One-Minute Book Reviews

April 14, 2012

‘Frog and Toad Are Friends,’ Arnold Lobel’s Easy Reader for Grades K—2

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:16 am
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The first book in an award-winning series for children who are starting to read on their own

Frog and Toad Are Friends: An I CAN READ Book. By Arnold Lobel. HarperCollins, 64 pp., $16.99. Ages 4—8 (Grades K—2).

By Janice Harayda

Arnold Lobel called Beatrix Potter his artistic mother. If that’s true, he deserves a Son of the Year award for Frog and Toad Are Friends.

Potter casts a long shadow over stories about animals who act and dress like humans but retain characteristics of their species. Artists often try to avoid the Curse of Peter Rabbit by denying its existence: They create animal tales so garish or absurd that no one could confuse them with Potter’s exquisite naturalism. Lobel stays in the sun by taking the opposite tack: He nods to Potter by giving his stories neo-Victorian settings and clothing, making her era his own. In his “Frog and Toad” early readers, his characters live in fairy-tale cottages with period details — a potted fern, cross-hatched windows, and heavy, carved furniture — made fresh by a palette long on soft greens. This approach makes for escapist fun along with a psychological depth rare in limited-vocabulary books.

Frog and Toad Are Friends introduces in five short parables a pair of gentle amphibian best friends with complementary temperaments — the optimistic and gregarious Frog and the more pessimistic and reticent Toad. Like a long-married couple, Frog and Toad take care of each other in ways that are kind, natural, and amusing. In their first adventure they tackle small tasks that can seem Herculean to children — getting out of bed, coping with illness, finding a lost button, waiting for mail, and appearing in a swimsuit in front of friends.

Frog and Toad have a gift for telling the truth without being mean, a trait that emerges as they splash in a river in “A Swim.” Toad thinks he looks funny in a bathing suit, a striped one-piece Victorian affair, and doesn’t want to leave the water while Frog and other creatures are watching. Sure enough, when he steps onto land, Frog laughs. Toad asks why. “I am laughing at you, Toad,” said Frog, “because you do look funny in your bathing suit.” Far from appearing wounded by this, Toad says matter-of-factly, “Of course I do.” He marches home with his head high, satisfied that Frog has admitted the truth, in a witty sketch that puts a happy ending on the tale.

Perhaps better than any story in Frog and Toad Are Friends, “A Swim” shows Lobel’s command of character. Frog doesn’t hurt Toad’s feelings by telling him he looks “funny” in a bathing suit because that is what his friend wants to hear. His comment is a validation of Toad’s view rather than an insult. And Lobel shows his sophistication as an author and artist in his ability to make such a distinction clearly implicit without expressing it in words. Frog and Toad Are Friends lacks the full-throttle drama of Mr. McGregor racing after Peter Rabbit with a rake shouting, “Stop thief!” But it has many quieter pleasures. Good artistic sons, like biological children, don’t have to look just like their parents.

Best line/picture: The final picture of Toad, marching off proudly in his ankle-length, green-and-white striped Victorian bathing suit, in “A Swim.”

Worst line/picture: None. But this review was based on the original 1970 hardcover edition. The literary and artistic quality of spinoffs and later editions may differ.

Furthermore: Frog and Toad Are Friends was a 1971 Caldecott Honor book. Arnold Lobel (19331987) won many other honors for his books for children.

You can follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

March 6, 2010

Hare-Brained Books About Bunnies — Beware of Rip-Offs of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and Other Classics

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:18 am
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Bad bunny books and some recommended substitutions for the Easter basket

If you’re looking good books about bunnies, beware of the words “based on.” That phrase on a cover is usually a tip-off that you aren’t getting the original text, pictures or both. And some books omit even that red flag. Two examples are Peter Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95) and The Velveteen Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95), which have the words of Beatrix Potter and Margery Williams but pictures far inferior to those in the best-known editions of their books. Publishers can do this because The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Velveteen Rabbit are out of copyright in the U.S. (though not necessarily in all other countries). Some knock-offs of these classics cost as much as books with the original text and art.

So why not go for the real thing? Or consider any of the many other good books about rabbits. They include Pat the Bunny (Golden Books, $9.99, ages 1–3), by Dorothy Kunhardt; The Runaway Bunny (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 2–5), by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd; and Bunny Cakes and Bunny Money (Picture Puffins, $5.99 each, ages 3–5), by Rosemary Wells or other titles in Wells’s hilarious “Max and Ruby” series about a brother and sister rabbit.

For ages 6 and up, consider the chapter-books about Bunnicula the “vampire rabbit” (well, it does drain juice from vegetables), by James Howe and Deborah Howe, illustrated Alan Daniel. The titles in this comic mystery series may tell you all you need to know: Bunnicula, Bunnicula Strikes Again!, Howliday Inn, Return to Howliday Inn and The Celery Stalks at Midnight (Aladdin, $4.99–$5.99 each).

This post first appeared in slightly different form in 2007. You can also follow Janice Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 13, 2007

Gifts for Readers — Sterling Silver ‘Cat in the Hat’ and Beatrix Potter Ornaments From Hand & Hammer

[This week I'm running extra posts, in addition to reviews, on suggested gifts for readers. No kickbacks from the sellers. These are just gifts I like. Museums sell these ornaments, but I couldn't find any in the U.S. that had them in stock, so I'm listing other suppliers.]

My favorite Christmas decorations include these sterling silver Cat in the Hat and Peter Rabbit ornaments. Each is part of a series with scenes or characters from books by Dr. Seuss or Beatrix Potter (also available as charms and, in some cases, brooches). I first saw the Peter Rabbit ornaments in the gift shop at Hilltop, Potter’s home in the English Lake District, part of the Britain’s National Trust. In the U.S., you can order them for about $45 each from the venerable Hand & Hammer Silversmiths www.handandhammer.com, which also has the Seuss ornaments. This venerable Virginia company has made presentation silver for every president since John F.Kennedy, who received copies of Paul Revere’s lanterns for the Oval Office. I’ve ordered from its vast selection of sterling silver ornaments without problems. If you’re interested in a Seuss ornament, you might also try Seussland www.seussland.com, which has a good selection.

The ornaments shown are “The Cat in the Hat,” left, and “Mrs.Rabbit and Her children,” right, both from the Hand & Hammer Silversmiths online catalog.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 5, 2007

Deeper Into ‘The Garden of Abdul Gasazi’ and Other Magical Realms: Perry Nodelman’s ‘Words About Pictures’

How do the pictures relate to the words in children’s books? Do they clarify the text? Do they complete it? Or do they do something else, such as moving the text forward?

Canadian scholar Perry Nodelman explores these and other questions in Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books (University of Georgia Press, $22.95, paperback) www.ugapress.uga.edu, perhaps the best book in print on how pictures relate to stories in children’s books. Nodelman deals at least in passing with hundreds of well-known picture books. But he pays special attention to 14 that have helped to define the field, including Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/31/, Peter Spier’s Noah’s Ark www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/05/, Chris Van Allsburg’s The Garden of Abdul Gasazi www.chrisvanallsburg.com and Paul Heins’s Snow White, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.

Nodelman’s central argument – developed with skill and insight — is that it’s a mistake to view picture books like though the narrow lens of their moral, ideological or educational correctness. Rather, he says, they are a serious art form that deserves the respect we give to others.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

April 1, 2007

Who Framed Peter Rabbit? All the Publishers Who Bring You Cheesy Knock-Offs

Bad bunny books and some recommended substitutions for the Easter basket

If you’re looking good books about bunnies, beware of the words “based on.” That phrase on a cover is usually a tip-off that you aren’t getting the original text, pictures or both. And some books omit even that red flag. Two examples are Peter Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95) and The Velveteen Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95), which have the words of Beatrix Potter and Margery Williams but pictures far inferior to those in the best-known editions of their books. Publishers can do this because The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Velveteen Rabbit are out of copyright in the U.S. (though not necessarily in all other countries). Some knock-offs of these classics cost as much as books with the original text and art.

So why not go for the real thing? Or consider any of the many other good books about rabbits. They include Pat the Bunny (Golden Books, $9.99, ages 1–3) by Dorothy Kunhardt; The Runaway Bunny (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 2–5), by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd; and Bunny Cakes and Bunny Money (Picture Puffins, $5.99 each, ages 3–5), by Rosemary Wells www.rosemarywells.com, or other titles in Wells’s hilarious “Max and Ruby” series about a brother and sister rabbit. For ages 6 and up, consider the chapter-books about Bunnicula the “vampire rabbit” (well, it does drain juice from vegetables), by James Howe and Deborah Howe, illustrated Alan Daniel. The titles in this comic mystery series may tell you all you need to know: Bunnicula, Bunnicula Strikes Again!, Howliday Inn, Return to Howliday Inn and The Celery Stalks at Midnight (Aladdin, $4.99–$5.99 each).

A review of the best children’s versions of the Easter story appeared on this site on March 17, 2007. You can find it archived with the March posts and under “Children’s Books” if this direct link doesn’t work: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/17/the-best-versions-of-the-easter-story-for-children/

Links: Search the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia www.wikipedia.org for the terms “The Velveteen Rabbit,” “Pat the Bunny” and “The Runaway Bunny” for more information about these books and pictures of the original illustrations. Search for “Bunnicula” to learn more about that series, which has been adapted for television.

[Update posted 4/04/04: If you are looking for pictures of rabbits that your child can color, click on the link to Rosemary Wells's Web site listed above. Her site has lively pictures of the rabbits Max and Ruby that you can download.]

“Snap” Preview is enabled on One-Minute Book Reviews. This means that if you just put your cursor on the link to Rosemary Wells’s site, you can see the cover of one of her “Max and Ruby” books. You don’t have to click on the link and go to her site. Try it with this link to see another photo of me and of the covers of my novels www.janiceharayda.com.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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