Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

We see an old guy overanalyzing the heck out of a 26-page book for babies….

In my last post about Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle‘s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, I talked a lot about how reading the book aloud to my daughter became this shared meditative experience between the two of us. It’s a book that, to me, really comes alive when you read it out loud. I also mentioned that Gwyneth Paltrow had narrated an audio version of the book and debated whether the book could sound as powerful coming from a recording. Well, thanks to magic of YouTube, we can test that theory.

There are several different readings of Brown Bear, Brown Bear available on YouTube, so I picked THREE different versions and, dear readers, I’d like you to take a listen to all three and let me know what you think. Is there a version that particularly resonates with you? Do any of them fall completely flat? Would you actually play any of these for your kids? I’m interested to hear your feedback.

The first version is the author, Bill Martin Jr., reading the book himself. He definitely brings his own musical rhythm to the text, singing the lines like they were the lyrics of a children’s song from his youth.

The next reading of Brown Bear is the aforementioned Gwyneth Paltrow version. I’m including a video that has the highest-quality audio I could find, but, just a heads-up, it doesn’t follow along with the book. (There is a version that pairs Paltrow’s reading with a flip through the book – you can see it here – but the audio quality in that video is really bad, so I didn’t think it was fair to feature it.) Paltrow actually reads the book closer to how I read it. She takes her time, she doesn’t sing the words – I never read the book as a song – and she actually does voices for the animals. It’s an interesting take.

The third reading totally turns Brown Bear, Brown Bear into a song. In fact, it sings the entire book to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” If I’m being honest, it would be an understatement to say that I @#$%ing hate this version.

Which one is your favorite? Or would you rather just stick with live readings?


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.


Midway Monkey Madness

How can you not adore a book called “Midway Monkey Madness”?

In my last post, I went on and on about how fantastic the DC Super-Pets chapter books from Capstone Publishers are, and I still really recommend them for any kid who loves superheroes and who’s starting to read on their own. (Even if they aren’t a junior comic nerd like my kid, they’re still very entertaining reads.) Plus, be honest, you have to love a chapter book series with titles like Midway Monkey Madness, Attack of the Invisible Cats, Salamander Smackdown, and Battle Bugs from Outer Space. (Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I?)

Plus I just discovered that Capstone makes a line of DC Super Hero chapter books that offer similarly designed, early-reader-friendly stories revolving around DC’s most famous heroes – Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern. While I’m not willing to endorse them sight unseen, I’ve had such a positive experience reading Capstone’s Super-Pets books to my daughter, I’ll definitely be checking out their DC Super Hero chapter book line in the near future.

But, if you’re not into comic books, no worries. If you just want to learn more about these visually compelling chapter books, I’ve grabbed two videos that might interest you. One is a book trailer for the DC Super-Pets chapter book series and the other is a fun interview with artist Art Baltazar, talking about his career and the books themselves. Enjoy.

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Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

Maurice Sendak, a literary giant whose works impacted children of all ages (even the grown ones), died today at the age of 83, due to complications that arose from a recent stroke. I write a lot about “essential” books that every child should have in their home library, but, when I look at my past posts, I realize that I haven’t written that much about Sendak and I think I know why. I think I sometimes forget to mention Sendak or recommend his books, because it just seems like a foregone conclusion to me that EVERYONE knows that you MUST read Maurice Sendak. They don’t need me convincing them to pick up a copy of Where the Wild Things Are or In the Night Kitchen. There is something – or there SHOULD be something – just imprinted in our animal DNA that draws us to Sendak’s works. We recognize the emotions, the expressions, the empathy that are all clearly apparent on the faces of his characters and we connect to them on a deeply resonant level.

Where the Wild Things Are

My daughter, at age 1 1/2, at the Maurice Sendak exhibit at Philadelphia's Please Touch Children's Museum. You might recognize this image from the header of this blog.

I keep mentioning that The Phantom Tollbooth was the first book that I ever bought for my daughter, but, what I don’t mention is that I didn’t have to buy her a copy of Where the Wild Things Are because I already had a copy, a copy that I’d bought for myself. As I prepared to leave home for the first time to head for college, for whatever reason, after I was done buying myself bedsheets, a TV, and a computer, I bought myself a hardcover edition of Where the Wild Things Are to keep in my dorm room. And I don’t really know why. Maybe it was something to help me remember my childhood. Maybe it was the equivalent of a literary security blanket. Maybe I was hoping to look deep to college girls and subtly let them know that I was ready to let the “wild rumpus start.” But, my strange motivations aside, I think it says a lot that I couldn’t picture living alone, in my own living space for the first time in my life, without a copy of Where the Wild Things Are ready and available to me whenever I needed it.

That’s the real magic of Sendak. He has so woven his stories into our collective unconscious that it now seems bizarre that there ever were generations in the past that didn’t have Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, or Outside Over There available for their children. While I’m happy that the world will always have his books to cherish for eons to come, I’d admit, it does feel very strange to no longer have the man himself, creating new and vibrant works and constantly reminding children to “Live your life, live your life, live your life.”

As a small tribute to the memory of the great man, I assembled this brief collection of videos that, I think, do a nice job of really showing the universal impact, importance, and grand, unfettered joy of Maurice Sendak and his wonderful works. He will be missed.

Tell Them Anything You Want is a fantastic 40-minute documentary on Sendak assembled by Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs, which was released to accompany Jonze’s 2009 big-screen, live-action version of Where the Wild Things Are. This is long, but beautiful – with some wonderful interviews with Sendak himself. [UPDATE: Earlier today, I embedded a link to a full version of Tell Them Anything You Want on YouTube. That link has since been removed due to a copyright claim. In its place, until they take it down, I present this still-pretty-cool, 5-minute excerpt from the documentary.)

Anyone who ever debated Sendak‘s cultural importance should watch this great video of President Obama reading Where the Wild Things Are at the 2009 White House Easter Egg Roll.

A longer excerpt of some spirited interviews with Sendak talking about his life and career, which is taken from a DVD released by the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, which is the “sole repository of the original artwork of famed author and illustrator Maurice Sendak and a foremost authority on all things Sendak.”

Anita Silvey, the children’s lit expert behind one of my favorite websites, The Book-a-Day Almanac, gives a wonderful overview of Maurice Sendak‘s personal history and literary career. This is a nice introduction to Sendak for those who don’t know much about the man behind his famous works.

[read the rest of the post…]


The Knight and the Dragon

Some books are more important than others...

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

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

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

Isn’t that great?


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


The Purple Kangaroo

Believe it or not, but Cormac McCarthy will NOT do stuff like this to promote his books...

I wrote yesterday about how much I enjoyed comedian Michael Ian Black‘s picture books and, as I browsed the YouTube channel of Black’s publisher, Simon and Schuster, last night, it quickly became apparent to me why ANY publisher would want to have an established comedian as one of their authors – they’re INSANELY good at promoting themselves.  Sure, the comedian needs to be good writer, first and foremost, but, if the book is good, the publisher also inherits this wonderful promotional partner, a partner who is really skilled at getting in front of a camera or a crowd and engaging audiences.

Self-promotion skills seem to be a pre-requisite for ANY up-and-coming author nowadays – they’ve got to start their own websites, establish their own social media presence, go on self-funded tours, etc. – but, when you’ve got a performer like Black, who’s had decades of experience at selling people on his persona, you really start to appreciate how valuable it must be to a publisher to have someone this funny trying to sell your books for you.

That’s all a very long-winded way of saying – check out these extremely funny videos Black made to promote The Purple Kangaroo. The first has a kangaroo-costumed Black reading his book and the second is a hysterical look into the creation of the picture book, in which Black plays up his loveable d-bag on-stage persona and wonderfully torments illustrator Peter Brown. Enjoy.


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Maybe these videos will cheer him up...

As I mentioned in my review, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a universally appealing story for the simple reason that everyone in the world has had the experience of having a really, really bad day. (Right now, your brain is trying to get you to start unconsciously humming Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day”. For the love of humanity, FIGHT that urge.) So, since Alexander is such a relatable tale, it’s not surprising that there have been several multimedia adaptations of the book over the years.

The first video I want to share is probably my favorite – it’s Judith Viorst reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on the Barnes & Noble website.  (I always think it’s great to hear an author read their own work.)

Next is a cartoon adaptation of Alexander that aired on HBO in 1990. This video is the first of three parts of this “musical” – yes, musical – version of Alexander’s very bad day. It’s… not great, in my humble opinion. The songs aren’t exactly Book of Mormon caliber, the animation quality is sub-Rugrats… it’s very much an artifact of the 1990s.

Finally, here’s a brief look at the LIVE musical production of Alexander that Judith Viorst teamed with the Kennedy Center to produce in 1998. This adaptation has toured around the country and it looks silly and fun… even though the trailer does use Powter’s “Bad Day”… shudder…. [read the rest of the post…]


I was planning a different post for today, but this morning I realized it was February 29th, i.e. Leap Day, the day that only comes once every four years. Previously I only really enjoyed Leap Day as an excuse to indulge in the bad, old running joke “What if your birthday was on Leap Day? After 16 years, you’d only be 4 years old!” – a joke that has popped up in everything from Pirates of Penzance to Parks & Recreation. But, in recent years, there has been this movement to recast Leap Day as a day where you’re supposed to try new things. It’s the day that doesn’t count, the day that comes around so infrequently that it’s the PERFECT day to finally take big chances. (This new vision of Leap Day was hilariously lampooned on an episode of 30 Rock.)

And I actually love that new definition of Leap Day. It makes February 29th more than just a calendar abnormality. It makes it into something aspirational and optimistic, which are two wonderful qualities for a holiday to have.

Tuesday by David Wiesner

The best Leap Day book EVER.

So, to celebrate Leap Day, I spent my drive into work trying to think of the perfect book to read my daughter tonight to celebrate the Leap Day spirit and then it hit me – David Wiesner’s Tuesday.

Let me get this out of the way – Tuesday by David Wiesner might be the coolest picture book I’ve ever read. If I was making a list of the ten essential books that ANY home library MUST have (ooh, I might actually do that soon), Tuesday would definitely make the list.

David Wiesner is one of the most talented children’s book illustrators that has ever lived, a fact backed up by his unprecedented three Caldecott Medals and two Caldecott Honor citations. He’s the master of the wordless or near-wordless picture book, where he uses his vivid watercolor paintings to tell beautiful stories, capture subtle emotions, and entertain the heck out of parents and children alike. Our family has a short-list of “must-own” authors – children’s book creators whose work we will buy sight-unseen every single time – and Wiesner is definitely on that list.

I’ll do a longer tribute to Wiesner’s oeuvre another day, but, for right now, let me address the question – Why is Tuesday the PERFECT Leap Day book?

Tuesday by David Wiesner

Um, Larry…. what’s happening?

First, it’s all about frogs and reading about frogs on Leap Day is too good of a pun to pass up. Second, the premise of Tuesday really taps into the Leap Day spirit. The book opens with the text “Tuesday evening, around eight” and we then pull in on a turtle in a pond witnessing an awesome sight.

For some unknown reason, EVERY frog in the pond has started to FLOAT up, up, up into the air. Actually, they’re not just floating. They’re full-on flying. They’re soaring through the trees, they’re chasing birds, and, from the expressions on their faces, you can tell that the frogs are LOVING IT. They’re having a blast. They’re doing tricks, they’re sneaking into houses to watch TV, they’re playfully chasing a dog that was previously chasing them – a whole new realm of experience has been opened up to them. [read the rest of the post…]


I Want My Hat Back

Wait... I'm in a movie? Really?

Whenever I review a book, I normally check on two things before I post the review – I do a quick search to see if the book or author has an official website, and I do a quick search to see if there’s any video that relates to the book in question. I’m especially interested in the video because I think publishers and authors have been creating some very cool and engaging video content lately, ranging from book trailers, author Q&A sessions, read-aloud videos (which I’ve had problems with in the past), fan-made tributes, etc. Also, since I’m the world’s worst over-writer, I think the video is a nice break from my normal, cringe-inducingly large blocks of uninterrupted text.

So, after finishing my review of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, I went looking for any accompanying video for the book online and found a strange little mix of the expected and definitely unexpected.

First, I found Candlewick Press‘ official book trailer for I Want My Hat Back, which is nicely produced, it’s very cute – it is an above-average book trailer.

Then I discovered a full-length animated version of I Want My Hat Back. At first, I’ll admit, this video confused the heck out of me. The video – apparently the work of an Italian animator – seemed maybe professional enough to be “official,” but, despite its obvious production value, there were a few red flags that outted it as a fan effort. See for yourself. [read the rest of the post…]