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As I sit here typing, I am staring at a poster for last year’s Caldecott winner, Brian Floca’s Locomotive. Would the committee that honored that wonderful book have given the time of day to the utter silliness that is Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads?
Of course, I have no idea. Anyway: new year, new committee. (That’s one of the best things about these book committees — they are new each year.) January will be filled with reading and rereading; making notes and formulating arguments; looking over the list of nominated books and reading over the written support for each book. When they see Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads on the list (for I cannot imagine a Caldecott world that does not include this book on its list), some members will scratch their heads and utter the words I often uttered when I served on the committee: “What the heck? Who nominated this? Now I have to read it again???” Yes, you do, fellow members! Bwahahaha.
And here is why someone (or maybe several someones) will nominate this book.
1. It’s so dang funny. COME ON! Look at that cover. Here we have a little white-clad hombre named Ryan. His foot rests on a tortoise. Ryan seems to be pondering hard about something. Look closer at him. His belt buckle sports a dinosaur. And, to the left, we see three dudes (the Toad brothers) staring at him, evil intent in their eyes. Well, most of their eyes. The middle guy, whose teeth are loosely sprinkled across his gums, has an eye patch. And — ewwwww — his ear is half-bitten off. The bottom dude has a gunshot hole through his hat, and the top guy has a righteous scar on his nose.
2. Use of color. Have you ever seen so much brown in your whole life? The end pages and every illustration is chockablock full of brown. Because of All That Brown, the eye easily notices the occasional guy in white riding a tortoise or the whitish cow being kissed by outlaws or the red tongue of an outlaw insulting Mayor McMuffin.
(COME ON — I just typed that a cow was being kissed by outlaws and someone was riding a tortoise! And the mayor is named McMuffin?! You know you want this book! Right now.)
3. Use of line. With all that brown going on, Lane Smith is going to have some artistic magic up his sleeve. He does. You know he does. First the town is awash in vertical lines. The mayor’s pants are decorated with straight lines; even his round ample belly is made up of straight vertical lines. The most dramatic scene, where the sheriff is measuring for the jail, uses shape and line to extend the story. The legs of the Toad brothers menace the page with their size and sharp angles while our hero measures the jail door.
It’s not until the varmints have been tricked into entering the jail that those vertical lines disappear as we see hats being thrown into the air and townspeople dancing. Oh, and some lady in a ginormous pink bonnet has her fist raised.
4. The humor. Nuff said. Having the sheriff come into town on a tortoise taking two full page-turns is genius. (“Give him a minute.”) Making the boy’s only area of expertise dinosaurs will make any kid laugh. Out loud. For real. Every single spread has funny stuff going on. Slow down. Look.
Will this be enough to catch the eye of the committee? Yes. Will that translate into votes for the book? That is a whole ‘nother thang. Will the committee love talking about this? What do you think?
#35 The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1989)
I remember when this book was the hit of the third grade. Everyone passed it around and read it and we all were cracking up. Fractured fairy tales in the hands of the skilled Jon Scieszka makes for fun reading! – Sarah
Rocky and Bullwinkle would have been proud. The fractured fairy tale is never so fractured as when it springs newborn from the mouth of the ultimate unreliable narrator. Consider it the book that brought us our Scieszka and our Lane. Though you might think that their Stinky Cheese Man would make it higher on the list, this is certainly not the case.
The synopsis from my old review: “As A. Wolf puts it, the whole thing was just a big misunderstanding. One of those events that get blown way out of proportion. See, it’s like this… the wolf was just looking to borrow a cup of sugar for his poor bed-ridden granny. He wanted to make a cake for her, but finding himself lacking the necessary ingredients he went to his nearest neighbor to borrow some. Now here’s where it all went higgledy-piggledy. The pig (living in a straw home) didn’t answer the door and the wolf had a bad cold. By pure bad luck he accidentally sneezed the home down and, in effect, killed the pig. Thinking it a bad idea to waste pork, the wolf ate the pig and decided to try another neighbor. And so it went until he got to the brick house and was shortly, thereafter, arrested. And all for the want of a cup of sugar.”
According to 100 Best Books for Children, Jon and Lane sort of did the thing you’re told not to do when creating a picture book. Under normal circumstances you’re supposed to come in with your portfolio (if you’re an artist) or you text (if you’re an author) and the publisher pairs you up with somebody. In this particular case, Smith and Scieszka met in a zoo (please hold all appropriate comments until I finish) and when Lane went in to show his portfolio to editor Regina Hayes he showed her Smith’s manuscript as well. Batta bing, batta boom, instant fame, glory, and rocket ships to the moon. As Scieszka himself said of the book in a Puffin interview, “Our first book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs sold thirty bazillion copies in eight languages.” Sounds ’bout right.
Fun Fact:The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature gets the title of this book wrong. No, really! It does. Check out page 875. Granted it’s just the small goof of calling this The Story of the Three Little Pigs rather than The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, but I think the inclusion of the “True” in the title is necessary. Nay! Imperative. They almost make up for the gaff by finishing his bio by saying, “critics have called Scieszka’s work ‘postmodern’ Children call it funny.” Good save, Norton me pal. We’ll let you off the hook this time.
Strangely enough you can read the full text here, if you’ve half a mind to. Sans pictures, though.
Thinking about it, I saw Scieszka talk about this book briefly in a recent B&N video. In it he says: “I get a lot of mail from Kindergartners. Actually a lot of it addressed to A. Wolf saying, ‘Dear Mr. Wolf. You were bad. You should be in jail.’ Which I t
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by Lane Smith
Roaring Brook Press 2011
A boy fondly remembers his great-grandfather through the topiary garden he has built over the years.
There's something missing here, something I can't quite put my finger on. Or maybe something off.
We have a boy, ostensibly the main character, going through the garden and explaining the meaning behind all the various animals and objects his
A baby donkey tries to guess what a book is for and comes up with adorably silly uses in this pint-size companion to Lane Smith's gem It's a Book.
Instead of facing off over reading formats (the donkey's laptop verses the gorilla's book), as they did in last year's book, the two discuss the purpose of books as only babies would:
Plunked down on the floor, with their legs straight in front of them, as if they just lost their balance and tipped over, neither of them quite talking it over and both blurting out their thoughts.
The donkey's ears are perked up and he's trying to imagine what a book could be. The gorilla, a burly little guy with a tiny hat, is blankly watching him, as if didn't occur to him that he could help sort things out.
Every time the donkey guesses what the baby's gorilla's book is for and acts that idea out (as if he were playing charades), the gorilla dismisses his suggestion with a matter-of-fact, "No."
First, the donkey tastes the book, then he opens it over his brow like a hat, props it on his legs like a laptop and sticks it in his mouth to make a beak.
Soon he's making it flap in the air like bird, riding it like a saddle, rigging it up to be a roof for his building of blocks, and even trying it out as a pillow. Ugh, definitely not a pillow.
Of course none of these guesses are correct, and by the end of Smith's book, the taciturn gorilla finally spills what the book is really for.
"It's for reading…It's a book silly!" Gorilla tells him, then opens it up for both to share.
Lane's repartee between the donkey and gorilla is spare and hilarious, and made all the more funny because it's played out in the same way that babies play: alongside each other without a lot of interaction.
“The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” ~ALSC
50 Book Pledge | Book #13: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
On Monday, February 13, 2012, Seth Godin published a piece entitled “The End of Paper Changes Everything“ for The Domino Project. The premise of the piece was that “[n]ot just a few things, but everything about the book and the book business is transformed by the end of paper.” In fact, Godin boldly declared “the book itself is changed.” He’s absolutely right.
My definition of a book has always revolved around its tangible form. To me, a book is made up of a cover, title, paper, weight. But that’s not going to be the case for much longer. The birth of the e-book forces us to answer Godin’s contentious question: “What makes something a book?”
If we take away a book’s physicality, then what we’re left with is its foundation. The parts that make up a book’s substance. A book will now be defined by its characters, plot, themes, setting, message. Perhaps, a book will become what it was always meant to be: A story.
However, this leads us to yet another conundrum: If a book isn’t bound by the restrictions of its physical form, does that mean its storytelling potential is limitless. You tell me.
The winners will be announced live at the Children’s Choice Book Awards gala on May 7th. Nominees have been divided into four groups classified by different school grades.
In the Author of the Year category, middle-grade fiction writers dominate. The nominees include Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney, Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson, The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan and Dork Diaries 3: Tales from a Not-So-Talented Pop Star by Rachel Renée Russell.
#91 The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1992)
I found this when I was in high school (I have much younger siblings, which was probably how I was getting access to picture books in those days) and laughed so much I took it in to share with my friends at school. There we were, a bunch of high schoolers backstage at musical rehearsals, reading a picture book aloud to each other and snorfling a lot. My favorite Scieszka. – Amy M. Weir
Never met a kid who didn’t love this book. – Becky Fyolek
And the man of cheese stank takes a hit! A big hit, it seems. Down from #36 on the previous poll he sinks down down down to #91. How to account for this? One might wonder if the Stinky Cheese Man now has so many imitators that he’s near forgotten today. A generation of writers is cropping up who grew up on Scieszka and Lane’s classic. Klassen and Barnett. Rex and Brown. Little Stinky Cheese Man is still here, but will he continue to fall in the future? That’s the question.
I think my encapsulation of The Stinky Cheese Man is best said by people other than myself. Read this Jon Scieszka article from the Horn Book about design for starters.
And here’s a plot synopsis from Amazon: “If geese had graves, Mother Goose would be rolling in hers. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales retells–and wreaks havoc on–the allegories we all thought we knew by heart. In these irreverent variations on well-known themes, the ugly duckling grows up to be an ugly duck, and the princess who kisses the frog wins only a mouthful of amphibian slime. The Stinky Cheese Man deconstructs not only the tradition of the fairy tale but also the entire notion of a book. Our naughty narrator, Jack, makes a mockery of the title page, the table of contents, and even the endpaper by shuffling, scoffing, and generally paying no mind to structure. Characters slide in and out of tales; Cinderella rebuffs Rumpelstiltskin, and the Giant at the top of the beanstalk snacks on the Little Red Hen. There are no lessons to be learned or morals to take to heart–just good, sarcastic fun that smart-alecks of all ages will love.”
What’s funny to me is that back in the day Publishers Weekly was NOT charmed, “Grade-school irreverence abounds in this compendium of (extremely brief) fractured fairy tales, which might well be subtitled ‘All Things Gross and Giddy.’ . . . The collaborators’ hijinks are evident in every aspect of the book, from endpapers to copyright notice. However, the zaniness and deadpan delivery that have distinguished their previous work may strike some as overdone here. This book’s tone is often frenzied; its rather specialized humor, delivered with the rapid-fire pacing of a string of one-liners, at times seems almost mean-spirited.”
Didn’t really matter since it got a Caldecott anyway.
Booklist was a little more positive with its, “Every part of the book bears the loving, goofy stamp of its creators, and while their humor won’t appeal to everyone, their endeavors will still attract a hefty following of readers–from 9 to 99.”
Kirkus liked it a bit more still: “Parodic humor here runs riot…irrepressibly zany fun!” (parodic?)
And School Library Journal followed all this up with, “Clearly, it is necessary to be familiar with the original folktales to understand
“Its a Book!” – whilst I am definitely in favour of innovation and new technology, there is nothing like a book! This little gem beautifully and humorously puts books and new tech in perspective! Highly recommended! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhUNyzYzBX0
Monkey is absorbed, reading a book. Jackass is busy, playing on his laptop. Jackass gets curious. What is it about this very static, boring looking assemblage of cardboard and paper that has Monkey’s attention so completely? Jackass does what all curious kids do, asks and asks and asks and asks. But, instead of deterring Jackass, Monkey’s repetitive response only spurs him on till, in desperation, Monkey lets Jackass look see for himself.
What is the result? Computer geek Jackass gets hooked on a book and Monkey heads off to the library!
By highlighting what a book is not, Lane Smith cleverly shows exactly the joy, fascination and involvement to be had by turning the pages of a good book. The illustrations humorously depict the characters of Monkey, Jackass and Mouse and further definition is given by the clever use of a different font for each character.
Not a word is wasted in this celebration of what a book is and why we love them!
“It’s a Book!” by Lane Smith, is a Walker Book, ISBN 978-1-921720-14-7.
We should be celebrating the printed word more loudly and more often nowadays. As educators we are all painfully aware of how the electronic word has infringed upon the territory of books, and some of us still hold out hope that the book will endure. Now that I'm a librarian, I see that plenty of kids still want to hold that bound volume in their hands and take in the fully sensual experience of reading in that form.
As I mentioned, I already attended the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Show during its opening, but the hustle and bustle of the event kept me from really getting a good look at all the pieces and reading the actual books. So the Putnam art and editorial crew took a field trip last Friday to spend a few hours there in relative quiet and share our likes/dislikes.
I was literally cooing and gasping with laughter aloud when I read this, as I couldn’t believe that a single book could be so adorable and disturbing at once! In three parts, Mr. and Mrs. Goat find various ways to accidentally muddy/trap/maim a group of baby bunnies, and Bear comes to the rescue… with, um, interesting solutions. Well-meaning Bear subjects the bunnies to the washing machine (and hangs them to dry!), a high-powered fan, and a sewing machine. AND THE BUNNIES ARE STILL CUTE! AND NOT DEAD! Hilarious.
This was one of my favorite designed books at the show. I just love the wintery limited color palette with pops of red… reminds me of a modern version of classics like Mary Wore Her Red Dress. Plus, predator (Fox) and prey (Groundhog) become friends and share toast. Aw.
It’s a Book
By Lane Smith
Roaring Brook Press (a division of Holtzbrinck)
On shelves now.
Where to begin? Begin at the beguine, I suppose. I’ve had It’s a Book sitting on my shelf for months and now the time is ripe. As you may have heard one place or another, it contains an off-color word at the end (“jackass”, belated spoiler alert) and it makes fun of folks who prefer online zips and whizbangs to good old-fashioned paper books. So what are we to make of it? Well, I hate to lob this designation on any author or illustrator I like, but this is so clearly a picture book for grown-ups that it squeaks. While kids today slip from electronic readers to paper books and back again like svelte otters, it is the grown-ups around them that are heard cooing and purring every time a shiny new electronic toy hits the market. For those who love the printed page, such enthusiasm can be scary. Kids don’t fear for the so-called “death of the book” but some of their caregivers certainly do, and so for them Lane Smith has penned an exchange between a pixel-happy donkey and the monkey (slash ape) who just wants to read his book in peace.
Hedging his bets right from the start, Smith begins by pulling his punch as far back as it can reasonably go. Turn to the title page and you read, “It’s a mouse. It’s a jackass. It’s a monkey.” Ignoring the fact that the monkey is actually an ape (though he may be hiding his tail beneath his, uh, muumuu?), the story begins with the donkey asking the primate what he’s got there. “It’s a book.” Not understanding the donkey tries to figure out the use of such an object. “Can it text?” “No.” “Tweet?” “No.” “Wi-Fi?” “No.” Eventually the donkey gets to see what a book really can do and when his companion asks if he can have his book back he gets a pretty straightforward, “No,” echoing his own earlier dismissals. The donkey, to his credit, offers to charge the book up when he’s done, but the mouse perched on the top of the monkey’s (slash ape’s) head clarifies everything, “You don’t have to . . .” Turn the page. “It’s a book, jackass.”
In the past, Smith was king at walking the fine line between adult humor and children’s humor. Books like The Happy Hockey Family remain spot on. Kids find them funny just on a basic humor level and adults love the sly jabs at easy reading books of yore. This balance was once a Smith trademark, but lately he’s been falling too far on the adult side of the equation. When I mention The Elephant in the Room to other children’s librarians I often meet with blank stares. Though it came out just a year before It’s a Book, this title was a pretty strange concoction. In it a donkey (a jackass?) asks another about “the elephant in the room”. His companion then launches into a series of unspoken topics that might be that elephant until, at the end, we see an actual elephant sitting in the room. After trying to figure out if there was a political point to the story (donkeys and elephants rarely co-mingle for any other reason) it occurred to me that the book made no sense. Of course the first thing a child reader is going to assume when they hear the term “elephant in the room” is that there’s an actual elephant there. Only adults would go along with the donkey’s string of inte
Lulu and the Brontosaurus, written by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith, Atheneum Books, $15.99, ages 4-10, 128 pages. A little smarty named Lulu finally asks her parents for something they won't give her, then storms off to get it for herself in this wry book about the follies of being high and mighty. Up until now, Lulu has gotten whatever she's wanted (tons of toys and cartoon-viewing time). Even on those rare occasions when Mom and Dad have said no, she's worn them down with her screeching. (After a good lung blast, then flopping onto the floor and flailing around her limbs, one or the other parent always caved in, saying, "Well, just this once.") But this time, Lulu's request, an enormous dinosaur for her b-day gift, is going nowhere. Fighting mad, she says, "Foo on you," to her parents and runs off to the forest to track one down for herself. Along the way, she sings a brontosaurus song at the top of her lungs and startles awake three creatures who are now so grumpy they try to do her in. But being such a pain, Lulu knows how to hurt them worse.
When a snake wraps itself around her, she squeezes him "deader." When a tiger pounces, she whacks him with her polka-dot suitcase. And when a bear bares its teeth, she stomps on his paw until his toenails break off. Finally, after trudging into the deepest part of the forest, Lulu pulls out a sleeping bag from her suitcase and sings herself to sleep.The next morning, Lulu wakes to find the brontosaurus she's wants so badly, looming over her like a mountain. But who's really found whom? And will she ever regret saying, "Foo on you," to her mom and dad? Lane's pictures of the ferociously pouty Lulu share equal billing with Viorst's deliciously wry text, and tickle you at every turn. Like a well-timed comedy act, Viorst sets up the scene with short, pithy chapters and Lane follows with hilarious pictures of Lulu acting hoity-toity or wrestling down a wild animal. My favorite: the opening picture of Lulu, glaring at readers with her arms crossed and face pinched into a frown.
Olivia Goes to Venice, written & illustrated by Ian Falconer, Atheneum, $17.99, ages 3-7, 48 pages. What happens when a precocious pig helps herself to a piece of one of Venice's most recognizable towers? Well, if you're Olivia, you never really know because you're too busy wondering if the city will remember you after you leave. In this delightful sixth book in the Olivia series, our favorite porcine hero rattles the bell tower of St. Mark's Basilica for only the second time in 1,000 years after a gelato-fueled romp through the streets of Venice. While on a family vacation in the legendary city that sits in the Venetian Lagoon, Olivia works herself into a dither over everything she sees, blurting out hyperboles whenever the family stops to take in a view, then feigning exhaustion to get her mom and dad to stop for gelato. After criss-crossing bridges that serpentine over canals, she panics that her blood sug
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Yup. Had me bawling like a wee babe, this one. A little disappointing to realize that no matter what the actual movie does, this fan film of a scene from The Hunger Games will probably be more moving than anything Hollywood could produce. After all, I can’t imagine that the actual film will spend this appropriate amount of time on Rue’s death. I could do without the Linkin Park song, but even that sort of works. Of course, I never would have found this without the Huffington Post’s piece on Book Videos: 19 of the Best and the Worst. They’ve a fair amount of children’s stuff, but also some amazing pieces like this one from Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From:
I could call this next video A Bunch of White Guys Making Origami, but I’ll restrain myself. In any case, it is rather neat. Particularly when you get into the medical applications of the form.
Truth be told, I just like how that one fellow says the word “elephant”. Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.
Next up, one of my favorite books of the year. It’s good old Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze. This gives you a very mild sense of the book itself. Probably the rock joke conveys the feel best. Just sayin’.
by Judith Viorst
illustrations by Lane Smith
Lulu is the sort of girl who won't take no for an answer when she demands a dinosaur for her birthday so she goes out to find one on her her own. Hilarity Mild amusement ensues, with a whiff of forced nostalgia.
Lulu, an only child, is spoiled to the point that she has never heard the word 'no' before. So when she announces for
May 2-8, 2011, is Children’s Book Week. Each year, during this week, The Children’s Book Council hosts the Children’s Choice Book Awards. These are the best awards because the children are given a voice! I highly recommend checking out the thirty books that have been nominated for the six categories: k-2nd, 3rd-4th, 5th-6th, Teens, and author of the year. Then, along with your kids or classroom, go and vote for their favorite(s)—you have until April 29. The winners will be announced on May 2 at the Children’s Choice Book Awards Gala.
This year’s Children’s Choice Book Award finalists are as follows:
Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year
Shark vs. Train
by Chris Barton (Author), Tom Lichtenheld (Illustrator)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (April 1, 2010)
Publisher’s synopsis:Shark VS. Train! WHO WILL WIN?!
If you think Superman vs. Batman would be an exciting matchup, wait until you see Shark vs. Train. In this hilarious and wacky picture book, Shark and Train egg each other on for one competition after another, including burping, bowling, Ping Pong, piano playing, pie eating, and many more! Who do YOU think will win, Shark or Train?
Publisher’s synopsis: Learn to read with this New York Times-bestselling picture book, starring an irresistible dog named Rocket and his teacher, a little yellow bird. Follow along as Rocket masters the alphabet, sounds out words, and finally . . . learns to read all on his own!