Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Seven "Strange" Books for Kids

The March/April special issue of the Horn Book is called "Different Drummers," and it features books outside the scope of mainstream literature. In the issue the editors asked leading kidlit authorities: "What's the strangest children's book you've ever enjoyed?" The answers were fun to read and got me thinking about my own choices. Here, in no particular order, are seven of the strangest children's books I've ever read. What are yours?

1. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
It's easy to forget just how strange this classic is, especially if you rely on the cutesy Disney version.

2. The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright
According to a recent bio, Dare Wright was a bit kinky. Well, it spilled right over into this odd book about a doll and her relationship with two stuffed teddy bears.

3. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers by Beatrice Potter
Rats tie up a kitten and roll him into dough to bake in a pie! Read the reviews on Goodreads to see how many readers were traumatized by this book as children.

4. The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide
Edward Gorey's illustrations add to this story's strange charm about a little boy whose shrinking goes unnoticed by the grown-ups around him.

5. Slugs by David Greenberg
This little known gem features poems about people torturing slugs--eating them, dissecting them, even carving them into pumpkins. In the end, slugs get their revenge on all this mistreatment. Victoria Chess's hilariously disturbing illustrations make the book.

6. Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
I've written about this exceptional picture book before. Its one of the more unusual, yet ultimately moving, books about death you'll ever read.

7. Oddballs by William Sleator
Really, pretty much all of Sleator's books are strange. If you don't believe me, read Among the Dolls. Unlike his others, though, this one's a memoir. Sleator's unconventional upbringing definitely shaped his future work. As a bonus, this book is laugh aloud funny.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bad Kitty: School Daze

Bad Kitty's back and she's badder than ever, if that's possible. This time she's off to school to deal with her behavior problems. Puppy goes along to get his drooling under control. What I like best about these graphic easy-to-read novels are the zany details and the way things never turn out the expected way. For instance, before Kitty heads off for her first day, her family presents her with a complete line of Love Love Angel Kitten school supplies, including backpack, notebook, eraser, calculator, bowling ball, cinder block, and tractor tire--with spot illustrations of each one. Clearly a spoof on the Hello Kitty craze, the items point up how much Bad Kitty is the antithesis of all that saccharine goodness.

When the school bus finally pulls up to the Diabla Von Gloom's School for Wayward Pets, the building is a stereotypical Addams house of horrors. The next spread shows the door creaking open and the shadow of a monstrous crone with sharp fangs and long talons. Turn the page and the shadow is an illusion formed by a young, attractive teacher holding an assortment of books, boxes, and pencils.

The kindly teacher is determined to get Bad Kitty to reveal what she's so angry about, but the cat's a tough cookie and won't crack. Besides she has more pressing problems--like a scary bulldog who hates cats. Luckily Bad Kitty has managed to convince Petunia that she's a cow.

As always, Uncle Murray checks in with his Fun Facts spreads. This time around the topic centers on why dogs and cats don't get along.

Graduation takes place at the end of the first day--it's a very short semester--and each animal student has to demonstrate what he or she has learned. Will Bad Kitty carry away a diploma? Don't bet on it, but an amusing epilogue suggests that school wasn't so awful after all.

Bad Kitty: School Daze
by Nick Bruel
Roaring Book Press, 160 pages
Published: January 2013

Monday, March 18, 2013

Penny and Her Marble

Ah, the power of guilt. As Edgar Allen Poe fans know, there's no escaping it. Penny, the mouse heroine of Henke's easy-reader series, learns this the hard way when she spots a marble on her neighbor's lawn. The marble, big, shiny and as blue as the sky, proves irresistible. It seemed to say to Penny: "Take me home." And so she does.

Guilt soon plants itself in Penny's heart, and she hides the marble in her dresser drawer. At dinner she loses her appetite when she notices how the oranges look like big orange marbles and the peas like little green ones. In bed that night she tosses and turns, and when she finally falls asleep, she dreams the marble grows so big it demolishes her dresser.

The next morning Penny makes a decision about the marble. Beginning readers, many of whom have probably struggled similarly with their conscience, will be relieved to see Penny do the right thing.

In Penny and Her Marble, Henkes has delivered yet another winner. In the Horn Book's March/April issue, he confesses the seeds of the story. When he was five, he swiped a plastic medallion from his neighbor and was stricken with guilt. See, crime does pay!

Penny and Her Marble
by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow, 48 pages
Published: March 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How Cool Is This!

Do you ever Google yourself? I'm not too proud to admit that I occasionally type my name into the search engine and see what pops up. Last night I also clicked on the images that went with my name. Wow, what an assortment of Catherine Nichols exist!

The most intriguing to me by far was the portrait on the left. According to the AFA news site where it appears, the portrait was painted around 1830 by one I. Gillbert, a little known folk artist who  worked in New York state. The subject was a thirty-six-year-old woman named Catherine Nichols. She lived in Paris, New York and was married to Roy Nichols.

Now Roy's wife doesn't look much like me, but that doesn't matter.  I still feel a connection with her--and wouldn't you know--she's holding a book!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Spring 2013 Books TBR

So many spring releases to choose from, so little time. Here are ten children's books I'm dying to get my hands on. Check out other people's lists on The Broke and the Bookish blog.

Doll Bones by Holly Black
This middle grade novel sounds creepy and fun--right up my alley. Pub date: May 2013

Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
BFF Bink and Gollie are always up to something in this amusing beginning reader series. Pub date: April 2013

Dodsworth in Tokyo by Tim Egan
Loved Dodsworth and his duck's tours of Rome and London so I'm betting Tokyo will be a blast. Pub date: April 2013

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
This dystopic novel from the U.K. has garnered a lot of buzz. I snagged a copy from my library and I'm all set to read. Pub date: February 2013

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes
The latest from a great beginning reader series by a master craftsman. Pub date: March 2013

Definitely No Ducks by Meg McKinlay
I was charmed by McKinlay's first chapter book about a girl and her pet duck. I'm glad to see they're back and quacking. Pub date: March 2013

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis
Timmy is an eleven-year-old detective and his partner is a polar bear in this comic middle-grade novel. What more do you need? Pub date: February 2013

Clementine and the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker
Ah, Clementine. I missed you. Pub date: March 2013

Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth
Poetry and pugs! Woo-hoo! Pub date: March 2013

That is NOT a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
An interactive picture book by the one and only Mo Willems. Can't wait. Pub date: April 2013


I don't just read children's books, of course. Two adult books for I'm super psyched to read are: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout.

Now what's on your Spring TBR list?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ready, Set, Read Aloud!

It's World Read Aloud Day so do what you can to encourage a love of reading in children. Read a book to your kids--or to other people's kids. Some of my best memories are of listening to my mother read to me and my sisters. And she didn't just do picture books. She read The Wind and the Willow, The Lion and Witch and the Wardrobe, Winnie the Pooh, and Charlotte's Web.

So go on--create some memories today.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Building Our House

Making a house from scratch isn't an easy task, as this delightfully detailed picture book shows. A young girl narrates the process, starting on the day she and her parents and baby brother move from their old house in the city to the country. For the next year and a half the family pulls together to build their new home, living in a trailer set under a large oak tree in a big, weedy field.

The text outlines the grueling work involved, while the illustrations highlight the adventures. One of the most charming aspects of this book is the way the family bands together to get the work done. The title page shows the two children hoisting boxes to their father as the family moves from their city row house. Once building starts, the kids continue to lend a hand, carrying tools, collecting rocks from a quarry, and mixing concrete. Of course, kids will be kids, so we also see them sliding down piles of sand, cooling off in a pool, and sledding as their parents toil.

When it's time to raise the frame, relatives, friends, and neighbors come to help and stay to celebrate. The work doesn't end there and young readers will see how many details are involved in making a house livable. Through fall and winter the family puts the finishing touches on the house, installing plumbing, insulation, and painting the woodwork. At last spring arrives and it's moving day. Again family and friends gather to help. (Alert readers will notice the addition of a new baby.) The final illustration shows the family in their cozy living room snuggled together on the couch, the father reading aloud from a book. (According to a Horn Book interview, the book is likely Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House.)

In an author's note, Bean explains that in the 1970s his parents built their own house in the countryside, although the process took considerably longer--five long years. Photos showing the author and his siblings "helping" make this engaging story all the more convincing.

Building Our House
by Jonathan Bean
Farrar Straus Giroux, 48 pages
Published: January 2013

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

It's the 109th birthday of Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. Here's a photo of my pug dressed in his party hat ready to celebrate the big day.

Get into the spirit by reading your favorite Seuss book to a child. Mine is The Sneetches. What's yours?