For my art classes, I’m constantly on the look-out for great children’s art books..and Louvre Up Close by Clare d’Harcourt is one of my all-time favorites. In this oversized book, children can really dive in head-first to the best works of the Louvre and play a scavenger hunt along the way. Each two page spread features a piece of art (Mona Lisa, Egyptian Sarcophogi, Snyder’s The Fishmongers, etc) with 10 magnified details for the child to find. Then, in the back of the book, each piece of art is described in detail with an open-the-flap feature that is sure to keep those little ones asking for more. With more than 200 details to find within the book, it’s like an up close and personal tour of the Louvre (minus the croissants you’d inevitably eat after visiting…)
A special thank you to my friend Ally for pointing me in the direction of this wonderful book…Hooway for Wodney Wat is the story of Rodney Rat who, as you could have probably guessed, cannot pronounce his “r’s”. Hence…Wodney Wat. Surely a cruel joke of fate for both of his names to begin with that ever-elusive letter…and Wodney certainly bears the brunt of the teasing and giggling at school. That is, until Camilla Capybara comes to school – and announces that she’s the biggest, meanest and smartest rodent in town. A not-so-friendly game of Simon Says ensues and, lo and behold, Wodney’s pronunciation is the key to successfully humbling Miss Camilla. For anyone who, like my younger son, has a bit of trouble with those dastardly “r’s” or for anyone who just needs a little reassurance that everything is going to be alright, Hooway for Wodney Wat is a remarkably clever and inspiring tail….I mean, tale.
For any parent who’s ever wondered, just who exactly is the boss around here, Marla Frazee’s adorable book, “The Boss Baby” is the one for you. In it, Boss Baby wrecks havoc over the household. He’s demanding, deafening and downright dastardly. And no matter what his parents do, he still wants more, more, more! That is, until the two sole members of his tyrannical corporation faint from exhaustion and Boss Baby must resort to some pretty quick (and polite) thinking to get his staff back on track. Frazee’s text and inimitable illustrations (Boss Baby sports a three-piece suit onesie with a diaper-friendly drop seat) are the key to the success of this little book. And just a suggestion…”Boss Baby” also makes a great gift for first-time parents who probably aren’t yet ready to admit they have a Boss Baby of their own…
Now, I’m not one to be overly effusive about the seemingly endless number of 3-D items made lately (what’s next? a 3-D adaptation of Jane Eyre? “Look out, Rochester! Your mad wife is reaching her pale, white hand out into the audience!”)…..Some things are best left in the realm of 2D…BUT I must insist that you all run out today and purchase a copy of Marie Javins’ “3-D Atlas and World Tour”. This little book, complete with its own fold-out 3-D glasses, breathes new life into the otherwise neglected genre of the world atlas – making all of the greatest parts of our world literally pop! The Grand Canyon? In 3-D! The peaks of Nepal? In 3-D! And the best part is all of the wonderful information that Javin’s puts in to accompany the thrills and chills of each picture. This is 3-D at its best.
Oh, how I loved these books as a child. Maud Hart Lovelace’s (don’t you just LOVE her name?) “Betsy Tacy” series was one of my all-time favorites. And, although first published in 1946, they are utterly timeless and wonderful. Unfortunately for me, my boys both put their noses high in the air when I even mentioned a series of books about two little girls, but that won’t stop me from re-reading them again and again. Betsy and Tacy are two little girls who are such good friends that people in their small town just call them the collective “Betsy Tacy” since they’re always together. And these simple little books tell the tales of these two wonderful friends and for some reason, even though nothing really amazing ever happens, I could never manage to put them down even for a second. The perfect series for emerging readers…just not for my boys who are currently in a “girls are stinky” frame of mind.
It has recently come to my attention that not every child has James Marshall’s “George and Martha” sitting on their bookshelves. How is this possible? Well, it must be changed immediately, because you are one of those who do not have “George and Martha” readily at your disposal that you are missing out on one of the greatest pleasures in life. George and Martha were a staple of my childhood and continue to be two of the most witty, hilarious and charming hippos to ever speak, dance and wear clothes. Oh, and did I mention Martha makes a mean bowl of split pea soup? (Which George, who hates split pea soup but is too worried about hurting Martha’s feelings to say so, promptly dumps into his shoe.) Each of the George and Martha books (and there are many, thank goodness!) offers a collection of tales about what it takes to be a good friend and the ups and downs of every friendship. You must read them today. Seriously. Go right now. I’ll be checking your bookshelves to make sure…
My boys love this book – not only because it has robbers in it but because it’s the only book we’ve found with a “blunderbuss” in it. The three robbers are just that – thieves with hats shaped like rooftops, who spend their days pillaging stagecoaches and homes in the village. But one night, inside a recently seized coach, they find Tiffany – small orphan girl who was on her way to be delivered to a wicked aunt. Suddenly, and without warning, the three robbers find themselves thawing to the sweetness of this little girl and pledge to spend all of the money their acquired so wickedly to create a castle and town for all of the little orphans of the world. What started with a pepper spray, an axe, and the much-loved blunderbuss, culminates then in a very happy ending for them all. Tomi Ungerer is a favorite of mine, and this is the best of the best. If you can, run out to the library or book store to buy the Scholastic Inc., video of this book – it’s fantastic. And here it is!
It was a day like any other. Mr. Plumbean was enjoying a lovely morning when, out of the blue, a large seagull flies over and drops a can of orange paint right on his roof. Mr. Plumbean quite likes the shock of orange, but his neighbors, who all live in identical brown houses, are aghast and agog. Like a meeting of a Manhattan co-op board, his neighbors decide that Mr. Plumbean must re-paint his house this instant or incur the wrath of the community. And, oh, Mr. Plumbean paints. But he paints with large splotches of colors – blues and purples and reds and even adds a few pretty girls and elephants to the mix. He paints, as he says, a house that looks like “all my dreams” and encourages his neighbors to do the same. What results is a beautiful example of trying something new and sharing that spirit with those around you. D. Manus Pinkwater (what a fab name!) has given us a great tale of bucking the system and creating a space all your own.
Meet Molly Lou Melon. She has buck teeth. She is short. She has a voice that sounds like “a frog being squeezed by a boa constrictor.” But what little Miss Melon lacks in beauty and grace, she more than makes up for in charisma – lovingly nurtured and supported by her beloved grandmother who tells her to stand up tall and shine her light for the world. Molly Lou lives her grandmother’s words..that is until she moves to a new town and a new school and must encounter the penultimate bully, Ronald Durkin. But what Ronald Durkin doesn’t know is that little Molly Lou, with her bushy hair and her buck teeth and her enormous buggy eyes, is a force to be reckoned with and a voice that will, in the words of her grandmother, “sing out clear.” Patty Lovell and David Catrow have given us a gorgeous book and an important one for all of the Molly Lou Melons and Ronald Durkins of the world.
In a world of disposable goods and overflowing trash barges, it’s nice once in a while to come across a beautiful, award-winning book that touts the merits of saving and re-using. Long before recycling was even cool, the titular Joseph understood that when things become old, you shouldn’t just throw them away. You can create something new and wonderful out of them! In Simms Taback’s Caldecott Medal book, “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat”, based on a Yiddish song from Taback’s childhood, Joseph wears his overcoat until it gets so old and shabby he must make it into a jacket. When that jacket loses its luster, Joseph makes it into a vest. And so on and so forth until all that’s left is a button which has its own clever uses. Stunningly illustrated and easily singable, Taback’s book is a beautifully crafted fable that will hopefully raise new conversations with our children about the beauty of finding value in something old.