One-Minute Book Reviews

March 7, 2009

‘The Poky Little Puppy’ — ‘The All-Time Bestselling Children’s Hardcover Book in English’ Is Still Scampering Along in Its Original Golden Books Format

The latest in a series of occasional posts on classic picture books for young children

The Poky Little Puppy: A Little Golden Book Classic. By Janette Sebring Lowrey. Illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. Random House/Golden Books, 24 pp., $2.99. Ages 5 and under.

By Janice Harayda

The Poky Little Puppy is the all-time bestselling children’s hardcover book in English, the trade journal Publishers Weekly reported in 2001. Whether that report is accurate is debatable — others have made a similar claim for The Tale of Peter Rabbit — but the longevity of the book is remarkable by any measure.

First published in 1942, The Poky Little Puppy was one of the original 12 Little Golden Books that sold for 25 cents. And like other Golden Books that remain in print, this one retains the distinctive design elements of the series: the nearly square format; the patterned golden spine; and the space on the inside front cover for children to write their names after the words: “This Little Golden Book belongs to …” The book also has paper so lightweight that an Amazon reader complained of its flimsiness but that, in fact, has important benefits: It makes the book easy for children to carry and helps to keep the cost to a remarkably low $2.99 in hardcover.

A puppy goes bed "without a single bite of shortcake" in a classic picture book.

If they remember nothing else about The Poky Little Puppy, countless baby boomers recall it as the story of a dawdling puppy who had to go to bed without strawberry shortcake. But this book is also about the joy of exploring the natural world and its bounty: “a fuzzy caterpillar,” “a quick green lizard,” and other creatures.

Five puppies dig a hole under a fence around their yard and set out to enjoy “the wide, wide world.” But a poky little brown-and-white puppy dawdles while his siblings race ahead. And for two days, this works to his advantage: His swifter siblings get home first and are punished for digging the hole under the fence by their mother, who sends them to bed without dessert, so he gets to eat their rice pudding and chocolate custard. On the third day, the poky little puppy pays for his dallying: His quicker siblings get home first again and after finding their mother upset about another hole they have dug under the fence, fill it in. She rewards them with strawberry shortcake, and they leave none for him.

The Poky Little Puppy might have trouble finding a publisher today. Some of its themes conflict with the orthodoxies of child-rearing of 21st century, when psychologists instruct adults not to label children “poky” or “shy” or to withhold food as punishment (or even to use the word “punishment” instead of “discipline”). But this book has endured in part because it is not bibliotherapy but a good story. The talking animals tell children right away that this is a fantasy, not a slice of life.

No doubt many parents have used The Poky Little Puppy to teach the consequences of dallying or ignoring boundaries. But the book works as a straight adventure story. Gustave Tenggren’s gentle pictures soften the blow of the loss of the shortcake. And the puppy radiates such sweetness that no one could think him intentionally wayward – which is just what many children want their parents to think when they miss the school bus.

Best line: The first line: “Five little puppies dug a hole under the fence and went for a walk in the wide, wide world.” And the next-to-last: “So the poky little puppy had to go to bed without a single bite of shortcake, and he felt very sorry for himself.” And it’s great that a child can claim the book emotionally by writing his or her name in the space provided on the inside cover. Many recent picture books are so pretty they discourage children from writing their names in them, and that’s part of the problem with them.

Worst line: None. But see the caution below.

Caveat lector: Avoid gussied-up editions of this book — such as the one Random House describes as “upscale” – that cost more than $2.99. Part of the appeal of the Golden Books has always lay in their small, predictable format.

Read 20 early Golden Books free online at the Antique Book Library.

Published: 1942 (first edition) and many subsequent reprints.

Other classic picture books reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews include Horton Hatches the Egg, Millions of Cats, Madeline, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Where the Wild Things Are, The Backward Day, The Story of Ferdinand and Flat Stanley.

One-Minute Book Reviews will announce the winners of the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books for children or adults on Monday, March 16, 2009. A list of the finalists appeared on Feb. 27 and passages from books on the list on Feb. 26.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

February 28, 2009

Pat Cummings’s ‘Talking With Artists’ Series Lets Children Read About Their Favorite Picture-Book Illustrators and What They Do All Day

Any book in Pat Cummings’s three-volume Talking With Artists series would make a wonderful gift for a 6-to-9-year-old who loves to draw or paint. Each book is a colorful and often amusing collection of more than a dozen interviews (in a Q-and-A format) with well-known picture-book illustrators, typically supplemented by photos of their youthful and mature work and more. Vol. I includes Chris Van Allsburg and Leo and Diane Dillon; Vol. II, Brian Pinkney and Denise Fleming; Vol. III, Jane Dyer and Peter Sis. A winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, Cummings has a gift for getting artists to talk about their work in terms that will engage children. “I love what I do,” William Joyce says in the second book. “It’s like getting paid for recess.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

February 27, 2009

10 Books Named Finalists for 2009 Delete Key Awards for Bad Writing

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:07 am
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Here’s a complete list of the finalists for the 2009 Delete Key Awards, which recognize authors who don’t use their delete keys enough. Click on this link to read passages that earned these books a place on shortlist, posted on Feb. 26 in ten separate posts. More comments on these awards appear at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

1. Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid (Viking), by Denis Leary.

2. Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Can Change an Adult’s Life — For the Better (Basic Books), by Jeanne Safer.

3. The Underneath (Atheneum, ages 8 and up), by Kathi Appelt with drawings by David Small

4. Wolf Totem (Penguin), by Jiang Rong, translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt:

5. Change of Heart (Simon & Schuster/Atria), by Jodi Picoult.

6. Leisureville: Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias (Atlantic Monthly Press), by Andrew Blechman.

7. Read All About It! (HarperCollins, ages 4–6), a picture book by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush, illustrated by Denise Brunkus.

8. The Host (Little, Brown) by Stephenie Meyer.

9. Bright Shiny Morning (Harper), by James Frey.
10. Audition: A Memoir (Knopf), by Barbara Walters.

Randy Pausch has posthumously received the first Delete Key Awards Lifetime Achievement Award for The Last Lecture (Hyperion), in part for his unabashed acknowledgment of his love of football cliches. As long as there was still time left on the clock, he kept the drive alive.

The winners of the 2009 Delete Key Awards will be announced March 16 on the One-Minute Book Reviews blog.

Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews, a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

February 26, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #1 – Denis Leary’s ‘Why We Suck’

Delete Key Awards Finalist #1 comes from Denis Leary’s Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid (Viking, 240 pp., $26.95):

The winner of the first-ever One-Minute Book Reviews visitors’ poll:
“I’ll take five Anna Nicole Smiths for every Martin Luther King.”

And the runner-up in the poll:
“The women [at the gym]? Paired off on adjacent treadmills or elliptical trainers – yak yakkety yick yak yic, yic yickety, yawbeddy jawbeddy – jic jak yick. Yicketty yacketty blah blah blah.”

Can we all agree that somebody needs to rescue the prose of the star of Rescue Me?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #3 – Kathi Appelt’s ‘The Underneath’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:43 pm
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #3 comes from Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath (Atheneum, 311 pp., $19.99, ages 8 and up), a finalist for the most recent Newbery and National Book Awards, with drawings by David Small:

“The pain she felt was palpable.”

What’s wrong with this sentence? All together now: “Palpable” means you can feel it.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #4 — Jiang Rong’s ‘Wolf Totem’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:03 pm
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #4 comes from Jiang Rong’s novel, Wolf Totem (Penguin, 527 pp., $29.95), translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt:

“Now he understood how the great, unlettered military genius Genghis Khan, as well as the illiterate or semiliterate military leaders of peoples such as the Quanrong, the Huns, the Tungus, the Turks, the Mongols, and the Jurchens, were able to bring the Chinese (whose great military sage Sun-tzu had produced his universally acclaimed treatise The Art of War) to their knees, to run roughshod over their territory, and to interrupt their dynastic cycles.”

Now we understand how a line in a prize-winning Chinese novel can read like an excerpt from a report by the Government Accountability Office.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #5 – Jodi Picoult’s ‘Change of Heart’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:28 pm
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #5 comes from Jodi Picoult’s novel Change of Heart (Simon & Schuster/Atria, 447 pp., $26.95):

“Not that Jesus wasn’t a really cool guy – great teacher, excellent speaker, yadda yadda yadda. But … Son of God? Where’s the proof?”

and

“You don’t think it’s possible that Mr. Smythe was … well … resurrected?”

Not that Picoult isn’t a really popular novelist – great sales, a “terrific writer” in Stephen King’s view. But with dorky lines like these (and a plot to go with them), where’s the proof? Didn’t that “yadda yadda yadda” start to sound old before Seinfeld went off the air?

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

2009 Delete Key Awards Finalist #7– ‘Read All About It!’ by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush

Delete Key Awards Finalist #7 comes from Read All About It (HarperCollins, 32 pp., $17.99, ages 4–6), a picture book by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush, illustrated by Denise Brunkus:

“I say, ‘The library is a boring place! All I will meet there are stinky pages.’”

and

“Miss Toadskin thinks she can gross us out with her science experiments. But I live for that stuff!”

It happens every year! Delete Key Awards finalists try to strengthen weak sentences by adding manic exclamation points! And bad puns! How many 4-year-olds will know that a “page” is someone who reshelves books!

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

February 12, 2009

She Cuts Big Novels in Half With a Bread Knife to Make Them Easier to Read (Quote of the Day / Harriet Compston in Tatler)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:12 am
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Harriet Compston wrote this irresistible line about the English dancer Georgiana Cavendish, a direct descendent of her namesake, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, in the January 2009 issue of Tatler:

“Georgiana’s escape is big trashy novels, which she cuts in half with a bread knife to make them easier to read.”

Read it and weep, librarians and second-hand booksellers. You’re not going to get those novels for your Friends sales and sidewalk tables.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 22, 2008

Late Night With Jan Harayda — America’s Most Famous French Bookstore, the Librairie de France, Will Close in 2009

America’s most famous French bookstore will close in 2009. The Librairie de France in Rockefeller Center apparently has fallen victim to rising rents, online book sales and a declining interest in foreign languages.

The New York Times reported last year that the bookstore would shut its doors, but I missed the article and learned of the closing during a recent visit to the shop. A staff member was handing out flyers that said that its lease expires in September 2009:

“Because of overwhelming New York City retail rents, especially on Fifth Avenue – almost $1,800 a square foot, and projected even higher in 2009 – we will have to close our store at that time. Our mail order services, however, will continue from a yet-to-be-determined location.”

Alex Mindlin’s article in the Times noted that, in its prime, the Librairie was an institution. The bookstore was one of the first retail tenants of Rockefeller Center in 1935:

“During World War II, its publishing arm printed the works of many writers who had emigrated from Vichy France, including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The shop thrived throughout the 1960s, importing two tons of books a week and holding autograph sessions for French celebrities like the singer Charles Aznavour.” www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/nyregion/thecity/15fren.html

The Librairie de France operates today on two floors on the Promenade at Rockefeller Center: a ground-level space that sells souvenirs and other items popular with tourists, such as Tricolor keychains, “Little Prince” dolls and French translations of Goodnight Moon and the Harry Potter novels. An underground room below it sells antique and rare books and prints. A mail-order catalog appears on its Web site www.frencheuropean.com.

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

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