Some days, you just feel like a blah. A big, beige blah. Like a potato with feet. And some days we can’t even explain why we feel that way. And other days, the world conspires against us to create said blahdom. It just happens. So we can all relate to the little boy in Jack Kent’s The Blah. His older brother stepped on his crayons. His mom is too busy doing mom stuff. (What? That happens?) And he feels like no one listens at all. So he creates the King of the Blahs – a drawing of a big blotch with a crown who terrorizes his fellow blahs. In this simple little story (which I first read almost 30 years ago), Jack Kent perfectly captures the frustrations of being a kid. Like when I was seven and I wanted my mom to listen to this great joke I’d made up (it involved a snowflake and a burrito if I remember correctly) and she was on the phone and couldn’t listen. Or when I’d recorded a soap opera called “As the Stomach Turns” on my hand-held tape player and wanted my grandmother to have a quick listen and she happened to be talking to her neighbor Abe, who strangely wore bathrobes all day long. And I wanted to turn right around and draw my own King of the Blahs on the wall of my room. Published in 1970, The Blah is as relevant today as it was then – for kids and adults. It’s a great book to bring out when the blahs are at your house for no other reason that perhaps they were bored down there in Blahville. There are just some days like that. And if, on some day in the future, I slightly resemble a potato with feet, you’ll know why.
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.
I love lists. I love making lists and I especially love checking things off of my lists. Chores. To-dos. Dream vacations. New Year’s Resolutions. Really cute outfits I’ll fit into one day. I even made lists as a kid – boys I had crushes on (if you’re out there Colby, I’ve gotten over you), amazing jobs I wanted to grow up and do…just about anything you can imagine, I put it into a list. So imagine my sheer delight to find Lisa Nola’s My Listography: My Amazing Life in Lists. It’s a list book for children – like a journal with categories of things like “favorite things about your family” and “if your parents left you alone for a day”…Each page offers a fantastic springboard for creativity and imagination for your children and (don’t tell them this but…) will offer some great practice in writing, too. It’s so important for kids to have a place to write their thoughts and dreams and worries and goals and Nola’s book offers a fun and engaging way for kids to do just that. And just think how awesome it will be for your kids to stumble upon this book of lists when they’re our age! My old lists are a step back in time and yet I really haven’t changed all that much. I can still be an archeologist, right?
From white-out to a hexagonal house…from diapers to industrial dishwashers…girls throughout history have been inventing some amazing things. Did you know that a 10-year-old girl invented “glo-sheet paper” that you can write on in the dark? And she’s the youngest person every to receive a patent! These stories and others of, quite literally, the mothers of invention, will keep your child captivated from start to end. This isn’t some old, boring recital of inventions from long ago – this is a fresh and unique look at famous and not-so-famous female inventors who have changed the world one idea at a time. Catherine Thimmesh has created a veritable encyclopedia of creativity and Melissa Sweet’s amazing collage illustrations (a woman after my own paper heart) make this book a true masterpiece. Let’s hear it for the girls!
Sweet little Sam…making a sandwich for his sister. What a nice little boy. Sliced tomato. Pastrami. A little hard-boiled egg. What a delicious little morsel for his sister to bite into. But what the reader will soon find out in this delectably awful pop-up book by David Pelham, is that sweet little Sam has hidden some additional “treats” between the layers. Like ants. And a big juicy slug. And don’t forget the crunchy black fly. Yum. We’ve read this book probably 2,345 times and still my children squeal with delight as each horrific flap is lifted. And the book is even shaped like a sandwich! Sam’s Sandwich is, hand-down, a family favorite. And it gives new meaning to ordering a sandwich with everything on it.