Friday, May 07, 2010

Children's Picture Books That I Like

KUOW’s morning show "Weekday" had Nancy Pearl talking about children’s books and picture books (http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=20160) yesterday (5/6/2010). I didn’t start listening in time to call in and talk about my favorite children’s books so I will share them here. I’ve read a lot of books to both Duncan and Calvin and some of them I’ve read so many times I almost have them memorized. Some of these books are out of print but if you want a real treat, find and buy them anyway.

I’d like to focus on the stories that are a little off the beaten path but I can’t write about great children’s books without commenting on Seuss and Sendak. Dr. Seuss is the titan of children’s literature and no library is complete without as much as possible of this work. We liked the cat books and Green Eggs and Ham and several others; they’re great, he’s great, buy them all. And who doesn’t like “Where the Wild Things Are?” I’ve read that book so many times I almost have it memorized. Let’s face it; you liked it, I liked it, Spoke Jonze liked it and every kid I’ve ever talked to liked it.

Art Spiegelman, who won a Pulitzer prize for "Maus" wrote a children's book that is one of the best I've ever come across. "Open Me, I’m a Dog" ( http://www.amazon.com/Open-Me-Im-Dog-Art-Spiegelman/dp/0060273208 ) tells the story of a dog that goes through a lot before being turned into this book. The book even comes with a leash so you can take it for a walk. The unwritten story of the book is that its target audience is children who can't (for whatever reason) have a dog. We didn't care. We have a dog and still love the book.

A friend gave us "Slombo the Gross" by Rodney Alan Greenblat ( http://www.whimsyload.com/media.html ) when Duncan was little and we've read the book almost to destruction. Slombo is an often misunderstood nice guy who happens to likes being gross and dirty (a big hit with most kids). When a skunk invasion and a swamp beast threaten the town he lives in, Slombo jumps into action.

Alice and Greta by Steven J Simmons and Cyd Moore ( http://www.amazon.com/Alice-Greta-Tale-Two-Witches/dp/0881069744 ) has one of the most subtle stories with the best lesson of any book I've read - "Whatever you chant, whatever you brew, sooner or later comes back to you." The moral is illustrated by the story of two young witches; Alice who is nice and always helpful, and Greta her stinker of a classmate who has to learn the hard way about these life lessons. And with a story that involves a million marshmallows, how can they go wrong.

Edward Fudwupper Fibbed Big by Berkeley Breathed ( http://www.amazon.com/Edwurd-Fudwupper-Fibbed-Berkeley-Breathed/dp/0316106755 ) . To people of my generation Mr. Breathed is best known for the comic strip Bloom County and the neurotic penguin named Opus. Breathed brings his special brand of humor to the story of Edward and his sister Fannie and the fib that gets way out of control (and we're not talking about convincing Mabel Dill that she's been elected Queen of Brazil - but he did that too).

There's a guy named John Scieszka (don't ask me how to say his last name) who worked with an artist named Daniel Adel on the first book and Lane Smith on the next two picture books I'm going to talk about. Both Duncan and Calvin "forced" me to read his books to them over and over and over. I know for a fact I can recite the entire text of "The Book That Jack Wrote" ( http://www.amazon.com/Book-that-Jack-Wrote/dp/067084330X ) from memory. It gives a sideways take on the "House that Jack Built" story in fusion with just about every Mother Goose rhyme. In "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs" ( http://www.amazon.com/True-Story-Three-Little-Pigs/dp/0140544518/ ) John and Lane tell this story from the wolf's point of view. With lines like, "If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were Big and Bad, too." this book is subversive in all the best ways. And finally, the book "The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales" ( http://www.amazon.com/Stinky-Cheese-Fairly-Stupid-Picture/dp/0140548963 ) ends up being an interactive reading experience more than a straightforward book. Jack is trying to put together a collection of stories and the stories just won't cooperate. Everything is going wrong for him; the stories, the book, the giant that's trying to eat him. Even the little red hen complains, "How do they expect me to tell the whole story by myself? Where is that lazy narrator? Where is that lazy illustrator? Where is that lazy author."

The last book I'm going to mention is one I don't own but really liked when we had it from the library for about two weeks; ten years ago. It's "The Beast with a Thousand Teeth" by Monty Python's Terry Jones. I don't know if you can buy the book but you can have it read to you by Helen Mirren on YouTube ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IyxkM4VcBs ). How cool is that?

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