reader recommendations

Brightly: A Great New Resource for Raising a Reader

It takes a village to raise a reader (or, at the very least, a few good websites)…

If you follow the Building a Library Facebook page (and, if you don’t, you should!), you’ve probably seen me share quite a few links from a site called Brightly lately. It’s a new site from Penguin Random House that brings together book recommendations, seasonal inspirations, and helpful tips for parents who are taking an active interest in the reading lives of their children. Now, full disclosure, I’ve been writing a lot for Brightly lately, so, am I biased? Yes, I am. But, even with my bias, I definitely think you should check Brightly out.

It’s not just Penguin Random House recommending their own books. The site collects all kinds of book recommendations, from all kinds of publishers, and it has some really excellent contributors writing for it. And I don’t even mean me this time. OK, if you want to read my pieces for Brightly (bias!), here’s a selection of some of my recent articles for them:

Mystery-Solving Siblings: 5 Action-Packed Books for Kids
Why Should Dads Read With Their Kids? I’m Glad You Asked…
All the Presidents Books: Fantastic Kids’ Books About U.S. Presidents
5 Unconventional Love Stories for Kids
5 Books That Are Perfect for Your Junie B. Jones Fan
One Dad’s Reading Resolutions for the New Year
Why It’s Okay That Your Kids Want to Read Books You Hate
5 Legitimately Funny Books to Read Aloud with Your Kids

BUT I am proud to say that the site also has a bunch of really smart, thoughtful contributors who are much better writers than I am (which is both inspiring and vaguely annoying). Here are some of my favorite, not-written-by-me pieces:

6 Tips to Make Reading Fun, Not Frustrating
Why Parents of Teens Should Really Read YA
How to Encourage a Love of Books and Reading in Preschoolers
Get Them to the Shelves: Young Adult Books for Boys
Understanding the Common Core: A Primer for Parents
Ask the Librarians: What Should I Be Asking My Librarian?
The Importance of Reading Aloud to Big Kids

So, yeah, I’m biased, but I definitely think you should give Brightly a chance. It gathers a lot of truly engaging and interesting material for parents who are working their hardest to inspire a love of reading in their kids, which is something to be applauded. (And, if they employ me as well, that’s even more cause for applause…. I keed, I keed…)

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How to Make Sure That Your Baby Shower Book Won’t Get Returned

Don’t follow the leader! Find a way to make your baby shower book stand out from the pack…

There was recently a post on Brightly (a site I’ve been writing for) that I really liked – “8 Baby Shower Books That Won’t Get Returned” by Janssen Bradshaw. Not only did it offer some great gift book suggestions, but it also got me thinking about the subtle politics that go into buying a friend a really great gift book for their baby shower. Because, let’s be frank, you WANT your book to be the favorite. You want your book to be the hit of the shower. And, more than anything, you don’t want your book to suffer that fate worse than death for a gift book – to be returned, with a stack of similar books, for (shudder) store credit.

So, how do you make sure that your baby shower book stands out from the pack? For starters, don’t buy anyone Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, Guess How Much I Love You, or any other standard shower staple. Yes, they’re fantastic books, but they’re PREDICTABLE. Any bookish parent worth a damn is going to get ten copies of those titles from ten different people. They’re the baby shower equivalent of the letters Pat Sajak gives you as freebies during the final puzzle of Wheel of Fortune.

What other advice can I give you? After reading Bradshaw’s article, I took to Twitter the other day to list off some of my favorite tips for buying baby shower books. Some are no brainers, some are super-passive aggressive, and a few are borderline evil. But they should give you a decent idea of how to plan out your baby shower book purchase and ensure that your book finds a place of honor on their child’s bookshelf for years to come.

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If you want any specific ideas for other superior shower books, here are a few suggestions I’ve had in the past:

Five Great Board Books That Aren’t Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny
Building a Library for Friends: Great Starter Books for Your Best Friends’ Baby

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[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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Today, I have a special treat for you – the very first GUEST POST we’ve ever had at Building a Library. It was written by a dear friend, Megan McKnight, a lawyer and mom to two wonderful boys, who has been one of this blog’s biggest cheerleaders from day one. Megan actually sent me the bulk of this article in an email, asking me to give parents tips about picking titles from school book order catalogs. Her email was so full of her own great advice regarding book orders that I wrote her back and said, “Um, can I just post your email as an article? I’m never going to write anything better than what you just wrote.” And, after bugging her enough, she finally let me publish it (with a few edits and additions from her end). I love this article and think it’s a fantastic resource for any parent struggling with their monthly book order selections. Take it away, Megan!

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The Book Fair from the Black Lagoon

Do you ever feel like this around book order season?

By Megan McKnight — I am a huge Building a Library fan. It is a great resource and stokes my enjoyment of reading children’s books. However, Building a Library does not help much with one of those familiar rites of the school year: BOOK ORDERS. We have been buying books from the Scholastic book order program for a few years and my track record is dubious at best. Distracted by the low prices and pretty pictures, I bought several awful books for my family. I recently recycled a stack of book order paperbacks — instead of donating them — because I do not want them to end up on another unsuspecting family’s bookshelf.

So, I developed my own set of Rules for use in ordering from the monthly book order that I follow to save my family from terrible books. Now, my family actually enjoys the books we order. My Book Order Rules are the following, in no particular order:

DO NOT BUY…

1. Books that do not list an author and illustrator. If no one has the pride to acknowledge writing or illustrating the book, it is not worth reading.

2. Books based on television, movie, or toy characters. Usually, these books are also eliminated by Rule #1. This rule is inapplicable if the book preceded the show. Olivia by Ian Falconer is a good example of this – my boys love this book!

3. Books with the exclusive purpose of teaching manners and improving behavior. Instead of making your child more patient and kind, these books will probably leave you and your child annoyed and bored. There are a few entertaining books intended to reinforce good behavior — seek these outside of the book order.  For example, we enjoy these books: Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller, Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan, and Potty Animals: What to Know When You’ve Got to Go by Hope Vestergaard.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children

That’s tough but fair…

4. Book collections centered on the same character(s). For example, if you and your kids love Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, you do not need three more Llama books. Chances are that you will get Llama-ed out, very quickly, and it may sap some of the magic from that first book, too. Instead, use the book order as a chance to expand your horizons. However, see Rule #12 below for a very important exception.

5. Books accompanied by a CD or DVD. The usual running time is 3 1/2 minutes per book, which is hardly worth the trouble of getting it set-up. Just sit down and read to your child for three minutes.

6. Books in hardcover. These are usually more than $10, and it is not worth paying more than $10 for any book from the book order, given the remote likelihood that the books will impress both you and your kid. If the book is good, it will be published in paperback soon..

7. Book collections that are exclusively seasonal. For example, “Books About Fall” or “Books About Easter.” For some reason, these are generally terrible and you will have squandered another opportunity to read an amazing story.

8. Non-books like games, shoe-tying activities, puzzles, toys and chore-charts. I have  bought them all and the quality is universally poor.

9. Books that are accompanied by an accessory such as a car, a rock, a necklace, or 3-D glasses. The accessory is always of poor quality and the book rarely stands on its own. [read the rest of the post…]

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Lost in the shuffle...

It’s so easy for new kids’ books to get lost in the shuffle…

For a parent, keeping up with the current state of children’s publishing can be hard. Children’s and young adult titles are more popular than ever, so there are just an immense amount of new kids’ books hitting the shelves every week. And, for parents, finding those new titles – the new and really, really great titles that your kids will totally love – isn’t always easy or intuitive. Oftentimes, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for parents to encounter new kids’ books. Maybe you’ll see one online (if it’s prominently featured by one of the big retailers), maybe you’ll see one at the library (if your library ordered it), or maybe you’ll discover it at your local bookstore (if you still have a local bookstore). There are so many variables working against parents in the hunt for new books for their kids.

While I can’t solve the problem – because I miss just as many amazing kids’ books as the next parent – maybe I can help a little. Here are five of the coolest, most interesting, recently released children’s titles that I’ve encountered over the past few weeks. Even if these titles aren’t ideal for your kid, these books are all outstanding enough that they should definitely be on your kidlit radar.

1. Aesop’s Fables by Aesop and Ayano Imai

Two years ago, I wrote a post about “The Difficult Task of Introducing Your Kid to Folk Tales and Fairy Tales,” which was all about the responsibility I felt, as a parent, to give my child a well-rounded introduction to the myths and legends of the world. Related to that, let me just say, one of my biggest regrets is that I never bought my daughter a collection of Aesop’s Fables. It was a huge oversight on my part that possibly occurred because I never really read them myself as a kid. But, if you want a truly superior introduction to Aesop’s Fables for your home library, you can’t do better than this off-the-charts GORGEOUS picture book by Ayano Imai. The edition of Aesop’s Fables is ingeniously designed (you flip the pages landscape-style, like a calendar), Imai’s illustrations are packed with absorbing details, and it’s just one of those picture books where you want to frame every page and hang them in your kid’s room. I think the book may have been originally published in 2012, but I just saw a new 2013 edition of Imai’s Fables last week and I was blown away. (You can learn more about the book here and browse through it here.)

Aesop's Fables by Ayano Imai

A simple, elegant retelling of Aesop’s best fables…

2. Ballad by Blexbolex

Ballad by Blexbolex

There’s enough genius in here to keep your kids occupied for DAYS…

Blexbolex is a ridiculously talented French illustrator and, last June, I wrote about my love for his beyond brilliant word-book People. That title was an epic, phone-book-sized masterpiece that taught children about a huge variety of different people, including contortionists, centaurs, fakirs, tattooed men, rabbis, cat burglars, and more. (Seriously.) Each page featured wonderfully simple and iconic representations of different kinds of human beings, illustrated in a fashion that almost made them look like they were screen-printed or stamped onto each page. If it’s possible, Blexbolex‘s new picture book, Ballad, is an even more ambitious work, a truly staggering piece of visual storytelling.

Ballad follows a young boy as he walks home from school and, during his journey, the boy spins a series of increasingly complex stories based around the different environments he encounters – school, street, path, forest, and, eventually, home. The boy’s stories feature classic icons from the history of fables, ranging from witches to queens, and Ballad just perfectly captures how ingrained storytelling is in our day-to-day lives and imaginations. (Maria Popova wrote a much better and more perceptive review of Ballad – with way more images – that you can read here.) If you want your child to have really smart and beautiful picture books on their bedroom bookshelves, works like Ballad are a great place to start. [read the rest of the post…]

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Quiet! There's a Canary in the Library

Finding perceptive, interesting book suggestions can be hard…

While I love doling out kids’ book recommendations to other parents, the sad fact is – my knowledge of children’s literature is woefully finite. If we’re talking about any of the books in our home library or our local library favorites, I can puff my chest out and throw out suggestions like nobody’s business. But, if a parent or friend needs a recommendation for a book that lies outside of my home library wheelhouse, I need help. And, since there are thousands upon THOUSANDS of kids’ books that never make it into our extended library circle (despite my best efforts), I find myself looking for help with reading suggestions all the time.

As such, I thought it might be helpful if I listed some of the places I go when I’m looking for really great book suggestions. Some of these resources are fantastic at making themed recommendations – i.e. the best books for Spring, Easter, Arbor Day, etc. – and some are just excellent at profiling the coolest new children and young adult titles that totally should be on your radar. So, if you want to be a fake kids’ book expert like I am, here are five superior resources that will really make you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

1. EarlyWord.com

EarlyWord.com

This is where librarians get all their inside information…

Anybody who loves literature should have EarlyWord.com bookmarked and they should check it daily. It’s a site designed for collection development librarians – a.k.a. the people at your local library who decide what books they should buy for your community. The founders of EarlyWord keep a very keen eye on what’s being published by all of the major publishers, specifically so they can let librarians know what books they should be keeping an eye on as well. They alert librarians about hot new titles, they keep track of literary awards, they profile books that have been mentioned on TV or that have been turned into movies lately – all because they know that those are the books that patrons will be asking about at their local libraries soon.

EarlyWord.com has a Kids’ Section that’s extremely worth checking out on a weekly basis. They have a recurring feature called “Kids New Title Radar” where they profile the most significant new kids’ books coming out every week. Their kids’ section collect kids’ book trailers, they suggest reading lists for major holidays and events – it’s an amazing resource. And, if you check out the right-hand sidebar of the site, you can find a treasure trove of valuable information, ranging from a calendar of upcoming book-to-film adaptations to a downloadable Excel list that collects every kids’ book that made it onto a major “best books” list in 2012. This is easily one of my favorite sites on the web.

2. The Books on Top of the Shelves in the Kids’ Section at Your Local Library

I’m not going to point out that your local youth librarian is a great resource for reading recommendations because…well, duh. That’s their job. If you’re struggling to find really good books for your kids and you haven’t asked your local librarian for help yet, you’re missing out. So, while the importance of kids’ librarians may be obvious (to me, at least), some of the things they do for you on a regular basis may not be. For example, when you walk into the children’s section of most libraries, you’ll see a variety of books prominently displayed either on top of the shelves or arraigned on a rack at the end of the shelves. Again, this may be obvious, but… you know they’re there for a reason, right?

Quiet! There's a Canary in the Library

No, no, the good stuff is ON TOP of the shelves…

All of those “featured books” aren’t there to add a splash of color to the shelves. They’ve been placed there ON PURPOSE by the librarians. This is how they communicate their personal reading suggestions or how they highlight new, exciting titles that the library has just acquired. Whenever I enter the children’s section at our library, the very first thing I do is a circuit around the shelves to see what the librarians are suggesting this week. Thanks to the simple act of balancing a book on top of a shelf, I have “discovered” so many spectacular books that never would’ve been on my radar before. So, the next time you’re at the library, be sure to keep your eyes on the shelves. [read the rest of the post…]

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One of the perks of my day job is that, every year, they do an EPIC holiday book sale. For two days, a group at my office sells a tremendous selection of children’s and young adult titles at discount prices and donates all of their profits to Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), the nation’s largest nonprofit children’s literacy organization. So, I get amazing kid’s books delivered to my work, sold at bargain prices, and all the profits go to one of my favorite charities. That’s what I call a WIN-WIN-WIN scenario.

Holiday Book Sale Titles

Look upon and tremble at my hoard of books!

They just finished this year’s book sale and I walked away with a selection of really impressive titles. Some were old, some were new. Some were library favorites, some I’d never heard of. But I’m very pleased with all of them. So, in the spirit of the holidays (and so I can brag about my shopping prowess), I thought I’d give you a quick breakdown of the five books I purchased this week – which range from picture books to chapter books – all of which I’d definitely recommend for any home library. Enjoy.

1. Along a Long Road by Frank Viva

This picture book first got on my radar thanks to Carter Higgins‘ great review of it on Design Mom (Carter is also responsible for the fantastic Design of the Picture Book blog), so, when I saw it at the book sale, I scooped it up without even opening it. (Mine!) I then walked around the book sale for ten minutes, trying to read it and browse at the same time, but it wasn’t really working. Along a Long Road is just such a brilliant and beautifully executed picture book that it absolutely demanded my full attention. Frank Viva is a major talent and I honestly can’t believe that this is his first book for children.

Along a Long Road

Such a pretty book…

Along a Long Road

Even the cover flaps are gorgeous!

Along a Long Road is a gorgeous celebration of just getting on your bike and riding. Viva’s stylish layouts follow a lone cyclist riding his bike “along a long road”, “going up around a small town and down into a tunnel” – the reading rhythm actually rises and falls with the rider’s momentum. And that undeniable sense of momentum is helped by the fact that Viva ingeniously designed the book “as a single, continuous thirty-five-foot-long piece of art.” That’s right – the cyclist’s journey was originally composed as one long, long single canvas and somewhere, I promise you, a fan of this book is right now working on a way to transform the cyclist’s journey into the coolest wallpaper runner EVER for their baby’s nursery. Along a Long Road is sophisticated, energetic, and engaging and, while reading it, all I could think about was Lane Smith’s The Happy Hocky Family and Queen’s epic “Bicycle Race” anthem – which, c’mon, is pretty awesome. The New York Times named this as one of the “10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2011” and they weren’t wrong. Very highly recommended.

EXTRAS: Along a Long Road has one of the best designed book websites I’ve seen in a long while. If you want to dig deeper into this beautiful book, this is the place to start. [read the rest of the post…]

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Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same

Just in case you were wondering, Grace Lin’s “Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same” is one of the best kids’ books about twins I’ve ever read

A few months ago, I found out that two of my best friends in the world were having a baby. And not just “a baby”, they were having twins – twin girls – after years of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant. Needless to say, I was overjoyed, just completely over the moon for them. But then… all my OCD impulses kicked in and I immediately thought, “Oh man, I have to make sure those girls have a decent selection of reading material.” So, for the second time, I embarked on an attempt to “build a library” for a new baby (or babies, as it were).

I used the same methodology I used for my own daughter – I would buy one book a week during the pregnancy and I would try to stay away from books that they’d probably get as baby shower gifts. (Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, anything that’s available at Target, etc.)

However, a few weeks into the pregnancy, my friends turned to me and said, “Hey, remember that whole one-book-a-week thing you did for Charley? We’re doing it too.” I laughed hysterically, said “Good to know!”, and pulled out the eight-or-so books that I’d already bought them. Fortunately, we hadn’t doubled up on any of the books – but they’re twins, so I feel doubling up is OK – and it just reaffirmed my long-held opinion that my friends are AWESOME.

But it didn’t stop me from buying the books. All it did was add another variable to my selection process. So now I buy one book a week, try to stay away from books that they’d probably get as baby shower gifts, and try to stay away from books they’d buy themselves. (And I’m being a little more diligent about saving the gift receipts as well.)

They’re in around their 20th week of the pregnancy, so I haven’t finished my “40-week library for friends” yet, but I thought I’d share what I’d bought them so far to give you some ideas about buying books for expectant parents. (I’ll share the second half of my library list after the twins are born.)

If asked to “build a library” for the children of my very best friends, these are some of the books that would immediately rise to the top of my list. Yes, it’s subjective and selective and built around my own weird variables – there aren’t any Mo Willems books on the list yet because I wanted to see how many Pigeon books they’d get at their baby shower – but I think ANY of these books are great places to start.

If you’re building a library for a friend or even just looking for some great baby shower gifts, these books are definitely worth checking out. (Some of these books have been covered on the blog before, so I’ll provide links to the longer write-ups.)

1. My Friends by Taro Gomi

My FriendsLast September, I called My Friends “an ideal bedtime book. Truth be told, I literally read My Friends to my daughter at bedtime every single night I put her to bed from when she was five months old until she was about 15-months-old.” One of the best board books in history, in my humble opinion.

2. Press Here by Herve Tullet

Press HereLast November, I called Press Here “a fairly amazing book because it doesn’t wow its audience with a story or with particularly flashy illustrations, but rather it draws readers in with interactivity, with humor, and with that drive that comes with all printed books – the drive to see what happens next, to see what’s happening on the next page.”

3. Animalia by Graeme Base

AnimaliaWe actually don’t own a copy of Animalia ourselves – I don’t know if my daughter has ever read it – but it is simply one of the most expansive and beautiful alphabet books that I’ve ever encountered. Graeme Base has created this gorgeous tapestry of images, a collection of widescreen fantastical images of animal life, each accompanied by short alliterative phrases like “An Armoured Armadillo Avoiding an Angry Alligator.” I love the idea of taking the 70mm Cinemascope beauty of Base’s illustrations and plopping it in front of a young child. It will blow their minds. And they’ll think the alphabet is a million times more interesting than it actually is.

4. Jamberry by Bruce Degen

JamberryEasily one of our most read board books of all time. I don’t what makes Jamberry so appealing to young children, but my daughter loved it. The story follows a boy and his bear best friend berry-picking and wandering through a variety of berry-inspired landscapes. We start with “One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry” and, as the boy and the bear head out “looking for berries / berries for jam”, the verses quickly pick up steam. The whole book is a crescendo, throwing the friends into one bigger situation after another, escalating to the point where their travels involve marching bands and elephants figure-skating on jam. And every page of Jamberry is just teeming with berries in every way, shape, or form. It’s a lovely, energizing book to read out loud and, in my experience, kids love Bruce Degen’s visuals of his odd little berry universe.

5. The Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs by Paul Galdone

Little Red HenLast November, I wrote an article about “The Difficult Task of Introducing Your Kid to Folk Tales and Fairy Tales” and one of my recommendations was to steer kids towards “anything in Paul Galdone’s Folk Tale Classics series.” Galdone is a tremendous author and illustrator and his “Folk Tale Classics” represent some of the best retellings of “classic” stories that I’ve ever seen. If you want your kid to grow up with a firm knowledge of everyone from The Gingerbread Man to Red Riding Hood, Galdone is your man. For this library project, I went with two of my daughter’s favorite editions of Galdone’s folk tales – The Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs.

6. Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Bink and GollieBack in September, I waxed rhapsodic over the second Bink & Gollie book, Two for One, but the original is just as good, if not better. With Bink & Gollie, the authors – Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee, and Tony Fucile – have created a George & Martha for a new age. It’s a beautiful, hysterically funny look at friendship. As I mentioned in my review of Two for One, “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?” That’s all still true. This is a home library essential.

7. Frederick by Leo Lionni

FrederickI have never, ever encountered a book that does a better job of explaining the importance and value of art and artists than Leo Lionni’s Frederick. It takes all of these abstract concepts like art and emotion and, through the travails of these brilliant little collage mice, makes them easily understandable for young readers. This is a STAGGERING book with an amazing message, and it’s fun to read too. My daughter loves it. [read the rest of the post…]

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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…]

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PSSST! by Adam Rex

Such a funny trip to the zoo…

Yesterday, I kicked off this short series in which I’m going to be calling out three fairly amazing picture books that have been on our family’s radar lately, books that I think are perfect for any bored early reader looking for something interesting to read this summer. These aren’t recent books or hot new best-sellers. They’re just what we’re reading and enjoying at the moment and I think they make for great summer reads. And, in my introduction to the series yesterday, I made an off-hand reference to a note I’d scribbled while looking for books to recommend. The note was “Best zoo book ever?” I was referring to today’s recommendation, Adam Rex‘s PSSST! (2007), a wonderfully original comedic gem of a picture book.

Adam Rex got on my daughter’s radar in a big way after we checked out Chloe and the Lion from the library a few weeks ago, so, when she saw PSSST! on a librarian’s pick shelf, his name stopped her in her tracks. “Is this the Chloe and the Lion guy?” she asked. When I confirmed that it was, without a word, she picked up PSSST! and dropped it into our tote bag full of all the other books we were planning to check out that day. (“We HAVE to get that one, OK?” she sternly informed me. I just smiled and nodded.)

The best part was, once we got home, we discovered that the book took place at a zoo – from the cover, we only knew it was about a girl talking to animals – and, coincidentally, my daughter was right in the middle of attending a week-long summer day camp at our local zoo. So, that weird piece of chance, mixed with the fact that my daughter found the book to be hysterically, uproariously funny, meant that we read PSSST! at bedtime every night for a week. It was a colossal hit.

PSSST! by Adam Rex

My daughter is now convinced that giant hamster balls are the future of the zoo industry…

The story opens with a young girl visiting the zoo by herself. And, before I get much further, I have to mention that this is one of the most visually arresting, hands-down coolest zoos I’ve ever seen in a picture book. Adam Rex‘s imagination is only matched by his tremendous artistic talent, and his vision of a zoo in PSSST! is so original and whimsical and grand that my daughter spent days poring over the details on every page. Details like the ticket booth shaped like the letters “ZOO” or the Egyptian-themed camel habitat called “Camel-lot.” This is a zoo where deer and rhino roam the grounds in giant hamster balls and a narwhal swims in a giant glass snowglobe. This is a very, very cool zoo.

(Quick nerd aside – I’m a big fan of Steve Purcell’s Sam & Max, a cult comic that has been turned into a series of very popular cult adventure video games, and Rex‘s oddball design work and tendency to drop deliciously-skewed details into his backgrounds reminded me a lot of the world of Sam & Max. But that’s just me.)

So, as the young girl makes her way through this amazing zoo, suddenly, she hears someone say “PSSST!” She turns around to see a gorilla looking at her. This is the conversation that follows:

GORILLA: Over here.
GIRL: Oh. Hi.
GORILLA: What’s up?
GIRL: Not much.
GORILLA: Great. Listen. Could you get me a new tire?
GIRL: Why do you need a tire?
GORILLA: My swing broke. See?
GIRL: Oh. Well… I guess so.
GORILLA: Great. Get two, just in case.

PSSST! by Adam Rex

I guess “stranger danger” doesn’t apply for gorillas…

And the girl walks away. And this situation repeats itself over and over again. She finds herself hit with requests from a javelina, some bats, a group of penguins, sloths, turkeys, a baboon, and a tortoise – all of whom ask for completely random items, ranging from bike helmets to flashlights. The girl is hesitant to help, but they give her money (the peacock collects coins from the fountain) and there IS a store that seemingly sells everything right across the street. As if the girl’s awkward interactions with the animals weren’t funny enough, the whole scenario is leading up to a tremendous punchline at the end of the book that I won’t spoil here. Needless to say, the animals have an ulterior motive and it’s very, very funny. My daughter cackled – CACKLED – at the end of PSSST!, and there’s a particular exchange at the end (that takes place one week later) that she INSISTED on reading herself, simply because she wanted the pleasure of performing such a great gag herself. [read the rest of the post…]

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