The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

Quirky Counting Story Worth Searching For November 5, 2010

Filed under: Animal books,Beautiful Books,Favorites,Read aloud,Uncategorized — snowbrice @ 5:13 pm

I usually find counting and sequential stories cumbersome to read.  My tongue gets dry and twisted constantly repeating the same sentences over and over.  But, An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball: A Counting Rhyme, by Jane Yolen is actually fun to read.  This quirky book is about a little elf who goes to the homes of woodland animals with an invitation to a butterfly ball.  Each animal in turn is frantic about not finding the perfect outfit or accessory to wear.  The mouse needs a “floor length dress”, the rabbits are frantically searching for “baubles and laces”, and the skunks are looking for “one clean suit.”  I also appreciate the use of descriptive vocabulary.  There are plenty of opportunities to discuss the meaning of words such as “mournful”, “crimson”, and “silken.”

The watercolor illustrations pay homage to Beatrix Potter without being direct copies.  Each painting incorporates intricate details that deserve more than a dismissive glance.  They each tell a story within the story with characters and plot.  Parents and older children will delight at the irony of skunks fighting over a pinstripe suit and turtles that wish to wear party slippers.

Unfortunately, this story is out of print and it will cost you upwards of $50 to buy a copy.  Thankfully, we have public libraries.  Or if enough of us harass her, maybe we can get Jane Yolen to publish it again.


Red Sings from Treetops July 4, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful Books,Favorites,Read aloud — Maiaoming @ 10:27 am

Red Sings From TreetopsThis gorgeous book by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski sings,res are as the title suggests, with colorful lyricism. It is a pleasure to read aloud – to taste the words, with images that often surprise and delight – this is a real poem as much as it is a book for children, with the kind of rich density that makes poems re-readable, endlessly. The pictures are equally enchanting. And the way the colors move through the seasons keeps my four and two-year-old coming back for more.

The descriptions are accurate to the imagination:


White clinks in drinks.

Yellow melts

everything it touches…

smells like butter,

tastes like salt.


Makes a great gift.


Good Books by Demi February 22, 2010

Yes, this is a rebuttal to Amy’s post about Rumi by Demi.  While I agree that particular book is not so great for kids, one should not write Demi off completely.  We own two books by her, The Empty Pot and Liang and the Magic Paintbrush.  Both of these are wonderful stories that teach children about morals and integrity without being too preachy.  Both stories are adaptations of Chinese folk-tales.  Demi’s illustrations look like ancient paintings on silk.  They have the look and feel of authentic Chinese art.

We also have a book of poetry illustrated by Demi.  The poems are all about insects and feature a variety of poets from Rumi to Shakespeare.  The illustrations are vibrant and iridescent.  The insects are more beautiful on the pages than they are in reality.

So, please , read Demi’s books to your children.


Three Cheers for My Abuelita February 2, 2010

My AbuelitaMy Abuelita

Tony Johnston, Yuyi Morales (Illustrator)

You probably know that we here at the Children’s Book Garden tend to favor books that feature diversity of all kinds – ethnicity, culture, gender, family types, etc. We like a varied world – and we want our kids’ books to reflect it.

But I should say, if I haven’t made it clear in previous posts, that sometimes “diversity” gets done in all the wrong ways. Any book that makes you feel like there’s an arrow and a caption over a drawing that shouts “Look! A black kid!” just doesn’t cut the mustard. Books “about” a divorced family or a “different” kid in class tend towards didactism, lectures, finger-wagging, and, most aggregiously, BORING writing.

So, it’s with great enthusiasm that I recommend My Abuelita. It’s NOT a book about diversity. Sure, there’s plenty of “nontraditional” (for white America) aspects to it: a boy living with his grandma, a grandma who is probably overweight, characters of Hispanic origin both in color and in their practiced cultural heritage (what they eat and do). There’s Spanish terminology and a cat named Frieda Kahlo. And the grandma is a senior citizen who still has something to live for!

So: It’s off the charts for authenticity, originality, diversity.

But so what? It’s an awesome book! The illustrations practically jump off the page, they are so vibrant, robust, gloriously colored, just fabulous and bright. And it’s a fun story! The quirky grandma leads her grandson through their morning routine of bathing and eating breakfast and getting dressed while she warms up her voice for her job that day as a storyteller, and it’s silly and fun and well-told.

By the end of the book, the little boy says that he wants to be a storyteller when he grows up, just like his grandmother, his abuelita. And so did I!

There’s so much love in this story – between the characters – for beauty – for story. The rich textures in the language are part of the delight, but they don’t stick out or detract (I for one hate reading Dora books, because the Spanish included feels like a lesson).

I highly recommend My Abuelita. And, I also want one in real life, if you know of any.


Rumi: A Book I Want to Love

Rumi book coverA gorgeously illustrated book, Rumi: Whirling Dervish by Demi is one of those books I want for myself, if only to hold the pages up to the lamp so I can watch the intricate gold designs flare up in the light. I was recently at an exhibition featuring pages from an Islamic mystical book with lettering and designs of the same style, and I just find them delightful to the eye. It’s nice to have a children’s book with this much beauty and detail and authenticity to its subject.

But the text itself? Way too much for young children. Not the concepts of Rumi’s spiritual awakening – but the biographical depth. I found the same problem with Peter Sis’ book on Galileo. Also beautiful – but also too granular in the story of a person’s life, not enough emphasis on the main themes and importance of their discoveries.

An example of a passage that doesn’t work:

Then on NOvember 29, 1244, he met Shamsuddin, “Sun of the Faith,” who was from the city of Tabriz in northwestern Iran.

Dates and terms and locations that even I – hate to admit it – have to really think about – locate in terms of my historical and geographical knowledge – I’d like a little more context, myself. Certainly my four-year-old daughter is getting to know the globe, but her sense of the past is still very shaky…

A passage that absolutely does work, however:

Rumi circled and circled… rumi had felt so close to God wile turning that he began teaching the circling dance to his students. They sang:

We come whirling

out of nothingness

scattering stars

like dust.

The stars made a circle

and in the middle

we dance

Those who performed the dance became known as whirling dervishes.

I’m not saying that dates and places need to be nixed from stories for younger children – but I think the story would be more powerful if honed down to its core more – and one thing I do like about Sis in his books is he often includes more details in smaller font, so that the older child or the adult can glean the extra information that a smaller child will find obstructive to the flow of the storyline.

I do give this book an A for effort. Introducing children to stories of people from other cultures and spiritual paths and times widens their world. And a beautiful book gives them the beginnings of appreciation for art. But finding that balance between visual attraction and readability can be a challenge – for any history or biography!