Monday, June 27, 2011


Hi, readers!  It seems that we've had evenings filled with thunderstorms with very few exceptions.  And in trying to make the moments a fun-filled, memorable time instead of a fearful time of skirting thunder and lightning, I found these two reads that the kids have enjoyed. 

In Waiting Out the Storm (c. 2010), author JoAnn Early Macken cleverly captures the dialogue between mother and child.  She faithfully represents the uncertainty of the child experiencing the approaching storm as well as a mother's tender responses to quell her child's alarm:
They burst from the cloud,
skipping and leaping and laughing out loud.
They spin and they tumble.  They bounce on the breeze.
They dance to the tune of the wind in the trees.
Susan Gaber's beautiful illustrations further illuminate the peacefulness a storm can bring.  This is by far our favorite "storm" book due to Macken's reassuring text and Gaber's comforting illustrations.

Margaret Bloy Graham's illustrations make The Storm Book (c.1952) by Charlotte Zolotow worth checking out.  Graham received a Caldecott Honor for her panoramic illustrations.  The publishers uniquely presented the story by placing the text alone on each spread, and then by placing the follow-up picture.  At first I didn't know what to think of the presentation.  However, I grew to like the perspective of allowing our imaginations to run wild with Zolotow's text before seeing the motion in Graham's illustrations.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Noah's Ark

 It's that time of year - the kids stand at the windows, salivating at the sight of all those glorious puddles, anticipation etched on their faces and rain boots (i.e. galoshes, wellies, gumboots) lined by the door.

Peter Spier's Caldecott Medal winning Noah's Ark (c. 1977) seemed an appropriate picture book under the circumstances.  When you think of Noah's Ark, do you think of the classic childhood toy where the animals march into the ark two-by-two in a nicely double-file line?  I did.  Peter Spier (quoted by Doubleday as one of the "most gifted illustrators in this country") presents quite another image ~ a realistic portrayal of what must have happened.  Spier persuades with images, powerfully telling this story with intricately detailed illustrations rather than words.  His illustrations left me saying to the Mister, "I bet Noah and his wife were sooooooooo ready to get off that ark!"  Oh how I love Spier's humor!  There's a picture of Noah fishing after the rain lets up that give new meaning to the phrase: "I'm just going out for a while."  And then there's the descent from the ark . . . ALL those rabbits!

Needless to say, I highly recommend revisiting Noah's Ark through Peter Spier's perspective.  Spier captures the enormity of the task from building the ark to life at sea, shedding further appreciation onto that very first covenant rainbow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

When I was Young in the Mountains

If you've been reading my blog for long, you'll notice that I'm a fan for Appalachian stories, a region abounding in music, story telling, and tall tales.  Once again Rylant's lovely lyrical writing suggests a broader story than what's told.  Friends, here's a perfect example of exemplary writing complimented by stylistic illustration.  Writer Cynthia Rylant first teamed up with illustrator Diane Goode with their book entitled When I was Young in the Mountains (c.1982).  Rylant based her story on her own childhood experiences of growing up in Appalachian Mountains.  Her unsentimental account whispers a tenderness of a simpler way of life, a life independent of electricity and indoor plumbing and rich in family and friendship.  The kids found it fascinating!

Another collaboration by both author and illustrator:
Christmas in the Country 
Other books by author:
In November
Other books by illustrator:
Thanksgiving is Here!
The Most Perfect Spot

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Cow who Fell in the Canal

We visited the used bookstore last week.   You know, you've gotta start summer off on the right foot.  So when I ran across this book illustrated by Peter Spier, I had to grab it.  You just can't go wrong with Peter Spier!  He's one of our top ten illustrators. 

. . . and when we got home, the kids went wild.  They're presently arguing about who will get to keep this book in their room.  No joke!

What we have in The Cow who Fell in the Canal (c. 1957) is a charming story set in the countryside of Holland.  Phyllis Krasilovsky tells the story of Hendrika the cow, who although she loves her owner Mr. Hofstra, she longs to visit the city where Mr. Hofstra sells her milk at the market.  If Krasilovsky's text isn't humorous enough, Spier's intricate illustrations lend further description.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mr. Gumpy's Outing

I don't know if you've noticed, but I've been raiding my mother's bookshelves again.  I just love the stories I grew up hearing read.  What's even better is passing them down to my children.

Today I'm going to keep it short and sweet.  Read Mr. Gumpy's Outing (c. 1970) written and illustrated by John Burningham.

Mr. Gumpy is not to be confused with Mr. Grumpy!

It's a rollicking good time!
It's endearing.
The kids love it!!!
It's a great way to teach sequencing skills.
It's available in our local library.
So check it out, and read it again and again!
Need I point out how wonderful the pictures are?!

Interesting fact: John Burningham is married to the award-winning children's books illustrator Helen Oxenbury (stay tuned for more to come by her).

Mr. Gumpy's Motor Car (c. 1973) is a fun follow-up to Mr. Gumpy's Outing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Fire Cat

Don't you just love stories where a naughty protagonist is taken in by a loving individual who nutures the little tyke with care and sound discernment.  That's just the story Esther Averill presents in The Fire Cat (c. 1960).  Averill weaves together a beautiful story of second chances, adoption, and dreams fulfilled.

Her three chapters of pure delight resonates among children and the child within.  Poor Pickles the cat is so aptly named for he's always getting himself into a pickle.  And who could resist a rescuing character named Mrs. Goodkind?  The rescuing theme continues throughout the book with the firemen and with . . . well, I can't give anything away, can I? 

A story beloved by many generations, The Fire Cat remains one of those books that evokes warmth and security by a mere glance of the cover.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Front cover

Summers tend to leave ample time for mischief.  And every child has been cross, naughty, and given his/her parents an unfavorable day . . . to say the very least.  When that happens, read Alexander (c. 1964) by Harold Littledale and illustrated by Tom Vroman.  Both author and illustrator provide a classic story where a little boy named Chris contritely recounts his day:

First spread
Unfortunately, and disgracefully, Alexander is currently out of print, which is a mystery to me as it remains quite a beloved book by several generations.  If you happen to run across it at a thrift store, consignment shop, garage sale, etc., be sure to snatch it up!  If you already have a copy, it makes a wonderful vintage gift.  Here let me share with you a few more pictures, just so you'll know what to look for:

When we went to the park Alexander wouldn't play with the others.  He got scared and ran and hid behind the slide.  Mommy said she was surprised at a big grown-up horse acting like that . . .

And he jumped and jumped all over the living-room couch even when Mommy asked him not to . . .

As you can see, the illustrations are fabulous!

Back cover

Do you remember Alexander from your youth?

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Seashore Book

Let's pretend . . . It is early morning at the seashore and it's hard to tell where the sea stops and the sky begins.  They are the same smoky gray until the mist shifts from gray to dark white, from dark white to pale purple, from pale purple to hazy blue, and then suddenly, the sun breaks through!

So begins the brilliantly descriptive narrative of a mother relating to her son what the "seashore is like."  The Seashore Book (c. 1992) reflects Charlotte Zolotow at her best, describing the shore in what Publisher's Weekly terms "tactile, vivid and musical images."  Zolotow's descriptions paint such detailed pictures that leave a day at the beach imprinted on your imagination long after the the book is closed.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

We Were Tired of Living in a House

Original, Doris Burn's illustrated cover

In my personal opinion, it's a tragedy and outrage that the Doris Burn's illustrated edition of We Were Tired of Living in a House (c. 1969) hasn't been republished!  Here Liesel Moak Skorpen crafted a clever story:
                     We were tired of living in a house.
                     So we packed a bag with
                     sweaters and socks and scarves
                     and mittens and woolen caps.

title pages

But what has made this story so positively, absolutely delightful are the charming and imaginative illustrations of Doris Burn.  Yes, yes, yes there's a 1999 reprint illustrated by Joe Cepeda.  But I ask you: why improve upon perfection?!  It completely eludes me as to why it would be an option.  Just look at these illustrations:

We liked our tree . . .

We liked our pond . . .

Burns makes living in a tree or on a pond or near a cave or by the sea look so appealing that I was ready to pack my own bags (the tree bit is my personal favorite)!  Either way, and I'll submit to either edition, this is a summer must read, for in the end it's another wonderful story reiterating the time proven fact that there's no place like home.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Do you know what book we read for the first time this week?  Jumanji.  But even more amazing was listening to it read on tape/CD!  Call me slow, but when I put the tape in I thought, "Hmmm, how many actors did they get for this reading?  Typically they only hire one person." Then as the story continued, I recognized Robin Williams' notorious voice.  Sure enough, his "reading," or rather vocal performance, defined at least six different characters.  Robin Williams brought to life this dynamic safari of a story, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg (c. 1981).  I highly recommend checking out both book and tape/CD from your local library, especially if you're seeking to stave off summer boredom.  I assure you, your home will be transformed into a jungle with just a turn of a page.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Wave by Suzy Lee (c. 2008) gives credibility to the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words."  In this case, a wordless book of 40 pages presents no need for words.  I could say a lot about how wonderful I think this book is.  However, sometimes silence speaks volumes, as my children give testimony to in the way they silently pour over the pages of Suzy Lee's masterpiece.  To further convince you, I debated about including more illustrations from Wave but came to the conclusion that it's best experienced in its panorama whole.  In closing, as the publisher so aptly articulates, step into these deceptively simple pages for a day at the sea--and a joyful story that begins and ends with a wave.