, defiant, weird, warm-hearted, passionate, hysterical 6-year-old girl.

And, even though the fact that she’s getting older is both beautiful and bittersweet, I’m supposed to be the grown-up in our relationship, so I guess I’m just going to have to suck it up and be happy for her… I guess.

To commemorate her birthday, I wanted to post a picture of my daughter reading one of her favorite books and then I realized… I have no pictures of her actually reading. I have a few photos of her chewing on books when she was a baby, but, really, think about it, when do you actually take pictures of people when they’re reading? I’ll tell you – NEVER. It is not a natural act to take a picture of a person while they’re reading. But, now that I realize that I don’t have any pictures of my daughter reading, I am going to be photo-stalking her like a crazy paparazzo every time she sits down to read a book.

So, without any candid independent reading shots to share, here’s what I’ve got…

This picture appeared in a local parenting magazine (without my prior knowledge) – it’s my daughter and I listening to Caldecott-winning author and illustrator Philip Stead – best known for A Sick Day for Amos McGee – reading his fantastic picture book Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat.

Kerrytown Book Fair

Ten bucks says my daughter is thinking, “That IS a big boat…”

And this is a picture taken on the day my daughter got her very first library card. She got to pick out two books to take home that day – and she chose The Big Elephant in the Room by Lane Smith and Three Pigs by David Wiesner. Sometimes she has great taste. (Other times, she totally doesn’t.)

First Library Card

Gotta love a kid who loves such great books…

Happy Birthday, Charley. Thanks for inspiring the library.

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Frequent readers of this blog know that I typically give media tie-in children’s books a lot of flack. And, normally, they totally deserve it. For whatever reason, when a publisher decides to adapt a TV show, movie, cartoon, or toyline into a kids’ book, the quality is almost always poor. There are some notable exceptions – Jeffrey Brown’s Darth Vader and Son is transcendent – but, for the most part, they’re fairly awful reads. So, when Megan McKnight wrote her great recent post about her “Rules for Parents Buying Books from Book Order Catalogs or School Book Fairs” and she listed “books based on television, movie, or toy characters” as definite DO NOT BUYS, I nodded my head and intoned a hearty “Here, here!”  I fully support parents who try to steer their kids away from that kind of crap.

But then… I was cleaning out my old bedroom at my mom’s house – enough time has now passed that I refer to it as “my mom’s house” instead of “MY house” – and I found the ONLY book that I ever ordered my school book order catalogs that I MADE SURE that I kept well into my adulthood. I bought loads of books from book order catalogs when I was a kid, but there is only ONE book order title that, over 25 years later, still sat proudly on my bookshelf in my childhood bedroom.

What was that book?

A Ghostbusters storybook, copyright 1984, with 12 collector stickers inside.

Ghostbusters

A cherished tome from my childhood – back before “Slimer” even got his nickname and was known only as the “Ugly Little Spud”

That’s right. It was a media tie-in book. [read the rest of the post…]

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The Phantom Tollbooth

OK, 50th anniversaries are “way” more impressive, I admit…

Today, September 20th, is an important day. It marks the birth of Alexander the Great, Upton Sinclair, George R.R. Martin, Jesus Christ Superstar‘s Ted Neeley, Slappy White, Anne Meara, the great Gary Cole, Sophia Loren, and The Walking Dead‘s Jon Bernthal, to name a few. It happens to be the ONE YEAR anniversary of the Building a Library blog!

It’s been a really great year for me personally. I’ve loved writing my long, rambling odes to the books on my daughter’s bookshelves, and I hope that some of you have been able to benefit from a few of my recommendations.

To celebrate our anniversary, I invite you to check out the two posts that kicked this whole thing off: Our “ABOUT” page (where I outline WHY I wanted to start Building a Library) and our very first review, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer (the book that inspired me to start this blog in the first place).

And come back next week for an anniversary contest and some more Tollbooth-related news…

OK, I’ll give you a hint on the Tollbooth news. This weekend, The Phantom Tollbooth is going to stop being a “Book My Kid Will Read in the Future” and, in fact, become a book that my kid starts reading with her overly-excited dad. Expect some updates on her reaction to our first forays into Dictionopolis next week.

And thanks again for reading, wonderful faceless internet people. You’re the best.

Tom

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