Saturday, May 19, 2007

New picture books, May 2007

Thank you Bear is a sweet but not sugary little story with deceptively simple illustrations by Greg Foley, a guy with a lot of design cred. (Like: on the book's web site, he has advance praise from David Bowie and Iman, Chip Kidd, David Byrne, and Karl Lagerfeld. Whew, the air's gettin a little thin in here, I should probably sit down.)

The book goes like this: Bear has found something that he thinks is just wonderful, and he goes off to show his friend Mouse. On the way, all the rest of the animals tell him that what he has found is not so special. He begins to feel pretty low, until he at last finds Mouse, who agrees with him that he has found the "greatest thing ever". Simple, right? But trust me: just the thing for your friends who somehow fit a baby into their sparsely-decorated high-modern loft.

Mahalia Mouse Goes to College is the latest from celebrity children's book author John Lithgow. John Lithgow makes it look easy, with consistently decent books accompanied by fun CDs.

In this one, Mahalia Mouse loses her way while out foraging for food for her infant siblings, and ends up at Harvard University (not spelled-out in the text, but obvious from the illustrations. Lithgow dedicates the book to the Harvard class of 2005, for whom he recited the then-unpublished book as their commencement speaker).

She completes her degree, along the way participating in such extra-curriculars as campus theatricals and fencing, and is reunited with her family at graduation (as are we all). The cover illustration, of Mahalia with her tiny laptop, is especially winsome. Mahalia reminds me of Willow (if Willow were brown, and may I say - bonus! a protagonist of color in a book that's not about civil rights or gritty city life!).

Mo Willems, god of line and shape, has an I Can Read series (yay! hooray! if he can get Mr. Three toilet-trained, he can surely teach Big Man to read!). Called Elephant & Piggie, all titles are recommended. Not since Hop On Pop ("The simplest Seuss for youngest use") has there been such entertaining fare for the youngest readers.

I paged through Today I Will Fly! with one of my librarian colleagues, and she said, "This reads just like the play I saw last night."

"Which play?" I asked, thinking hey, that might be a play I'd like to see.
"It was called Betrayal," she answered.
"Betrayal? The Pinter play?!"
"That's the one!" she said.

So, happy me, I get to be probably the first to proclaim Mo Willems' dialogue "Pinter-esque"!

Then there's The Knot Fairy by local author Bobbie Hinman. It's a bit pedestrian, but I know at least two little girls and their frustrated moms who should share this book. It blames a cute little fairy for the thorny tangles that kids get in their long hair, and celebrates the resulting mess. Mine was cut super-short in second grade because my mom and I just couldn't take the fighting and the tears trying to comb it anymore. Conditioner, by the way, may have already been invented in the early '70's, and we should have had some.

Best for last! Best for last! The endpapers of The Dumpster Diver by Janet Wong are decorated with a dense print of cartoon beetles and roaches, and it just gets better from there. A bunch of neighborhood children assist Steve the Electrician in his hunt for trash-picked treasure. Then, using hand tools and the power of imagination, they transform blenders into lava lamps, lamps into tables, and "an old table plus two banged-up skateboards plus a ripped crib mattress plus a hand-held shower plus thirty-two screws and a roll of duct tape" into... well, you'd pretty much have to ask Big Man, who uses anything he can find in the back yard to make, um, I think space stations and shipyards.

I have got to read this book with that boy, to make up for the times I have come upon his creative re-use of all our bungee cords, coolers and garden stakes to make a interplanetary rat-trap, and gone all mental on him.

I often say that picture books make terrific gifts for adults. I'll give Mahalia Mouse Goes to College to our family's recent high school graduate. The Un-Wedding goes to anyone who gets divorced, and I need a copy of Miss Spider's Wedding for a friend who just got engaged. The Dumpster Diver is now totally on my list, for those innovative friends who give a giant lighted plastic goose a second life, who spend years rehabbing the VW bug; the people who find a cardboard box and half a yard of fake fur and see a giant puppet.

Love you guys.