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rexhallow_0004Before I get started, let me say that I know that saying anything is the “best EVER” is one of the internet’s most heinous and frequent sins. Everything online has to be the greatest or the worst. People can’t disagree on the web — they either destroy their opponents or come off as an epic fail. Everything is heightened and over-the-top, which means that nothing is really heightened or over-the-top, so, when someone online tells you, “This is the best ever,” there’s no real reason why you should think that they’re talking about anything special. EXCEPT THIS TIME… because Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and its sequel, Frankenstein Takes the Cake, are seriously the best Halloween books for kids EVER.

If you haven’t been overwhelmed by incredulity yet, let me explain. Yes, I realize that people like sharing spooky books with kids around Halloween time and I love that. For younger kids, you can give them something clever (but safe) like The Wizard by Jack Prelutsky or Substitute Creacher by Chris Gall. (Both great.) For older kids, you can go classic like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving or modern classic like Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. (Super creepy.) But, for me, Halloween is really all about that sweet spot where unbridled fun and playful spookiness collide and I don’t know of any other kids’ titles that tap into that crazy tone overlap better than Rex’s Frankenstein books.franksandcover

For those unfamiliar, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake are two insanely creative illustrated poetry collections that utilize a breathtaking variety of art styles and rhyme schemes to tell short stories about some of the most famous monsters of all time – Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Wolfman, the Mummy, witches, yetis, zombies, Godzilla, and, of course, the titular Frankenstein.frankcakecover

If that sounds cool, yes, these are incredibly cool books, but you also need to know that the poems are FUNNY. The Frankenstein books are among the funniest kids’ books we own. Get a load of the titles of some of the poems: [read the rest of the post…]

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Eric Wight’s Frankie Pickle Books

Pickles. Why’d it have to be pickles?

Early readers can be a tricky kids’ book genre. I’m not actually sure that’s the preferred term – sometimes they’re called early chapter books, beginning books, easy readers – but you’d know one when you saw it. They’re the books kids read in between picture books and chapter books. They’re the books that they cram into long, low shelves at the bookstore, because they’re usually series titles, so there’s a million of them, BUT they’re so damn thin, it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to actually read their spines and find the title you’re looking for. (Am I alone in this?) When I think of an early reader, I think of titles like Junie B. Jones or My Weird School, and kids of a certain age LOVE THEM. They can be great gateway books into the world of chapter books, but, like in most kids’ genres, they can also be really, really mass-produced, lazy, and terrible.

So, when I see a truly superior example of an early reader, it stands out, which is one reason why I think the world of Eric Wight’s Frankie Pickle series.

There are only three books in the series – Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom, Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000, and Frankie Pickle and the Mathematical Menace – and, man, I wish there were more.

The concept is familiar. There’s a kid, Frankie Pickle, who has an overactive imagination, and, while doing rather mundane tasks (cleaning his room, building a model car, taking a math quiz), he imagines himself as a hero on fantastic adventures that have some nice thematic ties to what he’s doing in the real world. I’m going to say something that might sound like an insult, but, if you’re a true child of the 1980s, you’ll know that I mean this as a high compliment – the tone of the Frankie Pickle series reminds me of The Muppet Babies. (One of the best Saturday morning cartoons EVER.)

But two things really help distinguish Frankie Pickle from its competition: words and images. First, regarding the words, Wight is a very clever writer with a good ear for dialogue and the kinds of fun alliteration and nonsense language that new readers really love encountering. The stories aren’t anything groundbreaking, but they’re short, sweet, and very well-told. When my daughter reads a Frankie Pickle book to herself, she laughs. Even just saying the name of Frankie’s family – the Piccolini family – tickles her funny bone and Wight does a nice job of making the text quick and interesting without making it difficult for newer readers to digest.

However, while the stories are fast and fun, I have to admit, for me, the real draw of the Frankie Pickle books are the images. Let me just put this out there – The three Frankie Pickle titles are the BEST-LOOKING early readers I’ve EVER seen. They’re gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.Eric Wight’s Frankie Pickle Books

Wight is a beyond-talented illustrator and each Frankie Pickle book is ingeniously designed as a hybrid between a typical early reader and a comic book. The effect is that each title feels vividly alive. Wight’s artwork pulls readers through each page and, suddenly, they’re rewarded with Frankie’s flights of fancy brought to life in expertly rendered comic book panels. And can I just say – as a longtime comic book fan, I am a big, big kids’ book art snob. I can be extremely critical of the illustrations in my daughter’s books, particularly in the early readers, where, so often, the art feels like an afterthought. [read the rest of the post…]

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This looks like a cool one...

This looks like a cool one…

It started simply – I asked myself, “I wonder what new kids’ books are coming out in October.” Two hours later, I was still browsing through publisher catalogs, muttering to myself, “That looks so cool, that looks so cool, that looks so cool…” There just SO many epic kids’ book releasing this month (the number of titles coming out on October 7th alone is ridiculous) and I couldn’t be happier about it.

In an effort to share the amazing, I decided to put together this quick guide to 21 books that are coming out this month that I’m personally EXCITED about and that I think you should be excited about too. Sometimes, it’s because I like the creators’ early work, sometimes, I just like the concept, sometimes, I am literally judging the book by its cover. This is a TOTALLY subjective list. But, at the very least, this should give some of you a heads-up about some very cool books that are on the horizon and, if I missed any fantastic-sounding upcoming titles, PLEASE let me know in the comments section below. Enjoy!

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bean_stalkA Bean, a Stalk and a Boy Named Jack by William Joyce, illustrated by Kenny Callicutt

Format: Picture book
Release Date: October 7th

Why You Should Be Excited: It’s the newest picture book from William Joyce, the creator of A Day With Wilbur Robinson, Dinosaur Bob, and the beautiful, beautiful The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which Joyce adapted from his Oscar-winning short animated film. So… yeah, there’s some pedigree here.

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creaturefeaturesCreature Features: Twenty-Five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Release Date: October 7th
Format: Picture book

Why You Should Be Excited: Jenkins makes some of the most consistently beautiful and informative picture books I’ve ever read – my daughter adores his Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember – so I can’t imagine this one will be anything less than fascinating.

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eyezoltarThe Eye of Zoltar: The Chronicles of Kazam by Jasper Fforde

Format: Young adult novel
Release Date: October 7th

Why You Should Be Excited: I haven’t read the previous Chronicles of Kazam books, so I’m not speaking from experience, but I love, love, LOVE Fforde’s Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series, which makes it hard for me to deny the potential on this one.

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graveyardbookThe Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 2 by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell

Release Date: October 7th                     
Format: Graphic novel

Why You Should Be Excited: Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is one of my favorite young adult novels of the past ten years and the first volume of Russell’s graphic novel adaptation was impressive. (I really love Russell’s prior comic adaptation of Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries story.) Plus this volume features the conclusion of The Graveyard Book, which I’ve written about before and absolutely adore.

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greatescapeThe Great Escape: Magic Shop Series by Kate Egan and Mike Lane, illustrated by Eric Wight

Release Date: October 7th
Format: Chapter book

Why You Should Be Excited: I haven’t read the early volumes of the Magic Shop series, but the description sounds very cool – I love magic stuff – and the real reason I’m excited is the artwork by Eric Wight, who’s absolutely amazing and who created the totally fantastic Frankie Pickle series of early readers.

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ivangorillaIvan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Release Date: October 7th
Format: Picture book

Why You Should Be Excited: C’mon, this is Applegate adapting the remarkable story behind her 2013 Newbery Medal-winning YA novel into a gorgeous-looking picture book. A new take on The One and Only Ivan that I can share with even younger readers? No-brainer. I’m in.

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kidsherriffKid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith

Release Date: October 7th
Format: Picture book

Why You Should Be Excited: Because… Lane Smith. He’s a picture book god and is responsible for SO many of my daughter’s favorite books. And his previous collaboration with Bob Shea, the picture book Big Plans, is super, super funny. I’m looking forward to this one. [read the rest of the post…]

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It delivers what it promises...

It delivers what it promises…

I love coffee table books. They’re just these huge, panoramic sources of information and, as a kid, I particularly loved them because, in addition to being beautiful, they also seemed like something that belonged to the world of parents. There’s something about a kid reading an over-sized coffee table book that just feels subversive, like the kid is somehow reaching above their station and accessing forbidden knowledge. That is one of many reasons why I found impossible to resist buying my daughter a copy of Maps by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński, a gorgeous world atlas by Big Picture Press that’s so beautiful, you’ll want to frame every two-page spread and hang it on your wall.

I encountered Maps for the first time last week during an impromptu trip to New York City. I had some time to kill, so I found myself browsing the New York Public Library (OK, I’ll admit, I was doing a self-guided Ghostbusters walking tour) and I saw Maps in the gift shop. After two minutes of flipping through it, I was hooked and it became my daughter’s souvenir from my trip.

Maps isn’t an exhaustive world atlas. It features 52 maps – including hand-drawn maps of all seven continents and individual maps of several major countries in each. (North America, Antarctica, and Australia are easily served, while the rest of the continents only get featured selections.) While that might rankle any completists out there, I should say that Maps isn’t trying to be an exhaustive cartography resource. There are other atlases for that (or even apps). What Maps is trying to accomplish is a little more interesting and a little harder to do. It’s trying to give kids a taste of what the rest of the world is like. It’s trying, through art, to convey a sense of what these countries are all about. Which is ambitious to say the least, but I think it largely accomplishes its goals.

Click to expand this to something closer to its in-person glory...

Click to expand this to something closer to its in-person glory…

Each country gets a two-page spread and, in addition to the country’s rivers and borders, Mizielińska and Mizieliński populate each map with an exhaustive series of icons and details that call out some of the distinguishing features of the country in question. The marginal illustrations show you what the people look like, they recount the country’s history, they show you the food, the flora, the fauna – each map really does try to show young readers how each country FEELS, which is a lot more impressive to me than any topography or latitude-and-longitude map. [read the rest of the post…]

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Don't Stay Up So Late: A Treasury of Bedtime Stories Written for Children by Children

Good advice that kids never listen to…

As I’ve mentioned, 826 Michigan’s Don’t Stay Up So Late is a brilliant book, a “treasury of bedtime stories written for children by children” that was crafted with an obvious sense of affection and pride by both its publishers and student authors. But, despite all my praise, I don’t really know if I’ve been able to properly convey how much this anthology is packed with impressive details and inspired ideas. Don’t Stay Up So Late is a book that just begs for you to linger and appreciate it. So, in order to make sure that you truly get a sense of what this book is all about (and to encourage more of you to buy it), here are ten completely amazing items, details, and flourishes you can find within the pages of Don’t Stay Up So Late:

1. The book’s dedicationDon't Stay Up So Late

2. This disclaimer on the copyright pageDon't Stay Up So Late

3. The handsome title page illustrationDon't Stay Up So Late

4. Section headings like this:Don't Stay Up So Late [read the rest of the post…]

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Art & Max by David Wiesner

If I rub my chin and look thoughtfully at the painting, maybe people will think I know what I’m talking about…

I don’t know much about art. I couldn’t tell an impressionist from an expressionist if my life depended on it. That being said, I love art and art museums, and I think viewing and talking about art is an incredibly valuable experience for a young child.

I grew up near a wonderful art museum – The Detroit Institute of Arts – and I spent a lot of time there as a kid, mostly because they had fantastic children’s programs and admission was free. And, while I never did pick up on the myriad differences between impressionism and expressionism, I did spend hours upon hours browsing the collections and forming opinions about the paintings and statues. Some I adored, some I hated. Some stirred emotions, some left me cold. Even if I never picked up on the historical context of the collections or the art-world lingo, I definitely “experienced” the art, for lack of a better term, and I deeply enjoyed that experience.

The great thing about spending time with art is that it helps teach you how to process abstract concepts. If you look at a painting and really ask yourself, “Why does this painting make me feel this way?” or “Why do I interpret the color red as anger?”, it can give you some amazing insights into how your brain works. And, when you talk about something as abstract as art, it helps you develop this vocabulary that, believe me, really comes in handy later in life when you’re struggling to talk about abstract concepts like pain, loss, joy, and love. So, yes, art is pretty and it’s nice to look at, but experiencing art isn’t just about aesthetics alone. That’s why I think exposing kids to art at a young age is a terrifically enriching activity and I just couldn’t encourage it more.

But, I realize that talking about art isn’t easy, particularly when (like me) you don’t know much about it, and many families don’t have world-class, free-admission art institutes right down the street. So, if you need help introducing your kid to the joys of art, here are six books that I think do an amazing job of helping kids grasp the illusive, abstract wonders of really appreciating both art and the creative process.

1. Art & Max by David Wiesner

I once wrote that “David Wiesner is one of reigning Grand Poobahs the modern picture book and ANYTHING he publishes is totally worth your time.” I still stand by that statement and Wiesner‘s most recent picture book, Art & Max, is no exception. Across Wiesner’s gorgeous desert landscapes, we meet Arthur (or “Art”), a stately lizard who’s painting a very traditional portrait of a small red companion. Suddenly, the hyperactive lizard Max knocks into Art and declares “I can paint too, Arthur!” But Max doesn’t know what to paint. When Arthur suggests “you could paint me”, Max interprets this literally and starts splashing colors onto his exasperated friend. After Arthur screams in fury, the paint explodes off of him, leaving behind a vague color outline. This leads into a series of transformations where Arthur’s body evolves through several distinctly different art styles – pastels, watercolors, penciled outlines, Jackson Pollack-esque splatters, pointillism – his body is like a living history of art.

Art & Max by David Wiesner

The best buddy movie about art EVER

Max’s playful antagonism exposes Arthur to a whole new perspective on what art can be and, as the book ends, both lizards are attacking their new canvases with renewed vigor. But don’t let my references to Jackson Pollack and pointillism scare you off. First and foremost, Art & Max is a very, very fun picture book. My daughter always cackles as Max paints all over his best friend with wild abandon, and Art & Max is filled with some of the funniest physical humor I’ve seen in a picture book in ages. Who knew art could be this fun?

Art & Max by David Wiesner

Insert your own “painted lizard” joke here…

2. Seen Art?, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

This is an odd little picture book that my daughter adores. (Seen Art? might be one of our most frequently checked out books from the library.) To commemorate the opening of the new location of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in late 2004, Scieszka and Smith created this long, thin tribute to the museum, in which a young boy, looking for his friend Arthur, gets directed into the new MoMA building after asking around, “Seen Art?” (Characters named “Art” or “Arthur” are a common recurring motif in kids’ picture books about art.) The boy eventually wanders through the museum – the book features a large series of wonderful reproductions of many of the museum’s most notable pieces – learning while he goes how other people define what exactly “art” is. The offbeat characters throughout the museum present to the young boy a fantastic series of questions regarding art – questions like “Is it trying to capture dreams? Or is it making images everyone can recognize?” And those questions have sparked some really fun conversations with my daughter.

Seen Art?

My kid loves this picture book/museum guide book hybrid…

Seen Art? is a great overall primer for teaching kids how to appreciate and talk about art. And it’s the reason why my six year old can recognize an Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein print on sight, which is pretty cool. Plus, when I was finally able to take her to MoMA this past summer, my daughter was over-the-moon excited and recognized her favorite pieces from the book on almost every floor of the museum, which was also pretty cool. [read the rest of the post…]

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If you’re in a participating area of North America today, try taking your kid to Free Comic Book Day today, May 4th. There are a lot of really amazing books available and they’re free, free, FREE. If you’re wondering if there’s a participating store in your area, you can click HERE for the FCBD store locator. It’s an event that’s definitely worth seeking out.

Free Comic Book Day

Admit it – Getting free comics is much, much cooler than voting…

Some stores put on more of a show than others. Some will have people in elaborate costumes, prizes, comic book artists signing copies of the free books. And others will only have the books themselves and not much else. But, regardless for how elaborate your local store’s celebration is, Free Comic Book Day is a great opportunity to pick up some high-quality free reading material for your kids – comic books that have been designed to draw in new readers and introduce them to all that comics have to offer.

Free Comic Book Day

Here are some of the free comics we picked up this morning…

So, if there’s a participating store nearby you, maybe swing by with your kids and see if they’re interested. All it’ll cost is some time… unless your kids end up REALLY liking the comics and want you to buy some of the non-free ones, which… isn’t all that bad either.

Plus, Hugh freakin’ Jackman also thinks you should celebrate Free Comic Book Day and who are you to argue with Les Miserable Wolverine? Have fun today!

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Free Comic Book Day

Seriously, how can Arbor Day ever hope to compete?

Parents – Want to have a fun time with your kids at an event that actively encourages them to read? Then you should definitely take advantage of Free Comic Book Day, which takes place this Saturday, May 4th. I can tell you from experience that it’s a whole lot of fun.

What is Free Comic Book Day? To quote the official FCBD website:

Free Comic Book Day is a single day – the first Saturday in May each year – when participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away comic books absolutely FREE to anyone who comes into their stores.

Now – important qualification coming – that doesn’t mean that EVERY comic in the store is free. What is does mean is that most of the major comic book companies publish special “free” issues for the stores to pass out on Free Comic Book Day. These free books are often designed to hook new readers, so they make a great introduction to comics and comic series that your kids may not have been exposed to yet.

If you’re interested to see what titles are available for Free Comic Book Day, Glen Weldon (from NPR’s Monkey See blog) compiled a wonderful breakdown of the best free comics for kids this year. You can find it here: Which Comics Should I Get? Your Free Comic Book Day Cheat Sheet

And, if you click on this link, you can find the Free Comic Book Day Store Locator that can help you find a store near you that’s participating in FCBD this year.

Free Comic Book Day by Sergio Aragones

I love this Free Comic Book Day promo image from the great Sergio Aragones. (Click to embiggen.)

FAIR WARNING #1 – Most stores don’t let you take unlimited copies of the free comics. Most have some policy or limit in place. Some stores only let you take one free comic per person (Boo!), some let you take four comics per person (Yay!), and, if your local store isn’t getting much foot traffic that day, some stores will let you take as many as you want (Double Yay!). You might want to call ahead to confirm your local store’s policy. [read the rest of the post…]

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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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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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