Category Archives: Picture Books

Nimble Artistes

I was one of the fortunate 100 who recently received a brown paper package tied up with string and was completely charmed by both the handmade nature of the mailing and the enclosed book, Matthew Olshan and Sophie Blackall‘s The Mighty Lalouche.  A longtime fan of Blackall (going all the way back to her  hilarious collaboration with Meg Rosoff, Meet Wild Boars) I was delighted with this elegant Cinderella story of a mild mailman who became a celebrated boxer.

Yesterday I read it aloud to my 4th grade class and was pleased that they enjoyed it too. So first of all, to those who wonder if it is a book with a too adult sensibility, I can say that these ten-year-olds were captivated by the story and the art. But sometime else occurred to us as we enjoyed the story — something no doubt very particular to us.  And that is how much the images and verbal descriptions of the small and speedy boxer Lalouche reminded us of Charlie Chaplin (with whom, for those who don’t know, I’m a bit…er.. obsessed). Chaplin was incredibly capable on his feet too. He could dodge, feint, and dance around his opponents with an elegance and speed that seems not unlike that of the Lalouche of Blackall and Olshan. Not only did he do that in just about every one of his silent comedies, but he actually ended up in a few boxing rings. Perhaps most famously in City Lights, but also in an earlier short, The Champion.  Take a look below (start at 2:58 for his ring performance) and see if you can see any similarities between the Little Tramp and the Little Lalouche.


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Filed under Chaplin, Children's Literature, Picture Books

Joydeb Chitrakar and Gita Wolf’s The Enduring Ark from Tara Books

After seeing many tantalizing mentions of Tara Books over the last few years, I was delighted to receive Joydeb Chitrakar and Gita Wolf’s The Enduring Ark and get a firsthand look at one of their creations.

It is said from time to time, the world is re-made. Ancient stories talk of an age when a huge flood destroyed the earth, leaving nothing behind. … You may have heard it before, but great tales must be retold – and so I will tell it now in my way, as I have heard it said.

So begins Gita Wolf in her version of that old story in The Enduring Ark, but even before we read this text we’ve seen a huge eye seemingly merging into water signaling to us that this will be a retelling like no other. That is because of the unique accordian-style book making and Joydeb Chitrakar’s vivid illustrations done in the West Bengali Patua style of scroll painting. Readers can immerse themselves in Wolf and Chitrakar’s intertwined words and art by conventionally turning the pages or by opening the book to view them all at once. Water flows through the book from that first enormous eye of warning, tinkling through the gentle stream at Noah’s home, on as he collects his creatures, rising with the flood, and ending with the water merging with a rainbow of hope. The Enduring Ark is a spectacularly gorgeous book, one well worth reading again and again.

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And Tara Books is a remarkable publisher, a co-operative founded by writers and designers and committed to feminist and egalitarian principles and gorgeous visual bookmaking. Based in Chennai, South India, many of their books are completely handmade and they are focused on celebrating the range of Indian art. For a fascinating look at how their books are made and more I recommend taking a look at their blog.


Filed under Art, Children's Literature, Picture Books

Coming Soon from Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers: Battle Bunny


I am a big fan of subversive books, say the “recommended inappropriate books for kids” featured in Lane Smith’s Curious Pages.  That said, I also have observed that kids respond better to some of these more than others, an issue I explored years ago in a Horn Book article “Pets and Other Fishy Books.” So when I ran into Jon Scieszka a few months ago and he excitedly told me about the forthcoming Battle Bunny, I was intrigued but also wary — was this a book kids would get or would it be something more amusing for adults? Then an advanced copy of the book showed up in the mail and I took it to school to see what my students thought.

First of all, let me try to explain just what it is (and how tricky it was to read aloud). If you look at the cover above you can perhaps see that it appears to be a sweet book of the Golden Book sort, originally titled Birthday Bunny, that has been erased, scribbled on, and reworked by…someone. I began by showing the cover to the kids and we discussed what that original book was; some of them knew Golden Books, but all of them appreciated that it was meant to be one of those sweet little journey books they’d all read when very small. Next we explored the scribbles — evidently someone named Alex had received the book from his grandmother for his birthday (there is an inscription on the inside front cover), wasn’t too happy, and decided to make it into a completely new story. And so he thoroughly erased the original title and put his own in instead. As for the interior, he crossed-out text, added new words and art, and turns the story into something completely different.  

The first day I tried reading the book aloud on my own— alternating between the original text and Alex’s. The next day I invited one child to join me, reading Alex’s story and then had the kids take over completely — one reading Birthday Bunny and the other reading Battle Bunny. They had a great time!  It may well be that the best way to take in the book is solo or with one other child, but I still think it was a blast to read this way. The group reacted, pointed out small things to one another, and just had a lot of fun. Jon tells me they are planning on providing a copy of The Birthday Bunny online for kids to print out and rework just as Alex did.  Great idea!

So for those like me who go for this sort of thing (and not everyone does, I know),  Battle Bunny is an excellent addition to the world of subversive books for children.


Filed under Children's Literature, Classic, Picture Books, Reading Aloud, Review

Posting the Old-Fashioned Way

Betsy Bird has a charming contest inspired by Sophie Blackall’s remarkable mailing, of hers and Matthew Olshan’s book The Mighty Laloucheto a bunch of folks in the old-fashioned way — wrapped in brown paper with string accompanied with a letter sealed with wax. Having received one of these lovely, lovely packages I’m not going to participate in Betsy’s contest, but urge others to do so. And even if you don’t wish to do so, I highly recommend reading the contributions there already. They are varied and all so moving!

My own memories of packages are many. First of all, as a child living in East Lansing, Michigan where my father was a young professor, I recall the periodic packages that would come from my grandfather in New York City, filled with food that my parents loved and could not find in the Midwest — largely German as that is what they were.  And then there were the packages my parents sent to me when I was in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone in the 1970s. I think there was also food in those, but most of all I remember toothpaste, the brand I liked which was unavailable in Freetown.

I need to ask my 4th grade students about their experiences with packages. Maybe at camp?  Certainly, they aren’t receiving letters the way I did as a child.


Filed under Picture Books

New York Times Special Section on Children’s Books

This weekend’s New York Times has a completely glorious collection of children’s book reviews and art. There’s a slide show of the already-announced best illustrated picture books of the year (and may I say — I’m delighted with the choices!). Betsy Bird is on hand with reviews of a couple of intriguing NYC mysteries, fellow-NYC-private-school-faculty-member Jennifer Hubert Swan makes her debut with a smashing review of The Scorpio Races, and yay to Lisa Brown also I believe (correct me if I’m wrong, Lisa) debuting with a look at a couple of unconventional animal stories. Down-the-street-from-me Bank Street librarian and blogger Lisa von Drasek is back with a consideration of Lauren Oliver’s Liesel and Po, just-married-and-back-from-an-amazing-sounding-honeymoon Roger Sutton considers some superheroes, and Susan Gregory Thomas contemplates Lauren Snyder’s Bigger than a Bread Box.

But there is more!  NYC-online-friend Marjorie Ingall (whom I hope to meet in person one day) looks at several biographies, the brilliant Leonard S. Marcus examines a new version of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick (placing it in historical context which I love), Walter Dean Myers reviews Kadir Nelson’s impressive Heart and Soul, and Meg Wolitzer looks at Chris Raschka’s first novel, Seriously, Norman.

And still more, too much to possibly mention here so please go check it out yourself. It is fantastic!


Filed under Art, Children's Literature, Picture Books

The Two Umas’ “Out of the Way! Out of the Way!”

When Uma Krishnaswami asked me if I would like to participate in a blog tour I was intrigued. I’ve never done one, but the featured book (illustrated by another Uma, Uma Krishnaswamy) looked charming online and was being brought out by the admirable Indian publisher Tulika Books.  So I said yes.

I’m glad I did.  A clever cumulative tale for very young children, the book is a pleasure to read and view.  Having never been to India I can’t weigh in on authenticity, but it comes across as very real. Set in India, created and published in India, it offers an insider’s view of India, understandably quite different from the one you get, no matter how well-intended and well-researched,  created and published by outsiders.  Those looking for books about other cultures and places for young kids should definitely snap this one up.

Wanting a more youthful perspective I read the book to some of my book blogging 6th graders and invited them to write their own blog posts.

  • Wrote KM, “It’s set in India, which is one reason I liked it so much. I go to India every summer to see family, and so I also have a general idea of the setting and stuff.”  Read her whole post here.
  • LW gave it a 9.5 out of 10 and thought that it is, “….  kind of like The Giving Tree, except that in The Giving Tree the boy was very selfish and cruel to the tree, but in this book the boy really loved the tree and protected it from all of the dangers of a growing city.” Read her whole post here.
  • TB notes that the book has a, “… wonderful collection of similes, India and a child’s love for the environment.” LD notes that “… it has that Indian tradition, which includes the modern part of India.” Read their whole post here.
  • In her post, RC urges you to move out of the way for this book.

So there’s our take on this pretty book.  For some other perspectives do visit the rest of the tour stops this week:

Monday June 21:
Educating Alice (Monica Edinger)
Saffron Tree (artnavy)
Tuesday June 22:
Chicken Spaghetti (Pooja Makhijani)
Through the Tollbooth (Sarah Sullivan)
Wednesday June 23:
PaperTigers (Marjorie Coughlan)
Thursday June 24:
Brown Paper (Niranjana Iyer)
Plot Whisperer (Martha Alderson)
Friday June 25:
Notes from New England (Nandini Bajpai)
Saffron Tree (artnavy)

Saturday June 26:
Scribbly Katia (Katia Novet Saint-Lot)
Jacket Knack (Carol Brendler)
Sunday June 27:
The Drift Record (Julie Larios)


Filed under Picture Books

Coming Soon: Knuffle Bunny Free


Aggle, flaggle, sniff.

I was fortunate enough to receive the F&G of the forthcoming finale to the Knuffle Bunny saga at Thursday’s HarperCollins preview.   That afternoon my Book Blogger club met and we read all three books, noting the beautiful development of Trixie over time.  The kids were incredibly quick to catch all sorts of lovely little touches. Two of their posts can be read here and here.


Filed under Children's Literature, Other, Picture Books

Adaptations and Such

I’ve seen several expressions of relief by children’s book folk after they viewed the new Where the Wild Things Are movie featurette in which Maurice Sendak expresses confidence and appreciation for Spike Jonze’s vision for his book.  While I too am happy that it has met with Sendak’s approval, I also want to point out that Jonze is a very, very unconventional filmmaker and the film is likely to be a very different aesthetic experience from the book.  The two movies of his I’ve seen were smart, engaging, and seriously weird.  Just be prepared is all I say.

The first one I saw was Being John Malkovich — incredibly strange and very endearing, I thought.  Here’s the trailer:

The only other one I’ve seen is Adaptation. Given that its plot involves someone trying to adapt a book for a movie, well isn’t that what Jonze is doing with Where the Wild Things Are? In the case of Adaptation, it is a real book, Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book The Orchid Thief, and things go from bad to worse — hopefully that doesn’t happen with Max’s story! Here’s the trailer:

And here’s the new featurette mentioned above for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it.

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Filed under Classic, Film, Picture Books

Deliciously Demented Books

Adrienne of WATAT and Jules of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast are having a Straight Talk About the Food Chain involving “slightly demented picture books.” Adrienne defines these as “…books that we love and that kids love that make other adults uncomfortable.”

Right up my alley! Years ago I wrote an article for Horn Book, “Pets and Other Fishy Books,” in which I considered child reaction to such wonderfully subversive books. Like Jules and Adrienne, I celebrated Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, and Molly Leach (designer extraordinaire) for their ground-breaking book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and went on to consider the mixed child-reactions I’d gotten from their then-latest work, Squids will be Squids. Trying to tease out why one child thought the book was hilarious (never mind what adults thought) and another didn’t I finally concluded:

Scieszka and Smith’s latest collaboration, Squids Will Be Squids, presented a new wrinkle. A send-up of Aesop’s fables, these twisted cautionary tales are all about life for a typical American kid: homework, moms, name-calling, TV, being grounded, science projects, and the like. But rising above the chuckles and requests that I read just one more was Jennifer’s plaintive voice, “I don’t get it. What’s so funny?” Stymied, I wondered, how does one explain funny? Jennifer was not amused by “Elephant and Flea,” one of the fractured fables. She and I were equally frustrated; both of us wanted her to be in on it, to join those of us who already found the book funny. Unsuccessfully, her peers tried to explain the story to her. Earnestly, they told her about the adage “elephants never forget,” pointed out the size difference between Elephant and Flea in the illustration, and referred back to the earlier fable in the book, “Elephant and Mosquito.” Of course it didn’t work. Not only can funny not be explained, but Jennifer had evidently reached her limit for dry humor.

One of my all-time favorite of this genre is Chris Raschka’s Arlene Sardine. It predates by many years, the similar Tadpole’s Promise mentioned by Jules. In the article, I describe my students’ being stymied by the book, but later groups have totally gotten it and found it roll-on-the-floor-hilarious. (Anyone who got to see Chris do his puppet show of this book was fortunate indeed.)

Another favorite (from my childhood) is the often misunderstood Struwwelpeter. It was both funny and weird to me. I always show it to my class when we reach this part in Alice in Wonderland:

It was all very well to say `Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. `No, I’ll look first,’ she said, `and see whether it’s marked “poison” or not’; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked `poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.

I was personally most taken by Paulinchen who burned to death after playing with matches (as I was phobic about fire myself) and could tease my little sister relentlessly with poor Conrad’s story (involving thumbs and a tailor, if you don’t know it).

Finally, what about The Cat in the Hat? I guess it isn’t really a picture book, but it sure is pretty darn demented nonetheless!


Filed under Children's Literature, Picture Books