In honor of the royal wedding (the hats! the dress! the pomp! the kiss!) I offer a little glimpse into London by way of Miroslav Sasek’s This is London. From the Tower of London to Big Ben to every cheery black cabby, Sasek’s book gives us Yanks a beautiful peek inside what makes London so special. First published in 1959, some of the landmarks from Sasek’s day no long exist, but the vintage flair and whimsy of historical anglophilia will live on. And while Beatrice’s hat may not have been my particular cup of tea, Sasek’s gorgeous book is and will remain so as long as the Royal Guards continue to stand.
I’m feeling a tad nostalgic today and can’t help but recommend a book that I absolutely LOVED as a child. (To the point that my elementary school librarian forbade me from checking it out anymore because I wasn’t “giving other children a chance to read it.”) I loved it so much I even tried, rather dismally I may add, to pronounce the authors name…which to this day eludes me. Esphyr Slobodkina. (If you have a correct pronunciation, please comment below so that I may finally put this to bed.) Anyway, Slobodkina’s 1940 classic, Caps for Sale has delighted readers for more than 70 years and will continue to delight for 70 more. The simple tale of the cap peddlar and the monkeys (trust me, it makes sense while you’re reading it) who taunt him is just one of those books you always remember and that should be passed along from generation to generation. I hear from our school librarian that it’s still a favorite of children today. We’ll see if my son is forbidden from checking it out soon.
For starters, there’s really nothing better than Charlie and Lola. And for any of you who have not yet fallen in love with Lauren Child’s dynamic brother and sister duo, you must do so immediately. That said, Charlie and Lola are two of my favorite characters of all time (right up there with Anne Shirley and Veruca Salt) – perhaps slightly because they’re British and I have that thing for all things British, but also because they’re beautifully rendered as hilariously lovable children. So today, as I sat in the dentist’s chair (which for me is akin to sitting in a torture chamber) I let my mind drift happily to one of my favorite Charlie and Lola books about teeth: My Wobbly Tooth Must Not Ever Never Fall Out. This little morsel of a book tells the story of Lola’s wibbly-wobbly tooth that, at first, she does not want to lose. But when wind of the Tooth Fairy hits her ears, she embarks on a mission to wiggle it out of its gummy slumber. Charlie, as always, steps up to the plate as the best big brother on the planet and shepherds Lola from worry to happy in a way only he can. You don’t a wobbly tooth to truly appreciate this lovely book. You don’t even need to be sitting in the inquisitor’s…uh…I mean…dentist’s chair.
Back in my romantic late-teen days, I loved to give children’s books as presents to boys I dated. Like Silverstein’s The Missing Piece or Margaret Wise Brown’s The Little Island or, for a rather ill-fated tryst, Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile. Now, as a married lady, I can’t wait to give my husband a copy of Janet Lawler’s If Kisses Were Colors. This gorgeous little book will not only become an instant favorite of children everywhere, but it can easily bridge the gap between loving kisses from mama to loving kisses from your sweetheart. My favorite line from the lyrical book is “If kisses were pebbles, your beach would be lined, with stones by the millions, of all shapes and kinds.” Isn’t that just the bee’s knees? In Lawler’s deft hand, metaphors abound and, suddenly, kisses are comets, rainbows, even acorns – and it all makes perfect sense, rounded out beautifully by Alison Jay’s gorgeous illustrations. So for a great gift for your child, your hubby, your sweetie or your friend with benefits, take a peek at this lovely little book. You’ll thank me later.
When I was little, my Aunt Doll gave me a copy of Jack Gantos’ Rotten Ralph and I was mesmerized. For reasons unknown to my eight year old heart, I just loved this awful, terrible, absolutely naughty cat and the little girl who loved him despite of it all. My children love it too – mostly because they get to watch a character do absolutely devilish things and laugh about it. So, in honor of my younger son’s 6th birthday today, I offer Happy Birthday, Rotten Ralph – a wickedly delightful romp through Ralph territory that leaves no mischievous deed undone. In it, the titular Ralph does everything from squirting toothpaste in his owner’s shoes to pouring prune juice in her cereal (which my grandma Deedles might have quite liked come to think of it). Nicole Rubel’s illustrations are truly fabulous and perfectly capture the whiskered imp who, no matter the misdeed, continues to enthrall us all.
So, basically, Shel Silverstein can do no wrong. From The Giving Tree (which, incidentally I starred in as the tree in my 4th grade assembly) to Where the Sidewalk Ends and every line of verse in between, Silverstein is the best children’s authors can be. He’s fun, irreverent, brilliant, a little bit naughty and every bit a genius. And today I want to recommend one of my favorite Silverstein books, The Missing Piece not only because it is beautifully written and illustrated in that completely signature Silverstein way, but because it offers one of the most valuable lessons a child (or adult for that matter) can learn in one’s lifetime – that fulfillment, completion and self-worth are entirely within our own hearts. And somehow, that deep philosophical notion is made abundantly clear in a few simple line drawings of a circle with a chunk missing from it. It’s amazing what children’s books can do. And even more amazing what Silverstein can accomplish with his pen. Need more Silverstein in your day? Take a peek at his wonderful web site..www.shelsilverstein.com.
Happy National Poetry Month to you all! I hope you all run out and grab your nearest copy of Millay or Nash or Silverstein or Cummings and spend an afternoon wrapped up in a wonderful poem or two. While you’re at it, take this month as a fabulous excuse to introduce your children to poetry and its many forms with I Like this Poem: A Collection of Best-Loved Poems Chosen by Children for Other Children. This is, by far, the most amazingly fantastic collection of poems for children I’ve ever seen. Originally published in 1979, this collection doesn’t include some of my favorite children’s poets (i.e. Silverstein or Prelutsky) but what it does include are famous poems from every corner of literature. It’s like a primer for future English Majors (hooray!). Where else can you find The Witches’ Spell from Macbeth alongside The Owl and the Pussycat? Not to mention Roald Dahl’s I’ve Eaten Many Strange and Scrumptious Dishes in my Time (from James and the Giant Peach) a few pages away from Wordsworth’s I’ve Watched You Know a Full Half-Hour. Recommended by children ages 6-15, the best part of this collection, for me, is that after each poem, there is a quote from the child who recommended it. It’s like a poetry anthology that’s been kid approved, and it’s a must-have for any book shelf.
I was recently browsing around at my favorite local children’s bookstore and overheard a woman and her little girl arguing over a book. The mom was trying to talk the (rather, shall we say, difficult) child into buying a Margaret Wise Brown book (God bless her) and the little girl sat right down in the middle of the aisle and said, and I quote, “I don’t WANT a book. A book doesn’t DO anything.” After reviving myself with smelling salts, I thought about how perhaps there are more little girls and boys around the world (horrors!) who might feel this way and it made me awfully sad. Because books do the most amazing things without actually doing anything at all. You know that. I know that. And luckily, I think all of my readers’ children know that. But for those children out there who keep waiting for their books to talk in funny voices or play music or run around the house like literary robots, I hope that one day they find that one book that teaches them that the words on the page bring to life more than any game, any toy, any electronic doo-dad they could imagine. Amazingly, as I returned to that same bookstore this week I came across one of the most wonderful books to come along in some time – and it, quite ironically and whimsically, fits into this little soapbox speech of mine. Herve Tullet’s Press Here reminds children and adults alike that the magic of the word and the picture is truly that….magic. Acting as an interactive narrator, Tullet’s book asks the reader to follow the instructions throughout the book. “Press here and turn the page” it says and, lo and behold, that small touch has created something new on the following page. This is a wonderfully imaginative, wry and stunning book that, if nothing else, will remind us of the sheer brilliance of children’s books and the amazing powers of our own minds and fingers. Need more inspiration? Here’s the video for the book…
In loving memory of my dad who had, quite possibly, the most debonair mustache on the face of the planet, I offer Gary Barwin’s hilarious book, The Magic Mustache. A wonderfully off-kilter retelling of the Jack of the Beanstalk tale, The Magic Mustache tells the story of a nose who goes to market to trade a pair of glasses for food. In the spirit of the well-intentioned Jack, the nose is talked into trading instead for a magic mustache. (Sounds good to me…I mean, seriously, a magic mustache? I’ll take it!) I don’t know about you, but my two sons can’t seem to leave our local party supply store without spending their allowance on those fake glasses with mustache and nose attached, so this book is quite the favorite around our house. Your kids will delight in the puns, wordplay, silly drawings and overall mayhem that, surprisingly, a nose and mustache can create.