26 June 2008

On My Radar--Fave Early Reader Series

Some of my favorite Early Reader series are returning with new installments. September brings us the further adventures of Fly Guy, that slightly scrotal but totally lovable insect (and I don't often show affection for any sort of bug) and his owner, Buzz. And for fans of the softer, less-manic tales of friendship, there is a new Houndlsy and Catina book to savor.

I have so much admiration for writers who can create a story of limited, sometimes pre-dictated, vocabulary, and still offer a story that is fun to read. Dr. Seuss and Else Holmelund Minarik are the standards by which Early Reader authors are judged, but Mo Willems (Elephant & Piggie,) Tedd Arnold (Fly Guy,) Cynthia Rylant (take your pick!), James Howe (Houndsley & Catina,) Lola M. Schaefer (Mittens,) Keith Baker (Mr. & Mrs. Green) have all risen to the challenge.

19 June 2008

Bedtime Stories

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas (Schwartz, Viviane)
Come Fly with Me (Ichikawa, Satomi)

Sort of a mixed bag tonight (from my POV, that is. My daughter whole-heartedly approved of both.) Come Fly with Me is a very pretty book, reminiscent of the Old Bear books by Jane Hissey. It would appear that Ichikawa is working her way through her toybox, considering "Fly" comes on the heels of La La Rose and I am Pangoo the Penguin. The story of Woggy, a cuddly dog, and the toy wooden plane on the search for Somewhere, seemed secondary to the fine Parisian details on each page. I couldn't help looking for Adele and Simon.

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas--this week's Book of the Week--is funny in one of those nice quirky ways. Timothy is a very small mouse who longs to be strong. When his mother repairs his favorite pj's, and makes them extra-strong, that strength is passed on to Timothy (who should have been named Samson, perhaps?) Timothy uses his newly found strength for good and proceeds to help various strangers out of their predicaments. The art work is a combination of comic style blocking (complete with bubble-speech commentary from Timothy's trusty toy monkey) and full-spread illustrations. I hope that Timothy and his pj's have more adventures soon.

05 June 2008

Rating Books--what qualifies as an R?

A recent article in the Guardian details proposals for age ranges to be placed on the covers of children's books published in the UK. I'm being facetious by suggesting that books may someday be rated like films (although I'd believe just about anything.) But I find the idea of age ranges condescending and irritating. Must everything in life be labeled and pigeonholed? Labels provide a false sense of security (not unlike filters on computers) and a false impression of legitimacy. For example: I have now worked in two towns with a teacher who assigns a second grade biography project, and the only criteria is that the kids must use a book that is at least 100 pages long. Do you know how many biographies are written for second graders that are at least 100 pages long? I'll tell you--hardly any. All that assignment leads to is children working their way through the biography section, pulling books off the shelf, until they find one that is 100 pages long. There is no joy in the learning process, because the books that are interesting to the second graders are inevitably less than 100 pages long.


Admitedly, manga in the US is labelled. I've always viewed that as a concession made to Western readers who are simply confused by the genre and think it's all porn. I doubt if faithful, voracious manga readers pay any attention to the ratings. But how many children will be turned away by great reads becuase they feel they are (1) too old for said book, or (2) too young? I know that the label "Children's Room" is the kiss of death for kids who feel they are no longer children and as a consequnce never darken my door and miss out on lots of books they'd enjoy. So I can envision second graders (or any graders) being told to read a book that is "age appropriate" and going down the shelves until they find one with the magic age range printed on the front. It doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine labels turning children away from books, too. I can just imagine a precocious seven year old eyeing James and the Giant Peach (8-12) and being persuaded by a responsible grown-up who is at the mercy of labels to choose The Magic Treehouse instead (5-7.) Not much of a deal, really.

01 June 2008

Great Galleys--Picture Books you won't want to miss--Wabi Sabi

Wabi Sabi, by Mark Reibstein, illus. by Ed. Young (due for release October 08.)

This evening I read a very clever, very ambitious picture book called Wabi Sabi. It tells the story of a cat named, well, Wabi Sabi. It also attempts to explain the concept of Wabi Sabi for a young, Western audience. I think it succeeded magnificently, and is an excellent example of how the picture book format can do so much more than simply teach readers the alphabet, or numbers, or opposites. The book reads from top to bottom, rather than left to right, so it is fair to say that this book turns the picture book on its head--literally! The effect is like reading a scroll--an ancient Japanese scroll with rich, spiritual illustrations. Illustrator Ed Young is channeling Steve Jenkins with cut paper collage that seems to stand off the page. This is a picture book for older readers, and I always think the world needs more of those! I hope Wabi Sabi finds an audience.

(While searching for a cover image of the book to post with this entry, I found this, which has been posted by the editor of the book.)

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