Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (Random House, January 2013) is a volume about what makes nonfiction great. Using their own experiences as a writer of nonfiction (Tracy Kidder, bestselling author) and an editor of creative nonfiction (Richard Todd, Atlantic editor), the two friends provide a compelling tale of what makes good writing good, and what makes a good writer a good writer, covering everything from how to begin and how to structure a narrative to the more complicated specifics of memoirs, essays, style, and writing as job in today’s society. (more…)
Just a few weeks before my second child, a daughter, was born, I stopped at a bookstore with my son and we bought her a book. It was Pride and Prejudice: A Babylit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver. In just 10 pages, we visited the story of Pride and Prejudice by learning about some of the important countable nouns in it: FIVE sister, TEN thousand pounds. The pictures are modern, and for this particular “primer” the nouns highlighted are lots of fun. Will a baby “get” the plot of the classic novel? No, but it sure is fun for a mama who loves the book!
New to the classics for babies scene is the Cozy Classics series by Jack and Holman Wang (Simply Read Books, 2012). In a similar way, these books share the plot with the youngest people, but these books do with just one word on each page. It’s amazing how they manage to share so much of the story in one word per page! The accompanying pictures are photographs of needle-point felt dolls and scenes. I am not able to sew in anyway so this is very impressive to me too. I read the Pride and Prejudice and the Moby Dick Cosy Classics as digital review copies from the publisher. Does a child need to know “peg leg”? No, but the format is a fun one for the parent who loves the classics!
And then there is a more complete picture book version. I discovered Moby Dick: Chasing the Great White Whale by Eric A. Kimmel and Andrew Glass (Feiwel and Friends, 2012) as a part of the Cybils 2012 fiction picture book judging process. It is a poetic sea shanty retelling of the story of Moby Dick. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I love reading the classics, so I was delighted to see a picture book about a favorite book of mine, although I must admit I was surprised to see Moby Dick, of all classic books, retold in picture book format. The book is so much fun for someone who enjoys Moby Dick. It begins with “Call me Ishmael” and it really does capture the feeling of the book in some respects: the desire to go whaling, the night in the inn with a man with a tattooed head, meeting Captain Ahab, the anticipation of the chase. The illustrations are gorgeous paintings, and one can see the brush strokes in the marvelously rich pages. I really enjoyed seeing the story come to life in the pictures. And yet, there is something odd as a whole about this as a picture book. One of the things I love about Moby Dick is the rich language; so much of my enjoyment of the book depends on the eloquent ponderings of the narrator.
As a whole, the story of Moby Dick is rather gruesome: sailors hunting down a large animal and killing it in a brutal and disgusting way. In the picture book, the language is reduced to a sea shanty rhyme, and the illustrations do the talking. It’s a nice introduction to Moby Dick’s plot but do young children really need the plot? I also took exception to the “moral” added to the end of the picture book. Herman Melville’s creation is certainly not something that ends with a trite moral: it’s far more complicated than the plot suggests, and his purposes in writing it (the “moral” if you will) is something to explore in doctoral length dissertations, not picture books. I don’t believe it was necessary to sum up the book in such a trite way: I believe it detracts from the whole.
In the end, then, I’m rather conflicted about this picture book: I love it since I love the original, but I wonder as to the necessity of it for children. Do we really want to talk about chasing and killing whales with our young ones? Why not wait until children can experience Melville himself?
Note: I received digital review copies of the Cozy Classics books for review consideration.
Dr Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline Smith (Chase Art Companies, November 2012) is a full-color biography to the artist so well known for his children’s books and cartoons. I love his classic readers. The Grinch is a must a Christmas, and Green Eggs and Ham was a favorite of mine when I was young.
To learn about this beloved children’s author would have been interesting enough. How did he discover his wacky ideas? Yet, as is clear from Ms Smith’s biography, Geisel is not your average children’s book writer. Because of intense desire for privacy, he did not publicize his “night paintings,” which is what he called his private creations and inventions. It is interesting that on Wikipedia, Theodore Geisel is listed as a “writer, poet, and cartoonist.” It is clear to me that he is far more: he is an creative and talented artist.
Personally, I find Geisel’s surrealistic artwork is far more fun than Dali or Ernst. I loved a peak into his inspiration as I review some of his personal paintings. Dr Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat is well designed and attractive. It includes brief discussion about his life and his inspirations, and then Ms Smith lets his paintings tell the rest of the story. It is a lovely book for Seuss fans to browse, as well as to read for further understanding of the mysterious and creative Doctor.
See more about Dr Seuss books and play online games at www.seussville.com.
Note: I received a digital review copy of The Cat Behind the Hat from the publisher via netgalley.com.
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson (to be published October 2012 by Basic Books) captures not just culinary history but cultural history, describing the foods eaten throughout history based on the tools available to prepare them. (more…)
Raisin and I enjoyed learning about Australia for our school time this month. Since he was born there, I have a special place in my heart for the country, even though we really only saw a smidgen of the country: a few scenic places within five hours of where we lived in Melbourne.
We began our study of Australia by coloring a map with the geographic features (mountains and land with vegetation as opposed to the desert). Then I copied Small World at Home’s idea and we made a giant cookie in the shape of Australia. We added frosting and green sprinkles for the coastal/forested lands, chocolate chips for the mountains, and gel for the major cities. Then we cut it up into the various states and ate it! Raisin loved this project. He was excited to tell his friend, “Guess what? We ate Queensland this afternoon!” He thought it was so funny. Given his age, I’m not surprised that he’s forgotten the names of the states and cities. But weeks after the fact, he still can find the city he was born in (Melbourne) and he remembers about Uluru, which we talked about briefly.
One picture book we enjoyed helped us appreciate the size of the country and the various scenery. Are we There Yet? by Alison Lester was a child’s perspective of a month-long road trip around Australia. Raisin enjoyed learning about the various landmarks and began to understand the vast scope of the country since the road trip lasted so long for their family. He liked following their progress on the map. It was also fun to show him our family picture in the Victorian mountains (he was two months old) and a picture of him with me by The Twelve Apostles when he was about six months old. (We compared our picture to the illustration of the family by the Twelve Apostles that was in the book!).
We also spent about a week learning about the Great Barrier Reef. We watched a National Geographic video about it (it was geared towards adults, so I sat with him and we talked through the entire movie, and even then he barely made it through it.). We watched Finding Nemo, of course, and make a food chain chart using images from that movie to talk about which animals were predators to whom. We made another board game, The Finding Nemo Game, which rehashed some of the facts about reef creatures, but we didn’t play it nearly as much as we played our Earth Game so Raisin has forgotten a lot of what we discussed. In general, though, he remembers the Great Barrier Reef is a cool thing off the coast of Australia, and he knows what a “predator” is, so I consider that success for us!
Raisin did not show immense interest in learning much about Australia: neither the people (I loved the Dreamtime stories, but I could not get him interested), the history, nor the landmarks interested him. Our unit study ended up being mostly about the animals of Australia, which was fun too. Koala Lou by Mem Fox told of a koala who wanted to impress her mother, so she entered a gumtree climbing contest. I loved the illustrations, which featured all the various animals of the Australian outback. Wombat Stew by Marcia Vaughan was a silly tale of various animals getting the dingo to add icky things to his soup in order to trick him in to not eating the wombat. Although Raisin insisted he didn’t like this story, I caught him singing the Wombat Stew song after we read this book! Snap! by Marcia Vaughan told the story of some young Australian animals playing nearby the crocodile. They use their wisdom to avoid being eaten. And finally, the ridiculous My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch by Graeme Base is about a woman who adopts the animals of the bush. Told in poetry, the book gets more and more amusing as grandma’s pet animals fill the pages.
I also tried to give my son a very basic introduction to Aborigines and culture, but, as I said, it didn’t go over so well. He did like Big Rain Coming by Katrina Germein, which had Aborigine style artwork. I liked the subtle way the book introduced the young reader to the Aboriginal sensitivity to the land. Together, Raisin and I looked at the boomerangs we purchased when we lived in Australia and we talked about how the art of dots and lines created symbols. He didn’t want to try his own hand at art (he’s just not into crafts most of the time). We did read a very silly folktale called Whale’s Canoe which is supposedly based on a Dreamtime tradition. Joanna Troughton‘s retelling was perfect for Raisin’s age (4).
Whew! It was fun to focus on Australia for two months. It’s hard to believe that I was moving there five years ago. It feels like yesterday at the same time that it feels like a lifetime ago.
We also found a few other wonderful picture books in the past few weeks, but I’ll have to save those for another day!
What great picture books have you read about Australia?