One-Minute Book Reviews

August 22, 2008

‘Lyle, Lyle Crocodile’ – A Picture Book That Celebrates the Joys of City Life

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 6:13 pm
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An upbeat crocodile savors pleasures such as ice-skating at Rockefeller Center and having a picnic in Central Park

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile. By Bernard Waber. Houghton Mifflin, 48 pp., $6.95, paperback. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

It’s not easy being green and living in a bathtub in New York City. Just ask any young fan of Lyle, an anthropomorphic crocodile who made his picture-book debut in 1962 in The House on East 88th Street and has reappeared in more than a half-dozen sequels that celebrate the joys of urban life.

Lyle lives with Mr. and Mrs. Primm and their son, Joshua, in a New York City brownstone that has a high stoop, fanlight window, and claw-foot bathtub in which he relaxes. He revels in urban life even as he startles shoppers and irritates a neighbor whose cat he has frightened.

One of Lyle’s endearing traits is an almost pathological optimism. In Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, he is exiled to a zoo after he follows Mrs. Primm to a department store and creates a commotion by putting on an exuberant show with Signor Hector P. Valenti, his former partner in a traveling stage act, who now sells pajamas. Lyle weeps during his first night in a cage but rebounds when visitors arrive and he becomes the biggest star in the zoo. Still, he misses the Primms until a heroic deed enables him to go home and, at last, win over the testy neighbor whose cat he had upset.

Bernard Waber combines strong black lines and blend of bold and subtle watercolors to suggest the depth and variety of New York City. And he brings Lyle’s personality to the fore by alternating full-color pages with black, white and green spreads. Partly because he draws better than he writes, his work ranks several notches below that of Chris Van Allsburg and David Macaulay and others who also have been nurtured by his editor, the esteemed Walter Lorraine of Houghton Mifflin.

But few fictional characters can match Lyle’s infectious enthusiasm for joys of city life – riding taxis, feeding pigeons, ice-skating at Rockefeller Center. Many good children’s books deal with the urban experiences of a specific group – blacks, Hispanics, white girls rich enough to live at the Plaza. And we need those books. We also need books that say: Great cities like New York abound with joys that transcend your race, ethnicity or bank balance. Lyle, Lyle Crocodile does that, and nearly two generations of children have been grateful for it.

Best line/picture: “Lyle could spend hours watching building construction.” The focus on free or low-cost pleasures in this book is all the more appealing when a good seat for a Broadway show costs $100 and even a one-way subway ride will set you back $2.

Worst line/picture: A sign at an information desk says: “On parle francais” and “Aqui se habla español.” Using the tilde on español but not the cedilla on français is sloppy. And the some of the characters’ names are cute rather than witty or apt.

Published: 1965 (first edition) www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/authors/waber/

Caveat lector: Some reviews suggest that the quality of this series falls off with later books, which I haven’t read. I welcome comments from teachers, librarians and others who can speak to this issue. And contrary to what you might expect from its title, Waber has written Lyle, Lyle Crocodile in prose, not poetry.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews.

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

August 16, 2008

A Captivating Picture Book About a Boy Who Loves Words

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:13 pm
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[I'm on vacation today. This review of one of my favorite recent picture books appeared on this site in late 2006, a few weeks after the launch of One-Minute Book Reviews.]

An inspired partnership results in an ideal gift for preschoolers

Max’s Words. By Kate Banks. Pictures by Boris Kulikov. Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Frances Foster Books. New York, 32 pp., $16. Ages 4–6 (younger for reading aloud).

By Janice Harayda

Sometimes an author comes up with such a wonderful concept for a picture book that the idea might soar even with inferior art. If the illustrator is equal to the task, the result can be magical, as with Max’s Words, the story of a boy who collects words.

Max decides to collect words, cutting them out of newspapers and magazines, when his brothers won’t share their stamps and coins with him. This premise is rich in possibilities, and Kate Banks and Boris Kulikov make more of them in 32 pages than you might imagine possible. Max discovers that when he puts his words together, he can make a story. This leads to a story-within-a-story, about “a big mean green crocodile” that wants to eat a small brown worm. Without becoming preachy, Banks’s text makes a case for the unique power of words: “When Benjamin put his stamps together, he had just a bunch of stamps. When Karl put his coins together, he had just a pile of money. But when Max put his words together, he had a thought.”

Like all good picture-book images, Kulikov’s whimsical illustrations at once reflect the story and send it into another realm. When Max snips the words “alligator” and “crocodile” out a newspaper, we see his scattered cut-outs forming the upper and lower jaws of a reptile. And his story offers a fine antidote to gifts that require plugs, consoles or batteries. Without saying so directly, Max’s Words reminds children that sometimes you have the most fun with activities that cost nothing.

Best line: Quoted above: “But when Max put his words together …”

Worst line: None. But a small picture shows Benjamin assuming an anatomically impossible position while rearranging his stamp collection. This might not matter if such positions were intrinsic to the story or if other characters also assumed them. Neither of these is true, so this image is slightly jarring.

Editor: Frances Foster

Published: August 2006 us.macmillan.com/maxswords

A new a book or group of books for children or teenagers appears every Saturday in the Children’s Corner on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site and check back or subscribe to the RSS feed. Children’s Corner reviews may be posted on Friday night.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 9, 2008

Picture Books About Different Kinds of Beaches

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:08 am
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This is a re-post of a review that appeared on August 7, 2007

Heading to the beach with a preschooler? Or hoping to keep alive the memories of an earlier trip to the seashore? Pick up David Wiesner’s Flotsam (Clarion, $17.95 ages 3 and up), an eloquent, wordless picture book that won this year’s Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/22/. Flotsam www.clarionbooks.com tells the story of a boy who finds an underwater camera that washes up on a beach and takes him on a magical journey to distant times and places.

Consider Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach (Dragonfly, $6.99, paperback, ages 3 and up) , a Caldecott Honor book, for children who can only dream of a trip to the seashore. It tells the story of Depression-era girl who spends summer nights on a Harlem rooftop she calls “tar beach,” a place that inspires dreams of flying above the George Washington Bridge. As often in her work, Ringgold www.faithringgold.com incorporates motifs from black history and culture. Her heroine’s magical journeys build on the flight-to-freedom theme in African-American literature.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent blog created by Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com, who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer, and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org. A new review of a book for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on this site.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 2, 2008

How to Have More Fun Watching a Sunset — Another Great Idea from ‘365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child’

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:36 am
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Back in June, I mentioned how much I like Steve and Ruth Bennett’s 365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child (Adams Media, 1993). If you haven’t yet gone to your library to get the book, I’d like to encourage you with another idea from it. Want to have more fun watching a sunset?

“Get the whole family out for a sunset viewing (a picnic dinner is a great way to get ready),” the Bennetts write. “As the sky turns colors, have everyone take turns closing their eyes, counting to thirty (ten, for young ones), then describing what’s different when they open their eyes again.”

Alternately, the Bennets say, you could have all of your family members close their eyes while you count to thirty. Then ask them to open their eyes and describe the changes. Or ask people to predict what changes will occur, such as shifts in colors or cloud shapes.

You’ll find other ideas in the Bennett’s 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child (Adams Media, 2002), which is easier to find in stores and on line.

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

July 27, 2008

Frances Richey’s Poetry Collection ‘The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War’

Filed under: Poetry — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:51 pm
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Internal and external conflicts intersect in a collection of 28 poems

The Warrior: A Mother’s Story of a Son at War. By Frances Richey. Viking, 84 pp., $21.95.

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, I went to an American Ballet Theater production of Sleeping Beauty with a companion who called it, with some justification, “a walking ballet.” The choreography may delight crowds, but you don’t go to this one for aerial special effects such as long sequences of dazzling grand jêtés.

The Warrior is a collection of walking poetry, billed by its publisher as “a memoir in verse.” Frances Richey, a yoga teacher, began to write its 28 poems when her son, a West Point graduate and Green Beret, went on the first of his two tours of duty in Iraq. Her book is about the distances – physical and emotional – that war puts between a parent and child.

Richey is earnest and at times pedestrian writer who works mostly in unrhymed, variable-length free verse with the occasional hint of an internal or end-rhyme or both (“and since my son was the only one / who’d never hunted”). In a poem called “The Book of Secrets,” she recalls her son’s early years: “ … Mornings, / when I left him with the sitter, / I had to close my heart, // or else obsess he was crossing / Oak alone.” You don’t doubt the sincerity of her words, but they read less like poetry than stenography, a literal transcription from life without the alchemy of a great poem. In some of the other poems, no thought seems too obvious to avoid making explicit. “I can’t protect him,” she tells us in one. “Will he come back?” she wonders in another. “ On learning that Iraq can be cold, she reflects, “I was always asking if he was warm enough. / Put a sweater on, I’d say. Your jacket …”

Other poems are less prosaic, and two are particularly good. In “The Aztec Empire” Richey considers artifacts of human sacrifice that she sees in an exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum and links them elegantly to the sacrifice of human lives in Iraq. And in “Kill School” she describes a combat training program that teaches a soldier how to kill by having him rock a rabbit “like a baby in his arms, / faster and faster,” then smash its head against a tree. Richey doesn’t call her book a collection of antiwar poems, but these two poems speak for themselves. And their direction, like that of the other poems in The Warrior, is no less clear because they walk instead of soaring toward their destination.

Best line: From “Kill School”: “The trainer showed him / how to rock the rabbit / / like a baby in his arms, / faster and faster, // until every sinew surrendered / and he smashed its head into a tree.”

Worst line: You may need to assume a lotus pose to appreciate: “… Green: / color of the fourth chakra, / Anahata; it means unstuck — / the heart center — / the color of his fatigues.”

Editor: Paul Slovak

Published: April 2008 www.francesrichey.com

You may also want to read: Robert Hass’s Time and Materials: Poems, 1997–2005, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for poetry, which has several poems critical of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, including “Bush’s War. ” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/15/

Furthermore: Richey also wrote the poetry collection The Burning Point. She lives in New York City.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

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

July 25, 2008

A Child-Approved Joke Book for Ages 6 and Up That You Can Get at CVS

Filed under: Children's Books,Humor — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 5:53 pm
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It is a late Friday afternoon in July. A critic named Jan (her real name) is sitting at a table in the café of a good suburban public library.

Jan has placed two books in front of her on the table. One is Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (Houghton Mifflin, 1962), a handsome, award-winning hardcover book that she has checked out of the library. The other is Awesome Good Clean Jokes for Kids (Harvest House, 1992), a cheap mass-market paperback that she has just picked up at CVS.

She is trying to decide which book to review and is leaning toward Lyle, because she didn’t get it off a rack that also had books about iffy herbal remedies and end-of-the-world prophecies.

An 11-year-old girl named Olivia (not her real name) starts to walk by. She does not know Jan but stops instantly when she sees Awesome Good Clean Jokes for Kids.

OLIVIA: I love that book! There’s a really good joke on page 103. It’s in the “knock, knock” section.
JAN: Would you show it to me? (She opens the book to page 103.)
OLIVIA: There it is at the bottom of the page.
JAN: “Knock, knock. / Who’s there? / Noah. / Noah who? / Noah good place we can go for dinner?”
OLIVIA: That’s my favorite. I like another one on that page, too. The one about the turnip.
JAN: “Knock, knock. / Who’s there? / Turnip. / Turnip who? / Turnip the heat, it’s cold in here!”
OLIVIA: I like that one because I really like turnips.
JAN: Do you think other 11-year-olds would like this book? Or do you think it would be better for another age?
OLIVIA: I think some 11-year-olds would like it. But I think it’s best for about 6-year-olds. My brother is six, and it’s his favorite book. We had a copy of it already, but my mother had to go to CVS and buy him his personal copy.
JAN: Why do you think your brother likes it so much?
OLIVIA: He like all those silly things like Captain Underpants.

Bob Phillips’s Awesome Good Clean Jokes for Kids (Harvest House, 207 pp., $4.99, paperback) also has riddles, daffy definitions, and many other kinds of jokes for ages 6 and up. It is available at drug- and other stores, including online and retail booksellers.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 28, 2008

William Steig’s ‘Spinky Sulks’ – A Tale of One Boy’s Grand Funk

The author of Shrek! also wrote picture book about a boy who can sulk even in a hammock on a beautiful summer day

Spinky Sulks. By William Steig. Sunburst, 32 pp., $4.99, paperback. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, I mentioned the “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series on this site to an English professor and mother of two, who asked immediately if I had written about the late William Steig’s priceless Spinky Sulks. I said I hadn’t, partly because the book wasn’t quite old enough: Spinky Sulks came out in 1988, and the “Classics” series typically covers books published at least 25 years ago. And Steig wrote and illustrated so many good picture books that if I had to pick just one, I might choose Brave Irene, the story of an intrepid girl who doesn’t let a blizzard stop her from keeping her promise to her seamstress mother to deliver a dress to a duchess.

But if Spinky Sulks hasn’t been around quite long enough to qualify as a classic and doesn’t involve the high drama of Brave Irene, it is the hilarious story of an epic bad mood. Spinky is a boy who can — and does — sulk in a hammock on a beautiful summer day: His bad mood is so extreme, it borders on a parody of a sulking. That’s partly what makes his story so funny: Steig exaggerates enough so that children can see the humor in Spinky’s mood but not so much that he ridicules their feelings.

Spinky resists efforts to cheer him up — including his brother’s, “You were positively right! . . . Philadelphia is the capital of Belgium” — until he finds a way to lift his gloom on his own. In that sense, the book is a bit subversive. Steig doesn’t say so directly, but Spinky figures out how to do something that all parents want their children to learn to do: to tame their emotions in ways that suit their temperaments — even if you won’t find their methods recommended by Penelope Leach.

Published: 1988 www.williamsteig.com/spinky.htm

Furthermore: Steig, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, also wrote Shrek!. Spinky Sulks has won honors that include New York Times Outstanding Book and American Library Association Notable Book designations. Steig won a Caldecott Medal for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, a Caldecott Honor award for The Amazing Bone and Newbery Honors for Abel’s Island and Dr. De Soto. The site www.williamsteig.com/guides.htm has reading guides to Brave Irene, The Amazing Bone, Doctor De Soto, and Amos & Boris.

Your public library has this book or can get it for you on an interlibrary loan for free or a nominal charge. Most libraries with children’s departments also have other good books by William Steig.

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

June 20, 2008

Great Low- or No-Cost Outdoor Activities You Can Do With a Child

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction,Paperbacks — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:31 pm
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365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child. By Steve and Ruth Bennett. Adams Media, 430 pp., $7.95, paperback.

365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child: Plus 50 All-New Bonus Activities. By Steven J. Bennett and Ruth Bennett. Adams Media, 512 pp, $8.95 paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Want to keep a child away from the television set this summer and involved in activities that are stimulating and fun? Steve and Ruth Bennett are your friends. Maybe — depending on how desperate you are — your best friends.

The Bennetts have written two terrific books packed with ideas so simple you may wonder why you didn’t think of them on your own: 365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child and 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child www.adamsmediastore.com/product/814/16. The second book is easier to find than the first, but both are widely available in libraries. And each describes hundreds of no- or low-cost, TV-free activities for ages 3 and up in a paperback small enough to fit into a purse or glove compartment.

Part of the appeal of these books is that they describe many activities that would appeal to a variety of ages (including, in some cases, teenagers). Their “Acorn Toss,” for example, is a variation on horseshoes, scaled down so that all ages can enjoy taking part.

Here are three suggestions from 365 Outdoor Activities You Can Do With Your Child that will give you an idea of the kinds of diversions the Bennetts recommend in both books:

Acorn Toss. Can’t take children’s favorite games with you on a trip? Use acorns, walnuts or pine cones for sports games, the Bennetts suggest. One of the easiest games begins with gathering a handful of acorns or nuts: “One person tosses his or her acorn from an official throwing point, marked by a line in the ground or a stick. The other players then toss their acorns, trying to come as close as possible without touching the acorn.”

Invent a Constellation. On a starry night, ask children what they see in the way of people, animals, objects, and more. Make up alternate names for constellations — “Meatball Minor,” “Pancake Major,” “Aunt Jane’s Earlobe” — and tell stories about them. “Sound silly?” the Bennetts ask. “Remember, they actually did name one galaxy the Milky Way.”

Water Writing. Write with “disappearing ink” – water – on a sidewalk, driveway, or patio. Fill a bucket or pan with water, and “write” with a paintbrush, roller or broom. The Bennetts recommend that you tailor your writing to a child’s age For prereaders, paint letters, numbers or shapes of familiar objects. For readers, write words or messages. “On a hot sunny day, the object is for your child to guess the picture or message before the water evaporates.” To conserve save, use “waste water” from a wading pool or rainwater collected in a bucket.

As these activities suggest, the Bennetts’ books could inspire not just parents but for grandparents or aunts and uncles who expect visits from children soon.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 15, 2008

How Bad Is Laura and Jenna Bush’s Children’s Book About Reading?

Filed under: Children's Books,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:24 pm
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Did you see Roger Sutton’s evisceration of Laura and Jenna Bush’s children’s book in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review? It was everything reviews in the Times should be but rarely are: bold, witty, interesting, authoritative and utterly persuasive.

In Read All About It! (HarperCollins, $17.99) the first lady and her daughter try to show 4-to-8-year-olds that reading can be a joy. Their vehicle is a student named Tyrone who doesn’t like reading as much as other activities, such as “helping my mom pull the pesky weeds from the front yard.”

The Bushes’ effort cuts no ice with Sutton, editor-in-chief of The Horn Book, the country’s leading children’s literature journal. “The point is laboriously made, the teachers’ names are dorky, the plot is hectic and the suspense and dialogue are artificial,” he writes. “What child today says ‘pesky’?”

Sutton’s comments were such a contrast to most reviews in the Sunday Times – many of which are timid and inflationary – that they threw into relief a central problem of the section: The Times often chooses reviewers who have more expertise in a subject area than experience as reviewers. Sutton has expertise and deep reviewing experience. What a pleasure the NYTBR would be if all of its critics had his skill and courage.

One-Minute Book Reviews reviews books for children every Saturday. Occasional posts on children’s books may appear for cause during the week — the cause in this case being that the Bushes’ book is the No. 1 children’s bestseller in America and links to newspaper reviews may go dead after a week or two.

Read the full Times review here: www.nytimes.com/2008/05/11/books/review/Sutton-t.html?_r=2&bl&ex=1210737600&en=949dc013156ba36c&ei=5087%0A&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

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

May 11, 2008

Phyllis Theroux Writes About a Memorable Mother’s Day in ‘Peripheral Visions’

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:29 pm
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Phyllis Theroux has a lovely essay on a memorable Mother’s Day in her collection Peripheral Visions (Morrow, 1982). It seems that on one holiday she awoke at 6 a.m. to find that the youngest of her three children had disappeared. Theroux aroused her family, and after “sending everyone up and down the streets and alleys for 20 minutes of shouting,” filed a missing-child report with the police. Then it occurred to her that her son might have gone to her garden in a neighborhood cooperative four blocks away. She drove toward it, spotted Justin in his pajama bottoms, and took her sobbing child into the car. “I woke up and remembered it was Mother’s Day and I didn’t have a present,” he said. “And I thought maybe I could find some flowers to pick. But when I got to Oregon Avenue, I remembered I wasn’t allowed to cross it by myself.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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