I’ve had Dr. Seuss on the brain of late (like the rest of the kidlit and elementary school world, I suppose). When most people think of the good doctor-ish doctor, they think about his mastery of rhyme and meter and his scrumptastic made-up words.
And yes, yes, yes, I love all that (especially the spooky pale green pants with nobody inside ’em), but it is, perhaps, easy to forget that Master Seuss was also a master storyteller.
So today I offer you THE 500 HATS OF BARTHOLOMEW CUBBINS. It’s got a perfect story arc, great characters that evoke strong emotions, and lots of beautiful, symbolic pairings (the view up and the view down the valley, for example).
This is one of my favorites by Dr. Seuss and this is the actual tattered cover of the copy I’ve had for nearly forty years. Pages are starting to fall out and I guess I’ll have to replace it but as the kids and I were reading it last night, I thought:
You can look high and low,
You can look far and near,
But the book that you want,
Is this one right here!
This weekend, my husband and I attended our kids’ school auction, which was a Dr. Seuss themed extravaganza. Here’s a peek at my whimsical, Seussical attire. Too bad it’s hard to make out that I chalked my hair pink. I’m sure Dr. S would’ve approved.
I am lucky enough to live in Portland, Oregon, home of Powell’s City of Books and many other independent bookstores including one of my favorites–A Children’s Place.
Independent bookstores are more than a place to buy books. They are places of knowledge.
For years, I had been looking for a beloved book from my childhood. I couldn’t remember the title so when I went into A Children’s Place and asked Kira P. for “this wonderful book about a hedgehog who has plants grow on him” I was not that hopeful.
But I browsed and a few minutes later Kira asked if the book I was looking for was Miss Jaster’s Garden by N.M. Bodecker. Yes! Oh, yes! That’s the book I wanted with little Hedgie, the flowerhog, and piano-playing Miss Jaster.
Neither Google nor Amazon could bring Hedgie back to me. Hedgehog is NOT in the title making key word searching very difficult. I needed Kira and her expertise. My independent bookseller is smarter than the internet. So there!
Perfectly gorgeous and scientifically accurate illustrations of birds around the world.
I don’t even know if this lovely book by Helen Ward is still in print, but it should be.
Find it! Buy it! Read it! Love it!
Need I say more?
Marian called it Roxaboxen. (She always knew the name of everything.) There across the road, it looked like any rocky hill — nothing but sand and rocks, some old wooden boxes, cactus and greasewood and thorny ocotillo — but it was a special place.
If you don’t know this book, you should. It’s one of those perfect picture books that I never tire of reading. Each time, I fall in love all over again. My emotions rise and sometimes tears too because the words and pictures evoke my own childhood wandering in imaginary territory.
My cousins and I built Fort Lava amid the sagebrush and junipers of Central Oregon. We dodged the horses in the field to get there. We stole vitamin C from the huge canister in the pantry in the ranch house for snacks. My middle cousin crunched on Meow Mix and told the rest of us it wasn’t bad at all.
Roxaboxen is a peon to our past worlds, and I want to go back again and again. What a contrast to books that satisfy once but don’t beg me to return — like I Want My Hat Back, which is both deft and funny but once the surprise is sprung there’s no need to read again — or the books that get annoying on repetition–like Skippy Jon Jones, who will drive me insane one day.
Unlike those books, once is never enough for Roxaboxen.
It’s Caldecott season. Chris Raschka won the medal for A BALL FOR DAISY. I loved his acceptance speech in the most recent Horn Book. Actually, the awards issue of that mag is my favorite one because you get an inside peek into the minds of incredibly creative people AND the super talented (also creative) people that helped them make the book happen. It’s a great reminder of how diverse the creative process is and how many hands/minds/hearts it takes to make a great book.
All this Caldecott talk made me think of one of my favorites: MIRETTE ON THE HIGH WIRE by Emily Arnold McCully. It’s one of those books that I never get tired of reading. And every time I read it, such emotion rises in me that I stumble over the words. The beauty and depth of the feeling behind those words catch in my throat. I want to “be” in those stunning paintings with my feet on the wire, walking through space, reaching out a hand to pull another through.
You’ll be glad you did.
Jam on biscuits, jam on toast,
Jam is the thing that I like most.
Jam is sticky, jam is sweet,
Jam is tasty, jam’s a treat–
Raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry, I’m very
FOND… OF… JAM!
From BREAD AND JAM FOR FRANCES by Russell Hoban
I’m home sick today, eating jam and toast and drinking tea and thinking how very, very much I love Frances. I especially love that she’s a badger. Don’t see enough badgers in kid lit these days! Lots of bears and rabbits and pigeons but a dearth of badgers who jump rope. Alas!
I love nonfiction!
Here’s a book you won’t want to miss. Not just a book about smallness, it’s a big story of a remarkable man, who happened to be small. He also happened to make a hell of a good thing out of a less than rosy set of circumstances. Thanks, to George Sullivan, for telling the story of Tom Thumb: A Man in Miniature with skill and respect.
If you want to read a killer review/analysis of the book, check out the blog of the divine nonfiction writer, Laurie Thompson.
If you don’t know the work of Timothy Basil Ering, you should. I would buy anything he’s worked on. My love of Frog Belly Rat Bone is profound! So that said, even if the reviews of Snook Alone hadn’t been spectacular, I would have bought it.
And this book… ah… it sings, it philosophizes, it scrabbles in the sand, it sniffs it’s own butt. And I love all of it. I could not pick favorite bit, but listen to this:
Snook curled in the farthest corner
and watched all night.
In the silence, he listened.
The wind was his breathing.
The waves were his breath.
This delightful, picture book biography is up for an Oregon Book Award tonight. I’ll be in the audience clapping loudly for Barbara Kerley.
As a nonfiction writer myself, it has been gratifying to watch picture book biographies and history come into their own. Writers are pushing the form to greater excellence by using innovative formats and many of the techniques of fiction: scenes, voice, character, story arc, etc.
Interestingly, science books for kids have not innovated in the same way (with the exception of scientist profiles). I think it’s the next frontier and I plan to be there!
Recently I gave my agent a manuscript about extinction biology that melds a graphic novel format with more traditional nonfiction. I can’t wait to see what he says!
On Saturday, I’ll be telling this story during Havdalah services. I’ve modified it to make it work as a more active story-telling experience. I must say that I love this book. It’s a perfect way to get into the mood for Pesach!