Children's Book Columns

Slow Down and Enjoy Picture Books

A recently published New York Times article, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” is causing an uproar in the children’s book world.  According to reporter Julie Bosman, booksellers are selling fewer picture books than ever, and not just because of the economic downturn. “Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books,” she reports. One bookseller noted that parents are now buying their four-year-olds “Stuart Little” while classic picture books languish on the shelf. 

Some of this could be linked to standardized testing, but it may also be due to the pressure parents feel to accelerate their children’s learning at an ever faster rate.
 
Those of us who love picture books lament this trend. Even if your four-year-old is enjoying “Stuart Little,” what is he missing by jumping to chapter books three or four years ahead of schedule? What great picture books are going unread?  

Get to Know These Girls

          Two new novels for middle grade readers couldn’t be more different except for one thing: they both concern eleven-year-old girls who have more to offer than first meets the eye.
 
          In Jennifer Holm’s “Turtle in Paradise,” everyone is doing their best to scrape by. It’s 1935, the midst of the Depression, and Turtle’s flighty mother finally has a job as a housekeeper. But her mother’s new boss doesn’t like kids, and her new boyfriend Archie has no room for her, so Turtle is sent far away to Key West, Florida, where her mother’s sister lives.
 
There this tough, sharp-tongued girl finds a whole new world that’s entirely different from the New Jersey shore she knows. Turtle describes Key West as looking “like a broken chair that’s been left out in the sun to rot.” But it’s also green, covered with vines, brightly colored flowers and palm trees. All the kids go barefoot, most of them are related to her, and news of her arrival is soon all over the island thanks to the “Conch Telegraph.” 

Fall on the Farm

          Before you take your children to pick pumpkins or enjoy a hayride this fall, be sure to check out picture books showcasing farm life.

          Elisha Cooper’s “Farm” focuses on the farm family as much as on their daily work.   The two farmers and their two children plus a house, two barns, four silos and lots more make up a farm where feed corn is the main crop.
Tractors rumble back and forth on the bare dirt in early spring, March brings mud, and later the children plant tomatoes and carrots. The children have other chores, too, of course: feeding the cattle (the girl) and the chickens (the boy). Summer brings heat, and fall brings the harvest, with the farmer in his combine checking the corn’s yield on his computer and talking with other farmers on his cell phone. 
 

A Trio of New Picture Books

    It’s no fair, Isabel complains, that the porcupines don’t get to have balloons at their class’s Graduation Day, as the raccoons, possums and other animals do.  But balloons are not safe around the porcupines’ prickly quills, Isabel’s porcupine teacher gently explains.  The porcupines will get bookmarks instead.


    Isabel and her friend Walter are not happy.  “I heard that after a few days a balloon floats halfway between the ceiling and the floor…it just hangs there like a ghost,” Walter says longingly. So Isabel makes a plan to do something about it in Deborah Underwood’s new picture book, “A Balloon for Isabel.”    

Babies Love Board Books

    Duncan and Samantha, our newest library babies, are just a few months old, but they’re not too young for books.  Board books, made of heavy cardboard with just a few words on each page, fit babies’ interests and attention spans perfectly.  They are just the right size for lap sharing, and their sturdy construction means you can safely prop them up next to a baby who’s too little to hold them but big enough to pick up her head and enjoy the pictures.


    My favorite board book to give to babies is Tana Hoban’s “Black & White.”  First published as two separate board books, “Black on White” and “White on Black,” the new edition includes both books in an unfolding accordion-style format, just right for standing up in the crib of a curious infant.

Summer Book Matches for Kids

      What have the thousands of kids in our summer reading club been reading all summer long? A quick look at our Book Match service, which connects readers with book recommendations via email, shows that series books continue to be popular.  (Find Book Match here.)

          Anna-Marie asked for more American Girl History Mysteries like “Ghost Light on Graveyard Shoal” by Elizabeth McDavid Jones because “I liked the pirates and the skull on the island. I liked trying to solve the mystery along with the characters.” We suggested another in the series, “The Smuggler’s Treasure” by Sarah Masters Buckey. Eleven-year-old Elisabet travels to New Orleans in 1812, determined to find a smuggler's treasure to ransom her father, imprisoned by the British.
 

The E-books Are Coming, The E-Books Are Coming!

 A friend witnessed the future of the book on the Metro the other day. A mother and daughter were sitting side by side, reading. Nothing unusual there – but my friend was amused to see that the mother was reading a book on her Kindle, the e-book reader from Amazon, while the daughter was listening to “Black Beauty” on her MP3 player. At one point, the girl’s face crumpled and tears sprang to her eyes as she listened, prompting the mother to reach out and pat her daughter’s hand. Clearly, “Black Beauty” can still reduce readers – and listeners – to tears, whether they are reading a physical book or listening to a digital audio edition.

Digital books are much in the news these days, with some pundits predicting that the ink-and-paper book is on its way out. Bookseller Andy Ross says, “There is going to be a tipping point where e-books become the dominant medium, thus ending 500 years of the Gutenberg Age." Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Lab proclaimed at a recent technology conference that “It’s happening. It’s not happening in 10 years. It’s happening in 5 years.”
 

Books for Boy Scouts

 

As we welcome the Boy Scouts to Fredericksburg this week, I have to give a shout-out to the Eagle Scouts in my life. To my late father, my brother-in-law and, in just a few weeks, my nephew, congratulations on your achievements!
 
The Scouts enjoying the Jamboree will not only be climbing, fishing, rappelling and shooting off air rifles. They’ll also enjoy a visit from popular author Michael Scott, creator of the “Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” series. Scott will also be appearing downtown at Jabberwocky on Thursday afternoon, July 29; call 371-56984 for details.
 
          The first book in his bestselling series, “The Alchemyst,” introduces fifteen-year-old twins Sophie and Josh. Within just a few pages, their lives are turned upside down when two black-clad bad guys with “dead-looking eyes” storm the bookshop where Josh is working, take the owner hostage, and disappear with a rare book. But not before Josh, thinking fast, has torn out the last two pages.
 

All Things French for Bastille Day

    Bastille Day (July 14) provides a great excuse for sharing a few French-flavored books.  Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline” series, set in Paris, is just the thing for preschoolers.  The rhymed story about “twelve little girls in two straight lines,” the daring Madeline (”to the tiger in the zoo Madeline just said ‘Pooh-pooh’”), and the dramatic appendicitis attack in the middle of the night (“Miss Clavel turned on her light and said, ‘Something is not right!’”) makes a read-aloud that children will ask for over and over. 

Ripping Good Yarns for Summer Reading

    Take one poor but resourceful young woman from any number of Gothic romances; mix her with the wise governess from Eva Ibbotson’s “Journey to the River Sea;” fold in the Victorian flavor of Joan Aiken’s “Wolves of Willoughby Chase” series; add just a hint of Lemony Snicket’s narrator from “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and you’ve got it:  Maryrose Wood’s new series, “The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.”

The first book, “The Mysterious Howling,” introduces Miss Penelope Lumley, a fifteen-year-old graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females.  The governess position at Ashton Place sounds appealing to her, especially the notice that experience with animals is strongly preferred.  But to her astonishment, the animals in question are the three children she is to care for.  Raised by wolves and found in the woods by Lord Ashton, Alexander, Cassiopeia and Beowulf drape themselves in animal skins and communicate by howling.  Under Miss Lumley’s tutelage, they soon learn to wear clothes, bathe and even make a stab at learning Latin.