I do this about quarterly, don't I - maybe I should make it a regular thing. Oh who am I kidding. One of the benefits of writing your own blog is you don't have to adhere to any schedule. Well, that and you can swear.
Froodle by Antoinette Portis
YES I like books by Antoinette Portis and NO I am not going to change my mind. Just like Crow is not going to fall victim to the silly craze sweeping through the yard. Little Brown Bird is supposed to say "peep." Cardinal is supposed to say "chip." THAT'S JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE. Until that malcontent Little Brown Bird opened his daggone beak and... WELL. I just want to come out and say I'm on Crow's side.
That Little Brown Bird. Damn hippie.
Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson
This is what I have to say about this book: you know all those picture books about the kid who Just Doesn't Fit In? The elephant ballerina, the sentimental monster, the penguin who can't swim? Those books are always about how our differences make us stronger and/or we all find our place eventually. They try real hard, but most of them just don't make it all the way there.
THIS book gets there. You've got your tidy, polite troll and your loud, messy little girl. The little girl drives her family nuts and the troll is a disappointment to the other trolls. So they trade places - now the girl gets to jump in mud and the troll gets to clean her room. Poor OCD troll. This is where a lot of picture books stop. Tabitha has found her true family - yay! But no, that's bullshit, that's a terrible long-term solution. Picture books that stop there make me CRAZY.
So Leigh Hodgkinson (author of the funny and stylish Goldilocks book that I loved so much last year, plus also everything else she ever does seems to be just cute as balls) follows up Tabitha and Timothy's initial "ah it's so nice to fit in" period - during which, hilariously, Tabitha's parents totally overlook the fact that their daughter is now a hairy troll with protruding teeth - with a lapse into boredom for all concerned. Turns out Tabby's family kind of liked her loud ways, and the trolls at least had something to complain about when Timmy acted all fussy and prim.
So they go back to their families and live happily ever after. The last page shows Timothy cutting loose with a loud burp and Tabitha sweeping up some dust, implying that they have each rubbed off on the other a little bit.
And since if I am not overthinking a 32-page picture book I am not truly happy - let's overthink this a little. What if the troll is not real? What if it's all Tabitha? She knows that her parents despair of her filthy room and hygiene, and she metaphorically banishes those traits to go live with the trolls. She goes a week or two keeping her room clean and saying excuse me. Her parents appreciate the peace and quiet at first but before too long miss the vitality of Tabitha's chaotic ways. So does Tabitha, and so in the end they all excuse themselves to go do gymnastics on the couch.
The last page, with Tabby using a broom, indicates that her "good" behavior interlude taught her that being tidy is not beyond her capabilities and that sometimes there's nothing wrong with a clean floor.
This of course would be a MUCH more tedious book, and I'm so glad Leigh Hodgkinson wrote it with the troll. It's fun, and it's warmhearted, and if it lets parents compartmentalize certain behaviors so that they can get less worked up about them, then GOOD.
Weasels by Elys Dolan
Do you love Weasels as much as I love Weasels? I love Weasels. LOVE IT. Took it home and my 5th grader loved it. My husband loved it (although he thought the white weasel - an ermine I believe is what you call a white weasel - was a polar bear). The twelve-year-old nearly knocked himself off the couch laughing at it.
It is funny. I never did wonder what weasels do when we're not looking, but if you'd asked me to guess, I imagine "arguing with squirrels" would have indeed been among my first guesses, and "plotting to take over the world" wouldn't come to mind until way after, I don't know, shopping at Ricky's for shampoo.
I even just love SAYING "weasels." Weasel weasel weasel.
WEASEL WEASEL WEASEL!
Goodnight Songs: Illustrated by Twelve Award-Winning Picture Book Artists by Margaret Wise Brown
Dag doggit, why do people who publish richly illustrated picture books consistently choose such weak images for the cover? Drives me crazy. This is a wonderful illustration, but as a cover - are they dead? trapped in cement? tiny dolls glued up against a stone wall?
Sidetracked, sorry. What I meant to say is - Margaret Wise Brown was a brilliant person. Only 42 years old when she died in 1952, she had published dozens of picture books in her brief career, with hundreds of manuscripts, poems and songs left behind in a trunk. She collaborated with some of the best and most interesting artists and musicians of her day, and was apparently kind of a kook, too, as many brilliant people are.
What she was most brilliant at (like me, it was not syntax) was the way she understood and spoke to children. Building on a foundation of familiar vocabulary and settings - the house, the yard, the farm - she spins little nonstory stories using silly words that appeal to kids ("Aboard was a bear and a crazy baboon"), repetition, surprising juxtaposition, and the kind of unusually accurate observations typical of children.
O the Noon Balloon
Will be leaving soon
For the sun or the moon
And wherever it goes
It will get there too soon
An extremely well-chosen suite of illustrators takes on the poems one at a time, creating a portfolio of nighttime images that sway or soothe or bubble or float. And there's a CD, but my CD player is broken, so I have only imagined the music.
Can You See Me? by Ted Lewin
It is such a pleasure to turn the pages of a book by Ted Lewin. His lush, realistic watercolor paintings immerse the reader in whatever exotic locale has caught his attention - in this case, the teeming green Costa Rican rain forest.
Simple language challenges children to spot eleven birds, mammals, reptiles, and a crab. Some are easy to find - the howler monkey hanging from a branch, or the brilliant red poison dart frog resting on a fallen tree - but some animals, such as the nearly submerged spectacled caiman or the vine snake whipping its way up a tree trunk, are more of a challenge. The atmosphere is quiet and watchful as a toucan nibbles at a fig, a river otter peers from beneath a canopy of sunlit leaves.
The Silver Button by Bob Graham
As Jodie puts the finishing touch on her drawing of a duck, her baby brother pushes to his feet and takes his first... step.
An ambulance goes by.
A feather from the pigeon nesting in the eaves floats past the window.
Phones ring "in a thousand offices and pockets."
A soldier says goodbye to his mom.
And a dozen other things happen, a dozen everyday, unimportant, momentous, miraculous things happen as Jonathan's foot travels through the air and before Jodie calls to her mother, who rushes in and scoops him into her arms.
And right NOW a baby is taking his first step, and a soldier says goodbye to his mom and a feather falls. And right now, and right NOW.