Perhaps the reason I've an affinity for dark & twisted art lies with a trio of books I read as a child. Alvin Schwartz is most known for his colle...morePerhaps the reason I've an affinity for dark & twisted art lies with a trio of books I read as a child. Alvin Schwartz is most known for his collection of folktales marketed towards children. His most famous books--Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones--were some of my most favorite reads as a lad, and when I recently happened upon my personal copy of SS3, I couldn't help but dive in. I went to the library and checked out the first two volumes (not sure why I only have the third?), then promptly drove home and leafed through the pages.
It's impossible to continue without acknowledging Stephen Gammell's defining artwork. In fact, I'm going out on a limb and saying that it's Gammell's work that makes this collection so cherished (and challenged*, for that matter). I love the loose, spindly, flowy lines that add an ethereal feel to each work. Everything has the tone of something horrific waiting to be loosed upon your mind. I would love to see Gammell do some Lovecraftian illustrations. Yes, it is Gammell's work that shines in these books, and they've no doubt affected my subconscious.
Allow me to wax on here. The illustrations are grotesque. Magnetic, whereby they repulse the reader, but attract as well. I feel as if Gammell has somehow captured the essence of a nightmare (or some hell) and then rendered it on us, and, in particular, young minds. Frankly I'm surprised these books are read by kids, as I can easily see them getting utterly creeped out and running for Mommy in the dead hours after midnight. Moreover, as I was rocking Avonlea to sleep the other night, I was reading the books and left them beside her crib after she went to sleep. Keisha brought them to me later as I was brushing my teeth and said, "You can't leave those in there. If I look over there and see 'em in the middle of the night I'd be freaked out."
I guess I would, too. I have this fleeting fear whenever I wake up during the night. With the thick shadows and eerie softglow lights, coupled with the fact that I'm not wearing my spectacles, everything is blurred and skewed. My mind deceives me. My eyes tell untruths and distortions. I see monsters and things unknown in the darkness, sinister and evil, things that would fit perfectly alongside these horrors Gammell's illustrated.
Still, there is more to these books than just the art. Schwartz writes in an easy to understand form, especially for children. To my understanding, the intention is for these things to be read aloud, and working with that assumption, these stories all do well. However, if one looks too closely as the sentences, well, one gets disappointed in the simplicity. It's anticlimactic at times, coming across as uninspired and flat out boring. This is not prevalent, nor is it epidemic, but the way these stories are told is very weak when compared with other folktales. (This seems fickle, as I'm comparing a children's book to adult, scholarly things, but what can I say?) Nevertheless, I did feel like Schwartz dropped the ball several times throughout these three books, but if you're reading them aloud, it's not too bad.
If we look at the folktales and urban legends themselves, then these three books are a treasure chest of them. Each tale spans from 1-3 pages (most falling at just over a page) in length, and because of that, there are a multitude of stories. Many are familiar things, things we all know, things our grandparents swear are true. But there are more than enough unfamiliar ones, too. And to me, digesting a "new" folktale, especially one that's been around for years, is like cream cheese icing on a carrot cake. Delicious.
I appreciate Schwartz listing a bibliography at the end of each book, as it's nice to be able to dig deeper (or see different tellings) for a story. When things are from oral tradition, Schwartz lists people involved, too, or areas he collected from. I also like how there are "alternate endings" or miscellany for the stories listed.
These three books are delightful little reads. There's no doubt that they're heavily responsible for my taking to folktales, as I read these books for the first time in elementary school, but they're also probably responsible for my weakness for dark art. I'm glad to have stumbled on my copy of SS3 the other day, and even more glad to find the library's copies were in the stacks and not checked out. Halloween is the perfect time to read these books, and the RIP challenge just makes it more pleasant. If you've never read the stories Schwartz tells, then you're missing out. But even more, if you've not had your heart stopped by Stephen Gammell's horrid illustrations, you're really missing out. I strongly recommend remedying this as soon as humanly possible.
----- *Not only was this series the most challenged during the 1990s, it was also the 7th most challenged between 2000-2009. I'm assuming (less)
When God Created My Toes, by Dandi Daley Mackall, is a cute, rhyming children's picture book. It's beautifully illustrated with bright, vivid drawings...moreWhen God Created My Toes, by Dandi Daley Mackall, is a cute, rhyming children's picture book. It's beautifully illustrated with bright, vivid drawings by David Hohn. The plot is simple, written in short, catchy refrains, dealing with childhood musings by a young girl wondering if God had to hold his nose when He created her toes.
The book progresses up through her body, asking similar questions for when God made her knees, ears, etc. I thought the illustrations were stunning, and combining these with the verse, I think any young child would be able to pay attention to the read.
When God Created My Toes is a short, fun picture book, perfect for children learning to read. It poses funny scenarios and wonderings, and also provides a way for parents to encourage their children to come up with their own rhyme.
*FTC Thingy: When God Created My Toes was provided to me freely from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my honest review, which I've also posted elsewhere on the mighty Internets.(less)
The Dragon and the Turtle Go on Safari is a cute kids book about a turtle named Roger and a dragon named Padraig. The two decide to spend an entire ni...moreThe Dragon and the Turtle Go on Safari is a cute kids book about a turtle named Roger and a dragon named Padraig. The two decide to spend an entire night out camping, beneath the stars and alone all by themselves. While out, the familiar spooks and noises born from childhood imagination appear, and Roger and Padraig struggle to endure the long night.
One thing I thought funny (and somewhat bizarre) was the high, Old English language the two buddies used to speak to one another. "I say my good man..." "Capital!" "Jolly ho." This stuff was fun to read but slightly odd.
The illustrations (by Vincent Nguyen) are all beautiful and rich. Many forest animals appear and all are drawn very child-friendly. The night landscapes are also pretty. The book is a very full and vivid picture book for young readers.
The themes are great for young kids, teaching them the values of friendship and of helping others. Also, on the back cover of the book there is a collection of questions to ask your kids to prompt them to respond to the story.
Overall, The Dragon and the Turtle Go on Safari is a fun book for young children that teaches good morals and tells a fun story along with it. There is a lot of verbiage, so a parent may be used to help younger readers.(less)
I first read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever when I was in 4th grade. I don't remember anything about that read-through. Then, last week, my wife got...moreI first read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever when I was in 4th grade. I don't remember anything about that read-through. Then, last week, my wife got called to substitute teach for elementary school and decided to bring some holiday books for the kids. She came across this one, and on a whim, I picked it up and started reading it aloud.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a very short book, readable in under an hour easily. It's definitely the most I've laughed in a book in a long while. Since I read it aloud to my wife, we both got a kick out of the amusing antics the Herdman's did, and there were a few spots when I had to stop reading from laughing so much.
In short, this book is a great heartwarming Christmas tale. The tiny town has one family that causes all the trouble-- the Herdman's-- and everyone is scared to death of them. They're so awful, all six of them, that when they decide to take an interest in a church Christmas pageant, the whole town wants to watch and see what happens.
This is a great book to read and have fun with. The story is hilarious and the message simple. If you've never read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, then do yourself a favor and pick it up. It'll definitely make you laugh, and if it doesn't, then I don't know what will.(less)
G.W. Frog and the Circus Lion is a sweet and fun story about an elderly lion that is concerned about losing his teeth. When he confesses this to his f...moreG.W. Frog and the Circus Lion is a sweet and fun story about an elderly lion that is concerned about losing his teeth. When he confesses this to his friends, they decide to remedy the situation.
I really enjoyed G.W. Frog and the Circus Lion more than I thought I was going to. At first, it looked like a lot of text and some of the illustrations didn't look finished, so I was unsure how my young brother-in-law was going to like it. I waited for him to come over to my house, and for bedtime, I lay in bed and read him the story. He liked it plenty (I even questioned him the next morning and he said).
The only slight problem I had was how a few pages were formatted. It confused me a bit while reading aloud. I guess some pages are meant to be callouts from something on the opposite page, but I'm unsure. I feel this may could cause kids to stumble when reading themselves, but not very much.
G.W. Frog and the Circus Lion is a great kids book that teaches wonderful lessons, offers a fun story, and serves the purposes of entertaining & educating kids. It fits perfectly on the shelf with the rest of the kids books.(less)
This book is a Bible for young children, full of beautiful illustrations and wonderful stories. Created to share the Word of God with toddlers, it ser...moreThis book is a Bible for young children, full of beautiful illustrations and wonderful stories. Created to share the Word of God with toddlers, it serves as a great tool for introducing many of the important stories from the Bible from an early age. This book is perfect for toddlers and young children just learning to read.
I found this children's Bible to be thorough and simple. Each story references the Scripture from which it was taken, and at the end of each section there is a special note for parents to use to connect the story to "real life". The use of onomatopoeia's, such as Clipety-Clop, allow the reader to animate the story vocally, which works well combined with the colorful illustrations. The illustrations were beautiful, fascinating, and fun to look at, and will surely interest the toddler's eyes and imagination.
I felt that the author captured the main themes of the Bible well and presented them in a fashion that toddler's would enjoy and learn from. By combining the illustrations, parent connections, and actual Scripture-based words, this toddler's Bible may work as a successful book, though with the temperamental attention spans of some toddlers, it may be tough to keep them focused.
In addition to the actual book, a bonus DVD is included, which contains an hour of fourteen Bible stories. This is great for children of all ages, even as young as infants. (less)
The Graveyard Book begins with a set of murders, gruesome and dark. An infant baby boy happens to crawl from his cradle during the murders and winds u...moreThe Graveyard Book begins with a set of murders, gruesome and dark. An infant baby boy happens to crawl from his cradle during the murders and winds up in a nearby graveyard, where the inhabitants--ghosts, ghouls, and other paranormal things--agree to raise the child.
Nobody Owens grows up under the tutelage of Silas, a mysterious figure that's not quite dead, yet not living either. Life in the graveyard is different for Bod, but the boy adapts quickly and loves the place as his home.
Neil Gaiman is a wonderful storyteller. He has a way with words, like he somehow is able to pierce deep into the soul and speak directly to you. The prose is fantastic, and I daresay the man strings together words with magic. Reading The Graveyard Book (or, in my case, listening to the audio version) was a delightful experience, as all Gaiman tends to be.
In addition to Gaiman's exceptional word choices, the plot itself is rich with real characters. Bod is a young child coming to learn not only about life, but also about growing up in a graveyard with ghosts and what-not for guardians. His teachers and friends are all on a different spiritual plane, and the rare site of another human is something Bod cherishes. The boy has a great personality, and I enjoyed watching him grow and mature through the novel.
As I mentioned, I read the audio version of this book. Narrated by Neil Gaiman himself, the audio book seemed to offer its own type of magic for listening. I found myself captivated by Gaiman's reading. Plus, being the author, I'm sure he's able to act the part (adding inflections, etc. in dialog for example) better than any other narrator. World-famous banjo player Béla Fleck created and played the music that opens and closes each cd, and this music always fit the action.
The Graveyard Book is a deeply imaginative book, honored with a Newberry Award, Carnegie Medal, Hugo Award, and Locus Award. This highly decorated book deserves all the praise it gets. The story is dark at times, but never too dark, and I enjoyed it very much. The Graveyard Book is a fun read that I recommend to anyone. It hearkens back fond memories of childhood, and the trip with Bod was one I feel anyone could relate to.(less)
The revised edition of Tyndale Press' Hands-On Bible (NLT) was shipped to me a few weeks ago for review. I requested the bible for two reasons: I've n...moreThe revised edition of Tyndale Press' Hands-On Bible (NLT) was shipped to me a few weeks ago for review. I requested the bible for two reasons: I've never read from the New Living Translation and was curious to see it, and it looked like a must-have tool for anyone ever thinking about doing any bible-related activities with kids. As an often church volunteer and a one-day-to-be father, I thought this would be a nice addition to the plethora of other bibles lying around. As it turns out, I was correct.
The NLT was certainly much more approachable than the KJV, but I didn't feel it had the same mmph to it my ESV has. (That's not to say that I didn't like the translation, but I feel like it's something I would need to invest more time in than what I have for this review.) Some of the verses that I'm familiar with just sounded different and off while reading, but I enjoyed getting a new perspective on them. However, I definitely feel like the NLT is simpler than the ESV or NIV and that this translation would be perfect for children.
Activities galore cover the contents of the bible. Many of them are simple and require only common things found around the house. Some may take a little preparation, but none of them are very time consuming. These activities also really help draw real-world comparisons from text that was read, driving home the point and offering a way to help children remember a passage. The only qualm I have about these is that some are too short, but that can easily be remedied by expounding more on the passage through words or customizing the activity.
Overall, I really liked the Hands-On Bible. It's sleek design is attractive and fun looking, perfect for kids. The text is varying, using bold fonts and illustrations/side-boxes, which helps break up the monotonous look of most bibles. While this bible is not a beginner's bible, it's clearly the next step after, and I think most young readers would enjoy reading through God's Word in this way. (less)
Max Lucado's One Hand, Two Hands is a kids book that teaches children important life lessons--like helping others or showing compassion-- through exam...moreMax Lucado's One Hand, Two Hands is a kids book that teaches children important life lessons--like helping others or showing compassion-- through example of what we do with our hands. The book is a nice hardcover, sure to withstand grasping hands and toddler tosses. It's beautifully illustrated (by Gaby Hansen) with splashing watercolors and captivating images.
The book is a simple rhyming style early-learning read, easy enough for young readers to read along or for smaller ones to easily understand. The story is about a young girl that learns what all she can do with her hands, from helping her mom wash dishes to cleaning up her room to playing with pets. The lessons are important and easy to grasp, and I think this would be great for young kids.
Overall, this is a great book with a beautiful message for growing children. It's short and simple enough that I can see myself reading it over again to my kids. (less)
The Tales of Beedle the Bard serves as a supplement to the Harry Potter series. This book is first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows....moreThe Tales of Beedle the Bard serves as a supplement to the Harry Potter series. This book is first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. What Grimm's Fairy Tales is to muggles, The Tales of Beedle the Bard is to wizards and witches. This book was written for charity, and the proceeds from purchase go to a children's charity.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard is broken into five short tales, each with a bit of commentary afterward written by Albus Dumbledore. All five stories are short and have dark elements in the vein of old fairy tales. My favorite story is probably "The Warlock's Hairy Heart." It tells of a warlock that locks away his most prized possession so he does not have to love and care about anything but himself.
This book was read aloud to my wife (or vice versa), and it fell nicely into the bedtime story catalog. While I can't recommend it for heavy or serious reading, it was refreshing to have a short tale that could induce laughter or intrigue, even if it was fleeting. It seems that brevity is, in fact, the biggest fault of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Perhaps if there were more than five tales...
All of the tales offer some sort of moral, but I don't think any of them are impacting and lasting. I can't imagine anyone reading these without any Harry Potter knowledge, but if they did it would be mostly understood, though I can't say it would be greatly enjoyable.
Overall, The Tales of Beedle the Bard offered a few enjoyable nights of bedtime stories and it allowed me to read something new in the Harry Potter universe. I would have liked more depth, more character, more things I'd expect from a novel, but this was not the intent of Rowling. Is the book worth the cheap cover price? Maybe, especially to fill out the HP personal library. Is it worth a trip to the local library to check out? Absolutely.(less)
So long ago I don't remember when I first heard about Patrick Rothfuss' not-for-children children's book. What began as a bedtime story he told his gi...moreSo long ago I don't remember when I first heard about Patrick Rothfuss' not-for-children children's book. What began as a bedtime story he told his girlfriend made its way to publication through Subterranean Press. I put my copy on reserve months ahead of time and, eventually, the book arrived at my house.
At a cursory glance, The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle seems like any other children's book. The cover has a cute little girl and her stuffed teddy bear playing in a creek. Even the names "the Princess" and "Mr. Whiffle" imply all is well within the pages. But, as the author, the publisher, and the accompanying sticker tell the reader, this book is not for children.
The Thing Beneath the Bed is a story of three parts, that is to say it has three different endings. One ending is a sweet, happy ending that may be read to appease the lighthearted or those in need of a happy ending. One ending leaves a bit more to the imagination and has horrifying ramifications to the story. And the third ending, Pat's "true ending," as he calls it, hearkens back to an older style of fairy tale ending. Of the three, the third is certainly my favorite, as it captures both my type of humor as well as offers a shock value that can let the reader think.
But what about the plot? What about the illustrations? Both of these work hand-in-hand together in this book (as they do in any comic or picture book). Illustrated by Nate Taylor, each page is beautiful and conveys a certain message or feeling. Some pages require background investigation to pick up on things in the Princess' kingdom. One thing about the illustrations that I particularly liked was the use of black and shadows, especially when dealing with the Thing. I also liked the sweet caricatured facial expressions of the Princess. As for written plot, the story is simple. There is a Princess that lives alone with her stuffed teddy bear, Mr. Whiffle, in a castle, and together they play and try to avoid the Thing that lives beneath the bed. The duo have adventures and fun together during the day, and at night they keep the lights on.
One thing that greatly intrigued me about this book was the prospect of three completely different endings. I was intrigued to see how the story would end, and I'm glad to say that Pat did not meet any of my expectations, but instead well exceeded them. I was thoroughly pleased with all endings, and I think that if one were to stop at the first then it would be a fine book for children. The latter two endings still may be fine for children, depending on maturity levels and faith in the world, but to be on the safe side I'd recommend the multiple warnings to keep from kids.
Overall, I really enjoyed Patrick Rothfuss' picture story book. It was short, dark, twisted, and bittersweet, and it fit right up my alley. I read the book aloud to my wife, showing off each page like a kindergarten teacher. (My wife preferred the first ending.) If you didn't get your hands on a copy of The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle, know that this book is currently only available through Subterranean Press. It was one of Sub Press' fastest selling books of all time, and they currently are offering a signed 2nd printing for $25. (Makes me feel conflicted. I have an unsigned 1st printing...) So, if you've the money to spare and are interested in reading Pat's delightfully dark "children's" story, click the above link and order your copy today. (less)
God Gave Us Love is written by Lisa T. Bergren and illustrated by Laura J. Bryant. The plot is simple and easy to understand, perfect for a children's...moreGod Gave Us Love is written by Lisa T. Bergren and illustrated by Laura J. Bryant. The plot is simple and easy to understand, perfect for a children's book. The art is beautiful and eye catching. Basically, Little Cub gets a bit perturbed at some pesky otters and her grandpa has to remind her about love. They go on a journey where Little Cub learns about God's love and how she should act towards others.
I found the illustrations from God Gave Us Love pleasing and pretty, and I found the story delightful. I think these kids books offer a great lesson to inquiring minds, and I'm sure when I have kids I'll be reading them to them.(less)
God Gave Us Christmas, written by List T. Bergren and illustrated by David Hohn, is a children's book describing the importance of Christmas and what...moreGod Gave Us Christmas, written by List T. Bergren and illustrated by David Hohn, is a children's book describing the importance of Christmas and what it truly means. The story is simple and easy to understand and I think children would understand the meaning very easily. The major plot involves a young polar bear asking her mother questions about Santa Claus, who in turn decides to take her daughter on a trip to understand the importance of Christmas, and in turn, God.
I found this book good to listen to, as my wife read it aloud to me and our puppy. Children's books are meant to be real aloud, after all. After leafing through the book myself, I find the drawings pretty and aesthetically pleasing. The only real problem was that I found some of the font color choices a bit hard to read at times (the black font on the deep blue/green sky was tough to make out, I thought), but this is easily overlooked. Overall, this is a great children's book to add to any Christmas collection.(less)