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1. It’s our first rainy Friday in the longest time

tomkitten

So this morning the littles and I stayed in and read. Mice, more mice, is what Rilla wants these days. Kittens and hedgehogs are an acceptable substitute. Any small creature that wears clothing, really.

So first it was The Story of Miss Moppet—four times! I ask you. They kept begging and begging.

Then The Tale of Tom Kitten, which is crammed with delicious language. All Beatrix Potter is, but this one especially tickles me.

“While they were in difficulties, there was a pit pat, paddle pat! and the three Puddle-ducks came along the hard high road…”

and

“‘My friends will arrive in a minute, and you are not fit to be seen; I am affronted,’ said Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit.”

That petulant “I am affronted” cracks me up every time. Mrs. Tabitha is the Mrs. Bennet of B. Potter characters.

And then finally we got to the necessary mice. Well, mouse, singular. We read about half of The Mouse of Amherst (speaking of delicious language). She didn’t remember it from three years ago, which made it all the more fun. Seven is the perfect age for this loveliest of little books.

I slept too late to get any Howards End in, but did grab a few minutes for …on the Landing. Now that I’ve determined I’m going to buy a copy, I may save the rest for later and turn to one of the other interlibrary loans I have piled up, as time is ticking and they can’t always be renewed. I have The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop and a couple of Gladys Taber’s Stillmeadow books, which were recommended to me in the memoir thread the other week. I also got hold of Helene Hanff’s Elizabeth I biography for children—she admired Elizabeth so, and it seemed a fun choice for a sampling of her children’s nonfiction.

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2. Recently Read

I think I mentioned before that I’m trying to take a picture of all our readalouds—an easier way to record the books than writing them down.

ladywithshipetc

These are a few of our recent lineups. All out of order, but the dates don’t matter, do they?

katiegreyladylovemonster

Rilla is so in love with the Post-Impressionists right now. I kept saying, We need to go to the library to get the Katie books, and then a bunch of things slid off a shelf and there was this one right on top. I’d forgotten we owned a copy!

The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher fills me with all kinds of warm, wistful feelings. One of my first-ever purchases from Chinaberry, I believe, way back in the day. How many hundreds of times have I pored over its pictures with a wonder-eyed little one?

gorillagirls

samemoment

Okay, this one—a stunner. At the Same Moment, Around the World. Just what it sounds like: one moment in time, chronicled time zone by time zone, country by country, in beautiful illustrations full of cheer and heart, and rich in visual detail. We’re in love. (It doesn’t come out until March; this is a review copy.)

Cat Says Meow is charming, too, a bit of typographical fun that tickled Rilla’s funnybone especially.

linneaetal

Linnea is another one that carries me back to earlier days—in this case, before I even had children. I bought my copy of Windowsill Garden with my employee discount at the children’s bookstore where I worked during grad school. I grew millions of houseplants in those days, and Linnea was a girl after my own heart.

tumtummilly

And these two, oh how beloved. Rilla and I read a chapter of each, every day (or nearly so). She was skeptical about Milly-Molly-Mandy at first—the cover didn’t do much for her—but I started reading the first chapter and as I suspected, she was swept right up by the magic of MMM holding all those separate errands in her head. And then chapter two, when Milly-Molly-Mandy has to decide how to spend a penny? I’m not being the slightest bit ironic: this is seriously captivating stuff. Every day I’m so excited when it’s time to curl up for our double-header.

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3. Rilla Goes to Oz

ozma

Illustration by John R. Neill

I loved the Oz books as a kid. Loooooved them. Collected the whole series, the Baum-authored ones plus a couple of the Ruth Plumly Thompson sequels, and enlisted my father’s help to track down the best editions, the white-bordered oversized paperbacks with John R. Neill illustrations.

dorothywizard

I reread the entire series regularly all through high school and even on college vacations. Dorothy, Ozma, Tik-Tok, Scraps, the Hungry Tiger, the Glass Cat, Betsy Bobbin, Billina, Polychrome, General Jinjur, the Shaggy Man, Button-Bright: this astonishing array of lively characters peopled my imagination and taught me a great deal about diversity, varying points of view, and fun. They were an outspoken bunch, these Oz folks. They had strong opinions; their perspectives clashed; they worked through conflicts and celebrated one another’s quirks. I adored them. Still do.

Strangely, the Oz books never seemed to take off for my kids as read-alouds. Baum’s prose is, I confess, a bit arch, sometimes saccharine. His genius was for character and plot, not lyricism. My older three girls went through waves of reading the series on their own, but they didn’t seem to catch Oz fever with the intensity I had.

Enter Rilla. Well, first enter Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, who are bringing the Oz books to a new generation of readers via truly gorgeous graphic novel adaptations published by Marvel. Oz, overflowing as it is with colorful, outlandish characters, was made for graphic depictions. Eric Shanower (who has become a friend of mine through Comic-Con and SCBWI) is a true Ozian—why, his own press is called Hungry Tiger, and his contributions to Oz literature and fandom are staggering. His adaptations are faithful, deft, and affectionate. And Skottie Young’s art, while a departure from the John R. Neill images burned into my brain as canon, is wholly delightful. It’s clear he is having tremendous fun bringing these creatures to life.

I’ve mentioned before that Rilla, as a reader, is drawn to books with a heavy illustration-to-text ratio. She prefers Brambly Hedge to Little House, for example; those gorgeous, intricately detailed drawing of tree-stump pantries and attics can occupy her for a full afternoon. She’ll spend an hour talking to me about Eric Carle’s techniques. For her, art is the magic; an accompanying plotline is simply a nice bonus.

wonderfulwiz

We brought Eric and Skottie’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz home from SDCC last month, and Rilla—well, you’d have thought we gave her an actual trip to the Land of Oz, she was so excited. It’s the longest, hardest book she has read on her own. Oh yes, it’s a graphic novel, but the text is quite sophisticated: there’s some nice meaty vocabulary in the dialogue. Baum didn’t talk down to his young readers, and neither does Eric Shanower. (And of course I’ve written volumes before about the excellent reading skills imparted by comics: there’s a lot of complex decoding going on as a young reader navigates those panels.)

“Bad news,” she told me mournfully one day. “I finished the best book in the world.”

“Guess what,” I whispered. “There are more.”

Her gasp, her shining eyes: no Princess of Oz was more radiant.

The next week’s worth of bedtimes saw her poring over The Marvelous Land of Oz, one of my favorite books in the series (both the original and the graphic adaptation). Every morning, she narrated the previous night’s events to me, dancing with suspense as the story unfolded, and belly-laughing over the ending.

marvelouslandoz

Then came Ozma of Oz, a book about which my deep affection renders me nearly incoherent. Even that sentence is on shaky grammatical territory. Imagine a lot of squealing noises and some Rilla-esque bouncing around. I mean, I mean, Tik-Tok and the Wheelers! The lunch-pail trees! The loathsome, fabulous Princess Langwidere and her collection of interchangeable heads. SHE WANTS DOROTHY’S HEAD FOR THE COLLECTION, YOU GUYS. Come on. And then the Nome King and his high-stakes guessing game (shades of Heckedy Peg), and Billina the Hen’s surprising trump card. Oh, oh, oh.

Don’t tell Rilla, but I’d already given a copy of Ozma to my goddaughter, Vivi, whose mother is, if anything, an even bigger Oz fanatic than I am. She even looks like Ozma. (Kristen, why why why didn’t we ever go as Ozma and Polychrome for Halloween?)

polychrome meets ozma

Polychrome, the Rainbow’s Daughter, meets Princess Ozma. Illustration by John R. Neill.

Rilla hasn’t met Polychrome yet. She will swoon, mark my words. The Rainbow’s Daughter? Polly of the swirling robes and floaty hair? Rilla’s a goner. Like Ozma, she’ll make Polly’s acquaintance in The Road to Oz. I can’t wait to see what Skottie Young does with Polychrome and the Shaggy Man. Both characters are bubbling over with the whimsy he captures so well.

roadtooz

But first comes Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Even for Baum, this is a bizarre tale. Dorothy gets caught in a San Francisco earthquake and falls all the way to the center of the earth, where weird vegetable people (as in, they grow on vines) called the Mangaboos are on the verge of executing her when, whew!, who should float down in his balloon but Dorothy’s old acquaintance, the Wizard?

dorothywizardinoz

After that comes The Emerald City of Oz. Rilla and I may not be able to wait for the collected edition; we might have to start picking up the floppies from our local comic shop.

emeraldcity2

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4. Picture Book Spotlight: Mustache Baby

Mustache BabyMustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang.

Sometimes you just want a book that makes a kid belly laugh. From the moment Baby Billy makes his appearance, mustachioed from the get-go, Huck and Rilla were in stitches. As Billy grows, his mustache makes it easy for him to assume a variety of roles: cowboy, cop, painter, circus ringleader. But beware the toddler with a long, twirly, Snidely Whiplash mustache: you might have a wee villain on your hands. The surprise ending generated the biggest guffaw of all from my small fry. When Huck discovered the book had gone back to the library, he very nearly grew a bad-guy mustache on the spot. Don’t worry—just like Billy, he recovered his good-guy wits before any dastardly deeds were done. Mustache Baby will be making a repeat visit very soon.

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5. Picture book log: 29 Dec

Well, since all previous methods of logging our picture book reads have proven unsuccessful over the long haul, I’m going to give this quick-and-easy method a try: I’ll try to snap a pic of each day’s pile and toss it up on Instagram. Then, if time permits, I can annotate the photo here. Here’s yesterday, a very good haul—mostly library books of the kids’ choosing.

a pile of picture books

Love Monster was sent to me for review and has a lot of charm. I think we’ve all had days where we’ve felt like the only monster in Cutesville.

Sing is the familiar Sesame Street/Karen Carpenter song, but illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, which is always a good thing. I would pretty much like my whole life to be illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.

Tap the Magic Tree was a Rilla pick, I believe, and delighted all three of my youngest, but Huck most of all. At least, until he dissolved in tears over the page that Rilla tapped first. Each tap, rub, wiggle, or air-kiss brings changes to the tree as we follow it through the seasons.

This Plus That is delightful, and of this bunch is the one I’d be most likely to buy. Little equations from daily life. Chalk + sitting = school. Chalk + jumping = hopscotch. Gave us loads to talk about. Amy Krouse Rosenthal always does.

This Is Our House is a sweet and simple story of three generations of family making a life in one beloved city house. The kids seemed to find it really satisfying, in a kind of calm and peaceful way. It has been requested several more times since that first read. They enjoy the comforting full-circle of the pattern: the little girl learning to walk on the same street her mother had toddled on years before; the same cherry tree blooming in the spring. Wonderful art in this one.

The Silver Moon is a poetry collection and we’ve only read a few pieces—lovely so far.

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat is a book I would hesitate to give as a gift but would recommend to certain friends, certain kids…it’s a very sad story; the mother has died, the father and son are mourning, but this is shown through poignant words and actions, not spelled out in a narrative manner. It’s one quiet night, one starry sky, one touching conversation. A hard book to describe. We were into it before I knew what I was reading, and the children were captivated, there was no turning back…and I wouldn’t want to, I’m glad we shared it together. But it’s a sad, haunting poem of a book, and I can see that it might be emotionally wrenching for some children. So don’t do what I did. Preview it first. It’s a good read for adults in its own right.

Okay, I can guarantee I won’t be annotating every one of these photos. But I can snap the pic, at least, and have the record.

(No photo for today because—gasp!—we didn’t read any books together!)

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6. How I’m logging our readalouds this year

Gonna try, at least.

pbljan

Failed utterly last year at keeping up my Rillabooks log. Of course, it’s really a Rilla-and-Huck-and-sometimes-Wonderboy log, which makes the keeping-up all the harder.

pbljan2

My strategy this year is to snap a picture each day after we’ve finished reading.

pbljan3

One thing I like about this method is that I can track frequently requested rereads alongside newer books. It’s been fun to see a book appearing two or three days in a row as it moves into the Favorites position and then is eventually superceded by a new charmer.

pblogwedjan15

I’m posting the pics on Instagram, when I remember, tagged “today’s #readalouds.”

pblthursjan16

A few remarks:

Cookie the Walker. They love this book. If I’d thought of the photo idea sooner, it would have appeared in about ten in a row. I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t have expected it to spark such an obsession—but it’s on its way to Scoopy the Steam Shovel territory, if you know what I mean. Twice now I’ve taken it back to the library, but the librarians keep shelving all my returns on the display rack, so every other time we go, Huck grabs it again.

But oh you guys, if you haven’t checked out Sophie’s Squash yet, do. It was one of our Cybils finalists—the whole darn judging panel was crazy about it. It’s delightful. Sophie adopts a butternut squash as her baby and best friend, and, well, to say people in my house can relate to that notion is an understatement.

Into the Thicklebit (Sophie’s a more devoted parent than my guy was.) ;)

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7. Rillabooks Resumed

And Huckbooks, Wonderboybooks, etc. You know how it is; you read so darn many picture books in the course of a week that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with a list, no matter how earnestly you might plan to. Um, somewhere in that sentence the generic ‘you’ became ‘me.’ My sidebar Rillabooks log lapsed for a long while. Partly that’s because we’ll have weeks where we reread beloved books over and over, and neither GoodReads nor Diigo quite knows what to do with a list full of repeats.

But I started it back up today, in celebration of the fresh start, and we’ll see how long I can keep it up this time. Three books today: Hairs/Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros (which I was just rhapsodizing about to Melanie in the comments); Hist Whist by e.e. cummings, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray, a hushed and eerie Halloween* book Scott and I have been fond of for about fifteen years; and Ruth Heller’s Merry-Go-Round, one of those fun “World of Language” picture books that takes on a particular part of speech: in this case, nouns.

Of course, when I started the list, Huck was a good bit younger, more interested in chewing board books than listening to picture books with Rilla. And my Wonderboy floats in and out of these cuddlesome read-alouds. You’ll understand, won’t you, if I don’t bother to change the name? :)

*I know it’s an odd time for a Halloween book. I saw it on the shelf, is all.

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8. hist whist

A Child's Garden of VersesWhen the big ones were little, we got the Child’s Garden of Songs CD (like every other Charlotte Masonish homeschooler in the country), and oh how those small girls of mine adored it. For years it was their most frequently requested music, especially at bedtime–especially in summer. ;) We got the beloved Tasha Tudor-illustrated picture-book-sized edition of Child’s Garden of Verses, too, of course: another CM requisite. My girls liked the book well enough, but it was the CD they cherished, and it’s the CD they still recall with affection, and hum around the house from time to time. Those lovely Celtic-flavored melodies got into my blood, too; that’s the kind of music I love best; it stirs my heart, gives me the shivers.

Now and then I’ll realize suddenly that there are these books and songs that meant the world to us ten, twelve years ago (Amazon informs me I purchased the Tasha Tudor book on April 14, 2000—six years to the day before Rilla was born; gosh, even before Beanie was born; and now I’m a little whelmed by the thought that in some respects, Amazon has a better record of my family history than I do)—important to us years ago, I was saying, but my younger trio don’t know them at all. It happened with Miss Rumphius (heresy!) and it happened with Child’s Garden of Songs.

I realized this a week or two ago and tracked down the CD, and we’ve listened to it every couple of days since. Rilla and Wonderboy are as enchanted by its melodies as their big sisters were. Huck remains somewhat indifferent, but then there aren’t any songs about trucks, are there?

The large book with the Tasha Tudor illustrations has failed to jump out from any of the shelves on which I’d expect it to be residing. All I found was the little Dover paperback edition, print only, no pictures; but Rilla doesn’t care. She sprawled on my bed today, frantically hunting each of the poems during the opening measures of its corresponding song on the CD—pause, Mommy, I can’t find it! oh here it is—and then calmly, almost serenely, singing along, kicking her feet, looking up to identify various instruments in the musical arrangement. Guitar, piano, violin, a fluty thing, those little round things you wear on your fingers, more violin, maracas. It was supposed to be my quiet reading time but I gave up on my book and watched her instead. It was a fancy dress day; she likes her sash tied in a fastidious bow, but she scorns anything that binds or tames her hair. The ragged locks fell over her face as she peered down at the book. Amazon says I purchased the Garden of Songs CD on July 19, 2002. Jane was seven that June. You know, last week.

hist whistThe other book Rilla wanted today—wanted fiercely, rejecting my offer of the next Brambly Hedge story—was hist whist, the li

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9. The Six-Year-Old Reads Vampirina Ballerina

“Mommy, listen: ‘Always drink plenty of water and eat healthy meals.’” (Points to illustration.) “It’s BLOOD. Isn’t that funny??” (Uproarious laughter.)

Well played, Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham.


Deciding what to draw.


She went with the bat. As usual!

***

Also: yesterday’s Thicklebit.

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10. Huck-and-Rillabooks

I’ve fallen behind with the reading logs again—it’s inevitable that I will, from time to time—but I can report that my Rilla-read-aloud time has taken a leap forward into snuggling in with long, text-heavy books of the sort she wasn’t terribly interested in a month or two ago. Brambly Hedge, crammed with all those detailed, pore-overable drawings, hooked her on tales of small, industrious, quaintly dressed animals with British accents (she was already a Potter fan); we’re now well into Tumtum and Nutmeg, and she hasn’t seemed to notice or mind that there are far fewer illustrations, and only black-and-white, at that. There are bustling, clever mice and I get to unleash my best Monty Python impressions on the dialogue. (Tumtum is Michael Palin, of course, and who else is Baron Toymouse but Cleese’s Black Night? My Nutmeg, on the other hand, seems to want to be the cook from the current Upstairs, Downstairs series.)

As for picture books, recent hits with my younger three include:

Rachel Fister’s Blister by Amy MacDonald, art by Marjorie Priceman.

Rachel Fister has a blister, and everyone around her has a cure. Silly, satisfying rhyming text; Rilla in particular enjoys this kind of linguistic fun.

Good New, Bad News by Jeff Mack.

This one’s a great pick for the 3-6-year-old set, all ye aunties and uncles and godparents out there. A rabbit and a mouse and a picnic gone bad. No, good! No, bad! No, good…The kind of bright, bold, funny drawings my littles are especially drawn to, and unpredictable twists within a highly predictable (ergo comfortable and appealing to preschoolers) structure.


It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle, illustrated by the wonderful Jeremy Tankard.

You know how much we love Tankard’s work. Gorgeous coloring in this book and so much humor and excitement in the drawings. I love that heavy outline on the tiger; Jeremy was an inspired choice to illustrate this particular book. It’s a rollicking jungle adventure of the best kind, with a suitably ferocious tiger lurking in all sorts of unexpected places, and a kind of “We’re going on a bear hunt” vibe to the text. Huck loves it, and not just because you get to shout “IT’S A TIGER! RUN!” every few pages.

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11. Saturday Library Post

Bunch of books have to go back today; before they go, a quick catalog of the ones my gang loved:

Gideon by Olivier Dunrea, from the Gossie & Friends series.

Huck enjoyed this short, simple story about a gosling who isn’t quite ready to take his nap. A repeat request, usually as a stall tactic at naptime. ;) Sweet art; pleasingly small trim size. A good library choice, since Huck, at a month shy of four (eek), is on the top end of the age range this book is likely to appeal to.

 

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin.

A leveled reader that enchanted all three of my youngest. The homey adventures of imaginative twin girls with very different personalities. The making-dumplings chapter is Rilla’s favorite. She’s hoping for more Ling and Ting tales.

 

Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover by Cece Bell.

This early reader scored especially high with my boys. Huck’s an easy mark: you had him at “Robot.” Wonderboy was amused by the way Robot upended Rabbit’s careful sleepover plans. Plus: Magnetic hands! A lost remote control! A snack of nuts and bolts! And poor, flustered Rabbit, worrying about sticking to his schedule—a character Wonderboy can very much relate to. I might snag a copy of this one to keep.

 

Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems.

One of the few Elephant & Piggie books we don’t own, which means we wind up checking it out often.

 

 

I’m sneaking Autumn Leaves out of the house after approximately thirty-seven reads.

Related: Early readers as read-alouds.

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12. Weekend notes

Rose caught this rather wonderful shot yesterday, just down the street from our house. I missed it—I’d been out there gawping at the hawk (ID, anyone? its coloring is throwing me off—could it possibly be a white-tailed kite?)* and had snapped a few wobbly pix, using Beanie’s head as a tripod, but then I ran back to the house to take over stirring the marshmallows Jane was melting for Rice Krispie treats, so she could have a turn. The mobbing crow came along just after I left. Well done, Rose.

*UPDATE: yes, we think so!

The marshmallow treats were this year’s double-birthday feast, in lieu of a cake. My guys had a great day. At Scott’s request, we had a family reading of The Tempest (Act 1; we’ll continue on future Sundays). Rilla did us proud; she gave a splendid cold reading of the role of Ariel (with some vocab coaching from Rose, who prefers to stage manage). Scott was Prospero, Beanie read Miranda, and Jane and I split the other parts between us. I got to ham it up as the old boatswain, so I was happy.

Books read over the weekend:

Tippy-Tippy-Tippy Hide by Candace Ransom, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Mr Pusskins: A Love Story by Sam Lloyd
Hist Whist by ee cummings (a Halloween book, yes, but a year-round Rilla favorite)

Recently watched:

Cranford (happy sigh)
The Avengers

In the garden:

Roses in bloom, cosmos & poppy seedlings thriving, cape honeysuckle glorious, freesia and daffodil bulbs coming up. And the rain lilies, too, I think.

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13. A Fan Letter to Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Book cover: Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrated by Robbin Gourley.

Dear Amy,

My name is Rilla. I am 6. Mommy read Forest Has a Song to me. I think that It Is really pretty poetry and i also think that deer are pretty too. I really love nature. And deer are one of my favorite animals and it said a lot about deer. In the picture of the fiddlehead ferns, I really like the pattern of the colors. And the fossil looks so realistic. When I grow up i want to be an illustrator like Robbin Gourley. And also, i love the Spider poem and the Dusk poem. I love the never-tangling dangling spinner part. And I love baby animals. They’re so cute and fluffy when they’re birds at least.

One of my favorites is “Farewell.” How it says “I am Forest.”

Love,
Rilla

(Doggone spellcheck. She made me correct all her invented spellings—the red dots under her words tipped her off. Then again, “rhille priddy powatre” might have been hard for you to parse. Also, of course, recognizing that a word just looks wrong is a big step toward learning to spell.)

As for the book, I wholeheartedly agree with Rilla’s review. What a gorgeous, gorgeous volume. The poems sometimes wistful, sometimes whimsical, always lyrical. Beautiful for reading aloud, full of delicious internal rhyme and alliteration. And infectious: I predict a lot of original nature poetry in our future. This collection begs you to take a fresh look at the world around you and see the magic of the curled fern frond, the mushroom spore. Of course I’ve been a fan of Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s work for years.

I can’t imagine a more perfect pairing for Amy’s poems than Robbin Gourley’s art. Lush watercolors, rich and soft. I kept coming across pages I’d like prints of. Actually, this is exactly the kind of book where you want a second copy for cutting up and framing. (If you can bear to. I always think I’d like to do that, but the one time I actually bought a spare copy for this purpose—Miss Rumphius—I couldn’t, in the end, bring myself to dismantle it.)

Beanie’s favorite poem was “Forest News”—

I stop to read
the Forest News
in mud or fallen snow.
Articles are printed
by critters on the go…

—which she loved for its intriguing animal-tracks descriptions, its sense of fun, and its kinship with her favorite Robert Frost poem, “A Patch of Old Snow.” (“It is speckled with grime as if / Small print overspread it, / The news of a day I’ve forgotten — / If I ever read it,” writes Frost, perusing a somewhat more somber edition of the woodsy chronicle.)

Wonderboy’s favorite was the puffball poem, and he later wrote (in his customary stream-of-consciousness style) this string of impressions the book made on him: “dead branch  warning and woodpecker too  dusk  burrow in a burrow chickadee sit on my hand  and come fly here”…

Truly beautiful work, Amy and Robbin.

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14. Treasures

booksanddolls

She’ll perch on a stool and play with the wooden dolls on my shelves by the hour. This is how Sunday afternoon unfolds: her soft doll-chatter murmuring beside me while I’m reading, studying, or (as was the case this weekend) cleaning out closets.

I see Joanna Trollope’s Other People’s Children peeking out from one of the stacks; I read it on (I think it was) Lesley’s recommendation and found it wholly absorbing, thoughtful, vivid, a bit sad. I liked it very much. Those shelves are a jumble of things I’m eager to read but haven’t had a chance yet (Green Dolphin Street, borrowed from my friend Carmen; The Light Between Oceans, a gift from my publisher last Christmas; Brideshead Revisited, because I still—still! still!!1!!—haven’t, among others) and books I love so much I need to keep them close. (A Far Cry From Kensington; One Man’s Meat; Dear Genius; etc. etc. etc.)

Notable picture-book reads of late: The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse—a top-ten favorite of Rilla’s, and she’ll talk your ear off about the highlight colors in the paintings, if you like; Miss Suzy, back in frequent rotation; Open This Little Book, of which Huck cannot get enough; and to Huck for the very first time—oh! this particular milestone has been one of the most delightful I’ve experienced with each of the kids, one by one—Make Way for Ducklings. You can tell he’s the sixth child, not getting his full measure of McCloskey until the ancient age of four and a half. Scandal!

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15. Chapter book suggestions for a four-year-old

Thought I’d start tackling some of your open thread questions. Here’s one from sashwee:

Do you have chapter book recommendations for a 4yo girl who is very verbal, and has a good attention span for listening, (similar to your Rilla?) but still only 4 (well almost 5) and not ready for the full brunt of…life?…fiction?

Matter of fact, I do!

(Last night, at the weekly kidlitchat on Twitter, I realized that one of the things I enjoy most in the whole world is helping people find good books to read—being a book matchmaker. If there were such a thing as eHarmony for readers, I could totally work there.)

All right, suggestions for a four-year-old who is ready to listen to chapter books:

My Father’s Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Our family’s favorite choice for that first “book with chapters” read-aloud. Scott is working his way through the trilogy with Rilla right now.

My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards.

Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, and its sequel, More Milly-Molly-Mandy. Like Naughty Little Sister, these are episodic books; each chapter is its own little story. Milly-Molly-Mandy’s busy daily adventures—very much rooted in simple domestic village life, running errands for her family, staying alone for the first time, deciding what to spend her hard-earned pennies on—have enchanted all four of my girls around age four or five.

Winnie-the-Pooh (does that go without saying?)

• the first two Betsy-Tacy books can be perfect for a five-year-old, but I have found my girls really clicked with Betsy at a slightly older age—perhaps seven or eight.

• Kipling’s Just-So Stories. I began reading these to Rilla at age four and she adores them—the belly laughs are irresistible. I rather suspect, however, that she believes “O Best Beloved” is referring to her specifically and is likely to be disgruntled when she realizes I read those words to her big sisters before her, in their day.

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (the very first one, which has a special kind of sweetness and earnestness to it—this was a head-over-heels-in-love book for Jane at age 4).

Old Mother West Wind and other Thornton Burgess animal stories—now, for us these were hit or miss. I had come kids adore them, and others who found them dull.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater. In our house, this is a read-aloud reserved exclusively for the daddy.

Pippi Longsto

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16. “He imitates the world he drove away…”

I knew Rilla was enjoying The Bat-Poet, but I didn’t realize how much until this afternoon, as we neared the end of the book. She turned to me with furrowed brow and said, “When we finish, will we be able to read it again?”

“You mean right away?”

“Yes.”

I told her sure we could, and she heaved a mighty sigh of relief.

I’ve noticed that the older girls can’t help but be drawn into the story if they pass through the room where Rilla and I are reading. It’s a soft and gentle tale, rather quiet, with velvety-rich language. Oh, I just love Randall Jarrell. His mockingbird and chipmunk have such personality, and the introspective, yearning bat is a kindred spirit—really. He composes poems. He longs to be able to pour forth a magical, uplifting song like the mockingbird’s, but he can’t sing. He finds himself fitting observations into words and phrases, lyrical and perceptive lines of poetry. But oh, how he doubts himself. The mockingbird’s cool, clinical analysis—“It was clever of you to have that last line two feet short”—leaves him bewildered and longing for an audience who is moved by his words. When, after hearing the bat’s poem about an owl, the chipmunk shivers and vows to go underground before dark from now on, the little bat is deeply gratified: he knows his words have had an impact.

His poems move and shiver me, too—

All day long the mockingbird has owned the yard.
As light first woke the world, the sparrows trooped
Onto the seedy lawn: the mockingbird
Chased them off shrieking. Hour by hour, fighting hard
To make the world his own, he swooped
On thrushes, thrashers, jays, and chickadees—
At noon he drove away a big black cat.

Now, in the moonlight, he sits here and sings.
A thrush is singing, then a thrasher, then a jay—
Then, all at once, a cat begins meowing.
A mockingbird can sound like anything.
He imitates the world he drove away
So well that for a minute, in the moonlight,
Which one’s the mockingbird? Which one’s the world?

I know that mockingbird.

I know that bat, too.

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17. Rillabooks (and others)

I know I haven’t done a Rillabooks post in a while. Mostly this is because she’s been requesting rereads of books I’ve already gabbed about here. I did start one draft a while back about a new-to-her book; dunno why I never finished!

“Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!” by Patricia Thomas

Our copy of this book is a Weekly Reader edition that belonged to Scott when he was little. Delightful art, bursting with personality and humor. The rollicking rhyme works well for this silly tale of animals begging the elephant not to unleash his powerful and destructive sneeze. A frequent read-aloud request from my younger children. (I admit: when Huck’s the sole requester, I usually only read the first couple of lines on each page. The book is a bit text-heavy for a two-year-old, but it entrances the five-year-old.)

(The formatting is because I was experimenting with a GoodReads feature.)

I’ve been jotting lists of daily read-alouds on [social network I'm talking too much about] most nights. I’m going to fold those notes into a list here, for our family archive and in order to share them with you. But most, as you’ll see, are repeats.

~Monday~
Rocket to the Moon (A surprise present from my little goddaughter. Her mama, one of my best friends, sent me a video of the two of them enjoying this very book the other day, and I watched it about fifteen times in succession and melted every time. And then a copy arrived for us. Huck is ENCHANTED. Animals build a rocket! To the moon! This is pretty much perfection, as far as he is concerned.)

We squoze in time for a half chapter of Little House in the Big Woods (the panther story) and a rousing, NOT-sleep-inducing rendition of Dinosaur vs Bedtime.

~Sunday~
The Poky Little Puppy
I Can Fly (the Little Golden Book by Ruth Kraus)
and Rilla read herself a Little Bear book, to her own surprise and delight. “I didn’t know I knew all those words!”

~Saturday~
Hide and Seek in the Yellow House (jiminy crickets, do my younguns love that book)
Princess Peepers
Cars & Trucks & Things that Go
Little House in the Big Woods

~July 11th, rounding up a few days’ worth~
Hush Little Dragon
Stellaluna (We found it!)*
Harold & the Purple Crayon (twice)
The Ear Book (umpteen times)
Bake Sale (new graphic novel from First Second, read two chapters to a THRONG)

This morning I was presented with a stack by all three of my small fry:

Brave Georgie Goat (One of our family favorites, you know…)
Penny and the Punctuation Bee
Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach

Of course the day’s not over yet.


*I’m glad Stellaluna was lost at first because its elusiveness is what led us to The Bat-Poet instead, a book I am heart-glad to have added to Rilla’s world (and mine)

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18. The Loveliest Rillabook: Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas.

This may just be my favorite picture book ever. I discovered it during grad school when I worked at a children’s bookstore, and it was love at first read. I don’t think I have ever once read it without tearing up. When I read it to the littles yesterday, Scott had to step in near the end when I was too choked up to speak. It’s a beautiful book, and true in the way that sometimes only fiction is.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a little boy who lives next to an old-age home. He is friends with all the residents and loves to visit them. When he hears his parents say how sad it is that his favorite resident, 93-year-old Miss Nancy, is losing her memory, Wilfrid Gordon quizzes all the other old folks about what a memory is exactly. “It’s something warm,” one tells him. “Something from long ago.” “Something that makes you cry.” “Something that makes you laugh.” And so on.

And so Wilfrid goes off and collects a box of treasures for Miss Nancy—a warm hen egg, a funny puppet, an old medal…

It’s what happens when Miss Nancy handles the gifts that always makes me cry. Perfectly lovely, and Julie Vivas’s tender colored pencil drawings are as lovely and moving as the story.

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19. This Week in Rillabooks

Is there anything in the world more happymaking than the artwork of a small child?

Perhaps the artwork of a small child inspired by a favorite book. Remember how much my whole family (seriously, every single one of us from 42 to 2) enjoyed Jon Klassen’s deliciously startling I Want My Hat Back?

Rilla was moved to attempt her own rendering of the bear at the pivotal moment when he recalls where he has seen his lost hat. That may be my favorite page in the book—the visual shock of the red background so perfectly captures the drama of the bear’s epiphany, and hints at the outrage he feels.

Now she’s working on a page from another family favorite: Don and Audrey Wood’s The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear.

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20. Dump Truck Huck

Tom Lichtenheld is one of my favorite illustrators. I discovered his work—how was I missing it??—in the wonderful Chris Barton picture book, Shark Vs. Train, that you’ve heard me rave about so many times before. Tom’s bold, energetic style crackles with humor and appeal. My kids are all drawn to his work; his illustrations are the kind you pore over, giggling at the details.

I went on a binge last week and ordered all the Lichtenheld our library system could muster. (The entire second row pictured in this link is sitting on my bed right this minute.) The resulting reading pile is a Rillabooks post-in-progress, but I could not resist interrupting myself to write about one particular book from that pile, the one that has completely enchanted my two-year-old son.

Huck’s a truck kid, through and through. Trucks, cars, and trains. Preferably half-buried in dirt. He has staked a claim on a corner of my veggie garden: it’s where the trucks grow. When I saw that Tom Lichtenheld is the illustrator of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, I knew I’d pretty much found Huck’s dream book.

I underestimated. He is CRAZY about this book, carries it everywhere, begs for it a dozen times a day or more. It’s his Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel (you Ramona fans know what I mean), but I’m not in a Beezus place yet because when I read it to him, he is SO. DARN. CUTE.

It’s a bedtime book set in a construction site. Are you thinking: that’s brilliant? Because the moment I saw it, I thought, that’s brilliant. Five big rough, tough construction vehicles finish their day’s work and get ready for bed, one by one. I wish I could show you every page of the art. If you click on the title above, you can view some images from the book. There’s a book trailer there, too, which HUCK MUST NOT SEE or I’ll never pry him away from the computer ever again.

Besides, I’m greedy for the cuddles this book gets me. My busy boy climbs into my lap and more or less acts out the book—raising an arm high when the crane truck lifts one last beam, whirling his hands when the cement mixer mixes a final load—and when the excavator snuggles into its dirt bed, Huck hugs me tight: “Now we ’nuggle, Mommy.” Ridiculously cute, right?

The best part is right in the middle when the dump truck appears. “Dat me!” he says every time.

“You’re the dump truck?”

“Yes.”

Shh…goodnight, Dump Truck, goodnight.<

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21. Picture Book Spotlight: A Dog Is a Dog

A Dog Is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan, published by Chronicle Books.

The cover of this delightful picture book grabbed my kids’ attention immediately with its bright orange and turquoise palette; the big grinning doggy face made them giggle.

Those giggles never stopped: this is art that goes straight to a little kid’s funny bone.

In whimsical rhymes and big, comical images, we learn that a dog is a dog no matter what it’s doing—”Whether it suns on the beach, or glides on the ice.” “A dog is a dog, if it’s skinny or fat. A dog is a dog, unless it’s a…CAT!”

Would you believe that grinning doggy unzips his dog suit, and there’s a plump ginger cat inside? This is the point when Rilla’s giggles turned to shrieks of laughter. But the surprises don’t stop there…It seems a cat is a cat unless it’s a…

Oh, no, I’m not telling. But we all howled. I did not see that coming. Nor the next twist, nor the next! One of the things I love about this book is that it manages the near-impossible feat of employing the sort of rhythmic pattern that young children delight in, while simultaneously making unpredictable turns. And this while delivering art that bubbles over with humor and energy. I’ve become a huge Stephen Shaskan fan in one fell swoop. You remember last year when I went nuts over Jeremy Tankard and Tom Lichtenheld? Yeah, Shaskan is on that list. I’m officially (and totally on the spur of the moment) dubbing it the Mo Willems List: storyteller-illustrators whose art has won my heart with its bold black outlines and lively antics and hilarious facial expressions (often on creatures you wouldn’t think would be terribly expressive, like a dump truck or a pigeon or a woolly mammoth or…the thing inside Shaskan’s cat suit). [I've recently encountered another artist who belongs on this list, but I'm not allowed to tell you his name yet. And that, my friends, is what you might call a hint.]

Anyway, my dears…A Dog Is a Dog gets high marks from Wonderboy, Rilla, and Huck (not to mention their daddy and some amused big sisters). Enjoy.

Review copy received from publisher, but you know I don’t write about them unless they’re a hit with my own personal focus group.

P.S. Did you know November is Picture Book Month?

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22. Picture Book Spotlight: E-mergency!

You know how we feel about the work of Tom Lichtenheld here in the Bonny Glen. Shark vs. Train. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. You can imagine, then, our delight upon receiving a review copy of his latest picture book from his publishers.

E-mergency!—created in collaboration with fourteen-year-old Ezra Fields-Meyer—is another winner. See, the letters of the alphabet all live together in a big house. They come barrelling down the stairs for breakfast and whoops, E misses a step. (This is Huck’s favorite part. “You’re E, Mommy!” And I have to cry “Eeeee!” Then he makes big wide eyes and round mouth: “Oh no!”) E is seriously injured and winds up in the ER (with the help, of course, of EMTs).

Since rest is a vital part of the healing process, the other letters decide to give E a break: O will stand in for his injured pal. That’s when things get wonderfully silly. Cafeteria menus announce “moatloaf” and “groon salad,” road signs proclaim the “spood limit,” and local businesses advertise “danco lossons” and “ico creom.” This is whimsy that tickles my ten-year-old just as surely as it does her younger siblings. The book is filled with comic dialogue and side jokes, increasing its crossover appeal with older kids. And the playful language has utterly entranced Rilla, my emergent reader, who thinks it is hilarious to see what happens to a word when you swap out the vowel.

The ending is perfect. Or should I say: the onding is porfoct?

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23. Friday

My plan for today was to read and to sew, so naturally I did neither of those things and spent most of the day in the garden. The weather demanded it. Perfect sun, perfect breeze. Rose and I moved a number of nasturtium seedlings from the back yard to the front; I keep trying to fill in a rather stark flowerbed right in front of the house, and nothing works. This is entirely because I am an inconsistent waterer. But also an optimist. This time, as all the times before, I firmly and deeply believe I will follow through and nurture those bitty seedlings to lush abundance.

At least this time, my unmerited faith in myself didn’t cost a penny. I planted a $1.49 packet of seeds in the back garden four years ago and they have multiplied enthusiastically. I’ve tried them in the front before, but it’s a sunbaked flowerbed that really wants to house succulents and cacti. So: I’m both inconsistent and foolish. But hopeful! These nasturtiums are going to be spectacular, I am certain of it!

In the back yard, I pruned a butterfly bush and the big cape honeysuckle to make a sort of archway leading to a nook by the back fence. Rilla and I read Roxaboxen yesterday, and you know what that means. (Hannah’s post reminded me that, like Miss Rumphius a while back, here was another beloved book Rilla hadn’t met yet.) She spent the afternoon painting rocks for edging a little house under the arching branches. I yanked out a mess of bermuda grass. Lots left to do—I completely neglected the garden last summer—but we made good headway today. She’s collecting dishes and stones.

I have only cut out half the squares for our Valentine’s blanket, but I did find the cord for the sewing machine today. Progress!

I’ve been enjoying (and shuddering at) all your snake stories in the comments. I have another one of my own to tell, but it’s long, and I have to scan some pictures. It’s a place story, really, but it’s full of snakes—the story and the place.

Oh, and Rilla finished my game of Oregon Trail for me. I hear my wife died—of snakebite!

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24. Maybe a Little Bit Intresting After All

Rilla isn’t sure she liked the look of Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. “Hmm.” She eyes it skeptically. “It doesn’t really look Intresting.”

“I think you’ll like it,” I say. “It’s about a big city growing up around this little pink house.”

Pink is the key word in that sentence. She’ll give almost anything a chance, if there’s pink involved.

“Let’s give it a try,” I suggest. “We can read something else afterward.”

Roxaboxen.”

“Again?”

She has a laugh her sisters call the Evil Chipmunk. “Of course! It’s my favorite.”

Huck climbs half on top of me and begins to count the trees around the little pink house. He’s very into counting, these days.

I love quiet books like The Little House, the kind that tiptoe their way into a child’s heart. The house is built, the countryside blooms, the seasons change. The sun arcs across the page and this must be pored over, wait Mommy, don’t turn the page yet. And then the next spread, the calendar of moons. We must pause while Rilla touches each crescent and disk, naming the days. The road comes rolling out from the distant city; that’s Huck’s page to study. Steam shovel, big rocks, little rocks, tar, steamroller. He could stay there all day. But the city is encroaching, surrounding, swallowing the little pink house, and Rilla has picked up the urgency. We have to read quickly now; she needs to know. Trolley line, elevated train, subway, skyscrapers, you can hardly see the poor house.

It’s magical, you know, when the movers come to carry it away. A house on the back of a truck! Both children are astounded at this marvel. They’d have taken unicorns and dragons in stride, but a house riding along the road to a new hill in the countryside: clearly this is a wonder of the world.

Later, when Huck is napping, Rilla pounces on me, brandishing the book. The pink house winks from the cover.

“Again?”

“Yes. It’s my favorite.”

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25. Picture Book Spotlight: My Name Is Elizabeth


My Name Is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe.

A frequent request from Miss Rilla these days. The young heroine’s righteous indignation—her friends and neighbors will keep calling her nicknames—speaks to my five-year-old’s little-sister heart. There’s a hint of imperious Eloise in Elizabeth’s not-entirely-polite exasperation with the folks who insist on greeting her as Liz, Lizzy, Betsy, or Beth—and we all know how much small girls adore Eloise. :)

At last Elizabeth can bear it no longer: her full name bursts out, a bellowed plea to the neighborhood. The message gets through. No more Lizzy, no more Beth. Elizabeth she is, and Elizabeth she shall be. Well—except to a certain baby brother who can’t quite wrap his mouth around that grand name. But that’s all right. Like my Rilla, who belly-chuckles at this part of the book every time, Elizabeth makes allowances for little brothers. That’s my favorite part of the book, too, an affectionate twist that leaves you with a grin.

I haven’t road-tested this one on my boys yet. Wonderboy’s an Elephant-and-Piggie man all the way, and Huck, well, he’s still busy counting the trucks and trains in The Little House.

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