Archive for Miscellany

The Horn Book: Design Matters, by Jon Scieszka

For some time I had been working on a post about the importance of design in books, an element that is often overlooked but plays a decidedly essential role in the creation of a good book. Skillful design can make an otherwise deficient book seem superior; a poorly designed book, that is in all other respects a worthy book, may be quickly overlooked. But a masterfully designed book that contains a captivating story and engaging illustrations is a work of art. Ironically, exceptional design may go unnoticed, as all the reader remembers is having experienced a wonderful book.

Then I read the below article by Jon Scieszka from the March/April 1998 issue of The Horn Book in which he perfectly articulates why book design matters, with a much more funny and entertaining approach. 

Scieszka was the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature and is the creator of Guys Read, a web-based literacy program for boys. He has written many books for children including The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Cowboy and Octopus and Robot Zot.

The supremely talented Lane Smith illustrates many of Scieszka’s books. Smith, an author as well as an illustrator, has written many books, including It’s a Book, Grandpa Green and John, Paul, George and Ben.

The consummate designer Molly Leach, who is also Smith’s wife, designs all of his books. (Check out this great video of the two of them discussing the book making process.) Leach makes every book she puts her name to spring to life.

Together, Scieszka, Smith and Leach have created some of the most ground breaking and memorably funny best-selling picutre books of the last twenty-five years.

 


From the March/April 1998 issue of The Horn Book Magazine

design matters

By Jon Scieszka
Designed by Molly Leach [original print version]

esign is an essential part of any picture book. It is the first aspect of a book that a reader judges. It is the framework for the text and illustration. It is the subtle weave of words and pictures that allows both to tell one seamless tale.

And because good design is, by its very nature, nearly invisible in the final product, most people have no idea what design contributes to a picture book.

My idea of what design contributes to a picture book pretty much starts and ends with the first sentence of this article. But the editors of the Horn Book refused to run 478 different designs of that one finely crafted sentence. So I ran off to ask Molly Leach (designer of The Stinky Cheese Man and Math Curse) and Lane Smith (illustrator of The Stinky Cheese Man and Math Curse) exactly what it is that design contributes to a picture book.

After many intense, soul-searching question-and-answer sessions at Molly and Lane’s studio, I can now tell you:

1. Design is an essential part of any picture book.
2.  I am the best ping-pong player.
3. Asking a designer “How do you do such good design?” is a lot like asking a writer “Where do you get your ideas?”
4. Don’t let Lane keep score all of the time.

The job of a designer, in its most basic form, is to pick the style, size, and color of type, maybe pick the kind of paper and size of the book, and arrange how the type and illustrations are to be displayed on the pages available. But Molly does so much more than that in our books. When she’s done, the design tells as much of the story as the text and illustrations do.

Maybe good design is magic. How else could text plus illustration equal more than the original words and pictures? I can’t think of any other way to explain what Molly does. Though I think her work is described most succinctly on the back flap of The Happy Hocky Family (written and illustrated by Lane, designed by Molly): “Designers make pictures and words fit together in books and look nice.”

I suppose I could just list the “Top Ten Worst Design Mistakes in Picture Books.” Or maybe I should reveal “Molly and Lane’s Pet Peeves of Bad Design” — fake kid print typography, kidz

heavy-handed overstyling forboldtext,

or the same old boxed image with type underneat layout...

But that wouldn’t be nice.

The best way to explain what design can do in a picture book would probably be to look at some examples. So at the risk of sounding like a nightmare party guest explaining his favorite jokes, here is an analytical look at some of the design of our books:


EDITORS’ NOTE: Any similarity between Mr. Scieszka’s description of how he, Lane, and Molly work and how the rest of the world works is purely coincidental.

Molly designs all kinds of things, from magazines to books to CD covers. She is asked to do elegant, bold, hip, or striking design (to name just a few styles). But the most important thing she does is to find the design appropriate for the piece. Business Week’s Mutual Fund Report is not the place for “zany.” The Stinky Cheese Man was not the place for “stuffy” or “quiet” design.

When I wrote the stories in The Stinky Cheese Man, I wrote them with an ear for how they would sound read aloud. My finished version of “The Really Ugly Duckling” looked like this:

THE REALLY UGLY DUCKLING

     Once upon a time there was a mother duck and a father duck who had seven baby ducklings. Six of them were regular-looking ducklings. The seventh was a really ugly duckling.
     Everyone used to say, “What a nice-looking bunch of ducklings-all except that one. Boy, he’s really ugly.”
     The really ugly duckling heard these people, but he didn’t care. He knew that one day he would probably grow up to be a swan and be bigger and better looking than anything in the pond.
     Well, as it turned out, he was just a really ugly duckling.
     And he grew up to be just a really ugly duck.
     The End.

Which might explain why it got rejected by so many publishers. The final line, “And he grew up to be just a really ugly duck” looks a little harsh in its bare typewritten form.

Lane illustrated a goofy little duck. He and Molly designed a page turn so the duckling grows into a bigger, goofier duck on the next page (working almost like a flip book). And then it was Molly who came up with the idea to have whatever words were on the text page expand to fill the space. The final punchline sentence of the story, the transformation of the illustration, the turn of the page, and the blown-up type — text, illustration, and design — all combine to create one hilarious ending:

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Well, you’ve got to at least admit it’s funnier
than the typewritten version.

Some people have described our books as “wacky” and “zany” and “anything goes.” I wouldn’t want to say they’re wrong (because that wouldn’t be nice either), but I would like to suggest that they’re not exactly right. In order to create the humor and illusion of wacky/zany/anything goes, there has to be a reason for everything that goes. And this Law of Reasoned Zaniness applies just as inflexibly to design as it does to writing and illustrating.

In The Stinky Cheese Man Molly chose, for the entire book, a classic font (Bodoni) and used it in unusual ways (expanding, shrinking, melting) to emphasize the fact that these were classic fairy tales told in an unconventional way.

The flexible font size also made it easier for Molly to break the text at any given point to give the punchlines of the tales more punch.

The expanding text pushing the boundaries of the page (less than Molly had wanted — the printed version being a compromise between the production department insisting on borders and margins and Molly designing the type all the way out to the trim . . . “Who cares if a serif gets chopped off?”) says the book is bursting with stories.

The Red Hen speaks in red type throughout (no other character speaks in color) to visually accentuate her annoying voice.

I thought it would be funny if Jack’s neverending tale in “Jack’s Story” ran right off the page.

Molly showed me it would look funnier and more like Jack’s voice fading into the distance if the words got smaller and smaller:

The type and edge of the Stinky Cheese Man illustration melts because he smells so bad:

The title bar of “The Other Frog Prince” is crooked because it’s caught on the frog’s sticky tongue:

And every tale’s “Once upon a time” and “The End” are in color to highlight the fact that these are stock parts of a fairy tale. None of these details are specified by the text. They are design decisions that enhance and amplify each Fairly Stupid Tale.

Design sets the tone for everything

Don’t you suddenly feel like you’re reading a wedding announcement? You may not consciously know it, but when you pick up a book, you are reading its layout and typeface and color palette for clues about the story.

Modern kids are even more demanding readers of these design clues than most adults. They have been raised since birth in the ever-more visually intense world of TV, movies, and video. They are more visually literate than generations before them — quicker and better able to read what design has to tell them. They deserve good design.

Math Curse was an entirely different design challenge.

I thought it would be funny to write about a kid’s day where everything turns into a math problem. Lane thought it would be funny to paint the kid actually inside the nightmarish grip of the curse.

We both thought it would be funny to ask Molly to make (8 pages of text and problems) + (19 paintings) + (1 copyright page) + (1 dedication page) = one 32-page book that looked kind of like a math book but not so much like a math book that it would be ugly and scare people away.

Here is what a couple of problematical math text pages could have looked like:

Here is a finished spread from Math Curse designed by Molly:

 Which of these statements is true?

A. The first design looks ugly.
B. In the second design, Molly boxed problems and broke the text into sections like every ugly math book does, but she used a bold (Franklin Gothic) type clustered in funny tangencies (shifting blocks of copy) to enhance the frantic feel of the illustration.
C. Molly also used bold colors and background tints in geometric shapes to give an overall playful feel.
D. Jon is still the best ping-pong player.
E. All of the above.

If you answered “e,” multiply your Designer SAT score by your shoe size and continue on to the next section.

When Molly, Lane, and I work on a book, I usually write the text and polish it with my editor first. Lane draws preliminary sketches. We decide what to keep, what to cut, how to order things. Then Lane and Molly fiddle with the design and illustration while I perfect my topspin forehand smash.

With the three of us working in close collaboration, Molly, Lane, and I take advantage of the opportunity to play off one another’s ideas throughout the process. Words can be changed to accommodate design. Design can be juggled to allow a new illustration. Illustrations can be altered to fit a new story twist. We also get to use every last part of the book — price, flap copy, dedication, and copyright — to tell the story.

In conclusion, I would just like to say the only thing that can be said, what you know I’m going to say, what I can’t help but say: design is an essential part of any picture book.

Pop Design Quiz

Now that you are a design expert, here’s a chance to use your new skills.

Our next picture book is a collection of twisted fables.

Here is one of the stories:

ELEPHANT and MOSQUITO

     Elephant and Mosquito stayed out late one night and completely lost track of time.
     “Oh no,” said Elephant, when he finally saw a clock. “I was supposed to be home twenty minutes ago. I better call home now.”
     “Why bother?” said Mosquito. “You’ll be home in five minutes. What’s the big deal?”
     So Elephant didn’t call.
     When he got home, he got grounded for a week because he didn’t call to say he was going to be late.

MORAL: Don’t ever listen to a talking bug.

Here is one of the illustrations:

Combine the text and illustration in a two-page design that says “fable” and “twisted” and still looks nice.

Pick the sentence or sentences that best describe the main idea of this article.
      • It is important to be nice.
      • Kids are visually literate and deserve good design.
      • All hail Molly Leach, Design Goddess.
      • Jon is the best ping-pong player.
      • Design is . . . you know what (see opening sentence).

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It’s snowing! Snuggle up and read a book, about snow!

In honor of the epic snowstorm burying my corner of the world (and pretty much all of the Eastern United States) I am reposting this list from February 9th, 2013.

 

The Mole Sisters and the Way HomeWayHome

Picture Book

Ages 2-5

By Roslyn Schwartz

32 pages

Annick Press

2003

 

The Mole Sisters are two of my favorite characters in children’s books. They’re sweet, funny, playful and irresistibly adorable. See my review of the whole series here.

The sisters are headed home when it starts to snow. And snow. And snow. Making their way through the drifts, they are diverted into a wonderful, magical cave, where they add themselves to some prehistoric cave paintings.

Not to fret, the sisters make it home safely and warm themselves by a cozy fire.

 

The Snowy Day SnowyDay-001

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Ezra Jack Keats

32 pages

Viking

1962

1963 Caldecott Medal Winner

 

This timeless classic is a simple story about a young boy as he plays and experiments with the snow that has covered his world overnight. Follow the boy in his trademark red suit as he experiences the wonder and possibility of freshly fallen snow.

An interesting and important note: The Snowy Day was the very first full-color picture book to feature a black child protagonist.

 

Tracks in the Snow Tracks-001

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Wong Herbert Yee

32 pages

Square Fish

Reprint 2007

 

A young girl heads out into the snow when she notices some mysterious tracks. As she follows the prints over a bridge, across a pond, through some woods and right back to her home she realizes that the footprints are hers from the day before. She settles in at home for some cookies and tea.

Tracks in the Snow celebrates one of the best parts about playing in the snow, coming back to a warm house for some delicious treats.

 

Over and Under the Snow OverUnderSnw

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Kate Messner

Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

44 pages

Chronicle

2011

 

While out cross-country skiing, a young girl and her father discuss the world of activity under the snow. There’s voles running through tunnels, frogs sleeping in the mud and black bears hibernating.

Simple cut paper illustrations perfectly highlight the contrast between the frozen white world above and the living earthen world below.

For those that are curious, the back of the book offers facts about all the animals and their winter activities. Interestingly, the area between the packed snow and the ground is called the subnivean zone.

 

Red Sled RedSled

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Lita Judge

40 pages

Atheneum

2011

 

Pure joy fills this mostly wordless picture book. The only text is reserved for the sound effects made by the happy animals and their new-found toy.

A small red sled has been left outside and various woodland creatures take turns going for rides, until the owner of the sled finally returns.

 

The Happy Day HappyDay-001

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

by Ruth Krauss

Illustrated by Marc Simont

36 pages

HarperCollins

1949

1950 Caldecott Honor Book

 

Though technically a book about spring, the book begins under the cover of snow with all the animals sleeping. Soon they are waking up and sniffing. What is it they smell?

They emerge from their burrows and start running and sniffing. They stop, and laugh, and dance! There, in the midst of all the snow and white and cold, a burst of color appears in the form of a beautiful yellow flower.

The delicious, buttery yellow of the flower is the only bit of color in an otherwise black and white picture book.

 

Bear Has a Story to TellBear Has Story to Tell - Cover

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Philip C. Stead

Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2012

 

This is not only one of my favorite books from 2012 but it’s also turning out to be one of my favorite picture books of all time. See my full review here.

 

Stella, Queen of the Snow stella-queen-of-the-snow

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

by Marie Louise-Gay

32 pages

Groundwood Books

2000

 

Gay’s watercolor illustrations are active, unrestrained and bursting with color.

It’s Sam’s first snowstorm! He and his big sister Stella head outside to play and explore. Sam, ever full of questions, wants to know what snowmen eat and how many snowflakes are in a snowball. Stella, the helpful big sister, always responds with clever and ever so slightly true answers.

 

Snow SnowC

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

By Uri Shulevitz

36 pages

FSG

1998

1999 Caldecott Honor Book

 

One of my favorite picture books ever! See my full review here.

 

Snow PDsnow

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By P.D. Eastman and Roy McKie

61 pages

Random House

1962

 

“Snow is good for making tracks…And making pictures with your backs.”

A simple story, told in rhyme, joyfully relating some of the many pleasures of snow. P.D. Eastman is also the author of Go, Dog. Go!, Are You My Mother? and many other Cat in the Hat Beginner Books.

 

Is That You, Winter?IsThatYouWinter

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Stephen Gammel

32 pages

Silver Whistle/Harcourt Brace

1997

 

Gammel’s incredible illustrations make this a stand-out picture book. Colorful washes in every shade of blue are soon obscured by blowing white snow that seems to drip from the page.

Old Man Winter has woken up in a bad mood; he hates going to work. He jumps in his truck, flies through the sky, and spreads the ice and snow all morning long.

As he heads home for lunch, he falls into the deep snow and is rescued by a little girl.

“You make it snow for me,” the young girl tells him. Reminded that his work does have a positive influence in the world, Old Man Winter’s mood shifts and he’s happy again.

She picks him up to make sure he’s ok and readers learn that Old Man Winter is a small, wooden doll.

 

It’s Snowing ItsSnowing

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Olivier Dunrea

32 pages

Square Fish

2002

 

Just before publishing the magic that is Gossie (see my review here), Dunrea created It’s Snowing.

Baby is fast asleep when mama sees snowflakes falling outside. She wakes baby and bundles him up. The two go outside to see, touch, taste and smell the snow, and share some of the magic and natural beauty life has to offer.

 

The Snowman thesnowman

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

by Raymond Briggs

32 pages

Dragonfly Books

1986

 

In this wordless picture book, a young boy wakes up to a snowy day and heads outside to build a snowman. Later that night, when the boy cannot sleep, he heads outside to find the snowman has come to life. The two have a night filled with adventure.

Beautifully soft watercolor panels fill this book with the frosty feeling of snow and cold.

 

The Mitten The Mitten-001

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

by Jan Brett

32 pages

Putnam

1989

 

When a young boy asks his grandmother to knit him white mittens, she warns him that they will be hard to find if he drops them in the snow. As he goes out to play in the snow he immediately drops one of his new white mittens. Before long it becomes a cozy home to some woodland creatures seeking shelter.

 

Brave Irene brave-irene-1

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

By William Steig

32 pages

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

1986

 

Young Irene braves the wind, cold and blowing snow in this story of perseverance.

The dressmaker has finished the duchess’s gown for tonight’s ball but is not feeling well enough to deliver it. Though a big snowstorm is brewing, the dressmaker’s daughter Irene offers to bring the dress to the palace. Her mother is concerned but cannot make the trip herself and, reluctantly, allows her daughter to leave.

It’s tough going, but Irene is tougher and she completes her task despite the difficulties she faces on the way.

By the beloved author and illustrator of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, the 1970 Caldecott Medal Winner.

 

Poppleton in Winter PoppletonInWinter-001

Early Reader

Ages 4-8

by Cynthia Rylant

Illustrated by Mark Teague

48 pages

Blue Sky Press

2001

 

In the first chapter of this early reader, Poppleton and his new friend Patrick (a bird) make a fence out of icicles.

Next, Poppleton makes a clay bust of his good friend Cherry Sue.

In the final chapter Poppleton has forgotten his own birthday, but his friends have not. They all surprise Poppleton with home-baked goodies and a nighttime sleigh ride.

See my review of Poppleton here.

 

Katy and the Big Snow Katy_and_the_Big_Snow

Picture Book

Ages 4-9

By Virgina Lee Burton

40 pages

Houghton Mifflin

1973

 

By the author and illustrator of the notable classics Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (1939) and The Little House (1943 Caldecott Medal Winner).

Katy the red crawler tractor was a bulldozer in summer and a snowplow in winter. When a blizzard hits her hometown, all the people are depending on Katy to save the day, and she relishes the opportunity to show that she can do just that.

 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening StoppingByWoods-001

Picture Book

Ages 4 and up

By Robert Frost

Illustrated by Susan Jeffers

32 pages

Dutton Juvenile

Originally published in 1978

Revised edition 2001

 

Susan Jeffers beautiful illustrations of frosty New England scenes perfectly complement this famous wintry poem by Robert Frost. Capturing the silent beauty of a snowy night, her art offers answers to some of the questions raised in this well-known poem.

 

For readers interested in the science of snow, a few Non-fiction options.

 

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder StoryofSnow

Non-Fiction

Ages 4-10

By Mark Cassino

36 pages

Chronicle

2009

 

This excellent non-fiction picture book features illustrations as well as photographs of snowflakes and answers the questions about where snow comes from and how it’s formed.

 

Snowflakes in Photographssnowflakes-in-photographs-001

Non-fiction

By W.A. Bentley

Ages 5 and up

80 pages

Dover

2000

 

This book features over eight hundred and fifty photographs of snowflakes taken by American photographer W.A. Bentley (1865-1931) during a fifty year period.

Though it’s common knowledge now that no two snowflakes are alike, this was not the case when Bently began his ambitious project. In 1865 he attached a bellows camera to a compound microscope and photographed what he referred to as “tiny miracles of beauty.”

It is because of his work that we can know of and experience the wonder, magic and uniqueness contained in each miniature frozen sculpture.

(See also Snowflake Bentley, the 1999 Caldecott Winner, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Mary Azarian.)

 

The Secret Life of a Snowflake: An Up-Close Look at the Art and Science of Snowflakes

Non-FictionSecret LifeofSnowflake

Ages 8 and up

by Kenneth Libbrecht

48 pages

Voyageur Press

2010

 

The title says it all. Full of extraordinary photographs and detailed information about the cycle of a snowflake, this book is written by a scientist who studies snowflakes.

The universal love that children have for snow can be harnessed and redirected to foster a fascination for the fate of small frozen bits of water, crystals, and other scientific wonders.

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Grammy’s Schmammy’s. The Caldecott and Newbury Awards are where it’s at!

The 2014 youth media awards have been announced by The American Library Association (ALA)!

 

The John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature goes to Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures written by Kate DiCamillo and published by Candlewick Press.

Readers may be familiar with her 2004 Newbury Award winner, The Tale of Despereaux or her 2001 Newbury Honor book, Because of Winn Dixie (one of my favorite books for middle readers). Also, DiCamillo was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress for the term 2014-2015.

 

Four Newbery Honor Books also were named:

Doll Bones, written by Holly Black (the author of The Spiderwick Chronicles) and published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.

The Year of Billy Miller, written by Kevin Henkes and published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Kevin Henkes was awarded a Newbury honor in 2004 for Olive’s Ocean and was awarded the Caldecott Medal for Kitten’s First Full Moon in 2005.

One Came Home, written by Amy Timberlake and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Paperboy, written by Vince Vawter and published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

 

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children was awarded to Locomotive, written and illustrated by Brian Floca and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. This phenomenal picture book will delight train lovers and quickly convert any non-train lovers.

 

Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named:

Journey, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker and published by Candlewick Press. This magical, wordless picture book is overflowing with beauty and adventure.

Flora and the Flamingo, written and illustrated by Molly Idle and published by Chronicle Books LLC. This (also) wordless picture book is bursting with pure joy! 

Mr. Wuffles!,  written and illustrated by David Wiesner and published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. David Weisner was also awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1992 for Tuesday, in 2002 for The Three Pigs and in 2007 for Flotsam.

 

Congratulations to all the award winners and honorees! Click here for a complete list of all the 2014 youth media awards.

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Marc Simont, 1915-2013

I read today of the passing of children’s book illustrator Marc Simont, who died on Saturday, July 13, 2013 at the age of 97. Mr. Simont was a gifted artist, an adept story teller and a kind and gentle man; I was fortunate enough to have met him during my time at Books of Wonder.

So far, he is the most reviewed person on TurtleAndRobot.com with four full reviews. Additionaly, his book The Happy Day was mentioned in both 15 Favorite Picture Books about Spring and Top 20 (plus one) Books About Snow. I adore his work. The worldof art, of children’s books, as a wholeis a better place for having had him in it.

 

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed: reviewed October 16, 2012

My Brother Ant: reviewed December 19, 2012

A Tree is Nice: reviewed March 12, 2013

Nate the Great: reviewed June 4, 2013

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May 23rd is World Turtle Day!

I was born loving turtles. Okay, I’m not completely positive this is true but I know I cannot recall a time I didn’t love turtles. My pet red-eared slider, Earl, has lived with me for over twenty years. Here he is doing yoga.

DSC01747

My large collection of turtle figurines resides next to Earl’s tank. My collection of children’s books featuring turtles takes up a whole shelf. And what better day to share a few of those books than World Turtle Day?

 

Turtle and SnailTurtle&Snail

Beginning Reader

Ages 4-8

By Zibby Oneal

Illustrated by Margot Tomes

48 pages

Lippincott

1979

Out of Print

 

Poor Snail, he just wants a friend but “nobody wants a friend in a shell.” A shell can’t hop or fly or fit in a hole. Then Snail meets Turtle! Now they each have a friend in a shell.

Turtle&Snail1

When Snail gives Turtle a mud pie for his birthday, Fly, Ant and Bee all tell him that turtles don’t eat mud, but Snail knows what his friend likes. Snail brings the gift to his friend. Turtle loves it so much that he promptly sits on it.

Turtle&Snail2

Turtle explains that turtles don’t eat mud; they love to sit in it! But Snail is so sad that he pulls his head far into his shell and doesn’t hear how much Turtle loves his present.

Snail, convinced that Turtle thinks he is dumb, decides he must find a new friend. But Baby Robin and Fly flew off and Ant ran down a hole, so Snail decides to visit Turtle one more time. He finds Turtle stuck on his back in the tall grass. Snail gets Grasshopper, Ant, Fly and Baby Robin to help tip Turtle back onto his feet. Now they are all good friends!

Turtle&Snail3

View the Book!

 

The Great Turtle DriveTurtleDrive

Picture Book

Ages 4-8

By Steve Sanfield

Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer

32 pages

Knopf

1996

Out of Print

 

An old man, who used to be quite a cowboy, tells a story from his youth about how he made and lost a million dollars before he was old enough to vote. After a long cattle drive he liked to enjoy a meal at Frenchy’s Gourmet Eating Establishment and Pizza Parlor in Kansas City. During one such meal he had the best thing he’d ever eaten in his life, a bowl of turtle soup. Although it was quite delicious, he was shocked to see the teeny tiny bowl cost an overpriced $4.00!

He had an idea, he would head back to his home state of Texas to capture as many turtles as he could and sell them to the restaurant.

TurtleDrive1

Before long he had a herd of twenty thousand turtles. He was going to be rich! But first he had to get them to Frenchy’s. He was unable to recruit any of his fellow cowboys for the turtle drive, and was forced to go it alone.

Driving turtles was slow going, and the tired cowboy couldn’t get a moments rest; as soon as he stopped circling the herd, the turtles would start to disperse. The cowboy realized that he could flip the turtles on their back and keep them from deserting. He finally got some rest.

TurtleDrive2

Soon he realized that all the walking was rough on those little turtle feet; in lieu of turtle shoes he slipped large paper clips onto the turtles’ feet. The paper clips worked, and the turtles moved faster, but winter was coming and they needed to be protected from the cold. The cowboy paid a farmer to dig a trench so the turtles could hibernate.

When the cowboy dug up the turtles in the spring his herd had grown to forty-two thousand! Though they were moving faster, it was a long way from Texas to Kansas City and it took many years. Each winter the cowboy buried the herd, and each spring he’d dig them up to find more, until he had five hundred thousand turtles!

DSC01849

After five years had passed, they all arrived in Kansas City. Frenchy’s had closed! So, they all turned around and headed back to Texas. Good thing they knew the way!

 

View the Book!

 

My Turtle Died Today

MyTurtleDied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Book

Ages 4-7

By Edith G. Stull

Illustrated by Mamoru Funai

28 pages

Holt, Rinehart and Winston

1964

Out of Print

 

This is a delightfully odd book with some very funny non-sequiturs. Also, the illustrations reek of 1964 and are clearly stereotypical of that era. Think: the artwork on greeting cards you’d find stored away in an old case in someone’s attic.

Our narrator, a nameless young boy, is very upset; his turtle, Boxer, is sick. The boy asks his father what to do. His father says to give Boxer some food but it doesn’t help. He asks his teacher but she says, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help turtles. Ask the pet shop man.”

When the boy asks the pet shop man to help Boxer, Mr. Riley says “Boxer will die.” (Don’t sugar coat it Mr. Riley!) Then Boxer dies.

The boy cries. Then he puts Boxer in a small wood box, ties a ribbon around it and buries it near the old oak tree. Then this happens:

DSC01851

“Tommy said, “Leave food for Boxer.” I said, “No, dead turtles don’t eat.” Billy said, “Leave water for Boxer.” I said, “No dead turtles don’t drink.” Tommy said, “Is Boxer in heaven?” Billy said, “My mother’s in heaven.” I said, “But now you have a new mother.” Billy said, “Yes, now I have two mothers.”

Then, on the very next page, this happens.

DSC01854

‘”What’s that?” Tommy said. There in the leaves, near the kitchen door, Patty’s babies had just been born. “There are three babies,” Billy said. “Look at Patty lick them,” Tommy said. One of the kittens made the funniest cry. It was hungry.”

While the boys play with the kittens, Tommy asks if the kittens will die too. Billy says, “All living things must die.” The narrator says the kittens will not die for a long time.

“They have to live first, before they die.”

DSC01853

“Billy said, “I’m hungry. Tommy said, “Me too. Let’s go to my house to get something to eat.” I said, “Yes, let’s go get something and we will bring something for Patty to eat. She is hungry, too.”‘

The boys headed to Tommy’s house to have lunch. The end.

No, seriously.

 

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Turtle Time: A Bedtime StoryTurtleTime

Picture book

By Sandol Stoddard

Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

32 pages

Houghton Mifflin

1995

Out of Print

 

Lynn Munsinger has illustrated several books for children, including Tacky the Penguin. It’s probably no surprise that Turtle Time is my favorite of her books; it’s also one of my favorite turtle books. The title refers to the act of a turtle pulling in his head and limbs—going inside himself—for some quiet time; it’s also something our young narrator, an exuberant red-haired girl, likes to do. She crawls into her bed, snuggles deep under the covers and enjoys a little peace.

In a bouncy, sing-song-y rhyme, the young girl—wearing the most adorable red shoes—tells the story of finding a small turtle egg that was in the process of hatching. Once the baby turtle fully emerged, the joyous girl named him Fred and promised to bring him home to keep her company. She imagines all the wonderful activities they will share!

TurtleTime1

But when she picked him up, he retracted into his mobile home. The persistent miss brings Fred home anyway. Eventually, he peeks out from his shell and has this to say;

DSC01855 

“And when I hold him in my hand, we close our eyes and understand. Our little song, our little rhyme, and when I need a nap I climb, into my bed for turtle time, turtle time.

TurtleTime2 

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The Flying Tortoise: An Igbo TaleFlyingTortoise

Picture Book

Retold by Tololwa M. Mollel

Illustrated by Barbara Spurll

32 pages

Clarion Books

1994

 

Tololwa M. Mollel, a Maasai from Arusha, Tanzania, retells this Nigerian myth of how the tortoise got his shell. Barbara Spurll’s vibrantly colored illustrations are full of emotion and character.

 

Mbeku was a vain and selfish tortoise. He was extremely proud of his smooth and shiny shell. Because he was so magnificent, he believed he deserved more food than any other creature in the forest. Mbeku had an insatiable appetite and was always eager to eat.

FlyingTortoise1

One day he came upon a group of birds celebrating; the king of Skyland had invited the Earth-dwellers to a feast! Mbeku yearned to attend even though he did not have the means to travel to Skyland. He convinced each of the birds to give him a feather so that his (only) friend Ngwele could fashion a set of wings so that he could fly.

When the birds and Mbeku arrived in Skyland, Mbeku tricked the birds and consumed the entire feast himself. The angry birds pounced on the trickster and tore apart his wings. Now he had no way of getting home! Mbeku put on a great show of apologizing and pleading for forgiveness until the birds eventually took pity on him.

FlyingTortoise2

Mbeku decided he would have to jump from Skyland and tells the birds to ask Ngwele to build a giant soft pile so he could land softly. The birds agreed and flew back to Earth. But one small swallow, still in a nearby bush, overheard Mbeku mocking the silly birds for trusting him yet again. The swallow immediately flew off to tell the others. Tired of playing the fools, the birds decided to teach the deceiving tortoise a lesson—instead of a soft pile, they ask Ngwele to build a pile of the hardest things she can find.

Mbeku, unaware that his duplicitous behavior has been discovered, sees the readied pile from Skyland and jumps down to earth. Upon landing, his shell scattered in a million pieces. Ngwele gathered up every single piece and worked all through the rainy season patching Mbeku’s shell. The new patchwork shield looks just like the shell we know turtles to carry today. It’s not nearly beautiful enough for the ungrateful reptile.

FlyingTortoise3

Despite not wanting to be seen in his hideous shell, the tortoise went out for a walk. When he heard birds nearby, he “drew himself into his checkered shell and lay as still as a stone.” The birds, unaware that their old nemesis is nearby, chattered and laughed about having finally outsmarted Mbeku. They laughed so hard that they didn’t even notice the large rock that they were resting on was chuckling too.

 

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A Manifesto for Children’s Literature; or, Reading Harold as a Teenager: From Philip Nel’s Blog, Nine Kinds of Pie

Philip Nel is the author of several books about children’s literature and the director of Kansas State University’s Program in Children’s Literature. He’s also the creator of the website Nine Kinds of Pie, which takes its name from a line in Harold and the Purple Crayon.

He recently published a post that I wanted to share with my readers titled “A Manifesto for Children’s Literature; or, Reading Harold as a Teenager” in which he perfectly expresses all the things I think and feel about children’s books. And, like Nel, I began collecting children’s books as a teenager.

I’ve copied his post below, but I urge readers to check out Nel’s site as well.

 

Those of us who read, create, study, or teach children’s literature sometimes face skepticism from other alleged adults.  Why would adults take children’s books seriously?  Shouldn’t adults be reading adult books?

There are many responses to these questions:

  1. Children’s books are the most important books we read because they’re potentially the most influential books we read. Children’s books reach a young audience still very much in the process of becoming. They stand to make a deeper impression because their readers are much more impressionable.
  2. Adults who dismiss children’s literature neglect their responsibilities as parents, educators, and citizens. What future parents, teachers, doctors, construction workers, soldiers, leaders, citizens read is of the utmost importance, if for no other reason than some of us will continue live in the world they inherit. If books leave such a powerful impression on young minds, then giving them good books is vital.
  3. Almost no children’s literature is written, illustrated, edited, marketed, sold, or taught by children. Adults — and adults’ idea of “children” — create children’s books. It’s profoundly hypocritical for an adult to suggest children’s literature as unworthy of adult attention. Indeed, adults who make such claims are either hypocrites, fools, or both.
  4. Children are as heterogeneous a group as adults are. There is no universal child, just as there is no universal adult. Defining the readership of any work of “children’s literature” is a tricky, sticky, complex task. Paradoxically and as the term itself indicates, “children’s literature” is defined by its audience — it’s for children. It thus a literature for an audience whose tastes, reading ability, socio-economic status, hobbies, health, culture, interests, gender, home life, and race varies widely. Children’s literature is literature for an unknowable, unquantifiable group. The very term “children’s literature” is a problem. Only someone who has never thought about children or what they read could argue that children’s literature does not merit serious consideration.
  5. Children’s literature has aesthetic value. Good children’s books are literature. Good picture books are portable art galleries. If we don’t take children’s literature seriously, then we diminish an entire art form and those who read it. We also prevent ourselves from being able to distinguish quality works from inferior ones — thus neglecting our responsibilities outlined in no. 2, above. This is not to suggest that we can or should all agree on what is a great children’s book. We can’t and we shouldn’t. What we can and should do is care about what makes children’s books bad or good, average or classic, banal or beautiful.

But my focus in this post is less on those preceding five points (or the many other points that could be added) and more on a sixth point: that children’s books have much to give those of us who are no longer children. There are levels of meaning we may have missed when we read the book as a child. There are experiences adults have that grant us interpretations unavailable to less experienced readers — just as children may arrive at interpretations unavailable to adults who have forgotten their own childhoods. In children’s books, there is art, wisdom, beauty, melancholy, hope, and insight for readers of all ages.

Crockett Johnson, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955): coverWhat inspires me to make this sixth claim is that I have no memory of reading Harold and the Purple Crayon as a child. As an adult, I created a website devoted to the book’s creator, Crockett Johnson, and wrote a biography of Johnson and his wife, fellow-children’s book writer Ruth Krauss. But the book that inspired both website and biography is completely absent from my memories of early childhood.

The book does appear in memories of those memories. In eighth grade, when I had long since “graduated” into reading chapter books, my mother got a job teaching at a private school, thus enabling my sister and I to attend the school for free. Once a week (or was it once a month?), there was a faculty meeting after the end of the school day. During that meeting, my sister and I were left alone in the school library to do our homework. She did her homework. I did not. Instead, I wandered over to the picture books and began reading them. There, I rediscovered Harold and the Purple Crayon, a book I then remembered fondly from my pre-school days. I also realized that there were other books about Harold — Harold’s Trip to the Sky, Harold’s ABC. Had I read these other Harold stories when I was younger? I wasn’t sure. But I knew they were just as enchanting as the first Harold book.

So, at the age of 14 — an age when you might expect a person to be reading Young Adult novels — I began to collect paperbacks of Crockett Johnson’s Harold books.

I don’t know what needs were fulfilled by those particular words and pictures. Perhaps it was the books’ presentation of the imagination as a source of power and possibility. Maybe Harold’s iconic, clear-line style better enabled me to identify with him as he, and his crayon, navigated an uncertain, emerging landscape.

For that matter, I don’t know why, as a freshman in college, I adopted as my bedtime reading A. A. Milne’s The World of Pooh and The World of Christopher Robin. (The former contains both Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner; the latter collects all the verse from When We Were Very Young and Now We are Six.)

My point is that books “for children” can speak to people of all ages and backgrounds — if we are ready to listen. It’s hard to predict when or why we will be ready to listen. It is indeed dangerous to assume that recommended age-ranges on the backs of books will tell us anything about who may read those books. When I read and re-read the Harold stories at age 14, the books did not then have age ranges on them, though I note that a more recent copy of Harold’s Fairy Tale claims it’s for “Ages 3 to 8.” As Philip Pullman has said of his own work,

I did not intend the book for this age, and not that; for one class of reader, and not others. I wrote it for anyone who wants to read it, and I want as many readers as I can get, and I want to meet them honestly…. For a book to claim “This was written for children of 11+”, when it simply wasn’t, is to tell an untruth.

Exactly.

Books “for children” or “for teenagers” are books for all who are ready to listen to them. They are for all who recognize that art cannot be confined within such narrow labels.

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Happy World Penguin Day! Here’s ten books to celebrate with.

Earlier today I discovered that it’s World Penguin Day. Though I had no idea such a day existed, I happen to love penguins. The penguin room at the Central Park Zoo is one of my favorite places in New York City.

So, in honor of this sacred day and my love for these utterly delightful creatures, I present ten of my favorite books featuring penguins.

 

Your Personal PenguinPersonalPenguin

Board Book

Ages Birth to 4

By Sandra Boynton

24 pages

Workman

2006

 

I’ve mentioned before, and can’t stress enough, how much I adore Sandra Boynton; her books—full of humorous stories, adorable characters, and warm, fuzzy feelings—are perfect for babies and toddlers. Her straightforward text and instantly recognizable, simple art is utterly appealing and completely irresistible.

In this heartwarming story, a darling little penguin is attempting to endear himself to an initially confused, eventually amenable, hippopotamus.

“Now, lots of other penguins seem to be fine in a universe of nothing but ice. But if I could be yours, and you could be mine, our cozy little world would be twice as nice. I want to be Your Personal Penguin.”

Who could truly resist such an offer?

View on Amazon

 

A Penguin StoryPenguinStory

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Antoinette Portis

40 pages

HarperCollins

2008

 

As with Portis’s other books (Not a Box and Not a Stick), she uses limited colors and produces beautifully austere, perfectly textured art.

Edna is a small and inquisitive penguin. She’s surrounded by white—the ice and snow, black—the night, and blue—the sky and the water. When she goes searching for more color, she finds an orange tent.

She brings some of her penguin friends to check it out and one of the human researchers inhabiting the tent gives Edna an orange glove. She dons it as a hat and wonders what other colors the world might have to offer.

View on Amazon

 

Penguin and Pinecone: A Friendship StoryPenguin&Pinecone

Picture Book

Ages 2-6

By Salina Yoon

40 pages

Walker

2012

 

Yoon’s bold, cartoon-y illustrations and sparse text combine to produce an endearing story of friendship and patience.

When Penguin found Pinecone he didn’t know what it was but it seemed like it was cold, so he knit a scarf for it. Grandpa explains to Penguin that pinecones live in forests, not in the snow.

Penguin is sad but he must do what’s best for Pinecone, and he returns him to the forest. Later, when Penguin comes back to visit his friend, he discovers that Pinecone has grown, and so has Penguin’s love for Pinecone.

View the book trailer!

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Lost and Found Lost&Found

Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Oliver Jeffers

32 pages

Philomel

2005

 

Oliver Jeffers’s, This Moose Belongs to Me (2012) was a NYTimes Bestseller. His soft, calming art is crisp and expressive.

“Once there was a boy who found a penguin at his door.”

The boy, thinking the penguin is lost, sets out to find out where this quiet bird belongs. He learns that penguins live at the South Pole; the boy and the bird make the trip together.

Once at their destination the boy learns his new friend wasn’t lost at all, just lonely, and the two friends decide to stick together.

View on Amazon

 

Tacky the PenguinTackythePenguin

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Helen Lester

Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

32 pages

Sandpiper

1990

 

This pair has created some wonderful books together; Tacky the Penguin was one of my favorite books to sell. Lester’s stories are touching and funny and Munsinger’s art is whimsical and vibrant.

Tacky is not like the other penguins. They wear bowties, he wears a Hawaiian shirt; they are quiet and polite, Tacky is loud and graceless. But it’s Tacky’s odd behavior that scares off a pack of hunters and saves them all.

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The Emperor Lays an Eggemperorlaysanegg

Non-fiction

Picture Book

Ages 4-8

By Brenda Z. Guiberson

Illustrated by Joan Paley

32 pages

Owelet

2004

 

Clear text and luscious collage art take us through a year in the life of Emperor penguins—their harsh environment, their family dynamic and their eating habits.

After the mother lays the egg, the father must carefully roll the egg onto his feet and keep it warm. Once the egg hatches, both parents must work diligently to feed the chick and keep it safe and warm. The chick will make its first swim during the short summer, then the whole family must fatten up for the approaching winter.

This informative non-fiction book is also a beautiful storybook.

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If You Were a PenguinIfYouWereAPenguin

Picture Book

Ages 4-9

By Florence Minor

Illustrated by Wendell Minor

32 Pages

Katherine Tegen Books

2008

 

With playful, rhyming text and lush, detailed art, this husband and wife team takes readers on a journey through some of the fun activities a penguin experiences—diving, swimming, and sliding on the ice, to name a few.

There’s also a visual key to the ten different species of penguins found in this book and resources for learning more about penguins.

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One Cool FriendOneCoolFriend

Picture Book

Ages 4-9

By Toni Buzzeo

Illustrated by David Small

32 pages

Dial

2012

 

Small’s clean, loose line drawings and restricted palette bring Buzzeo’s spare and quirky text to life.

Young Eliot visits the zoo with his father and decides to bring one of the penguins home with him! His father—easily distracted and often otherwise engaged—doesn’t seem to notice the new resident at his house, or so readers are lead to believe.

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The Adventures of Marco and PoloDSC01831

Picture Book

Ages 4-10

By Dieter Wiesmuller

40 pages

Walker

2000

Out of print

 

Stunningly beautiful, sumptuous paintings cover every page of this over-sized picture book.

Polo Penguin and Marco Monkey meet when Marco’s cruise ship arrives in Antarctica. Marco is amazed at all the icy sites Polo introduces him to; he’s also amazed at how cold he is.

When Marco says he must go home Polo decides to travel with him since he’s eager to learn all about Marco’s home. The lush, green world is very different from his icy blue environs, and so, so hot!

The two friends would like to be together but realize they must each return to their own home; now they each have a pen pal.

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And Tango Makes ThreeTango

Picture Book

Ages 4-10

By Justin Richardson

and Peter Parnell

Illustrated by Henry Cole

32 pages

Simon & Schuster

2005

 

This beautiful book is based on a true story about an unorthodox family at the Central Park Zoo. Soft, realistic watercolors adorn this uplifting and sweet story.

While all the other mated penguins are tending to their newly laid eggs, Roy and Silo—two male penguins—find a rock to care for together. The zookeeper notices their activities and trades the rock for a penguin egg in need of nurturing.

The two take turns caring for the fragile egg and before long their daughter Tango is born.

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Mr. Popper’s PenguinsMrPoppersPenguins

Middle Reader

Ages 5-12

By Richard & Florence Atwater

Illustrated by Robert Lawson

140 pages

Originally published: 1938

Reprint edition: Little, Brown

1992

 

This fantastically ridiculous story—and 1939 Newbury Honor book— was illustrated by the extremely talented Robert Lawson (The Story of Ferdinand). 

Mr. Popper wishes he’d seen more of the world before he married Mrs. Popper. He spends his spare time reading and daydreaming about Arctic explorers. Then one of those explorers sends him a penguin in response to a fan letter!

When that penguin gets lonely, the Poppers acquire another lonely penguin to be his mate; eventually the pair produces ten more penguins. And that’s when Mr. Popper starts touring the “Popper’s Performing Penguins, First Time on Any Stage, Direct from the South Pole” show.

And hilarity ensues.

This is not only an excellent read-aloud book for the whole family, but also an enjoyable (and quick) book for any reader who loves to laugh.

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