Saturday, December 22, 2007

I love James Marshall

Well, that pretty much sums it up: I love James Marshall. He is one of my favorite (possibly my absolute favorite) picture book author/illustrators. He's on my mind because recently a library patron requested that we add some more Scholastic Video Collection DVDs to our collection and one of the ones I ordered was Red Riding Hood... And More James Marshall Fairy Tale Favorites. I used this as an excuse to revisit some of my Marshall favorites, including George and Martha, the Fox easy readers and Goldilocks and the Three Bears (a Caldecott Honor book). I also came across some books I hadn't seen before, like Pocketful of Nonsense, his collection of limericks and rhymes.

I know I'm not alone in my James Marshall love: he was the winner of the 2007 Wilder Medal (an award given by the ALA that "honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children"). Also, the forward to George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends, is Maurice Sendak's beautiful tribute to Marshall. You can read an abbreviated version here.

Why do I love his picture books? First, his dry sense of humor. Second, his style--there are so few words on a page and the illustrations are not at all fussy, but they convey so much meaning. Third, the beautiful sentiments his stories convey (this mostly applies to George and Martha, who have disagreements and get into fights, but at the end of the day would do anything for one another).

I could say more, but Sendak says it much more eloquently. In Marshall's work, says Sendak, there is "No shticking, no nudging knowingly, no winking or pandering to the grown-ups at the expense of the kids." "Much has been written concerning the sheer deliciousness of Marshall's simple, elegant style. The simplicity is deceiving; there is richness of design and mastery of composition on every page." Of George and Martha: "Those dear, ditzy down-to-earth hippos bring serious pleasure to everybody, not only to children. They are time-capsule hippos who will always remind us... of the true, durable meaning of friendship under the best and worst conditions."

James Marshall died in 1992 at the age of 51. Despite how young he was at his death, he left behind an impressive and sizable body of work. It's sad to think about what other wonderful books he would have written had he lived longer, but I'm so glad he left what he did for us to enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Recent YA fiction favorites

I haven't reviewed any books in quite a while, but I have been reading like crazy, so I thought I would tell you about two of the YA series I've enjoyed recently.

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga (Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse):
Ok, so I'm a little late in finding this series. The books have been popular best-sellers for a while, but I just read them in November. I raced through them and am now oh-so-patiently waiting for the next in the series (scheduled to be released next fall... sigh...). A very brief synopsis: When Bella Swan goes to a new high school, she encounters the mysterious Cullen siblings. Despite an hostile first encounter with Edward Cullen, Bella becomes intrigued by him and an unlikely relationship develops. As Bella gets to know the Cullens, she discovers their secret and finds herself being drawn deeper into their dangerous world.

I highly recommend them to anyone who likes vampires or romance or just YA books in general. And once you read them, visit, which is a terrific author website with a lot of great information.

Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series:
Five of an eventual seven books in the series have been published so far; the first is Mister Monday. They follow the story of Arthur Penhaligon, an ordinary boy who inadvertently becomes mixed up in a power struggle amongst beings from another world. About halfway through the third book it started feeling as though the books were following a predictable pattern (which I was losing interest in), but that perception quickly changed and I'm looking forward to the next installment of this as well. I recommend either the books or audiobooks. I listened to the audiobooks and thought the narrator, Alan Corduner, did a fantastic job creating unique voices for each character.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Why do(n't) we read?

The New York Times had an interesting article on November 25 entitled, "A Good Mystery: Why We Read." I found the title rather provocative. I thought it was obvious why we read: to enter into someone else's imagination, to learn something new, but most of all, for fun---for the pure pleasure of leaving our world for a spell and becoming engrossed in a world of the author's fashioning. (I'm talking about recreational reading, not reading for work. God knows I do enough of that for my dissertation!)

But as the author, Motoko Rich, points out, the NEA recently released a study that found that Americans are reading less for fun these days. And I have to wonder, with so many wonderful books out there, and so many literary professionals and organizations extolling the wonders of reading in blogs, websites, and through awards programs (see my friend Susan's post on the Caldecott Honor awards), why are so many young people disinterested in reading?

The rise of video games and the Internet has often been fingered as the culprit, and I'm sure that these new technologies are partly to blame. But for each generation (at least beginning in the 20th century) there has always been a new technology to tempt our attentions; radio, film and the television have competed for our time long before the XBox was invented.

One recent trend that I have noticed among other parents with young children is the desire to schedule their children in structured activities. There are Mommy and Me music classes, Mommy and Me yoga classes, Strollercize fitness classes, and of course the ubiquitous Gymboree classes. I know a mother who started her son in Gymboree classes at three months of age. Now that she is back to work, she has her nanny take him to his classes. I'm not judging her (or any mom) for signing up for such classes; I think that they are often as much, if not more, for the mother's benefit (to meet other moms and get out of the house). Heck, if I had the money I would probably sign up for one, too. But with all this structured activity, how much time is left for unstructured activities, like drawing, make believe...or reading?

One bright light in all of this are the story time programs offered at my local library. My library is tiny. I mean, really tiny---most of what I want to check out has to be ordered from other branches because the circulating collection at my library is so small. But while it may lack a large collection, it does have something that is far more important: a really enthusiastic children's librarian. This librarian has started free story time programs for toddlers as well as babies (I believe the only one of its kind in the county), and he allows anyone to attend (other municipalities in the area limit attendance to residents of that particular town). These programs are so popular that people come from the neighboring county just to attend! What a wonderful way to get moms/dads/caregivers and their charges into the library and get them excited about reading. It's a shame that the other libraries in the county don't follow my library's lead and open up their programs to whomever wants to attend. It's a great first step to creating lifelong readers.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Return of the Mom

It's been a little over three months since I last posted on here. My son Ari was born in mid-July and consequently the blog has (understandably, I think) been relegated to the back-back burner.

I visited my parents in Washington, DC last week and saw my old friend Susan (author of Wizards Wireless) the other day and that, along with my son's improving sleep schedule, has inspired me to return. Susan is now (in addition to being a graduate student in library science) a children's book buyer for a local toy store, and her enthusiasm for children's literature is infectious. (Quick plug for her store, Child's Play, with branches in Rockville, MD and Chevy Chase, DC---we popped into the Chevy Chase branch, which looks like a tiny storefront but goes on and on...I got sidetracked by the excellent selection of infant toys at the front but eventually made it to the back, where they keep their amazing selection of books.)

My reading time has been sharply reduced as of late and now consists almost solely of the two books that I alternate for Ari's bedtime: Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Although Ari is much too young to actually understand what I read, I like to think that he enjoys the repetition. His eye-hand coordination has improved to the point where he can grab at the sturdy board book pages of Caterpillar (my sister Liz wisely bought us the original hardcover copy of Goodnight Moon; the board book cuts down the pages dramatically and a lot of key details are lost.)

Reading (and re-reading) these two classics, which were also two of my childhood favorites, sheds new light on what makes a successful children's book. Children love repetition, but we adults crave variety. I think that what makes these two books fresh night after night are the amazing details that the illustrations provide, from the delectable treats of the caterpillar's Saturday feast (not surprisingly, my favorite page as a child) to the collection of items that are wished a goodnight by the blue pajama-clad bunny. Although I can now recite Goodnight Moon verbatim, the drawings are what make the book interesting for me. I recently read a Time Out New York Kids article that asked various authors why they loved the book. Julia Glass wrote that both of her sons loved to search for the roving mouse on each page. I couldn't remember if I conducted a similar search as a child, but now as an adult, I took a look, and sure enough, the little mouse is there on every page in a new spot. The painting on the wall of two bunnies is from the other Brown/Hurd collaboration, The Runaway Bunny. And just last night, I noticed for the first time that a little green copy of Goodnight Moon is on the bunny's bedside table. Very post-modern.

I'm eager to hear what other books you have read over and over again and still find as intriguing as the first time you opened the cover.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little is an amusing debut by Peggy Gifford. It's the day before school starts and Moxy Maxwell still hasn't done her summer reading. She put it off all summer long and now has to read an entire book (Stuart Little) in one day. The book follows her over the course of that day, as Moxy puts off reading by finding other, more appealing things to do. Many children (and adults!) will relate to Moxy's skilled procrastination techniques and be entertained by the things she decides are priorities (such as planting peach pits in the yard for the peach orchard she might want to own when she is an adult).

The story is accompanied by photographs taken by Valorie Fisher. It's unusual to see photographs in a children's fiction book, but in this book they work very well. The pictures and accompanying captions enrich the text and add to the humor. Moxy's twin brother Max is credited with taking the pictures, and it's funny to see his side of the story through them. It took me a little while to get used to the photographs, but once I did I really enjoyed them. They help make the book feel like a true story and that might add to the appeal for some readers--especially those who can relate to procrastinating on their summer reading!

This is an excellent book for children who are ready to move on from easy readers, but aren't quite ready for books with long chapters. It has short chapters, a large font and the pictures help break up the text. Recommended for children in grades 3-5.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin.

Liz Hall is fifteen years old when she is hit by a taxi cab and dies. Like most of the recently deceased, she is sent on a boat to Elsewhere, where people age backwards until they are babies and are sent back to Earth. She must deal with her feelings of loss over a life cut short and struggles with whether she should return to Earth early (it's an option given only to youth under the age of 16; instead of aging backwards Liz can opt to return to Earth as a baby immediately). She quickly falls into a deep depression and becomes obsessed with watching her friends and family from special viewing stations. Despite the strict rules against it, Liz also plots to communicate with her family in a dangerous plan that, if it fails, could mean her remaining years in Elsewhere are horrible.

In Elsewhere, Liz has the opportunity to meet and live with the grandmother she never knew, learn how to drive, and form her first romantic relationship. She also gets her first job (as a counselor for the Division of Domestic Animals, Liz utilizes her previously unknown ability to speak "Canine" to greet new dog arrivals and place them in homes). Even though Liz begins to age backwards from her first day in Elsewhere, in another respect she grows up very quickly as she begins to come to terms with her new reality. This is Zevin's first novel for young adults, and she beautifully presents Liz's initial emotional turmoil and eventual journey towards acceptance. At times the book is sad, amusing, sweet and even profound. Highly recommended for readers in high school.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Girl's Like Spaghetti

Last year, Lynne Truss followed up her popular book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation with a children's version, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! Just last month, The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can't Manage Without Apostrophes!, Truss's latest offering for children, was published. Both of the children's books follow a similar format: a brief introduction of the punctuation mark the book focuses on is followed by a number of examples, and the book ends with further explanations of those examples. In The Girl's Like Spaghetti, Truss explains the two uses of the apostrophe: to show where letters have been left out of contractions and to indicate possession. Then fun, colorful illustrations by Bonnie Timmons demonstrate how apostrophes can change a sentence. One illustration, of boys dumping trash on each other, is accompanied by the sentence "Those smelly things are my brothers," while on the next page is a picture of dirty shoes that is captioned "Those smelly things are my brother's." Two different pictures show children's clothing stores. One picture, of Lil' Tess's Tots' Wear, is labeled "The shop sells boys' and girls' clothing." The other picture, labeled "The shop sells boys and girl's clothing," shows Lil' Tess's Tots 'n' Wear, which has girls' clothing and little boys in the shop window! After all the illustrations is an additional explanation of each sentence; for example, Truss explains that "The apostrophes make boys' and girls' plural nouns that are possessives" and that "Without an apostrophe, boys is a plural noun."

While the average child probably wouldn't seek this book out on his own, it could be a useful tool for teachers or parents who want to work with their children on punctuation. It is very well done and quite entertaining (I laughed out loud at some of the illustrations) and I highly recommend it for work with elementary school children. It might also provide a helpful review for older children--or even adults--who won't be put off by the simplicity or playful illustrations.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dairy Queen

In Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, we are introduced to DJ Schwenk, a 16 year old who lives with her family on their dairy farm in Red Bend, Wisconsin. With her two older brothers off at college and her father recovering from hip surgery, the burden of operating the farm falls on DJ. During the summer before her junior year of high school, DJ develops a friendship with Brian Ott, the quarterback of the rival town's football team, and helps him train for the upcoming football season. Over the course of the training, DJ decides that she wants to play football for her high school, which causes problems with her friends, family and the community. It also endangers her budding relationship with Brian, and DJ must figure out how to navigate through unfamiliar experiences and truly express herself to her friends and family, which doesn't come naturally to her.

Dairy Queen's story and characters felt completely fresh and held my interest all the way through. DJ is a complex, interesting character who is both inspiring and flawed at the same time. She is a strong, athletic girl who has no problem trying out for the football team despite the mixed reactions of her friends and family, but she is clueless when it comes to having meaningful interactions with even her closest friends and immediate family members. She learns a lot about herself and how to interact and communicate with others, but, endearingly, she still has a ways to go at the end of the book.

Dairy Queen is best suited for girls in middle and early high school, and I highly recommend it for that age group. I listened to the audiobook and thought it was very well done. The narrator, Natalie Moore, captures both the accent and spirit of a 16-year old from Wisconsin in a very appealing way. Moore seems to truly understand the characters and she does not turn them into charicatures, which I have noticed sometimes happens in audiobooks, especially those featuring teenagers. Moore also narrated The Off Season, the sequel to Dairy Queen, and I am eager to listen to that as well.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Camp Babymouse

Camp Babymouse, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, is the latest in a series of graphic novels about a young mouse named Babymouse. In this volume, she goes to summer camp for the first time. She is enthusiastic when she arrives, but things quickly go downhill as she racks up demerits which bring her bunk down to last place in the competition for the "Camp Wild Whiskers Cup." When she leads her bunk to a victory in a scavenger hunt she manages to redeem herself in their eyes, but her bunk still comes in last in the overall competition.

These ups and downs are typical for Babymouse in all the books in the series. She is a highly relatable character who means well and wants to be liked, but who makes plenty of mistakes and often alienates her peers. She also loses herself to her imagination quite frequently, such as during a canoe race when she imagines she is "Captain Babymouse" searching for a white whale (and ends up capsizing the boat and losing the race).

The illustrations are simple yet amusing drawings in black, white and pink. Recommended for girls in upper elementary school.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Junie B. Jones

Today's New York Times has an article ("Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?") about the Junie B. Jones chapter books by Barbara Park. I have only a passing familiarity with the series and had no idea that they were so controversial. Interestingly, at issue is Junie's grammar. The NYT sums up some of the problems: "Her adverbs lack the suffix 'ly'; subject and object pronouns give her problems, as do possessives; she usually isn’t able to conjugate irregular past tense verbs; and words like funnest and beautifuller are the mainstays of her vocabulary."

On one side of this debate is those who find the books to be funny and entertaining. These parents don't see any harm in their children reading the books and are happy their children are reading at all. Some even view Junie's grammar as an opportunity to discuss proper grammar. On the other side of the debate are parents who are outraged about the language in the books because it lays a foundation of improper grammar for children who are still learning the English language.

While I wouldn't support banning these books entirely (Park was on the ALA's 2004 list of Most Frequently Challenged Authors!), I probably wouldn't recommend these books or encourage children to read them. I have to agree with the parent in the article who is quoted as saying “No wonder we have declining literacy and writing proficiency rates in this country!” I work at a university and frequently interact with undergraduates who don't have a grasp of basic grammar or even spelling. Friends who teach courses at various universities confirm that this is increasingly widespread. It seems clear to me that many children become adults who have never learned proper grammar. Junie B. Jones is isn't to blame for this, but she does seem to be part of a larger trend of simplifying language and placing no value on correct grammar. I don't see why we would want to encourage this trend by promoting these books. Grammar, spelling and vocabulary ARE important, because they allow people to express themselves clearly. Additionally, it could be that much harder for those who don't value these things when they are interacting with those who do (such as in searching for a job).

It might seem silly to some to make such a fuss about language in a children's book, but I think this is an important issue to at least consider when deciding what books to recommend or put in front of your own child.

Monday, July 23, 2007

15 Minutes

15 Minutes by Steve Young.

Things aren't going so well for Casey Little. He's bullied at school and is stuck being a water boy for the football team even though he wants to be out on the field. But when he discovers his grandfather's old watch in the attic, everything begins to change. Casey quickly realizes that the watch has the power to send the wearer back in time 15 minutes, and it doesn't take long before he's using the watch to his advantage. Through making countless trips back in time, he becomes a valued member of the football team, befriends the popular kids at school and even gets his revenge on a bully. However, he eventually comes to realize that there might be unintended consequences of using the watch and he's forced to decide whether it's worth using the watch if it's at someone else's expense--even someone like the school bully.

This is a quick read that is not too dense (many of the chapters are quite brief). It would make a good choice for boys in upper elementary or middle school because of its action, fast pacing and relatable male protagonist. While there are themes such as learning compassion and empathy for others, Young manages to handle them in a manner that is not overly self-conscious or heavy handed, resulting in a fun and entertaining story.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Guys Read

This is a big week for me---in addition to having my birthday on Saturday (and thank you, Liz, for that lovely post. I still have our copy of A Birthday for Frances, chompo bar included!), I am also expecting the birth of my first child, a son, any day now. As I mentioned in my first post, I am looking forward to sharing my love of reading with him. However, I realize that some of the books that I loved as a child may not exactly be his cup of tea (I can't imagine that too many boys get into the Little House on the Prairie series, for example). Plus, boys tend to lag behind girls in literacy achievement and often find reading to be a chore rather than a joy. The best thing parents can do, then, is to help their sons select books that they will want to read. This is easier said than done, especially when the books that you remember as a child are now at least 20-30 years old. Some of these have remained classics for children of both sexes, while others are probably out of print and hard to find. Plus, parents will want to become familiar with titles that have been published since their childhood---but as Liz pointed out in an earlier post, the children's book market has exploded, meaning that there is a lot of bad (movie tie-in books, anyone?) out there with the good.

Liz and I have already written about ways to find books for kids, from Liz's likely-to-be-successful tips (asking a librarian, using a reference book, perusing a library's online lists) to my hit-or-miss technique of picking books off a new-arrivals shelf at the library (at least I flipped through the texts and didn't judge them solely on their covers!). But not all of these techniques will help you to select books that might appeal more to boys than to girls, and you may not have access (or the time to read) subject matter guides such as Kathleen Odean's Great Books for Boys). For those short on time or without access to a large library collection, the Internet can be a terrific resource to help locate books.

Jon Scieszka (author of The Stinky Cheese Man, a personal favorite, although he's written a lot more since that book was published in 1992) has created a website to address the issue of boys and reading. It is called Guys Read (be forewarned that the site uses flash and didn't work so well on the Firefox browser). Scieszka has put together a site that parents can use to find books that their sons might enjoy. The "Find a Book" feature allows the user to type in the title of a favorite book, author, or topic (say, dinosaurs); the database will then return a list of suggested books. The "Guys' Picks" page lists favorite books as recommended by other users of the website; the lists are roughly broken down by age group (Young Guys, Middle Guys and Older Guys). Either way, a click on the titles or author names will take you to the appropriate page on

I played around with the site for a few minutes, and although I think it's a terrific idea, there are some limitations, particularly with the "Find a Book" database search. Entering a subject in the "Books About" box is probably the best way to use this feature. Type in 'trains', for example, and you'll get 120 pages of suggestions, from The Little Engine That Could (I always loved that book not so much for its message of empowerment but for the pictures of candy and toys that the good boys and girls on the other side of the mountain were about to receive!) to the unavoidable Thomas the Tank Engine series. Other books with "train" in the title that have nothing to do with actual trains were included, meaning that the search code is not particularly sophisticated (while I'm sure that a book on Harriet Tubman would be fascinating (Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman), it's frustrating to sift through 120 pages knowing that many of the selections won't actually have anything to do with actual trains). And there doesn't seem to be any specific order to the list that the search returns---multiple editions of one title show up but are not grouped together, for example.

Other limitations with the database search become apparent with a search based on favorite author or title. I was expecting a search according to either of these categories to recommend books that are similar in some way to the favorite. However, in both cases, the search simply returned all the books by the favorite author (or author of the favorite book).

The "Guys' Picks" page lists books by a variety of authors, although they are not broken down by subject or even a specific age range (how young are "Young Guys", anyway?). But, one could definitely print out the list and then either read reviews on Amazon or as a starting point for a search at the local library. There are lots of familiar titles on the list (Richard Scarry's Things That Go, James Marshall's George and Martha books), some that I know have become popular since I was young (Mo Willems has been recommended to me by two children's librarians-in-training), and some I've never heard of. It looks like a nice mix, but again, without further information, it's hard to know as a non-librarian the age appropriateness of each title.

I'd be curious to hear what others think of this site, especially Liz and other librarians or librarians-in-training.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A birthday for Jody

Today is Jody's birthday, so in her honor here is a round-up of my favorite picture books on birthdays.

A Birthday for Frances was a family favorite when we were children. While not all of Russel Hoban's Frances books stand the test of time well (Bedtime For Frances in particular--I don't think anyone would publish a book these days in which parents threaten to spank their child if she doesn't go to bed), this one is a timeless tale. Frances gets a chocolate Chompo candy bar for her younger sister's birthday gift, but she really wants to eat it herself. She struggles with issues of jealousy and generosity, but she manages to overcome and give Gloria her present.

Frank Asch's Happy Birthday, Moon is a beautifully illustrated, slow, sweet book about a bear who wants to give the moon a gift for its birthday. This is suitable for very young children because of its simplicity in both story and illustrations.

Vera B. Williams is the author/illustrator of two Caldecott Honor books, and Something Special For Me tells the story of Rosa, who gets to use the money her family saved all year to buy a special present for herself on her birthday. She resists buying things because her friends all have them and instead finds the perfect gift for her. If you enjoy this book, you can revisit Rosa's family in several other books by Williams.

Finally, both Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss have books with birthday themes. Carle's bright, bold illustrations in The Secret Birthday Message are a joy to look at and Dr. Suess's Happy Birthday To You features the Great Birthday Bird from Katroo, who knows just how to make a birthday fun and memorable.

So, Jody, happy birthday to YOU!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Picture books for picky kids

Jody commented in the last post that she selected books on bedtime by browsing the shelves at her library. While browsing the shelves is certainly one way to find books on a particular subject, there are other ways for parents and librarians alike to find a stronger body of books. By merely browsing the shelves, you risk ending up with books that don't represent the best of what's available. The children's literature publishing business is booming right now, and although that means more books for children are available than ever before, not all of them are worth spending much time on. And especially for parents: if your child decides she loves a book and wants you to read it over and over--it should be something you enjoy, too!

There are some great resources for librarians who are looking for picture books on a particular theme, and A to Zoo by Carolyn W. Lima & John A. Lima is probably the best. The current edition lists almost 23,000 picture books by 1200 subjects, with indexes cross-referencing books by title, author and illustrator.

While A to Zoo can be used by parents as well, to do so would probably be more time consuming than it's worth. Parents do have the option of asking their friendly neighborhood children's librarian, who probably gets asked about books on specific themes quite often. Many libraries also maintain lists of picture books on various themes, either in print in the children's department or online. Two libraries with good online lists are the Chapel Hill Public Library and (my local and beloved library) the Monroe County Public Library. And the Waterboro Public Library in Maine has an amazing round-up of booklists by theme, covering topics from cats to trains and everything in between--and it even includes links to lists on bedtime stories!

Nighty night

For my inaugural review, I thought it would be appropriate to select a book that deals with the theme of going to bed. This is a category that has some heavyweights in its corner already (Goodnight Moon is the most obvious example) and clearly continues to be a popular topic for children’s book authors. I wanted to see what new titles were out there that might make for worthy additions to the genre.

Since I am the non-professional of the two of us, I made my selections in a very non-scientific manner: I looked through the “new picture books” shelves at my (tiny) local library and leafed through those that had something to do with sleep or night in the title. I'm sure that my sister will have one or two things to say about this method, but I imagine that is how many parents select books for their kids---without the benefit of reviews or lists or recommendations.

Of the books that I selected, the one I most enjoyed was When Sheep Sleep, by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by David McPhail (New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2006).

Laura Numeroff is the author of the best-selling If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which was one of my sister’s all-time favorites as a little girl. This book has the same sense of each page building on the previous one. In Mouse, each action opened a new can of worms (if you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll want a glass of milk). In When Sheep Sleep, each page presents a new possible answer to the question hinted at in the title: what to do when the sheep (so useful for counting at bedtime) are already asleep?

On the first page, a little girl and her teddy bear lie awake in bed, unable to sleep. The text suggests, “When you can’t fall asleep,/Then try counting sheep!” Unfortunately, the sheep are themselves already slumbering at the foot of her bed. The text (written in rhyming verse) then suggests other animals that one could count, yet they too are all asleep. In the end, the very act of counting is enough to tire the pair out, and they fall asleep, surrounded by the various animals depicted on the previous pages.

The rhyme is gentle and often repetitive, creating a soothing rhythm perfect for helping a child settle into a quiet pre-bedtime mood. This is assisted by David McPhail’s soft pen and watercolor illustrations, which depict the animals (even pigs in their muddy pen) as soft and cuddly. As the story begins, we see that the little girl (in an adorable purple footed pajama) is playing with a variety of small stuffed animals; in the following pages, she (along with her now-animated teddy bear) is transported outside to view the same animals sleeping in their natural habitats. I didn’t notice the connection between the stuffed animals and the “real” sleeping animals during my first read-through, but it’s details like this that will allow for new discoveries during multiple readings.

A note about the nightlight

Unlike many kidlit bloggers out there, I am completely unqualified to share my opinions about children’s books. By unqualified, I mean that I have no formal training in children’s librarianship, book publishing or reviewing, or anything to do with the children’s book trade. I am, however, about to become a new mom, and have been a voracious reader since I was a small girl. Although I have enjoyed acquiring all of those necessary baby things that newborns need (and some that they don’t), I have found that I have gotten the most pleasure out of the knowledge that soon I’ll be able to start sharing my love of reading with my son. He won’t be able to understand a word I read to him at first, or even be able to really focus on the pictures, but I know that eventually it will become as cherished an activity in his life as it has in mine.

The title of this blog refers to a nighttime ritual that both my sister, Liz, (the qualified professional out of the two of us) and I engaged in as children. After I had been tucked into bed, I would often get out from under the covers and continue reading my current book by the glow of the night-light. Turns out that Liz did the same thing. Our mother was on to us, and she would usually pop her head into our rooms 15 or 20 minutes later and tell us to go to sleep. Sometimes the book was too good to put down, however, and I’m sure I caused my mother a lot of frustration on those nights that I stayed up way past my bedtime.

Although the description of this blog above (re. books that keep kids up past their bedtimes) will certainly describe many of the posts that my sister and I write, this blog is meant to be more open-ended. Many of the books I’ll review will naturally be for very young children, since I soon will become intimately involved with the phenomenon of the board book. Liz will have a different point of view, since she is currently studying to be a children’s librarian and will have access to materials, theories, etc. that will be unknown or unfamiliar to me, the lay person. It is my hope that our two unique but complimentary approaches will add something new to the kidlit blogosphere.