Quirky, Weird and Wonderful:

These are books that I have discovered over the years and want to celebrate.
Some are out of print, some are new, but most of them have fallen through the cracks for some reason
or another and are not on the general must read lists of books for children.
This does not mean I do not love award winners and best sellers,
but I have a soft spot for the unappreciated and misunderstood.
Please understand that my taste is eclectic, slightly warped and a bit dark.
I like books that make me laugh, books that make me cry, and books that make me think.

I welcome suggestions. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Giant Seed by Arthur Geisert

I have been writing promotional material for a film about SEEDS.   
Check out: 
Seed: The Untold Story:

 Great people, great cause!

As I was brainstorming seeds, I thought of children's books. I am always coming back to children's books.  What better way to plant seeds of change???  So, I made a list.  The Carrot Seed By Ruth Kraus,  Miss Rumphius by Barbara Clooney, and The Giant Seed, by Arthur Geisert. 

Yes!  Arthur Geisert!  I think of Arthur as the quintessential American illustrator right now - sort of like Pete Seeger and Norman Rockwell for kids.  High praise?  He deserves it.  Arthur Geisert creates intricate renderings of towns and farms that invite readers/viewers to explore and make their own.  With funny details, multiple animals and a sense of humor, he celebrates middle America - usually without words. I recommend all his books!

The Giant Seed is a strange one - replete with forebodings of ecological disaster and change, but also a pagan to ingenuity and community.  We will survive!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Remy Charlip -This is not the End

I have not posted anything in more than a year.  I don't quite have enough of a need to share to the Universe and play the blog game.  But.... I just found out that Remy Charlip has died and I need to broadcast to anyone who might find this what an amazing guy he was.  Reading his obituary in the NY Times, I am even more impressed - dancer, artist, writer, theater...  and in every picture he is smiling.

I don't remember when I got Charlip's book THIRTEEN, but I know it was a gift. It was published in 1975, so I was already in college, thinking of writing for children. This book was a surprise. It kept me enthralled for hours and still does. A lamp becomes an envelope - an envelope becomes a house - as sand forms a pyramid in front of a pyramid.  Visual puzzle, quirky backwards collection of multiple connected stories, Charlip's sequential images must be seen to be understood.  They are visual puns, sequential jokes, abstract musings.  I just love the doodley intellectual whimsy of it.

Catalogers must have had fits with Charlip's books as they don't fit in anywhere particularly.  Here is the Library of Congress' description of ARM in ARM: " An illustrated collection of tongue twisters, riddles and endless tales all of which feature a play on words and images.  A collection of connections, endless tales, reiterations and other echolalia."  How many summaries use the word echolalia!  

THIRTEEN won a number of awards, particularly for the playful watercolor and line illustrations.  But it is the books as a whole that I want to rave about. What I particularly admire about Charlip's work is how he understood children's need to explore and imagine their own stories, that children do not always need a clear narrative with an arc and ending.  The I Spy books,  David Wiesner's illustrated stories of pictures within pictures are all direct descendants of Remy Charlip. 

On the last page of ARM in ARM, telescoping hands hold a telescoping book that says, over and over, smaller and smaller, THIS IS NOT THE END.  How fitting!  Thank you Remy.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

THE BEAR & THE FLY - A Story By Paula Winter

When I left my school library job, there were a number of books that I was tempted to slip into my bag.  Most of them were old, and I am afraid that the next librarian will not appreciate them as much and will weed them to make room for the newer books that are always coming down the production line.  But the kids loved them when I read them!!!  Newer is not always better.  My ethics prevailed and I did not lift these books, instead, I put them on my To Buy list, even though some are difficult to find. 
     The first on my list was THE BEAR &The FLY by Paula Winter.  Published in 1976, this is one of those little books that easily get lost on library shelves.  It is also a wordless book with the story told through the illustrations. These simple pen and ink drawings, filled in with only a few colors, wonderfully render the accelerating mayhem of the story. The facial expressions are hysterical.  Each page reads as a frame of action and it is not surprising that THE BEAR & THE FLY  was turned into an animated short. 
     This is one of the first stories I would "read" to kindergarteners and it was a dangerous undertaking.  Dangerous because it incites violence.  Yes, violence.  But fun. Fun as in Laurel and Hardy or The Three Stooges.  Here in classic disaster humor, Bear causes an enormous amount of damage as he tries to swat a fly.  So simple, so funny.  But be prepared for some acting out.  How can they resist?  

THE BEAR & THE FLY  - A Story By Paula Winter
Crown Publishers, NY, NY  1976
ISBN: 0-517-52605-0

Sunday, August 8, 2010

June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner

OK, I've recognized a pattern. I am posting books of award winning authors, but the books I like are not the ones that won the awards. So, am I just ornery or is there a logic behind my preferences? Hmmm... could be ornery.

But, it may be that these talented authors have created many really good books and the ones that have won awards may not necessarily be their best. They might just be the ones that were the right books at the right time or the ones that appeal to the most people. Or maybe I'm just ornery. Having never been on a children's Literature award committe, I can only speculate, but I do know that every year is different. Sort of like wine.

David Wiesner has won three, yes three Caldecotts, and specializes in amazing wordless picture books. Yet, my favorite of his works is not an award winner. Instead I adore June 29,1999. Yes, I love Tuesday and always read it early in the year for Kindergarteners. I talk about "reading" pictures and telling your own story. We even add dialog together!

But still, June 29th has my heart. Instead of flying frogs, it has beautiful flying vegetables. (Arugula in Ashtabula). It also has words and a plot with an arc that is more complex then visiting town and finding your way home or seeing pictures within pictures. It has characters with names and relationships and conflict, even geographical puns! This is a story that children of various ages can relate to in many different ways.

A science experiment gone awry and its intersection with an alien tourist cruise ship, the plot of June 29th is wonderfully inventive! Holly Evens sends vegetables up in the air for a science experiment and, then, is surprised when giant vegetables descend all over the country. It's a mystery; it's an invasion; it's science, and headlines from the tabloids.

As much I admire Wiesner's illustrations, I'm afraid his Caldecott award winning works lack this complexity of plot and character. The Caldecott is an award for illustration and, in my opinion, Wiesner does deserve all of them, but I wish he would write a story again as good as June 29th, 1999.

June 29th, 1999
ISBN-10: 0395727677
ISBN-13: 978-0395727676

Teacher Notes: I love having a map when reading this and finding places like Ashtabula. Read this when the class plants seeds in the spring and then see what sort of stories your kids write!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jeannie Baker - author/illustrator

I love the art of collage and author/illustrator, Jeannie Baker, is one of the best. Her work is gorgeous and full of rich details. Made from natural materials, like sand, bark, twigs and moss, her collages capture and evoke nature beautifully.

Baker is Australian and, obviously, cares about the environment. Some of her books are almost preachy, but the images are so riveting that you don't really notice. Its the details, that catch your imagination and the changing point of view. Imagine trying to see a forest and then a leaf. Baker can do that! Her books are not subtle. Instead they are carefully, lovingly constructed pleas for us to look and care about the world around us.

Where the Forest Meets the Sea
is about a tropical rainforest, Home is about city life, but both have to do with time and change and how humans impact their environments. The Story of Rosy Dock is the only picture book I know of that has to do with invasive plant species! I don't really have one favorite of her books, rather I want to give a shout out for any of them. Baker was creating books for children about the natural world long before it was fashionable. Please check them out.

Teacher Notes: It is a mess, but I've found students love making collages from natural materials like Baker's. I've seen BIG collages in the Scottish Storyline method. that were just gorgeous. Baker's books were the seed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Eva - Peter Dickinson

Dystopian novels are pretty big right now. Hunger Games, ...., the list goes on. I don't really want to dwell on the reasons why. But I do understand the attraction, the gut wrenching understanding that the terrible future imagined just might be possible. Reading a really good story about a bad future makes me look around at the here and now and see what is still good and worth keeping.

Many of these stories are really dark, but, for some reason, I don't seem to remember them well. Maybe I've become jaded or I'm reading too fast. But one has stuck in my mind for years. I think I first read EVA more than 30 years ago and it still haunts me. I read it again a while ago and it does feel dated, but the concept is so strong I didn't mind.

What if the world were in really bad shape and a girl had her brain implanted in a chimpanzee? What if she was torn between two species? What if she could teach the chimps? What if they could start over? These are really BIG questions with lots of repercussions.

EVA won the Phoenix award in 2008 which means there are lots of others who feel it is a great book that did not get enough attention. It was used for years by schools and it is being dropped now, but I hope it is not forgotten. This is the sort of book that makes us think.

Teacher Notes: This does have some references to sex, so be prepared.

Eva by Peter Dickinson
Laurel Leaf; First Thus edition (October 1, 1990)
ISBN-10: 0440207665
ISBN-13: 978-0440207665

Friday, July 9, 2010

Summertime from Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin, and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward ; Illustrated by Mike Wimmer

It is over 100 degrees today and I thought of this book.
I love the song
Summertime from Porgy and Bess and this illustrated version does a wonderful job of capturing the lazy heat of summer and the love of family. Brothers and sisters run in fields, sit on porches and are watched by loving parents.

I spent a few years of my childhood in Alabama and just seeing these pictures reminds me of the south. I remember ice tea, hiding in the shade, and relatives asking me to give them some "sugar" (kisses).
Mike Wimmer's paintings are just lovely. I keep buying copies and giving them away - especially at baby showers.

This is a wonderfully evocative rendition of African-American country life. I've heard a few gripes by people of color that there are too many books about slavery, immigration or struggles in general. This book is a celebration of the good things - even when life is hard.

If you like books based on songs, there are a few more that I'd recommend - the strongest based on African-American spirituals and also wonderfully illustrated. Check out: This Little Light of Mine, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, and He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. I love reading It's a Wonderful World illustrated by Ashley Bryan. A new version of This Land is Your Land has great illustrations by Kathy Jakobsen, though I wish they were larger. Lots of lists around but these are my favorites right now.

Summertime from Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin, and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward ;
Illustrated by Mike Wimmer
Aladdin (June 1, 2002)