Lane Smith, I Heart You!

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I first discovered Lane Smith way back when I worked in the MCLS Children’s Consultants Office and had the enviable job of unpacking and checking in all the review copies that came in from publishing houses. The day I pulled out a copy of Eve Merriam’s Halloween ABC was the day I fell hard for Lane Smith. And then The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs came out, and Stinky Cheese Man and I was unconditionally hooked.

I’m not sure whether it’s the resemblance of his illustrations to the Fractured Fairy Tales of my Sunday Morning Cartoon Watching youth — way back around 1969 or 1970, the only cartoons on TV on Sunday morning were Fractured Fairy Tales and Bullwinkle, which I really despised — or the sublimely snarky prose that captivate me. I don’t really care, just so long as Smith keeps turning out books like John, Paul, George & Ben.

Now, I wasn’t sure about this one, mainly because I was just coming off Wise Guy, a picture book about Greek philosophy which really left me cold. I thought, what could Lane Smith have to say about the “wise guys” who founded our country that hasn’t been said before, and say it in a funny way? Weh-eh-ellll. My worry was needless. Smith blends historical fact — did you know Paul Revere was a bell ringer? — with some really funny fiction. The piece about Revere selling extra-large underwear is hiliarious and will undoubtedly have storytime kids in stitches.

All the big players in the Sons of Liberty are here — John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Tom Jefferson. I especially like Jefferson’s profile, with it’s Roman nose and strong chin…sooooo much like Hercules in FFT.

The writing and illustrations blend beautifully, making this one another Lane Smith must-have for the library, and for my own collection.

When is a Picture Book Not a Picture Book?

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When it’s about Socrates. I saw Wise Guy: the Life and Philosophy of Socrates by Mark David Usher somewhere online recently and thought

H’mmmmm. A picture book about Socrates? How odd. I should check this out.

It helped that the cover shows this cherubic little guy with a laurel crown (or very kinky hair…I can’t decide which) on his head, lounging atop a Greek temple looking very sweet. Now, if anything says “Socrates” it’s sweet and cherubic, right? H’mmmmm. H’mmmmmm. H’mmmmm.

Anyway, I put it on hold borrowed it from Fairport. I opened it, admired the illustrations, then began to read. And knew immediately that the author knew nothing about writing for children. (If you know Socrates or have attempted to read this book, you’ll get the pun in the last sentence.)

Now maybe I’m too far removed from reading picture books to my kids, but really. The reviews recommend this book for “budding philosophers” ages 8 and up. Maybe my kids are a little further down on the philosophy scale than some, but my recollection of the extent of their attempts at philosophy at age 8 involved questions like “Why do I always get stuck on the soccer team that never wins?” and “How come peas taste like dirt?”

There are just some subjects that should remain in the realm of adulthood, and Greek philosophy is one of them.

August 1 – 14

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I plowed through a whole bunch of books in the last two weeks and throughly enjoyed every minute — or at least thoroughly enjoyed the act of reading if not the book itself. Here’s my latest…

The Whispering Road by Livi Michael – I freely admit that I am a book -judger-by-its-cover kind of reader. Sometimes I get a dud, but most often I get what I got from this book — a true little gem of a story.We first meet Joe and Annie as they struggle to escape the tortuous servitude they suffer under Old Bert and The Mistress. The children manage to get away and literally bump into Travis, a man of the Road, who saves them from certain death. Travis introduces our two young heroes to life on the Road, teaching them to hear through their feet, find food, and stay safe on the dangerous byways of England in the grip of the Industrial Revolution. Eventually, the pair find their way to a traveling show where Annie’s ability to commune with the dead lands her in the spotlight. Joe, jealous of Annie’s “talent” and of the attention she gets from the show crowd, hoofs it into Manchester, the blackest of the black industrial towns. There he hooks up with a gang called the Little Angels and begins a life right out of Oliver Twist. After much drama, Joe finds his way back to Annie, who desperately needs him. The two find each other and find a home. Happily. Ever. After.

Despite the tremendous number of plot twists and turns, I completely enjoyed this story. It presents an unusual look at the life of children during the Industrial Revolution, a point in history before the concept of “childhood” was known. The heart-rending choices made by parents who could no longer care for their children are presented in a way that will make any parent cringe. Although there are a few instances where I think the editing could be better — for instance, I somehow doubt that a 19th century English child would have “freaked out” — I had a fine time reading this one and would recommend it for ages 10 and up.

Urban Legends: 666 Absolutely True Stories That Happened to a Friend…of A Friend…Of A Friend – I can’t help it. I love urban legends and tales of the weird and macabre. The 001’s and 398’s are my favorite sections of non-fiction. And this collection of UL’s didn’t disappoint. Sure, there was the ubiquitous “spiders in the beehive” but also plenty that I’d never heard before, like “The Slasher Under the Car” which involves frat boys with a shoe fetish making pledges hide underneath cars. When a woman wearing a tasty pair of shoes stands next to the car, the pledge slashes her ankles, causing her to fall to the ground in fear and pain, while he slides out from under the car and makes off with the shoes. Lots of light, amusing reading here folks.

Triangle by Katharine Weber – I picked this one up because it appeared on all the “best of” or “must read” lists for the summer. It tells the story of one girl who escaped the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire and how her escape was not all it appeared. Truthfully, I don’t know why this is stirring so much interest. Well, that’s only partly true. It’s stirring up interest because of the topic — the Triangle Shirtwaist disaster — but it is such a strange book that I wonder how many people who pick it up put it down after the first few chapters. I had a heck of a time getting through Chapter 2 which was all about George Botkin’s musical genius. Maybe it’s because I’m not a musician, but I really didn’t get the whole thing about composing and the connection to the fire. Overall, this was a big disappointment.

The Judas Pair by Jonathan Gash – It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I had never read any of the Lovejoy mystery books by Gash, so I put a hold on his first — The Judas Pair. As soon as I started it, memory flooded back. I had read Lovejoy before, and I immediately remembered why I hated him. It could have been this passage on page 9:

  • I gave her a backhander to calm the issue somewhat, at which she settled weeping while I found a coat. I’m all for sex equality.”

And the domestic abuse continued throughout the chapter. Maybe when this was written in 1977, it was acceptable to beat a woman with whom you’ve just had sex. But sorry…not my cup of tea, thank you very much.

Book Meme With a Twist

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This book meme was posted on Watat.com recently, and even though I was tagged and answered a version of this one awhile ago, Adrienne and Big A little a have twisted it to apply only to children’s books. So, yes. I am answering it again. Skip it if you’re not interested…

  1. One book that changed your life.

    Strange as it may sound, I have to say it was The Phantom of Pine Hill by Carolyn Keene. Reading this Nancy Drew book was the first time I ever experienced the all-consuming rush of not being able to put a book down. Although now I find myself somewhat appalled at Ned’s costume on the cover.

  2. One book you have read more than once.

    Witch of the Cumberlands by Mary Jo Stephens. I actually bought this book from the Gates Public Library several years ago when the children’s librarian weeded it out of the collection. I read it maybe once a year. I think this year I may read it aloud to Liz.

  3. One book you would want on a desert island.

    Oh, there are just too many, but if I really had to pick, it would have to be a set of Harry Potter books.

  4. One book that made you laugh.

    Easy peasy lemon squeezy – The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Pretty much a perfect book.

  5. One book that made you cry.

    Any one of a hundred…I cry easily. So let’s say Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

  6. One book you wish had been written.

    Can’t think of one.

  7. One book you wish had never been written.

    Pretty much any book by a celebrity, with the possible exception of the books by Jamie Lee Curtis. At the top of this list — The English Roses by Madonna and Amy the Dancing Bear by Carly Simon. The words pretentious and delusional come to mind…

  8. One book you are currently reading.

    Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller. I *so* want to see this as a movie! And a fabulous picture book, Blackbeard and the Birthday Suit by Matthew McElligott. Thanks to Pat Connor for sending me this hilarious book with the amazing illustrations.

  9. One book you have been meaning to read.

    Chicken Boy by Frances O’Roark Dowell. Anne highly recommends this one.

  10. Now tag five people.

    I’m tagging everyone who reads this!