One-Minute Book Reviews

July 17, 2009

‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ and ‘Five Little Ducks’ — Good Books for 1- to 3-Year-Olds

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Fine artists from England reinvigorate a classic tale and nursery rhyme

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Retold by Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. McElderry, 32 pp., price $12.21. Ages: 1–6.

Five Little Ducks. Illustrated by Ivan Bates. Orchard, 24 pp., $12.99. Ages 1–6.

By Janice Harayda

Do you know a child who is ready to move beyond Goodnight Moon but too young for the symbolism and shifting perspectives of Chris Van Allsburg? Two worthy picture books brim with elements that 1- to 3-year-olds love – animal motifs, repeated words, and easy-to-imitate sounds.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt has been delighting young listeners for nearly a generation with its retelling of a classic tale about a father and four children who go on a bear hunt. Michael Rosen’s story teems with adventures that children love to act out, such as crossing a river (“Splash splosh!”) and trudging through a blizzard (“Hoooo woooo!”). And it has dynamic illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, who has twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal, England’s equivalent of the Caldecott. One of the few potential drawbacks to giving this book as a gift is that it is so popular that families may have a copy.

Children are less likely to own Five Little Ducks, illustrated by another gifted artist who lives in England. This is a new version of the nursery rhyme that begins: “Five little ducks/Went out one day/Over the hills and far away./Mother duck said, ‘Quack, quack, quack.’/But only four little ducks/came waddling back.”

Ivan Bates uses sunny pencil-and-watercolor illustrations to depict the five ducklings that wander away from their mother one by one, then rush back all at once. And he invests his animals with tender emotion without over-anthropomorphizing them or dressing them, Peter Rabbit-like, in human clothes. His mother duck is clearly heartbroken when her young disappear and overjoyed when they return. Many books browbeat children with warnings about what could happen if they don’t stay near adults. Bates takes a more subtle and perhaps more effective approach to the subject: He shows children how sad their mothers would be if they didn’t return.

Best Lines: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: “We’re going on a bear hunt … We’re not scared.” Five Little Ducks: Verses are traditional. A nice touch is that this book includes an easy-to-play musical score for the song with the same title.

Worst lines: None.

Published: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, 1989. Five Little Ducks, February 2006. This review refers to the hardcover edition of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, also available in Aladdin paperback, Little Simon board-book, pop-up, and book-and-CD editions. Board book editions may or may not contain the full text of the original.

This a re-post of a review that appeared in November 2006. Reviews of books for children and teenagers appear on Saturdays on One-Minute Book Reviews. All are are written by Janice Harayda, former book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 27, 2009

A Teacher With Large Breasts and a Small Brain Gets Her Comeuppance in ‘The Dunderheads,’ A Picture Book by Paul Fleischman, Illustrated by David Roberts

Students seek revenge when Miss Breakbone calls them dunderheads

The Dunderheads. By Paul Fleischman. Illustrated by David Roberts. Candlewick, 56 pp., $16.99. Age range: See discussion below.

By Janice Harayda

A cynic might call The Dunderheads an ideal book for anyone who believes that children are never too young to learn that some women with large breasts do have small brains. But that view may be too harsh. David Roberts’s pictures are often funny even if the protagonist of this book looks like a refugee from a wacky Hooters franchise staffed by middle-aged teachers-union members.

The cruel Miss Breakbone seems not to have gotten the message that she might crush her students’ fragile self-esteem if she never assigns essays on topics like, “Why I’m Special.” She brazenly calls her class a bunch of dunderheads – at least when she isn’t confiscating their cell phones and vowing not to give them back.

But her students have self-esteem to spare, fostered by their many achievements, and Miss Breakbone is too dumb to see how smart they really are. A female student nicknamed Hollywood is typical: “She’s got every movie that was ever made and has watched them all 11 times.” So one day when Miss Breakbone goes too far, her students take their revenge in a breaking-and-entering caper that ends when she finds a note that says, “The Dunderheads were here!”

All of this is reasonably diverting, owing largely to Roberts’s flair for visually amusing details, such as the skull-shaped lamp on Miss Breakbone’s dresser. But the plotting isn’t as clever nor is the writing as sharp as in in many other tales of a classroom revolt, such as Miss Nelson Is Missing!. Miss Breakbone’s name, for example, is somewhat labored and not as funny as that of Viola Swamp in Harry Allard and James Marshall’s back-to-school tale.  And a goggle-eyed character named “Google-Eyes” may leave some children using the incorrect phrase for a lifetime.

Best line / picture: Roberts’s spread showing the movie addict named Hollywood in a bunker-like room full of cables, DVDs, Oscar statues, and a television and larger-than-life remote control.

Worst line / picture: “That’s when Google-Eyes went to work.” The girl shown on this spread isn’t “Google-eyed” but “goggle-eyed.” Fleischman also writes: “Spider went up the drainpipe like malt up a straw.” That similie sounds dated coming from a young narrator whose classmates bring cell phones to school, all members of a generation that might never drink a malted milk (if that’s what’s meant here).

Suggested age range: The publisher recommends this book for ages 6–10. This suggestion is unrealistic for many children given that The Dunderheads has a picture-book format and children often begin to spurn picture books at about the age of 6 or 7 (and to crave picture books that have more than 32 pages, as this one does, one starting at 4 or 5). School Library Journal says the book is for Grades 2-5 (roughly ages 7-10). But, again, it seems too optimistic to believe this book would appeal to many 8- and 9-year-olds who have enjoyed, for example, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The natural audience for the format of The Dunderheads might seem to be 4- and 5-year-olds who want picture books with more than the usual 32 pages, such as the original Flat Stanley with words by Jeff Brown and illustrations by Tomi Ungerer. But — speaking just for myself — I wouldn’t give this one to a literal-minded child who start school soon because of its message, however humorously developed, that some teachers just hate children and, if you get one, you may feel better if you take criminal acts of revenge.

Published: June 2009

About the author and illustrator: Fleischman, a Californian, won the 1989 Newbery Medal for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices and has posted an excerpt from it on his Web site. Roberts lives in London and has illustrated many books for children, some of them prize-winners.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews.  To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Books that will reviewed on this site are sometimes announced in advance at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

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

June 13, 2009

Lisa Brown’s ‘How to Be’ — Fun With Animals for Very Young Children

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A witty picture book shows children how to imitate a bear, monkey, turtle, snake, spider, and dog

How to Be. By Lisa Brown. HarperCollins, 32 pp., $16.89. Ages 6 months and up.

By Janice Harayda

Is there a toddler or preschooler who doesn’t love to make animal sounds? San Francisco artist Lisa Brown urges very young children to take their copycat instincts a step further in this witty picture book about a brother and sister who imitate the behavior of six animals — a bear, monkey, turtle, snake, spider, and dog.

Each spread gives simple directions for acting like one of those creatures, illustrated by amusing line drawings that show how the siblings interpret the instructions. And I defy you to keep a straight face when you see how the two respond to last command on the “How to Be a Dog” pages: “Lick someone.” Oh, are parents and grandparents going to have fun watching children follow the instructions in this book! You might have almost as much fun as they’re going to have licking your elbow.

Best line/picture: Apart from the picture of the brother trying to lick his sister? A command on the “How to Be a Monkey” pages: “Eat with your toes.”

Worst line/picture: None unless you’re so heartless that you believe that children should never – not even once – be allowed to eat with their toes.

Recommendation? A good gift for ages newborn to 2 or 3. How to Be might especially appeal to children who like the imitative aspects of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. And it has an intergenerational appeal, because it will allow children to show off for their grandparents their impressive ability to slither on their bellies like a snake.

Furthermore: The bold line drawings and minimalist color palette give this book an unusually fresh look. How to Be would fit in well at Museum of Modern Art gift shop. Yet it’s not one of those pretentious books that please adults more than children. Both groups are likely to enjoy it.

Published: May 2006

This is a repost of a review that appeared on this site on June 30, 2007.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

May 23, 2009

Allons, Enfants! Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read – ‘Anatole,’ a Caldecott Finalist by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone

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A friendly is mouse is startled to find that Parisians dislike his nibbling on leftovers

Anatole. By Eve Titus. Illustrated by Paul Galdone. Fiftieth Anniversary Edition. Knopf, 40 pages, $14.95, ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Some runners-up for the Caldecott award have had longer and more active lives than the books that defeated them. A famous example is Madeline, a 1940 finalist edged out by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s Abraham Lincoln.

Another case in point is the delightful Anatole, a tale of French mouse shocked to learn that humans dislike his feasting on their leftovers. The book that defeated it for the 1957 medal, A Tree Is Nice, remains popular and admired. But if you factor in the sequels, Anatole has the edge with children. Adults have reason to love the book, too.

Anatole has a plot that – if strong in its heyday – looks Herculean by the standards of the washed-out storylines of so many contemporary picture books. Anatole is happy to sneak into houses and nibble on leftovers until Parisians offend his pride by complaining about the scavenging. A mouse has to feed his family – in this case, his wife, Doucette, and six children – but Anatole has a conscience and self-respect. “If only we could give people something in return — ” Doucette says.

Inspired by his wife’s words, Anatole begins slipping into the Duval Cheese Factory by moonlight, tasting the products, and pinning onto the cheeses notes that suggest ways to improve them. “Less black pepper … more grated onion … another pinch of salt.”

Will Anatole get caught? This question in itself makes for an exciting story. But Anatole also develops a worthy theme nondidactically: Giving back makes you feel good even if you can’t repay others in kind. And as Meghan Cox Gurdon has noted, the book gives English-speakers a chance to enliven a reading by adopting an outrageous French accent, either for the English text or the scattering of French words like, “Touché!”

Paul Galdone adds to the Gallic flair by illustrating his early 20th-century Parisian scenes with just three colors – red, white, and blue – and to the suspense by alternating tricolor pictures with black-and-white spreads. Some spoilsports might wish that Eve Titus had set her story in China, which would have allowed for shop signs in Mandarin – a language that that has spiked in popularity among preschoolers – instead of French. As Anatole’s helper Gaston says, “C’est la vie!” A Chinese version might have had its advantages, but would it have had as many pictures of delicious cheeses?

Best line/picture: Anatole is mortified to hear Parisians complaining about mice: “ ‘But I never dreamed they regarded us this way,’ cried the unhappy Anatole. ‘It is horrible to feel scorned and unwanted! Where is my self-respect? My pride? MY HONOR?’”

Worst line/picture: None.

Published: 1956 (McGraw-Hill first edition), 2009 (Knopf 50th Anniversary Edition).

Furthermore: Galdone won Caldecott Honor Book citations for Anatole and the first of more than a half dozen sequels, Anatole and the Cat.

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

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

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 26, 2009

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

January 27, 2009

2009 Caldecott Medal Honors an Attractive But Derivative Book — ALA Judges Play It Safe by Choosing the Poetry of ‘The House in the Night’

Beth Krommes used scratchboard and watercolor for 'The House in the Night.'

The House in the Night. By Susan Marie Swanson. Illustrated by Beth Krommes. Houghton Mifflin, 40 pp., $17. Ages 2–5.

By Janice Harayda

This lovely and thoroughly inoffensive 2009 Caldecott award–winner should hearten anybody who sees the American Library Association as a hotbed of Communists who keep trying to sneak into kids’ hands books on dangerous topics like sex education and environmentalism. The House in the Night is pretty as can be but shows the ALA in full retreat from the days when it gave medals to trailblazing books like The Little House, Where the Wild Things Are and Jumanji.

There’s no doubt that as the financial maelstrom rages, many people will welcome this gentle story about the comforts of home in the darkness. As night falls, a young girl receives a key to a tidy house that has glowing lamp. She enters and finds on a bed a book about a dove-like bird that carries her on its wings toward the moon and back to a home “full of light.”

None of the action in this tale has a catalyst that is remotely upsetting or disturbing, such as Max’s getting sent to bed without his supper in Where the Wild Things Are. Susan Marie Swanson found the inspiration for this cumulative story in one of the nursery rhymes collected by the estimable Iona and Peter Opie (“This is the key of the kingdom: / In that kingdom is a city”). And although nursery rhymes can be sadistic, this book minds its manners. Swanson tells her story in short-lined poetry so low keyed, most critics seem to have missed it despite lines like “the house in the night / a home full of light.”

Beth Krommes’s illustrations have a minimalist color palette unusually sophisticated for a picture book. Krommes uses just three colors – black, white and yellow – and watercolor and scratchboard techniques that give the art the look of wood engravings. She also reduces her images to essentials: a cat, a doll, a brush, teddy bears, sweaters in a bedroom drawer. Her “house in the night” is a cottage — the roof appears thatched — that could have come from a benevolent fairy tale. Even the sun has a smiling face with long eyelashes. The girl soars on her bird’s wings over a pastoral landscape that, the cars suggest, belongs to the 1940s.

All of these scenes have a cozy familiarity – too much of it for a Caldecott winner. Everything in this derivative book reminds you of something else. That brush in the bedroom? Goodnight Moon. That color palette? Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats. The structure of the story? “This Is the House That Jack Built.”

The borrowed elements in The House in the Night generally work well together and add up to a good book. But you expect more than good from the winner of the Caldecott Medal, awarded to “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” You expect greatness, or at least a higher level of originality – the boldness of winners like Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House, which dealt with suburban sprawl decades before it became fashionable, or David Macaulay’s Black and White, which wove together multiple plots in way new to picture books.

The House in the Night leaves you wondering if the Caldecott judges wanted to find the best book, or just to administer a dose of bibliotherapy to a nation that needs it. You also wonder if the committee overreacted to recent criticisms that the ALA awards don’t honor enough poetry by honoring a book some may not recognize as poetry at all. And why are the organization’s judges such suckers for books about reading? This pattern goes back at least to the 1991 Newbery for Maniac Magee. But books about the power of reading aren’t inherently worthier of awards than those about plumbing or red-tailed hawks: Everything depends on the execution.

Certainly the Caldecott committee snubbed books as award-worthy as this one, including Pale Male and The Little Yellow Leaf. For all its virtues, The House in the Night has nothing so unusual about it that schools and libraries need to have it, the way they do need have the 2008 winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which has strong and unique merits. Oddly enough, if the Caldecott judges wanted to help a nation in financial turmoil, they did it, but not in the intended way: They selected a book that no one needs to rush out to buy.

Best line/picture: “the house in the night / a home full of light.”

Worst line/picture: This book depicts cars more than a half century old but a lamp that looks inspired by the latest Pottery Barn catalog.

Published: May 2008

About the authors: Swanson is an award-winning poet in St. Paul, Minnesota. Krommes is an illustrator in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

You may also want to read “American Library Association to Little Kids: Women Are Second Best,” a response to the medals gap between male and female Caldecott winners.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist and former vice-president for Awards of the National Book Critics Circle.

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

January 24, 2009

Carin Berger’s Caldecott-Worthy ‘The Little Yellow Leaf’

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A fable about an oak leaf that doesn’t want to leave its tree

The Little Yellow Leaf. By Carin Berger. Greenwillow, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages 2 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Carin Berger first caught my eye when her wonderful pictures nearly stole the show from Jack Prelutsky’s whimsical poems in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant. Now she’s back with The Little Yellow Leaf, a book that has turned up on many lists of favorites for the Caldecott Medal that the American Library Association will award on Monday to “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” The ALA judges have good reason to consider this lovely fable.

Its plot works well on its own terms. A yellow oak leaf is “not ready” to fall from the tree in autumn and bides its time until early winter, when it finds a scarlet leaf left on the bough and the two agree to leave together. And throughout the book, Berger maintains suspense about how or whether the yellow leaf will leave its perch.

But The Little Yellow Leaf also works a parable about teamwork, or how a friend’s encouragement can make the difference when you’re facing a change. In that sense the book resembles such classics as The Story of Ferdinand and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, which tell good stories that have a second layer of meaning: They are parables about nonviolence and growing old, respectively.

Berger works in her signature mixed media that include exquisite cut-paper collages made from everyday items – a 1914 water bill, graph paper, faded snippets books or articles in several languages. Her most memorable illustration helps to show how the yellow leaf (actually, yellow and tawny) clings to its branch day and night: It’s a two-page image of the sun made from thousands of tiny hand-cut squares and rectangles, each unique, laid out in a parquet design. Such humble materials show the beauty of recycled objects.

Berger also has a fine and subtle sense of color, one of the best I’ve seen in a living picture-book artist. She knows how to infuse a muted palette with drama by using techniques such as shifting perspectives that show her leaf from varied angles and distances. Her work benefits further from two exceptional design elements: an unusual vertical format that suggests the shape of a tree and an extra set of endpapers at the front and back (for a total of four in front and four in back) that trace the path of a leaf in midair and draw your eye into and out of the book.

The Little Yellow Leaf is old-fashioned book in the best sense of that term — meticulously crafted and free of commercial taint — that will compete against flashier books, some of them much less effective, in the Caldecott stakes. So I’d guess that if it wins a 2009 award, it will be an Honor Book citation, not the top prize. And although it isn’t the only medal-worthy book of the year, I’d be delighted if I were proved wrong on Monday.

Best line/picture: “Into the waiting wind they danced … ”

Worst line/picture: “A chill filled the air / and the sun sank slow.”

Recommendation? Apart from its high artistic merits. this book could help children explore their feelings about many events for which with they don’t feel ready, such as the first day of school, preschool, or day care.

Published: August 2008

Furthermore: The Little Yellow Leaf was one of the New York Times’s Best Illustrated Books of the Year. Carin Berger lives in New York City and shows an unusually generous number of illustrations from the book on her Web site.

You can also follow Jan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

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

December 19, 2008

The Babar Books as Satire (Quote of the Day / Edward Rothstein)

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What does it mean when a young elephant leaves the countryside, travels to a imposing town, and dons handsome clothes? Few classic picture books have sparked more controversy in the past two decades than the 37-book series about Babar, an orphaned elephant who becomes a king, begun by Jean de Brunhoff in the 1930s and kept alive after his death by his son Laurent.

Maurice Sendak has said that Jean de Brunhoff’s tales “have a freedom and charm, a freshness of vision, that captivates and takes the breath away” and that “forever changed the face of the illustrated book.” But some scholars have cast Babar as an allegory for the evils of colonialism in general and French colonialism in particular.

Edward Rothstein weighs the arguments in a review of “Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors,” on display at the Morgan Library & Museum though Jan. 4 www.themorgan.org. Rothstein notes that the educator Herbert Kohl has faulted the books for their admiration for Babar, who embraces trappings of the society that produced the colonial hunter who killed his mother:

“But as the critic Adam Gopnik points out in a rich, suggestive essay in the show’s catalog, these arguments miss the point. The saga is not an ‘unconscious instance of the French colonial imagination,’ Mr.Gopnik writes, ‘it is a self-conscious comedy about the French colonial imagination.’ Jean de Brunhoff knew precisely what he was doing. Invoking the colonial world of the 1930s and France’s mission of civilizing subjugated peoples, he was also satirizing that world, celebrating some things while being wary of others, knowing the need for civilization while also knowing the costs and inevitable failures that accompany it.”

Read all of Rothstein’s comments at www.nytimes.com/2008/09/22/arts/design/22baba.html. The series about Babar began with The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant, shown here.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 25, 2008

Good Thanksgiving Poems for Children

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Apple pie,
Pumpkin pie,
turkey on the dish!
We can see
we can eat
everything we
wish, wish, wish, wish.

From Else Holmelund Minarik’s “Apple Pie”

Merrily Comes Our Harvest In: Poems for Thanksgiving. Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrations by Ben Schecter. 32 pp., varied prices and editions. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Thanksgiving has resisted the tarting up that has tarnished other holidays, and this book is for families who want to keep it that way. Lee Bennett Hopkins has collected on its pages 20 short and poems, most with strong rhymes, by writers including Marchette Chute and Myra Cohn Livingston. And Hopkins’s upbeat selections give the book a warm and nostalgic air.

In simple and often witty language, these poems celebrate traditional pleasures such as turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, grandparents and honoring the bond between the Pilgrims and Indians. “Simple” does not mean “dumbed-down.” Hopkins gives children credit for being able to understand metaphor by including Alice Crowell Hoffman’s “November’s Gift,” which begins: “November is a lady / In a plain gray coat / That’s very closely buttoned / Up around her throat.” He ends with Aileen Fisher’s alliterative acrostic poem, “All in a Word,” which expresses gratitude for things that begin with the letters in “thanks”: “T for time to be together, / turkey, talk, and tangy weather.”

A few poems subtly mention God in their last lines, a radical act by the ideological standards of contemporary picture books. And Ben Shecter enhances all the entries with gentle brown-black line drawings, many cross-hatched, depicting eras that range from Pilgrim to Victorian times. His picture for “November’s Gift” casts the “lady” in the first line of the poem as a larger-than-life figure who hovers above a village as leaves fly, suggesting Mother Nature in a bonnet.

Best line/picture: Else Holmelund Minark’s “Apple Pie” isn’t the best poem in the book. But very young children may find it the easiest to remember because its opening lines have the rhythm of a jump-rope rhyme: “Apple pie, / pumpkin pie / turkey on the dish!”

Worst line/picture: Dean Hughes describes a holiday with: “Turkey toes and turkey beaks, / Turkey claws and turkey cheeks” and “Turkey juice and turkey leathers, / Everything, but turkey feathers.” Nice, jaunty rhythm, but that “turkey leathers” seems to be there only for the rhyme.

Caveat lector: Merrily Comes Our Harvest In is out of print and hard to find except at libraries. But you can read two of its poems for free at sites described under “Furthermore” below. And some of its poems appear in other books. “The Pumpkin” is also in Sing a Song of Popcorn. “All in a Word,” “A Thanksgiving Thought” and “The Little Girl and the Turkey” appear in Thanksgiving: Stories and Poems.

Published: 1978

Furthermore: Merrily Comes Our Harvest In includes “Harvest,” or “The Boughs Do Shake,” available for free at www.bbc.co.uk/schoolradio/earlylearning/listenandplay_spring05_programme03.shtml. The book also has “Thanksgiving Time,” posted at www.thanksgiving-day.org/thanksgiving-day-poems.html (along with weaker poems). Among poems not in the Merrily Comes Our Harvest In: NetHymnal makes available for free the text and music for 50 Thanksgiving and harvest hymns, or poems set to music, for anyone looking for religious poems for older children or teenagers. Search www.nethymnal.org for “Thanksgiving” and or click here to find all 50.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

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

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