We all love William Steig. From “Shrek” to “The Magic Pebble” to “Dr. DeSoto”, dear Mr. Steig can do no wrong. And in the eyes of my two sons, his best work is, by far, “CDB!” – a collection of letter riddles and illustrations that are totally impossible to resist. “CDB” shows two children looking at a bee. Get it? C…D…B? See the Bee? OK. How about this one…a little boy watching a larger boy lick a delicious lollipop says “I N-V U.” Get it? I envy you? Now you’re getting to the brilliance that is Steig and the amazing time you and your children will have figuring out some of the harder ones. For the adult crowd, the best is “D Y-N S X-L-N.” Let that one breathe for a while…
Two things I adore about Patricia Lee Gauch’s book, “Christina Katerina and the Box”…1) Miss Christina Katerina has an endless imagination when it comes to old refrigerator boxes and 2) her friend’s name is Fats Watson. Seriously, anyone who has a friend named Fats Watson is alright in my book. You must remember those days when a new appliance arrived and you were so excited to get your hands on that big empty box and turn it into a fort or a castle or a race car? I do…I loved it when my mom would cut little holes for windows and I’d have a new little cottage all to myself. Christina Katerina is just the same – and despite the fact that Fats ends up ruining or collapsing or sitting atop each of her creations, she never stops until the box literally melts as Fats hoses it down. But fear not, Fats makes up for his ways by bringing over his mother’s old washer and dryer boxes. And it’s off to the high seas for Christina and Fats in their cardboard sailboats. A delightful and imaginative romp of a story.
This was a magical book to me as a child. I always gravitated towards books in which the children created worlds of their own – and this 45 -year-old book, may be the best of them all. In it, the titular Andrew Henry is driving his family crazy with all of his inventions – until ultimately, he decides to find a new home just for himself. He creates one in the meadow and soon, other children follow him there, each building their own little homes to escape and dream and imagine. Doris Burn’s tale is utterly whimsical and endearing and any child, like me, who loved to find a little hidden spot to create and draw and invent and think, will truly appreciate its simple beauty. A classic to be read again and again.
When I was at summer camp at the age of 9, if anyone put their elbows on the table, the counselors would say “Mabel, Mabel, if you’re able, take your elbows off the table, this is not a horse’s stable, this is a decent dining table.” Trust me, it was awful. And, to this day, if my elbows start to make that climb toward the table, that horrible refrain rings in my ears. Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and there’s a new Mabel in town. A better, elbow-free Mabel who LOVES to say grace at the table. Vanessa Brantley Newton, the author of the wonderful “Let Freedom Ring”, has captured the joy of family and tradition in her hysterical book, “Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table.” In it, the titular Auntie Mabel and her family are sitting down to a big, delicious dinner but before they can dig in, Auntie Mabel must say grace. And for anyone who has ever been at a table where the grace just doesn’t seem to end, and your food gets cold and yet the blessings just keep on coming, this is the book for you. Mabel’s grace stops at nothing…Brussel sprouts, the President, anyone and everything worthy of thanks make it into Mabel’s grace. It’s an adorable and hilarious take on the tradition of grace that will have you giggling into your napkin.
When Louis’ Uncle McAllister send him a package from Scotland, it turns out to be a tadpole whom Louis promptly names Alphonse. A wonderful pet, Alphonse quickly develops a taste for cheeseburgers and grows and grows and grows. Unable to fit in his jar, Alphonse is moved first to the kitchen sink. Then the bathtub. Until, finally, Louis needs to find a new home for his enormous, and rather mysterious, tadpole. When happens next is both touching and brilliant as we discover that Alphonse may not just be an ordinary tadpole, but rather a creature of epic (perhaps even Loch Ness-like) proportions. A delightful read by Steven Kellogg about the love between a child and his magical pet.
What if the wolves were adorable and kind and the pig was the real stinker? That’s exactly what Eugene Trivizas has examined in his wildly funny “The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Pig.” Imagine, the three wolves, fuzzy and sweet – and all they really want to do is build their own home. The first? Bricks, from a generous kangaroo. But the Pig (looking quite like a large pink Tony Soprano) arrives with a sledgehammer and tears it to pieces. The next? Cement. But the Pig will stop at nothing and brandishes his jackhammer. As the structures become stronger, the Pig gets meaner until the wolves decide they’ve had enough. Want to know what happens next? All I’ll say is that it involves quite a number of flowers and a tarantella. A fun take on an old story that will make you think twice about pigs and their tempers.
When the PBS kids’ show, “Dinosaur Train” debuted, a dear (and hilarious) friend of mine quipped that the producers just sat down in a room and mashed together two words that would immediately appeal to little boys and then made a show out of it. Having now watched Dinosaur Train ad nauseum, I think it also has to do with the fact that they had an entire episode on poop. I was reminded of that same concept of the little boy title mash-up when I came across Chris Barton’s “Shark vs. Train.” I mean, really? A shark versus a train? What little guy could resist that just based on the title alone?! Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to read this original and clever book and find that , despite its WWF-esque title, it is WONDERFUL. Shark and Train are pitted against each other in a variety of battles: high diving, burping…the only one where neither wins is the video game competition since, as Train says, “sure would help if we had thumbs.” The book is fast-paced and hilarious and each subsequent battle is funnier than the last. This is my new favorite little boy read..
Little did I know how awesome life could be if I just had a gorilla. Thanks to Andrew Gall and his wicked clever book “Everything is Better with a Gorilla” I now know better. For example, did you know that washing dishes with a gorilla is better than doing it alone? Why, you ask? Because the mountain gorilla’s fur can double as a dishtowel. Amazing! Ooooo…and did you know that having a gorilla over for a sleepover is better? It is! Because you can talk late into the night with the gorilla as long as you understand that the conversation will, as Gall puts it, “inevitably veer toward plants.” Kids will love the quirky “gorillustrations” and parents will love the fact that real facts about gorillas are hidden between the lines of Gall’s witty and wonderful text. Trust me, you’ll go bananas over this book.
There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, but perhaps it was so she could have her story told in this exquisite, unbelievably gorgeous, whimsical, magical book. Jeremy Holmes, an artist is every sense of the word, has recreated this classic story in one of those most amazing books I’ve seen in a long time. We all know the story – lady, fly, spider, bird, cat…her untimely death after nibbling on a horse….But this oft-told tale is suddenly made new under Holmes’ talented hand. it’s like the Old Lady met Edward Scissorhands at a party and they got together and made this book. It’s edgy and interactive (the old lady’s coat comes off as a book cover and her eyes close at the end) and one of those rare books that also qualifies as fine art. Love it.
What happens when the Princess seems to do quite well all on her own? This is the crux of Robert Munsch’s glorious “The Paper Bag Princess” in which Princess Elizabeth learns what lies behind the handsome face of Prince Charming, AKA Prince Ronald. When Elizabeth’s castle is burned down by a dastardly dragon, thereby destroying her wardrobe and kidnapping Ronald, she’s forced to take matters into her own hands. The Princess rescuing the Prince? What a fabulous idea! And she does just that, dressed only in a paper bag. But when she ultimately finds Prince Ronald and he scoffs at her imperfect appearance, Elizabeth finds that the fairy-tale ending for her might just be a little different than she thought. This book is a wonderful take on the classic fairy tale that should serve as a great lesson to Princesses everywhere.