Sunday, June 22, 2008


Tomorrow I drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles with two small children. So in preparation for that very long car ride, I'm thinking of two picture books that make me smile, I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry and The Surprise by Sylvia van Ommen.

Both books have very few words. Well, The Surprise has no words. I actually have the Spanish language version, La Sorpresa, in my hands from the library. The illustrations of a little sheep dying his wool, shearing it, having it made into yarn by a pink poodle smoking a cigarette, and then the sheep stays awake long enough to knit a sweater with a very long neck as a surprise gift for his friend- makes me smile.

And how about the giant squid in, I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean? It's just like my girls in the back seat saying, "My stick of gum is bigger than your stick of gum." Yes this goofy looking squid is the biggest thing in the ocean until ... woops he's swallowed by a whale. He looks around at all the other sea creatures he's already told us he's bigger than and says, "I'm the biggest thing in this whale!" It makes me smile : )

Not only am I going on a family road trip. The destination is a family reunion! In preparation I think not, "What would Jesus Do?" But rather, What would Chevy Chase do?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My Friend

Finding My Friend is like finding a beautiful, rare and unique gem in a pile of pebbles.

There is not enough information to be found online about the amazing author / illustrator Beatrice Alemagna. Her website homepage looks promising but is not yet completed. I did find a one paragraph biography about her in Italian and from it I could decipher that she was born in Bologna, Italy in 1973, studied art in Italy and Paris in 1993 and has exhibited her work in Tokyo, Milan, Paris, Munich, Rome and a few other European cities. I would love to see an exhibit of her work here in the US. (So Beatrice, if you should happen to read this blog post, please come exhibit here because your work is inspiring and unlike anything I've seen before.)

My Friend is about "a most unusual animal" who has fur like a dog and is shaped like a sheep. He or she or rather, "it" is mistaken and labeled as a cat, monkey, rat, pigeon, lion, and dog. While everyone is busy trying to place a label/identity on this animal, there is one little character (who looks like a cross between a bunny/iguana/dog) who just wants to play. But "Don't you want to know what I am?" asks the animal. " I know what you are. You are my friend." Such a perfect little lesson on individuality, diversity and tolerance.

Beatrice has other picture books in print in the as well. Illustration is Good has a small review of her picture book titled Gisele de Verre. I'm really not sure how many books she has in print since her books are rare and hard to find in the U.S. but I did find another one titled Un Leon en Paris on flickr. Someday I hope to own them all.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Heat Wave

And this record-breaking heat wave continues here in North Eastern Virginia........... along with thick heavy smoke that we have been breathing for days from the 2,400 acre wildfire blazing in the Dismal Swamp.

Actually, it's not so bad because we have AC so I shouldn't complain! Heat Wave is a sweet little story by Eileen Spinelli (author of over 48 picture books) about the good ol' days when there was no AC.

On a sweltering day in Lumberville, the townspeople get creative in coping with the heat wave. "Lottie Mims wore her bathing suit to clean the house" and then "took a nap with cold tea bags on her eyes." Abigail and Ralphie Blue sell ice cubes, Butchy Bezwick and Charlie Pappas squirt each other with garden hoses and "the Pettibone sisters put their perfume and makeup in the icebox." I love all the great names that Eileen uses in this book. It makes the story pop and flow and the watercolor illustrations by Betsy Lewin(NY Times Best-Illustrated Duck for President and Caldecott-Winner Click Clack Moo) are simple and fun. A perfect pairing.

Everyone leaves their homes that night and carries pillows and quilts to the riverbank. The mayor passes out popsicles and political flyers and Officer Mcginnis plays harmonica under the starry skies. They all fall asleep dreaming the same dream.......rain!

Betsy paints big blue splotches of watercolor drops and silly illustrations of the Lumberville characters dancing in the rain on the last page.

Soon, I'll be doing a rain dance too(with tea bags on my eyes):)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hello, Goodbye Window

Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and illustrations by Chris Raschka is precious and fabulous and feel-good and down-home and picture book love. This 2006 Caldecott winner pairs two top notch artists and it's perfect like creamy garlic mashed potatoes.

This is a story about a little girl who stays with Nanna and Poppy while her parents go to work and about the hello, goodbye window, actually a large kitchen window in the front of the house, where the sweet humming of life's day to day activities play out. Mostly this story is about family and love. It's multi-generational and multi-racial it's simple and yet describes complex emotions for little ones. "Mommy and Daddy pick me up after work. I'm glad because I know we're going home, but it makes me sad too because I have to leave Nanna and Poppy. You can be happy and sad at the same time, you know. It just happens that way sometimes."

This book has its eccentricities too, like Poppy and how he makes oatmeal for breakfast with bananas and raisins that he hides down inside. Or how he plays Oh Suzanna on the harmonica (the only song he can play but in many different ways.) Or how he exclaims, "HELLO, WORLD! WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FOR US TODAY?" Oh, they play, play, play together, it's what grandparents do best! There's a wonderful illustration of Nanna and the little girl looking out the window at the stars. "Do you know how many stars there are? Neither do I, but she knows them all." Now these are not twinkle, twinkle little white stars we see. No, they're Chris Raschka stars. They're stars as a child might have drawn in pink, yellow and green with straight lines that intersect. And if you adore Raschka's art like I do you will also enjoy Five for a Little one. -Just had to mention that little gem. I think I could read Hello, Goodbye Window everyday for a year...or two, and smile at Poppy chasing his granddaughter with the hose- so wonderful. Well, I had to include a soundtrack.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Funeral For A Frog

We are having a record breaking heat wave on the east coast. With temperatures in the upper 90's and the digital roadside bank thermometer reading 105! Wheesh!

It's been another busy week-end. Yesterday we attended a 5 year old girl's Birthday Party and then an elaborate Funeral for A Frog.

After the party we came home to find a little dried up frog on our porch. At first my son thought he was cute and alive and then when he realized the morbid truth, his eyes started to well up and he was truly sad for the little fellow. That's when I decided to break out the paints and let him decorate a magic headstone for Fred's new home. We dug a deep hole, placed Fred on a leaf and built a wall of pebbles around him. Then we buried him in his fortress and placed the magical transport stone on top. We both agreed he would regenerate and have a happy new life.

That night we read another chapter from The Secrets of Droon series books by Tony Abbott, full of magic, adventure and imagination. A kind-of cross between Harry Potter and the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. These are geared more for the first grade reading level, not picture boooks, although there is one black and white illustration featured in each chapter.

The next morning he woke up from a beautiful dream where Fred jumped out of his fortress and flew through the sky with my son to Pluto. They placed 2 flags on the planet and Fred gave him a smile and a wink.

Today I visited Fred's fortress and saw that his headstone had been overturned and his home dug up. Hmmmmm I wonder if ........

Friday, June 6, 2008

Mommy in My Pocket

I've been thinking about the Kidlitosphere conference in Portland which makes me think of Powell's Books. This is a fabulous bookstore that reminds me of a bigger version of Cody's Books in Berkeley and my college days. Oh and if you're ever on 4th Street in Berkeley it is worth a walk up the block to Builder's Booksource. Anyway short story long, the last time I was in Portland I found this sweet little book titled, Mommy in My Pocket by Carol Hunt Senderak and illustrated by Hiroe Nakata.

This is one those picture books where the text and illustrations are just right. They story is rhythmic. "What if I saw a shooting star fall, and wished for my mommy to be small?" And I am particularly fond of Hiroe Nakata's watercolors. Notice there are no hard angles or bold outlines and the characters are smiling in every illustration- just soft sweetness.

Carol Hunt Senderak's story tells of a little bunny's first day at school and how she wishes her mother could stay with her. So she imagines shrinking her mommy down and carrying her around in her pocket. "I'd whisper softly as the day went on, 'I'm so happy you're here with me, Mom'. " As she goes about her school day activities, the mini mommy in her pocket goes along and almost falls out! On the last page the little bunny says she knows she'll be okay because ".... the love in mommy's hug and kiss will stay with me all day!" As school is winding down and every child's favorite time of year !Summer Vacation! is approaching, this picture book is not only about the anxiety kid's have about the first day of school, but also about how much they love being with their families.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


The Jackalope always makes me think of the Wild West and that's where we'll be headed this summer for vacation. Only 2 more days of school left! Yahoo!

And this is the PERFECT little handmade travel shirt for my C.

The American Western legend of The Jackalope by sisters Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel is told by a cute armadillo dressed in a cowboy hat and big boots. I always test picture books on my 5 year old who said it's "a little bit long and more of a tale than a story." I'm not sure what that means but I think it's more for the 7-10 year old age group and adults as well.

Told in a down-home folk slang "Why don't you be wishing for something you're not- It's better to be who you are!" Jack rabbit wants to be scary and his fairy Godrabbit grants his wish and gives him horns to make him fearsome. Unfortunately, every time he tells a lie his horns grow and grow until soon he gets stuck upside down like a shish kebob for a hungry coyote. A hungry coyote devours them both and then relaxes, picking his teeth with one of Jack's antlers. "The End" says the armadillo. Next page; "Ha! Just Kidding." There's a double ending to this twisted tale that builds momentum and holds many surprises. This one's fun and hilarious and definately meant to be read out loud.

In college I took a roadtrip with my roommate Jesse. We flew from NY and rented a car to dive from LA to Seattle. We had one cassette and Jackalope Eye by the Supersuckers played over and over and over. The scenery was beautiful and whenever I hear this song I think of that magical roadtrip out West.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Carnival is up at Bonny Glen

The May Carnival of Children's Literature is up at Here in the Bonny Glen. Check it out! Bees Knees Reads featured post is a review on Traces.

I also want to tell everyone about the fabulous kidlitosphere bloggers' conference that is happening in September in Portland. This will be the second annual conference and we'll be going! I heard last year in Chicago was a blast : )You'll find information at http://www.kidlit08 .blogspot. com/.

Because I didn't have a music curriculum in school, I want to give my daughters the opportunity to play an instrument. (Maybe if they see me struggle with learning they will be inclined to play and show me up someday.) So I bought a little mandolin off of ebay and will set up some music lessons. Lastly, I'll post a bit of Sparkle and Shine by Steve Earle for Sunday acoustic busy weekend wind-down. The intro is a bit long but it's such a sweet tune.