Comic Book Guy

You expect me to believe that CHILDREN have the ability to select their own "Best-Books-Ever"? Hardly...

After all this talk about grown-ups ranking the “best kids books ever!”, I decided that I wanted a different perspective on the issue and went looking for examples of actual kids talking about their favorite books of all time. I limited my search to video sources because I wanted to actually see and hear the kids discuss the books they were really in love with. (I assumed that most five- to ten-year-olds wouldn’t have blogs of their own, which… let’s be honest, totally dates me.)

I was definitely surprised at how few videos on the subject I found on YouTube. I thought there would be plenty, and there were many videos of grown-ups and teenagers discussing their favorite books – mostly adult titles and mostly filmed in dark, poorly lit rooms, as if they were afraid of being discovered by someone. But searching on “best books for kids” or “favorite children’s books” on YouTube just didn’t return that many quality results.

The best YT videos I found on the subject came from a site called Mom Kids Books – a site that touts “great books for kids recommended by moms.” I like how they did their videos, which was essentially just setting up a camera and letting the kids talk. I particularly dug this video by seventeen-year-old Tessa talking about her favorite book, The Phantom Tollbooth. (Yes, fine, I am crazy biased about this one. I admit.)

Here’s another great “my favorite book video” from Mariah talking about her favorite book, The Very Fairy Princess.

As my search went on, I actually had much better luck finding videos of kids talking about their favorite books on Vimeo. The Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado has a FANTASTIC Vimeo channel with a really compelling selection of videos. I especially loved their KidsVIEW on Books series, in which, again, real kids get on camera to discuss the real books they love. The best part about the KidsVIEW videos is that they offer a very honest portrayal of what young kids really like to read. Some of these kids love award-winning books by acclaimed children’s authors like Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, and Cornelia Funke, to name a few, and some of these kids just absolutely love books like Barbie: Scavenger Hunt or Star Wars Revenge of the Sith: The Visual Dictionary. [read the rest of the post…]


I Broke My Trunk

Hooray for I Broke My Trunk!

I may have mentioned in the past that my family is a wee bit fond of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books… OK, fine, we’re borderline-obsessed.

So, it should be no surprise – with our psychosis so clearly stated for everyone to judge – that we were excited to hear that I Broke My Trunk, a hysterical E&P book from last year, was named as a Geisel Honor Book at the 2012 ALA Youth Media Awards. (The Elephant & Piggie series previously won the 2009 Geisel Award for Are You Ready to Play Outside?)

And Mo Willems, being the mad genius that he is, decided to make this video to thank the Geisel Award committee. Enjoy.


Princess Hyacinth

Princess Hyacinth quietly waits for me to shut up about princesses...

To briefly clarify a point that probably doesn’t need to be clarified, just FYI, this isn’t just a blog about princess books. I’m kidding… kind of, but I know I’ve had a lot of princess-related content this week, so I just wanted to let people know that I’m still going to be covering a wide range of topics related to collecting the right kinds of books for your kids. Some weeks we’re going to be talking about princess titles, other weeks we’ll be talking about ABC books or road-trip books (no question – Richard Scarry makes the BEST road-trip books). But the princess thing has definitely struck a nerve and I’m glad we’re addressing it.

As I’ve done in the past, I’ve found some very interesting video online to accompany our recent discussion of princess books. This week’s clips… how do I put this… are both FANTASTIC, but for very different reasons. The first clip is just a ridiculously interesting and engaging look at how author-illustrator Lane Smith, a Building a Library favorite, actually creates his breathtaking picture books. The two books he focuses on are Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated (one of our featured princess books) and The Big Elephant in the Room, a book that my five-year-old has called “the funniest book I ever, EVER read.” This is a bit long and in-depth, but I find it totally fascinating.

The second clip is “fantastic”… in the most ironic sense of the word. What I mean is that – I find it “fantastic” that something this cheesy could ever be associated with a book as sly and un-ironic as Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess (another one of our “princess books for people who hate princess books”). This is a cartoon adaptation of The Paper Bag Princess that was created for a Canadian TV show in the 1990s called “Bunch of Munsch.” (How much do I love Canada for not only giving a children’s author his own animated show, but also NAMING it after him too?) And, while I applaud the idea of giving Munsch his own show… MAN, this is a horribly dated cartoon.

I am sure that there are people out there with a boatload of nostalgia for “Bunch of Munsch” and maybe I’m being overdramatic, but, seriously, the dragon RAPS. He RAPS. He has a song – that he raps – and the first line is “Dragon is my name and fire is my game.” WOW. Watch for historical reference only.


Faithful readers – looking at you, Mom – I want to really apologize for the lack of updates on the site lately. It’s almost been a month since I last updated, which is an epoch in internet time, but December was the cruelest month of my 2011 with a really unexpected amount of stress, sickness (which I’m just now getting over), and family death thrown into the mix. (Ugh.)

Building a Library is back!

I know, I know - world's smallest violin...

So, long story short, I’ve been preoccupied. But, hopefully, the content drought is coming to an end and we’ll be back to normal updates ASAP. If you’re reading this, thanks for your patience.

And, as partial payment for your kindness, check out this lovely video of legend Maurice Sendak talking about his work and career. (The bit where he talks about why he’s never considered revisiting Where the Wild Things Are is both EPIC and hilarious.)


Scaredy Squirrel

Scaredy hopes you enjoy his book trailers

I’m running a bit behind on my epic, three-part appreciation of the genius of Melanie Watt (click here for part one and part two), so, in the meantime, I thought I’d share a few Scaredy Squirrel-related videos to give you a taste of what you’ve been missing. (And, if you’ve already read Scaredy Squirrel, then enjoy this taste of… nope, the metaphor doesn’t work anymore. Just watch them and enjoy, OK?)

First, here are two very brief book trailers created by Scaredy’s publisher, Kids Can Press.

And, now, here’s a pretty good read-aloud video of the first Scaredy Squirrel book.

There are actually a lot of these kinds of videos on YouTube, videos of people reading children’s books aloud, and I have mixed feelings about them. On one hand, it’s nice to get such a thorough preview of the book and, particularly for picture books with a lot of verse elements, it’s kind of cool to hear someone else reading it aloud to get a sense of their rhythms and inflections (particularly if you’re not 100% sure if you’re reading it right – looking at you, In the Night Kitchen.)

On the other hand, most of these videos seem pretty lacking to me. There’s a read-aloud video of Watt’s Chester that I couldn’t stop screaming at – “You’re not reading like 40% of the text on the page! Why didn’t you read the jacket flap? Aren’t you going to highlight the illustrations? Are you trying to give me a heart attack???” [read the rest of the post…]


Scaredy Squirrel

This is Scaredy.

In my last post, I discussed how, thanks to the picture book Chester, my daughter became a big time fan of Mélanie Watt, a seriously talented author-illustrator from Quebec. The hook of Chester is that a the title character, an ego-driven fluffy cat, absconds with a red marker and starts editing the book to favor himself, which kicks off a minor war between Chester and the book’s author, Mélanie Watt. It’s a nice slice of high-concept fun that turned Watt into a minor celebrity in our house and permanently placed the author on my daughter’s book-finding radar. We now know, when we hit the library or a bookstore, if we encounter a Mélanie Watt book, my daughter is going to latch onto it like an alien facehugger.

With that in mind, it was probably inevitable that my daughter would discover Scaredy Squirrel one day, another picture book series by Watt and the literary creation that she’s probably best known for. We actually first encountered Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach, the third Scaredy book, at our local library – “Dad! DAD! Mélanie Watt’s name is on this book, Dad!” – and it got such a big reaction at home that we quickly knew that we’d eventually be reading the entire series.

And I have to say reading Scaredy Squirrel books is a pleasure, particularly for adult readers. Because they’re funny. Really funny and they’re a total blast to read aloud. Every adult – parent, relative, friend – who has sat down with my daughter and read one of her Scaredy Squirrel books has loved the experience and asked for more. In fact, when I first launched this blog, my awesome sister-in-law, Erin, immediately sent me an email – subject line “me want scaredy squirrel!” – asking me when was I going to write about Scaredy Squirrel. (Hey Erin, the answer is “now.”)

There are five Scaredy books so far – Scaredy Squirrel, Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach, Scaredy Squirrel at Night, and Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party. We’ve read all of them, except for Scaredy Squirrel at Night, and have seriously enjoyed them all.

Scaredy Squirrel

Scaredy is concerned for your safety.

Scaredy Squirrel as a character is simple yet complex. He’s a squirrel with a laundry list of phobias, anxieties, and unbreakable daily routines. To quote Scaredy’s prologue in the first book (these prologues are the only place where the squirrel speaks in first-person): “I NEVER leave my nut tree. It’s way too dangerous out there. I could encounter germs, poison ivy, or sharks. If danger comes along, I’m prepared. I have antibacterial soap, Band-Aids, and a parachute.” And, in each book, Scaredy is confronted with some normal social situation – leaving home, going to the beach, trying to make friends – and we get to watch while Scaredy goes to absurd lengths to remove all variables or sense of risk from each situation, which, as we all know, is totally impossible. [read the rest of the post…]


The Big Idea

Coffee table books are a MUST for any home library

Some of my favorite book reviews come from Boing Boing, a tech-focused culture blog that you’ve probably already heard of and that I’ll sound like an idiot if I try to explain any further. It’s a wonderful online hub for news and commentary, featuring contributors that write intelligently and passionately about a wide range of subjects. One of those subjects, from time to time, is books and, as I should’ve expected, their book reviews are as intelligent and passionate as the rest of the blog.

Last week, Maggie Koerth-Baker, penned a great review of a new National Geographic coffee table book called The Big Idea: How Breakthroughs of the Past Shape the Future, and there was a passage in her review about the impact that coffee table books can have on kids that I absolutely adore. She wrote:

I still think kids and coffee table books go together like peanut butter and jelly. In late grade school and junior high, you’re at an age where you still enjoy picture books but are looking for a bigger, deeper view of the world than most picture books provide. Coffee table books bridge that gap, offering grown-up perspectives in kid-friendly packages. Whether the topic is art, architecture, history, culture, or science—coffee table books can be a kid’s first step into a subject they’ll come to love as an adult.

I could NOT agree with Maggie more, and I totally heart her for describing something that I rant about every few months in way more eloquent terms than I ever could.

OK, this blog is all about giving advice about building a home library, right? So, here is one of my top five favorite pieces of advice to give parents who are trying to put together a collection of books for their children: Make sure that your kid – whether they’re 2 or 12 years old – has access to a big variety of coffee table books. [read the rest of the post…]


Little Red Hen

Hey, have you guys read a version of "The Little Red Hen" that was better than Paul Galdone's?

As I mentioned yesterday, if you’re looking for excellent editions of classic folk tales to share with your kids, you can’t do better than the works of Paul Galdone and James Marshall. Both are prolific author-illustrators who have published multiple retellings of some of the most famous stories in the world, but they’ve always found ways to present those stories in really compelling and clever ways.

Trust me. These books will very clearly show you the difference that a skilled author brings to retelling a “classic” tale, even something as familiar as Little Red Riding Hood or The Billy Goats Gruff. Since most folktales are in the public domain, you can find a lot of really cheap, poorly executed picture books of these stories all over the place. (Your local dollar store is probably full of them.)  Take any of those PD versions and hold them against the works of Galdone and Marshall and the difference will be as glaring as the difference between a potato and an iPod.

As a brief sample of the amazing folktale awesomeness that these authors so consistently deliver, sit back and enjoy these animated presentations of Marshall’s The Three Little Pigs and Galdone’s Little Red Hen.


As I described earlier, having an interrupting chicken in your child’s library can be a humorous and fulfilling experience. However, you DO have to make sure that you have the right kind.

For example, THIS is the perfect kind of interrupting chicken for your child:

THIS is not. (Be sure to wait until the end, though):


Reading Rainbow

Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high...

I was a huge Reading Rainbow fan when I was a kid. Heck, there’s a whole generation of bookish children from the 1980s that, thanks to the influence of the best reading-related series that PBS ever produced, would very quickly form a cult behind LeVar Burton if the world ever found itself dropped into a Mad Max/Stephen King’s The Stand-esque dystopian wasteland. So, after I wrote my post on David Small’s Imogene’s Antlers yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Reading Rainbow actually did a whole episode themed around Imogene’s Antlers back in the 1980s.

It opens with LeVar visiting the Philadelphia Zoo to discuss the differences between animals and humans and, around the 6:40 mark, they start talking about Imogene’s Antlers directly and even get the hilarious Imogene Coca (Get it? Har, har) to do a reading of the book. Check out the video here:

Isn’t that such a great show? That video completely reminded me how wonderful Reading Rainbow was and I plan on spending tonight trying to locate some of the episodes on DVD to share with my daughter.

Oh, and, just FYI, if I ever met LeVar Burton in person, it would probably resemble something like this: