Lane Smith is probably best known, by me at least, as the Caldecott-winning illustrator of The Stinky Cheese Man…not to mention the author and illustrator of one of my personal favorites, The Happy Hocky Family. In the past, Smith has dwelt in the sublimely cheeky – bringing his quirky sensibilities to a wide range of offbeat and utterly brilliant children’s books. And while all of his books have had a teensy whiff of sentimentality in them, I never in a million years expected the sheer gorgeousness of his latest book Grandpa Green. In this stunning new book, Smith earns his stripes as an honest-to-goodness storyteller of the highest caliber. Smith’s book tells the story of Grandpa Green, an avid gardener who tells his unforgettable life story in a series of topiaries carved into the shapes of his memories. A first kiss. A war. The cafe where he first met his wife. All are lovingly and painstakingly recreated in the lush foliage of his garden. And his great-grandson, who sees these tales come to life, is the lucky recipient of not only his Grandpa’s artistry but his rich, beautiful life story. Lane Smith has outdone himself in this quiet little book that speaks volumes to the joy of memory. This book goes beyond the normal parameters of children’s literature and into the realm of literary treasures.
I’m feeling a bit sentimental today…and, as such, I’m bringing back an old favorite – Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty McDonald. Ooooo how I loved this series as a child. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle lives in an upside down house and smells like cookies and, thankfully for parents everywhere, has wonderful cures for every possible childhood lament. And we’re not talking about chickenpox or measles, here. We’re talking about cures for things like talking back and not picking up toys and selfishness. My favorite of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s infamous cures is for the girl who won’t take a bath. And the dirt just keeps accumulating on this beastly little child. So, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle instructs her parents to plant turnip seeds in the dirt on her face and watch them grow. They do just that and, surprise!, a bath is quickly accomplished. Young readers will delight in the whimsical and magical words of McDonald and illustrations from Hilary Knight of Eloise fame. And parents will love that someone finally has a cure for not wanting to go to bed.
Nothing is more exciting to an emerging reader than the idea of a chapter book. Even if those “chapters” are a few pages long and are accompanied by hilarious drawings and puns about insects, the feeling of accomplishment is no less remarkable. But which chapter books to pick for your new little book worm? If your children are anything like mine, the Fly Guy series will fit the bill perfectly. Tedd Arnold’s rhyming prose, hysterical drawings and comic book-like antics will keep you child buzzing with excitement about reading. Hi! Fly Guy introduces our main character, a little boy named Buzz, who meets a fly whose intelligence is immediately demonstrated by its ability to say the boy’s name. Buzz and Fly Guy make quick friends and soon, Buzz enters Fly Guy into The Amazing Pet Show. Does a fly have what it takes? Will the pesky beast capture the judges’ icy hearts? Dive right into this delightful series and discover what a successful combination chapter books and pestilent insects can be.
In 1975, Peter Mayle (yes, of A Year in Provence fame) and Arthur Robins published a book that would forever change my life. Their brilliantly informative and remarkably unembarrassing teenage tome, What is Happening to Me: A Guide to Puberty, would prove to be my personal roadmap through acne (why yes, it does appear on your back!), periods (why yes, they do happen on ski trips!) and bras (why, yes, the woman in the bra department will quickly become your worst nightmare!). Written for both boys and girls, Mayle and Robins’ book gently and factually describes every injustice known to plague teenagers – handling each question, no matter how humiliating, with common sense, and no hint of ridicule or judgment. Robins’ illustrations bring a sense of humor to the topics and make the reader feel a lot more comfortable reading about unexpected hairs than you’d ever imagine. I poured over this book as puberty beckoned and found comfort in not being the only person on the face of the earth to experience the new feelings, emotions and struggles of that time. For any parent working through the first signs of adolescence with their children, this book is as powerful now as it was then to a little girl in her pegged jeans who just needed to know that everything was going to be alright.