tiny reads

Writer and Creative Director. Part-nerd/part-hipster mom. Curator of cool things for kids. Blogging mostly about books with lots of pictures.

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Take a gander at the 2012 Caldecott winner: A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t as super-crazy about this book as the Caldecott committee apparently is. Yah, I get that the illustrations pack a punch with just a few choice brush strokes. And yes, the story is indeed touching. But, I dunno, I just couldn’t get that worked up about it.

Well.

That was before I read it to my kid. (I say “read” but I really mean “look at the pictures and talk through the story,” since it’s a pure picture book.) It’d been sitting around the house for exactly two weeks and six days. I know it was that long because it was due back to the library the very next day. Of course, once I revealed that the book would be disappearing back into the stacks, my kid’s level of interest went from zero to ten. And so we decided to read it together at bedtime. 

The plot in a nutshell: Daisy the dog has a red ball that she loves. Another dog she meets at the park breaks her ball, and Daisy is bereft. She grieves for the red ball, but is happy when the owner of the other dog brings Daisy a new ball. 

So, there we are, going through the book, and we’re get to the part where Daisy’s ball breaks and has to be thrown away and, lo and behold, I hear sniffles. No kidding, sniffles. And a quivering lower lip.

Suddenly, I started to feel the impact of the story, too. I realized that losing a favorite toy could very well be a kid’s first experience of true and deep loss. Or, maybe it’s that Daisy’s red ball is such a tangible expression of loss. After all, when a person dies, we make a point of remembering that person, keeping their memory alive, and saying that they’re still with us in some way. But not Daisy’s ball. It breaks. And then it’s gone. The end. 

Fortunately for me and every other parent reading A Ball for Daisy, the story has a happy ending, with Daisy getting a new blue ball. My kid’s sniffles were gone, but I know the experience stuck with him because he woke us up early the next morning saying he was thinking about Daisy and it had made him sad. At the same time, he also said it was “a reallllly good book.”

In terms of life lessons, I liked that Daisy’s new ball isn’t exactly the same as her old one. Because a lot of times, things can’t be exactly replaced, and that can be okay. I also liked that Daisy was allowed to really embrace her grief for awhile. It seems like we’re so often afraid of sadness, but wrapping yourself up in it is sometimes the only way to get through it. 

So, okay Caldecott committee. I’m not 100% sure if I totally agree with you on this one. But, hey, r.e.s.p.e.c.t.

Find it here

I’m not a doll lover, but c’est impossible not to love Kiki & Coco in Paris. It’s Knuffle Bunny meets Betty and Rita in Paris, only with 1000% better styling. The book started out as a slideshow by photographer Stephanie Rausser, so the images are rich, full-bleed and lovely. If you want to give yourself a two-minute Parisian escape, check it out here

I’ve seen this book plastered all over blogs talking about how it’s the girliest of girlie books for little girlie girls. Yah, it’s true there’s lot of pink in this book, and Coco the doll is dressed to the nines in her frills, but she strikes me as more the Nina Garcia/Anna Wintour type than the uber-girlie Barbie/American Girl type. And I dare anyone to call Nina or Anna “girlie.” Yeah, you try it. I’ll wait for you here. 

One of the NYTimes Best Illustrated Books of 2011.

Follow the cyclist as he explores up, down, and all around. Great illustrations all the way through, but my favorite part is the author’s name within the sign on the cover. Cle-vah!

More topiary, from Chris Van Allsburg, author of Jumanji, Polar Express, The Sweetest Fig, and tons more. I think Edward Gorey may have been an inspiration, no?

Grandpa Green: A Life in Topiary.

A boy takes walks through an amazing garden of topiaries, each one illustrating a different chapter of a life. At the end, we meet the garden’s creator, Grandpa Green. He’s getting a bit on in years, but when he forgets the details of his past, the garden is always there to remind him. 

Grandpa Green was named one of the NYTimes Best Illustrated Books of 2011. It’s such a gentle, irony-free book, it’s hard to imagine it’s from the mind of Lane Smith, who produced The Stinky Cheese Man,It’s a Book, and The Happy Hockey Family, to name a few. 

Amsterdam Moscow

Details from The Book of Cities. And I do mean details: A guy balancing a tiered cake, a mom with a small baby on her back, even a guy who looks like a young Santa Claus — all cycling through the streets of Amsterdam. And just look at the colors on those Moscow domes. Love.

Available here.

Book of Cities. (AKA: Book of Awesomeness)

Why, oh, why has it taken me this long to write about The Book of Cities? I mean, this is a book that took my breath away the first time I saw it. Even now, it stands out in the crowd of our bookshelf looking like a high-society doyenne. Perhaps it’s the paper: thick and the perfect shade of creamy white. Maybe it’s the colors: bright, but not too bright…okay let’s just call them “luminous.” Or maybe it’s that coveted Rizzoli imprint, normally found only on the spine of fat, pricey, coffee table art books. (They also print the re-issue of the This Is series, another huge favorite.)

Each oversized spread is dedicated to a different city. London, Rome, New York, Moscow, Hong Kong, Kyoto, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Venice and, um, some generic place in the Middle East. Not so PC, but you’ll see why in a second.

Everything is from a slightly aerial perspective, so you kind of feel like you’re watching from a tree branch. It’s vaguely voyeuristic, but in a friendly, people-watching sort of way, not a weird stalkerish way.

One of the most startling things about this very modern-looking book is that it was originally published back in 1975. Incredibly, there’s nary a wide lapel or pair of bellbottoms to be seen. 

New York:

Amsterdam:

Stockholm:

Paris:

Available here.

After reading Bread & Jam for Frances at bedtime, I was asked (told?) to make breaded veal cutlets for dinner. Yah, breaded veal cutlets. Totes retro. Unless I think of it as wiener schnitzel, which sounds somehow way more delicious. 

48 hours off the grid

Hello again, civilization. A few days ago, we packed up the car with bathing suits, a ton of food, Queen’s Greatest Hits and hit the road. We went to a place that had cute old-school cabins — so it was kinda like camping, only with comfy beds and indoor plumbing. Perfecto!

Of course, we also took a few books along for the ride. We didn’t get to a lot of them because, to be honest, we were all pretty tuckered out from running around outside all day. 

It’s kind of a random mix. Curious George Goes Camping is new-school George and therefore not one of my faves. But, it was where my kid first heard about roasted marshmallows, so it was a must-bring. 

Cars Galore is a great new book with illustrations by an illustrator I always like, Bob Staake

I was surprised that my kid pulled Harold and the Purple Crayon from the shelf. We haven’t read it in, like, a year. Well, we didn’t read it this weekend either, but always nice to pack a classic. 

Speaking of classics, my son and husband are working their way through Roald Dahl’s The BFG. And let me tell you, it’s NOT a classic. It’s just not at the same oh-my-god-that-was-the-best-book-ever level as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach. Totally different and, frankly, not so much fun to read. But, hells, tell me if you disagree.

I can’t tell you about If the Moon Could Talk, but I always love the work of the illustrator, Georg Hallensleben, who is one of the masterminds behind the adorable Gaspard and Lisa series.

The Watcher might have a disturbingly stalker-ish title, but it’s a supercool book about Jane Goodall. It reminds me of this book about Jacques Cousteau. Not sure if environmental pioneers is a trend in kid’s books, but I like it! I’ll probably show more of it in another post, so stay tuned. 

And The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton is a loooongtime favorite, but one that we haven’t read in about a year. But, suddenly, it’s on The Most Requested List, and it became the big hit of the weekend. Maybe it’s the anti-city theme. Well, whatever the reason, it’s a charmer and I’m happy to read it any ole time. 

While we didn’t read much, here’s some pix from the weekend.

The drive there = total Steinbeck/Grapes of Wrath landscapes.

This is where we stayed. This photo was taken just steps from the most amazing swimming hole.

We couldn’t resist. 

The cabins were so not fancy, but there were some sweet touches.

A relaxing spot to sip a glass of wine.

This chair shows generations of family history at the place.

This way to the swimming hole.

Helllloooo, ladies.

Simple toys.

Tire swing happiness.

Seen in stores: Paxton Gate

Oh dear. I got in trouble. Actually, my camera got me in trouble at the super-awesome Paxton Gate Curiosities for Kids . But before my talking-to, I took a few photos of books I hadn’t seen before but hope to track down soon.

Have you read any of them? 

Happy High Line!

So, I just read that the second part of NYC’s High lIne opened today. I cannot WAIT to get out there and check it out, it looks so amazing and beautiful — a ribbon of green running through the city. Check out these fab pix from coolhunter

Um, so okay, what does that have to do with books? Well, allow me to introduce you to The Curious Garden, a book inspired by the High Line. 

It’s the story of Liam, who lives in a dreary, not-quite-apocalyptic city with nary an blade of grass. But, actually, Liam discovers a patch of green on an old abandoned elevated railway and discovers he has a green thumb. Showered with a bit of love, the plants there grow and spread all over the city, leaving a wake of avid gardeners in its wake. 

Before Liam: boo.

After Liam: yay!

Image from here,

Image from here.

Want to check out the High Line for yourself? Here’s the official site.

Best donut book ever! (This was written by a friend of mine!)

It’s National Donut Day!

Hansel & Gretel: happily ever after-ish

I know Disney-bashing is in vogue right now but, seriously, they really are responsible for turning the entire fairy tale genre into a romantic mush of princesses and rags-to-riches stories. I like sparkly diamond tiaras as much as anyone (and I would looove to have a fairy godmother as my own personal stylist), but bland fairy tales make for pretty dull bedtime reading.

Once upon a time, I made my way through the entire collection of Grimm’s fairy tales. One thousand pages later, I’m here to tell you: they’re pretty much the opposite of cute and romantic. I mean, Cinderella’s sisters? They don’t just try and jam their feet into the glass slipper; they actually cut off parts of their feet so they can get into that damn shoe. And then, as punishment for being so deceptive, pigeons come and peck out their eyes. Um, yeah, Walt decided to leave those parts out.

So, you can imagine how skeptical I was about this edition of Hansel and Gretel, which came out a few years ago. Because, when you take a closer look — oh, hey, it’s published by DISNEY. For reals. But the illustrations are gorgeous, not the least bit Disney-fied. In fact, Jen Corace’s work manages an even 50/50 split between dark-sad and light-hopeful, kind of an amazing thing when you think about it. 

FYI: Gretel wears some awesomely cute coats, sweaters and dirndls, and looks fab as she meanders through the deep dark woods.

Love the flames leaping out of the oven. (If only the witch had decided to put a pizza stone in there instead of those poor kids!)

When I first got this book, I was so dazzled by the illustrations and even the thick paper stock, I forgot about the story. I jumped right into reading it to my kid without really thinking that a story about kids with parents who essentially pre-meditate their demise would be scary. And then there’s that whole cannibalistic witch thing. Well, fortunately, the story starts out like this: 

It lets you know, right off the bat, that everything’s going to be okay. But, it also lets you know that Hansel & Gretel are going to have to step up and fend for themselves. That’s a great lesson for any kid, whether they live in the city or country, in a fairy tale world or in the real world. 

Images from here and here.
Available here.

We Planted a Tree: cute n’ eco-friendly.

I live in San Francisco. Composting is a way of life. My kid’s school has a pack-in/pack-out lunch policy. We even know people with chemical toilets. So, yeah, we’re well-acquainted with green.

But for my kid, these things are all pretty abstract. They’re just what we do, rather than what we do to make the planet a better place.

So, I liked We Planted a Tree. It’s a very cause-and-effect kind of book. We planted a tree, and it made some shade for us. It helped make the air cleaner. It helped prevent erosion. And, hurrah, we planted a tree and it made maple syrup. (Mixing self-serving motives with more altruistic ones is okay with me, if it helps the common cause.)

Another thread running through this book is that a tree grows with you. The first couple of pages show two young families planting a tree, then wraps up with the same two families, now expanded, standing around and admiring around their grown-up trees. My kid was very interested in this part — which adults from the last pages used to be the kids in the first pages. And how the parents in the first pages became old and have to use a cane. By no means is that the point of the book, but it’s a nice extra. 

And, another nice little extra — the adorable lollipop tree endpapers. According to the illustrator, Bob Staake, his books are known for their endpapers. I think this would make some killer wallpaper. 

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