Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back to the Books

When I first saw that The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books For Children, had separate sections for Picture Books and Story Books, I thought they were really hanging their hats on semantics.  Because this is my beloved NYT Guide, I gave it a chance and looked closely at the introduction to the Story Book section which states, "Younger children can frequently listen to the text...with pleasure, but they are best suited for children in the early grades." (p. 107)  So far, Boo has borne out this statement, with startling accuracy.  Every once in a while he listens to one of the stories (such as The Adventures of Maxi Dog) with the same attention he reserves for an episode of Blue's Clues, and he is sometimes distractingly interested in the illustrations (the pictures of Joan of Arc with her armor and sword piqued his curiosity to the point that I just gave him the book and moved on to another one).  Overall though, I can draw a quick timeline of when he became glaringly uninterested in read-alouds during our school day and it starts right about where this section begins.

The Accident
Written by Carol Carrick and Illustrated by Donald Carrick
We didn't actually read The Accident, which is the middle of a trilogy of books about Christopher and his dog Bodger.  Truthfully, I was grateful my library didn't have this one because after being introduced to the boy and his dog in Lost in the Storm (which is exactly what happens to Bodger, but there's a happy ending), in The Accident, Bodger is hit by a truck and killed.  No parental hand-wringing or decision-making was required to check out Lost in the Storm and the final book, The Foundling, in which Christopher bonds with a stray despite his grief over Bodger - however, I did a quick pre-read in stacks before it went in the bag.

The Adventures of Taxi Dog
Written by Debra Baracca and Illustrated by Marc Buehner
Boo and I read one of the sequels about Maxi, the Taxi Dog while sitting on the floor of our favorite children's consignment shop.  He enjoyed it, but not enough to take it home, and I only remember wondering why it wasn't placed in the Picture Book section of the Guide.  I must confess that I was left with such an overwhelming feeling of being underwhelmed, that I never sought out the original, even though I must pass by it all the time at the library.   One day, if it makes itself glaringly obvious on my trajectory through the children's section, I'll rectify my judgmental ways and bring it home.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Written by Judith Viorst and Illustrated by Ray Cruz
There is something utterly dated about the illustrations and characters in this and other books about the curmudgeonly, elementary school misanthrope that I adore.  I think I identify more strongly with Alexander than Bean does.  In fact, I don't think she identifies with him at all, but she doesn't mind reading most of them; the exception being I'll Fix Anthony, whose revenge theme is a bit un-PC for her sensibilities.  Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday is a cautionary tale mentioned in homeschool tomes as a good resource for beginning financial management.  Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move takes young readers on a full venting journey, before he finally comes around and faces reality in the end.

All About Alfie
Written and Illustrated by Shirley Hughes
The Alfie books are one of those nice surprises that endears me to the Guide and keeps me pig-headedly glued to my quest to force feed - I mean force read - I mean read with no coercion what so ever- as many of the books as possible to Bean and Boo.  The stories are pleasant tales about Alfie and his little sister Annie that don't knock you over the head with purple prose, life lessons or cleverness, but I love the illustrations and the setting, which I presume is in Yorkshire or some other naturally bucolic corner of the UK.

Always Room for One More
Written by Sorche Nic Leodhas and Illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian
Absurdist fable alert!  Not only is it absurd in the most hilariously ridiculous way that even Boo thought was a riot, it is set in Scotland, which means you get to read it with your best bad Scottish brogue.  I for one, look for opportunities to use my best bad accents.  If you don't, your kids are really missing out on opportunities to be either extremely tickled or extremely embarrassed - both of which are good for them.

The Amazing Bone
Written and Illustrated by William Steig 
I actually considered writing a whole post on William Steig because both Bean and I run very hot and cold and are very much in agreement about his books.  This one is in the cold category.  It's just plain weird, and not in the pleasant way that I seek out.  I wanted to like the story about Pearl the pig who found a talking bone that had fallen out of a witch's pocket, but I just couldn't.  Neither could Bean or Boo.

Amazing Grace
Written by Mary Hoffman and Illustrated by Caroline Binch
Yay for girl power books!  Yay for girl power books with girls who defy all the naysayers and have good illustrations to boot.  This book is especially good for kids whose interests break the mold or kids who are interested in the theater .(P.S. This book isn't just for girls.)

Annie and the Old One
Written by Miska Miles and Illsutrated by Peter Parnell
I love Peter Parnell's evocative line drawings, which immediately transport the the reader to the southwest - even if you've never actually been there.  (He also lends his very distinctive style to the illustrations in all of Byrd Baylor's books, with similar results.) Annie and the Old One is a touching, but not overly emotional story about a girl realizing that her grandmother is close to death.  Rather than sitting in grief or anger, the story follows the little girl as she learns to let go of her grandmother.  The family is very obviously Native American and I think this serves to make the story powerful, but not necessarily upsetting for kids.  Because it is set in a different culture young listeners can separate themselves just enough for comfort, but slightly older kids who've been introduced to this culture already will recognize lessons about the cycle of life and get even more out of the story.  Annie and the Old One is beautifully, sensitively written in a way that does not read "BIBLIOTHERAPY."

Annie and the Wild Animals
Written and Illustrated by Jan Brett
I personally love Jan Brett's rich, colorful illustration style and how the pictures literally tell a side story on the edges of the page.  I don't know how authentically she captures the various cultures that her stories embody, but I love them just the same.  Checking out this book, along with The Mitten, Berlioz the Bear, The First Dog, and Fritz and the Beautiful Horses, gave us a reason to have an overdue Jan Brett fest in combination with other titles we had at home.

Art Dog
Written and Illsutrated by Thacher Hurd
Art Dog is a perfectly silly caper with nary an artful illustration or lesson in sight.  This tale of a security guard turned vigilante art rescuer is good fun for both Boos and Beans, but the Boos (2/3) in the group won't get the inside art jokes that the Beans (7/8) might.

Arthur's Nose
Written and Illustrated by Marc Brown
I find it interesting that Bean likes watching the television series based on Marc Brown's supposed aardvark and likes reading Arthur's Nose and the other original Arthur books, but she doesn't care for the books based on the TV show.  It's fascinating because the Arthur of Arthur's Nose, Arthur's Eyes, Arthur's Tooth and Arthur's Glasses actually looks like an aardvark, albeit an anthropomorphized version.  The Arthur of the TV show looks more like a gopher or chipmunk, or some other nondescript member of the large rodent family.  The whole premise of the original book was that a young aardvark was learning to accept his prominent proboscis.  The irony is completely lost on Bean, who until very recently was often confused by the difference between fiction and nonfiction on non-animated movies and TV.  Maybe Arthur's incongruous nose and message don't bother her because the show is animated and therefore automatically outside the realm of the possible.  When I asked Bean if she thought it was odd that his nose was one way in this book and another on television, she basically gave me a regurgitated response on the differences that manifest when a book becomes a TV show, which sounded almost exactly like what I told her that last time this inconsistency (in what book/show I don't remember) nearly sent her over the edge.

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