funny

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…]

{ 0 comments }

B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures

Take that, Caldecott committee!

One of the many reasons why I love picture books is because they’re one of the few forms of literature that actually anticipate that you won’t be reading them alone. Sure, there are picture books that are made for kids to read on their own, but there are also those wonderful picture books that are designed specifically for parents to read aloud to their children. They’re almost more like a play-script than a traditional book. It’s this lovely little monologue, a screenplay with storyboards included, a script for your onstage debut, performing your lines for a bedtime audience of one. (Or two or however many kids you have.) And, if you’re looking for a great script for your next storytime performance, I would definitely recommend B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures. Even if the book did made me scream “Blork!” and admit to my daughter that I’m really a “robot monkey.”

Let me explain…

You probably know Novak from NBC’s The Office, so I know what you’re thinking – celebrity author. It’s a total vanity project, right? NOPE. This is a great, great book, which isn’t that surprising because Novak released a collection of short stories earlier this year, One More Thing, which, I have to say, was excellent. So, we’ve established that the guy’s a good writer, but what’s remarkable about The Book with No Pictures is how well Novak understands the nuances of a great read-aloud book.

B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures

I’m a what-now?

Any really, really amazing kids’ read-aloud book, first and foremost, has to turn the kids into engaged listeners. They can’t be passive. They have to be part of the performance. How do you do that? You give them POWER, or, at the very least, the illusion of power. Look at Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. The book opens with the bus driver handing over his authority to the listening children, telling them “whatever you do, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus.” The parent then takes over the role of the curious pigeon and, while they get to ham it up as the pigeon, the kids participate by screaming “NO!”

Or look at perhaps the best read-aloud book EVER, Jon Stone’s The Monster at the End of This Book. It’s a genius bit of reverse psychology. Grover appears and essentially tells the listening kids, “If you turn the page, terrible, TERRIBLE things will happen!” (Which might be the best incentive for reading I’ve ever heard.) [read the rest of the post…]

{ 4 comments }

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…]

{ 3 comments }

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…]

{ 2 comments }

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.

{ 1 comment }

The Princess Bride

You love the movie, right? The book is even better. Well, most of it is…

I’m currently having a minor internal dilemma, dear readers, that I wanted to run past you. The dilemma revolves around my desire to share William Goldman‘s tremendous fairy tale, The Princess Bride, with my six-year-old daughter, and how exactly I should do that. Like a lot of people from my generation, I discovered The Princess Bride thanks to Rob Reiner’s 1987 film adaptation, an epic adaptation that has endured as one of the most rewatchable, quotable, and downright iconic movies of the past thirty years. While I’m still debating when my daughter will be old enough to see the movie, my primary concern is how and when I’m going to read Goldman’s original book to her.

And the operative word in that sentence is “how.” Because, at the moment, I don’t think I want to read her the entire book. I think I only want to read her the “good parts” of The Princess Bride, a statement that anyone who’s read the original book will find funny, ironic, or, at the very least, very, very “meta.”

Now, as a professed “book person”, the idea of selectively reading passages of a book to my daughter feels like a big cheat and a huge violation of the unspoken bond between author and reader – I hate playing backseat editor – but The Princess Bride is a special case. Let me give you some back story…

Even though I adored The Princess Bride movie the first time I saw it in 1987, it never really landed with me that I should seek out the original book that it was based on until I was in college. After a few weeks of hunting, I came across a tattered paperback copy of Goldman‘s The Princess Bride in a used bookstore and quickly devoured it. (It was originally published in 1973 with the eyebrow-raising tagline “A Hot Fairy Tale.”)

What Happens When the Most Beautiful Girl in the World Marries the Handsomest Prince in the World - And He Turns Out to Be a Son-of-a-Bitch?

This might be my favorite back cover copy of all time.

And the book didn’t disappoint. It’s wonderful. When reading the book, you really get an appreciation for how faithful and spot-on Rob Reiner’s adaptation was. Princess Bride the book is INCREDIBLY similar to Princess Bride the movie, right down to the priest mispronouncing “Mawidge” to the now-legendary “Hello, My Name is Inigo Montoya” showdown (which reaches its climax on page 276 of my paperback). While there are little variations in the details here and there, I can only recall two MAJOR differences that stood out when I first read the book. [read the rest of the post…]

{ 7 comments }

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.

{ 0 comments }

My Brave Year of Firsts

This is pretty much what it felt like to drop our daughter off to first grade….

Before we get to Bink & Gollie, if you’ve been wondering if Building a Library was on hiatus, I totally understand. Things here at Library Headquarters have been beyond hectic now that my daughter has just begun FIRST GRADE, a big life milestone that (if I’m being honest) I’m still a little weepy about.

The race up to the beginning of her school year was overwhelming with school supply shopping, orientation meetings, and desperate attempts to squeeze in a few final day trips to museums and zoos before first grade finally began.

The weekend before school started, I took my daughter to a local bookstore and told her that, in celebration of her new school year, she could pick out ANY book she wanted. An hour and a half later, I almost regretted that decision. We looked at EVERYTHING. New books, old books, picture books, easy readers, chapter books, audiobooks. Yes, I did have to reiterate SEVERAL TIMES that the toys and stuffed animals in the children’s section did not, in fact, count as reading material and, thus, was not eligible to qualify as “any book you wanted”, but, on the whole, it was fun to watch my daughter browsing her head off, completely lost in the stacks trying to find the perfect book.

My Brave Year of Firsts

This is actually a “perfect” book for any kid about to start first grade…

After trying to steer her towards some good-looking chapter books – she’s interested in Judy Moody, but won’t take the plunge yet – I spent twenty minutes advocating for My Brave Year of Firsts: Tries, Sighs, and High Fives, a new picture book by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. Even though I had been previously pushing for my daughter to pick a chapter book, I’ve written about my affection for Curtis and Cornell’s picture books in the past (I find them sentimental in all the right ways) and the book just seemed PERFECT for a kid about to start first grade.

It’s all about a young girl taking the leap and trying a myriad of new things for the very first time. She starts first grade (perfect!), she tries to ride her bike without training wheels (we’re doing that right now!), she makes new friends (just like my kid!), she helps her dad (I’m a dad!), and her name is Frankie (my daughter is named Charley!). My Brave Year of Firsts is a fun, wonderfully illustrated rumination on the benefits of being brave and trying new things and, thematically, it couldn’t have been more perfect for my kid.

So, of course, she didn’t pick it.

(Sorry Jamie and Laura. The book IS pretty great, though, and my daughter has a birthday coming up, so guess what she’s getting?)

Give a kid the power to pick out their own book and they will take full advantage of that privilege. And, after I vetoed a few more toys and at least one Barbie book, I heard my daughter gasp in the stacks and come running towards me.

“THIS is my book.”

Bink & Gollie: Two For One

My kid could’ve picked ANY book in the store, but this is the one she wanted.

The book was Bink & Gollie: Two For One, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee with illustrations by Tony Fucile. It’s an illustrated early reader/chapter book hybrid, a sequel to the original Bink & Gollie, the New York Times bestseller and Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Winner, which happens to be one of my daughter’s favorite books.

I love it when my daughter exhibits good taste.

I’ve been meaning to write about the original Bink & Gollie for months now (and I still probably will one day), but it’s one of those books that is SO good that it’s actually intimidating to write a review of it. How can I possibly convey the depth of the warmth and humor in Bink & Gollie in a simple blog post? It’s just an amazing title and Bink & Gollie: Two For One definitely lives up to its reputation. [read the rest of the post…]

{ 0 comments }

Today, I’m finishing a short series of recommendations in which I’m highlighting three fairly amazing picture books that my family has been enjoying recently. These are backlist titles – no recent best-sellers or anything – that I think are perfect for any bored kid looking for an interesting picture book to read this summer.

Mister O

Getting over that ravine is going to be harder than he thinks…

I mentioned in my introduction on Monday that one of the picture books on my summer reading list was currently out of print and, I’ll warn you, some might think this is an odd choice for fun summer reading for a child. In fact, we didn’t even buy this book for our daughter. A friend of ours gave this book to my wife years ago, but my daughter recently found it on the shelf, opened it up, and took a shine to it. Mister O (2004) is the work of cartoonist Lewis Trondheim, a prolific and award-winning artist from France, and it’s a very singular picture book. I’ve never actually seen anything else like it.

Mister O

Cute little guy, isn’t he?

The title character of the minimalist Mister O is a just a small circle with eyes, a mouth, arms, and legs. He is simplicity defined and so is his task at hand – he needs to get across a ravine. What follows is a series of deftly handled comic situations that feel like a glorious highlight reel from the life and times of Wile E. Coyote.

Here’s the set-up for Mister O – every rectangular page of this 30-page book is broken into sixty small panels. On each page, across those sixty panels, we watch while Mister O wordlessly tries to cross a deep ravine that’s blocking his path. Every page starts the same, with Mister O walking and then encountering the canyon in front of him. But, going from there, every page then delivers a totally original comedic experience as Mister O tries everything and anything to get over that hole. [read the rest of the post…]

{ 0 comments }

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.

{ 0 comments }