Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fuse #8 Inspired "Top Ten Favorite Picture Books of All Time"

This is my all-time favorite picture book list as of March 31, 2009. It was different yesterday, and it will be different tomorrow. As I change, so does it.

I tried to choose books that I have lived with for some time, but not all books behaved themselves (thank goodness) and listened to my futile attempts to impose order on them.

Maybe in a few years my list will contain books by Mo Willems, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Adam Rex, Emily Gravett, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Mini Grey, and so many other contemporary talents.

Disclaimer: Only one of the books on the list did I fall in love with as a child (i.e. under age 8), but it wasn't because of my discerning tastes. I had little exposure to picture books as a kid.

Some Scholastic book fair books, a couple of Golden Books, and a few Dr. Seuss "Beginner Books" provided my foundation in picture books. I was only read to on Christmas Eves, and they were the same couple of Christmas-themed books at that.

I fell in love with most of these books as an adult, or an emerging adult, as the #10 selection makes clear.

#10 The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey. I first discovered this book as a poster (I had no idea that it was adapted from a book). I was in middle school at the time and didn't know anything about Edward Gorey, or Jonathan Swift for that matter.

It spoke to my burgeoning sense of satire, and I took it home that day to hang on my closet door. I've never looked at ABC books the same again.
#9 The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. It's probably because I am literally and figuratively Mr. Plumbean.

#8 Zoom by Istvan Banyai. This book will either send you hurtling into an existential dilemma, or it will help you appreciate "the size" of life and the universe. That's power.
#7 Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni. Abstract art with a heart. And someone said it couldn't be done. If we listen carefully enough, even torn pieces of paper have something to tell us.

#6 The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson. This book should be issued to every kindergartner the world over and reviewed at the beginning of each school year through post-graduate studies. A powerful message of believing in what nobody else will.


#5 The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I fell in love with this book as a kid. My fingers read the holes like Braille, and my eyes salivated at the textured colors of Eric Carle's incomparable collage art.

#4 Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton. There should be a law against how funny this book is, it just steals laughter from your belly. Wow!

#3 Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. I don't know if the word "genius" is applied often enough to the work of Crockett Johnson, but this is Nobel Prize material. And the ending, oh... be still my beating pun heart.

#2 On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss proves he's the Einstein of kidlit with this book. It took a while for the world to "get" E=mc², blowing the roof off Newtonian physics. Dr. Seuss blows the roof off the alphabet and language itself with this book.
Cool kidlit scholar Philip Nel writes in Dr. Seuss: American Icon, "...On Beyond Zebra is Seuss's Finnegans Wake." 'Nuff said?

#1 The Red Tree by Shaun Tan. After reading this book, I'd been wondering since 2005 how long it would take the world to discover Shaun Tan. Then came The Arrival, and the world started taking notice.
Please do yourself a favor and read this book. Show someone you love them by sharing a copy of this book. Achingly beautiful artwork overflowing with humanity-- it's not something you see everyday.
That's it! Thanks, Betsy Bird, for giving me something to sweat and churn over for one month in coming up with this list. Unfortunately, I didn't burn any calories doing it, but I did have a lot of fun contemplating great picture books!
P.S. Notice how many of my faves feature the names of colors? I didn't mean to do that, really. My brain just has a mind of its own sometimes.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Writer2Writer Revision Workshop with Lisa Yee

On March 1st, Squiddy and I made our way to the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse to visit with Peepy. Oh yeah... her sidekick, Lisa Yee, was also there presenting a Writer2Writer workshop on revision. It was kind of hard to hear Peepy with Lisa yacking away in the background, but we somehow managed.

I took the above photo of the two when Lisa presented her first Writer2Writer workshop at Flintridge last summer. (Check out this much better picture Lisa took by clicking here.)

Before the revision workshop began, Squiddy cemented his Peepy fandom with the help of a yummy dish from Little Tokyo. What the heck am I talking about? Click here for all the visual details. Just remember not to bite at the tempura, unless you want a mouth full of pixels.

So it's taken me a month to write this post, but that's part of the point. You see, I've been diligently revising it day and night, night and day, continually since some of Lisa's words of wisdom on revision must have seeped into my brain between joke-telling sessions with Squiddy and Peepy.

What was the great take-away from the day? Well, there was the joke about how many Peeps it takes to change a lightbulb, and who could forget the one about why the squid crossed the road, but there was also something Lisa said-- that revision is all about the chance to do something over, a chance we don't usually get in real life, but one that is freely available in writing.

That's when a light went off (yes, probably one a Peep screwed in), and I realized why I love writing so much. It's a do-over's paradise. It's for those of us who secretly thrill to changing through four and a half outfits before deciding what to wear to the library. (Okay, maybe five, but it's important to color-coordinate with the covers of the books you're checking out.)

So, go forth, writers, and change your minds, try different words on for size, take advantage of the ability to make complete do-overs. Take inspiration from Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day. It's never done until you get it right.

P.S. Absolutely, definitely check out Lisa's first foray into YA, Absolutely, Maybe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Soles of My Feet...

On an audio recording, I once heard Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, say something to the effect of, "The soles of my feet lead to the feats of my soul."
She was referring, of course, to the oft-cited relationship between walking and creativity. The one (walking) increases the other (creativity).

While I would love to claim credit for Cameron's brilliant use of a punning antimetabole, I'll settle for appreciating the connection between my soles and my soul.

Although I'm not walking in the photo above, my soles are ready to dance across the alphabet with tip-tapping toes like a typewriter, because that's the type of writer I am. A few words later, hopefully, and that's where I'll find my soul.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Having Fun With Bertolt Brecht From Head to Tome

In the above photo, my son takes on the role of Uncle Ede from head to tome in Bertolt Brecht's Onkel Ede Hat Einen Schnurrbart.

A book of twelve Kinderlieder, or children's songs, the titular piece translates roughly as such:

Uncle Ede Has a Moustache

Uncle Ede has a moustache
The moustache has five hairs.
And so that he doesn't lose any of them
Each one has a name.

They're named Fritz and Otto
And Max and Karl and Paul.
Max is somewhat sickly
And Fritz is somewhat lazy.

What are your must-have moustache picture books? Add them in the comments section if you feel so moved. Thanks!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

We Are Here! We Are Here! We Are Here!

The "Share a Story -- Shape a Future" Blog Tour for Literacy may have ended, but the fun continues. In one of the site's contests, my son and I won this Horton Hears a Who Pop-Up, courtesy of Eva, the wonderful blogging children's librarian at Eva's Book Addiction.

My son loves to use manipulatives in tandem with the books he reads. Those familiar with Horton Hears a Who know that a single clover plays a singular role. Since clover is in short supply in our garden (read "non-existent"), we settled on that ever-ready stand-by-- a dandelion seed head.

If you look close enough at the photo, you will see the tiny speck that is Whoville. We could even hear them chanting, "We are here! We are here! We are here!" -- that is, up until my son made a wish. Well, they were there...

Please welcome Spring, who's two days old today! And if you're in sunny Southern California, ripe with dandelion seed heads, please send us word of any suspicious specks. We do miss our little Whos so, and my son promises to make wishes only with pennies from now on.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ReJoyce in Children's Literature: James Joyce's Kid's Book

[The above image is from the 1964 Dodd, Mead & Company The Cat and the Devil, written by James Joyce and illustrated by Richard Erdoes. The Los Angeles Central Library also contains a copy of the 1981 Schocken Books edition, illustrated by Roger Blanchon.]

It is with great pleasure that I bring this Joycean kidlit post on St. Patrick's Day, spotlighting a little known work by the Irish icon of literary iconoclasm. Somewhere between The House That Jack Built and "the hoax that jokes bilked" lies James Joyce's children's book The Cat and the Devil.

Written in 1936 as a letter to his grandson, Stephen James Joyce, The Cat and the Devil reveals Joyce as an endearing "Nonno." It begins, "My dear Stevie: I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency."

Based on an "old French story," according to the James Joyce Centre, The Cat and the Devil bubbles forth in Joysprick now and then, but otherwise reads like Joyce "the Grandpa," having fun spinning a yarn.
[The most Joycean word we find is "Bellsybabble" (see photo excerpt below), which, incidentally, is misspelled in the Schocken edition as "Bellybabble."]

The Cat and the Devil recounts the origins of the bridge over the Loire River in Beaugency, France, built in one night by the Devil after striking a deal with the Lord Mayor. The Devil built the bridge on the condition that he could keep the first soul to cross it.

The Lord Mayor, Monsieur Alfred Byrne (named after an Irish nationalist politician), ultimately outwits the Devil with the aid of an unwitting cat. No spoilers here. You're going to have to visit a library, or buy your own copy, to read the rest.
Joyce had a wonderful sense of humor, although that fact is sometimes lost on readers who writhe in the rhythms of the Wake. Nevertheless, behold the biting humor in the photo above (be Joyce the devil himself?), which concludes the story of The Cat and the Devil. Enjoyce!
P.S. For extra fun, check out this link to see super-cool illustrations of The Cat and the Devil for a Croatian edition of the book by illustrator and painter Tomislav Torjanac.
I wonder how one translates "Bellsybabble" in Croatian? Comment away if you have any idea. Thanks!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Librarypalooza! Los Angeles Public Library: Eagle Rock Branch

Not far from the intersection of Eagle Rock Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard, lies the cozy neighborhood Eagle Rock Branch Library.
The Children's Library contains a permanent collection of original artwork by such local children's book author/illustrators as Tim Egan and the late Leo Politi.
What better way to encourage the next generation of art collectors than to give their little eyes access to "the real deal"?

An über-loved Winnie-the-Pooh takes a break from guard duty between two "Tim Egans."
Please click the link above to access current toddler and preschool storytimes. Interested in art classes for your kiddos? You're in luck-- LACMA runs art classes here on a regular basis.
What to do on Mom's or Dad's night out? Check out the Knit and Lit Club that knits while listening to books-on-tape. How cool is that?
When you're done at the library, there's lots of fun restaurants, shops, and art galleries to explore. Have at it!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Beyond Zebra, the Bookshelf

Scrap wood, homeless books, a 4 year-old's imagination-- these were the ingredients needed to bring this bookshelf to life. The fact that one of our cats cowered at the sight of the zebra's eye gave it just that much more credibility.

For the bookshelf's christening, all it needs is a copy of Dr. Seuss's On Beyond Zebra. After all, this zebra's imaginative life begins where that of other zebras ends.

I'm a fan of fun book furniture. Please describe your favorites. Even better, send links to pictures!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Share a Story -- Shape a Future" Blog Tour for Literacy


Please visit the Share a Story -- Shape a Future Blog Tour for Literacy this week for lively discussion and practical literacy-building tips.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Seuss-athon: Party # 5 of 5!

We made it! Woohoo! Yesterday was the 5th and final Dr. Seuss party of our week-long Seuss-athon, held at the Los Angeles Central Library.

There was lots of Seuss silliness to be had, as we listened to readings of "The Sneetches" from The Sneetches and Other Stories, Fox in Socks, Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Horton Hatches the Egg, and Green Eggs and Ham.

Plus, we enjoyed a rare reading from the oeuvre of the mysterious Theo. LeSieg- Ten Apples Up on Top!

See these books? 99.9% of them were checked out by a book-hungry mob of ravenous children by the end of the program. What a beautiful sight!

Children's Librarian Miss Linda treats us to a felt board performance of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. With all those felt fish up there, I probably didn't have to tell you that.

Children's Librarian Miss Joanna joins Miss Linda in a boisterous reading of Green Eggs and Ham. Don't you just love how librarians show the pictures so nicely when they read?
What's a birthday party without a birthday cake? Since the library doesn't own 105 felt candles (and they would have obscured the cake anyway), we were asked to imagine the other 100 candles-- not too difficult a task considering our imaginations had just been given a super Seuss work-out.
For the grand finale, our lovely librarians staged a puppet performance of Horton Hatches the Egg. Here's a photo of Horton with that no-good, lazy Mayzie.
Well, that's all for now folks, until "the Good Doctor" turns 106! In the meantime, hang out with him in Seussville.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Seuss-athon: The Cat in the Hat Rocks the Library!

Party #4 of our Seuss-athon! Woo-hoo! The La Pintoresca Branch of the Pasadena Public Library threw a fantabulous Dr. Seuss party under the direction of the wonderful Children's Librarian Mr. William, a.k.a. The Cat in the Hat.
Check out this amazing display he set up behind the information desk.

After a super spirited reading of his eponymous story, The Cat in the Hat engages us in a game of Seuss Jeopardy. "What is...Theodor Geisel!"

Next, we settle in for some vintage television Seuss. We can't get enough of that Sam-I-Am! Here he is in the 1973 "Green Eggs and Ham" adaptation from Dr. Seuss on the Loose.
Two die-hard Seuss fans create the most iconic hat to ever grace a head, feline or otherwise, perfect for having "good fun that is funny."
One more Seuss party to go. Onward ho!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Seuss-athon: Happy Birthday, Dr. Sweet Horse!

Day #3 of the Seuss-athon brought us to the Chatsworth Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. The Children's Librarian treated us to some of Dr. Seuss's more obscure works, including "What Was I Scared of?" from The Sneetches and Other Stories and "King Looie Katz" from I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! and Other Stories.

The latter tale is particularly well-suited for young activists-in-training. In his book, Dr. Seuss: American Icon, scholar Philip Nel states, "Zooie's 'I QUIT!' demonstrates how activists can promote democratic ideals by speaking out and standing up for their rights."
Kudos also to the Children's Librarian for making age-appropriate Seuss biographies available at the program! Yay!

What of the Dr. Sweet Horse reference? An obscure linguistic footnote in the marginalia of Seuss's life could include the fact that "süß" means "sweet" in German, and "sus" means "horse" in Hebrew.

Both words sound like "Seuss"-- hence, Dr. Süß Sus, or, Dr. Sweet Horse. (That's quite a tasty language treat for our die-hard Seuss fan to contemplate.

What's a Seuss party without an art activity? Here's next year's Halloween costume, perhaps?

This die-hard Seuss fan moves through the labyrinth of the "Good Doctor's" work, making nonsense of sense like any good disciple, because you're only absurd once!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Seuss-athon: ¡Celebre el Cumpleaños del Gato con Sombrero!

Party #2 of this week's Seuss-athon was held at the Cypress Park Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Serving a largely bilingual population, the Cypress Park Branch children's collection contains many Dr. Seuss books translated into Spanish.

¡Celebre el Cumpleaños del Gato con Sombrero! Tipping a hat to the Good Doctor's famous feline creation, the Cypress Park Branch also honored the 40th anniversary of The Cat in the Hat. ¡Viva el Gato!

The library's Seuss-celebration featured a Horton Hears a Who! craft project,

modeled here by a die-hard Seuss fan.

As if the elephant ears couldn't be topped, we were treated to the original 1970 Chuck Jones animated T.V. special, Horton Hears a Who!
Thanks to the planning and organizing of Children's Librarian Miss Alicia, we had popcorn* and fruit juice to carry us through the adventures of Horton and his "speck of dust."
Among our take-home goodies, Miss Alicia hooked us up with some Shel Silverstein tatoos. How cool is that? Yeah, I know it's not Dr. Seuss, but they're both full of nonsense. And nonsense is the best sense of all!
*Of course, no Beezelnut Oil was used in the making of the popcorn.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Seuss-athon: Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!


Probably because I don't have television service, Sudo Nimm and I come up with alternative activities to entertain the family. Sometimes, we brainstorm while gorging on strawberries, which can lead to mind-altering perspectives on life, the universe, and wardrobe selection.
(If you think I'm making this up, John Lennon knew what I was talking about-- "Strawberry Fields Forever," anyone?)
So, this week we came up with the idea of a Seuss-athon-- attending as many Dr. Seuss parties as humanly (and motherly) possible in honor of the Good Doctor's natal coming 105 years ago.
Tonight, on the official date of the birth of serious nonsense in this country, we attended a Dr. Seuss "Chocolate Party" at the Hastings Ranch Branch of the Pasadena Public Library.
The above photo depicts a spirited reading of Green Eggs and Ham, complete with the eponymous epicurian delight, of course!
I'll let you guess which one is trying to decline Sam-I-Am's beseechings.
The party shifted into high gear with a game of Seuss Bingo. Between the M&M "chips" and the jumbo Hershey's chocolate bar prizes, this party was really starting to live up to its name.
I'm not so sure how well the game worked for those little ones who decided to eat it instead, but, anyway...


The chocolate climax of the party came in the form of fondue.

Here is the chocolate fondue fountain only moments before an unfortunate mishap. Yes, librarians endure much in the line of fire, including the effects of a fondue malfunction. Oh well! "That's what dry cleaners are for," he said.

It would be too graphic to recount all the details. Besides, that's what imaginations are for.