Children’s Book Review – #4


A little while back my mom sent me a collection of children’s books from my own childhood as well as some that she collected during her time as an elementary school teacher.  I finally got around to reading a few of them, though there are still several to go.  I also read a few of the ones that we bought for ourselves but hadn’t had time to read.

This time, Norie and I both read the batch of books, and were more or less in agreement on all of them.  We did, though, go off on a tangent in which we argued the merits of that worst of all children’s books: Goodnight Moon.  But that’s a subject for a future post.  Here is my favorite picture from this batch, from Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse:

Psychedelic lizards are always a plus.

In the original, more realistic version, the lizard swallowed the mouse whole.

Here are the books we read for this round of reviews:

1.  Big Dog… Little Dog (P.D. Eastman) – I loved this book as kid, hence the pages are literally falling out in places.  There’s a simple charm that I can see appealing to a child, though the book isn’t particularly profound.  There was one thing that always bothered me about the book as a kid – I understand why it would be uncomfortable for a big dog to sleep in a little bed, but why would a little dog have a problem with a big bed?  Four-year-old Dave found this contrived.  36-year-old Dave agrees.  Grade: B-

2.  10,000 Dresses (Marcus Ewert) – This book tells the story of a little boy who dreams of wearing dresses.  Everyone tells him boys don’t wear dresses until eventually he finds a young woman who helps to make him one.  Throughout the story, the boy refers to himself as “she” while everyone else refers to him as “he.”  While I applaud the politics of that decision, the execution could have been clearer – I was confused at first, so I imagine a child might be as well.  Grade: B-

3.  The Polar Express (Chris Van Allsburg) – What a sentimental pile of drivel.  The story is so sappy that I wanted to disembowel myself, but the artwork was the bigger disappointment.  Every picture is a two-page spread, and yet none of them are grand or dramatic – they are all from weird angles and never show anything clearly.  The lighting is bad and the whole thing looks blurry and sad – not melancholy, as Christmas should be – just sad.  Grade: C-

4.  Miss Nelson is Missing (James Marshall) – As soon as I started reading this one I remembered liking it as a kid.  The artwork is bizarre enough to warrant a read on its own.  The story is a bit obvious, but fun nonetheless, though I remember as a kid thinking that the moral was to be sure to give every teacher crap no matter how evil and stern she might appear to be.  I don’t think that’s what the author was going for.  Grade: B+

5.  Just a Dream (Chris Van Allsburg) – I didn’t notice until I typed this just now that this was by the same author who did The Polar Express.  Man, that guy sucks.  Just a Dream, despite containing an environmental message that I would normally favor, is the worst book I’ve reviewed so far.  It’s terrible.  Just awful.  Before I finished the first paragraph I knew more or less how the story would play out.  Allsburg, though, forces the reader to suffer through episode after episode after episode of the same damn lesson until I was ready to put my own head in a smokestack just to make it all stop.  Not to mention, the alternate future that is supposed to be so appealing and drive home the final environmental message looked like a suburban nightmare that was just as frightening as all of the polluted scenes from the earlier sections (upon sections, upon sections) of the book.  Horrible.  Grade: F

6.  Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse (Leo Lionni) – The author of Swimmy delivers again with gorgeous artwork and a charming if simple tale.  As with Swimmy, though, this book has a subtle complexity that raises complicated questions about value and joy in life.  Lionni wrote a lot of books, and given his track record so far, I’m intrigued to read more.  Grade: B+


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