Children's Book Columns

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.

Summer Fun

    It’s high summer now, with the library’s summer reading clubs in full swing and the Fourth of July right around the corner.  Marla Frazee’s award-winning picture book, “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever,” captures the best of summer from a kid’s point of view.


    James and Eamon are spending the week with James’s grandparents so they can attend nature camp.  While Grandfather Bill tries his best to interest the boys in Antarctica, and Grandmother Pam fills them with banana waffles and ice cream sundaes, the boys enjoy all kinds of fun, most of it unrelated to nature camp.  Identifying birds?  They have more fun training their binoculars on each other’s freckles.  Sleeping in the basement on the blow-up mattress, playing video games, and eating more banana waffles are the highlights of their week.

Bears Everywhere

    Children’s books are never too far from the minds of children’s librarians.  On a recent hiking trip to the North Carolina mountains, a phrase from a children’s verse got stuck in my head:  “We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one, it’s a beautiful day, we’re not scared!”  Maybe our bear bells scared them away, but the black bears that populate the coves and ridges of the Nantahala National Forest never showed themselves to our group (thank goodness).

Listen to a Good Book This Summer

 

          With the last day of school on the horizon, be sure to stock up on audiobooks for summer car trips. Whether you’re ferrying kids to day camp, day care or day trips to Kings Dominion, you’ll find that a good audiobook makes up for any traffic jams or backseat quarreling.
 
          Second grader Stink Moody is the shortest kid he knows. No matter how often he checks, he measures just three feet eight inches tall. He’s always in the front for class pictures, and he usually plays the mouse in the school play. Then something terrible happens – his big sister Judy discovers he’s shrunk a whole quarter of an inch since the morning! Listeners five and up will be entertained and sympathetic to his plight, as told in “Stink, The Incredible Shrinking Kid” by Megan McDonald. Narrator Nancy Cartwright, familiar to “Simpsons” fans (she plays Bart), voices each character with energy and humor. Kids who like this can listen to a half-dozen additional books about Stink and his family.
 

 

Creeps from the Deep

          The Gulf oil spill, terrible though it is, has focused attention on one of the least-known environments on earth. Scientists used to believe that the deep ocean was uninhabited. As scientist Tim Flannery explains, “The eternal dark, the almost inconceivable pressure, and the extreme cold that exist below one thousand meters were, [scientists] thought, so forbidding as to have all but extinguished life. The reverse is in fact true....(Below 200 meters) lies the largest habitat on earth.”
 
          While less than 10% of this area has been explored by humans, what we have discovered to date has found its way into children’s books filled with tantalizing glimpses of ten-foot-long red worms and the enormous clams, crabs and tube worms that thrive around deep hydrothermal vents. 

Beyond "Goodnight, Moon"

          If you find yourself in New York City this weekend, stop by the 42nd Street Library at 2:00 on Sunday, May 23rd.  The New York Public Library is hosting a Margaret Wise Brown Birthday Sing-in on the steps in honor of the late author’s 100th birthday.  Cupcakes are promised, and all are welcome.

          Most parents who’ve raised children in the last fifty years are familiar with Brown’s most enduring work, “Goodnight, Moon.”  Written in hypnotic rhyme and illustrated in warm reds and greens by Clement Hurd, the book did not make a splash on first publication in 1947, selling a respectable but modest 6,000 copies that fall.  But the book gradually found an audience, and by now total sales reportedly top 11 million copies.

Read - Or Re-read - This Intriguing Series

Since librarians are always scrambling to keep up with the latest books, re-reading is a pleasure we rarely enjoy.  But this spring sees the release of the newest title by Megan Whalen Turner in a series whose first book appeared in 1996.  Reason enough to start again at the beginning!

The Wild Life of a Children's Book Author

 

Writer Sy Montgomery has been chased by a gorilla, bitten by a vampire bat, and assaulted by an amorous parrot. But it’s all good – these experiences and more have found their way into her award-winning books for children. 
 
This coming Saturday, April 17, Montgomery will be accepting the Children’s Book Guild of Washington Nonfiction Award at the National Geographic Society in Washington. Both kids and adults are welcome. Ticket information is available at www.childrensbookguild.org. 
  

Spring Flings

          The arrival of spring brings thoughts of gardens, poetry and spring training.  Kevin Henkes’ new picture book, “My Garden,” will get your preschoolers in just the right mood for digging in the dirt.  The young narrator helps her mother in the garden, shooing away the rabbits, watering and weeding.  “But if I had a garden…” the little girl muses and, before you know it, she has imagined a special garden all her own.