"...that’s the fun of it to create from scratch, it’s to me, it’s creative in one sense of the word. I try to make exciting books for children and of course, I do them for myself too, I put everything I have into them."*
Summer is here, and with those long, hot days comes the warm-weather institution of the family road trip. Be your children in car seats or high school, an annual dogpile into the minivan can often signal the beginning of summer vacation. This year, avoid a family singalong to the Frozen soundtrack* by checking out an all-ages friendly audiobook that will keep everyone entertained.
The Tales of Olga da Polga, by Michael Bond—creator of the Paddington Bear books, features a feisty, queenly, and imaginative guinea pig who leaves the dull life of an English pet shop to go live with her own “Sawdust People” in “a house with legs” in their garden. For another guinea pig, it would be just a sensible, comfortable life change, but Olga is not just another guinea pig.
Getting ready for back-to-school, but not ready to pack away the fun? Al Yankovic’s My New Teacher and Me! is as welcome for the last weeks of summer as an ice cream truck after a long, hot day at the pool. In this rollicking story, Mr. Booth’s strict rules have met their match in Billy, a bright-eyed boy who shows up for the first day of class with a wide-open imagination. Disapproving Mr. Booth spots the dirt on Billy’s shirt immediately! Billy quickly—and politely—tells him how that came to be:
“I was digging to China out in my backyard.
And I almost was there when—I hit something hard!
Well, I dug, and I dug, and I dug a bit more
And discovered the skull of a real dinosaur!
“And I would have cleaned up, sir, but hey, I’m no fool—
I just couldn’t be late on the first day of school!”
Bow-tied and sour, Mr. Booth says his tale sounds highly unlikely, but as Billy points out, “the awesome-est things in the world often are!”
When Mercer Mayer was a young artist looking for book illustration work, a potential employer suggested he give up and throw away his portfolio. Fortunately for the thousands of children who have enjoyed his many books, he did not give up. Indeed, he went on to create one of the first widely-published wordless books for children, A Boy, A Frog, and a Dog. That book and its successors were hugely popular.
Soon after that, Mayer tackled one of the biggest problems facing young children—how to cope with fears of the unknown. Rather than write pedantic, matter-of-fact, non-fiction children’s books, he turned the process of dealing with those fears into engaging stories from a child’s point of view: There’s a Nightmare in My Closet; There’s an Alligator under My Bed; and There’s Something in My Attic.
Does anyone actually like writing thank-you notes? Of course, you are grateful and thankful for the thoughtful gifts from your loved ones, but what do you actually write in the thank-you note? And how long does the note have to be?
In Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes, by Peggy Gifford, ten-year-old Moxy Maxwell, who is a master procrastinator, has promised her mother that she will have all of her holiday thank-you notes finished by the day after Christmas. Part of the rush is due to the fact that she and her brother, Mark, are going to visit their father in California and are going to a star-studded New Year’s Eve Hollywood bash. In order to go to California and attend the fun New Year’s Eve party Moxy MUST have her thank-you notes finished. In true Moxy fashion, she finds plenty of activities to distract her from her task. As time ticks by, Moxy develops many shortcut plans in order to have her thank-you notes done on time...one of which includes her stepfather’s brand-new copy machine and a can of gold spray paint.
“I think there is a destiny laid on me that I am not to know anything interesting, go anywhere interesting, or do anything interesting.”
In The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, Taran feels that nothing exciting happens in his life and that nothing ever will. And yet, Taran longs to be a hero, like his idol Prince Gwydion, the famed warrior who fights in the name of the High King of Prydain. Taran lives on a farm called Caer Dallben, named after the ancient enchanter who dwells there. Dallben, between reading from his mysterious tome, The Book of Three, and giving Taran wise but confusing advice, spends most of his time meditating--an endeavor that he often undertakes lying down with his eyes closed while snoring. The only other person on the farm is Coll, who instructs Taran in making horseshoes, despite there not being any horses.
What a wonderful introduction to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for the young (or a reminder of the message for the young at heart) to receive by watching A Muppet Christmas Carol with friends and family this holiday season. Muppet Gonzo the Great, as author Charles Dickens, and his friend Rizzo the Rat, as himself, narrate and add some Muppet mayhem to this classic tale. With music by Paul Williams and Michael Caine as a bemused Scrooge, this movie is sweet, funny, and heartwarming. I am a lifelong Muppet fan, and, like Jason Segal in his new Muppet Movie this year, want to save the Muppets from being forgotten. So suspend your disbelief and enjoy Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy as the Cratchits!
Jacob and Robert Marley (Muppets Statler and Waldorf) are the ghosts who haunt and heckle Scrooge in song about his avarice and greed. The chains Marley & Marley show Scrooge, which he has forged in his life, rattle his black soul and he starts his journey of self-discovery. Scrooge, of course, is haunted by Muppet ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Gonzo and Rizzo go along for the ride and add a little slapstick humor. Mixing the classic Muppet repertoire with Charles Dickens’ story is done seamlessly, such as the party at Fozziwig’s (played by Fozzie Bear) Rubber Chicken Factory with Animal jamming on the drums--a delight.
Wilbur Munro Leaf is best known for his beloved book, The Story of Ferdinand. It’s the tale of a peaceful yet rebellious bull that would rather enjoy the flowers in his meadow than fight in an arena. Munro Leaf and his friend, award-winning artist and writer Robert Lawson, had been talking about the kind of book they would want to write if they could get past the publisher’s ideas of what made a good book. It took him less than an hour—“25 minutes on a rainy Saturday”--to scribble down the story on a yellow pad of paper. With Lawson’s illustrations, the beatific bull was on his way to becoming internationally famous for his peaceful message in 1936--a time when the world was coming apart in war.