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!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Manneken Pis -A Simple Story of a Boy Who Peed on a War. By Vladimir Radunsky

Here is another anti-war book, seems my mind is wandering that way. This one is definitely in the quirky category.

When I first saw
Manneken Pis, I really could not believe the manuscript made it past Marketing. Even though the story is based on a famous statue in Belgium, it is still all about war and... a boy peeing. The cover is a boy peeing. The punchline is a boy peeing. Now, imagine the sales chart. Also imagine reading this to a class of 2nd graders. My favorite response, amid squeals and laughter, was a shocked, very serious "That's in-proprate." It might be a better story to read one-on-one.

But it is worth reading and discussing. This book is an allegory of peacemaking. Radunsky's childlike, bold paintings illustrate the conflict and consequences of war from the point of view of a small boy. Then the boy needs to pee and this simple act brings both sides together in laughter.
End of war.
I wish it were so simple!

  • Manneken Pis - A Simple Story of a Boy Who Peed on a War by VladimirRadunsky
  • Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Books
  • ISBN-10: 0689831935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0689831935

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss

I missed Dr. Suess's birthday.

Since I am not working in an elementary school this year, it passed without the hoopla, hats and celebratory readings. But I was reminded today, as a librarian and I were weeding in an old school library. The Seuss books were well loved, ripped and scribbled in, held together with tape. It really is amazing how hard it is to let them go to book heaven. It is also amazing how many of his books are still popular. Most authors have one or two books which are the ones that become their legacy, I think Seuss has four times that.

But there are some of his books that are not well known. My friend had never seen The Butter Battle Book and then had to listen while I excitedly talked it up.
Book talk -book rant?

The Butter Battle Book is the book I always read to 3rd grade and up for Dr. Seuss's birthday. I would start out by explaining that sometimes books have messages that writers are trying to impart. Dr. Seuss wrote this book to express his political opinions about war. He wrote this during the Cold War when the USA and the Soviet Union were having an arms race, building bigger and more dangerous weapons. (I like to tell students about growing up near Washington D.C. and how we had bomb drills and how scared we were. How we all knew someone who had built a bomb shelter in their backyard or basement. That usually gets their attention.)

Then I read the book. In true Seuss style, his story of war between the Yooks and the Zooks is told with humor and wonderful illustrations. The Rube Goldberg type weapons with names like "Jigger-Rock Snatchem" increase in size and complexity, as the battle over butter side up or down becomes a full fledged war. I have to admit that sometimes I skip some words, if I'm pressed for time, but the basic premise and the pictures are so strong, it doesn't matter. Seuss did not bother being subtle and this book was actually banned at one point during the Cold War, presumably because he presented both sides as equally culpable in the acceleration of conflict.

What I love about this book is that children get it. The Butter Battle Book is one of the best books I know of to inspire discussion about conflict on all levels.
Thanks Theo.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

I am hoping that Tim Burton's movie version of Alice in Wonderland will inspire children to read the book and discover how much better it is than the movie. If so, I won't be so angry and disappointed at his turning the story into a simplistic war-mongering tale.

This is one of my all time favorite books and I found it very sad, as a librarian, that so few children know the original book. Instead, most know the Disney version, which is really very lovely and remarkably true to the original, but still an abridged version. The original is so much more complex. (I should say originals, as Through the Looking Glass is really a separate tale.)

Alice is a prime example of literary nonsense that is full of allusions, puns, and not so subtle themes. Lewis Carroll (Dodson) was a brilliant storyteller and pulled together bits and pieces of the real Alice's world to create a magical story. (As a teen, I loved an annotated version that explained political and philosophical references in the text. Yes, I was a literary nerd.)

But I think Alice has really lasted this long and become so popular because the characters are so wonderfully imagined. Read it again and notice the details, the individual voice of each character. (Disney noticed.) There is a reality to Wonderland's madness, a consistency of lunacy, that pulls the reader in, along with Alice, down the rabbit hole. There the language and detail are as potent as any bottle labeled "drink me".

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was a hit in Victorian England and has never been out of print. There have been numerous versions with different illustrations, but the original ones by Tenniel are those that I fell in love with and I've found it hard to accept others. That's what happens with a first love.

Teacher Notes: This is actually a great read-a-loud for 3/4th grade. Compare and contrast to the movie. I would love to teach this at the middle school level and make connections to Victorian England and Philosophy.