Friday, May 30, 2008

Double Stinky

Ahhhhhhh.......the smell of f*rts in a trapped room and skunk spray along a country road when you're trapped in your car. You just can't escape them.

I love Stinky books because they make for fun and noisy (laughing, squealing, howling) read-alouds - especially great in the library!

Whenever we go to the library we look for Winchell Cuts The Cheese by Taylor Lee and Peter Van Dijk but it's so popular with the kids that it's ALWAYS checked out. I'm going to have to place a Hold on it or maybe just buy a copy already. This book is super funny and sweet with a nice moral. It's a fun way to learn the etiquette of flatulence without using the stinky word "F*rt."

Please Don't Upset P. U. Zorilla by Lynn Rowe Reed is another stinky story of a skunk who needs a job but when he gets upset he lets off a spray. He's a hard worker and unfortunately can't seem to keep a job until he helps catch a robber(by knocking him out with his stench) in the Mayor's wife's jewelery store. In the end, the Mayor Tootlebee appoints P.U. Zorilla the Chief of Police.

Lynn Rowe Reed's art style is fun, fun, fun and so original. She uses lots of collage elements in her paintings. When you open the cover of this book there are all kinds of clippings of noses from magazines and the noses are saying "PEEE-U-U!" Be sure to check out Lynn's site here. She sells prints and does commissioned work as well as lettering and logos too.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


One sad thing about this world is that the acts that take the most out of you are usually the ones that other people will never know about.

-Anne Tyler

And so it is as I'm caught up in the banal day to day grocery list for salt, catfood and bananas etc....
And my general disposition today is - whatever. So I will write about whatever, by William Bee. Within this smart little picture book is a cautionary tale similar to Maurice Sendak's Pierre. Remember that one? Pierre said, "I don't care," to all of his parents' requests until he is eaten by a lion.

Whatever is about Billy. His dad tries to please him many, many ways including puppets, animals, a bouncy castle and a spaceship ride. What is Billy's guessed it, "whatever."
And in the end it is a Tiger who swallows Billy.
"Dad I'm still in here you know..."
"... whatever."
William Bee's sparse text and bright digital graphics completely fascinate my two-year-old. I watched her pick up the book and examine it closely- especially the page where Billy's legs and torso are hanging out of the tiger's mouth.

Monday, May 26, 2008


We went to the harbor and bought a delicious Halibut on Memorial Day weekend that previously had been caught by the fisherman. It previously had been swimming in the ocean. And that's a little taste of how Previously by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Bruce Ingman is told, except it's all about your favorite fairy tale characters and it's funny.

The Prince was a sorrowful young man. Previously a wicked fairy had put a spell on him. Previously he had been a cheerful young man, eating his dinner from golden plates and traveling his kingdom in a milk-white Mercedes. Previously he had fallen in love with a disappearing girl named ... (turn the page and guess who?)

The girls and I like to examine Bruce Ingman's brightly painted illustrations. They're so much fun to point at and talk about. This picture book duo has teamed up on another favorite, The Runaway Dinner.
Here is a link to a good review of Runaway Dinner.

Enjoy! Oh and you must check out Bruce Ingman's site!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Train To Spain

When our son was 2, we bought him this book at a thrift store(note: the price still on the left corner!) along with a bag of small toys to keep him busy on the airplane trip to California. He has been wild about trains since birth, and now at age 5 this book is still one of his alltime favorites.

Published in 1963, A Train To Spain by Wade Ray is no longer in print but there are still a few copies to be found on Amazon. It tells the story of villagers from a small town in the south of France who are invited to a Fiesta in Spain. Unfortunately, the mayor tells the people that they cannot attend because there is no way to get there. "Nonsense! said the engineer who lived in town." "We will build a train to Spain." "No, no, no, said the mayor, We don't know how." "I will show you how to build a train said the engineer."

Together, the people make many tracks and build a train. They overcome obstacles along the way, trees to be cut, a bridge to be built across a river and a tunnel dug through the mountains. At last they arrive at the fiesta in Spain where they all had fun. The mayor thanks the people from Spain and tells them they will be back next year. "Nonsense! said the engineer" "We will be back next week!"

Here is a cute little Smokestack Lightnin' train video clip from our friend Ike(Aiku) in NY. He is 3, also a train lover and so talented.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Little Stone Buddha and Chai Tea

Lately, I have been reading a lot of Eastern philosophy for inspiration and guidance and have become addicted to drinking india spice chai tea rather than coffee for an afternoon pick me up. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love said (in an interview) that this tea tasted just like the tea she would drink daily in India. Mmmm it sure is good and even better with milk and honey!
Little Stone Buddha by Taiwan author K. T. Hao (translated in English by Annie Kung) and gorgeously illustrated by Giuliano Ferri , is a wonderful childrens picture book full of Buddhist philosophy and delicious sho-tao desserts too!(would be nice to have one with my tea now....)

It all starts out with a thunderbolt flashing across the sky which strikes a rocky cliff and sends a large stone tumbling down the mountain. For many years, weary travelers stop to rest on this stone along the path giving off a mysterious energizing power. As time goes, it takes on a shape and one day, a stone mason transforms the stone into a little buddha. "That night beneath the full moon the buddha comes alive from his thousands years sleep." From then on he wanders the mountainside, helping travelers in need and animals too. He protects the forest foxes from hunters and brings peace and security to them. One day a traveler gives a sho-tao offering to the buddah and finds a fox seated at each side of the statue. Now travelers bring 3 offerings, one for the buddha and one for each of the foxes who have become so revered that no one ever hunted foxes again.

This is the power of Buddha.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wolf Girls

When I met the Wolf Girls, is a curious picture book ( in a good way) by Deborah Noyes and illustrated by August Hall. There is a certain amount of intrigue and sadness in Wolf Girls which was based on a true life event from 1920 in India. Two girls, 18-month-old Amala and eight-year-old Kamala, were found living with wolves and brought to an orphanage. The youngest died not long after she was taken from the wild but the oldest lived until she was seventeen. She eventually learned to walk upright and speak a few words, but still felt more comfortable with the orphanage dogs then with the other children. Don't you find this fascinating? There is a database at that documents these incidents. It's horrific and yet the these abandoned or runaway children were taken in and sustained by wild animals! So The Jungle Book was not pure fantasy? Hmmmm...

The illustrations were painted in acrylics by August Hall who has worked for Pixar Animation, Dreamworks and Industrial Light and Magic. His characters have a comic-book-like quality which helps keep this otherwise sad story light. Bulu is the seven-year-old orphan girl who recounts the story. "Missus scrubbed them hard and clipped away clumps of hair. All day the wolf girls slept, curled together, or sat with their backs to us, though we pleaded. They ate licking the plate like dogs and tore at their clothing. Pacing all night, they plagued our dreams. They never spoke or smiled." She describes the monsoon season and blames the wolf girls for bringing the rains. Then Amala is sick and dies. Kamala will not eat and sniffs around Amala's pillow. Bulu whispers to her while she sleeps, "You'll forget... we all do." In the end we're left to wonder whether the girls should have been taken from their adoptive wolf family. I read this book a couple of times to my four-year-old and although she liked the character drawings, I think she'll really find it interesting when she's eight. There is an actual photo of Amala and Kamala at the end. Now doesn't that spark your curiosity?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nostalgia and Old Photos

Sometimes I get into a mood... nostalgia. It's a nostalgia I can't place like some memory in my cells from another era. And sometimes I wander shops searching for a picture of it. I don't have many, but I like old photographs.

I don't know who they are, if they're living or dead. In these photos they are very much alive. Imagine their stories.

Can I put music to this mood. I think it is close to Cat Power's voice.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


May is the month where the weather is just right, the flowers are in bloom and there are fun festivals to go to every week-end. There's the Pungo Strawberry Festival, the Greek Festival, the Blackbeard Pirate Festival and the Stockley Gardens Art Festival.

Today we went to Stockley Gardens and the kids had a blast! There were clowns blowing balloon animals, a face painting booth, Abrakadoodle Art and live Bluegass to dance to. It was a PERFECT day.

The mailman brought my birthday package with 2 books that I am very excited about. Play Pen by Martin Salisbury has a sampling of new childrens book illustrations from around the world. It's only recently that children's book art has become highly inventive and seems almost limitless with all the "cool" diverse forms of media used. Yes, it's soooo true, there are way too many mediocre picture books published in recent years and as an artist, I tend to agree with Mr. Salisbury that "pictures in picture books have a far more important role to play in the development of the child than a mere aid to reading." "The smallest owner of books has his special, private art gallery and a unique relationship to it, for he pores over his favourites endlessly, staring at them with a fascination that guarantees indelible memories of scenes and subjects. " It is important that children are exposed to GOOD ART !

This book showcases some of the most exciting work emerging in our generation from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and both digital and traditional media. From Alexis Deacon's delicate monster family to J Otto Siebold's crisp cartoon creatures and Shaun Tan's surreal picturescapes.....(these are just a few of the works included.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Lonesome Puppy

The other picture book I picked up last Sunday is The Lonesome Puppy by Yoshitomo Nara. It was first published in Japan in 1999 and is now in the states with Chronicle Books, San Francisco. This is the first children's book solely by Yoshitomo, but his art is popular worldwide. The story is about a Big White Dog and a little girl who notices him one day. Apparently no one ever noticed him before because he was too big! Ok it's the wonderful world of children's books, whether too big or too small, sometimes we feel lonely right? So the girl climbs up his leg, slides down his head and they meet- eye to eye. Then we see a couple of pictures of the girl trying to make sense of this creature and on the next page she is singing him songs and they become fast friends. The moral of the story is spelled out on the last page of text. “ No matter how alone you are, there is always someone somewhere, waiting to meet you. Just look and you will find them!”

Following the text we have eight more pages of Yoshitomo's wonderful art. Contemporary museums have acquired his paintings and sculptures, and his pop art figures can be found on t-shirts and plastic plates as well. Here is a brief description of his work by Kara Besher,

"What is it about this art that elicits such a strong response? It doesn’t seem very complicated. The style is intentionally flat, with blunt, uniformly thick lines. This, combined with a lack of modeling, texture or strong coloration, seems to force attention to the subject matter. Yet there isn’t much of that. Narrative content? Not much of that either. Expressiveness? Not really.

Naras artwork "clicks" because we sense that beneath the sparse execution is a direct portal to a personal, almost intuitive vision."

And if you would like to see more of his work there are quite a few pieces posted on artnet.
He also has a video. Here is the third of three parts called Travelling with Yoshitomo Nara.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

a day, a dog

Because it's still technically Mother's Day (four minutes left as I write this) I'll tell you about the day. One of my favorite things to do- besides early morning coffee in bed, is to drive about 45 minutes south on the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz. The natural landscape is awe inspiring. We stopped at Whale City Bakery in Davenport- in no time too soon too because my oldest gets carsick should have seen how skillfully I held her up over the trashcan, no vomit on my shoes. Nothing was going to ruin this day : o

The carni rides are open on the Boardwalk and the girls had a blast riding the little whale cars round and round and round.... We had fun shouting their names, waving and relishing those giggly smiling faces- one of the many great mom moments.

But a trip to Santa Cruz is not complete without spending at least an hour in Bookshop Santa Cruz. Like many great independent bookstores, the titles are handpicked. How I wanted to take many picture books home! Alas, I chose two. One I've wanted for my collection of picture books for a long time is, a day, a dog by Gabrielle Vincent. I wouldn't say this is a picture book for young children as the images ( there is no text) depict animal cruelty and a major interstate pileup. Here is a good review by Elizabeth Kennedy and another by Blogging for a Good Book. However, as someone who loves a story told in pictures this book is a diamond. Maurice Sendak called it an entirely unique work of art with, "Fierce, fleeting images that manage, despite their intense breathlessness, to meticulously tell a tale full of power and honesty." Gabrielle Vincent is one of my most favorite illustrator/authors who is best known for her Ernest and Celestine books that have been translated into 12 languages. Well, that was Mother's Day in a nutshell. I'll write about the second book I picked up soon!

Happy Mother's Day!

When I think of picture books and Mother's Day, The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown immediately comes to mind.

This 1942 classic is a must read for all moms and children everywhere.

Enjoy your Mother's Day today!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Ok, I didn't plan this but it is my birthday today and as I was looking through all the great children's books at the library, this little bull caught my eye. It's the perfect book for a Taurus!

Published way back in 1936, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf is a true classic with a timeless message, "Stay True to Yourself."

Little Ferdinand likes to sit under a cork tree and smell flowers rather than jump around and butt heads with the other bulls. He grows up into a big, strong bull with a mild temperament until one day he is stung by a bee. Owweee! Now he can no longer sit quietly under the tree. That same day he is chosen by 5 men as the "biggest, fastest, roughest bull" for bullfighting in Madrid.

But Ferdinand's big day in the arena only brings out his true personality. He sits quietly in the middle of the ring and sniffs the flowers in the ladies hair. "He wouldn't fight and be fierce no matter what they did."

The artist Robert Lawson has won many awards for his gorgeous etchings, including a Newberry and Caldecott. He died in 1957, but his art and this book still lives a bull!

Friday, May 2, 2008


Traces is a book of beautifully written verse by master children's writer Paula Fox and illustrated by Karla Kuskin, author/illustrator of Roar and More among many others.
I was immediately drawn to Kuskin's mixed-media collage illustrations. What is that on the cover? Is it sushi decorative garnish? And look at that- she's appropriated little glitter stickers of ladybugs and butterflies. Children LOVE glitter stickers how fun to include them! It looks as if the drawings are done with watercolor and acrylics, and I also spot fabric, torn newspaper and gold foil.

The book starts with a line that is repeated to the end,
"Something, someone was just here. Now there's barely a trace of it..." We find traces of animals who leave tracks, a jet plane has left a trail in the sky, a dinosaur has left its traces, children, "They were just here. Now there are still shadows on the ground. Following the leader,.... And, "The wind! The invisible wind! that can only be seen in its traces."

The magic of this book comes together in the layout. Just the right amount of text placed smartly on the pages. Sometimes it's squarely centered and sometimes it's about to run off the page in anticipation of the next line as we follow the traces like a snail trail. This book is a little gem. It makes me think about being in nature and summer vacation plans.

Beyond Disneyland, I want to go camping in a T@B trailer. Check out this promo on youtube- you'll have to do a little creative interpretation. These little trailers look so retro modern. I love to be out in nature but I like a good nights sleep. And I never sleep that well in a tent with all those nocturnal critters and bears roaming the campsite. So I found a place that rents them across the bay. Yeah campfires!

Makebelieve, Magic and Wonder

Two books that I read to my kids this week are filled with elves, unicorns and fairies.....complete child appeal for those very active imaginations.

Nell's Elf by Jane Cowen-Fletcher is perfectly illustrated and brilliantly laid out. As soon as I opened the book I found myself greeted by a giant mushroom of a red page with white polkadots all over! It's a story about a little girl, Nell, who is bored and lonely on a rainy day so she decides to create the perfect friend. She draws a little elf and he jumps to life. Soon she draws more elves and fairies and throws an elf party. On the last page, the author encourages every reader to "pick up a pencil or crayon and draw out the elves hiding inside of you and you will never, ever be bored." Words of Wisdom for us all!

Unicorn Races by Stephen J. Brooks came to me in the mail from Purple Sky Publishing ( one of the Few wonderful indie publishing companies of picture books for children).

This is a completely Unique picture book that definitely captured my child's attention. The cover of this book is puffy and soft...(upholstered) and the title is shimmery silver, rainbow glitter! It is brilliantly illustrated by Linda Crocket (multiple award winning artist of several picture books). The story of Abigail, a little girl in a shimmery purple fantasy world who rides off in the night on her trusty noble unicorn, Lord William. She is a princess attending a royal feast celebration prepared by elves and fairies and she takes her place at the royal throne to officially start the magical unicorn race. The perfect bedtime story for a little princess. It ends with whispers on the wind and the image of a little girl still wearing her crown, asleep with a smile on her face........ "Good night my princess...good night."