Children's Book Columns
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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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.
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!