One-Minute Book Reviews

June 13, 2008

Is It Time to Say ‘No, Thank You’ to Children’s Books About Manners by Mo Willems, Whoopi Goldberg and Others?

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:24 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Picture books about politeness don’t always please

TiME to SAY “PLEASE”! By Mo Willems. Hyperion, 40 pp., $15.99. Ages: See discussion below.

By Janice Harayda

Why are so many children’s books about manners so rude? With a wedding on my calendar this weekend, I looked into several high-profile entries in the field. And I can’t recommend any of the books wholeheartedly except for the gifted Diane Goode’s Mind Your Manners!, which I reviewed a while back.

John Bemelmans Marciano trades on the fame of his grandfather’s Madeline in Madeline Says Merci (Viking, 2001), but he falls far short of the quality of the original in this book of derivative art and painfully strained poetry about being polite. Whoopi Goldberg’s Whoopi’s Big Book of Manners (Hyperion, 2006) has garish pictures by Alexander “Olo” Sroczynski and a muddled text. (Each page describes a breach of manners that’s worse than the one that preceded it — not a bad concept, except that the book says, for example, that speaking with food in your mouth is worse that not saying you’re sorry if you do something bad.) The biggest disappointment comes from Mo Willems, whose Knuffle Bunny has helped to make him one of America’s most popular children’s authors.

TiME to SAY “PLEASE”! is the literary equivalent of a loud, messy person who sits next to you on the bus and drops crumbs on your seat. Your three-year-old may love the loud, messy person and want to lick the crumbs off the arm rests. But is this, dear parent, behavior you wish to encourage?

Willems introduces four basic terms – “Please,” “Thank you,” “Sorry,” and “Excuse Me” – in this sequel to his apparently deathless TiME to PEE! (“a National Parenting Publications Gold Medalist”). As in his book about toilet-training, Willems encloses his text in flags, signs, balloons, masts or other frames hoisted by mice who are so frenetic, they appear to have the rodent counterpart of ADHD.

TiME to SAY “PLEASE”! is a how-to book, so instead of telling a story, it gives advice such as: “If you ever really want something, / really, really want something, / don’t grab it! / Go ask a big person / and please say ‘Please’!” This didactic purpose isn’t a problem in itself, because there are many good instructional books for the very young.

But the format sets up other problems. Children often begin learning about manners at age two or younger. A mother on Amazon says she used TiME to SAY “PLEASE”! with an 18-month-old. But there’s a board game in the back of this book with a spinner that could detach, a potential choking hazard. So the publisher advises against giving the book to children under age 3.

Yet the advice may be too simple for children over the age of 3. The book doesn’t mention “You’re welcome,” for example. And the erratic capitalization and punctuation could confuse a child who is just starting to learn about words and letters. As Willems might put it, it’s TiME to SAY “NO, THANK YOU”!

Best line/picture: The back cover. It says “Thank you!” on two flags held by a mouse, a much less manic image than many others in the book.

Worst line/picture: The capitalization of the title on the front cover. Then there’s, “There are all kinds of reasons to say ‘Please’ … When you want a toy, or to borrow someone else’s truck,” as though a truck were not a toy.

Consider reading instead: Diane Goode’s Mind Your Manners! (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2005), a witty sendup of a 19th-century etiquette primer www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/12/23/.This picture book by a Caldecott Honor artist is better than the others in this review and speaks to a broader age range web.mac.com/goodedog/Diane_Goode/dianegoode.com.html.

Published: June 2005 www.mowillems.com

Furthermore: Willems wrote Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, a Caldecott Honor Book, and Knuffle Bunny www.hyperionchildrensbooks.com/board/displayBook.asp?id=1407. I haven’t read either and would welcome comments from anyone who has and could compare them to TiME to SAY “PLEASE”!, which may be inferior to Willems’s other books.

Increased library use helps libraries justify requests for increased funding. Please support public libraries by checking out books and using other services.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

May 30, 2008

Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read – ‘The Backward Day’ by Ruth Krauss With Art by Marc Simont

“Ruth [Krauss] broke the rules and invented new ones, and her respect for the natural ferocity of children bloomed into poetry that was utterly faithful to what was true in their lives.”
— Maurice Sendak in The Horn Book

The Backward Day. By Ruth Krauss. Illustrated by Marc Simont. New York Review Children’s Collection, 32 pp., $14.95. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Ruth Krauss isn’t as well-known today as Margaret Wise Brown, her contemporary and fellow member of the Writer’s Laboratory at the Bank Street School in New York City. But like Brown, Krauss helped to change the path of children’s literature, partly by incorporating more naturalism into a field dominated by fairy and folk tales. One of her most appealing books is The Backward Day, recently revived in a series of classics from New York Review Children’s Collection.

In a wholly nondidactic way, this brief story reminds us — and children — of the joy of activities that cost nothing. A young boy wakes up one morning and decides that it’s “backward day,” an occasion that some children call “opposite day.” He puts his underwear on over his coat and suit and his socks over his shoes. Then he walks backward down the stairs to the breakfast table, where he turns a chair around. When his parents and younger sister arrive, he tells each of them, “Goodnight.” Without so much as a “Don’t be silly!” they go along with him – and keep going along — until he announces “BACKWARD DAY IS DONE” and everything returns to normal.

Simple as it is, this story speaks to – and vicariously fulfills – children’s yearning for power over others, and does so in a realistic and believable way. Its young hero needs no magic wand or potion to get others to do his bidding, which must make it all the more thrilling to many children. Marc Simont’s appealing drawings of a late 1940s family have an ageless elegance leavened with wit. And in an era of oversized picture books that are way too big for many 3-year-olds to handle comfortably, this is the rare hardcover book that has a scale that’s right for small hands.

Recommendation? This book is smaller than most used for library story hours — it’s about the size of Goodnight Moon — but it could still be a great story hour book for a small group, because it offers so many opportunities for audience participation. Children could turn around at some point during the reading, for example, or the leader could “read” the book upside down.

Best line: “Over his suit, he put on his underwear. He explained to himself, ‘Backward day is backward day.’” This line shows Krauss’s understanding of how children think and reason, a hallmark of her books.

Worst line: None.

Published: 1950 (first edition), 2007 (New York Review reprint) www.nyrb.com.

Furthermore: Krauss also wrote A Very Special House, a Caldecott Honor Book, and A Hole Is to Dig, both illustrated by Maurice Sendak. She won another Caldecott Honor for The Happy Day, which has pictures by Marc Simont.

Other titles in the New York Review Children’s Collection include E. Nesbit’s The House of Arden, Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows, Lucretia P. Hale’s The Peterkin Papers and Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s Wee Gillis.

This is the latest in an occasional series of posts on classic picture books every child should read. Reviews of books for children and teenagers appear on Saturdays on One-Minute Book Reviews. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these posts.

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

May 18, 2008

A Summer Reading List From the Country’s Leading Children’s Literature Journal — Books for Children From Preschoolers Through Adolescents

Filed under: Children's Books,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:27 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Horn Book has posted a list of recommended summer reading for children — from preschoolers through adolescents — at www.hbook.com/resources/books/summer.asp. One of the books on its list is Pale Male, which I reviewed on May 10 and also recommend, so if that one sounded good to you, you might want to take a look full list from the magazine, the country’s leading children’s literature journal.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 10, 2008

Countdown to the 2009 Caldecott and Newbery Medals #1: Janet Shulman and Meilo So’s Hale ‘Pale Male’ Makes Way for Hawklets

Filed under: Children's Books,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:03 am
Tags: , , , , ,

A picture book tells the story of an urban red-tailed hawk and the international outcry that erupted when the management of a Fifth Avenue co-op destroyed its nest

Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City. By Janet Schulman. Illustrated by Meilo So. Knopf, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Make way for hawklets. This delightful picture book tells the true story of a red-tailed hawk who became a star after he and his mate began raising chicks on a ledge on posh building on Fifth Avenue in the 1990s. Birdwatchers named him Pale Male and gathered in Central Park to study his family with binoculars and telescopes.

But residents of 927 Fifth Avenue disliked having their sidewalk littered with feathers, bird droppings and the remains of rats, pigeons and the occasional squirrel that the hawks ate. They persuaded the owners of the building to remove the hawks’ nest, an act that set off an international outcry and homegrown protests that — even in a city full of exhibitionists — commanded attention.

“Two protesters dressed as birds urged cars on Fifth Avenue to ‘Honk 4 Hawks.’” Janet Schulman writes. “Taxis, cars, and city buses honked. Trucks let out ear-piercing blasts of their air horns. Even fire trucks let loose their sirens.”

After the Audubon Society and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service got involved, the owners of the building restored the nests. And all of it could have turned into another of the dreary lectures on environmentalism that have come to infest picture books.

But Pale Male has less in common with those sermons-in-print than with Robert McCloskey’s endearing 1941 Caldecott Medal–winner Make Way for Duckings. Like that tale of Boston policeman who stops traffic so a family of ducks can cross the street, this book isn’t a brief for animal rights. It’s a celebration of wild creatures and the joy they can bring when, against the odds, they cross our urban paths.

Schulman clearly sympathizes with the hawks, but her text suggests why others might have different views, as do the wonderful illustrations, created with watercolor inks and colored pencils. One picture shows a sweeper in the hands of the pained-looking doorman who has to clean up the mess left by the hawks. Meilo So uses shifting visual perspectives to show New York City as it might look to the varied players in this drama — Pale Male soaring above Central Park, birdwatchers tracking him with their binoculars, a rich couple despairing in their plush co-op about the din caused by honking taxis and protestors. Schulman’s afterword on Pale Male is good, too: “He has now won the status of a true New York celebrity: his building is pointed out by tour-bus operators.”

Best line/picture: Both Schulman and So tweak wealthy residents of 927 Fifth in ways that are amusing but not mean. The rich couple despair in a living room that has faintly Victorian décor, including red walls and a rolled-arm red velvet sofa. It’s a subtle way of suggesting that they’re out of touch.

Worst line/picture: “Most of the tenants had been irked for years that they couldn’t legally get rid of the hawks. Then in 2003, during a time when many conservation and wildlife laws were being relaxed by President George W. Bush’s administration, the Migratory Bird Treaty was changed. It now permitted destruction of nests as long as there were no chicks in the nest. Hawks lay their eggs in March and the chicks fledge in June. In December Pale Male’s nest was empty. The owners of the hawk building were quick to take advantage of the new law.”

The problem with this paragraph isn’t really the jab at Bush but that, atypically for Schulman, it’s confusing. Why the sudden jump from June to December? Why does the paragraph say that the nest was “empty” then when the following one suggests that it was gone? And why does it call the people who lived in 927 Fifth Avenue “tenants” instead of “residents” when the building was a co-op?

Furthermore: Pale Male is likely to receive – and deserves – serious consideration for the American Library Association’s Caldecott Medal or one of its annual awards for “information books.” This is one of the year’s best gift books for children and maybe even a mother who loves bird-watching.

Update: Pale Male www.palemale.com and his current mate, Lola, still live on their ledge at 927 Fifth Avenue, but no more chicks have hatched since the nest was removed and restored. An update on their plight appeared in an article the May 1, 2008 New York Times, “Reprise: The Fifth Avenue Ballad of Pale Male and Lola.”

Published: March 2008 www.randomhouse.com/kids

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

May 2, 2008

Why Are Some Parents Seeing Red About ‘Pinkalicious’?

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:36 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

A reviewer for the American Library Association’s Booklist magazine said the pictures in Pinkalicious “won’t win any awards.” And School Library Journal admitted that its main character, a pink-obsessed girl named Pinkalicious, can be “a bit obnoxious.” But the book has inspired a New York musical and a new sequel. Has Pinkalicious become less obnoxious in Purplicious? Find out tomorrow when One-Minute Book Reviews reviews the series in its regular Saturday Children’s Corner.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 11, 2008

Michael Dirda on Daniel Pinkwater’s ‘Sure-Fire Winners’ for Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Michael Dirda is America’s best critic of books for children. He is also one of its best critics of books of any kind. Dirda won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism as a writer for the Washington Post and is the author of five books, including Classics for Pleasure (Harcourt, 2007). He writes about Daniel Pinkwater in these excerpts from a list of “sure-fire winners” for children in his Readings: Essays & Literary Entertainments (Indiana University Press, 2000), a collection of his work for the Post:

The Big Orange Splot (Scholastic, 32 pp., $4.99, paperback, ages 2 and up): “What Ferdinand is to nonviolence, this book is to nonconformity. When a seagull drops a bucket of paint on an ordinary house, Mr. Plumbean is led to create the home of his dreams – to the consternation of his neighbors.”

Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars (Dutton, 248 pp., varied prices and editions, ages 8 and up). “If I could have written any children’s book in the world, this is the one I would choose. Two misfit kids wander into a rundown part of town, purchase the Klugarsh mind-control system from a mysterious shopkeeper, and then embark on a series of hilarious and surprising adventures. Boyhood dreams come true … Almost as good: The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death.”

Visit the Michael Dirda archive at the Washington Post at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/style/columns/dirdamichael/.

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

April 5, 2008

Jack Prelutsky’s Worst Book? The Magic Is Gone in ‘The Wizard,’ Illustrated by Brandon Dorman

A popular children’s poet casts no spell when he recycles earlier material

The Wizard. By Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Brandon Dorman. HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 32 pp., $16.99. Ages 4–8.

By Janice Harayda

The Wizard is the only picture book that a bookstore clerk has ever tried to talk me out buying. I wish I had taken her advice.

You know that how critics say that there’s a curse of the Nobel that keeps writers from doing great work after they become laureates, which Gabriel García Marquez beat with Love in the Time of Cholera? Jack Prelutsky seems to suffer from a similar jinx. Two of his worst books have come out since the Poetry Foundation named him the children’s poet laureate of the U.S., a title unrelated to the honor conferred by the Library of Congress. Early in 2007 Prelutsky served up uninspired sports poems in Good Sports. Now there’s The Wizard, a picture book based on the time-honored literary principle that Maureen Dowd has described as: “Never sell once what you can sell twice.”

The Wizard consists of a brief rhyming poem about sorcery that first appeared in Prelutsky’s 1976 book, Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep. A magician who might have been airlifted from Hogwarts to his gray stone tower in a suburbia turns a bullfrog into a flea and the flea in to mice. He then causes other transformations until he brings the frog back with a warning that departs from the iambic tetrameter used elsewhere: “Should you encounter a toad or lizard, / look closely … / it may be the work of the wizard.”

As those strained lines suggest, The Wizard is the kind of weak poem that works best in a collection that includes stronger ones. And it gets no help from the lurid, digitized pictures, long on a shrill lime green with silver glitter on the cover. “It’s so commercial,” protested the bookstore clerk who tried to talk me out of buying it. She was right: If the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders wore green and white instead of blue and white, they might choose the shades in this book.

There’s a place for honest commercialism in children’s literature – for, say good spin-offs television shows – but the illustrations for The Wizard are among the most pretentious I’ve seen in a picture book. Brandon Dorman scatters the pages with objects found in Dutch vanitas paintings — a skull, a clock, flickering candles. In art these are classic symbols of mortality and the flight of time. In this book they are just clichés.

Prelutsky has written many good books of children’s poetry, including Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, that don’t pander as this one does to the marketplace. But he may have little incentive to do more of them: The Wizard was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.

Best line / picture: None is a good as a typical line in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant. But these two lines make clear that four-year-olds can understand iambic tetrameter: “He spies a bullfrog by the door / and, stooping, scoops it off the floor.”

Worst line / picture: The wizard has “a tangled beard that hangs from his skin.” But in nearly all of Dorman’s pictures, the beard is as smooth as satin.

Published: October 2007 www.jackprelutsky.com, www.brandondorman.com and www.harpercollinschildrens.com.

Increased library use helps libraries justify requests for increased funding. Please support public libraries by checking out books or using other services.

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

February 23, 2008

Ezra Jack Keats’s Trailblazing Picture Book for Ages 5 and Under, ‘The Snowy Day’

A Caldecott medalist often called “the book that broke the color barrier” in mainstream children’s publishing

Winter still has enough muscle here in New Jersey that the library was closed for snow yesterday. So I couldn’t put my hands on a trailblazing book about the kind of weather we’re having now, Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day (Puffin, 40 pp., $6.99, paperback, and other editions). And because I haven’t read it, I’ll have to quote an excellent reference book and hope that teachers, librarians or others will jump in with comments.

“Keats illustrated nearly a dozen books before writing his first, The Snowy Day, which won the 1963 Caldecott Medal,” former children’s librarian Mary Mehlman Burns writes in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), edited by Anita Silvey. “A celebration of color, texture, design, and childhood wonder, The Snowy Day is significant in that it was one of the first picture books in which a minority child is seen as Everychild. Years before, Keats had come across photos of a young boy, and he recalled that ‘his expressive face, his body attitudes, the way he wore his clothes, totally captivated me.’ The boy was to become Peter, who, in his red snowsuit, discovers the joys of dragging sticks and making tracks in the snow. After its publication, Keats found out that the photos had come from a 1940 Life magazine – he had retained the images for over 20 years.

“With solid and patterned paper as wedges of color, Keats www.ezra-jack-keats.org used collage to create endearing characters and energetic cityscapes, not only in The Snowy Day (1962) but also in Whistle for Willie (1964) and Peter’s Chair (1964).”

A generation of readers – black and white – is grateful to The Snowy Day, sometimes called “the book that broke the color barrier” in picture books from mainstream publishers. One of the latest editions is a DVD-and-book gift set that Viking published in September and includes Whistle for Willie.

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

February 14, 2008

It’s Easy Being Mean in Children’s Picture Books — Coming Saturday

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:07 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Relentless meanness isn’t new in children’s books. What is new that it’s showing up in books aimed at younger and younger ages. On Saturday One-Minute Book Reviews will review a picture book for preschoolers that exemplifies the trend with a mean-spirited heroine who feels no remorse for her misbehavior.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

February 9, 2008

Natalie Babbitt’s Cycle of Stories About an Out-of-Work Pirate, ‘Jack Plank Tells Tales’

The author of Tuck Everlasting returns with a lighter book about a reformed plunderer-of-the-high-seas

Jack Plank Tells Tales. Story and pictures by Natalie Babbitt. Scholastic/Michael Di Capua, 128 pp., $15.95. Ages 7–9 (ages 4 and up for reading aloud).

By Janice Harayda

Jack Plank Tells Tales is the book many parents have been waiting for – a pirate story for children too old for picture books but too young for Treasure Island. It lacks the psychological heft and stylistic perfection of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, a modern classic. But it’s several nautical miles beyond many other recent pirate stories, including Peter Pan rip-offs and cheesy movie tie-ins.

Jack Plank is an amiable out-of-work pirate who is cast off the ship Avarice because he lacks a talent for plunder: “You have to yell and make faces and rattle your sword, and once you’ve got people scared, you take things away from them.” So he has to find a new job after he settles into a boarding house on Jamaica in about 1720.

Each day he looks for work, with the proprietor’s 11-year-old daughter as his guide, and finds something wrong with one of his options. He can’t fish because it reminds him of a shipmate’s story of a man who turned into an octopus and can’t work in a sugarcane field because he would have to cross a bridge that brings to mind a sailor’s account of a troll. Each night he entertains the boardinghouse residents with another tale of why he has come up empty-handed, which leads soon to a job that suits him the way a deep harbor suits a galleon.

The stop-and-go narrative makes this book good bedtime reading for children who can handle its two deaths by stabbing even as the lack of a strong forward momentum may make it easier for others to put down. And there’s not much thematic development – this is light entertainment, an amusing cycle of stories billed by the publisher as a novel.

But Babbitt’s engaging pencil drawings – and a handsome jacket and design by Kathleen Westray – help to offset the narrative limits. The refusal of American Library Association www.ala.org to give Tuck Everlasting a Newbery Medal or Honor Book citation may have been the organization’s greatest awards blunder of the past 40 years, compounded by its continual failure to recognize Babbitt with the Margaret A. Edwards award for lifetime achievement. Lois Lowry is a good writer. But why Lowry has won the Edwards award and Babbitt hasn’t is a mystery that this appealing book only deepens.

Best line: Many of the tales in this book develop folkloric motifs such as that of the mummy’s hand, and its story of a girl raised by seagulls has an especially memorable illustration of a feral child.

Worst line: The last: “But it seems to be sure that, as Waddy Spoonton pointed out, it’s never too late to be happy.” This ending is unusually sugary – and clichéd – for Babbitt. And the text doesn’t really prepare you for it.

Published: May 2007 www.scholastic.com

Furthermore: Babbitt won a Newbery Honor Book designation for Kneeknock Rise, a completely inadequate recognition of her body of work from the ALA. As a former vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle, I appreciate the great difficulty of getting literary prizes right. But the ALA is just embarrassing itself on this one.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com
« Previous PageNext Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 371 other followers

%d bloggers like this: