Children’s Book Review – #2

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The second batch of books arrived last week, so I read those plus a few more from the first batch.  I still have a lot more to read, but I thought it was time for another digest of reviews:

Books

1.  Pat the Bunny (Dorothy Kunhardt) – I get that this book is supposed to be tactile and all, but it’s also really stupid.  There’s no story whatsoever – it’s basically just flashcards for a bunch of different sensations of touch.  That’s fine, but would it have taken much effort to try to make it a bit more than that?  Grade: C-

2.  Higglety Pigglety Pop (Maurice Sendak) – Obviously, I’m a fan of Sendak’s work, and this one is a good example of why.  It doesn’t condescend at all, which is a trait that I’ve noticed most of the classics share.  The drawings might be a little plain for some kids, but this is a book that rewards rereading and I hope the Varmint is willing to put in that effort.  Grade: B+

3.  Bumble-Ardy (Maurice Sendak) – The last book Sendak published before he died is probably also his craziest.  The visuals are downright bizarre, but there is something delightfully eerie about it all that makes it strangely compelling.  The story, meanwhile, is strikingly straight forward – it almost feels like this book is a deconstruction/parody of other by-the-numbers children’s books out there.  In the end, I’m not sure what I think about it, but it’s definitely not one-note crap like so many children’s books.  Grade: B

4.  Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Parish) – What a huge disappointment.  I remembered these books from my own childhood and was excited to reread them.  By the end of the first I was already dreading the other two.  The puns just aren’t very clever, and a lot of times Amelia Bedelia’s interpretation is way more obscure than the phrase that she’s misunderstanding, which makes the story odd and sometimes confusing.  The other problem is that Amelia Bedelia isn’t supposed to understand homonyms and/or figurative language (the book can’t decide which one, and that is one of the flaws), yet she uses both quite often.  As a result, the central joke of the book just doesn’t work, and by the end of the “trilogy” I was sick to death of her contrived foolishness.  Grade: D-

5.  Where the Sidewalk Ends (Shel Silverstein) – I had a lot of fun reading these.  Silverstein does an excellent job of blending the visuals with the poetry and even introducing children to the joys of arranging words meaningfully on the page.  There are a lot of poems in the book and not all of them are winners, but there are a lot more hits than misses with the occasional home-run mixed in.  Grade: A-

6.  Are you My Mother (P.D. Eastman) – Meh.  Grade: C

7.  Anansi the Spider (Gerald McDermott) – The artwork alone makes this one worth reading – it’s unusual and utterly captivating.  The story is a great introduction into the rhythms and patterns of myth and folklore, and the story is oddly compelling.  There’s a deceptive simplicity to the whole thing that is both beautiful and challenging at the same time.  Grade: A

8.  A Pocket for Corduroy (Don Freeman) – We got more Corduroy books, but I started with the one that I read the most when I was a kid.  I read this book a lot, so it was very familiar, and I can see why I liked it so much back then.  The artwork is simply gorgeous and while the story is fairly basic there’s still an oddness to it all that keeps it from being stale.  Grade: A+

9.  Corduroy (Don Freeman) – I have sentimental attachments to A Pocket for Corduroy, but this one is probably the better of the two (but they’re both really great).  It’s so firmly (and beautifully) grounded in the tradition of stories in which toys come alive – a tradition that includes other great works like The Velveteen Rabbit and even Pixar’s excellent Toy Story series.  Like all the best works in that tradition, the book doesn’t waste time explaining how the toy comes to life.  To kids, toys simply are alive, and this book is a celebration of that magic.  Grade: A+

10.  Corduroy Lost and Found (B.G. Hennessy) – To Hennessy’s credit, I didn’t even realize that this book wasn’t by Don Freeman until I looked at the cover again after having read it.  It hits all the same important beats as Freeman’s two Corduroy books, and the artwork is a nearly perfect replica of Freeman’s style.  Overall, this is a fine addition to the series and what it lacks in originality it makes up with an endearing respect for the originals.  Grade: A

11.  The Runaway Bunny (Margaret Wise Brown) – I detest Goodnight Moon, so we compromised and got this one instead.  It’s just as bad.  The artwork is pretty and creative, but the story is as messed up and disturbing as Brown’s other book, and her obsession with anthropomorphized rabbits is down right weird.  I’m fine with weirdness (I love Sendak, after all), but here, it’s used to sinister effect.  The mother bunny in this story is controlling and there are even hints of violence (when the baby is a fish she’s a fisherman and when the baby is a plant she’s a gardener with a wicked looking hoe).  On top of that, she denies the baby any chance at independence.  It all ends up being creepy.  Grade: D

12.  In the Night Kitchen (Maurice Sendak) – Speaking of weird, Sendak shows how it’s done.  This one has a bizarre quality for sure, but there’s a strange logical consistency to the dream world that makes it all work.  Within that framework, the unbridled sense of imagination makes the book a delight to read, and the art style combines with the type face to create a cohesive whole that I really enjoyed.  Grade: A-

13.  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst) – We got a special limited edition of this book that adds color to Alexander (but nothing else).  I’m not sure why they did that – it actually makes his day seem a bit brighter.  Overall, this book is okay, and I can definitely see why kids like it.  The art isn’t anything special, though, and at times the figures are a bit awkward looking and slightly out of proportion.  Grade: B-

14.  Stone Soup (Ann McGovern) – This is a clever little story with really nice visuals to match.  The trickster motif is effective here, and I can imagine it being a story that children really enjoy since the kid gets the best of the adult.  It also plays with language in fun ways.  I approve.  Grade: B+

15.  The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats) – I was pretty critical of Keats’ other book, A Whistle for Willie, on the grounds that the story didn’t live up to the visuals.  The Snowy Day doesn’t suffer from this problem at all.  The visuals are just as good, but the story, though still pretty straight forward in terms of what happens, has a sense of real discovery that was missing in the other book.  Grade: A

16.  The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs (Jon Scieszka) – The premise of this book immediately put me in mind of Roald Dahl’s re-tellings of various fairy tales, and I have to say, Dahl did it way better.  What makes Dahl’s stories work is that he tinkers with the basic premise of a story, then lets his version go where it wants to go.  Scieszka, on the other hand, remains too faithful to the original story structure that he’s trying to rework.  The result is that the repetition of events that works in the context of the Three Little Pigs, which is determined to drive home its moral, just gets a bit tedious here.  This book only surprised for a few pages, then plodded along to its inevitable conclusion.  Grade: C

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  1. Pingback: The Worst Children’s Classic of All Time | Lil' Varmint

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