Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Library

I special ordered The Library by Sarah Stewart and David Small from my local children's bookshop. I've been checking (read as scouring) bookstores for years to find a copy and hadn't had any success. I had some extra money and was ready to give up the search. I'm so incredibly excited to own this book but I'm sad that I had to order it. A book this good shouldn't be this hard to find.

The Library tells the story of Elizabeth Brown who started reading at a very early age and never stopped. We see her arrive "skinny, nearsighted, and shy" and watch as she grow up reading book after book after book. She buys them at a terrific rate and reads them while doing her errands or vacuuming. She reads them instead of going on dates. She reads them constantly. And she slowly fills up her house with books. When Elizabeth can no longer find the door, she realizes that she'll have to take drastic action. So she does the only thing she can. She turns her house into a library, moves in with a friend, and spends the rest of her life visiting and reading her books.

This book is an incredible mix of illustration and words, like most of Sarah Stewart's collaborations with her husband David Small. These two work together so seamlessly that it's hard to pull apart which part is more important, the words or the images. Sarah Stewart tells this story in bits of verse, rather then the epistolary style that she used in other books. Most pages have four or five lines that provide snippets into Elizabeth's life, from early age to old age.
"Books were piled on top of chairs
And spread across the floor.
Her shelves began to fall apart,
As she read more and more."
The images that accompany this verse is of stacked of books fitting into every nook and cranny of her living room. The books are stacked on the floor, on the shelves, as end tables. But the readers don't see this as odd. Instead Small's illustrations make the image seem cozy, the kind of house that any reader wouldn't mind spending time in. And that is really the power of this book.

I loved Elizabeth from the beginning mostly because I saw myself in her. She is surrounded by books, teacups, cats, and solitude; and I found myself wanting to step into her world and read with her. She's a character who doesn't worry about her odd lifestyle (a lifestyle I don't find odd, only admirable). She is happy with her books. The verses and the images present a picture of cozy happiness. Any reader will love the images of books filling the house. We see her start with only a few books that she lends out and watch as she gains more and more. She's an eccentric character that doesn't mind being eccentric. With Stewart's verses and Small's cheerful images, we see a character at peace in the world. I was enchanted. I've fallen in love with most of the collaborations between these two (The Journey, The Gardner...) but this story struck a chord with me. A must have for any librarian or regular reader. It's hard not to fall in love with Elizabeth Brown and this book.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Story for Bear

I'm a sucker for two kinds of books: books about reading or books, and books about animals. So when I saw A Story for Bear, written by Dennis Haseley and illustrated by Jim LaMarche I knew I had to read it. This combines my two favorite things, in wonderful ways.

When a bear finds an abandoned letter in the woods he take it home with him because it seems magical. The words don't make sense to him of course but he has a sense of peace when he looks at them. After a long winter of hibernating and staring at the paper, he wanders out into the spring and stumbles upon a cabin. At a chair right at the edge of the woods, sits a woman reading. The bear creeps closer to see the magic symbols over her shoulder. She notices him and over several days lures him to her. And then she starts reading. The bear doesn't understand the story but he feels the same sense of peace as he had with the paper. He returns for more and more stories. As the summer wears on he becomes a regular for story time. But summer ends. One day he returns to find the woman not in her chair. Instead she has left him a stack of books. Slowly he carries each one, gently, to his cave for the winter. And the hope that she will return in the spring.

It doesn't get much sweeter than this story. Haseley tells a story that made me both cry with happiness and at the same time feel completely at peace. Like the bear, I wasn't sure why it made me feel this way but it did. I love the description of him carefully carrying each of the brown, red, green, and black covered books back to his den. Haseley describes how the stories (or at least the way the woman sounds while telling them) stays with him during the day. How he feels that sense of peace when he can hear her speaking in her head. The simple line "For my Bear" brought me instantly to happy tears. Haseley makes us care about both the woman and the bear. And of course the stories. I found myself wanting to be that woman.

LaMarche creates beautiful landscapes and sweet characters with acrylics and colored pencils. He creates a bear that is somewhat realistic but also no where near threatening. I loved the cover image of the woman with her knees pulled up in the chair, reading to her attentive bear. But the natural landscapes that LaMarche creates are just stunning. With almost impressionistic lines he creates a beautiful stream, gorgeous pine trees, and of course a very cute bear. The emotions that he can create with only a few lines are wonderful. The images of the bear sitting surrounded by his books, is one of the most lovely images of the book. And something I would gladly buy a print of to hang on my wall. This book has beauty and emotions in both the story and the pictures. It is a book that celebrates nature and celebrates reading. It's my type of book.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Dangerous Alphabet

As much as I'm looking forward to the upcoming collaboration between Adam Rex and Neil Gaiman, Adam doesn't quite fit with Neil's more macabre work (although seriously, Adam Rex and Neil Gaiman!!!, two of my favorites in one book. I'm going all fangirl). For Neil's darker work, I was taken with his collaboration with Gris Grimly on The Dangerous Alphabet. A perfect book for Halloween. It was enough to creep me out.

The story (because this alphabet book has one) follows two brave children and their trusty pet gazelle (gazelle?) through the underbelly of the city. Shortly after they start their journey the girl is lured by strangers into taking candy and gets snatched. Facing pirates and monsters, the young hero manages to save his sister from being kidnapped. So there is a happy ending. But there is a lot of creepiness to get through before you get there. Unlike other alphabet books, Gaiman doesn't focus on creating a literal word connection. This is no "A is for Apple" book. Instead we find more clever word associations like "C is the way that we find and we look", a pun on C and see as homonyms. Others like "I am the author who scratches these rhymes" for "I", will unnerve after we have gotten used to the pattern of B is for Boat. But by the time we reach "I" in the book we are already unnerved. This is not a safe children's story that you put them to bed with. It is creepy and dark. Children often like to be scared (in a safe setting of course) and these will accomplish that. "J is the joke monsters make of their crimes", was a particularly creepy page for me as we see children chained up or in cages. Or the "O is for ovens" page where we see pies being made with distinct parts sticking out.

Grimly's illustrations are macabre and unusual. There is something about them that reminds me of old comics I used to read, but can't seem to place. The heroes are almost skeletal looking themselves although the gazelle has large Disney eyes that are a little out of place for a strange unnerving book like this. But that only adds to its charm. The book is filled with sewer tunnels and horrible looking gangster monsters and floating eyeballs. The backgrounds are all tans and browns and the characters are mostly rendered in fine line ink. The text is wonderful but it would be lost without the images. Grimly takes the sparse text and brings it to life in all of its horror. "D is for Diamonds, the bait on the hook" would be far less scary without the dead dog floating in the water or the hideous fisherman holding the pole. In fact it is Grimly who makes this book scary. Every detail in the pictures is geared to unnerve. And of course to illustrate the letter. It took me a couple of reads before I started noticed the garbage and ghosts on the "G" page or the milk, maggots, and mice on the "M" page. I should have. The out of place llama on "L" should have been a direct give-away.

I don't normally list an appropriate age for books. I feel that children should not be limited by their age range. I was reading 6th grade book in third grade. I was reading adult titles in middle school. But I will suggest reading this one first before reading it to your child. You know best their tolerance for creepy stories. And this one fits the bill. It's a fun book, particularly for Halloween and the word play makes it one of the better ABC books I've read. Gaiman and Grimly create a creepy classic. Just make sure that your child won't be too disturbed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blog Suggestion

I have a stack of books that I need to review sitting by my computer. I pick them up and start a post and then get distracted (woo shiny things). But the books keep calling to me to discuss them and sometime this week I'll sit down and write those. But in the meantime I wanted to share a blog I found this past week.

I love getting a chance to peek into the studios of writers and artists. Apparently so does Jennifer Bertman. Her blog, From the Mixed-Up Files of Jennifer Bertman (I love the reference by the way) has interviews and images provided by authors and artists of their creative spaces. The images that the interviewee sends can be anything from views from their windows, images of their favorite coffeehouses, pictures of their desks and supplies, to family members and pets. Jennifer asks questions about some of the special objects in their studios, what their typical day is like, what media they prefer, and their best writing advice...among other great questions. I have not yet found an interview that didn't fascinate me. When Jennifer isn't interviewing writers, she's sharing book suggestions. I've picked up a couple of her suggestions and haven't been disappointed. This blog has quickly become a favorite. For anyone who likes seeing how writers and artists work, this blog is a treasure trove.

The creative space of the brilliant Aaron Zenz. Don't you just love it?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Diary of a Wombat

I had heard about Diary of a Wombat written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley for years now. I’ve been told that I had to read it. I’d heard how wonderful it was. But the book wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting this modern classic to be sweet. Judging by Bruce Whatley’s adorable wombat on the front I was expecting cute and sweet. What I didn’t expect was to laugh so hard I snorted. I didn’t plan to giggle with each page. This book is a joy.

The simple story is told from the point of the view of a wombat as it “trains” its human neighbors how to get along. Some pages are as simple as Tuesday which is mostly made up of sleeping and eating grass. That is until the wombat discovers the family next door. After destroying the flat, hairy creature at the door (welcome mat), the wombat demands a reward. After it gets a carrot, it quickly learns how to demand them (chewed through the door). And  the trouble for the family is just beginning. The wombat digs burrows in the garden, chews up gardening equipment, pulls laundry off the line, and generally makes a pest of itself.

This book has a marvelously dry sense of humor. I was so shocked when the book turned funny that I read a line and literally snorted. The humor snuck up on me. I love how droll French’s wording is. After the wombat grows tired of carrots, it demands something else. “Demanded oat AND carrots. Only had to bang large metal object (garbage can) for a short time before they appeared”. Or where she demands a reward for destroying their welcome mat. Each page brings new mischief and a new interpretation by the wombat. It is not exactly subtle but the dry sense of humor is right up my alley.

Bruce Whatley creates an adorable character who looks at the world through sleepy eyes and is more than happy as long as it’s getting its way. The book is filled with white space which leaves tons of room for playing with the pictures and the words. We see the welcome mat, but French never reference it directly. It’s only the flat, hairy creature that is invading the wombat’s territory. I love the triumphant look on the wombat’s face after the battle. Most of the time though it just looks sleepy and cute. Whatley’s acrylic illustrations are a mix of detailed expressions and blurred edges. Most of the illustrations are of our hero but that is really all we need with the book. An adorable book that made me laugh. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Emily Gravett

I have a problem. Right now I have four books by Emily Gravett sitting on my desk waiting to be reviewed. The problem isn't how to talk about these amazingly inventive, stunningly sweet, and incredible children's book. That isn't my issue. The issue is that there is no way that any of my reviews would be good enough to match Gravett's great books.

I've become a huge Emily Gravett fan in the last couple months. Emily draws beautifully. She invents wonderful stories that surprise readers on every page. She creates books that are as inventively designed as they are well written. I know I'm gushing. I can't help it. I haven't found an author that excites me this much since I read my first Adam Rex and Lane Smith. Emily has become a favorite in a very short period of time.

So instead of reviews I'm going to present all four books. All of these are recommended, highly!!! All of these books are wonderful and sweet. All of them made me smile and laugh.

Wolves is the story of a rabbit who checks a book out from the library on wolves. As the rabbit reads about how wolves hunt and look and where they live, we see the actual wolf sneaking up on the rabbit. The oblivious rabbit walks across the giant wolf's muzzle until it gets to the part about diet. Gravett plays with the ending in a way that I won't tell you. It's one of the great charms of the book. I love the little details on this story. There is a library checkout card at the beginning of the book, like it is the little rabbit's book. The book the rabbit is reading is written by Grrabbit. The cover and back of the book are the only realistically rendered thing in the book, the rest are line drawings. It's the little details that made this book so much fun for me.

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears takes book design to a whole new level. The words and plot itself are simple. This is a little mouse listing out all of his fears. And he's afraid of a lot. The dark, snakes, being eaten, sharp objects, water.... The list goes on and on. But it's the design that made me adore this book. There are surprises on every page starting with the giant whole taken out of the cover. There are ragged pages, foldout newspaper articles, a very funny map (with heartbeats as the scale), and everywhere there are Gravitt's wonderful line drawings. I loved her little mouse quaking in fear up until the end. This book doesn't just break the fourth wall, it shatters it.

Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear is the simplest of books. Gravett uses five words in total in this book and four of them are in the title. But it's the way she combines them, along with her adorable images, that makes this book, a favorite. There is a sweet simplicity here. The bear is adorable as he plays with the fruit, changes colors, and show off. All leading to a one word ending that had me smiling. This is one of those books that I would read to my youngest child. And reread over and over and over.

The last book I have for Gravett's is Meerkat Mail, one of her newer stories. Sunny the Meerkat is getting tired of his close family life. His brothers and sisters drive him crazy, the desert is too hot. But the family motto is Stay Safe, Stay Together. That is the only way they can stay safe from the jackals that try to eat them. When Sunny sets out on his own he writes his mother a letter and details why and where he's going. He heads out to various family members, trying out different lives. At each place he writes his mother a postcard which are affixed in the book. At first Sunny loves his new found freedom.  Even with the ever-present jackal always just a step behind him. But as the book goes one the letters grow different. Sunny is becoming more homesick. We hear him talk more and more fondly about the heat and the close family. He hates the rain and the dark and the ants. He starts to long to come home. His last postcard is sent as he arrives in the loving embraces of his family. This had all of the humor of Gravett's other work but also the sweetness. It's a much simpler book than the first two I mentioned but I think this one might be my favorite. Humor and heart always work for me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cooking With Henry and Elliebelly

I don't remember the last time I've had as much fun with a book as I did with Cooking With Henry and Elliebelly, written by Carolyn Parkhurst and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. I love Dan's work which is why I originally picked up the book. But after two pages of this book I was hooked. I couldn't put it down. The dialogue is so true to life. The concept and banter is so funny and the characters are pitch perfect.

Henry (5) and Elliebelly (2) are doing a cooking show for us today. Henry is the main cook and Elliebelly is "helping". In the book they are making raspberry-marshmallow-peanut butter waffles with barbecued banana bacon. If you aren't intrigued by this point, you have no sense of humor. Henry is trying hard to be serious and present this as a real cooking show even though we can see him piling toys and crayons into the bowl as his ingredients. Elliebelly on the other hand is trying to help by forcing Henry to wear a pirate hat, having her dolly swim in the waffle batter, and arguing constantly with her brother. The book follows the pair from start to finish on their "recipe" with a surprise from Mom at the end.

Even though it's the illustration that originally caught my eye, the dialogue in this book is what will make me buy it. It's so real and it's so hilarious. And those are clearly related. Henry and Elliebelly react to each other like every brother and sister pair I've ever met. They argue, they fight, they tattle. They also pause for technical issues (a crying sister), play a theme song (with a broom for a guitar), and have a commercial (buy buy buy now now now). They two are just overflowing with enthusiasm. But that doesn't mean they have to get along. The banter between them is what makes this book.

Dan Yaccarino's illustrations add to the fun and humor. I knew I was in for a treat when I found Henry face palming himself on the title page. He just looks like the classic older brother who's reached the end of his tether with his younger sister. Like much of Dan's work, the illustrations are all about shape and color. He adds little jokes to each page (like the cat peeking out of the fake oven and the dog covering his eyes during the theme song). He makes it clear that the kids are playing. And this book makes it seem like both Dan and Carolyn are playing. This is just one of the silliest and most enjoyable books I've read this year. Well worth a read or two or three.

Also check out the trailer. Well worth a watch.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Too Much Children's Book Goodness in One Place

I posted this on Ancora Imparo as well. But just in case you were curious about the power and weight of children's books. ;-)

I've finally managed to do it. I broke a bookcase. I knew it was just a matter of time. I'm nice to my books, hard on my cases.

I have five bookcases in my library: one for books I still have to read, one and a half for fiction, one and a half for nonfiction, and one for children's books. My children's book bookcase decided that it had had enough this past week. The second shelf, which holds picture books, broke and dropped its contents to the floor. Jeff was watching TV on Friday when he heard a loud crash and the cat come running down the stairs. He went upstairs to find my books all over the floor.

Here you can see where the shelf had been

He piled my books up on the bed we have in the library and called me. So now I have to go out and find a new bookcase. My idea is that this next one will be a quality case. Something that will move with me from house to house. Something I can show off. Not the cheap plyboard ones I bought from Target years ago. They've held up, but my bookcases have to be strong. I finally pushed one to the breaking point. Who knows how long the others will last. Particularly with this load.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


We all know that the best part of a gift for most kids is the box. That's the premise of Ted Dewan's book Crispin: The Pig Who Had It All. I picked up the book at the prompting of the 1001 Books Challenge and am so glad I did. This might be my new favorite picture book.

When Crispin receives an empty box for Christmas he's disappointed. After all the amazing technological marvels that he's received (and broken) over the years, the box is nothing. He's particularly sad since the tag had said that "it was the very best thing in the whole wide world". Crispin is so disappointed that he drags the box outside to the trash. That's when two kids come along and ask to play with it. After some prodding Crispin finally lets them play and all together they have a ball playing make believe in the empty box. After the box gets rained on and collapses, Crispin takes his friends inside to play with his old broken toys and the new refrigerator box. He finally learns just how much fun friends (and imagination) can be.

This book had the absolute cutest story from beginning to end. Crispin is spoiled, and portrayed that way. In the beginning he's sitting in front of the TV slurping down ice cream and sugary drinks while his broken toys lay piled on the floor. He's whiny and lazy and destructive. At first when the kids try to play in his box, Crispin is furious. Finally they drag him into the game and from there on we see a completely different kid. The energy in this book was just so much fun. It's imaginative but very true to how some kids can be. Dewan throws in a ton of fun pop references so be on the lookout for Dr. Seuss, tomaguchi pets, Piggles (a new Pringles brand perhaps?), and telly-tubbies.

I loved the story but the artwork is just as much fun as the text. Dewan uses bright colors and fun shapes to make every part of the page exciting. Even Crispin's world before he found his friends is imaginative. But once they start playing the pages just light up. I particularly loved the adorable pig and the art deco house. And I love the games that they create. Wonderful colorful images to go with a sweet story.

I was the kind of kid who played for hours in empty boxes. I can make up a story to suit any occasion and often spent many an hour turning a coffee table into a canoe and a canopy bed into a castle. So this book was perfect for me. I'm reminded that with all my glitzy gizmos and entertainment options, friends and imagination are still the "very best things in the whole wide world."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Challenge

As if I didn't have enough things to take me away from this blog, I've accepted a reading challenge that has taken up the last month and is still nowhere near finished. But this might actually bring me back to the blog. Mostly because this reading challenge is all about some great children's books.
A couple years ago my mother bought me a copy of the 1001 Children's Books That You Must Read Before You Grow Up. I've occasionally gone in to see which books I've read and mark up the pages. A month ago I decided to step up my efforts. I'm going to attempt to read every book in this anthology. I'd only read about 200 so this should be a bit of a challenge. Many of the books are international and might be a bit difficult to find. But a challenge is a challenge, and I've been enjoying trying to satisfy it. I've made five trips to the library in the last month and each trip has included at least a dozen books. I'll post reviews about books I love. I already have a huge stack of my favorites. Simple stories like The Ox-Cart Man. Sweet stories like Crispin: The Pig Who Had It All. Wonderful chapter books like The Naming of Tishkin Silk. I'm going to review my favorites from the list. Stay tuned and I'll keep you posted on my progress. 200 down, 800 to go.

You can also watch my progress at LibraryThing. I'm CatB. It even has a book list that automatically tracks my progress.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Library Lion

As a librarian, I love books about libraries or even books about books. The same way I'm drawn to art about reading or books, I'm drawn to books that talk about libraries. So the moment I saw Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, I knew I was going to own it eventually. Then I read the story and saw the illustrations, and I bought it immediately.

Library Lion tells the story of a lion who wanders into the public library and decides to stick around. The librarian, Miss Merriweather is okay with the lion staying as long as follows the rules: no running and especially no loud noises. The lion can visit as long as he stays quiet. The lion loves story hour and in the morning he helps Miss Merriweather around the library. Everyone loves the lion expect Mr. McBee. One day, Miss Merriweather falls and hurts herself. The lion runs for help but the only way to get attention is to roar. He roars loudly causing Mr. McBee to go searching for Miss Merriweather to tell on the lion. But the lion knows he's broken the rules. He leaves the library. When Miss Merriweather returns to work and notices that the lion is missing, she becomes depressed. So Mr. McBee goes out to find him and return him to the library.

I tear up every time I read this story. It's at the end when Mr. McBee invites the lion back to the library. And then when Miss Merriweather runs down the hall to greet him. I am so in love with this story. It's not just sweet pages like this: "Soon the lion began doing things without being asked. He dusted the encyclopedias. He licked the envelopes. He let small children stand on his back to reach books on the highest shelves. Then he curled up in the story corner to wait for story hour to begin." The image at the bottom of the page is of the back of the lion when he's sleeping. A young boy is gently resting against the lion's back while reading. It's just a perfect pairing of words and picture. Knudsen's story makes me cry and laugh and smile and cheer. That's an awful lot for a 32 page book to do.

As if this story couldn't get cuter, Henkes' illustrations will make fall in love all over again. His acrylic and pencil images use subdued colors to create the kind of library you would want to visit, and a lion you would want to curl up with. I'll even forgive him for making Miss Merriweather wear a bun. The lion is imbued with so much emotion. You quickly fall in love with him. The image of him sprawled across a pillow in the children's section with a slight smile on his face, is so wonderfully sweet. The humans are all well created but it's the lion that will make this book a favorite for children. He's realistic but not scary. Beautiful images and a sweet story. A must have.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Duchess of Whimsy

I make it no secret that I adore the artwork of Peter de Seve. Ever since I first saw one of his New Yorker covers, I've been fascinated by his work. So when I found out that he had illustrated a children's book, I knew I had to buy it. The book was written by Peter's very talented wife Randall de Seve and the story is just as much fun as the illustrations.

The Duchess of Whimsy follows a rather steady and some would say dull Duke. The Duke of Norm prefers things to be in order. He's quiet and seriousness and ordinary. And he's in love with the Duchess of Whimsy, a royal who can't stand anything to be ordinary. She loves anything exotic and strange. What she isn't interested in is the Duke of Norm. That is until a royal banquet turns into a catastrophe when the cook becomes ill. All the other royals start making extraordinary dishes, all expect the Duke. He makes a plain grilled cheese sandwich and milk. The Duchess is intrigued and then enamored. That sparks their friendship. The Duke begins to understand how the extraordinary can be fun and the Duchess learns that sometimes quiet and serious can be interesting. And they live happily ever after.

I love this story. It's a simple story but I've known a good number of couples who fit this bill. When I read it I realized how this is not just a children's story. It's a story about relationships, about love, about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Randall has a fantastic imagination. I particularly liked her descriptions of the Duke of Norm's attempts to impress the Duchess. "The Earl of Norm composed sugary poetry comparing the Duchess to a squid, a platypus and a penguin...." Or the fantastic dishes that the rest of the royals are making. "The Duke of Dreams made a velvet midnight cake topped with an entire galaxy of spun sugar stars. But first he had to learn how to spin sugar." This is a wonderful story with a fantastic mix of the ordinary and sublime.

Peter is a master of facial expressions and this might be his best medium for those. The book is filled with interesting faces, beautiful details, and fantastic colors. Each page is more like a glorious painting than a children's book. The scene in the kitchen is one of my favorite images. It mixes Peter's humor with his incredible attention to detail. Using just the few words on the page, he creates a scene filled with life and light. This is pure art. A fantastic book that both children and adults will love. Children will love the silly scene, like where the Duke brings a giraffe to the party or where the duchess hosts her party surrounded by fish in balloons. Adults will love the sweet love story and will identify with the duke and duchess. And everyone may want a grilled cheese sandwich.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Children's Classic: The Biggest Bear

There are some stories from my childhood that I remember vividly. That I can conjure up in my minds eye with just a title. Caldecott winner, The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward is one of the most vivid for me. Ward's story of a young boy named Johnny Orchard who goes out to collect a bear skin for his family's barn and comes back with more than he bargained for is imprinted in my mind.

Johnny lives in a farming community where his family raises apples. Every other farmer has shot and skinned a bear and Johnny feels the shame of not having a bearskin for the family. So one afternoon he sets off with his shotgun to shoot himself a bear. But the only bear he finds is just a cub. And he's hungry. So Johnny feeds him some of his maple sugar. And then takes the bear home. While his parents aren't happy with a bear for a pet, Johnny promises to feed him. The bear can certainly eat. He is quickly eating the family out of house and home. And growing...rapidly. He quickly becomes one of the biggest bears around.

When the bear starts eating the neighbor's food, the Orchards know that they need to do something with him. Johnny takes the bear out into the woods and leaves him several times but the bear always finds his way home. Finally the boy is told that he will have to take the bear into the woods and shoot it. But as Johnny is loading his gun the bear takes off, with Johnny holding on to the leash. He is dragged along with the bear into a humane bear trap where they are found by men collecting bears for the zoo. So the bear goes to the zoo and Johnny goes to visit him. And bring him maple sugar.

This simple and sweet story touched me greatly as a child. I loved the relationship between Johnny and the bear. I loved the way Ward personified the bear. I loved the maple sugar. But mostly I was touched by a story of a boy who went out to shoot a bear and found a friend instead. Ward's pages are sparse and clean with the illustrations done is soft black and white. Ward created the images using woodblock and they stand off the page like nothing I've ever seen.

The early scenes with the bear rival some of the cutest illustrations ever drawn. I would compared Ward's illustrations to Robert McCloskey but these seem a bit softer and even more detailed. The are also not cartoony in any way. The humans look like humans I've known and the bear looks very much like any bear you would find in the woods. The bear is never anthropomorphized but he is imbued with tons of personality. There is not a ton of text in the book (although a lot of pages) but the story is complete, with a bit of humor, a bit of sadness, and a lot of sweetness. This was one of my favorite books from childhood. And even now, it stands the test of time for me.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I've bought three boxes of Cheerios in the last week. Three large family sized boxes. With the knowledge that I'm the only one who'll eat them. And while I'm a cereal fan in general, this might push me to my oat cereal limit. But I simply can't pass up free books.

Yep, Cheerios is again doing their Spoonfuls of Stories giveaway. Each year the company (in connection with Simon and Schuster) gives away millions of free books included as prizes in their family sized boxes. And I have to admit that I'm working to collect all five. This year the company has picked five fun titles to give away. I picked up Scott M. Fischer's Jump! at the beginning of the week. New Years Eve I picked up All the World, written by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee. When we stopped into Target today I picked up Chaucer's First Winter, written by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Henry Cole. Three down, two to go.

I love the idea of books as prizes and even more I'm happy to have gotten copies of the books. I already owned All the World but I love the miniature version written in both English and Spanish. What a wonderful idea to promote literacy. I have to admit that while I never ever buy cereal for the cheap plastic prizes, these books get me every year. I simply have to collect the whole set. I'll be eating Cheerios for weeks.