Back in my romantic late-teen days, I loved to give children’s books as presents to boys I dated. Like Silverstein’s The Missing Piece or Margaret Wise Brown’s The Little Island or, for a rather ill-fated tryst, Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile. Now, as a married lady, I can’t wait to give my husband a copy of Janet Lawler’s If Kisses Were Colors. This gorgeous little book will not only become an instant favorite of children everywhere, but it can easily bridge the gap between loving kisses from mama to loving kisses from your sweetheart. My favorite line from the lyrical book is “If kisses were pebbles, your beach would be lined, with stones by the millions, of all shapes and kinds.” Isn’t that just the bee’s knees? In Lawler’s deft hand, metaphors abound and, suddenly, kisses are comets, rainbows, even acorns – and it all makes perfect sense, rounded out beautifully by Alison Jay’s gorgeous illustrations. So for a great gift for your child, your hubby, your sweetie or your friend with benefits, take a peek at this lovely little book. You’ll thank me later.
So, basically, Shel Silverstein can do no wrong. From The Giving Tree (which, incidentally I starred in as the tree in my 4th grade assembly) to Where the Sidewalk Ends and every line of verse in between, Silverstein is the best children’s authors can be. He’s fun, irreverent, brilliant, a little bit naughty and every bit a genius. And today I want to recommend one of my favorite Silverstein books, The Missing Piece not only because it is beautifully written and illustrated in that completely signature Silverstein way, but because it offers one of the most valuable lessons a child (or adult for that matter) can learn in one’s lifetime – that fulfillment, completion and self-worth are entirely within our own hearts. And somehow, that deep philosophical notion is made abundantly clear in a few simple line drawings of a circle with a chunk missing from it. It’s amazing what children’s books can do. And even more amazing what Silverstein can accomplish with his pen. Need more Silverstein in your day? Take a peek at his wonderful web site..www.shelsilverstein.com.
Happy National Poetry Month to you all! I hope you all run out and grab your nearest copy of Millay or Nash or Silverstein or Cummings and spend an afternoon wrapped up in a wonderful poem or two. While you’re at it, take this month as a fabulous excuse to introduce your children to poetry and its many forms with I Like this Poem: A Collection of Best-Loved Poems Chosen by Children for Other Children. This is, by far, the most amazingly fantastic collection of poems for children I’ve ever seen. Originally published in 1979, this collection doesn’t include some of my favorite children’s poets (i.e. Silverstein or Prelutsky) but what it does include are famous poems from every corner of literature. It’s like a primer for future English Majors (hooray!). Where else can you find The Witches’ Spell from Macbeth alongside The Owl and the Pussycat? Not to mention Roald Dahl’s I’ve Eaten Many Strange and Scrumptious Dishes in my Time (from James and the Giant Peach) a few pages away from Wordsworth’s I’ve Watched You Know a Full Half-Hour. Recommended by children ages 6-15, the best part of this collection, for me, is that after each poem, there is a quote from the child who recommended it. It’s like a poetry anthology that’s been kid approved, and it’s a must-have for any book shelf.
I was recently browsing around at my favorite local children’s bookstore and overheard a woman and her little girl arguing over a book. The mom was trying to talk the (rather, shall we say, difficult) child into buying a Margaret Wise Brown book (God bless her) and the little girl sat right down in the middle of the aisle and said, and I quote, “I don’t WANT a book. A book doesn’t DO anything.” After reviving myself with smelling salts, I thought about how perhaps there are more little girls and boys around the world (horrors!) who might feel this way and it made me awfully sad. Because books do the most amazing things without actually doing anything at all. You know that. I know that. And luckily, I think all of my readers’ children know that. But for those children out there who keep waiting for their books to talk in funny voices or play music or run around the house like literary robots, I hope that one day they find that one book that teaches them that the words on the page bring to life more than any game, any toy, any electronic doo-dad they could imagine. Amazingly, as I returned to that same bookstore this week I came across one of the most wonderful books to come along in some time – and it, quite ironically and whimsically, fits into this little soapbox speech of mine. Herve Tullet’s Press Here reminds children and adults alike that the magic of the word and the picture is truly that….magic. Acting as an interactive narrator, Tullet’s book asks the reader to follow the instructions throughout the book. “Press here and turn the page” it says and, lo and behold, that small touch has created something new on the following page. This is a wonderfully imaginative, wry and stunning book that, if nothing else, will remind us of the sheer brilliance of children’s books and the amazing powers of our own minds and fingers. Need more inspiration? Here’s the video for the book…
You’ve got to love a heroine named Kate O’Sullivan. And with her daydreaming tendencies, fiery spirit and equally fiery red hair, it’s hard to resist her in Hudson Talbott’s book O’Sullivan Stew. When Kate witnesses an old hag’s horse being stolen by royal tax collectors, she tries to rally her fellow villagers who ignore her pleas. But when the hag starts causing all sorts of disaster to happen, Kate hatches a plot with her dad and brothers to steal the horse from the castle. The O’Sullivans are quickly caught and Kate must, once again, devise way out of this particular pickle. And in true Irish folklore style, Kate’s wits, determination (and stew) save the day. Talbott’s text is lively and energetic and his illustrations are vivid and lovely. This is a fun little romp through Irish folklore and a sure-fire winner in the hearts of children.
Oh my goodness, how I adore Dan Yaccarino. From the days of yore when my children watched Oswald (his adorable animated tale of a blue octopus and his friends – made even better by the fact that the Penguin was voiced by Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley) to his unbelievably fabulous collection of children’s books (Every Friday, Unlovable, and Lawn to Lawn being some of my favorites) Yaccarino never fails to impress, inspire and delight. And now, he’s topped them all with his biographical tale of his family’s journey from Italy to Ellis Island. All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel is an example of the best that children’s books can offer. It is the heartwarming true story of Yaccarino’s immigrant ancestors and their amazing journey to the United States. Filled with unforgettable memories and inspiring strength, this little book spans four generations of an Italian American family. As a child whose great-great-grandfather came from Italy through Ellis Island as well, this book holds remarkable significance for me and is one of the best books on the market today. For an inspiring, humorous, wonderful book, look no further than this tale of an amazing family and a silver shovel
For any budding cartoonists out there, have I got the book for you! Written by the top dudes at the Center for Cartoon Studies, Adventures in Cartooning is a fun, unique approach to teaching kids the basics of comic strip development. What’s refreshing about this l cartooning how-to is that it focuses less on “how to draw” (remember those books that would have you start with a circle, draw two triangles and three lines on each side and voila you have a cat?) and spends more time on the fundamentals of cartoons: speech bubbles, speed lines, motion indicators, etc. And the format is fabulous – the book actually tells the story of a knight, a horse and an elf – and teaches these comic lessons as the story unfolds. This is a great book for interested artists and a super-duper birthday gift for future cartoonists. All in all, a gem of a book!
Now, i’ll admit…i’m a sucker for Tomie dePaola. Strega Nona. Amazing. Big Anthony. Hilarious. But the artist in me must say that his little book, The Art Lesson is my all-time favorite. It is the wonderfully autobiographical tale of Tomie’s own experience as a child artist and the differences between two art teachers. One who limits his creativity and the other who’s a little more bohemian, a little more willing to let him use all the colors in the 64 crayon set. And as an art teacher now, I can truly appreciate the difference between Miss Landers and Miss Bowers. I think we’ve all had a Miss Landers and a Miss Bowers in our lives. And I hope, sincerely, that I am one who allows her students to express themselves independently and creatively – and, therefore, brings out the artist in each of them. So, here’s to Tomie…here’s to art…And here’s to using all 64 crayons
Remember the Lunch Ladies we had growing up? Hair nets. Sausage Surprise. Mustaches. Today’s Lunch Ladies are so much cooler. The Lunch Lady at my son’s school is fabulous and nice and loves kids – all the traits the Lunch Ladies were certainly missing out on for me growing up. And their equipment today is so much cooler, too. My Lunch Lady’s technology consisted of an empty can of Yuban coffee that she’d put the dimes in for a carton of milk. Today, the Lunch Lady has this cool credit card swiper-looking contraption that allows the kids to pay for their lunch like they’re using an ATM. Super cool. Not perhaps as cool as the Lunch Lady in Jarrett Krosoczka’s awesome book, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, since she can fly and drives a scooter with a “sloppy joe” button that allows her to cream her evil nemeses…ooo…and a “spatucopter” which sounds exactly like what is it – a spatula that can fly. Krosoczka’s graphic novels (yes, this is just the first in a set of Lunch Lady adventures!) are fantastic – fast-paced, entertaining and with just the right amount of kid humor to keep your children engaged and asking for more. Sure, she may have yellow rubber gloves and wear Mom jeans, but in this graphic novel, the Lunch Lady’s the coolest thing since sliced bread, or Sausage Surprise as the case may be…
And a Happy Fat Tuesday to you! For those of us not able to grab our beads and beignets and head straight for New Orleans, I offer Gaston, our tour guide for Mardi Gras. He knows his way around. Trust me, he’s an alligator. And in James Rice’s adorably informative book, Gaston takes us on an insider’s tour of Mardi Gras. Visit the Krewes, the Bouef Gras, hear the Zydeco and march with the band in this colorful and engaging book that (wait for it) also happens to be a coloring books. I mean, really? How much more awesome could Mardi Gras with Gaston get? A fantastic introduction to the festivities for little ones, and a great walk down memory lane for those of us who have ever walked in Gaston’s shoes.