Oh my goodness, how I adore Dan Yaccarino. From the days of yore when my children watched Oswald (his adorable animated tale of a blue octopus and his friends – made even better by the fact that the Penguin was voiced by Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley) to his unbelievably fabulous collection of children’s books (Every Friday, Unlovable, and Lawn to Lawn being some of my favorites) Yaccarino never fails to impress, inspire and delight. And now, he’s topped them all with his biographical tale of his family’s journey from Italy to Ellis Island. All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel is an example of the best that children’s books can offer. It is the heartwarming true story of Yaccarino’s immigrant ancestors and their amazing journey to the United States. Filled with unforgettable memories and inspiring strength, this little book spans four generations of an Italian American family. As a child whose great-great-grandfather came from Italy through Ellis Island as well, this book holds remarkable significance for me and is one of the best books on the market today. For an inspiring, humorous, wonderful book, look no further than this tale of an amazing family and a silver shovel
For any budding cartoonists out there, have I got the book for you! Written by the top dudes at the Center for Cartoon Studies, Adventures in Cartooning is a fun, unique approach to teaching kids the basics of comic strip development. What’s refreshing about this l cartooning how-to is that it focuses less on “how to draw” (remember those books that would have you start with a circle, draw two triangles and three lines on each side and voila you have a cat?) and spends more time on the fundamentals of cartoons: speech bubbles, speed lines, motion indicators, etc. And the format is fabulous – the book actually tells the story of a knight, a horse and an elf – and teaches these comic lessons as the story unfolds. This is a great book for interested artists and a super-duper birthday gift for future cartoonists. All in all, a gem of a book!
Now, i’ll admit…i’m a sucker for Tomie dePaola. Strega Nona. Amazing. Big Anthony. Hilarious. But the artist in me must say that his little book, The Art Lesson is my all-time favorite. It is the wonderfully autobiographical tale of Tomie’s own experience as a child artist and the differences between two art teachers. One who limits his creativity and the other who’s a little more bohemian, a little more willing to let him use all the colors in the 64 crayon set. And as an art teacher now, I can truly appreciate the difference between Miss Landers and Miss Bowers. I think we’ve all had a Miss Landers and a Miss Bowers in our lives. And I hope, sincerely, that I am one who allows her students to express themselves independently and creatively – and, therefore, brings out the artist in each of them. So, here’s to Tomie…here’s to art…And here’s to using all 64 crayons
Remember the Lunch Ladies we had growing up? Hair nets. Sausage Surprise. Mustaches. Today’s Lunch Ladies are so much cooler. The Lunch Lady at my son’s school is fabulous and nice and loves kids – all the traits the Lunch Ladies were certainly missing out on for me growing up. And their equipment today is so much cooler, too. My Lunch Lady’s technology consisted of an empty can of Yuban coffee that she’d put the dimes in for a carton of milk. Today, the Lunch Lady has this cool credit card swiper-looking contraption that allows the kids to pay for their lunch like they’re using an ATM. Super cool. Not perhaps as cool as the Lunch Lady in Jarrett Krosoczka’s awesome book, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, since she can fly and drives a scooter with a “sloppy joe” button that allows her to cream her evil nemeses…ooo…and a “spatucopter” which sounds exactly like what is it – a spatula that can fly. Krosoczka’s graphic novels (yes, this is just the first in a set of Lunch Lady adventures!) are fantastic – fast-paced, entertaining and with just the right amount of kid humor to keep your children engaged and asking for more. Sure, she may have yellow rubber gloves and wear Mom jeans, but in this graphic novel, the Lunch Lady’s the coolest thing since sliced bread, or Sausage Surprise as the case may be…
In honor of my son’s birthday, I offer you his favorite book, The Twits. Written by none other than Roald Dahl (who’s like a celebrity around our house), The Twits details the, well, twitty, awful, ridiculous, offensive and downright hilarious adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Twit. The Twits, as their name might suggest, are two of the foulest people you could ever meet. Mr. Twit has a beard which he never cleans and, as such, has a collection of food items like fishsticks and chicken livers, adhered to it which he licks when he wants a slight snack. Mrs. Twit has a “wonky nose” and “stick-out teeth” and likes to hit cats and small children with her walking stick. And together, they wreak havoc among others and themselves. That is, until, their pet monkeys (the Muggle-Wump family) decide they’ve had enough and exact their twisted, upside-down revenge. This book is Dahl at his finest – wicked, clever, a tad nauseating and altogether fabulous.
And a Happy Fat Tuesday to you! For those of us not able to grab our beads and beignets and head straight for New Orleans, I offer Gaston, our tour guide for Mardi Gras. He knows his way around. Trust me, he’s an alligator. And in James Rice’s adorably informative book, Gaston takes us on an insider’s tour of Mardi Gras. Visit the Krewes, the Bouef Gras, hear the Zydeco and march with the band in this colorful and engaging book that (wait for it) also happens to be a coloring books. I mean, really? How much more awesome could Mardi Gras with Gaston get? A fantastic introduction to the festivities for little ones, and a great walk down memory lane for those of us who have ever walked in Gaston’s shoes.
Happy Women’s History Month, everyone! To celebrate, I’d like everyone to raise a glass or sippy cup as the case may be and toast all of the remarkable women who have contributed to the proud progress of our country. And what better way to celebrate that with this fabulous alphabet book, A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women. By utilizing the alphabet as a springboard, this book catalogs the achievements and success of a bevy of groundbreaking women – from Abigail Adams to Sandra Day O’Connor to Emily Dickinson to Nellie Bly. It’s a treasure trove of information all brought to you by none other than Lynne Cheney. Yes, that Lynne Cheney (with whom I worked in my younger, more impressionable days) – and whether you like her (or her husband) or not is irrelevant in the presence of this wonderful little book. Robin Preiss Glasser provides much-appreciated whimsy and delight with her illustrations. Overall, a great book to check out this month to teach all of our little ones just how fabulous we gals can be.