A Splash of Red, or The Best Art Book Around

13642600I have an amazing, clever, wonderful friend who often sends me books. Not just ordinary books. Gorgeous, beautiful, life-altering books. This is the sort of friend that everyone should be lucky enough to have and I adore her to pieces. One of the books she sent me recently was the most surprising, delightful book I had seen in some time. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet (swoon swoon swoon) is honestly, in my humble opinion, one of, if not THE, best art books around. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mr. Pippin, he was and remains an absolute American treasure. An artist known best for his simple and stunning paintings of American life, Mr. Pippin has quickly become one of my favorite artists. I taught my Museum Masters students about him last week and they were fascinated by this man who overcame huge obstacles in his life and yet still stayed true to his artistic soul. Wounded severely while fighting in the trenches in World War I, Mr. Pippin lost almost all mobility in his right hand – his “drawing” hand. And for many years, he figured his days of creating artwork were over. That is, until he took his right hand in his left and taught himself to paint, holding one hand in the other. Bryant’s words and Sweet’s gorgeous drawings bring this humble and extraordinary man to life for children and adults. Interspersed through the book are quotes from Mr. Pippin himself. Quotes like “If a man knows nothing but hard times, he will paint them, for her must be true to himself” and (my students’ favorite) “Pictures just come to my mind and I tell my heart to go ahead.”  This is an inspiring, at times heartbreaking, groundbreaking book that should belong on the shelves of every child and adult the world over. Please take a moment and get to know Horace Pippin through the eyes of Bryant and Sweet. They have done him proud.

The Best Halloween Books for Little Boys and Ghouls

The neighborhood children are buzzing with excitement over costumes. Pumpkins are making their way onto the front porches of houses. And bright orange and black M&Ms are moving into the four basic food groups.

It’s Halloween time again and what better way to kick off this spooktacular holiday than with a fun assortment of the best and most beloved Halloween books for children. From smelly feet to Norwegian grandmothers, this list will bring a devilish grin to your little boys and ghouls.

The Hallo-Wiener
Written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Ages: 4-8
I apologize in advance for recommending a book that has within its title a word that will invariably cause incessant repetition by your children. Or perhaps that’s just my children. Nevertheless, “The Hallo-Wiener”, by Dav Pilkey (of “Captain Underpants” fame), certainly belongs on any list of great Halloween books. Oscar is a dachshund who is “half-a-dog tall and one-and-a-half dogs long” and is regularly teased by the other dogs. But nothing causes more ridicule than his mother’s decision to dress him for Halloween with a bun complete with mustard. Poor little Oscar – what shall he do? Come to the rescue, of course, as the little readers will find. A tale of inner strength and the best sausage puns you’ve read…

 

Trick or Treat, Smell my Feet
Written and illustrated by Lisa Desimini
Ages: 4-8
Growing up, we used to sing “Trick or treat, smell my feet, dance around the toilet seat” and the image of boogie-ing around the potty was always a show-stopper for me. Now, thank Heavens, we have Lisa Desimini’s “Trick or Treat, Smell my Feet” to entertain us just as hilariously. This is the tale of twin witches, Delia and Ophelia, who take it upon themselves (as all true witches do) to ruin Halloween for the sweet neighborhood kids. So, they concoct a spell using, you guessed it, stinky socks. All does not run smoothly for these identical hags, and your kids will adore the result. I do…almost as much as lambada-ing around the john.

 

 

The Best Halloween Ever
Written by Barbara Robinson
Ages: 9-12
Hooray for the Herdmans! Barbara Robinson’s “The Best Halloween Ever” may, in fact, be the funniest book on the market. The author of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”, among others, has a lightning-quick wit and a tenderness towards her characters that is unparalleled. Reading this out loud to my boys is an act in self-control since her lines are so funny and heartwarming you want to laugh and cry at the same time. I adore adore adore this book and can’t recommend it highly enough. Somehow the horrible Herdmans always save the day – and we, as readers, root for them despite our better judgment. Don’t miss the audio recording of this book, read by Elaine Stritch. Hers is the only voice I could imagine for this. Sheer perfection.

 

The Witches
Written by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Ages: 9-12
While it may not be a Halloween book, per se, no spooky book list should neglect “The Witches” – one of my (and my sons) all-time favorites. Not only do we get to meet a cigar-smoking Norwegian grandmother, but we encounter ladies with itchy scalps, quite a few references to dog poo (and really, who could resist that!?!) and several reasons for your children not to bathe regularly. The coupling of Roald Dahl and longtime illustrator Quentin Blake is a marriage made in heaven for any book, but for this one in particular. Don’t miss Lynn Redgrave’s reading of “The Witches” on the audio book, and, if you’re feeling particularly witchy, check out the movie starring Angelica Huston. It’s nowhere near as spectacular as the book (few movies are), but entertaining nonetheless.

 

The Vanishing Pumpkin
Written by Tony Johnston
Illustrated by Tomie daPaola
Ages: 4-8
Where else can you find a 700-year-old woman, an 800-year-old man, a rapscallion, a ghoul and a varmint? Not to mention characters who say things like “Great snakes!” (which, let’s face it, everyone should say now and then…). Look no further than “The Vanishing Pumpkin” by Tony Johnston, illustrated by, none other than, Tomie DePaola. My sons wait all year long to check this book out of the library each October and now my older son loves to read it to his little brother with all the silly voices he can muster. What starts with a missing pumpkin and a hearty desire for pumpkin pie quickly becomes a veritable parade of Halloween misfits and a seriously old wizard. Don’t miss this wonderful Halloween book. (Or I might just have to say “Great snakes!”)

 

Georgie
Written and illustrated by Robert Bright
Ages: 4-8
No Halloween book list would be complete without “Georgie” by Robert Bright. Written in 1944, Georgie features not only the gentle little ghost from the title, but the wonderfully spooky illustrations by Bright himself. Georgie lives with the Whittakers and provides them with a little ghostly routine of a creaky floorboard and a squeaky parlor door. But when Mr. Whittaker decides to fix these, where does that leave Georgie, who really doesn’t want to scare a soul? This vintage Halloween tale has been delighting parents and children for more than 60 years and should take its rightful place on the bookshelves for 100 more.

 

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Retold by Alvin Schwartz
Drawings by Stephen Gammell
Ages: 9-12

Disclaimer: I am 37 years old and the stories in the book still scare me. Hence, this book recommendation is for older aged children or at least children who are braver than I. This was THE book for slumber parties growing up. I vividly remember sitting at my friend Damara’s house, with flashlights on and spooky music in the background, and her mother, all dressed up as a witch, reading “High Beams” from the story collection, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” Do you remember high beams? The urban myth of the woman driving home and the car behind her keeps putting on its high beams? I shudder now just thinking of it. This story continues to force me to look in the backseat of my car when I get in. And who could forget “May I Carry Your Basket?” and “The Big Toe.” Ack!  This is the ultimate scary story collection and I dare you to read it and not feel that chill up your spine.

Today’s Pick: Martin’s Big Words

Martins big wordsFor anyone looking for a children’s book that honors the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a way that is both approachable to children while still maintaining the reverence necessary to truly capture his life, please read “Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”  Author Doreen Rappaport has made a name for herself as a go-to writer for biographies and non-fictional books for children and this, her gorgeous, poetic and sometimes heartbreaking profile of Dr. King, is the best of its kind. Rappaport has a gift for bringing children the facts they need to know, no matter how difficult they may be, in a way that keeps them reading and engaged and wanting more. Match that with Bryan Collier’s stunning illustrations, and you have the best of both worlds. “Martin’s Big Words” captures the essence of Dr. King and will help inquisitive children understand the big picture of his life and legacy.

This is New York

As the boys and I prepare for our Thanksgiving trip to New Jersey, we are anxiously awaiting a fun family day in Manhattan. Brunch with friends, a Broadway play in the afternoon, a drink at the Harvard Club…Heaven. And with the devastation caused by Sandy and the reminder to us all just how incredible and impermeable the spirit of that city is, what better way to celebrate this gorgeous metropolis than by reading Miroslav Sasek’s beautiful book, “This is New York”…one in a series of books dedicated to introducing young children to the most wonderful cities in the world. Originally published in 1960, Sasek’s inimitable illustrations of New York and the brilliant and irreverent way in which he shares the history of Manhattan are what make this book a must-have for any family. It’s a literal treasure-trove of all the best New York has to offer and, even today, could serve as a tourist map of must-see attractions. Find a copy, treat yourself to a one-way ticket there and give the New York Public Library Lions a pat on the head from me.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving, or The Unexpected Guest

Eve Buntings, “A Turkey for Thanksgiving” is my all-time favorite Turkey Day tale. In it, Mr. and Mrs. Moose are hosting Thanksgiving for all of their woodland friends. Mrs Moose sends Mr Moose out on an errand to get a real turkey for the event. Mr Moose is soon joined by Rabbit, Porcupine and Goat – all ready to get the turkey for their feast. As you  would imagine, poor Turkey is terrified – picturing himself roasted and stuffed to the gizzards. But what really happens, is as touching and heartwarming as any moment I can recall. A great read-aloud book for your younger guests that will make you hungry for more.

Me…Jane

“Jane had a stuffed toy chimpanzee named Jubilee.” So begins Patrick McDonnell’s lovely story of Dr. Jane Goodall, the woman who single-handedly and lovingly changed the way we interact with animals.  Readers might recognize McDonnell as the creator of the syndicated comic strip MUTTS and as the author of the award-winning picture book Art. He is also a strong animal welfare advocate and has channelled his love for all things fanged or furry in this beautiful book.  The elegant text (“With the wind in her hair, she read and reread the books about Tarzan of the Apes, in which another girl, also named Jane, lived in the jungles of Africa”) married with McDonnell’s inimitable drawings make for a magical journey into the mind and heart of Goodall. With her stuffed chimpanzee by her side, Jane marvels at the wonders of nature and dreams of someday visiting Africa to see the real life versions of her beloved toy. This dream, of meeting and interacting with these exotic and endearing creatures, comes true for Jane  – and readers will be left yearning to learn more about this wonderful woman. I’ll be teaching my world history students about Jane Goodall in the coming weeks and I’m so thrilled to be able to use this book as a springboard for her lovely contributions to the world. Complete with photographs of Jane as a child and an amazing cartoon drawn by the primatologist herself, Me…Jane is a wonderful introduction to not only true life stories, but to a future built of understanding, philanthropy and wonder.

The Lonely Phone Booth, or There’s Gum on my Dime

Remember phone booths? Remember having to call your parents collect to come pick you up after track practice in high school because you couldn’t scrape together two gum-encrusted dimes from the bottom of your backpack? Maybe that was just me…but for anyone who does remember the antiquated charm of the phone booth, Peter Ackerman’s adorable “The Lonely Phone Booth” is a treat. On a busy corner of New York City, sits a little phone booth who’s feeling rather neglected, what with all the cell phones he sees rushing by. But, could he find new life once an electrical storm renders the cell phone towers defunct? This story has a retro feel and rallies support for the little booth as city officials threaten to haul it off to the dump. The pairing of Peter Ackerman’s delightful prose with Max Dalton’s illustrations is a smart one. Ackerman, a playwright who wrote Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight,imbues an obvious love for New York City and the symbols of its glory (ballerinas, businessmen, racing cabs, skyscrapers) and Dalton, Argentinian-based illustrator extraordinaire has long been a favorite ever since he designed a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Board Game.” Put these two together and you’ve got a winning combination that will have children cheering for the booth. And you’ll recall with warm memories when you used to close that folding door behind you and call home collect.