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.

Bink & Gollie: Two For One

Having a best friend is awesome…

In my last post, I waxed on and on about Bink & Gollie: Two For One by Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee, and Tony Fucile, even though, pretty early in the article, I commented, “How can I possibly convey the depth of the warmth and humor in Bink & Gollie in a simple blog post?” (And yet I still tried. Was it passion or hubris? You be the judge…) So, for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that I failed in my attempt to really convey how endearing the two Bink & Gollie books are and you, as the skeptical blog lurker, need more empirical evidence to sell you on my recommendation. You need more evidence? No problem.

Below are two videos that, I think, do a nice job of showing off the quirky charms of Bink & Gollie. The first is a book trailer for the original Bink & Gollie, put together by Candlewick Press. The second video is a very cool, very home movie-esque clip of illustrator Tony Fucile reading Bink & Gollie to a group of children at a bookstore. It is not the most professionally-produced video ever, but I actually find it charming as hell. The camera moves all over the place, kids interrupt and ask questions, and Fucile does his best to read the story and explain his illustrations with unflappable good humor. The shaky-cam nature of the video and the iffy sound might make it hard for some to watch, but I find it to be a wonderfully real glimpse of a creator really connecting with his target audience. If these videos can’t sell you on Bink & Gollie, I don’t know what can.


PSSST! by Adam Rex

Sloths: Not great candidates for read-aloud video narrators…

Read-aloud videos on YouTube are a mixed bag. There are some where I marvel at how inventive and emotive the reader is, and there are others where I literally spend the duration of the video clip screaming, “OHMYGOD, YOU’RE MISSING ALL THE GOOD PARTS! SOMEBODY STOP THEM!” While looking over my summer reading picks for this week, I did happen upon this read-aloud video for Adam Rex‘s PSSST!, which was created for the first-grade class of a teacher named “Miss Allender.” It’s a pretty charming clip, so I thought I’d share it to give you one reader’s interpretation of the inspired lunacy of PSSST!

And, as an added bonus, I also found this very cool, very endearing video of a puppet show adaptation of PSSST! that was performed at the Salt Lake City Library in March 2009. Enjoy.



Strangely enough, I know children’s picture books that are WAY creepier than this…

We have many, many different kinds of books in my daughter’s home library. Funny books, beautiful books, repetitive books, moralizing books, movie tie-in books, over-her-head books – even though most of those books are either picture books or early readers, just within those two formats, there are so many different subtle variations and sub-categories that it boggles the mind. But, there is one category, perhaps more than any other, which remains constantly on my radar, particularly at bedtime. Those are the books that my daughter absolutely loves, but that totally and completely creep me out.

Last week, Time Magazine critic and author Lev Grossman wrote a great article titled “Hating Ms. Maisy: The Joy, Sorrow and Neurotic Rage of Reading to Your Children” that should resonate with any parent who’s had to suffer through their fiftieth straight bedtime reading of their child’s favorite Berenstain Bear or Magic Tree House book. (BTW, Grossman’s novel The Magicians is definitely on my “Books My Kid Will Read in the Future” list.) Grossman talks about the unhealthy relationship that starts to develop between a parent and a bedtime book that’s fallen into heavy rotation – in his words: “The fact that my children’s taste is not my own, while obvious, is one I’ve found strangely hard to accept” – and I know exactly what he’s talking about.

One of my favorite parts in Grossman’s article is when he discusses how, after multiple readings, a parent’s “own unresolved neuroses and secret fears” can start getting wrapped up in their child’s favorite bedtime stories. (“Picture books can be kind of like Rorschach blots that way. You see what you want to see.”) Citing some examples, Grossman mentions that:

I find Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman creepy beyond belief—that snowman reminds me of the frightful Other Mother in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. The way he tries on the boy’s sleeping parents’ clothing… you can see he’s thinking about doing away with them, right then and there, with his bare, blobby snow-hands.

The Snowman

I don’t find this book nearly as creepy as Grossman does…

My first reaction to that paragraph was to laugh for two minutes straight. My second reaction was “Hey… my kid LOVES The Snowman!”

And she does. The Snowman might be one of our most frequently read bedtime books of all time. I’ve had magical experiences reading my daughter The Snowman after a long day playing out in the cold and building our own snowman. But, despite my family’s reverence for the book, I completely see where Grossman is coming from.

The story IS kind of freaky. A boy’s snowman comes to life. The boy invites it into his house late at night. The snowman and the boy sneak around the house, performing a series of random, mundane activities – staring at his sleeping parents, trying on clothes, playing in the family car, cooking a full sit-down dinner – that all seem fairly sinister in a house full of sleeping people in the middle of the night. The boy and the snowman then fly around the world (?), return home, and the next day, the snowman melts into oblivion. (Please understand that I’m deliberately summarizing the book in an odd fashion. We really do love that book.) And, while the potentially unsettling nature of the snowman’s nocturnal visit has never really emerged while reading the book to my daughter at bedtime, the second Grossman mentioned his own darker take on the book, as a parent, I immediately thought, “Oh yeah, I can see that.”

The Snowman

OK, Bobby, get the bungie cords and ball gags. Let’s show your parents what happens when they send you to bed without dessert.

And why can I see Grossman’s point so easily? Because I have my own list of books from my daughter’s home library that weird me out to my very core. [read the rest of the post…]


Ferndale Public Library

This is our swanky local library. We’re big fans.

As I ramp back up into a normal posting schedule (my apologies again), I thought that, rather than write my normal once-a-week, 3,000 word ode to a 32-page picture book, I’d give you guys a week-long look at what titles caught the eye of my daughter and I during our semi-weekly trip to our local library. (We don’t normally go weekly – mostly because you can keep the books for three weeks and we like to re-read titles we like to death.)

We took out FIVE books from the library on Friday, so, from Monday to Friday, I’ll share a brief profile of one book a day to give you a taste what attracted our attention in the children’s section last week.

I just want to give other parents an idea of what a trip to the library is like for our family and, in return, I’d love, LOVE to hear about your family’s library rituals and routines. How many books do you take out at a time? (I always feel like we might be taking out too many.) Do you browse for books with your kid? Do you make decisions together or do you let them go completely alone? Do you sometimes veto their book choices? Do your kids ever ask the librarian for suggestions? I’d love to know – if only so I can measure our own rituals against yours and then decide whether your routine makes me feel inferior, superior, or just right.

To give you some fodder to start judging me, here’s what our normal trip to the library looks like:

Just kidding – my daughter is marginally quieter than the Cookie Monster at the library. When we’re not looking for cookies, we generally take out 5 to 6 books every time we hit the library and maybe a DVD for the weekend. (We usually go to the library on Friday after school.) We start in the children’s section and my daughter and I browse around a bit and pick out 2 to 3 books together. I usually gravitate to the “new materials” shelves, while my daughter likes to browse the librarian’s picks (i.e. the titles that they display on the tops of shelves) and she’ll also check in on some of her favorite authors. (She always does a quick walk-by of the shelves where they keep the Melanie Watt, Lane Smith, Mo Willems, and David Wieser books.)

For those first 2 to 3 books, we make our decisions together. We look around together, we talk about what we see, and we come to an agreement on our first batch. (During this period, I usually end up reading her one short book at the kids’ tables, but we don’t do a lot of actual out-loud reading at the library.)

My daughter then asks to play with the computers for a while – usually a Reader Rabbit, Dora, Arthur, or I Spy game. While she does that, I browse by myself, picking out 2 to 4 more books to present for her majesty’s approval. After some computer time, she says “yay” or “nay” to my books – she always cuts a few of my picks, so I always pick too many – and normally does one last circuit to make sure she hasn’t missed anything good. We then might check the DVD shelf to see if there’s a movie we want to watch on the weekend. (This usually involves me saying “no” to many, many DVDs until we come to a begrudging compromise.)

Our book picks vary from week to week. There’s usually one or two old established favorites, something from the new release shelf, an easy reader, and, now that’s she’s older, maybe a chapter book. OH, and there’s at least one terrible, terrible media-tie in book – a reader or picture book based on a movie or TV show that she insists on picking out herself and that I can hardly ever veto. (Can someone please start a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a good Scooby Doo book? PLEASE?)

And that’s what our library trips normally look like. We check out our books, my daughter makes me walk through the anti-theft scanners first because she’s crazy paranoid about the alarm going off, and we go home with a ton of really, really great books. It’s easily one of my favorite rituals we have.

So, if you’re interested (totally understand if you’re not), check back during the work week and see what kinds of books we ended up with last week. It’s a pretty diverse mix, which should definitely give you a sense of what we’re currently reading. Hope this isn’t a pointless exercise and, most of all, hope you enjoy it.


Where's Waldo

It’s OK when Waldo disappears. That’s his frickin’ job. I have no excuse.

Readers – if you’re still out there – I’d really like to apologize for the ridiculously long break I’ve taken from posting lately. I realize it’s been almost exactly a month since my last post, which isn’t cool. When you start a blog and build a readership, there’s an expectation that, to thank people for reading your past work, you actually… you know… write new work for them to read. That’s part of the whole blogging ethos, right?

All I can say is: “I apologize.” In my defense – and because I love making excuses so much that I actually have an “excuses” tag in my tag cloud – it’s been a very weird month. I’ve been hit with a crazy work schedule, a minor-yet-annoying sleep disorder, an intense bout of writer’s block, and, most importantly, I’ve had to deal with the borderline insane end-of-the-year activities that accompanied my daughter finishing her very first year of school. She’s now a kindergarten graduate – a fact that makes me both profoundly proud and profoundly sad.

Someone should write a book about that. Well, someone probably has and I’ve just been too lazy to find it recently, so, again, SORRY! I will endeavor to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

To make up for my posting famine, I’ve scheduled a bit of a feast for next week. Today, I’m going to post the introduction to a new series we’re kicking off titled “What We Took Out From the Library Last Week.” We went to the library this past Friday and next week, every day, from Monday to Friday, I’ll profile one of the books we checked out to give you a taste of what’s on our reading radar at the moment.

I hope you guys enjoy the new series and I hope that there’s even a few of you still reading after my unexpected disappearance. I’m looking forward to ranting about kids’ books in your general direction soon. Thanks for understanding.

Where's Waldo?

Seriously though, can you help me find Waldo? He’s good at his job. (Click to embiggen.)


Kids Library Card

"I'm going to go check out Fifty Shades of Grey now!"

What a great way to kick off Children’s Book Week. My daughter came home from the library yesterday literally vibrating with excitement. My wife had taken her there to do research for a school project (on “Giant Japanese Spider Crabs” of all things) and she couldn’t wait to show me something. “Dad, DAD! Look what I got!” And she then proudly – very proudly – held up her very first library card. Not her parents’ library card. HER library card. Her own PERSONAL library card with her very own name on it.

It’d never occurred to me that, as a kindergartener, my daughter was now old enough to get her own library card. She’s always checked out books under my card. But my wife, suddenly realizing that our daughter was old enough, asked her if she wanted to go up to the front desk and get her own card and she INSTANTLY lit up and nodded her head. She even asked my wife to take her picture with her new card before they’d left the library.

Now, in reality, this won’t really change our trips to the library very much. Even though she might check out books under her card, as her parents, we’re still going to be the people ultimately responsible for the books, for driving her to the library, for exercising some veto power in what she can check out and what she can’t. The big change, however, is in the sense of pride and empowerment my daughter now has about having HER OWN library card. To her, the library card is a symbol of independence and maturity. She picked out a special place on her dresser for it and asked if we could get her a wallet for “all my cards now because now I’m going to have a lot of them.” She even asked at dinner last night, “the next time we go to the library…. Can I just go in and you guys wait in the car? I have my own card now.” Granted, that’s not going to happen, but I love that, in her mind, that one little library card has now transported her to such a level of maturity that she thinks she could spend an afternoon browsing the library all by herself while my wife and I twiddle our thumbs in the parking lot. (Hopefully, she’ll remember to crack a window.)

After my daughter received her library card from the front desk, my wife told her that she could check out any two books she wanted. My wife then waited for our child, left to her own devices, to return with a series of cheaply-produced Scooby Doo, Star Wars, or Disney books. A few minutes later, she got a very pleasant surprise. Our daughter chose – on her own – two completely fantastic books to be the inaugural titles for her first library card.

Kids Library Card

Every now and then, my kid has EXCELLENT taste.

The first was The Big Elephant in the Room by Lane Smith, one of our favorite author-illustrators. My daughter has, more than once, called Big Elephant “one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.” (I met Lane Smith last year and told him that my daughter said that. His playful response? “She’s right!”) The second book she picked was the Caldecott-winning picture book The Three Pigs by David Wiesner. (I wrote about Wiesner’s Tuesday back in February and suggested Three Pigs as a readalike here.) [read the rest of the post…]


Children's Book Week

Children's Book Week has been going strong since 1919...

If you thought last week was packed with festivities – with all the celebrations for “May the 4th Be With You“, Cinco de Mayo, and Geek Christmas (i.e. The Avengers premiere) – trust me, it’s got NOTHING on this week, particularly if you’re a fan of kids’ literature. What am I talking about? Well, today is the first day of Children’s Book Week, the “longest-running literacy initiative” in the United States. From May 7 to May 13, there will be hundreds of events across the country – parties, author appearances, book festivals, readings, and more – all focused on promoting the importance of reading for children.

There are official events sponsored by the Children’s Book Council – I am embarrassed to say that I live in a state that isn’t sponsoring an “official” event – but there are also going to be tons of grassroots, unofficial events and programs at local libraries, schools, and so on. If you want to see if there’s an official event in your area, click here. If your local area isn’t on the list, I’d suggest checking the website of your local library to see if they’re hosting any special events for Children’s Book Week. (If they’re not, I’d still call them and ask what they’re doing for Children’s Book Week this year, if only to shame them into putting together an event for next year.)

Every year, the Children’s Book Council has a well-known illustrator create a poster for Children’s Book Week and it would be hard to top the poster they’ve created for this year. For 2012, David Wiesner, who might currently be the greatest living children’s book illustrator, has painted a fantastic poster, in which a collection of some of the most iconic characters from kid’s literature – ranging from George & Martha to Babar to the Stinky Cheese Man and so on – parade down a street of bookish brownstones in celebration of Children’s Book Week.

Children's Book Week

I love this poster so much...

The Children’s Book Council has been providing people copies of these posters FREE of charge (which is amazing), provided that you pay for the return postage. I’m not sure if the CBC will still be distributing the posters now that Children’s Book Week has already begun (the promotional window pay have passed), BUT I got my hands on some extra ones. So, if you don’t feel like contacting the CBC, I have FIVE extra copies of this year’s amazing David Wiesner poster for Children’s Book Week. Email me with your mailing address if you want one and I’ll send them on to the first five people who request them.

But, all promises of swag aside, please find either an official or unofficial way to acknowledge Children’s Book Week with your kids this year. It’s a wonderful opportunity to remind them how powerful and transformative reading can be.


Dust Jackets on Kids Books

Honestly, is all this paper REALLY protecting the books?

And now, I’d like to take a brief moment to talk about dust jackets and, specifically, the role of dust jackets on children’s books.  I’ve started this post several times before, but I’ve always found myself paralyzed with the fear that this mini-rant would turn into a bad parody of really awful 1990s stand-up comedy. “What’s the deal with dust jackets?” my hacky inner voice would ask. “Who were the ad wizards who came up with that one?” But, if this makes me sound like a bad Seinfeld clone, so be it. I just have to say this out loud – I really, really don’t get the point of dust jackets on kids’ books.

My wife and I have argued about this point from almost the first day we started reading to our daughter and I still don’t think we’ll ever see eye to eye about it. I’d sit to read with our daughter at bedtime and immediately take the dust jacket off and toss it on the floor. This drove my wife crazy. “Why are you doing that?” she’d ask, and I’d point to several other mangled dust jackets and say, “It just gives her something else to rip.” I loved reading beautiful, Caldecott-worthy picture books to my daughter long before she could speak and, as her questing baby hands enjoyed the tactile pleasures of touching those gorgeous picture books, inevitably, her hands would find the edges of the dust jackets and pull and rip and gouge and tear.

Eventually, when she could speak, my daughter started referring to the dust jackets as “wrappers” and she’d get FURIOUS if I left one on before I read the book to her. “Take the wrapper off, Daddy!” she’d yell. “I don’t like the wrappers!” After a while, since she had such an obvious aversion to the dust jackets, I just stopped putting them back on. We ended up with a pile of unloved dust jackets flattened down underneath her bedroom bookcase.  And I kept finding more and more situations where I would pre-remove the dust jackets from her books. Taking a book on a car trip? Just another piece to lose – let’s take it off. Planning on having my daughter read along with me? Let’s take off the dust jacket to give her little hands one less thing to worry about when she’s holding the book herself.

Again, this drove my wife nuts. “They protect the book!” she argued. “From what?” I’d counter. In my mind, they just made the books more fragile – they’re the most rip-able part of a book – and what exactly can a dust jacket protect the book from anyway? Dust? Is that really a big concern? Spills? Most paperbacks and hardcovers aren’t made out of newsprint. They have enough of a laminate finish that, if I spill some milk on the cover, it’ll wipe off pretty easily. I just don’t see how a dust jacket actually protects a book, particularly a children’s book, which is going to have a lot of wear and tear thanks to its target audience. If I’m SO worried about protecting the book, I’d almost rather pay the extra cash for a library binding edition of the book rather than putting my faith in a thin paper wrapper. [read the rest of the post…]


The Knight and the Dragon

Some books are more important than others...

If the subtle, subversive charms of The Knight and the Dragon aren’t enough to convince you that Tomie dePaola is one of our most important children’s book creators, I dare you to watch the video below, in which dePaola describes the importance of reading and reading aloud, and not fall in love with the guy.

My favorite part of the interview is where dePaola talks about being asked the question “Why do you think reading is important?” and how he prepared a very “intricate sentence” as his response. And his response was fantastic:

Reading is important because, if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.

Isn’t that great?

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I may have mentioned once or twice that I’m kind of a big fan of Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer’s The Phantom Tollbooth. 2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s first publication and, as a result, there have been lots of Tollbooth-related events, appearances, and reflections popping up here and there. (I’m most looking forward to the upcoming Phantom Tollbooth Turns 50 documentary that filmmaker Hannah Jayanti funded via Kickstarter in 2011.) Last weekend, in recognition of the anniversary, CBS Sunday Morning did this nice piece on Juster and Feiffer and the continuing legacy of their timeless masterpiece. It’s definitely worth a watch.