Around our house, Star Wars is King. And not in some sort of ineffectual, outdated Monarchy kind of way. I mean, truly Kingly – in charge, ever-present and downright overpowering. We talk about Star Wars, we dream about Star Wars, at times we dress like Star Wars, and we read every book available on the topic. So imagine my utter delight when my mom purchased Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy for my sons. I swear the Heavens opened. Angels sang. And my boys found themselves completely blissed out on every eye-popping, 3-D page. (Pssst…there’s even a light-up light saber…). This is the perfect gift for any Star Wars-oholic, young and old…made by the expert hands of pop-up author Matthew Reinhart. It’s so awesome, they even keep it in plastic wrap at the book store. I mean, how can you resist? Star Wars is King, I tell you. And long may it reign.
With Little League right around the corner for my son, baseball is in the air at our house. The Jeter jersey is in wardrobe rotation…the new batting helmet is shiny and ready…and we continue to monitor Panda’s rapid weight-loss…We’re also somewhat obsessed with Sally Cook and James Charlton’s awesome book, Hey Batta Batta Swing!: The Wild Old Days of Baseball – a fabulous step back in time to the beginnings of our nation’s favorite pastime. Complete with fun facts and anecdotes from games of yore, the book also features the vocabulary of old time baseball, including “soaking” which allowed for a runner who was off base to be put out by being beaned with a ball. Oooh, and a “can of corn”, which referred to a slow-moving fly ball. This book is a fun and informative romp through history and Ross MacDonald’s illustrations of baseball players with handlebar mustaches (and no, it’s not Randy Johnson) make it that much sweeter.
When I say the words “Weird Al Yankovic” what do you think of? “Eat it”? “Like a Surgeon”? The image of him, dressed in his Pennsylvania Dutch finest in the video for “Amish Paradise”? Or, for you really hard core Weird Al fans (who, me?) the inimitable lyrics of “One More Minute” in which he tells his ex-girlfriend that he’s stranded “all alone in the gas station of love”? Well, no matter the image, Weird Al has his rightful place in American culture – for farces, song parodies and really awesome accordion playing. And now, amazingly enough, he can add children’s book writer to that laundry list of accomplishments. His newly released book, When I Grow Up, is a charming, well-written story of a little 8 year old boy who can’t quite decide what he wants to be as an adult, but he must think of something in time for today’s show-and-tell. When he fantasizes of different occupations (giraffe milker, gorilla masseuse, deodorant sniffing inspector) you can feel the real Weird Al coming through in all the right ways. His sense of humor remains intact, even with the pediatric set – and I’m glad he’s made this first foray into the world of children’s lit. I hope it won’t be his last.
For me, Charles Schulz is just the bee’s knees. I started my love affair with him years ago, reading my dad’s vintage Peanuts books while eating cereal before school. I even wrote my college essay on spending the day with Charlie Brown. So, you can just imagine that my favorite book about love comes from this wonderful gentleman. Love is Walking Hand in Hand was originally published in 1965 with an unmissable black and orange cover. And this simple little book, with its drawings of Snoopy and the rest of the gang, is one of the best and most eloquent treatises on love I’ve seen…..like “Love is mussing up someone’s hair”..and “Love is wondering what he’s doing right now this very moment” (and who hasn’t felt THAT?!?!)…I adore this little, romantic book like no other..and you will, too…
In celebration of Black History Month, I wanted to be sure to recommend one of the most beautiful books I’ve seen in some time. “In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall” is a compelling and stunning collection of poems paying tribute to African American fathers from a wide variety of writers, new and old. Winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, this book is a treasure trove of words and collage pictures from Javaka Steptoe that will resonate with every family, no matter the color. From the introductory Ashanti proverb: “When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him”, to the poems of Folami Abiade and Sonia Sanchez, this collection is a true testament to the power and beauty of fathers everywhere.
Now, granted, I have an intense bias. I love Maine. Everything about it. The ocean. The lobster. The osprey. The way the salt sticks to you like powder and the way the lobster boats hum in the morning. It’s utterly delicious. So, of course I’m going to adore the quintessential Maine writer, Robert McCloskey. It sort of goes with the territory. But you don’t have to love Maine…heck, you don’t even have to be able to find Maine on a map..to love Robert McCloskey and his brilliant ode to The Pine Tree State, “One Morning in Maine.” You might recognize Sal from her adventures in Blueberries for Sal (plink, plank, plunk) and this time she’s going on another adventure to Buck’s Harbor with her father and little Jane. The simplicity of the day – a loose tooth, a loon on the water, rolling up her pants to dig clams – all make for a magical McCloskey day matched beautifully with his black and white pencil illustrations. If you’ve never read this book, please do. It’s not only a Caldecott Honor book, but it’s the kind of book you don’t find every day…magical for no other reason than it just is.
When I was in elementary school, I did my science project on optical illusions. You know the one with the picture of the old lady with the big nose that is also a picture of the young lady looking to the side? And the little gray dots that appear in between the black and white squares? Ooooo, I loved those. I’d spend hours staring at them and marvelling at the moment when I could finally see the trick within. Well, imagine my delight while visiting the Getty Museum at finding Silke Vry’s Trick of the Eye: Art and Illusion. It’s one of the best books on optical illusions I’ve seen since it marries both the ubiquitous illusions, a la “is it two faces or a vase?” with real-life illusions in fine art. From the mirror in van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrai” to those darn stairs from MC Escher, Vry’s book is a gorgeous way for children to see, or not see, illusions in art and design.
Years ago, my dear friend Gaby gave me a copy of Sharon Creech’s Granny Torrelli Makes Soup and, for some reason or another, I just never got around to reading it. Well, shame on me, because last night around 11pm, when i finally turned the last page of this remarkable book, i immediately added it to my list of absolute favorites. It is a stunning, beautiful, heartbreaking tale of the friendship between 12-year-old Rosie and her best friend, a very handsome and vision impaired boy named Bailey. For anyone who has ever had a best friend…for anyone who has ever felt those first stirrings of love and friendship all mixed together and for anyone who absolutely adores their grandmother, this is the book for you. Granny Torrelli is the heroine of this book – the no-nonsense Italian grandmother who solves all of the world’s problems with a little garlic and a whole lot of love. This chapter book is most appropriate for children ages 8 and up, and yet it speaks perfectly beautifully to adults as well. A complete and utter treasure of a book from a treasured friend.
Oh, Maurice Sendak. You wonderful, wonderful man. Not only did you give us Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, but you gave me my favorite, Chicken Soup with Rice. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I checked this book out of the Lincoln Elementary library growing up…I just adored it. Still do. Mostly because it has the word “whoopy” in it…as in “whoopy once, whoopy twice, whoopy chicken soup with rice.” The monthly sing-song rhymes of the book married with the inimitable illustrations of Sendak himself make this book a classic to be enjoyed through the generations. And for an extra treat, try to find Carole King’s (yes, of “I Feel the Earth Move” fame) recording of Chicken Soup with Rice as part of her Really Rosie album of Sendak books. It’s walk down 1970’s memory lane…
If you saw me walking to school this morning, I apologize on behalf of my bedhead. It was truly epic and yet, for a variety of reasons (spilled oatmeal, exploding kitty litter and a late alarm clock notwithstanding) I did not have time to tame the beast. So I subjected you all to its horror. And for that I am truly sorry. I feel much better, though, knowing that Oliver, the mane, er, I mean, main character in Margie Palatini’s delightful book Bedhead has it much worse. Poor Oliver wakes up. Shuffles into the bathroom. Takes one look into the mirror. And there it is. Bedhead. Even the back of his head looks like a cat’s “coughed-up furball.” Trust me, I can relate. So Oliver’s family takes action and tries combing, brushing, moussing, gelling – to no avail. Only a baseball cap will help at this late hour. But when Oliver arrives at school and its PICTURE DAY for heaven’s sake (no baseball caps allowed), what will our follicularly challenged child do? A marvelous book for any and all who have suffered through bedhead…or are still recovering from seeing mine.