Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Children's Book Review: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish


Name of Book: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
Author / Illustrator: Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel, Theo LeSieg etc.)
What's It All About: I don't know how you can make it through the world of children's literature and not find Dr. Seuss but if you haven't this is a great place to start! It's just a collection of the way Seuss's mind wrote things for children. 
My Favorite Bit: Oh by far:

Look what we found in the dark in the park
We will take him home. We will call him Clark.
He will live at our house. He will grow and grow.
Will our mother like this? We don't know.



Go Get It: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish  paperback version from Amazon
Suitable Age For Reading It To: Dr. Seuss is for everyone.
A Little About The Author / Illustrator: 
 Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in 1904 in Massachusetts.  His father and Grandfather were brewmasters and the family did well for themselves until the onslaught of WW1 and Prohibition, both things that made it hard on a German family who made beer.  While still being officially Ted Geisel, he attended Dartmouth where he became Editor-In-Chief of the Jack-O-Lantern, Dartmouth's humor magazine.  He was kicked out after being caught having a party with booze (during Prohibition) and so to continue offering pieces for the paper, he began signing his name Seuss, which was his mother's maiden name and his middle name (pronounced officially as Zoice--rhymes with voice).   And that, as they say, is history.
His first children's book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, was written on a ship where Seuss said the ship's engines made a chugging sound that inspired him with the cadence for the story.  It was a hard sell and took 27 rejections before finally being accepted.  The Cat In The Hat, possibly Seuss's best known work, was a contract piece for Random House, who asked him to write a children's book primer with only 225 words.  With the publication of the Cat In The Hat, Seuss became a household name.  By the time he died in 1991, Seuss had written and illustrated 44 children's books, which had sold over 200 million copies and been translated into 15 languages.

Theodor Seuss Geisel at work

Monday, June 27, 2011

Original Tale: How Came You To Be So Blue?


One, two, three, and four
Three little goslings and a mother goose more
All stopped by my house today 
They weren't colored in a normal way

One, two, three, and four
Three little goslings and a blue goose more
"How came you to be so blue?"
Was the thing I asked Goose Two

"Sat beneath a painter's paint
Watched the painter paint a gate
Got a drop or two on me
Said this is the life I see."

One, two, three, and four
Three little goslings told their mother more
"Let's be blue instead of white,
 Let's give Farmer Brown a fright."

"How came you to wander here?"
This I asked to goslings dear
"Wanted washing," honked the one
"We tried blue and now we're done."

Rubbed my chin and cocked my head
"Wait for rain," was all I said
Wagging tails to show delight
Rain came down and now they're white.


Written and Illustrated by R. Nigh

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Children's Book Review: Library Lion

Name of Book: Library Lion
Author / Illustrator: Written by Michelle Knudsen and Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
What It's All About: One day at the quiet library, a lion shows up.  The librarian doesn't mind as long as he follows the rules: no running, no loud noises.  Soon the people in the library get used to the lion and the librarian even has him helping out.  One day the librarian falls and hurts herself.  She can't get up.  She asks the lion to get help.  The lion runs (no running!) The lion roars at the assistant (no loud noises!) The lion leaves, knowing he has broken the rules.  Can they find the lion and tell him it's all right to come back to the library? Read on.
My Favorite Bit: 
By far the picture below is what makes this book lovely.  The lion looks so sad.



This illustration of the lion laying down in the story hour area is also perfect.  I love the light touch with the illustrations and the poses of the lion.


Go Get It: Library Lion in Amazon 
Suitable Age For Reading It To: This book is great for all ages.  The wording is done well and the illustrations are great.
A Little About The Author / Illustrator:
Quote from Michelle Knudsen: I'm the author of 41 books for children and a sometimes-editor and sometimes other things. My best-known book is Library Lion, and my most recent title is the picture book Argus. And my fantasy novel The Dragon of Trelian is now out in paperback!   
To find out more about here go here to her blog: Michelle Knudsen's blog



Kevin Hawkes is the illustrator of over 40 picture books including Chicken Cheeks, The Librarian Who Measured The Earth, Weslandia and Sidewalk Circus.  He lives with his wife and children in Southern Maine where he illustrates.  To find out more about Mr. Hawkes consider visiting his website at www.kevinhawkes.com





Thursday, June 23, 2011

Children's Book Review: Molly Whuppie



Name of book: Molly Whuppie
Author  / Illustrator: Retold by Walter de la Mare and illustrated by Errol Le Cain
What's It All About: Written in classic fairytale form this story begins with a poor farmer's three youngest daughters who are sent out into the woods to see what will become of them.  The youngest is Molly Whuppie.  The girls end up at a giant's home and manage to escape.  The second home they find is a palace where the King tells Molly that if she will steal three things from the giant (first a small sword, then a purse, then a ring) from the giant, he will wed his sons to her sisters and herself.  Molly takes on the challenge and sneaks to the giant's three separate occasions.  When he finds her he chases her to the bridge of one hair and says:
"Woe betide 'ee Molly Whuppie, if ye ere come back again."
My Favorite Bit:
I like the page where the girls find the castle in the woods.  The illustration is spectacular.
I also really enjoy the last scene with Molly and her newly wedded husband looking at the swans in the sky.

Suitable Age For Reading It To: A story for the older children who can sit through a traditional fairytale that must go through it's proper steps. 
Go Get It: Molly Whuppie from Alibris
A little about the Author and/or Illustrator: 
Walter John de la Mare (1873-1956) was an English poet and novelist.  Descended from French Huguenots,  had four sisters and two brothers and was called Jack by his family and friends as he hated the name Walter (sound familiar C.S. fans?).  He met Elfrida Ingpen, ten years his senior, and married her, going on to have four children.  Their house was legendary for parties with imaginative games of charades. More can be found at his wikipedia article, from whence this was compiled.


Errol Le Cain (1941-1989) was born in Singapore, lived in India for five years, and finally ended up in England.  He made an animated film when he was 14.  He worked for BBC and designed sets, worked on cartoons, and graphics.  His first illustrated book was King Arthur's Sword.  Quote: (his first book) "made me aware of the scope and possibilities in children's books and now I am convinced this is the medium for me." Amen.
You can find out more about his illustrations at: www.errollecain.com










Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vignette: Fairytale Illustrations

     One of the things I enjoy most about children's picture books is the chance to scope out other artists and their work, to learn how someone else sees a story, and to experience a tale the way an illustrator thinks of it. Words without pictures become what they will to whomever reads it.  A picture with words attached to it becomes a tale.  Without a tale a picture becomes a personal mystery perhaps like these pictures below.  If you haven't read the tales they were pulled from, you will find that each picture leaves you guessing as to the kind of story they belong to.  
     I unashamedly choose fantasy tales as often as I can to look through.  One of my art teachers in college turned his nose up at my final project one year as I had decided to depict fourteen different scenes from fairytales instead of throwing coffee and dirt on paper bags to show my inner artistic angst.  I could have been bothered by this had he not been an artist who thought wooden two by fours with neon paint hung at odd angles on the wall was a step towards art instead of a cop out like myself.       
     Nevertheless, I still regard classic fairytale and fantasy stories as a high form of art and I've chosen a few pieces from various stories that I love so that you can see what I love most and what I bring into my house for my children.  Many of these stories were read to me as a child and I cannot imagine a library without them.  I choose them for different reasons but the basic idea is thus: they must be good and they must be beautiful.  All of these artists are at the top of their class and I hope you enjoy them as much as I. 


Chris Van Allsburg: The Wreck Of The Zephyr
Van Allsburg has a chunky almost Seurat-like style, especially when it comes to people.  Everything is beautifully detailed and full, even when he is illustrating without color as he often does.


Mercer Mayer: East Of The Sun West Of The Moon
This tale is full of amazing illustrations and I love the details, the beautiful colors infused into each page, and the almost Russian feel of the people and their clothing.  This is truly a masterpiece.


Eyvind Earle
Earle painted the backgrounds for Disney's Sleeping Beauty and his dreamlike landscapes are a dramatic fight for light and dark.  He also coincidentally has a gallery in Carmel, which is nearby my hometown.


Errol Le Cain
To me, this illustrator's work feels like delicate cloisonne.  Though his characters are often stylized in an almost renaissance tapestry feel, the pictures gain from it and I find myself drawn into the story. 


John Howe: The Lord Of The Rings
Howe's illustrations are of a first class nature and if possible he has brought more life and more imagination into Tolkien's works.


Scott Gustafson: Sleeping Beauty
Gustafson is a wonderful artist I would also categorize as chunky.  His characters often have the feel of an enriched Norman Rockwell picture, due to their often longer necks, shiny noses, and gently surprised expressions. 

Amy Erhlich: The Wild Swans
Erhlich has a light touch and an unmistakable style that you can spot from across the room.  The colors are usually muted and the details very fine.  This story is a wonderful example of her exemplary work.


Eric Kincaid and Eric Rowe : Tales of Magic And Make Believe
The illustrations to this book are a part of my childhood and they are amazing to look through.  I had hoped to find a page with Puck on it and the bride with the rainbow dress, but this page is what is out there.  


Trina Schart Hyman: Snow White
My favorite illustrator by far, though Sleeping Beauty must be my favorite tale of hers.  She is also very adept at using dramatic light play in her pictures and her characters and fine details are so magnificent that each picture becomes a jewel, almost as if it were stained glass.


Ul De Rico : The Rainbow Goblins
Ah, the Rainbow Goblins.  I confess I haven't read anything else by Ul De Rico but this story again was part of my childhood.  These pictures were done on wood and they are so vibrant and grand.  

Now, I don't mean to bankrupt you or anything but you should really have these in your library.  If you can't afford them you must go to the local library (assuming there is still such a thing in your area) and get them!  You won't regret it.  Happy exploring!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Children's Book Review: Ox Cart Man


Name of Book: Ox Cart Man
Author / Illustrator: Written by Donald Hall and Illustrated by Barbara Cooney
What's It All About: The man packs all the things he and his family have made and grown all year long into his cart and goes to Portsmouth to sell everything.  Once he has sold everything, he buys some presents and necessities for his family and walks the many miles home.  The family spends the months making various household goods that the man will sell next year.
Excerpt:
He sold the bag of wool.  He sold the shawl his wife made.  He sold five pairs of mittens.  He sold candles and shingles.  He sold birch brooms.  He sold potatoes.  He sold apples.  He sold honey and honeycombs, turnips and cabbages.  He sold maple sugar.  He sold a bag of goose feathers.   
My Favorite Bit: This book is simple and hard working and the illustrations match it.  I remember them doing this book on Reading Rainbow with Lavar Burton.  It's easy to get a feel for life in what I'm assuming was something like colonial times (or later with the Amish perhaps), but I like how everything has a purpose.  I like to know what is harvested in what month and what can be made on those long winter days by the fire.
Go Get It: Ox Cart Man in paperback at Amazon
Suitable Age For Reading It To: All ages can get interested in this quiet story, which carries such charm.
A Little About The Author / Illustrator: Author Donald Hall (born 1928) is an American poet appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.  He was born in Connecticut and went to Harvard and then Oxford and has published many works.

Illustrator Barbara Cooney (1917-2000) born in Brooklyn New York and lived on a farm with her husband, a physician.  She traveled to discover how to illustrate her stories.  Quote:
“How well an illustrator transfers an author’s ideas to his own medium is the measure of his success as an illustrator.” 
 

 
                                                         





Friday, June 17, 2011

Children's Book Review: Everyone Knows What A Dragon Looks Like



Name of Book: Everyone Knows What A Dragon Looks Like
Author / Illustrator: Written by Jay Williams and Illustrated by Mercer Mayer
What's It All About: A poor boy named Han sits outside the city of Wu's gates and sweeps,  receiving for it a roof over his head and a bowl of rice.  The leaders of the city get word that the wild horsemen of the North are coming.  They can only pray to the Great Cloud Dragon in hopes that he can save them.  A little old man comes to the city gate and asks Han to take him to the Mandarin.  He tells the leaders of the city that he is the dragon.  The Mandarin and all of his advisers laugh at the little old man and tell him to be on his way, they must prepare for the horsemen of the North.  Han alone seems to have faith that if the old man says he is a dragon, he must be a dragon.  Because of Han's kindness to the little old man, the man saves the city of Wu by becoming a beautiful dragon in the clouds and blowing away the army.  Ever after Han is wealthy and respected in the city of Wu.
My Favorite Bit: I love the picture of the little old man changing into the dragon, I love the picture of the Mandarin and all his advisers speaking of the coming menace, and I love the page of all the wild horsemen blowing away.  But best of all I love what it looks like to see a dragon in the clouds.  Mayer has outdone himself here.  This is a beautiful example of his work.

Go Get It: Everyone Knows What A Dragon Looks Like paperback from Amazon UK
Suitable Age For Reading It To: This one's for an older than five child simply because the story is a little longer and more complex.  My little one likes the pictures but doesn't listen all the way through the way my nine year old does. 
A Little About The Author / Illustrator: Jay Williams (1914-1978) was an American author from Buffalo New York.  He has been a press agent, an actor, an army man (who received the purple heart), and a writer of all kinds of fiction from mysteries to historical fiction to children's books to plays.   He wrote the young adult series Danny Dunn and wrote adult crime dramas under the pseudonym Michael Delving.  In all he published at least 79 books including 11 picture books, 39 children's novels, 7 adult mysteries, 4 nonfiction books, 8 historical novels and a play.
Mercer Mayer, born in 1943 in Little Rock Arkansas, is an American children's book writer and illustrator.  Mayer was from a Navy family and moved many times before settling in Honolulu, Hawaii.  He entered the field of children's book illustration though his teachers were afraid he wasn't good enough to be a success (snort).  Mayer wrote the very popular series Little Critter among other famous works.


Mercer Mayer






Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Original Tale: Run and Eek!



I was running, he was chasing
Far across the forest floor
I went tripping, he went skipping
I yelled "eek!" when he yelled "ROAR!"

But as often sometimes happens
I got tired and so did he
So we sat and took a doze
Beneath the shade of tall oak trees

While I waited for the chasing
Started drawing Bear's physique
Didn't notice he had woken
Now it's time to run and "eek!"


Written and Illustrated by R. Nigh

Monday, June 13, 2011

Children's Book Review: Chameleon's Colors



Name of Book: Chameleon's Colors
Author / Illustrator: By Chisato Tashiro
What's It All About: A Chameleon who is tired of not being seen discovers that the animals of the jungle are all tired of their colors, too.  Chameleon crushes flower petals and makes many different colors and paints all the animals new and fantastic colors.  The first day they are all so proud to be brightly colored but by the second day they are upset.  The lion cannot hunt because the other animals can spot him from far away.  The snake doesn't know which animal he likes to eat.  Life was easier before they were so many colors.  They chase Chameleon to the edge of a cliff and just as they're about to get him, the rain begins to fall.  All the colors drain off of them and they leave, appeased. 
My Favorite Bit: The page where the animals are rushing towards the chameleon is my favorite because the chameleon turns the color of the rock and closes his eyes.  He looks so sad.  It is the picture that made me buy the book.


Go Get It: Chameleon's Colors
Suitable Age For Reading It To: This story may be best for a little bit older child such as six or seven.  My four year old understands the basics of it but I think most of it passes her by (besides looking for the chameleons on the last page). 
A Little About The Author / Illustrator: Chisato Tashiro was born in Tokyo, Japan. She studied economics at Meiji Gakuin University and later studied the history of childrens picture books at a school in Takatanobaba.


Chisato Tashiro

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Children's Book Review: Mouse Soup

Name of Book: Mouse Soup
Author / Illustrator: Arnold Lobel
What's It All About: A little mouse is caught by a weasel.  The mouse convinces the weasel that the best way to make mouse soup is to fill the soup with stories.  The mouse tells the weasel four stories:
Bees And The Mud
Two Large Stones
The Crickets
The Thorn Bush
After the stories are finished, the weasel wants to know how he can put the stories in the soup.  The mouse tells him to get a beehive and some mud, two large stones, lots of crickets, and a thorn bush.  While the weasel is out getting these things (and being hurt and bothered by them) the mouse runs home to his own house.
My Favorite Bit: There is so much childhood in these stories.  My parents got this book for me when I was four and I can remember what I liked about each piece.  But, if I have to say, I suppose I really like the beautiful rose bush at the end of the the thorn bush story.   Mr. Lobel draws the roses so nicely that I wish I could have a big bunch just like the policeman.  (I'm going to cheat and say I do love the crickets as well!)

Go Get It: Mouse Soup book with cd from Amazon
Suitable Age For Reading It To: This one's for all ages and all time.
A Little About The Author / Illustrator: To read more about Arnold Lobel, please visit this earlier review of another of his smashing book series about Frog and Toad: HERE

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Original Tale: Chartreuse Dog


So bashful, so lean,
So incredibly green
This dog on the loose
Is a moose of chartreuse

He's biggest and brightest
The tallest and nicest
I wish for a friend
Of this sort and trend

Green Mr. Von Bern-ed
(Chartreuse to the learn-ed)
You're the tippiest top
Of all dogs, full stop.


Written and Illustrated by R. Nigh

(It helps if you read this with an English accent.  A full stop is what they call a period here.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Children's Book Review: Peasant Pig And The Terrible Dragon


Name of Book: Peasant Pig And The Terrible Dragon
Author / Illustrator: By Richard Scarry
What's It All About: Peasant Pig longs to be a knight so that he can meet the fair Princess Lily.  A terrible Dragon kidnaps poor Princess Lily and Peasant Pig decides he can help when the king's knights fail.  But will he conquer the Dragon with the help of his trusty friend Lowly Worm? Read it to find out! This story follows in the grand tradition of Scarry books where the characters are not only following a story (or few) but are also busy in the land they are surrounded by.  You can read to little ones about how farmers worked in medieval times, how knights played at tournaments, and read all sorts of fun little side stories. 
My Favorite Bit: Well, I've got a few as always.  For one you should look at the Queen--she's crying in every scene whether she's happy or not.  For another I love the names of the bad guys: Morbert, Merbert, Orgbert, Ergbert, and Sherbert.  And lastly, I still can hear my mother making the words sound like what they were when she read this line:

Peasant Pig and all of the soap landed right in the grape juicer where Princess Lily was squashing the grapes.  Splash. Splosh. Burrble.  Burrble.  The grape juice began to turn into grape soap-suds."

Splash. Splosh. Burrble. Burrble.  Grape soap suds to drink sounds simply disgusting.
Go Get It: Peasant Pig in hardcover from Amazon UK
Suitable Age For Reading It To: As with most Richard Scarry books this is long! There are so many things to read about that unless this is the story for the evening you might want to break it up a little.  That being said, all kids love Scarry.  You can just narrate the pictures and go quicker or you can read the story to older children.  My nine year old still loves this book.
A Little About The Author / Illustrator: For more about Richard Scarry, please visit an earlier review: HERE

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Children's Book Review: Madeline

 
Name of Book: Madeline
Author / Illustrator: Ludwig Bemelmans
What's It All About: Madeline lives at an all girl's school and is not afraid of anything.  One night Miss Clavel fears something is not right.  Poor little Madeline has a pain in her stomach and must go to hospital, where she has her appendix out.  The other girls come to visit her and see that she is feeling better with many presents surrounding her.  That night Miss Clavel is awakened feeling that something else is not right.  She hurries upstairs to find all the other little girls crying that they want their appendix out too. 
My Favorite Bit: "In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines... the smallest one was Madeline."
I have to admit it--I kind of wished along with the other girls that I could stay in a room and have presents just like Madeline--if only I could do so without having my appendix removed.  This is a charming tale by Mr. Bemelmans, and I reccommend them all to you.  I won't list them now as I will review them in the future because of their own merit. 
Go Get It: Madeline paperback version at Amazon
Suitable Age For Reading It To:  Madeline tackles a somewhat unusual topic but has good illustrations and the language is poemy and simple so I believe all children can love it.  I may have this for my four year old in French from Paris that I plan to write English subtitles for so that she can see the original French.  Voila!
A Little About The Author / Illustrator:
Ludwig Bemelmans (1898 -1962) grew up in Austria and spoke first French and then German.  While apprenticing at his Uncle's hotel, he shot and seriously wounded a waiter and had to emigrate to the US or face being institutionalized.  He joined the US Army but was not deployed overseas during the war because of his German origin.  His wife was named Madeleine and the first Madeline book was published by Simon and Schuster in 1939.  He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Original Tale: Home Sweet Home


A little hammer tapping and a squeak squeak squeak
Down by the bedside where I peeked peeked peeked
A funny little hole in my baseboard white
Made a funny little house that was quite a sight

Written and Illustrated by Rachel Nigh

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Children's Book Review: Each Peach Pear Plum


Name of Book: Each Peach Pear Plum
Author/Illustrator: By Janet and Allan Ahlberg
What's It All About: A rhyming I Spy book full of famous storybook characters to find.

Excerpt:
Jack and Jill in a ditch
I spy the Wicked Witch
Wicked Witch over the wood
I spy Robin Hood
Robin Hood in his den
I spy the Bears again


My Favorite Bit: I love the feel of this whole world.  I can't say I have a favorite page or anything as they're all perfect.  I do, however, love Robin Hood holding Baby Bunting at the end and clearly happy to be doing so.


Go Get It: Each Peach Pear Plum board book from Amazon UK
Suitable Age For Reading It To: This seems to be simpler for smaller children but as I still love it and I am almost certain I'm an adult I'd say it's still for everyone.
A Little About The Author/Illustrator:
"I like the word flabbergasted, I like the name Horace and I seem to write quite a lot about sausages."
For 20 years Allan worked with his wife, Janet who passed away in 1994.  Allan has since teamed up with their daughter Jessica.   He has written over 140 books.  His wife began illustrating and asked Allan who was working as a primary school teacher to write her a story. 
"It turned out that this was the sort of writing I could do," he says. "Instinctively, I write like this" (he holds up his hand with fingers splayed) "and the pictures come in and do this" (he interlocks his other hand). There was no rivalry between them. "It was just like having a baby really. You fuss over the book and are very protective. Criticism - 'your baby has a big nose' - hurts ... and you don't begrudge the other parent their genetic input."
Allan and Janet together parented 37 books and one real baby. Jessica (born in 1980) was immediately coopted into the family business. "We were dismayed," says Allan, "when Jessica's favourite book was the Mothercare catalogue. So we made a catalogue of our own." The Baby's Catalogue (1982), is dedicated to Jessica.

Full interview, from which these excerpts have been taken can be found here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2006/jun/24/familyandrelationships.family7

I would write more about this couple but as they have many more books that I will review, I'll leave it there for now.

Allan Ahlberg


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