Saturday, December 24, 2005

Mortimer's Christmas Manger

Well, I never did get around to posting our list of Christmas favorites, let alone the new books we tried out this holiday season. It has been busy, if you'll excuse the worn, tired, and largely unconvincing word. Instead of a list, I'm offering just the most noteworthy book on my children's book radar for this Christmas season.

Mortimer's Christmas Manger, by the fantastic Karma Wilson (author) and Jane Chapman (illustrator), was a the top of my Christmas book delights. Mortimer is a mouse who decides to move into one family's mouse-sized nativity display, removing Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, making himself completley comfortable. But in the morning when he goes foraging for food, he returns to his newly acquired home only to discover that the figurines are back in place. Night after night, to his great displeasure, he is forced to redecorate in order to keep his new home. Then one night the family gathers in the living room to read aloud the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus, and Mortimer, upon hearing the Christmas story for the first time, has a change of heart toward the nativity residents he has previously been trying to evict.

Mortimer's Manger has all the charm of previous Wilson/Chapman installments, with the bonus of the story of Christ's birth sweetly and gently woven in. A pleasant shift in focus during a season that is dominated by the craze of commercialized Christmas and, of course, a certain jolly old elf and his team of reindeer.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Oh, bother.

Disney, on a never ending quest to remake! retell! sell!, seems to have decided that Christopher Robin isn't trendy enough for today's young audience. Yep, Disney, in it's misguided marketing zeal, is giving Christopher Robin the boot. So who will be accompanying Pooh on future adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood in his stead? A red-headed, six-year-old tomboy of a girl, who will make her debut in a new Winnie-the-Pooh televison series that will air on the Disney Channel in 2007.

An article from The Age summed it up this way:
It is hardly the first time Disney has outraged Pooh purists, of course. They bought the rights to the Pooh stories and images in 1961. Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and the rest were duly Americanised and their characters changed; the wistful bear of little brain, who was regularly described as "growling", acquired an effete little voice and West Coast perma-cheer.


"The charm and flavour is not there in Disney," says illustrator Anne James, whose South Melbourne shop, Books Illustrated, does not stock the Disney versions of Pooh. "The fact that they took it and changed it so drastically means they haven't got a sense of the thing they wanted in the first place." Sadly, she says, many children now know Pooh and his friends only as Disney characters.

As I was reading over this and other articles about the newest development in this version of Winnie-the-Pooh, an image of Disney and it's overhandling sprang to mind in the memory of the following poem (one I enjoyed repeating as a girl):
Funny how Felicia Ropps,
Always handles things in shops!
Always pinching, always poking,
Always feeling, always stroking
Things she has no right to touch!
Goops like that annoy me much!

- "Felicia Ropps", Gelett Burgess

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Once Upon a New Location

Once Upon a Story, formerly located here, has moved. Or rather, is being moved.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Happy December!

'Tis the season to share favorite Christmas books, if only I can remember to sneak them out of my son's room before putting him down for bed. (Nights like tonight, when he actually goes right to sleep, right away, are nights I don't want to take any chances--not even for the cause of a good book or two.) We have a couple of Christmas favorites that we've read often enough that I don't need them in front of me for reference, but I prefer being able to flip through them before doing a little review just the same, so they'll have to wait. Besides, it's only the 1st of December--I have all the time in the world, right?

(Nudge, wink.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Gobble, gobble

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope everyone enjoys good food, good company, and the (year-long) blessings that God has given us, so many of which are above and beyond what are really needs in our lives. In the sprit of giving thanks, here is a gratitude-inspiring selection for the young:

My Book of Thanks, written by B.G. Hennessey and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata. The author writes that she believes prayers should begin with "Thank you, God," and end with "Help me," and that is the simple--but perfectly suited--pattern for each prayer in this book. The pages feature short, sweet, prayers of thanks, alongside cheerful watercolor illustrations that convey lots of movement and life.(The illustrations are darling and, truth be told, what prompted me to slide the book off the shelf and take a peek.) Perfect for a wiggly audience with short attention spans.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Happy Birthday, lover of I Spy and Where's Waldo!

My son turned four this week--four! I was busy with birthday prep, then the birthday, and now post-birthday birthday-present immersion, which basically means that I've been enlisted to play The Incredibles, Trouble and Memory with him ad nauseam because they are new. Repetitive? Yes. But I welcome it as a merciful reprieve from army men. That has left me with precious little time to comb the bookshelves for some new reading selections. But that's okay, because the detail-oriented Birthday Boy got his first I Spy book as a gift from his Grandma, so that has taken the reading spotlight for the past few days anyway. (And now that he has tasted I Spy ownership--discovering that his favorite series can be had without borrowing from the library--he's already dropping hints that he'd like to amass the entire collection for Christmas.

Before I Spy and Where's Waldo, I had a willing audience for any children's book I wanted to bring home and read aloud. For several months now, though he has great love for many-a-story in our collection and still enjoys hearing new tales, his heart belongs to the series that gives him the challenge of finding the difficult to find. When I take him to the library now, it's not so much to allow him to browse as it is to allow him to get a fix. He runs to the sections where the I Spy and Where's Waldo books are kept, pulls every one off the shelf, makes sure I understand that he wants to take them, "all, all, ALL," home, and only once I agree to this is he able to relax and breathe normally. His enthusiasm for the books is sweet, if not a little obsessive.

Ahh, my dear, just wait until you meet Harry Potter.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Scrambled States of America

The Scrambled States of America, written and illustrated by Laurie Keller, is exactly what the book's narrator (Uncle Sam) promises--a story about the United States that you probably haven't heard before. The tale begins as all fifty States are waking up, beginning their morning routine, and enjoying the lovely sunrise.

The only grumbler is Kansas, who is unhappy and determined to spread the mood. "I just feel bored. All day long we just sit here in the middle of the country. We never GO anywhere. We never DO anything, and we NEVER meet any NEW states!" he complains to his best friend, Nebraska. As Kansas continues his whiny diatribe, Nebraska joins him in airing feelings of discontent. Misery, as everybody knows, loves company, and before long both states are convinced that they are tired of being stuck in the same spot, seeing the same sights, and hearing the same sounds, day after long, boring day.

Kansas formulates a plan to break the monotony--they should throw a party and invite all of the other states! "You know, one of those get-to-know-you deals," a newly enthused Kansas explains. During the mixing and mingling at the big event, a hairbrained idea is born that leads to the "scrambling" of America, and that's where things really get crazy.

Laurie Keller has a flair for comedic storytelling, which is only enhanced by her humorous collage-style illustrations. The states' varied colors and expressions are funny enough, but the book is full of action in the details, too. Looking closely you'll notice Iowa struggling to spell 'Connecticut' on a party invitation, a quiet romance blossom between Nevada and Mississippi, state-specific dishes at the party buffet such as New York Cheesecake and Georgia Peach pie, and a flurry of other funny mini-stories in the margins of each page.

The Scrambled States of America
would make a good read anywhere, and the perfect compliment to an otherwise boring United States geography lesson in a classroom setting. Definitely a keeper.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Little Pea

There are a couple of funny books I've wanted to mention for a while, but haven't found the time to write up. I'm going to try to get to them today, starting with:

Little Pea, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace

This is a humorous take on a child's reluctance to eat what is on their dinner plate. In the case of Little Pea, his repulsion lies with the Pea family's main staple: candy. Unfortunately, he has no choice but to eat a certain number of bites each night at dinner if he wants dessert. Dessert, as it turns out, is part of what makes this little tale so amusing. My son found the whole thing pretty hilarious, particularly when Little Pea is choking down each bite with exaggerated facial expressions and noises of disgust. After all, what kid can't relate to being unjustly forced to eat some appalingly good-for-you food at the dinner table? The illustrations are simplistic, charming, and full of expression. Jen Corace did well in bringing a pea to life believably.

Overall, a very enjoyable read.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Safe and sound

We are thanking the Lord that Houston managed to escape a direct hit from Rita. It was a close, narrow, last-minute scrape by, but... whew! It's over. I'm relieved beyond words that Rita didn't cut a path through our (Katy's) back yard, as it was expected to do at one very unnerving point in the weather forecast.

We thought about packing up and heading north to stay with my parents in Illinois, but decided not to fight the traffic from the mass evacuation (we're talking 2 million strong) and risk winding up stuck on the road. Instead, we boarded up, gathered food, water, and other supplies, preparing for the worst. We were glued to the continual television coverage of Rita, keeping a close eye on where it was expected to make landfall. It was with bated breath that we waited and watched as it slowly move to the east of us.

All we wound up with was a windy night, maybe a few trees down around town. The lights flickered a few times, but we never even lost power. (Well, OK, our internet connection went pfft on Thursday, but that I can live without--air conditioning is another beast!) Even better news is that so far, there haven't been any reported deaths directly caused by the hurricane, even in the Lake Charles/Beaumont area where Rita hit straight on. Not that there won't be any reported tragedies as a result of the storm, but it's a relief not to have the massive loss of life that was seen with Katrina repeated with Rita.

Thanks so much for the comments of concern in the post below. It's good to be "back" (read: alive, well, home intact, online again, and no longer focused on storm survival!) Camille, I'm glad you guys came through the storm OK as well.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Omnibeasts and Insectlopedia

Poet/Illustrator Douglas Florian has written and illustrated a good many poetry collections, and I can hardly wait to read them all. We are currently borrowing--and thoroughly enjoying--two of his books from our library: Omnibeasts and Insectlopedia. This afternoon my son and I sat side by side reading, each animal poem inspiring him to act out a lively immitation. (Who knew that reading was a good form of exercise?)

Both books feature a full page illustration for each insect or animal, with its highly entertaining and descriptive poem on the page opposite. I fell in love with the playful poetry in both books. Words are almost acrobatic, leaping from line to line with alliteration and other fancy poetry tricks I couldn't put a name to. Overall, they just have great read-aloud quality. Florian's illustrative style is distinct and earthy; lots of texture and warm, striking colors. He has a knack for highlighting parts of the poems with his artwork, capturing the mood and humor of each poem and critter, not just a physical likeness.

One thing that stands out about Omnibeastsis the selection of, well, beasts. Which is to say that there are a wide and wild range of them, including a boar, newt, jaguarundi, ocelot, vulture, walrus, and various species of insects. My favorite poem was "The Glass Frog", for it's sheer sense of humor:

Upon a tree
It's hard to see
Which part is leaf
And which is me
Which part is me
And which is leaf
I've lost myself again--
Good grief!

Generally speaking, I'm not into bugs--or books about them. But Insectlopedia is appealing to even the bug-reluctant. I was pulled in by Florian's unique way of looking at and describing the insects... part humor, part information, part fun with words. The illustrations are rich and engaging, and the bugs are full of personality. The squeamish will appreciate that, while realistic, the bugs aren't so detailed as to evoke a shudder or the desire to arm yourself with a shoe.

The typeography also adds to the visual appeal (this is true of Omnibeasts as well as Insectlopedia). The words move around the pages where it works for their descriptees. For example, the text for the poem The Inchworm creeps up and down the page, taking on a distinct inchworm shape. "The Inchworm" also happens to be another humorous selection:
I inch, I arch, I march along. I'm just a pinch, a mere inch long. I stroll and stick on sticks in thickets, and never pick up speeding tickets.

Douglas Florian has a sure spot on my list of favorite children's authors/poets.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems

If you've ever set out a hummingbird feeder to attract these fascinating backyard guests, you can imagine how memorable it would be to closely observe a hummingbird family from nest-building to the first flight of baby hummingbirds. What began as the journal detailing just such an exerience for one family eventually became Hummingbird Nest. Written by Kristine O'Connell George and illustrated by Barry Moser, Hummingbird Nest is a collection of poems chonicling the progress of a hummingbird mother and her two hatchlings. The book's inspiration was a mother hummingbird who decided the ficus tree on the author's front porch was a perfect place to build her nest one spring, a story George goes into in more detail about at the end of the book.

George's poems had a sweet simplicity that I enjoyed; They captured both the wonder and delight of observing the tiny jeweled birds while keeping a short, descriptive style befitting of an homage to hummingbirds. There are humorous observations (the mother hummingbird described as "a feathered missile streaking by" as she defends her territory), including two from the perspective of the dog and cat--neither of whom were very happy about this new visitor. The dog doesn't appreciate the bird using his water bowl as a bird bath; the cat is a bit disgruntled at being imprisoned in the house so as not to disturb the mother and offspring.

The illustrations are gorgeous. Moser captured the delicate beauty of these small birds with a deft artistic hand. This is a book that would be worth buying even if the story was missing. As it is, I've already flipped through it several times just to admire the paintings--an amazing combination of deep color and feathery lightness. Watercolor magic.

For more details on the book, visit the Kristine George's website, which contains a link to a poem and illustration from the book.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Books for the youngest Katrina victims

Kelly of Big A, little a posted about an organization called First Book. They will match every $5 donation with one book to be sent to children affected by Katrina. From their website:
No one knows how long it will take to completely restore the areas hardest hit. In the meantime, books can help children discover new and exciting information, escape to worlds of fantasy and adventure or simply find a smile.

For those who live along the Gulf Coast, I'm sure you could donate books at one of the many relief organizations. Here in Houston, they were asking for children's book donations for the thousands of children currently housed in the Astrodome as there isn't much for them to do. However, it might not hurt to call your local organizations before dropping off any books; many will give you a list of supplies most needed right now.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katy and Katrina

So far, I haven't posted on the tragedy that left the Gulf Coast--and so many lives--in shambles. But I can't help but notice the good that has come from the bad, and I wanted to share just one link that testifies to this locally, even though it has nothing to do with children's books.

Amidst the devatstating loss of home and life caused by Katrina, I have been greatly encouraged by the tangible hope that is a result of people pulling together to help one another. Help has come locally, nationally, and the world around. Here in Katy (West Houston), folks offering assistance in the form of money, donations, prayers, and even their homes are not in short supply. This weblog touches on just some of the stories of generosity and help Houstonians have shown to our neighbors in need.

Over the past week I have felt an upsurge of pride, not just at being a Houstonian, but an American. Whatever our detractors may say to the contrary, America is a people with a heart for people; A beautitful truth that shines even brighter in times of national crisis, when in so many ways things couldn't look worse. And that, I believe, is the real test of an individual (or entire country's) character--a positive repsonse in the face of overwhemling, unimaginable, and horrifying circumstances. As a country, we certainly have our share of problems to overcome. But as a nation, there is something to be said for the fact that by and large, we are, indeed, united.

Monday, September 05, 2005

J.K. Rowling as illustrator

Big thanks to Create/Relate, who posted a link to this article from the Guardian. What made me let out a little squeal of delight was that the article included a drawing done by one J.K. Rowling, that depicts Hagrid, Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, and the boy who lived himself. A snippet of description:
The drawing shows how closely the casting and make-up of actor Robbie Coltrane as Hogwarts' caretaker, Hagrid, came to reproducing Ms Rowling's original idea. The black-and-white sketch was intended for the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which introduced the oddly- numbered King's Cross platform used to travel to Hogwarts. It leaves Harry's features to the imagination - he is just a baby about to be left by Hagrid and Professor Dumbledore with the Dursley family.

If you follow the link and take a peek at the drawing, I think you'll agree that writing isn't Jo Rowling's only talent. Too bad the image is so small, I'd love to see a bigger version of it. Ah well, maybe I'll get the chance to travel one day, and will stop by the Seven Stories National Centre for Children's Books, where the drawing will be displayed.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Surfacing at last

I've found myself wishing back my 3-year-old's dinosaur obsession over the past couple of weeks. He's still very into anything having to do with the towering reptilian beasts that lived so long ago, but his primary book love lately has been all about spying. Right now we have at least 15 borrowed library books, and all of them are either from the I Spy or Can You See What I See series, by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick, respectively.

Don't get me wrong--they are a lot of fun, and quite a bit less hard on the eyes than, say, the Where's Waldo? books. And it's wonderful to see my son find favorites of his own choosing as his love for books grows. But there are limits to how many times a mom can read a stack of I Spy books--and I tend to have to go beyond what is in the rhymes because the boy remembers everything he spots, so I find new things for him to spy in the interest of keeping up the challenge--without becoming bored and/or permanently cross-eyed. The riddles are intriguing, but read over and over for days on end, and I find myself missing the element of STORY!

Now that he's letting up on the number of requests to have them read each day, I'm almost overwhelmed by the joyous prospect of sneaking them out of the house and back to the library at the first opportunity. No easy feat, as he seems to be able to smell a stack of books, no matter how well camouflaged, that are about to be returned.

And with that, I'm off to log on to our library system's website and put some new children's books on hold. Books with stories--stories!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Busy, busy, busy

Wow, Once Upon a Story is looking a little bit neglected these days. I've been preoccupied with a web design project (which I've been having a lot of fun with in spite of the fact that it eats into my "playtime" a bit). Anyway, posting may be sporadic for the next few days but I should be posting regularly again by the end of next week.

In the meantime, I've been feeding my 3-year-old son dinosaur books to keep up with his insatiable appetite for all things dinosaur... thanks to Kelly of Big A, little a for some great recommendations! I also caught up on Kate DiCamillo's books, having read Tiger Rising for the first time this past week. She is an amazingly versatile writer, all three books were wonderful and engaging. The Tale of Despereaux remains my favorite. In Harry Potter news, I finished Goblet of Fire (doing a series re-read in attempt to pick up clues about book seven) and am starting again on Order of the Pheonix. You know you're reading too much Harry Potter when you daydream about borrowing Hermione's Time-turner. And on that note, time to get back to my day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

This post is filled with misery and unhappiness, and I urge you not to read it

Here's some interesting news for Lemony Snicket fans:
Next month, Stephen King, Amy Tan, Lemony Snicket, Nora Roberts, Michael Chabon and 11 other best-selling writers will auction the right to name characters in their new novels. The profits will go to the First Amendment Project, whose lawyers have repeatedly gone to court to protect the free speech rights of activists, writers and artists.

Snicket, who will let the top bidder determine an utterance by Sunny Baudelaire in his upcoming 13th installment of his "Series of Unfortunate Events," said he holds the First Amendment dear because "the only trouble I should get in for my writing is the trouble I make myself."

His only caveat: The meaning of the utterance may be slightly "mutilated."

On saying goodbye

Cynthia Rylant's Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven are touching tributes to our furry companions, and wonderful selections for helping a child cope with the loss of a pet. Though these books tug at the heart strings, Rylant has a light touch and paints a beautiful picture that is as comforting as it is imaginative.

"When dogs go to Heaven, they don't need wings because God knows that dogs love running best. He gives them fields. Fields and fields and fields." But that's just the beginning of the adventures a dog will have in Dog Heaven. There are lakes filled with playful geese, angel children (because "God knows that dogs love children more than anything else in the world"), and dog biscuits in the shape of cats and squirrels. Heaven is not short on care or love, either. At night dogs sleep on fluffy cloud beds, where they are watched over--untouched by bad dreams. Dogs who once had homes remember the people who loved them, as Dog Heaven is "full of memories". Dogs who had no homes on earth are given homes in Dog Heaven furnished with couches to lie on, bowls with their names on them, and many reminders that they are good dogs. Rylant's descriptions are soothing, reassuring young readers that their beloved dog will be happy in Dog Heaven. After all, "It is where dogs belong, near God who made them."

Cat Heaven is written in beautiful, litlting rhyme. Similar to Dog Heaven, a cat's journey to heaven is a joyful and leisurely romp through fields full of butterflies to chase. When they arrive, a waiting angel gives them a bowl of milk. Cat Heaven is full to bursting with things a cat adores--trees, every imaginable kitty toy, and angel laps for napping.
"And when cats are hungry,
there's God's kitchen counter
all covered with
white kitty dishes,
full of tuna and salmon
and mounds of sardines,
and wonderful little pink fishes."

Cats are every bit as spoiled in heaven as they are on earth, being permitted to sleep on God's bed at night and wander with Him in the garden during the day. Cats never forget the people they loved, either.
"She will watch the old house
where she once lived and wandered,
and the people who loved her inside."

In the final lines of the book, Rylant leaves us with another lovely vision of feline contentment:
"All cats love Heaven,
they know the way there,
they know where the angel cats fly.
They'll run past the stars
and the moon and the sun... curl up with God in the sky."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Starting young

There was an article in the Orlando Sentinel today about a girl named Anna Johanson, a 14-year-old illustrator with two children's books to her credit (There's A Frog Trapped in the Bathroom and The Very Stubborn Centipede, both by Susan Snyder) and a third in progress. But get this: she started working on her first book when she was just 12!
This home-schooled 10th-grader from Deltona is imagining what it will be like in October to walk into any Borders Books & Music store across the nation and find her work on display, for sale. (...)

"Realizing that it would be in all those bookstores, I was like, 'Wow,' " said the teen, who also tap dances in her spare time, listens to alternative Christian music and plays with her orange cat, Moppet, and her terrier mix named Max. She draws inspiration for her art from Disney and from children's authors Shel Silverstein and Beatrix Potter.

Between her illustrating success and the fact that she's a homeschooler, I can't help but want to let out a whoop and a loud "YOU GO GIRL!" (But I will maintain dignity, as even my dog gives me a reproachful "Do you have to do that?" look when I get carried away.) I'm sure stories of those making a start in the publishing business remarkably young go back decades, but it seems I've read about several young authors/illustrators just in recent months. Pretty amazing. Children (and young adults) are capable of much more than they usually get credit for, and I suppose that's what makes them so irresistable to cheer along. I look forward to following Miss Johanson's progress in what I hope will be a long and successful career for her.

The Tapestry Cats

The Tapestry Cats, written by Ann Turnbull and illustrated by Carol Morley, is a near fairy tale (replete with Fairy Godmother) and one that I highly recommend. Ann Turnbull is a natural storyteller, and her descriptions are lovely to read aloud. A Publishers Weekly review says of the book:
One need not be ailurophilic to fancy this sprightly collaboration, which tells of a princess whose mother always decides what is best. The girl's resultant dull life, however, is magically enriched by the coming to life of two cats from the castle's beautiful tapestries. Turnbull has a sure, deft hand with description--one cat is ``as warm as honey and as heavy as sleep,'' the other ``as secret as moonlight and as quick as thought''--as well as a satisfying streak of mischief. Using cut paper, Morley creates unique visuals that are at once lush and playful, and that capture with energy and verve the characters' essential traits, from the liveliness of the princess to the bright-eyed inquisitiveness of her cats. The shape of the figures (tiny heads on large bodies, resembling old-fashioned clothespin dolls) and the fetchingly scattershot layout lend the proceedings a slightly surreal, highly stylized look. As if all this weren't enough, the tale ends with a low-key but rewarding moral: the queen begins to focus on what is best for the cats (salmon with fennel), and the princess learns to speak up for herself.

Here's another image from an inside page of the book. If you enjoy the artis's work in this book, take a peek at a few other images from her portfolio.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Story by Mark Sperring
Art by Alexandra Steele-Morgan

"One day, Marty's mom told him all about dinosaurs." Imagination peaked, Marty decides that a dinosaur would be an excellent playmate and makes up his mind that he's going to find one. Even though his mother tells him that they lived long ago and are now, unfortunately, extinct, Marty is sure they're just good at hiding. He sets out on a determined search in and around his house and uncovers elves, an alien, a sea monster, something-or-other and thing-a-ma-jig along with many other interesting creatures... but no dinosaurs. (Observant readers, however, may notice a few dinos-in-disguise throughout the book.) His mom gently tries again to convince him they don't exist, but his belief in real live modern-day dinos is unwavering. "I've changed my mind about dinosaurs being good at hiding," Marty said finally, "They're GREAT at it!" In the final pages, readers see Marty gazing out his window, unaware of the presensce of several dinosaurs camoflauged in nighttime shadows against the trees, and taking the shapes of clouds and constellations, among things.

Find-a-Saurus is fun, imaginative, and thoughtful. Parents will appreciate Marty's determination in believing the unbelievable with enthusiasm and pure faith that comes with childhood; Children will appreciate being rewarded with proof that Marty was right, and dinosaurs do indeed exist. Fear is also addressed, but more subtly (and maybe I'm just seeing this through the eyes of my own past childhood). Marty discovers creatures in the very places that children would most worry that a something-or-other might be lurking--in the closet, under the bed, in the attic. But there is such a humorous take on every creature he comes across (a monster making a silly face from under the bed, for example) that Marty is unconcerned by any of the potentially frightening discoveries, and children are sure to find the expedition hilarious.

The illustrations compliment the story wonderfully. The artwork is rich in color and energy, and the composition of each page interesting enough that even younger children will want to linger and notice the subtle details of the book.

is another great read for any young dinosaur enthusiast, although certainly not limited to children who love a good dinosaur tale. We have borrowed this book from the library frequently enough that I'm sure my son will find his own copy among birthday or Christmas presents this year. (Shh, don't tell.) We both recommend it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Back to school reading

The Houston Chronicle suggests some new back to school titles for preschoolers & up:
Mr. Monkey's Classroom ($14.99), by Jiwon Oh. Older schoolmate Cat helps Mouse get ready for his first day of class. School is a bit scary, but Mouse makes it through the day — and the lunch line.

School ($15.99), by Emily Arnold McCully. Bitty, the little mouse who also starred in First Snow and Picnic, follows her brothers and sisters to school.

Brand-new Pencils, Brand-new Books($15.99), by Diane deGroat. The opossum with glasses begins the first-grade in this prequel to the Gilbert series.

Bunny School ($15.99), Rick Walton, illustrated by Paige Miglio. Bunnies go through a day at school, with show-and-tell, music time, recess, lunch and a field trip.

In Kindergarten Rocks (Harcourt, $15) by Katie Davis, a boy with going-to-kindergarten jitters learns about school from his sister — a third-grader.

Jan Ormerod, author of I Am Not Going to School Today!, lets youngsters see a school day through the eyes of an elephant. When an Elephant Comes to School (Scholastic, $16.95) suggests an elephant new to the class may be a bit shy and will welcome a friend to point out important things such as where lunch boxes are stored and how to find the restroom.

Slippers the puppy stows away in Laura's backpack for Slippers at School (Dutton, $12.99), by Andrew Clements with illustrations by Janie Bynum. The teachers and students spot Slippers, but he slips away and makes his way back to Laura.

P.S. Kelly from Big A, little a has posted links to several back to school reading lists. Check them out!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Christopher Gunson

My son got out an old issue of Babybug magazine today, and one of the little poems we read was accompanied by such eye-catchingly wild and colorful illustrations that I had to get the magazine back out after I put him down for bed to goggle at them. I mean, Google them... I Googled the illustrator. Anyway, my search turned up some really cute prints of pigs, a tiger, and frogs at, which I would buy in a heartbeat for our boring walls. I don't think my husband would have quite the same appreciation for a home decorated soley in children's book art, however, which is probably the only thing holding me back.

This roly poly cat is from an Amazon poster that doesn't look to be available any longer but it sure is cute! Maybe I'll scan and post one of the images from Babybug (can I do that?) tomorrow, because the poem we read took up three pages of the issue and was all about a kitten. An even cuter kitten.

Christopher Gunson has written and illustrated two books, Over the Farm and Little Frog. I haven't read either, but I love the sheep on the cover of the farm book; they remind me of fluffy clouds. I have a soft spot in my heart for little sheep though. When I was very young my family lived on a farm, and I had a good friend in a lamb that I named Frisky. He'd go galloping across one side of his stall, then galloping back across the other side, then he'd plop down in my lap. This was even funnier because he was lame and only three of his legs worked properly, so he put on this show with something between a skip and a hobble. It was almost like he knew it was hilarious to watch and went dancing around on purpose, just to ham it up. Heaven for a young animal lover. Yeah, I know, I'm kind of weaving in and out of relevance for this post.

Booklist says this in their review of Over the Farm:

The popular "Over in the Meadow" folk rhyme gets a farm setting in this lively picture book that will draw very young children into counting the animals and joining in their actions. From the clever mother cat who stretches with her little cat one, to the kind mother pig who snuggles with her little piggies ten, the double-page, brightly colored paintings show the blissful animal families leaping, hopping, rustling, blinking, scratching, and flapping in the sun.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Author Tracker

I just stumbled across a website called Author Tracker. Heard of it? You can find your favorite authors and sign up to have email notifications sent to you when they have a new book ready to hit the shelves. Author Tracker is searchable by author/illustrator name, book title, or subject, and they have an entire section devoted to children's books.

The only downside is that it's not entirely author-comprehensive, but limited to authors who are published with Harper Collins. Still, there are lots of familiar names to choose from, including Meg Cabot, Beverly Cleary, Kevin Henkes, Jean Craighead George, Shel Silverstein, Arnold & Anita Lobel, Patricia MacLachlan, Jack Prelutsky, Maurice Sendak, etc.

Now, I'm not sure how helpful the email alerts will really be (what I was looking for was something more comprehensive about future releases in children's books) but I may sign up for a couple and see if it's worthwhile. Just thought I'd pass along the link in the meantime.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

I'm finally getting around to posting a few thoughts on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which Mr. Husband and I finished last week.

The following contains spoilers for the book. (I've hidden the spoiler portion for those who haven't finished the book yet.)

So! Half-Blood Prince.

Wow, let me just say that I wasn't disappointed. I'm amazed at how tight the series has been. Ms. Rowling has maintained a strong focus of plot and matured her characters beautifully, all the while keeping the reader entertained. It was another great read.

Not surprisingly, there are still many unanswered questions, particularly regarding Dumbledore and the events surrounding his death. Was Dumbledore really wrong about Snape? Was Snape’s confession of and remorse for relaying the overheard prophecy to Voldemort, which resulted in the death of Harry’s parents, really the "iron-clad" reason Dumbledore had for trusting Snape--or was that just Harry’s assumption? And if Dumbledore was right about Snape, how will Snape's position with Voldemort benefit anybody now that the entire Order of the Phoenix knowns him as Dumbledore's murderer? Who is R.A.B, and did he succeed in destroying that horcrux? (Maybe Regulus Black, Sirius’s brother?)

Dumbledore's death was sad and disturbing, although not a surprise (by that point in the book). As Mr. Husband and I read, Dumbledore’s increased presence throughout seemed to me an ominous foreshadowing. He spent the entire year equipping Harry with information he'd need to defeat Voldemort alone. And now, as far as Voldemort is concerned, his greatest living enemy is Harry Potter. Dumbledore, the only wizard Voldemort ever feared, is out of the way. And in Dumbledore's own words in a conversation with Harry about certain theories Dumbledore held (p. 197):
"Naturally I do [think I'm right], but as I have already proven to you, I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being--forgive me--rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger."

The day Half Blood Prince was released, Rowling gave an interview to two individuals who run Harry Potter fansites. Three pages of Q&A proved to be an interesting read, shedding more light on book six and dropping subtle hints about book seven. One of the interviewers asked Ms. Rowling was how someone as intelligent as Dumbledore be so blind in regard to certain things. Her answer:

"Well, there is information on that to come, in seven. But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in books five and six that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal, where is his confidante, where is his partner? He has none of those things. He’s always the one who gives, he’s always the one who has the insight and has the knowledge. So I think that, while I ask the reader to accept that McGonagall is a very worthy second in command, she is not an equal. You have a slightly circuitous answer, but I can't get much closer than that."

I’m having a difficult time believing that Dumbledore was really wrong in assessing Snape's character, although I will admit that it's a bit of a tug-of-war. To have someone as wise as Dumbledore misjudge evil so badly would be devastating; BUT, like Harry, I’m inclined to want an even greater reason to despise the already loathesome Snape.

So in summary, I don't have any serious theories about what will happen in book 7, just a lot of fluff and vague questions. I suppose that's a credit to J.K. Rowling and her flair for keeping her readers guessing. In the meantime, I've spent the last two days re-reading books 1 & 2. I'm hoping that going through the whole series again will give me clues that I might have overlooked the first time around. Of course, I get so caught up in the books I sort of forget to take mental notes. Hrmpf!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Quills Awards

Check it out!
J.K. Rowling, Bob Dylan and Stephen King are among the nominees for the first annual Quills Awards, a glitzy literary affair for which the general public will cast the ballots.

(...) the Quills Awards consist of 19 categories, from sports to debut fiction, with five finalists for each.

Winners will be announced at an Oct. 11 ceremony hosted by NBC anchor Brian Williams, to be aired Oct. 22.

"This is the first consumer-driven awards program that acknowledges the power and importance of the written word and celebrates literacy," Jay Ireland, president of NBC Universal Television Stations, said Thursday in a statement.

From Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, the public can vote online at The prize will be promoted at bookstores and on NBC Universal stations.

There are some great nominations (Harry Potter! Knuffle Bunny!) I'll have to track down some of the titles I'm not familiar with in the next couple of weeks to see what they're like. The categories/nominations for children's books:

Children's Illustrated Book
- America the Beautiful: A Pop-Up Book, Robert Sabuda
- Egyptology: Search for the Tomb of Osiris, Nick Harris, Ian Andrew (Illustrator), Helen Ward (Illustrator)
- Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Mo Willems
- Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook, Shel Silverstein
- Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth

Children's Chapter Book/Middle Grade
- Dragon Rider, Cornelia Funke, Anthea Bell (translator)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)
- Ida B...and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Katherine Hannigan
- Peter and the Starcatchers, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
- A Series of Unfortunate Events Book the Eleventh: The Grim Grotto, Lemony Snicket, Brett Helquist (Illustrator)

Young Adult/Teen
- 47, Walter Mosley
- Abarat: Days of Magic Nights of War, Clive Barker
- Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, Ann Brashares
- How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
- Wormwood, G. P. Taylor

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs

Here's an article about a new book for young dinosaur enthusiasts: Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs, a pop-up dino book.
This book more than lives up to its rather grandiose subtitle as "The Definitive Pop-Up." That's right, a pop-up encyclopedia. It's an unusual combination of education and entertainment that offers a ton of clear information about dinosaurs along with detailed pop-ups of 35 -- yes, 35! -- different types of dinosaurs.

Open one of the book's six main two-page spreads and you'll suddenly see a mean-looking ankylosaurus pop up, ready to fight for food. Open another spread and a terrifying, sharp-toothed T. rex unfurls, looking awfully hungry. Each of these dinosaurs, like those featured in the other four main spreads, is surrounded by two or three small "books" of facts that readers can open to find more tiny pop-up dinosaurs.

The book is the creation of Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. (...) For both men, creating "Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs" was a labor of love, a chance to build on the fascination with dinosaurs that each has harbored since childhood.

The article adds that the creators are already working on the 2nd Encyclopedia Prehistorica book, the topic of which will be sharks and sea monsters. The third book planned for the series will focus on "ancient mammals like woolly mammoths."

We saw Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs on our last trip to the local Books-A-Million, and when our 3-year-old laid eyes on it he immediately begged to take it home. The pop-ups really are incredible, by far the most intricate pop-up book I've seen. The dinosaurs really jump out at you... in more than one way.

Note: link to location to full version of first image; article source from second image.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Daisy books

We love Daisy, the little yellow duck who is constantly forgetting herself and wandering away to play and explore. Jane Simmons, author and illustrator of the series, has done a beautiful job creating the world of this lovable little duckling, and capturing an innocence that endears Daisy to children and adults alike. Daisy's eager curiosity about the things around her sometimes get her into trouble, but who can blame her for wanting to chase butterflies (flutter, flutter) and frogs (bong, plop!) instead of keeping close to Mama Duck or going to bed? Simmons' illustrations are soft and full of color, and there is a simplicity to them that I adore. It's not that they are lacking in detail, but somehow even with the rich hues, the birds, bugs, and other critters that populate her stories, Daisy's energy and big feet take center stage.

On our most recent trip to the library, we borrowed Quack, Daisy, QUACK! in which Daisy and her little brother Pip spend the day with their mom visiting Aunt Lily. After scaring off everything fun to play with in their noisy exuberance, their Aunt decides to treat them to "a perfect place for being noisy." To Daisy and Pip's delight, it IS noisy, a whole pond full of ducks noisy. The two little ducks are encourgaed to make lots of noise and are rewarded with... bread! In all of the commotion, though, Daisy and Pip get separated from Mama Duck and Aunt Lily, and Pip pleads with Daisy to quack, which she eventually does with such gusto all of the ducks fall silent and she and Pip are reunited with Mama. We frequent a duck pond at a nearby park, and my son was delighted by this duck's perspective story starring his favorite little duck with big feet.

Oh, and if you have or know a little one who loves puzzles, snatch up a copy of Bouncy, Bouncy, Daisy while they're on clearance ($3.99) at Barnes & Noble. The story is a sort of combination of other Daisy books, but on each page there is a simple 4-piece puzzle built in. My son loves his.

Here's a list of other Daisy titles.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

More Kate DiCamillo news

It appears as though The Tale of Despereaux will be hitting the big screen, making this Kate DiCamillo's second book to be turned into a movie. (Third, counting her forthcoming novel--to be published in 2006--The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which will also be making the book-to-screen transition.) There aren't any details yet about the film, except that it is slated for release sometime in 2006. Despereaux is such an unusual book, I'm curious to see how well it will work in movie form.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie trailer

Haven't seen the trailer for the next Harry Potter movie? Go here to choose a high/med or low resolution to view. Great trailer that shows how much the kids have grown up over the course of the four movies, a bit of the showdown between the Triwizard Tournament contestants, plus a look at Harry's battle with the dragon--spectacular special effects. Mugglenet also has some behind-the-scene video footage to download here.

Personally, I can't wait to see what this movie will look like as book four has been my favorite so far.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Nap in a Lap

I picked up Nap in a Lap (written by Sarah Wilson and illustrated by Akemi Gutierrez) for my son's 2nd birthday. It quickly became a favorite read for both of us, and was perfect for settling my son down for his own nap. (He's 3 1/2 now and still loves it.)

"It's easy to nap tucked into a flap," the story begins. Using her imagination and a menagerie of plush toys, a little girl discovers the different places baby animals curl up for their naps. Accompanied by her puppy pal, she finds nappers "cradled in snow," "snoozled in sand dunes," and "hugged in a tree," just to name a few. In the end, the little girl and her pooch find the naptime spots that are just right for each of them.

The story is told in a lyrical rhyme that is fun to read aloud. Wilson makes clever use of sweet, comforting words such as snugged, cuddled, and cozied to describe the ways the animal youngsters are held while they rest with their mothers and fathers. Perfect naptime verse. Gutierrez' gouache illustrations are both colorful and soothing, not to mention adorable.

Speaking of Akemi Gutierrez, her latest book The Mummy And Other Adventures Of Sam & Alice was just released July 25th (2005). It's the first book she has both written and illustrated.

Harry Potter lithographs by Mary GrandPre

Limited edition Harry Potter art is up for sale at Storyopolis. There are seven pieces total. If you like Mary GrandPre's cover art for the Harry Potter series (United States version), you should take a peek at these. Her artwork is stunning, and I think her soft, colorful, and somewhat surreal style compliments Harry Potter perfectly. This one is from the Prizoner of Azkaban, I believe. Rescue of Sirius:

Mr. Husband and I are down to the final three chapters of book six. I don't know whether I'm more excited about finding out how this one ends, or sad that we're almost done and will have another long wait before book seven is released. And the last in the series, at that--boohoo!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Embarrassing Episode of Little Miss Muffet

This hilarious poem comes from a big blue book of poetry that became part of the family collection when I was a little girl. I'm not sure what the title of the anthology was, but it was probably my favorite book growing up. I remember tucking away with it and memorizing several of the shorter, sillier, and stranger poems it contained. But this poem in particular is one of my favorites, and easily the best version of Little Miss Muffet ever written. EVER.

The Embarrassing Episode of Little Miss Muffet
Guy Wetmore Carryl

Little Miss Muffet discovered a tuffet,
(Which never occurred to the rest of us)
And, as 'twas a June day, and just about noonday,
She wanted to eat--like the best of us:
Her diet was whey, and I hasten to say
It is wholesome and people grow fat on it.
The spot being lonely, the lady not only
Discovered the tuffet, but sat on it.

A rivulet gabbled beside her and babbled,
As rivulets always are thought to do,
And dragon flies sported around and cavorted,
As poets say dragon flies ought to do;
When, glancing aside for a moment, she spied
A horrible sight that brought fear to her,
A hideous spider was sitting beside her,
And most unavoidably near to her!

Albeit unsightly, this creature politely Said:
"Madam, I earnestly vow to you,
I'm penitent that I did not bring my hat.
I Should otherwise certainly bow to you."
Thought anxious to please, he was so ill at ease
That he lost all his sense of propriety,
And grew so inept that he clumsily stept
In her plate--which is barred in Society.

This curious error completed her terror;
She shuddered, and growing much paler, not
Only left tuffet, but dealt him a buffet
Which doubled him up in a sailor knot.
It should be explained that at this he was pained:
He cried: "I have vexed you, no doubt of it!
Your fists's like a truncheon." "You're still in my luncheon,"
Was all that she answered. "Get out of it!"

And the Moral is this: Be it madam or miss
To whom you have something to say,
You are only absurd when you get in the curd
But you're rude when you get in the whey.

Incidentally, Guy Wetmore Carryl was an American poet who lived from 1872-1903. Read more of his poetry here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mercy Watson

Ooo! The first book in a new series written by Kate Dicamillo and illustrated by Chris VanDusen will be released August 23rd (2005).

A Publisher's Weekly review via Barnes & Noble has this to say about the first of the books, Mercy Watson to the Rescue:

"Newbery Medalist DiCamillo (The Tale of Despereaux) once again displays her versatility with this jaunty debut to an early chapter-book series. The tale stars Mercy, a pig with personality a-plenty-and a penchant for "hot toast with a great deal of butter on it." When Mr. and Mrs. Watson tuck Mercy into bed at night and switch off the light, their pet no longer feels "warm and buttery-toasty inside" and decides "she would be much happier if she wasn't sleeping alone." So she climbs into the Watsons' bed and dreams of hot buttered toast, until the overloaded bed begins to fall through the floor. Mercy's obsession prompts her to hop off the bed-her devoted owners convinced that she's gone to summon the fire department. Alas, the peckish porcine's single-minded pursuit leads her to the kind next-door neighbor and ultimately does prompt a call to the fire department-but not before a series of comical twists [...]"

I read The Tale of Despereaux a few months ago and fell head over heels in love with the book just a few pages in, so I'm looking forward to meeting DiCamillo's first character targeted for a younger audience. I'm loving the cover illustration, too. (Head over to for a little preview of Chapter One, plus the first illustration that goes with it.)