Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thoughts on saying farewell (or see you later) to a few books

There is an Anna Quindlen quote I love.  She says, “I would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”  So true, Anna.  So true.  My children have reaped the benefits of my love of children's books and my many years of being able to take advantage of an employee discount.  But they've also acquired quite a few books on their own, and the boys' bookcase is consequently filled to capacity.  We need a new "decoration".

We have commissioned a new bookcase from my super talented, wood-working father.  He will make something sturdy and beautiful and he always stains his work to my dark-cherry preferences.  But he actually has a day job, and excellence takes time, so we have been looking for a solution to the problem of the new books not having a home on the current shelf.  I'm a little obsessive and can't stand it when everything doesn't have its own place.  My husband suggested that we remove all Christmas books from the shelf, and bring them back out in time for next Christmas.  It's a great suggestion!  Practical, and maybe good for us.  Maybe reading Christmas books just at Christmas will render those books a little more special.  Maybe the association between the Christmas books and a certain time of year will become clearer. Yesterday, I pulled the books off the shelf.  I'm having a hard time.

Once, when DD was a wee tyke and could barely talk, I was picking up his books and putting them on the shelf.  I remember how he pitifully cried and asked for his favorites among them.  "Max", (as I attempted to shelve Where the Wild Things Are), "Moon" (for Goodnight Moon), "Mama" (for Mama, Why?). Through tears and pleas, he rescued each one back to his lap, and yesterday I remembered that moment, and understood.  I'll keep our Christmas books close, and we might even put them right back where they belong on the shelf once we have more bookcase real estate.  But the idea of putting a beloved book, any beloved book, up on a high closet shelf or otherwise out of sight, seems like a farewell to me.  Merry Christmas, Big Hungry Bear deserves a review, as does Bear Stays Up For Christmas  and Mortimer's Christmas Manger.  We love David Shannon's David, and we'll miss his Christmas book.  DD loves How the Grinch Stole Christmas any day of the year.

Maybe those reviews will wait until next Christmas.  And maybe they won't.

Are there any books that you put away for special occasions? 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sophie's Squash

I mentioned in my last post that I had spent some Christmas gift cards on seven new picture books.  They have arrived, and I love them to varying degrees.  The one I love the most was a recommendation from a bookseller friend of mine.  We worked together for some years at Barnes & Noble.  I moved away and she stayed at the store I'll always consider the home of my career.  The very smell of that store moves me.  Anyway, she now supervises the children's department, and she gave me a list of titles to research.  I've lost count of how many times we've read Sophie's Squash since it arrived last week.

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller and published in time for Fall last year, Sophie's Squash is, according to the author biography, based on a true story of the author's daughter.  To be honest, I'm sure there's a common-interest element that comprises some part of my love for this one.  I spent my childhood not caring one tiny iota about any kind of plant life.   Then I got married.  My husband knows at least a little bit about almost everything, but one of the things he knows a decent amount about is gardening.  Probably not devoting much thought to it, he tossed a couple of basil seeds in a pot and a tomato plant or two in another, sometime before our second anniversary.  When those seeds and plants turned into something I could retrieve from our apartment's patio for dinner (or at least part of dinner), I was totally hooked on gardening.  We moved from that apartment to a house at which we've had a garden every year.  I cannot imagine ever getting over the wonder of spending mere cents on a packet of seeds, only to have it grow and blossom and become edible.  I love knowing how it's been cared for and the convenience of plucking a bit of this or that to be part of a meal that ends up on my table minutes later.  I can't help thinking we should return to food preparation that looks more like that and less like boxes from the supermarket.  So, the gardening-vegetable-farmers'-market element of this book made it somewhat of a shoo-in for my affections.

But while I believe parents probably have some influence over the books their children love, I didn't do a thing to force it upon DD.  It arrived with two others.  We read all three, then he asked to read all three again, starting with Sophie's Squash.  Then just Sophie's Squash.  At bedtime?  You guessed it.  When I announced my intention to shelve it on his sister's bookcase,(because his is full) he stared at me with the frown and furrowed brow of my people.  He's not the boss around here, but it's worth noting that Sophie's Squash has stayed on the reading bench in his room ever since.

About the story: young Sophie accompanies her parents to the farmers' market.  She selects the squash that her parents are intending to cook and eat, and discovers that:

It was just the right size to
hold in her arms.
Just the right size to bounce
on her knee.
Just the right size to love.
"I'm glad we met," Sophie whispered.
"Good friends are hard to find."

Sophie names her squash, paints a face on her, and protects her from her parents' designs on a gourd for dinner.  The delightful, funny illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf add to the appeal of the book, and show Sophie as an auburn cutie in pigtails.  (An additional touch of common interest.  I'm becoming quite a fan of auburn cuties in pigtails.)  Sophie tenderly cares for Bernice the squash, takes her to storytime, plays with her, and carefully tucks her in bed at night.  But despite Sophie's careful ministrations, Bernice starts to age.  When a boy at storytime draws attention to the spots forming on Bernice, Sophie announces that her squash has freckles. 

At this point in the story, I was becoming concerned that there couldn't be a positive outcome.  Smart Sophie, however, has a plan.  She revisits the farmers' market and consults the farmer on the correct way to keep a squash healthy.  The farmer gives instructions: fresh air, dirt, and love.  Sophie makes a bed of dirt for Bernice, and tucks her in.  The scene seems comforting and sweet, and not at all sad or like a goodbye. Sophie passes the winter with her new friend, a goldfish from her intuitive dad.  When Spring returns, Sophie visits her yard and recognizes the bit of green that has appeared.  Sophie and her goldfish picnic with Bernice the plant every day, and it's not long before Sophie finds a surprise beneath Bernice's large leaves.

My husband says it's his favorite of the new books, too.

What DD likes: when Sophie's mom suggests eating Bernice with marshmallows, when Sophie takes Bernice to storytime.
What I like: the creativity of Sophie, who doesn't settle for a mere toy store plaything, the great illustrations, the fresh gardening applications.

It's fun, sweet, funny and endearing.  We think you'll fall in love with Sophie and Bernice, too.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Go-Go Gorillas

Well, Christmas happened around here.  And some holiday travel.  And some ongoing illness.  So while you may be sure that books are being read and pored over and otherwise adored at our house, it has indeed been frightfully long since I've posted.  The children got some really lovely new books for Christmas.  I got some Barnes & Noble gift cards from my oh-so-generous in-laws, who will doubtless not be the slightest bit surprised that I spent every last penny of them (plus a little) on children's books.  I expect, therefore, to have a lot of new, wonderful books to review soon!  But the one that I've picked for today is not really a new book.  It's new to us, because Gorilla got it for Christmas.

My husband and I did a quick read-though of this one at the store, but we primarily bought it because of the gorilla reference, and I wasn't really expecting to love the content.  Well, I'm here to tell you that I love the content.  Go-Go Gorillas was written by Julia Durango and published in 2010.  It's a rhyming book, and the bouncy text just makes me want to get up and dance.  It begins like this:

In the Great Gorilla Villa,
King Big Daddy paced the floor.
Then he called his royal messenger
and steered her toward the door.
  "Summon every last gorilla
to the Villa, don't be late.
I expect them all by sundown -
please don't make Big Daddy wait!"

Go get
Gotta get
gorillas, go!

The King's royal messenger is a tiny mouse on a bicycle, and she scurries hither and yon, gathering up the gorilla relatives.  The king's nephew, niece, aunt, uncle, sister, brother, cousins, grandpa and granny are all notified, and each chooses a different mode of transportation.  The air of expectancy is intensified by the responsiveness of the king's relatives.  Each finishes what he or she is doing and gets on the way, chanting:

Go-go gorillas!
Gotta go,
gorillas, go!

The relations choose a bike, rowboat, roller-skates, truck, bus, jalopy, hot-air balloon, pogo stick, taxi and airplane, respectively, to reach their destination.  A couple of spreads highlight the whole crew on their way, and DD likes to talk about who's riding on what.  He's four, and is able to identify each one.  It's been a fun way to discuss things like taxis and pogo sticks, with which he doesn't have personal experience.

One of my favorite things about this book is that at the end, we discover the reason for King Big Daddy's haste in gathering his relatives.  It's because he wants to introduce them to...his new baby girl!  We love that, as our own gorilla nickname sprang from a play on the word "girl".  And speaking of baby girl gorilla, her super talented and thoughtful aunt made her this amazing hat for Christmas.  Who knew a gorilla could look so sweet and feminine?

What I like: the rhyme, the gorilla references, the variety in transportation, and the refrain.
What the kids like: the refrain, the silly pictures, and the bouncy way the story moves along.  

Give it a read if you see it!  We hope you'll like it, too.