One-Minute Book Reviews

November 28, 2007

2007 A-to-Z Holiday Gift List Coming Soon – Here Are Three of My Favorite Books From the 2006 List That You Can Still Find Easily


… the second annual One-Minute Book Reviews A-to-Z Holiday Gift List with books for everyone from an attorney to a Zen Buddhist. A few of my favorites from last year’s list:

What to give to …

A FOOTBALL FAN After a decade out of print, Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer (Doubleday, $21.95) returned last year in an edition with a foreword by Jonathan Yardley, the Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic. Give this one to football fans young enough to have missed it when it first came out in 1968 (and maybe also to baby boomers who’ve always regretted giving that first edition to Goodwill). Kramer, a former All-Pro Green Bay guard, wrote this modern classic with the late Dick Schaap, one of the best sportswriters of the 20th century.

A JANEITE Devout Jane Austen fans call themselves “Janeites.” But you don’t have to fall into that group to enjoy Josephine Ross’s Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders (Bloomsbury, $14.95), with charming watercolor illustrations by Henrietta Webb. Ross doesn’t try to extrapolate a set of 21st-century rules from the behavior of Elizabeth Bennet and others. Instead she offers a literary companion, masquerading as a Regency-era etiquette book, that explains the complex codes of behavior followed by Austen’s characters.

A KINDERGARTENER Mother Goose characters write letters to each other in Allan and Janet Ahlberg’s The Jolly Postman: Or Other People’s Letters (Little, Brown, $19.99, ages 4-8), which has a real letter tucked into in an envelope on every other page. This British import has been delighting children for two decades and has come out in a 20th anniversary edition. The books in “Jolly Postman” series are great gifts partly because children often can’t get them at libraries, which have trouble keeping them on shelves — the letters keep disappearing from their pockets. A sequel, The Jolly Christmas Postman (Little,Brown, $17.99, ages 4-8), is shown at right.

Many other books on last year’s list still make good gifts. Click here to read the full list

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 24, 2007

Jack Prelutsky’s Rhyming Animal Poems for Young Children

“Behold the bold UMBRELLAPHANT
That’s not the least afraid
To forage in the broiling sun
For it is in the shade.”

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems. By Jack Prelutsky. Illustrations by Carin Berger. Greenwillow, 32 pp., $17.89. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

For more than six months, a review of Jack Prelutsky’s collection of sports poems has appeared repeatedly among the top 10 posts on this site. I wish the distinction were going to a worthier book than Good Sports, which has uninspired rhymes, clichéd language and art that’s mismatched with the text.

Prelutksy’s 2006 Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant is in every way superior to it. This sparkling collection of poems about imaginary animals pays its respects to Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile.” (“How doth the little crocodile / Improve his shining tale, / And pour the waters of the Nile / On every golden scale!”) Because “The Crocodile” was a parody of an Isaac Watts poem, you might call “Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant” a parody of a parody.

But Prelusky’s book isn’t a parody so much as an homage. Like “The Crocodile,” most poems in “Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant” use the ballad stanzas known as common meter or “hymn” stanzas, or alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter with rhyming first and third lines. And Prelusky stays close enough to Carroll’s work that his book could have become a tired imitation of it.

Instead the poems in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant have a freshness all their own, paired with sparkling mixed-media illustrations by Carin Berger. Each poem describes a creature that is part animal and part familiar object – an elephant with an umbrella for a trunk in the “The Umbrellaphant,” an octopus with an alarm clock for a head in “The Clocktopus.” This device could have been too clever by a half. It isn’t, partly because Prelutsky keeps most poems as simple and descriptive as “The Panthermometer,” about a panther with a thermometer for a tail: “Here comes a PATHERMOMETER / A cat we fondly hail, / For we can tell the temperature / By looking at its tail.”

Will preschoolers will get the puns and other wordplay in poems like “The Lynx of Chain”? Wrong question. Like Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant is nonsense verse, a form that uses whimisical or incomprehensible words to comic effect. And not the least of the virtues of this book is that it may help to prepare children to appreciate Carroll and other masters of that vanishing art.

Best poem: Many, including the lines from “The Panthermometer” and “Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant” quoted above.

Worst line: The poem “The Circular Sawtoise” describes a creature that combines a tortoise and a circular saw and borders too clever, in part because of the pronunction of “sawtoise.” When you first see the title of the poem, you mentally pronounce it as “saw-toys.” You have to study the picture to realize that it’s “saw-tis” in “tortoise.”

Published: September 2006 and

Caveat lector: The second and fourth lines should be indented four spaces in the lines quoted from the title poem, “Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant,” but this template won’t let me do that.

Furthermore: This book is also available on an unabridged audio CD, which I haven’t seen. To read the review of Good Sports, click here: read Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile,” click here:

Children’s book reviews appear on Saturdays on One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 22, 2007

Jack Prelutsky’s Rhyming Animal Poems — Coming Saturday

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Jack Prelutsky pays homage to Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile” in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems (HarperCollins, $16.99), a collection of rhyming poems about imaginary animals for ages 3 and up. A review of the book will appear on One-Minute Book Reviews on Saturday, Nov. 24. Reviews of children’s books appear every Saturday on this site, and posts about books for adults may also appear. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 18, 2007

Good Picture Books About Thanksgiving for Children Ages 4 and Up

Popular authors show how Pilgrim boys and girls — and their parents — lived

By Janice Harayda

A lot of families must have given thanks for The Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving (Scholastic, $4.99, paperback, ages 4–8), because this lively picture book is still selling well on Amazon and elsewhere after more than three decades in print. And no wonder. This may the best book for anyone who is looking for a traditional Thanksgiving story that touches all the familiar bases – the voyage of the Mayflower, the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, the help the settlers received from Squanto, and the feast that marked the successful harvest of 1621.

Ann McGovern tells an engaging story salted with details easy for children to grasp. The Mayflower was “as big as two trucks,” and its passengers had little tableware after they went ashore: “There were no forks. The Pilgrims used shells for spoons.” And unlike some recent books that expunge all references to the early settlers’ faith, McGovern makes clear in a low-keyed way that this is partly a story of religious freedom: The Pilgrims, she says, “left their old country because they could not pray the way they wanted.” Elroy Freem, the pen name of a veteran picture-book artist, illustrates the book with warm tones that help to make this an upbeat story despite hardships of life in the Plymouth Colony.

Kate Waters takes a more contemporary approach in her deservedly popular Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl, Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy and Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times (Scholastic, about $5.99 each, paperback, ages 4 and up) In these appealing books she uses documentary-style color photographs to describes the lives of a Pilgrim girl and boy and a Native American boy of their era.

Waters’s books about Pilgrim times are popular in schools, particularly in the second and third grades, so by searching the Web you can find teachers’ guides with related activities you can adapt at home. Their stories have a natural appeal this week, but don’t forget them next year when you want to get children excited about a trip to a historical museum or village.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 17, 2007

John Burningham’s ‘Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World’ – More Fun for Preschoolers From One of England’s Best Author-Illustrators

Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World. By John Burningham. Knopf, 32 pp., $12.29. Ages 2 and up. [Note: I’m having computer problems that keep me from showing a better image of the cover of Edwardo, which is much more attractive than it looks here. Jan]

By Janice Harayda

John Burningham is an ideal author-illustrator for preschoolers who are delightful nonconformists. His career began more than 40 years ago when he won the Kate Greenaway Medal, England’s Caldecott, for his first book, Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers. Since then his book have won honors as wide-ranging as the German Youth Literature Prize and a Best Book Award from School Library Journal.

Like his countryman Quentin Blake, Burningham has a distinctively witty style of drawing that allows him to find humor in ordinary circumstances. He appeals to the latent anarchist in every preschooler, partly because he tends to depict — and give the last word to — boys and girls who are slightly out-of-step with others. He makes clear that children have vibrant inner lives that adults often misunderstand. But he doesn’t moralize. He dramatizes amusing stories in which young children can see themselves.

Burningham’s latest picture book gives an amusing twist to the theme that children become what adults expect them to be. Edwardo is seen by his elders as loud, rude, mean and dirty – “the horriblest boy in the whole wide world” – until he kicks over a flower pot. A bystander gives him praise instead of the criticism he’s used to hearing. “I see you are starting a little garden, Edwardo,” the man says. “It looks lovely. You should get some more plants.” Edwardo finds that he has a green thumb and, as other adults also begin to treat him more kindly, more talents.

Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World isn’t as effective as some of Burningham’s earlier books, including the wonderful John Patrick Norman McHennessey: The Boy Who Was Always Late. But even the second-tier books from this gifted author are better than most of what you’ll find at bookstores this season. And because Burningham has a deservedly high reputation, many libraries have his books. So here’s a suggestion: If you know preschooler whose motto might as well be, “Why Can’t Everybody Be More Like Me?,” head for the “B” shelves in the picture-book section of your bookstore or library. Leaf through any books you can find by Burningham, and see if they don’t capture something of that child’s spirit.

Best line/picture: Before he reforms, Edwardo dresses has comically spiky hair. This suggests aptly that he’s so bad, he makes even his own hair stand on end.

Worst line: The title. Atypically for Burningham, Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World is more cute than funny. Compare that title with that of John Patrick Norman McHennesseu: The Boy Who Was Always Late, which has a stronger rhythm and is more suggestive. And isn’t clear why Burningham used the nonstandard spelling of Eduardo, which isn’t quite funny enough to be funny. Edwardo seems to deserve either a weirder name or one that, like John Patrick Norman McHennessey’s, carries more weight.

Published: April 2007

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 12, 2007

A Children’s Book That Honors Veterans — A Quick Reminder

Looking for a picture book that honors that honors the men and women of the military, both veterans and those now serving in the armed forces? Check out Chris L. Demarest’s Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Military Alphabet (McElderry, $16.96) This vibrant picture book introduces children ages 4 and up to the International Communications Alphabet (ICA) used in the U.S. military and in civil aviation worldwide. It also gives an excellent overview of the many kinds of jobs performed by men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. To read the full review of the book that appeared on this site on August 10, 2007, click on this link Alpha Bravo Charlie would be a terrific holiday gift for a young child or grandchild of a veteran or current member of the military.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

October 26, 2007

Steve Martin and Roz Chast Make Fun of Religious, Cultural and Physical Differences in a New Alphabet Book for Preschoolers — Is Your Two-Year-Old Ready for Ethnic Humor?

Maybe they should have called it “S” Is for Sucker

The Alphabet From A to Y: With Bonus Letter Z! Words by Steve Martin. Pictures by Roz Chast. Doubleday/Flying Dolphin, 64 pp., $17.95. Suggested ages: “Young Children” (Doubleday), “Baby/Preschool” (Powell’s), 9-to-12 (Amazon).

By Janice Harayda

Hey, kids! You’re never too young to laugh at people who are different from you! And if you’re an adult who wants to help, Steve Martin and Roz Chast are there for you! They use rhyming couplets to show 2-to-4-year-olds – the usual audience for alphabet books — just how easy it is to make fun of religious, cultural and physical differences!

Looking for the perfect Hannukah gift for a toddler? How about a book that explains the letter “K” by showing an ape-like woman (“King Kong’s aunt Frances”) saying, “Kids! Kome Back! Have Some Kosher Kasha!” Or need something to wrap up for Diwali? Why not a book that shows a funny-looking guy in a turban staring at a woman “indecent in her undies”? Those 2-year-olds have to learn about perverts sometime! And what could be better for kids celebrating the Day of the Dead than a book that introduces the letter “I” with a poster of “The Incans”? (Will those kids ever be surprised to learn that the plural of “Inca” is “Incans” and not “Inca” or “Incas”!) Martin and Chast even show how simple it can be to make fun of disabilities! And nuns! The “H” page says: “Henrietta the hare wore a habit in heaven, / Her hairdo hid hunchbacks: one hundred and seven.” And Martin and Chast aren’t talking about Quasimodo but people who look just like your Uncle Ed except with disabilities! Yes, they could easily have said “halfbacks” instead of “hunchbacks”! But they must have decided that people with disabilities are funnier than athletes!

Sure, you might see all of this as tasteless — not to mention, a little mature for kids who may be poring over Once Upon a Potty. So why didn’t the people at Doubleday pitch this book to the group who would enjoy it most, the adult fans of Chast’s New Yorker cartoons? Could it be that they figured out that they could make more money by selling it as a children’s book? Maybe they should have called it “S” Is for Sucker.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 31, 2007

Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #4: Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

A landmark picture book about how children tame their demons

Where the Wild Things Are. Story and Pictures by Maurice Sendak. HarperCollins, 48 pp., $7.95, paperback, and other editions. Ages 2–8.

By Janice Harayda

Where the Wild Things is so popular today that few people may remember how revolutionary it once was. In a sense it was the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of picture books, and not just because it, too, is about the night. Maurice Sendak broke the rules of composition and content in 1963 as Picasso had done 1907, and his act of defiance has had an enduring effect on other artists.

Great picture books existed before Sendak wrote and illustrated the story of a boy named Max, who finds an outlet in fantasy for the anger he feels after his mother puts him to bed without supper. And his work shares traits with that of artists such as Beatrix Potter and Randolph Caldecott – meticulous craftsmanship, a seamless interplay of works and pictures, and a refusal to patronize children.

But Where the Wild Things Are put its own stamp on picture books. Sendak tells its story in words and pictures until Max travels to an imaginary realm and orders a “wild rumpus” to start among the “wild things” who have made him their king. Then pictures alone move the narrative forward for three double-page spreads until the text resumes when Max orders the creatures to bed. Sendak’s editor said – and there is no reason to doubt – that no artist had ever structured a picture book this way.

The content was no less unusual than this compositional device. Where the Wild Things Are was the first great picture took to take as its subject — and to dramatize — the interior life of a child. Some adults may wonder why the cover shows a picture of a sleeping “wild thing” instead of Max. The story holds the answer. This is a book about how children use fantasy to tame their troubling feelings. The cover befits that theme: The “wild thing” has gone to sleep at Max’s command.

Canadian scholar Perry Nodelman has described other remarkable aspects of the book, including its use of color and white space, in Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books. But no one has described the book better than Sendak in accepting 1964 Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association for Where the Wild Things Are.

“Certainly we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and that intensify anxiety; and to a point we can prevent premature exposure to such experiences,” he said. “That is obvious. But what is just as obvious – and what is too often overlooked – is the fact that from their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, that fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, that they continually cope with frustration as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”

The idea that fantasy is the “best means” for “taming Wild Things” – if radical when the book first appeared – may be more so today. Adults may acknowledge the value of daydreaming, unstructured play and other ways for children to indulge their fantasies. But it is probably safe to say that experts have convinced most parents that the “best means” for children to tame their “wild things” is through talk, or perhaps venting their anger by kicking a soccer ball. Given that shift, it might seem a miracle that Where the Wild Things Are has remained popular. And yet it isn’t a miracle at all, because that kind of ability to survive changes in fashion is exactly what makes a book a classic.

Best line: The last five words. Max returns to his room and finds his supper waiting for him “and it was still hot.” When a new edition of Where the Wild Things Are was being prepared ten years after it won the Caldecott Medal, Sendak’s editor wrote to ask him if he wanted to change “hot” to “warm” because Harper Collins had heard from “a couple of children (or their rotten parents)” that “children don’t like hot” food. Authors, editors will never stop trying to change your work, even after you are rich, famous and have won the highest honor in your field.

Worst line: None.

Editor: Ursula Nordstrom

Published: 1963 (first edition)

Furthermore: Nordstrom said that the three consecutive wordless spreads were unique in a letter to Nat Hentoff, collected in Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (Harper Collins, 1998), edited by Leonard S. Marcus, pp. 184–185. She asked about the change from “hot” to “warm” in a letter to Sendak in the same book, p. 355.

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 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.

August 4, 2007

Good Picture Books About Real and Imagined Beaches: David Wiesner and Faith Ringgold

Acclaimed artists depict magical summertime journeys in Flotsam and Tar Beach

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 Flotsam 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 incorporates motifs from black history and culture. Her heroine’s magical journeys build on the flight-to-freedom theme in African-American literature.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an indepdendent blog created by Janice Harayda, 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 this site.

July 27, 2007

Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #3: ‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’

An old steam shovel pushes herself to the limit to prove that she can still be useful

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. By Virginia Lee Burton. Varied editions. Ages 2–6.

By Janice Harayda

Generations of children have loved this exciting story of an old red steam shovel who pushes herself to the limit to prove that she can still be useful. But Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is about more than the heroism of Mary Anne and her devoted companion, Mike, who refuses to abandon her when “the new electric shovels / and the new Diesel motor shovels / took all the jobs away from the steam shovels.”

Virginia Lee Burton’s classic picture book is also a poignant tale of growing old in America, and the desire of all ages to be valued. First published in 1939, it was far ahead of its time in its enlightened portrayal of women’s strengths. Mike believes that Mary Anne “could dig as much in a day / as a hundred men could dig in a week.” And the two of them have plenty of character strength, too. When people in big cities no longer need their services, they refuse to give up. Instead they head for tiny Popperville, where they’ve heard there’s work, only to face the greatest test of their love and skills.

Arriving at the end of the Great Depression, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is partly a metaphor for the struggle of many groups, especially the Irish, to find jobs. The text never mentions Mike and Mary Anne’s ethnicity. But the dust jacket of an old edition says pointedly that the book is “the story of a faithful Irish steam-shovel artist and his steam shovel — the beguiling Mary Anne.” And a picture shows a sign that says, “No Steam Shovels Wanted,” an echo a familiar sign in its day, “No Irish Need Apply.”

But if the reference is lost on modern readers, it doesn’t matter, because of the vitality of the story and art. Burton was among the first author-illustrators to insist on the unity of text and pictures and to include some elements that have become standard, such as detailed endpapers. “Her stories may be simple and straightforward; but her books have heroes and heroines children can understand and enjoy, including ingenious and satisfactory endings, and lively illustrations,” Lee Kingman, a former director of The Horn Book, has written. “The books survive because they exhibit so effectively the elements most basic to children’s literature.”

Best line/picture: “Mike Mulligan was very proud of Mary Anne. / He always said that she could dig as much in a day / as a hundred men could dig in a week, / but he had never been quite sure / that this was true.”

Worst line/picture: Burton dots the capital “i’s” in “Mike” and “Mulligan” on the cover of the book.

Furthermore: Burton’s The Little House won the Caldecott Medal in 1943. A recent book-and-CD edition of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) has orchestral accompaniment.

Links: The Houghton Mifflin site includes Mike Mulligan–inspired activities for children:

For more “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read,” please see the reviews of Madeline and Millions of Cats

Can you suggest other classic picture books every child should read? If so, why not leave a comment for others who visit this site looking for ideas? Please mention the age(s) of children who might enjoy a book.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

A new review of a book for children or teenagers appears on this site every Saturday.

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