Torn-paper collages in rich, earthy colors depict a brown bear's life cycle, starting in the spring when she emerges from, hungry, from hibernation, t...moreTorn-paper collages in rich, earthy colors depict a brown bear's life cycle, starting in the spring when she emerges from, hungry, from hibernation, through the summer and fall, where she hunts and forages and fishes, with greater and lesser success, all the way to the approaching winter. A swell way to teach your kids about some of the rhythms of nature, as well as a brown bear's diet. (less)
When I was four, my family lived in Middle America—in a quiet suburb outside of Cincinnati, in a split level house with an above-ground pool and a swi...moreWhen I was four, my family lived in Middle America—in a quiet suburb outside of Cincinnati, in a split level house with an above-ground pool and a swingset and a sandbox. It was every child’s dream. But then, everything changed when I turned five—we all of us moved, lock stock and barrel, down to Florida, land of mosquitoes and sunshine and two seasons: Hot and Hurricane. I spent the next 20 years scorning this place, and yearning for the anonymity of a life in Middle America. Now, every time I take a road trip, I spend my time watching the landscapes slip past, kind of wondering what life is like in the small towns through which I travel, wanting to stop and observe and listen and talk to the locals and research the whole place. I wish I had more time to stop and do these things but usually, there’s an end destination and timeline to which I must adhere. So I press on, and forget about the individual towns, but their collective impression remains stamped in my brain. Bryson’s travelogue, therefore, was an appealing book for one of my nature.
What I wanted was a reflection on the nature of small-town America—an armchair travel experience recounting Bryson’s journeys through the heart of the country. What I got was Bryson at his most curmudgeonly, as he alternates between misanthropy at worst and condescension at best and describes his road trip through America and the disappointments he encounters at the various fleabag motels and unremarkable food joints. (It is somewhat of a shame, I think, that the Internet wasn’t around at the time that Bryson took his trip; perhaps he could have avoided many of his let-downs if he had done some research ahead of time. But then, maybe he would have encountered the same scenarios, given his parsimonious inclinations. Has no one ever told him the phrase “you get what you pay for?”)
A brief spoiler alert: the title indicates that this is a book about travels in small-town America, but there are some distinctly non-small places featured in this book—New York City and DC, for starters. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t have to fill his ENTIRE tale with his gripes about the little places and the loss of the good ole days.
I don’t need a paean to the white-picket-fence ideal of Middle America. I don’t need writers to lie and paint a falsely rosy picture—I know as well as anyone how the advent of strip-malls and chain stores and Big Box Stores and the demise of community have undermined our small towns. I’m well aware of the lack of economic opportunities, of the brain drain, of the problems with meth and rural poverty. But as a champion of small-town America, as a person who loves the Flyover States, I WANT to say to you, Mr. Bryson: thanks for nothin’.
That’s what I WANT to say. However, I won’t, because Mr. Bryson is alas, not always talking out of his bum. He’s got a gimlet eye, he’s observant—if somewhat easily bored—and he’s fair and honest with himself enough to sometimes come up with a gem in his writing like this:
“I was seized with a huge envy for these people and their unassuming lives. It must be wonderful to live in a safe and timeless place, where you know everyone and everyone knows you, and you can all count on each other. I envied them their sense of community, their football games, their bring-and-bake sales, their church socials. And I felt guilty for mocking them. They were good people.”
Well said, Mr. Bryson, well said. Now get out there and do another trip. Just be prepared for inflation. (less)
Adorable kitten Yoko loves to read the books that she and her mama brought over from Japan. Unfortunately, in order to get more recognition at school,...moreAdorable kitten Yoko loves to read the books that she and her mama brought over from Japan. Unfortunately, in order to get more recognition at school, she needs to read other, different books--but her mother cannot read the English words to help. Nonetheless, she and Yoko put on their best kimonos and go to the Library, where Yoko gets her own library card, checks out books, and gets so good at reading that soon she is helping her mother learn to read, too.
The illustrations are vividly colored, with background patterns of origami papers placed about intermittently, the kittens are TERRIBLY cute, and it's a good solid story about literacy and family time. (less)
Ten little guinea pigs gather together for a birthday party, and one by one, as they are overwhelmed by the cake and excitement, their numbers diminis...moreTen little guinea pigs gather together for a birthday party, and one by one, as they are overwhelmed by the cake and excitement, their numbers diminish. The rhythm and rhyming of the text BEG for this to be a book that you read aloud, which is just as well, as the illustrations are unremarkable. So focus on the text and have a ball teaching your kids to count! And then try to explain why their pet guinea pigs don't actually want birthday cake. (less)
While this well-known fairytale is in a picture book format, the amount of text in it makes it more suitable for children who already have some solid...moreWhile this well-known fairytale is in a picture book format, the amount of text in it makes it more suitable for children who already have some solid reading skills, or else a solid attention span. It’s the illustrations that make this such a stand-out book—they are beautiful, lush, intensely detailed (in that way, reminiscent of Jan Brett), and arresting depictions of rustic settings. An absolute gem of a book. (less)
In a story told through haiku, we are introduced to an "oriental prince" of a cat living at a shelter, who is adopted by a family and taken to a new h...moreIn a story told through haiku, we are introduced to an "oriental prince" of a cat living at a shelter, who is adopted by a family and taken to a new home, where he eventually adjusts and learns to love his new people.
Perhaps I'm biased due to my love of kitties, but I have to say, this is one of the best picture books I've encountered in a long time--it combines charming illustrations with a clever narrative device while teaching kids about haikus and the nature of cats. Not only that, but there are some genuinely poignant and thoughtful lines, such as when he's describing the shelter:
"Gypsy on my left Pumpkin, my right. Together, we are all alone."
And when he's taken from the shelter, and "one claw/snags, cling to what's known."
Maybe not a classic, but certainly an endearing book.(less)
All I can say is this: this is a book far too text-heavy to be in picture book format for children, and the illustrations are uncompelling illustratio...moreAll I can say is this: this is a book far too text-heavy to be in picture book format for children, and the illustrations are uncompelling illustrations. It's completely off-putting, from the very first page. For a better rendering of Theseus (as well as many other myths) try D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.(less)
A somewhat spare illustrative style and very limited but considered text form the backbone to this story about a Lion who befriends and houses an inju...moreA somewhat spare illustrative style and very limited but considered text form the backbone to this story about a Lion who befriends and houses an injured bird. Together they nurture their friendship through the cold and snowy winter months (“ But winter doesn’t feel all that cold with a friend”) until the spring comes, the bird’s flock returns, and it’s time for the bird to fly away—after which we are given the simple, solemn explanation “But so it goes. Sometimes life is like that.”
Sadness will not prevail in this story, however, and the turning of the seasons—and the loyalty of the Lion’s bird-friend—will ensure a sweet and fitting ending. (less)