RECENT READS: Reviews of Two Children’s Books

The two books I read this past week are both love stories from a child’s point of view but with very different messages and very different viewpoints.

The first, The Day I Became a Bird, written by Ingrid Chabbert and illustrated by Guridi, a Spanish artist, was published in 2016 by Kid’s Can Press.  It is a very special book. The story goes: Boy meets girl and wants to catch her eye.  Girl cares about nothing but birds, “…There are birds on her pants and dresses.  She wears birds barrettes in her hair.  She draws birds on her notebooks and folders.  And when she speaks, her voice sounds like birdsong.” So, the boy makes a bird costume and wears it to school despite all the teasing and hard-to-maneuver times, for he has eyes for her. Then, attracted by the costume, their eyes meet, and the rest is a beautiful story of young(est) love.  Done in greys and blacks on beige paper, the drawings, and especially the grey cover are simply lovely and convey the gentleness and guilelessness of the story.

The Tadpole’s Promise, on the other hand, published in 2005 in the US; 2003 in Britain, by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ress, is downright depressing.  Or maybe it was me; I was a bit “down” the day I read it. It is the story of a tadpole and a caterpillar who leans out over the pond on a blade of grass.  Their eyes meet, and they fall in love. The caterpillar makes the tadpole promise he will never change, as she calls him her “shiny black pearl,” and he agrees to his “beautiful rainbow” (Her stripes are multi-colored). He promises with good intentions, but breaks his promise three times as he goes through the development of a tadpole into a young frog.  She is broken hearted and is so sad, she breaks off the romance and crawls into a cocoon. You guessed it!  They both change and no longer recognize each other.  As a butterfly, she glides over the pond, the frog zaps out his tongue and swallows her! The depressing ending has the frog sitting on a lily pad, longing for his “beautiful rainbow” and waiting, waiting, waiting…

Two very different endings. Two very different emotions conveyed. Both worth reading for the illustrations alone.

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TWO GREAT CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Kenny’s Window, illustrated and written by Maurice Sendak is a true children’s classic.  Published in 1956, it marks the first time Sendak  writes the text as well as draws the illustrations. The poetic quality of the words is complemented by the soft greys and beiges of the dreamy drawings. Kenny, our protagonist is a dreamer, both figuratively and literally as well.  He dreams a dream in which he receives seven questions to answer, which he finds on a piece of crumpled paper in his pajama pocket the next morning.  In his nightly musings and dreams, he goes on adventures in search of the answers to the questions.  At the end, Kenny learns,”A wish is halfway to wherever you want to go.”As the book ends, Kenny, the dreamer, begins to wish, and what he wishes for in his dream-time, he gets.

A Man Named Thoreau, written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated, again in grey and blacks and whites, by Lloyd Bloom, tells of the life and thoughts of Henry David Thoreau. There are excellent quotes from Walden throughout, and the experience that was Walden is explained well and is aimed at a child’s understanding. The reference to Thoreau as a little boy sets the stage for understanding this man’s life, ” [Thoreau] had lived in Concord since he was a small boy…Most of them (the townspeople) thought he was a little strange.” There is mention of his literary friends, Emerson, Alcott, and others.  The narrative itself has a calm, soothing effect, much as one imagines Thoreau’s personality may have initially  been.  In the back appendix is a helpful timeline of Thoreau’s life.  For a sensitive child who loves nature and thinks about it, perhaps even marching to the beat of a different drummer, he/she will find a “hero” in Thoreau.

DOLL HOSPITAL SERIES OF GIRL’S BOOKS byJoan Holub

This children’s series of books is an old-fashioned read for little girls who like and/or collect  dolls. I found the first book of the series, “Tatiana Comes to America: An Ellis Island Story”, at Half-Price Books, and at $1.99 scooped it up for my Little Free Library. At the time of publication (2002, by Scholastic), book two and three of the series had also been published, and books four, five, and six were “promised.”

The story is simple. Mom and Dad, both humanitarian doctors, are off to Africa to help sick people there. Rose, the elder daughter wonders why they “…can’t just help sick people in America instead.” She and Lila, the younger daughter are about to be “parked” at their Nana’s for a year. What the girls discover at Nana’s is that the turret of Nana’s Victorian house is set up as a doll hospital where broken dolls are mended ,”refreshed” and restored to former glory by Nana’s nimble fingers.  Eerily enough, as Nana mends Tatiana, a doll- “patient”, with the girls  listening and learning to help, Nana channels the doll and speaks for Titania, telling her “life’s story.”

There are many humorous moments (What! no TV!  and Nana, herself who first appears to the girls as an aged hippie complete with love beads and lava lamp along with the resident  four cats named after the Beatles), and they are complimented by the delightful, typical Scholastic illustrations. My $1.99 was well spent and make this little paperback the best book investment for my LFL I’ve made in a while.