One-Minute Book Reviews

January 31, 2008

My Baby Gift for Parents Who Are Serious Readers – ‘The New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children’

A veteran children’s book critic recommends fiction, nonfiction and poetry

More than seven years have passed since the arrival of Eden Ross Lipson’s The New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children: Third Edition: Fully Revised and Updated (Three Rivers, $18.95, paperback) www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl/9780812930184.html. This means that it omits many of the most admired books of the decade, including all the 21st-century Newbery and Caldecott medal–winners. But it’s still so much better than most books in its category that it’s one of my favorite baby gifts for parents who are serious readers.

This hefty paperback has more than a thousand brief reviews of fiction, nonfiction and poetry for the years from birth through early adolescence, all written by a former children’s book editor of The New York Times Book Review. It also has a half-dozen indexes that let you search for books by title, author, subject and age-appropriateness and more. So it’s easy to find books in popular categories, such as poetry and biography, and on topics such as sports, minorities, and grandparents. Many of the reviews give little more than plot summary. But Lipson’s opinions, when she risks them, are sound. She describes the popular picture book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales as “smart-aleck central” and adds: “There’s a blithe, if mean-spirited, energy in both the text and the clever, angular, layered illustrations.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 15, 2007

Good Gift Books for Children and Teenagers — What to Wrap Up for Everyone From Babies and Toddlers Through College-Bound High School Students

Season’s readings for ages 1-to-16 and up

Source: http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

New books don’t always make the best gifts for children and teenagers. These suggestions include 2007 books and classics that young readers have enjoyed for years or generations

By Janice Harayda

Ages 1–2
Nobody does board books better than Helen Oxenbury, who has twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal, Britain’s equivalent of the Caldecott. Oxenbury’s great gift is her ability to create faces that are simple yet expressive and never dull or cloying, which is just what young children need. You see her skill clearly in her engaging series of board books about babies at play, which includes Clap Hands, All Fall Down, Say Goodnight and Tickle, Tickle. (Simon & Schuster, about $6.99 each) www.simonsayskids.com. Any infant or toddler would be lucky to have one of these as a first book.

Ages 3–5
Children’s poet Jack Prelutsky pays homage to Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile” in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 32 pp., $16.99, 3 and up) www.jackprelutsky.com, a collection of brief rhyming poems about imaginary animals. But this picture book stands on its own with amusing poems about fanciful creatures such as an “umbrellaphant” (an elephant with an umbrella for a trunk) and sparkling illustrations by Carin Berger.

Ages 6–8
Elizabeth Matthews makes a stylish debut in Different Like Coco (Candlewick, 40 pp., $16.99, ages 6–8) www.candlewick.com, a witty and spirited picture-book biography of Coco Chanel. Matthews focuses on the early years of the designer who learned to sew at a convent school, then revolutionized 20th century fashion with clothes that reflected and fostered the emancipation of women. The result makes clear that Chanel owed her success not just to hard work but to boldness and staying true to herself and her artistic vision.

Ages 9–12
Brian Selznick has had one of the year’s biggest hits for tweens of both sexes in The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (Scholastic, 533 pp., $22.99) www.scholastic.com, a cross between a picture book and a chapter book. Selznick’s novel involves a 12-year-old orphan and thief who lives in a Paris train station and, in the days of silent movies, tries to complete work on a mechanical man started by his father. The beautiful packaging of this book helps to offset the so-so writing and unresolved moral issues it raises (including that Hugo rationalizes his thievery and mostly gets away with it) www.theinventionofhugocabret.com.

Ages 13-15
Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner says in The Art of Reading (Dutton, $19.99) that as teenager he was captivated by Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Roc, $7.99, paperback) us.penguingroup.com. And that modern classic might still delight a teenager who likes science fiction (with or without a companion gift of the Stanley Kubrick’s great movie version). Or consider Mindy Schneider’s Not a Happy Camper (Grove, $24) www.not-a-happy-camper.com, an adult book being cross-marketed to teens. Schneider remembers her eight weeks at an off-the-wall kosher summer camp at the age of 13 in this light and lively memoir. (Sample experience: A bunkhouse burned down when a group of boys put candles under their beds to see if they could warm them up by nightfall.) This book is about wanting to fit in and never quite achieving it — in others, about the essence of being a teenager.

Ages 16 and up
Finally, a book for the college-bound, especially for the sort of high school student who might like to join a sorority or other all-female group: Marjorie Hart’s charming Summer at Tiffany (Morrow, $14.94) www.harpercollins.com, a book for adults that many teenagers might also enjoy. In this warm and upbeat memoir, Hart looks back on the summer of 1945, when she and a sorority sister at the University of Iowa became the first female pages at Tiffany’s, the Fifth Avenue jewelry store. They arrived just in time to watch the city erupt with joy when the Japanese surrender ended World War II and to have a much larger experience than they had expected. Hart’s account of all of it has none of the cynicism that infects so many books for teenagers, and that’s partly what makes it so refreshing.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. You can read others by clicking on the “Children’s Books” and “Young Adult” categories under the “Top Posts” list at right.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

 

October 7, 2007

Is Penelope Leach the Margaret Thatcher of Child-Care Experts? Quote of the Day (Katha Pollitt)

Yesterday I went to the Borders store at Madison Square Garden — the airiest bookstore in New York with its huge plate-glass windows — looking for books I’ve wanted to review. I struck out on two new editions of children’s classics: a Little Red Riding Hood illustrated Andrea Wisnewski and Ruth Krauss’s The Backward Day.

But with a bit of effort, I found an adult book at the top of my list: Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories (Random House, $22.95), a collection of personal essays by Nation columnist Katha Pollittt. (Memo to Borders: This does not belong in the “Politics and Government” section but near I Feel Bad About My Neck.) I dove into Pollitt’s essay on the birth of her daughter two decades ago and, in a section about child-rearing experts, found this irresistible passage on the author of Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age 5:

“Penelope Leach, the only famous woman expert, was a dragon, the infant-care equivalent of Margaret Thatcher or Barbara Woodhouse, who had that dog-training show on television (‘No bad dogs – only inexperienced owners!’), and you couldn’t dismiss her as just another man laying down the law. She was a mother herself; a better mother than you, because she never seemed to have a minute in which raising children was not the foremost on thing on her mind. She wrote that you had to talk to your baby when you were pushing the stroller and that not to do so was rude because if the baby was a grown-up you would make conversation. She wrote that if you had a job and the baby was happy you had still done the wrong thing, you had just gotten away with it. Penelope Leach had quite a bit of useful information, which she delivered in a brisk, friendly way, but that was just to cozy you along. Like the men, she obviously thought that if you ignored her advice you’d produce an addict or a killer or a C student – but if that was true the human race would never have survived all those millennia living in mud huts on a diet of lentils and goat milk.”

More on Learning to Drive soon and, in the meantime, you can read about it at www.randomhouse.com and www.kathapollit.blogspot.com.

The Borders store at Madison Square Garden www.bordersstores.com is at 2 Penn Plaza. Among large New York bookstores, it is one of the most convenient for tourists, situated right next to Penn Station and a few minutes’ walk from the Port Authority bus terminal. Unlike most city bookstores of its size, it has a broad plaza in front with lots of places to sit and read (in addition to an in-store cafe).

The way this Borders shelves books can be a little odd. Pollitt is doing appearances all over the city, so why was Learning to Drive buried in the “Politics” section on the second floor? But the service was exceptional. When I couldn’t find the book on the main floor, a staff member directed me to the second floor, then called upstairs to a clerk, who was waiting for me with the book when I got there. I rarely comment on bookstores, but I haven’t had this kind of service at a bookstore of its size anywhere in the world.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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