The books we ordered from Amazon have started arriving and I’ve been plowing through them. So, I decided to offer up reviews of the books as I read them.
1. Chicken Soup With Rice (Maurice Sendak) – At first it just seems simple and charming, but, like all Sendak, that simplicity masks a layer of depth that is worth exploring. Plus, how can you ever fault the man who gave the greatest interview in the history of interviewing? Grade: A
2. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Bill Martin Jr./Eric Carle) – This book would be a bear sized pile of crap if it weren’t so small. I get that the repetition is the point, but come on, the author wrote one little phrase and called it a book. And then, at the end, when the school-children come along, the book loses all of its sense of rhythm and fun. The message, then, is that school sucks the life out of even the simplest joys. That might very well be true, but probably isn’t the best thing to teach impressionable minds. Grade: C-
3. Olivia (Ian Falconer) – I hope this is the book that the Little Varmint wants to read over and over because it is awesome. Any children’s book that can feature a pig who critiques post-modern art and, like Michael Stipe, dreams of Maria Callas is okay in my book. I’m glad I read this book for my own sake, and can’t wait to read it to the kid. Grade: A+
4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle) – The design is clever and the pictures are pretty, but this caterpillar is one wasteful SOB. Did it really have to eat small holes in four strawberries? Why not just eat all of one strawberry? And then, it gets rewarded for its anti-conservationist behavior by getting to turn into a beautiful butterfly. Seems to me this book promotes American consumerism at its worst. Grade: C
5. There’s A Nightmare in My Closet (Mercer Mayer) – I remembered this one from my childhood, and for the longest time thought that it was Where the Wild Things Are. That was a silly mistake as it isn’t nearly as good as Sendak’s masterpiece (and the art style is a total Sendek rip-off). It’s still a solid story, though, and I enjoyed it just fine. Grade: B
6. Strega Nona (Tomie dePaola) – I didn’t recognize this book until I started reading it, but now I remember reading it as a kid. There’s a simplicity to the drawing and the use of type that is enjoyable, and I love the depiction of pasta. Overall, it’s a good morality tale, but nothing ground-breaking. Grade: B+
7. The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams) – What can you say about an all-time classic? It’s a lot shorter than I remembered, but haunting and beautiful nonetheless. There is just the right amount of illustration and the writing is perfection. Anyone who hasn’t read this book is a little bit less of a human being. Grade: A+
8. Madeline (Ludwig Bemelmans) – The art is incredible, but the writing is pure drivel. The story works okay, but the rhymes are often forced and the rhythms are stilted. Plus, the French are silly. Grade: C-
9. Knuffle Bunny (Mo Willems) – Drawing the characters on top of actual photographs was a neat idea, but the story here is not only boring and pretty silly, but also traffics in some of the worst parenting gender stereotypes. Apparently this father is completely oblivious to his daughter’s emotional needs, and yet the mother knows what the girl is upset about in an instant. Then the father has to sheepishly try to correct his mistake. Grade: D
10. Whistle for Willie (Ezra Jack Keats) – What I don’t get about a lot of children’s books is why they are willing to present children with strikingly complex and lovely visuals, then condescend in their treatment of narrative. Give kids some credit – they can handle more than a story about someone learning how to whistle. The pictures here were beautiful, but the story left me bored. Grade: B-
11. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Bill Martin Jr./John Archambault) – The same author who botched Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? totally redeems himself with this one. Chicka Chicka is a wonderful example of how rhythm and rhyme can single handedly delight when an author uses them well. This is one of the best books I’ve read so far. Grade: A+
So, that’s as far as I’ve gotten, but there are lots more to come.