Archive for October, 2010

Top of the Shelf: Moon Bear

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Moon Bear by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Ed Young

Rare Asiatic black bears, called moon bears because of the distinctive crescent on their chests, are disappearing at an alarming rate. Author and artist celebrate these creatures with a story that follows one animal as it eats, plays, sleeps high in a tree, hibernates, and awakens in Spring. Photographs of a real moon bear are appended.

Click here to buy Moon Bear or click here to read more Top of the Shelf book reviews.

Picture Book Puzzler: Name That Boat!

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Today’s Picture Book Puzzler comes from a real-live question that I got from a customer in the store this weekend. He told me he was looking for a picture book that had a boat in it called The Tidley Idley. I admit, for a minute there, I was stumped! But rest assured, we found the book. Can you?

Scary but Not-Too-Scary: Halloween Books for Ages 3-6

Friday, October 8th, 2010

One regular customer has been stopping in to buy books for his grandson for about three years now. It’s been so nice for me to be able to watch how this child’s tastes and preferences for books has changed over the years. While Eric Carle’s 10 Little Rubber Ducks used to to be his absolute favorite book, on his most recent visit to the store, the now 3-year-old had a new, very specific request: “I want a scary book.”

Now selling scary picture books can sometimes be tricky territory. Every child reacts to a story differently, of course, but I notice that the kids more so than the parents gravitate to the scary books. These are the books with monsters and suspense, unexpected surprises, and dramatic tension with every page turn, oh, and monsters. Did I mention the monsters? But the two words we hear all too much from the parents? “Too scary.” As the bookseller, I’d feel terrible if a suggestion of mine triggered a nightmare, but also know that some fear is a good thing. I’d bet we’ve all felt that special thrill that comes from being scared and felt that wonderful sense of relief when you find out everything is going to be all right. Adult and children both tend to seek out pleasant sensations of fear, from games of peek-a-boo and Hide and Go Shriek (my 6-year-old nephew’s shock-inducing reinvention of Hide and Go Seek) to riding rollercoasters and watching scary movies. So how to find a picture book that delivers the fear and the thrills without the nightmares and tears? As it nears Halloween and I get more and more requests for scary books that aren’t too scary, I’ve put together a quick list of some of my favorites to share.

There are lots of picture books out there that deal with friendly monsters and even more that deal with being afraid to go to bed at night. One of my favorites (and actually the final choice of our 3-year-old scare-seeking customer) is There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer. The little boy is at first too scared to go to bed because he thinks there’s a monster in his closet, but when he makes up his mind to get rid of the monster, ends up actually making friends with him instead. Mayer masterfully drags the suspense of the monster creeping out of the closet in the dark shadows of the room, but balances the tension with incredibly humorous illustrations and a delightful role reversal in the story’s twist ending.

Another two of my favorite recommendations that are especially a big hit in October are versions of the traditional Halloween poem that starts, “In a dark, dark wood…” and usually ends with a ghost or spooky creature jumping out at you. There are many different versions of this poem available, but Ruth Brown’s A Dark Dark Tale is delightful and child-friendly one. The illustrations are dark and spooky and the book’s verse builds and builds onto itself as you’re taken further along through the woods and into a house. Just when a child can’t bear the suspense any longer, expecting the worst – goblins, ghosts, maybe a witch? – to jump out of the dark, you discover a teeny-tiny mouse and so the built-up fear is replaced with laughter and delight.

A Beasty Story by Bill Martin Jr. and Steven Kellogg uses similar verse, but lighter and more colorful illustrations to break the tension. There are even four little mouse characters to keep you company through the dark, dark house with their own funny rhyming commentary and a sub-story that even teaches colors. Like Brown’s book, this version also has a delightful surprise ending that provides humorous relief.

Richard Michelson’s Oh No, Not Ghosts! has a similar building technique to its story. Two siblings are trying not to wake their dad as they lie awake at night, but the big brother gets more and more carried away terrifying his sister (as big brothers tend to do) with stories of ghosts and werewolves and vampires. The rhyming text and delightful sound effects make this a great read-aloud, and while the original was illustrated by Leonard Baskin’s delightfully creepy art, this reissue illustrated by Adam McCauley provides a good balance to the spooky text. Instead of illustrating real vampires and demons, the reader clearly sees the children’s imagination at play, providing a reassuring, while still spooky, experience.

These last two picture books are perfect for Halloween. David Costello’s Here They Come is filled with spooky magical creatures like werewolves and hobgoblins meeting together for a party. The smiling creatures are actually more funny than scary in the illustrations, offering the perfect balance of the unfamiliar and the safe. The twist comes when their party is interrupted by creatures even scarier than them – human children dressed in their Halloween costumes!  “That was a fun scare,” the creatures say after the kids leave. I couldn’t agree more!

Annie Was Warned by Jarrett J. Krosoczka touches on the tricks our mind can play on us on a dark and spooky night. Annie was told not to go to the creepy old mansion, but she sneaks out anyway. Along the way shadows and sounds just may be scary spiders, bats or ghosts, but each time have a more practical explanation. I not only love Annie’s boldness as a character, but also that each turn of the page heightens the suspenseful tension. A fold-out final page reveals a fun surprise ending.

You parents and teachers know your audience best and what their limitations are, but I bet you’ll find that these picture books to be just the right amount of scary for your 3 to 6 year olds. And like riding a rollercoaster, once you read it once, they just might want to hear it again and again.

If you interested in purchasing any of the above titles, you can find them all on our store website here. Enter HALLOWEEN in the coupon code at checkout and we’ll give our blog readers and fans 15% off any of the books featured in this post. The offer expires Friday, October 15th.

I’m sure you must have some favorite scary, but not-too-scary, books to read aloud. Share them with us below!

eBooks On The Road

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

A few weeks ago I was returning from a trip to Nantucket and the evening ferry was nearly empty. An energetic three-year-old boy was rushing about uncontrollably. His anxious mother announced that she was downloading a book for him. A few minutes later I heard a cartoon voice narrating a pirate story. I looked over, and saw the mother holding her iPad with the screen facing forward, as the now-rapt, standing child watched the “book” on the iPad screen tell its story. I admit I was appalled to understand that the machine had replaced the mother’s voice. Indeed, she was blocking the child from her body with this wall of a machine. What should have been a sensual, intimate picture book was reduced to a cartoon on a screen.

Years ago, when I travelled with young children, I always packed Arnold Lobel’s ready-to-read books in the diaper bag: the Frog And Toad series, Small Pig, and my favorite, Grasshopper On The Road. Coming back on a crowded plane from Florida to Chicago in February 1991, my wife, three-year-old son and two-year-old daughter found ourselves circling O’Hare Airport at midnight in a snowstorm. During this flight I had allowed my restless son to tramp up and down the aisles while I tagged along, eliciting irritated glares from fellow passengers. No one is despised like a parent who fails to control his undisciplined child. As the plane circled endlessly, I now held Sam firmly on my lap and read Grasshopper On The Road aloud with passion and urgency.

Among the foolish characters Grasshopper meets on his travels are a parade of Beetles marching in support of morning. They welcome Grasshopper when he says he likes morning too, but are furious when he adds that afternoon and night are also nice. Reading Lobel’s book made me feel better about being disdained for my parenting style by the other passengers on the plane. There are many ways to be a good parent; being supportive and indulgent just happens to be mine.

I have been a children’s bookseller for more than twenty-five years now. A few months ago the brilliant inventor and futurologist Nicholas Negroponte of M.I.T. told the world that the physical book will be dead in five years. This doesn’t leave much room for me and my life’s work. It’s easy to insult others by criticizing their incorrect actions, as I did when I reflexively felt critical of that mother on the ferry who used a cold machine to read aloud to her three-year-old. But I don’t want to be one of those know-it-all Beetles who insist they have the only answer. Rather, I aspire to be like the hero of Grasshopper On The Road, who embraces many alternatives. It is true that I am biased against eBooks–and against Professor Negroponte’s perspective–because I love physical books. But I am sure that if I had young children today, just like that mother on the Nantucket ferryboat, my child-rearing practice would include eBooks. She was demonstrating skill-sets that I don’t possess (just as Professor Negroponte possesses no children’s bookselling skills), and I judged her negatively without considering what her demonstrated skills said about her.

For instance, the book she had downloaded was about pirates. For a wild child on a ferryboat, this was perfect. In addition, her choice to have her son watch an animated book demonstrated her skill at rapidly reining in the child’s running. Finally, merely because she sometimes uses her iPad to acquire children’s literature doesn’t mean her family doesn’t also use traditional children’s books. Probably they love printed picture books, and the iPad is a useful addition to their reading practice.

I hope that just as I am willing to accept eBooks as fine additions to the arsenal of good parenting resources, those who tout eBooks like Professor Negroponte will leave room in their futurology for my beloved real-world picture books.

The Carle Goes to The Rockwell

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

On Monday, staffers of The Carle took a field trip to visit our Berkshire neighbor, The Norman Rockwell Museum. They’re currently featuring, in addition to their amazing collection of Rockwell originals, artwork from the prolific children’s illustrator and popular cartoonist, William Steig. I was so excited to see pieces of The Carle’s collection of Steig’s children’s book art, including illustrations from Shrek! and my personal favorite, Alpha Beta Chowder, but even more so to see his adult cartoons and New Yorker covers for the first time. It was quite remarkable to see how many pieces were in the exhibit, (three full galleries!) and also to see just how relevant and humorous Steig’s artwork still is to audiences today. I overheard so many people chuckling while walking through his galleries. Here’s one of my personal favorite adult cartoons from the exhibition:

"I've got some bad news." Photo courtesy of The Norman Rockwell Museum

It was so wonderful to see Steig’s original artwork and I can’t wait for our own upcoming exhibition at The Carle, Monsters & Miracles: A Journey Through Jewish Picture Books, when Steig’s work will join many others in our gallery this month.

While it has been a dreary, rainy start to autumn here in Western Mass, the view from the Norman Rockwell Museum was still spectacular as the leaves are starting to turn color. Here’s Rockwell’s art studio behind the museum.

We are so grateful for the Norman Rockwell Museum for hosting us and encourage everyone to hurry to see the exhibit William Steig: Love & Laughter before it closes at the end of this month. I can’t wait to go back when their next exhibit, Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney opens in November. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Top of the Shelf: The Quiet Book

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Renata Liwska

Underwood and Liwska sweetly portray dozens of ways to luxuriate in the joys of quietude. “Lollipop quiet,” “coloring in the lines quiet,” “first snowball quiet,” and “what flashlight? quiet” are just a few of the child-centered situations author and artist offer. Softly composted animal characters (looking like lovable stuffed toys) add to the delight of sharing this soothing book.

Click here to buy The Quiet Book or click here to read more Top of the Shelf book reviews.

Picture Book Puzzler: Hello, My Name is….

Monday, October 4th, 2010

In our bookstore we get asked for books featuring a specific child’s name quite a bit.
“My granddaughter’s named is Olivia. Do you have any books about girls named Olivia?”
“Do you have any books with someone named Tommy in it?”

Sometimes suggestions come easy, but other times all of us booksellers have to huddle together to rack our brains. We end up walking up and down the shelves staring at the spines of books hoping something will jog our memory. Certain characters’ names definitely stick out better than others. Whey can’t more children be named Pinkerton or Elmer anyway?

So my friends, how well do you know your characters? I’ll give you a name of and you tell me what popular picture book they each come from.

1. Stillwater

2. Viola Swamp

3. Officer Flossy

4. Big Anthony

5. Mopsy

6. Mr. Slinger

7. Little Red Running Shorts

8. Farmer Brown

9. Miss Clavel

10. Sylvester McMonkey McBean

Bonus: Moishe

Falling for Fall: Autumn Picture Book Round-Up

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Happy October! I’m so happy that autumn is finally here. It’s hard not to fall in love with autumn in the Pioneer Valley. I mean, seriously. Look at this view:

It’s the time of year for pumpkin patches, corn field mazes, apple picking and trees ablaze in color. But even if you’re not in the Northeast (or in the Northern Hemisphere) you can still share our love for fall by curling up with one of our favorite picture books. These books are great all year round, but they do just happen to be extra cozy and fun right around now…

The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger is a sweet story of friendship, risk taking, and embracing change and this book evokes all the sensations of the fall season. The color palette of the illustrations move from the greens of summer, to the yellows, oranges and reds of fall, into the cool blues of winter all within 32 pages. The illustrations are intricate collage of recycled paper, uniting old-school graph and lined paper, envelopes, and book pages in an unique and inspiring way. Here’s some of my favorite spreads:

To see more about the creation of this book and learn about the author/illustrator Carin Berger, check out this wonderful interview.

Another all-time favorite picture book is A Story for Bear by Dennis Haseley, illustrated by Jim LaMarche. This book was first introduced to me as an adult by my mentor at Barefoot Books. Not only does the main character share my name, but I instantly felt we shared the same love of books, nature and wildlife, and as my family might complain, a love for reading books aloud. A Story for Bear shows an unusual friendship between a woman and a bear, who are drawn together by the love a good story. A sweet, quiet book, this makes a great laptime read, perfect for cozy cuddles on a crisp fall night. Let me share with you my absolute favorite page of the book:

For gardeners and farmers, autumn is the time when all of the summer’s sweaty, dirty hard work pays off and you can eat good homegrown food well into the cold winter. Look at all the beautiful squashes from my local farm!

There are so many great picture books that explore gardening and farming through the seasons, showing the gratifying rewards of a bountiful harvest. Kathy Henderson’s And the Good Brown Earth and Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, filled with Barbara Cooney’s rustic illustrations of New England, are two of my favorites.

Another newer title is Strega Nona’s Harvest by Tomie dePaola. Using the comical antics of familiar characters, dePaola explores not only the process of gardening, but also how a good harvest can really bring together a community. And as always, dePaola uses such beautiful and vivid colors that evoke the harvest season. This is my favorite illustration from the book:

Click here to read Barbara Elleman’s Top of the Shelf review of Strega Nona’s Harvest.

Speaking of food bringing community together, Applesauce Season by Eden Ross Lipson highlights the spirit of the fall apple season without ever stepping into an orchard. In the urban setting of New York City, the book still evokes the smells and tastes that an apple harvest can bring as a family cooks and eats together. I especially love how illustrator Mordecai Gerstein captures the details and differences of various apple types. These endpapers are not only fabulous, but actually quite educational as an apple identification guide!

Another picture book that provides a great fall identification guide is Carole Gerber’s Leaf Jumpers, which offers easy definitions for recognizing fall leaves, while Leslie Evan’s colorful lino cut illustrations are simple and gorgeous. And, of course, who doesn’t love jumping in a pile of raked leaves?

I’m sure I could go on and on about favorite fall picture books, but I’d rather hear about the books you’d recommend. Share your favorite picture books to read in the fall in the comments.