2007 Caldecott winner. Wait, did Flotsam take me to the brink of a "meh!" review? Yep. Maybe it's that the wordless picture book comes dangerously clo2007 Caldecott winner. Wait, did Flotsam take me to the brink of a "meh!" review? Yep. Maybe it's that the wordless picture book comes dangerously close to violating a pet peeve of mine - an award winning children's picture book that really isn't for children. Considered detached from the story, the artwork's great - whimsical, steampunk-ish, imaginative, magical, insert fantasy descriptor here. The kids and I had a great time digging into each illustration. But the story itself's a different matter.
Personally, I loved the themes of exploration, finding a healthy mix of science and imagination, the existence of unknowns as impetus for discovery and wonder. The kids? Not so much. Crickets at the end, in fact. Wiesner's work felt self-indulgent to me, or meant more for nostalgic Caldecott judges than for little ones. Is there an award for adult picture books? If so, Wiesner's deserving. And with my pet peevishness no longer in play, my rating moves into the 4-to-5-star range....more
2012 Caldecott winner. A wordless picture book for dog lovers, or for parents with kids struggling with the loss of a favorite toy, snugglie, somethin2012 Caldecott winner. A wordless picture book for dog lovers, or for parents with kids struggling with the loss of a favorite toy, snugglie, something. Daisy's a cute waggy dog that made the kids very happy. I loved how the owner of the dog that accidentally pops Daisy's beloved big red ball brings a new ball for Daisy to befriend. She treats Daisy like you would a child, as a being with feelings worthy of love and respect. The kids and I had fun "reading" this one together, sharing our own thoughts on what happens in each illustration. A great way to change up the bedtime storytelling experience....more
2009 Caldecott winner. Beth Krommes' artwork is stunning. She uses three colors - black, white and gold. For me, the scattering of golden accents abou2009 Caldecott winner. Beth Krommes' artwork is stunning. She uses three colors - black, white and gold. For me, the scattering of golden accents about nighttime landscapes made my eyes want to linger with each illustration, almost like meditation pieces. For the kids? I asked our 4 year old if she liked the book. She gave an enthusiastic "yes", saying she liked the illustrations of golden stars the best. The nighttime scenes with the cumulative nursery rhyme pattern makes this one a good bedtime read.
Author Susan Marie Swanson mentions the poem "This is the key of the kingdom" as an influence. It's clear that Good Night Moon provided a fair amount of inspiration as well. The House in the Night makes the short list of best picture book sleep lullers....more
1942 Caldecott winner. The drawings steal the show. And with police officers making headlines for some appalling racist actions in recent months, it's1942 Caldecott winner. The drawings steal the show. And with police officers making headlines for some appalling racist actions in recent months, it's nice to see a policeman depicted as sweet, creative and kind. Have you ever been involved in a minor traffic slowdown due to a momma duck leading her little ones single file across a busy street? If so, you'll get it. It's adorable, and people never fail to play traffic cop to make sure the duck family makes the harrowing crossing unscathed. My only surprise was that I seemed to like the story much more than 4-year-old Sigourney did. She's never seen ducks crossing the road, I guess....more
2011 Caldecott Medal winner. A gentle bedtime read about friendship. The book actually looks and feels like its been around for 40+ years, making it e2011 Caldecott Medal winner. A gentle bedtime read about friendship. The book actually looks and feels like its been around for 40+ years, making it easy to pass over at first glance. Then you open it, fall in love instantly with Amos and his non-imaginary zoo friends, say "Awwww" about 20 times, then it's over. You're left with a warm feeling in the center of your being and an exceedingly happy child as you shut off the light for their bedtime. Excellent....more
1943 Caldecott winner. The nostalgic story of a country house that becomes a city house and then returns again to the country. Urbanization and family1943 Caldecott winner. The nostalgic story of a country house that becomes a city house and then returns again to the country. Urbanization and family ties to place are main themes. The artwork's very well done; the little house is adorable. 4-year-old Sigourney and I were glad that, in the end, the great great granddaughter of the house's builder chose to move the house back to greener pastures instead of mowing it down to make way for condos. I'm guessing that a story about mindless, rootless gentrification wouldn't have tickled Caldecott fancies. But making a smily tiny volkswagen-bug-of-a-home happy will get you somewhere! We enjoyed the bedtime read....more
1940 Caldecott winner. A middling effort by the d'Aulaires. The illustrations are beautiful as always. The stories about Abe's childhood and prankster1940 Caldecott winner. A middling effort by the d'Aulaires. The illustrations are beautiful as always. The stories about Abe's childhood and prankster spirit are fun. But as an historical account of Lincoln's life? Not great. A little too much Lincoln-as-mythological-great-white-savior-of-a-nation for my taste. It does make for an interesting conversation starter with the little ones, though.
A general comment about works by the d'Aulaires. Read them! Their children's books on the Bible, Greek and Norse mythology rule. Both beautiful and educational....more
The 1941 Caldecott winner. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm not willing to give books marred by racism a pass just because they were wrThe 1941 Caldecott winner. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm not willing to give books marred by racism a pass just because they were written during a time when racism wasn't questioned as much. Editors even tried to whitewash the original, adjusting some of the more offensive bits - swapping "Negro" for "colored" (really?), taking out a description of Native Americans as "tame ones". Even with these changes to the text, the accompanying drawings remain - a slave woman with bandana-wrapped head shooing Native Americans away with a broom; a young slave dressed in rags and carrying two dead animals while accompanying his white master on a hunt ("He was a slave, but they didn’t call him that. They just called him Dick."), etc. Lawson's "strong and good" ancestors did things like fight for the Confederacy and fight against Satan (as an itinerant preacher). Lots of fighting for and against suspect causes and concepts. Throw in some average artwork and voila! You get a Caldecott winner apparently.
If you do choose to push ahead and read this one to youngsters, be prepared to answer questions about slavery and race terminology. Also, expect little ones to be uninspired by the black-and-white drawings. Our 4-year-old gave up and fell asleep mid-read....more
Other than being a little long and taking us three bedtimes to finish, the 2014 Caldecott Medal winner was perfect. Artwork and script worked togetherOther than being a little long and taking us three bedtimes to finish, the 2014 Caldecott Medal winner was perfect. Artwork and script worked together to give Sigourney and me a full sensory reading experience. It's not an exaggeration when I say that Floca made us feel the ups-and-downs of the mountainous terrain, The creaky clickety clacks of elevated stretches of track, the intense heat of the fire and steam. It was fun to ham it up with the conductor's "All abooooooaaaaard!" and the train's building momentum, chug-chug chug-chug. I loved vocalizing the spit and hiss of the steam and the "whooooooooo" of the whistle. There's interesting history about the transcontinental railroad, too. Fun! Very highly recommended....more
Mei Li won the 1939 Caldecott. 4-year-old Sigourney loved the black ink drawings. The Chinese landscapes, architecture, fashions and costumes interestMei Li won the 1939 Caldecott. 4-year-old Sigourney loved the black ink drawings. The Chinese landscapes, architecture, fashions and costumes interested her to no end. But the story's message - little girls are lesser beings that can't do most things - stinks. Prime example: a diviner tells Mei Li that she'll be a ruler some day. Then, pages later as the book ends, Mei Li's told that one day, she'll be the monarch of her own home. Holy dated gender roles! Granted, I'm reading a 1930's book with 2015 eyes. But I'm not much into giving "that's just how things were back then" passes to children's books anymore. Sigourney's questions for me during story time included "Why can't Mei Li go to the fair and do stuff like her brother?" and "Why did her brother say Mei Li's 'just a girl'?" It's simple, Sigourney. They were wrong....more
With a title like Swastika Night, I'd have thought Burdekin would spend most of her time dealing with questions of race and ethnicity. But she doesn'tWith a title like Swastika Night, I'd have thought Burdekin would spend most of her time dealing with questions of race and ethnicity. But she doesn't. Patriarchy's her primary target, and she kills it. Check out the Hitlerian Creed:
I believe in God the Thunderer, who made this physical earth on which men march in their mortal bodies, and in His Heaven where all heroes are, and in His Son our Holy Adolf Hitler, the only Man. Who was, not begotten, not born of a woman, but Exploded! From the Head of His Father, He the perfect, the untainted Man-Child, whom we, mortals and defiled in our birth and in our conception, must ever worship and praise. Heil Hitler. Who in our need, in Germany's need, in the world's need; for our sake, for Germany's sake, for the world's sake; came down from the Mountain, the Holy Mountain, the German Mountain, the nameless one, to march before us as Man who is God, to lead us, to deliver us, in darkness then, in sin and chaos and impurity, ringed round by devils, by Lenin, by Stalin, by Roehm, by Karl Barth, the four arch-fiends, whose necks He set under His Holy Heel, grinding them into dust. Who, when our Salvation was accomplished, went into the Forest, the Holy Forest, the German Forest, the nameless one; and was there reunited to His Father, God the Thunderer, so that we men, the mortals, the defiled at birth, could see His Face no more. And I believe that when all things are accomplished and the last heathen man is enlisted in His Holy Army, that Adolf Hitler our God will come again in martial glory to the sound of guns and aeroplanes, to the sound of the trumpets and drums. And I believe in the Twin Arch-Heroes, Goering and Goebbels, who were found worthy even to be His Familiar Friends. And I believe in pride, in courage, in violence, in brutality, in bloodshed, in ruthlessness,, and all other soldierly and heroic virtues. Heil Hitler.
Okay, that was long. Burdekin's focus on the religious, martial and chauvinistic aspects of Hitler's thought sets the stage for a really strong critique of patriarchy. The crux can be found in one of the immutable laws of Hitler Society:
As a woman is above a worm, so is a man above a woman. As a woman is above a worm, so is a worm above a Christian. So my comrades, the lowest thing, the meanest, filthiest thing that crawls on the face of the earth is a Christian woman. To touch her is the utmost defilement for a German man. To speak to her only is a shame. They are all outcast, the man, the woman and the child. My sons, forget it not! On pain of death or torture or being cut off from the blood. Heil Hitler.
With the inferiority of women locked in religious creeds, men seven centuries into the Hitlerian age are free to rape, flog, cage, and withhold education from women and girls. It's horrible. And Burdekin was writing in 1937, at the height of Hitler's power and 12 years before Orwell uncorked 1984. Swastika Night's an important work!
My main complaint? The story lags at times. I believe another reviewer pointed out it lacks immediacy. I agree. Burdekin makes up for it with intelligence and guts, however. A feminist sci-fi classic....more
Dan Santat, you're good. The concept of an unclaimed imaginary friend leaving the island of imaginary friends to find its child-friend? Great. The artDan Santat, you're good. The concept of an unclaimed imaginary friend leaving the island of imaginary friends to find its child-friend? Great. The artwork? Great, too. The illustration of Beekle in a sailboat with a rainbow-colored sea monster looming made the kids especially happy. I'm partial to the scene where imaginary friends wait to be imagined on a starlit night. Really, it's hard to choose a favorite illustration. They're all excellent. Well done, Dan Santat. 2015 Caldecott Medal well-deserved....more
Absolutely hilarious! The 2013 Caldecott Medal winner includes beautifully simple artwork, a darker sense of humor, and an unclear ending for the smalAbsolutely hilarious! The 2013 Caldecott Medal winner includes beautifully simple artwork, a darker sense of humor, and an unclear ending for the small fish. What did happen in those thick underwater plants? We know the big fish reclaims its hat from the thieving small fish. Was the reclamation a violent affair? Did the little fish get beaten severely, even killed? I don't know. 4-year old Sigourney thinks the little fish returned the hat peacefully when asked, and was simply sulking unseen in the weeds. Maybe. Klassen let's readers' imaginations fill in the blanks of the small fish's fate. A fun one for dad to read to the littles at bedtime....more
Ah, Goscinny's back as writer. Uderzo's illustrations are perfect. And the backstory on the early stages of Asterix's and Obelix's friendship might evAh, Goscinny's back as writer. Uderzo's illustrations are perfect. And the backstory on the early stages of Asterix's and Obelix's friendship might even make you sniffle. Obelix as a victim of childhood bullying! I can relate....more
Underwhelmed! I know Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is considered a classic in children's literature. Apparently, it's considered part of the LiteraUnderwhelmed! I know Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is considered a classic in children's literature. Apparently, it's considered part of the Literary Nonsense genre, which makes perfect sense since the work's nonsensical. Think Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the younger set.
Our daughter liked the book better than I did. She did get bored however, despite large, beautiful illustrations being on just about every other page throughout the book. The hardcover version we read included illustrations by more than 25 "Alice artists" from the past, John Tenniel and Arthur Rackham included. I enjoyed the collection of Alice art much more than I did the story. For me, Carroll's the original (but much less funny) Seinfeld, creating a show/book about nothing. A celebration of child-like imagination? Maybe. Give me Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz any day....more
I can see why leftists love Brecht. Even before he identified himself as a Marxist, he was writing a play set in the midst of the Rosa Luxemburg-led SI can see why leftists love Brecht. Even before he identified himself as a Marxist, he was writing a play set in the midst of the Rosa Luxemburg-led Spartacist uprising ("Drums in the Night"). There are plenty of unlikable characters. Baal? A murderous schmuck. How about a one-act play where a cat house regular gets refused by a prostitute one night due to lack of funds. He then seeks revenge by setting up a lecture tent in the same red-light district where he shows what std's like soft chancre, gonorrhea and syphilis do to bodies. Patrons pay to see the demonstrations, often getting sick to their stomachs and then avoiding the houses of prostitution. In the end, he uses the lecture funds to invest in his favorite cat house, ensuring that he will never again be refused by one of the ladies. Irreverent and disturbing, yes. But also very smart, well-crafted plays. Comparisons to Shakespeare and Marlowe aren't unjustified.
I've only tackled Brecht's earliest works in this first volume of his plays. I hear the plays only get better as Brecht's groundbreaking epic style of playwriting takes off and matures. Can't wait!...more
Hmmm. Enjoyable's not a descriptor I'd attach to The Iron Heel. Important; early ancestor of dystopian fiction; a dramatization of Marxian analysis ofHmmm. Enjoyable's not a descriptor I'd attach to The Iron Heel. Important; early ancestor of dystopian fiction; a dramatization of Marxian analysis of US and world society; prophetic of 20th century events; shockingly bloody - those descriptions fit.
The Iron Heel's a tale of two halves. The first half, while in the form of a story told by Avis Everard, reads like a Marxist textbook. It's a slow start, but really interesting if you're into leftist political and social theory. An earlier reader's handwritten notations of "WHAT CRAP" and "MORE CRAP" in the opening chapters prove that the work's not beloved by everyone. Comparisons to Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged aren't off base. I'd go so far as to say there's zero chance Rand didn't read The Iron Heel and view London as her philosophical nemesis. Ernest Everard and Howard Roark - both Nietzchean Supermen; both personifications of their creators' ideals - stand at opposite ends of the collectivism-individualism spectrum. But the descriptions of both leave similar romantic impressions. Here's Avis on Ernest: "There is much light that I alone of all persons living can throw upon his character, and so noble a character cannot be blazoned forth too brightly. His was a great soul,.... " Avis's Harlequin-worthy physical description of Ernest - "bulging muscles", "neck of a prize-fighter", "bull-throat" - almost made me blush.
Then there's Ernest's and Avis's criticisms of various institutions and classes:
ERNEST ON THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM: “I know nothing that I may say can influence you," he said. "You have no souls to be influenced. You are spineless, flaccid things. You pompously call yourselves Republicans and Democrats. There is no Republican Party. There is no Democratic Party. There are no Republicans nor Democrats in this House. You are lick-spittlers and panderers, the creatures of the Plutocracy.”
ERNEST ON THE MEDIA: “The press of the United States? It is a parasitic growth that battens on the capitalist class. It's function is to serve the established by moulding public opinion, and right well it serves.”
AVIS ON THE RULING-CLASS: "They, as a class, believed that they alone maintained civilization. It was their belief that if they weakened, the great beast would engulf them, and everything of beauty and wonder and joy and good in its cavernous and slime-dripping maw. Without them, anarchy would reign, and humanity would drop backward into the primitive night out of which it had so painfully emerged…….This was the beast to be stamped on, and the highest duty of the aristocrat was to stamp upon it. In short, they alone, by unremitting toil and sacrifice, stood between weak humanity and the all-devouring beast; and they believed it, firmly believed it."
Other than his use of a term like "lick-spittlers", doesn't Ernest sound like pundits today. And if you combine Avis's thoughts on rulers, London's playing the prophet and calling out the soon-to-rise fascisms of Franco, Hitler, Mussolini, and a horde of wannabes. The prophetic nature of The Iron Heel makes it a must-read from the early years of the 20th century.
The second half of the novel leaves its textbook-ish-ness behind, becoming a blood soaked account of urban warfare in Chicago between the fascist Oligarchy and Socialist rebels. Hundreds of thousands die in a matter of days. Machine gunners and bombers mow down wave upon wave of soldiers, revolutionaries, homeless, drunks, unemployed, elders, children, you name it. Michael Bay's destruction of Chicago inTransformers 2 pales in comparison. London tells of streets slippery with blood, executions of initial survivors of mass killings, the torching of the ghettos in South Chicago, and the uninterrupted social lives of Oligarch families in the West Suburbs. In a footnote, we even find out that crucifixion has been reinstated by the Oligarchy as a valid form of capital punishment. Not for the faint-of-heart!
Published in 1908, The Iron Heel reads like a warning of what's to come in the world war torn 20th century. You'll feel smarter (and for rightists, angrier) after reading it....more
Wilde's awesome. The Happy Prince and Other Stories is a collection of five fairy tales - a mix of Christian allegory, socialist moral lesson, and TheWilde's awesome. The Happy Prince and Other Stories is a collection of five fairy tales - a mix of Christian allegory, socialist moral lesson, and The Giving Tree. I could read "The Nightingale and the Rose" as a bedtime story every night. Is sacrificial love ever wasted? Wilde seems to say yes, or at least to find great tragedy in suffering for an unstable romantic ideal. Wilde's moral? Don't confuse the exciting flush of romance with steadfast, infinite love.
If you're not comfortable with reading allegories pointing to Jesus's death and resurrection, then this collection isn't for you. But lovers of "felix culpa" and such will find plenty to enjoy here....more
As a general rule, I love Tomie de Paola. But there's nothing "general" about Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi. The simple telling of the story pairedAs a general rule, I love Tomie de Paola. But there's nothing "general" about Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi. The simple telling of the story paired with absolutely beautiful illustrations make this one special. It's elegant and deep, but also held a four-year-old's attention. Francis's tonsure, his preaching to birds and wolves, his divinely-inspired playing of the Holy Fool, his mystical receiving of the stigmata, his poverty and death - weird stuff in Sigourney's life experience thus far. She was mesmerized! Check out the illustrations of Francis' deathbed (er, death-cloth) and his enraptured dancing as "God's fool". Beautiful. And the inclusion of Francis's "Song to the Sun" ends things perfectly....more