Wednesday, September 21, 2016

WHERE'D GEORGE'S MOMMY GO?

     Reading CURIOUS GEORGE to my two year old granddaughter has been a revelation.

     In truth, before now, it's never been one of my favorite books. Although it's been translated into twelve languages and sold millions of copies, I did not understand its appeal. But now that I've read it with a two year, I finally get it.

      CURIOUS GEORGE is a work of genius.

      Really. The story so aptly mirrors the world as my granddaughter, Molly, (age two years and two months, by the way) sees it, opens it to philosophical discussion and ends with a sense of the miraculous. Not only did I learn to love this book, it taught me quite a bit about writing books for children too.

      I was babysitting Molly at her house and I asked her to pick a few books to read before naptime.
When she pulled GEORGE off the shelf I wasn't thrilled. I thought the story would be too long for a two year old's attention span, and dated too, with that ringing telephone and all.

     Boy, was I wrong.

     Let's start with the cover. Does the cover show George eating a banana or with the man with the yellow hat? No. The cover shows Geroge being led away be two firemen. More about why I consider this genius a little later.

     Molly was captivated by the story from the first few pages. When we got to the page where George is caught by the man with the big yellow hat, Molly asked, "Where'd George's mommy go?"

     Where, indeed?

      For a child Molly's age, Mommy is everything. When Molly was one and  half and we read THE THREE BEARS by Byron Barton whenever we came to the page where Goldilocks had broken Baby Bear's green chair, Molly would point to it and say, "Mommy". As in, Mommy will take care of that broken chair. So George was caught because Mommy was not there to protect him. A two year old is trying to understand her world, and the safety of Mommy makes that exploration possible. "Where'd Mommy go?" is actually the central conflict of this story. Without Mommy to take care of him and protect him, George is left to explore a confusing world. He is literally at sea, as he is in the next scene, when the man with the yellow hat takes George onto a boat.

       When he gets to the city and goes to the man's house, George tries to understand the world by being just like the man. He eats dinner at the table, smokes a pipe, and wears the man's pajamas. But when he copies the man by using the telephone as he does, trouble ensues, big trouble. GEORGE HAD TELEPHONED THE FIRE STATION!

      Firefighters are pretty important to a two year old child. Most children take a field trip to the fire station sometime in preschool or kindergarten. Firefighter hats are part of most dress up bins, and shiny fire engines race down streets. So when George phones the fire station it is a super big deal.

     I didn't know how I would explain prison to Molly, but I didn't need to. The picture of George in a dull, grey place all alone was the only explanation that she needed. It is a terrible, dark moment for George, and for the story.

     But he runs away, and then the miraculous - George sees a balloon man.

     Balloons are magical for a two year old child. They seem alive, they seem to have personalities. Just think about the wonderful French movie, THE RED BALLOON, and you will have an inkling of what children feel for balloons.

     Molly was mesmerized when I read about George wanting a red balloon, then getting the entire bunch of balloons instead. The balloons whisk him away and he flies through the air holding tightly to them, just as he had tried to fly like the seagulls when he was on the boat in the beginning of the story. The balloons lead him back to the man with the big yellow hat.

     In the last picture, when George is at the zoo, not only is he holding the red balloon he wanted, all of the other animals have their own balloon too.

      Magical, and completely satisfying.


   

     

     

     

Thursday, April 28, 2016

CONTENT CREATOR

     I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl who loved to read, an author of books for children.

     I never aspired to be a "content creator".

     Yet that is what writers were referred to in an article I read recently about the future of publishing. Content Creators. Something about that term annoys me, perhaps because it implies that the content is at the service of the device.

     That's not what writing is all about.

     The same article suggests that writers will need to become "personalities" to be viable and published.That's basically fine, many writers have been terrific personalities. If I could find a time machine to zap me to the past I'd like nothing better than to attend a lecture given by the wonderfully personable writer, Mark Twain.

     But other fabulous writers have been shy, reclusive, too homely or eccentric to be ready for prime
time. And that's fine too.

     Being a personality is not what writing is about either.

     It's certainly not about the device which is presenting it, or the way it is written either. Most of our best beloved books were composed with a pencil and a piece of paper. It's about what a writer has to say, not the device she chooses to say it with. The important part isn't content, it's called story.

      Story is older, has lasted and will last longer than any kind of device or content ever invented. Story is powerful, masterful, engaging, enlightening, delightful. Being a writer is about telling a story. It's about having something to say. Long after Apple and Microsoft have taken their bows from the world stage, we will still be listening and reading story.

   

    

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

PHILIP STEAD IS A GENIUS

I just read Philip Stead's new picture book, IDEAS ARE ALL AROUND. I'm blown away! He manages to write such unique, original stories, so different from anything else I've ever read. Thought provoking, yet with plenty of kid appeal too. LENNY AND LUCY, A HOME FOR BIRD, everything he has done is  completely....wonderful.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

VOICE

    Last night I attended a meet up at a bookstore, where children's authors and illustrators had gathered to talk about voice in picture books. As easy as it is to identify a strong voice when one reads, it is difficult to achieve. In illustration, it seems to me, an artist's voice can be so strong that their work is instantly identifiable. Yet their illustration also must create a voice for their character.

     For me, as a writer, especially with the picture book I am working on now, voice is difficult. How to get so completely into a character's psyche that my words reflect my character's soul. I am having a hard time, maybe because my main character is a little mouse!

     Even in a story written in first person, it is tremendously easy for me to drop out of the character's voice to tell some piece of information. How much more demanding it is to keep writing in their voice. But once a strong voice is created, the work is so much more engrossing. So I'll keep working away, constantly striving to improve.

    

Friday, December 4, 2015

HANUKKAH BOOKS

     The Festival of Lights begins on December 6 this year. Here are a few of my favorite Hanukkah stories. They are good to read any time of year, but right now, fry up some latkes, spoon up some applesauce, get cozy and read.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel
      It's the seventh day of Hanukkah, 1938, when Oskar, a refugee from Nazi Europe, arrives in New York City.

Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles by David Adler, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
     Sara's Hanukkah is enriched when she shares food with a hungry stranger.

Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Brown, illustrated by Stacey Schuett
      a Hanukkah miracle in Alaska.

How Mindy Saved Hanukkah by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
      As tiny as The Borrowers, the Klein family lives behind the walls at the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Will Mindy be able to find the Hanukkah candle, before the cat finds her?

Beautiful Yetta's Hanukkah Kitten by David Pinkwater, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater
     a Brooklyn hen and her parrot pals find a cold, lost kitten at Hanukkah.

Potato Pancakes All Around by Marilyn Hirsh, illustrated by the author
     A wandering peddler teaches the villagers how to make potato pancakes from a crust of bread.

Hanukkah At Valley Forge by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin
     A Jewish soldier lights a menorah, then tells General George Washington the story of Hanukkah.

Runaway Dreidel! by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
     On the first night of Hanukkah, a boy receives a spinning dreidel which just won't stop.

Honeyky Hanukkah by Woody Guthrie, illustrated by Dave Horowitz
     An illustrated version of a lively Hanukkah tune written by Woody Guthrie. The book comes with a CD.

Hanukkah Lights by David Martin, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
     A lovely story for the youngest readers.


 
 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holiday Reading

     It's that time of year again, time to curl up on a cold day with a cozy 
holiday read.  Today I am going to list a few of my favorite vintage children's
books for Christmas. Some may be hard to find, even in the public library, but  they are still the best! (I'll follow up in a few days with books for Hanukkah, and then some recent favorites.)

     In no particular order:

1. Star Mother's Youngest Child by Louise Moeri, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.
      She was so old no one remembered her. Then Star Mother's youngest child visits to learn what Christmas is all about.

2. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
     The war has ended, but Ruthie's father still hasn't returned to their Appalachian town. How will she and her mother find the perfect Christmas tree for the holiday celebration?

3. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger
           O. Henry's classic tale of a husband and wife who sacrifice to buy each other Christmas gifts, beautifully illustrated by Zwerger.

4.  A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
           My favorite illustrated version, her illustrations remind me of a scene in a snow globe.

5. The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
          A beautiful story of wishing, by one of my all time favorite authors.

6. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs 
         When his snowman comes to life, a boy goes on a magical flight.

7. Christmastime in New York City by Roxie Munro
          Panoramic illustrations of the glories of Christmas in New York

       Happy holiday season and happy reading too!

  

 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

FAVORITE AUTHORS

     I was recently asked who my three favorite children's book authors are. It took a while to answer because I found the question so overwhelming. Reading has been such an enormous part of my life ever since I was a young child. How could I categorize all of the books I've read down to three responses? Would I answer with the favorite authors of children's books I read when I was a child? Or would I go with authors of books I had read in the past year?

      My standard answer when anyone asks me what my favorite children's book is, is to say PETER PAN. I never tire of the story. I love the Neverland, I think children can fly, and I will always clap my hands when asked if I believe in fairies.

     I could just as easily say LITTLE WOMEN. I love that book, and the moment I begin to read, I still fall right into the story. I read all of Louisa May Alcott's books as a child.

     Yet there are so many other children's books which I hold dear.

      In the end, I went with three authors I read as an adult, John Burningham, Jacqueline Woodson, and Maira Kalman.

     I love John Burningham's illustration. If I could hang an original illustration from SEASONS or MR. GUMPY'S MOTORCAR on my wall I would be very happy. WOULD YOU RATHER? is always so fun to read aloud with children. Besides the gorgeous illustration are the imaginative stories like, COME AWAY FROM THE WATER, SHIRLEY and EDWARDO THE HORRIBLEST BOY IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, and so many more. I could go on and on about how much I like his stories.

     The first book I read by Jacqueline Woodson was LOCOMOTION, and I've been a fan
ever since. Her writing is beautiful and her subject matter is unique. I like the way she looks at the world. She autographed a copy of BROWN GIRL, DREAMING for me at the American Library Association convention last month, and that was so great. THE OTHER SIDE is another of my favorites by her.

      Maira Kalman is unique. I love the children's books she has written and illustrated, and I am especially taken with her two recent picture book biographies, LOOKING AT LINCOLN and THOMAS JEFFERSON, LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF EVERYTHING. I was privileged to hear her speak at Stanford about her work. She made it all sound so effortless, when  actually so much goes into her books and illustration.

      So there it is. I'm pleased with my answer, and also very happy that I don't have to make choices like this often.