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Mike Wibzowski

May 3, 2012

Non-fiction!

Okay, so you know how I don’t actually like poetry?  My co-worker does but even she gives a big thumbs-down to J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen’s Take Two! A Celebration of Twins.  There are so many things wrong with this book.  Sophie Blackall’s art is cute, but the poems can be awkward or sexist or fat-shaming or all of the above.  I am displeased.

Douglas Florian’s Poem Runs is really cute, but I don’t love the art.  Seriously, though I made it through the WHOLE BOOK OF POEMS.  So…it’s gotta be good, right?  I think this will be a good one for your baseball-loving kids.

Every Day’s a Dog’s Day by Marilyn Singer with cute art by Miki Sakamoto is filled with poems!  POEMS.  Indeed.  But hey, they’re about dogs, so I can handle it.  Actually, most of them are really good.

Here Come the Girl Scouts! written by Shana Corey and well-illustrated by Hadley Hooper does a good job of mixing the story of Juliette Gordon Low–known always as Daisy–with inspiration quotes by Mrs. Low.  The extra information in the back, however, reveals Daisy to be kind of a nutter.  So.  Interesting on both counts but I think THAT story could’ve been told as a children’s book and gone over fine.

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter is the fascinating story of Ruth Harkness’s trip to find and bring back the mythical beast called a panda.  Oh Zee, have you read her biography?  I had no idea that people once thought pandas were a myth.  (My daughter would say that there’s hope for unicorns and Nessie now too–she believes in everything.)  Melissa Sweet’s art is best when it’s collage-like, and there were times that it seemed too modern, or that thirty-six-year-old Harkness seems far, far too young.  The story, of course, suffers from the fact that it’s written for little guys–the distribution of her husband’s ashes is okay but getting clever with the institutional sexism of the time isn’t?

Biographies! (Don’t ask me why the Harkness book isn’t considered to be a biography.)

Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter may be trying to work with storytelling the way Picasso worked on his paintings, but I’m not buying.  It’s a odd way of storytelling–present tense, except when it isn’t; child-like even when he isn’t a child anymore; sort of brush strokes of his life (if you’ll forgive me) but without a sense of context.  Did the text happen, other than the criticism of his work?  Are his quotes taken out of linear context?  (Like that one by Harkness in the last one, which was obviously said after the story was over because she spoke in the past tense.)  Anyway, Picasso has some craaaazy eyes sometimes, but I guess that’s maybe how he was and not Kevin Hawkes’s illutrations? 

I think Maira Kalman’s biography Looking at Lincoln is much better.  It’s more conversational, more interesting, more engrossing.  What I don’t get is why we have it under Kalman’s name rather than Lincoln’s.  It doesn’t seem to be about her at all, except her musings about whether his wife had a cute nickname for him or the dog was crossed-eyed.  Not enough to make it HER biography.  Not sure if that’s an error but it’s across the board, so I’ma let it go.

Words Set Me Free: The Story of a Young Frederick Douglass also is very strange to me in how it’s told.  It’s written in first person, except when quotes are used for his actual words, which is off-putting.  Also, it’s weird in that it ends with an aborted attempt at escape, except…before the “aborted” part.  What?  Huh?  Maybe I’m missing a page?  Maybe they’re stuck together?  James E. Ransome’s art is very moving, as is the story, but it’s not quite right somehow.

Why do I expect so much?  And what is it that I’m expecting?

Fiction!

Amy “You Poor Girl” Ackelsberg (who I will forever see in my head as looking just like a very forlorn Amy Acker–so, could be worse) begins her Strawberry Shortcake book The Butterfly Ride with a forlorn (see? she’s projecting!) Orange Blossom bemoaning the boring Berry Bitty City.  Perhaps, instead, she should have issues with the fact that she’s the token black in Berry Bitty City, or that it’s sexist, or that she’s the only one who has a job even close to not being gender specific (she runs the general store, right?  I’m SO glad I have this info in my head now) and SHE’S BORED WITH IT.  Sigh.  Anyway, they eventually decide that everything is boring but a butterfly ride.  These butterflies, by the way, have giant eyes and deceptively “cute” (note the quotation marks) faces and are truly nightmare fuel.  Orange has some problems coming down from the high of riding a creep machine, but then she realizes if she gives up her dull life, she’d also have to give up the dull safety of her dull interchangeable white friends, which she would NEVER EVER DO.

The end.

I get the main point–be happy with what you have, blah blah blah, but she’s still NOT at the end, so…no, not effective.  Why do parents let their kids read this crap?  No offense, Amy Ackerberg.  At least you have your looks.

One Special Day by Lola M. Schaefer is another book where I seem to be missing the point.  The cool part is how the main character, Spencer, is as fast as a ___ (kids see picture and announce animal), as wild as a (same thing), and so on.  But then his mom has a baby and…you get like a sentence on it.  The end.  The end?  The end.  Oh okay.  I bet the storytime kids will appreciate it anyway.  So I’ll read it to them.  But I won’t love it.

The Hero of Little Street is a wordless story of, um, being chased by bullies and going into paintings and stuff.  The art is cool–trying to be sure I’m following the lines of the story is less so, but that’s a personal thing, I think.  I wonder how this would go over with my older kids but I think I already have all their books set aside for summer.  Too bad.  Maybe I’ll do two stories.  Anyway, it’s by Gregory Rogers and I’m sure a better parent than I can sit there patiently while their child comes up with his or her own ideas of what’s going on.

House Held Up By Trees, written by Ted Kooser and with beautiful illustrations by Jon Klassen, seems to be to be a book without an audience.  It’s the kind of book that reminds you of The Giving Tree, except without the attachment the child can create to the boy in the story.  Here, the perspective is spread too wide.  It’ll probably win a bunch of awards, and I won’t understand why, unless those awards are for art.  Adults likes to give awards to books that make them feel wistful.  And yet…are those really the best CHILDREN’S books?

Okay, twelve’s enough for now, but I certainly have more.  AND we got some extra money this year, so “more” is going to be, like, OMG MORE.  Whoever gave us the money to bulk up our “classics” collection, bless you.

 

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