One-Minute Book Reviews

August 15, 2008

Why ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is Bad Poetry and Other Literary Thoughts on the Olympics

Random literary thoughts on the Olympics:

1. Michael Phelps’s underwater dolphin kick is sports poetry.

2. NBC should fire the swimming analyst who keeps saying “he has swam” (as in “he has swam much better than this”).

3. The first word of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (“Oh”) is an example of the literary device known as anacrusis, a lead-in syllable or syllables that precede the first full foot.

4. The national anthem is written in anapestic meter, Dr. Seuss’s favorite. (What, you’ve never noticed the similarity between “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and “I meant what I said / and I said what I meant …”?)

5. Why is “The Star-Spangled Banner” bad poetry? Take in the last line: “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In a good poem, words are not interchangeable. You can’t switch them around with no loss in meaning or effect, because everything in the poem essential. Apart from a rhyme, what would the national anthem lose if Francis Scott Key had written “home of the free and the land of the brave” instead of “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 31, 2008

More on ‘Pale Male,’ One of the Year’s Best Children’s Books

You can never predict the behavior of those wacky Caldecott judges at the American Library Association These are the people who never gave a medal to Dr. Seuss! And instead insulted him with three Honor Book citations! What were those librarians thinking when they passed over Horton Hatches the Egg and so many other wonderful picture books? I have no idea and a lot of other critics don’t, either.

Even so, I went out on a limb a couple of weeks ago and predicted that the Caldecott committee will give serious consideration to Janet Schulman and Meilo So’s new picture book Pale Male (Knopf, $16.99), the true story of a red-tailed hawk that with its mate built a nest atop a luxury co-op building on Fifth Avenue The hawk had inspired a two earlier children’s books, Jeanette Winter’s The Tale of Pale Male: A True Story. (Harcourt, 2007) and Meghan McCarthy’s City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male (Simon & Schuster, 2007). Because I hadn’t seen them, I couldn’t discuss them in my review.

But John Schwartz read the earlier books before reviewing Pale Male for tomorrow’s New York Times Book Review. And he says that the 2007 books are intended for younger readers than the 6-to-9-year-olds who may enjoy Schulman and So’s work. He also says that while both have their pleasures, “Schulman tells the story of the city’s most popular predator since Michael Milken with more detail and verbal grace.”

Schwartz’s review has a much larger reproduction of one of So’s beautiful watercolors than I could show on this site, so if you’re on the fence about the book, you may want to read the review here

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


January 18, 2008

‘The New York Public Library’s Books of the Century,’ Edited by Elizabeth Diefendorf

Filed under: Essays and Reviews,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:28 am
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Which books did the most to shape the modern world?

Mein Kampf and The Cat in the Hat made the cut. The Godfather and The Polar Express didn’t.

As part of its 1995 centennial, the New York Public Library asked its staff to name the most influential books of the past hundred years. The answers inspired The New York Public Library’s Books of the Century (Oxford University Press, $24.95), edited by Elizabeth Diefendorf and illustrated by Diana Bryan, a collection of 204 one-page descriptions of some of the frequently nominated titles and a companion volume to a popular exhibit. And the result could have been a snorer, given that it includes the United Nations Charter and Albert Einstein’s The Meaning of Relativity.

But Diefendorf has defined “influential” broadly enough to include Carrie, Invisible Man, Winnie-the-Pooh, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Joy of Cooking. And the descriptions in this 1997 book are generally apt and pithy and at times amusing in retrospect. “The filthiest book I have ever read,” John Gordon of the London Sunday Express wrote of Lolita. “Sheer unrestrained pornography.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 13, 2007

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

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

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

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

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 29, 2007

Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #5: Dr. Seuss’s ‘Horton Hatches the Egg’

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“I meant what I said
And I said what I meant ….
An elephant’s faithful
One hundred per cent!”

— From Horton Hatches the Egg

Horton Hatches the Egg (Classic Seuss). Story and Pictures by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel). Random House, 64 pp., $14.95. Ages 2–up.

By Janice Harayda

Bennett Cerf, a founder of Random House, once said that he had published great writers like William Faulkner but only one genius: Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss). It’s easy to understand what he meant.

Geisel never got a Nobel Prize, or even a Caldecott Medal (though he picked up two Honor Book awards). But he may have done more than any author to instill a love of reading in American children in the second half of the 20th century. No less remarkably, he did it by writing good books, not the sort of commercial flimflam that publishers tend to rationalize with, “At least it gets children reading.”

Some critics consider Geisel’s first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, to be his best. But that book came out in 1937 and reflects stereotypes of its day. A better choice for many families might be Horton Hatches the Egg, a whimsical narrative poem about a gentle elephant who agrees to sit on the nest of a self-absorbed bird named Mayzie when she goes on vacation. First published in 1940, it was ahead of its time in several ways, including in its portrayal of sex roles.

Horton is a male or bull elephant. But Geisel drew him so androgynously – with long eyelashes and a curly trunk – that young children might mistake him for a female of the species. Horton is also a great nurturer. He refuses to leave the nest during thunder and lightning: “And then came the Winter … the snow and the sleet! / And icicles hung / From his trunk and his feet.” Still Horton guards the egg because: “An elephant’s faithful / One hundred per cent!”

Critics often describe this book, correctly, as a morality tale about the importance of loyalty and persistence. But it is also a story about every child’s desire to be “good” even when he or she is afraid, uncomfortable or uncertain about what to do. Horton struggles not just with external forces but with his inner longing to escape the taunts of friends: “Old Horton the Elephant / Thinks he’s a bird!” And because the egg he guards eventually produces an “elephant bird” that goes home happily with him instead of Mayzie, some people see the book as a poignant adoption story, too.

Seuss uses his signature meter, anapestic tetrameter — which resembles the gallop of a horse — to give his tale an exciting momentum although Horton goes nowhere for much of the tale. And the action-filled pictures add to the drama and deepen our knowledge of Horton’s character, especially after gun-toting hunters vow to sell him to a circus. One illustration shows Horton sitting regally on his tree branch, wearing an imperturbable expression, with his forelegs crossed. He leaves no doubt that if the hunters are going to cart him away, they’re taking the nest, too.

Geisel uses only two colors in the book, an orange-red and a blue-green. This restraint is striking by today’s standards, which favor explosive colors bleeding off every page. Children didn’t need razzle-dazzle effects in 1940, and they don’t need them now. What they need is what they get from Horton Hatches the Egg – a great story with characters who have a color all their own.

Best line: “I meant what I said / And I said what I meant …. / An elephant’s faithful / One-hundred per cent!”

Worst line: None.

Published: 1940 (first edition).

Furthermore: Horton returned in 1954 in Horton Hearts a Who! (Random House, $14.95), still in print in the Classic Seuss series.

Links: The Random House site for Dr. Seuss books is Another good site is, maintained by the Springfield Library and Museums in the Massachusetts town where Theodor Geisel grew up.

If this book interests you, please consider checking it out of a public library. Increased library use helps libraries justify requests for increased funding. Please support public libraries by checking out books or using other services as often as you can even if you can afford to buy books.

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic 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 A new review of a book for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 28, 2007

Horton Didn’t Forget the Egg. Don’t Forget Horton.

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:44 pm
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An appreciation of Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg will appear tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews in its “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series.

To find out about other classics every child should read, see the reviews of Millions of Cats, Madeline , Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel Where the Wild Things Are

Can you suggest other picture books every child should read? If so, why not leave a comment for others who may be looking for other suggestions?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 23, 2007

Has the Man Booker Prize Turned Into a Children’s Literature Award? Coming Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews:
Dumbing down the Man Booker Prize: At least one novel on the short list for this year’s Man Booker Prize is written at such a low level, according to the readability statistics on Microsoft Word, you might think the prize had turned into a children’s literature award. Did J. K. Rowling’s publishers know about this?

Later this week:
Reconsidering Agatha Christie: Does she deserve the scorn she gets from critics?

Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #5: Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss.

To avoid missing these and other reviews coming this week, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Thank you for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

September 19, 2007

Dr. Seuss’s ‘Horton Hatches the Egg,’ a Classic Picture Book Every Child Should Read, Coming Saturday, Sept. 29, on One-Minute Book Reviews

Bennett Cerf, a founder of Random House, said that although he had published William Faulkner and other great writers, he had only one genius on his roster of authors: Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss). What made Dr. Seuss so great? On Saturday, Sept. 29, One-Minute Book Reviews looks at Horton Hatches the Egg in its “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series. You may also want to visit the site for the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museum in the Massachusetts town where Geisel was born. Artist Patricia Polacco comments on Horton Hatches the Egg in the Quote of the Day on this site on June 22, 2007

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 22, 2007

Artist Patricia Polacco on Dr. Seuss’s ‘Horton Hatches the Egg,’ Quote of the Day #30

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:43 am
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I’ve admired Patricia Polacco’s children’s books for years. So I was delighted to find this comment by Polacco about Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg, a book she loved as a child:

“The improbable animals with their mirthful, expressive faces enchanted me. And dear faithful, reliable, dependable Horton the elephant. He climbed onto that skinny, little limb that could hardly support his bulk without a second thought as to whether or not it could hold him. Then he carefully sat on something so fragile – a tiny bird’s egg – never considering that he might break it! This helped me realize what faith in oneself is all about! The heart of the story is about making a promise and keeping it … no matter what may come. He stayed on that little nest through the most horrific happenings. He never gave up!”

Patricia Polacco in The Art of Reading: Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF’s 40th Anniversary (Dutton, $19.99). Foreword by Leonard Marcus. In this book 40 well-known picture-book artists celebrate the 40th anniversary of the literacy program Reading Is Fundamental by creating new illustrations for books they loved as children or teenagers. The illustrators also speak, as Polacco does here, about what made the books so appealing. Contributors include Pat Cummings, Yumi Heo, Susan Jeffers, William Joyce, Jerry Pinkney and David Wiesner.

Comment by Janice Harayda:
Polacco has found the inspiration for many of her books in her Russian and Irish background. She also has also written memorably about cross-cultural friendships, the subject of her picture books Chicken Sunday and Mrs. Katz and Tush.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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