Alice’s Seven Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents #1: From Mama Goose to cantankerous canines

h1 January 8th, 2008 by jules

Jules here, actually. Alice is a bit waylaid. The Queen yelled a rude comment about her head and it being, ahem, off’ed. And then Alice protested: Something about the Queen and the King and the Knave and everyone else all being nothing but a pack of cards, and, well . . . this is her predicament at the moment. So, I’ll take over and tell you about Alice’s New Idea for 7-Imp in ’08, numero two (the first one being revealed last Sunday. Do go see, if you missed it and if you’re so inclined).

For my part, when Eisha and I started this blog, my goal was to reach out to mama friends who would ask me for children’s lit book recommendations. Turns out that our audience here has been entirely different — primarily, other bloggers, publishers, authors, illustrators, editors, even literary agents, etc. Basically, a big ‘ol gaggle of Children’s and YA Lit Nerds (and I say that ever-so lovingly and respectfully. Of course of course. You’re my peeps, and I love you all).

But this new series, “Alice’s Seven Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents,” would have those parents I initially had in mind as the audience. The idea is that I will list seven new picture books for busy parents as often as I can pull it off. I’d love to say once a week, but I reserve the right to not meet that goal (hey, we bloggers do this for fun, and I have to let work-that-pays come first, so I may not get to it every week, by all means). And here’s my challenge: I’ll have to be brief. ¡Aye Carumba! Can I do that? Yes, I’m up for the challenge. In my typical picture book round-ups (which I vow to continue as well), I do one paragraphs, but these will have to be even shorter, methinks, for those terrifically busy parents.

And they will have to be picture books that are currently available for purchase or already in libraries. None of that “this advance copy of this picture book I got is filthy cool. But you’ll have to wait three more months for it to come out.” But I still want them to be new. And I’ll have to try to reign in the children’s-lit-geek talk and remember that these are busy parents who perhaps don’t live, breathe, and die children’s lit like we do and like our typical reader does.

Okay. ‘Nuf said. I wanted this to be short. Or, uh, Alice did, as I’m stepping in for her, you know. (And normally I won’t have this insufferably logorrheic opening. Impossibly Busy Parents don’t have time for such blabbin’, but I did have to introduce this, don’t you know). And, if you’re a loyal reader and don’t mind, I’d love your feedback. Yes, trying to grab your attention here. At least it’s just a larger font size and not in marquee, whose kitschy charm I recently vowed to try to put out of my mind.

These titles are geared at your wee’er ones: Starting with babes and Mother Goose and working our way up some — but just a bit to approximately the preschooler range.

* * *

Mother Goose’s Little Treasures
Written by Iona Opie
Illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Published by Candlewick
August 2007

Rosemary Wells is at her best when illustrating traditional nursery rhymes for the honorable Iona Opie, world-renowned authority on children’s rhymes and street and playground games — and “Mother Goose’s self-appointed treasurer.” If you have Opie’s and Wells’ My Very First Mother Goose (1996) and its companion, Here Comes Mother Goose (1999), then you know the utter charm of which I speak. In this new anthology, the duo brings us more lesser-known Mother Goose rhymes (the “little treasures in this book are from the far edge of Mother Goose’s realm; they belong to the land of More Beyond,” writes Opie in a short introduction) in a smaller, cozier book format with a more subdued palette from Wells (a lot of the calming blue you see on the book’s cover). You may have never heard “Intery, Mintery,” “Here Comes Solomon,” and “What the Goose Thinketh,” but I’ve kid-tested the rhymes in this handsome collection, and they enchant just as well as the more old-skool “Sing a Song of Sixpence” or “Jack and Jill.” And, as with the previous two anthologies, it’s a delight to see Wells’ interpretations of these age-old rhymes: her humorous “Little Fatty Doctor,” the dog-and-cat couple of “Going to Kentucky,” and the impish little bonny Button-cap of “The Moon Shines Bright.” If you’re feeling generous, this anthology plus the first pair of titles would equal the World’s Best Baby Shower Gift (if it’s your best friend, throw in last year’s flawless Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry).

* * * * * * *

Toddler Tales
When I Was a Baby and
Let’s Play! by Deborah Niland
Sophie’s Big Bed by Tina Burke
Published by Kane/Miller Books
Fall of 2007

Kane/Miller Books is a “very small, very specialized, very independent publishing company,” as their site puts it, and they’re one of your best sources for titles by international children’s book creators. They scan the world for titles that they deem worthy to publish here in the States, and they have one kickin’ track record. Last Fall, they began a new “Toddler Tales” series, which were such a hit with my own children (though I have yet to test them on a group ‘o’ youngsters), that they adopted their own vocabulary, of sorts, and new favorite exclamations, based on their experiences with these books. With their bright colors and simple narrative action, they work well for the toddlers for whom they’re named. And with their simple text in bold fonts, they also work for preschoolers who are just getting the hang of the whole oh!-those-letters-form-words! bit. These three titles come from the minds of authors from Down Under: When I Was a Baby is a brief journey down memory lane, courtesy of a self-assured toddler, about life as a baby compared to his new world-weary (heh), big-boy accomplishments (“When I was a baby . . . I wore a diaper and crawled everywhere . . . Now I am a big boy . . . I can run and jump”), all wrapped up tightly with a sweet, never-too-cloying message about a new baby sibling and the hugs from mama he craved as a baby and still craves as an accomplished toddler. Let’s Play nails the sheer thrills of playground fun and is interactive, introducing the activity of each character with a leading question for the toddler. And Sophie’s Big Bed, from Australian Tina Burke, is your must-have title for the toddler transitioning from crib to bed. It works on every level: It’s engaging and funny, and Burke has a style all her own. Coming in March of this year will be two new Toddler Tales (here and here), and Spanish language editions of some of these titles are either already available or coming soon.

* * * * * * *

Who Will Sing a Lullaby?
Written by Dee Lillegard
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Published by Knopf Books
for Young Readers
September 2007

You know you know Dan Yaccarino’s art. He is not only a children’s book illustrator with an easily-distinguishable, sleek-‘n’-retro style, but his art work can be seen on the covers of such publications as The New York Times and Business Week, and he created the TV show “Oswald” for Nickelodeon. In Lillegard’s story, what Kirkus Reviews calls “a sumptuous bedtime read,” we meet a baby who can’t sleep for crying (with the refrain, “‘Listen to that baby cry!’ the birds around the cradle sigh. ‘Who will sing a lullaby?'”), and a group of birds in his vicinity gets a turn at trying to soothe the wee ones to sleep. Each bird fails, but in the end the Nightingale gets a chance to lull the child to sleep and succeeds smashingly (“As Nightingale sings, / gentle wings / rock the cradle in soft moonbeams. / Baby Baby / dreams sweet dreams”). The gentle, rhyming text flows smoothly, and the art work darn-near radiates with beautiful, intense colors (note the eye-popping night-sky hue and bold orange of the cover). Kudos to which ever editor paired Yaccarino, a master of line and form (he creates Every Baby in this title with just a few quick lines), with Lillegard in this soothing, tender new bed-time keeper.

* * * * * * *

Hedgehog, Pig, and the Sweet Little Friend
Written and illustrated by Lena Anderson
Translated by Joan Sandin
Published by R & S Books
(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
September 2007

If reading about Kane/Miller above really blew your hair back, then you might like to know about R & S Books as well. “R & S” stands for Rabén & Sjögren, the leading publisher in Sweden of books for children and young people. Farrar Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers distributes some of their titles here in the States. So, here we have then a first U.S. edition of this title, originally published in Sweden in 2006. And just in time for Valentine’s Day. A young pig (who lives in a world Anderson populates with not a shred of bias — hey, there are elephants, pigs, hedgehogs, and humans, you’ll notice on a few spreads) mysteriously appears at Hedgehog’s home, and she, along with her buddy Pig, who’s dropped in for a visit, do what they can to reunite the young pig with her mother. The story may not be sure what it wants to be about, primarily — a lost child reunited with her mother (handled with aplomb by Anderson and never too frightening) or a pig who falls in love (“Fia’s the sweet I love best!” Hedgehog’s friend exclaims at the book’s close, all starry-eyed)? But, no matter, because it still works. Other illustrators would do well to take note: One can learn from Anderson how to make one’s spreads cozy, comfy, soft, and so entirely welcoming that you want to inhabit the book’s world. And it’s written in such a well-metered, mellifluous, easy-going verse that I hardly noticed it was written in rhyme. Though it’s loaded with the type of good ol’-fashioned nail-biting drama that instantly hooks preschoolers, this book couldn’t be sweeter — and I’m talking beyond the one hundred sweet-smelling rolls which figure prominently in the book’s finale. Mmm. One-hundred sweet-smelling rolls.

* * * * * * *

Ruthie and the
(Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie

Written and illustrated by Laura Rankin
Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
June 2007

Oh my oh my. This book is tiiiiiight, y’all, as the young’uns say today. For serious, I think this is one of the best picture books I saw all last year, and I’ve heard not a whit about it, for shame. This is a riveting school-yard drama if ever there were one: The diminutive Ruthie, a young school-girl fox, loves LOVES LOVES teeny tiny things. Finding a tiny camera on the playground one day — which belongs to another student, unbeknownst to her — she claims it for her own. When said student, Martin, tries to get it back, she flat-out lies (gasp!) that it’s her camera after all. She can hardly stand to part with the tiny little treasure. There are no complicated, somersault plot turns here — Ruthie feels physically ill from guilt about her lie and eventually ‘fesses up after talkin’ to the folks and lots of tears — but just watch the faces of preschoolers when you read this emotional, but never manipulative, roller-coaster ride of a psychosocial drama. Rankin, best known for her ASL alphabet book, The Handmade Alphabet, brings Ruthie’s inner sturm-und-drang to life with her finely-sketched pencil-and-acrylic illustrations.

* * * * * * *

When Randolph
Turned Rotten

Written and illustrated by
Charise Mericle Harper
Published by Knopf Books
for Young Readers
November 2007

How could I not make that cover huge enough for you to see how great it is? Make room for one more riveting domestic drama, which the youngest of preschoolers so totally needs to navigate their emotional lives. Ruthie’s not the only creature to be eaten away with envy: Randolph, best buds with Ava, does not get invited to an all-girl sleepover thrown by Ava’s cousin. The jealousy turns “Best Friend Randolph” into “Nasty Randolph” by changing his insides from “very-best-friend insides” to “horrible, rotten, awful, and icky” ones. Telling Ava he’s a sleepover expert, he helps her pack in ways that rather distracted me as a reader in all their extreme oddness. In the end, though, his plan backfires, as the logs he placed in her suitcase and the bizarre way in which he dressed her actually aid the sleepover gang, suddenly faced with a dilemma. And the entire time Ava’s gone, he’s plagued with guilt anyway and apologizes upon her return. It’s a sensitive look at jealousy and guilt, but never too heavy-handed and laced with refreshing moments of humor. Comic books fans will be pleased, as Harper illustrates it in (mostly) panels with dialogue balloons.

* * * * * * *

Smelly Bill
Written and illustrated by
Daniel Postgate
Published by North-South Books
March 2007

You may have noticed Time magazine’s recent listing of Top Tens — DVDs, movies, live performances, theatre productions, and everything in between — and that included their “Top 10 Children’s Books.” Smelly Bill was included. Would I have replaced it with another title from this year (we children’s lit geeks were rather baffled with most of Time‘s list, but I won’t go on about that)? Sure. But does this book have a place on your bookshelf or in your library tote? Yes, depending on your child (as always). As the Time blurb put it, “Bill is a very naughty, smelly dog. Right there you have every single little boy’s rapt attention.” Word. This is a wild, slapstick adventure (originally published in ’06 in Great Britain; North-South Books is another resource for international titles brought here) about one family’s leave of absence while Great Aunt Bleach shows up, cleans their home (can I borrow her?), and then turns her attention to their rank canine, Bill. In Postgate’s very loose line atop generous, uncluttered white space, he propels the story forward with great momentum. It’s written in a catchy rhyme that works, though if you’re one of those parents who gets weary with the great many books written in such verse, then simply take note. A pratfall pearl that will particularly please your favorite bath-resisting wee one.

* * *

Ow! Too much consonance there in that last sentence. Someone throw me some vowels . . . Okay, loyal readers (or, even better, Impossibly Busy Parents!) who might care to speak up: How about it? A series worth keeping?

24 comments to “Alice’s Seven Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents #1: From Mama Goose to cantankerous canines”

  1. I think this is a great new feature, one that parents will find very useful. I hope you’re able to find time for it often.

    I loved When Randolph Turned Rotten. Ruthie sounds really cute, too. I think that this series is going to be an excellent resource.

  2. I think this is a good idea, and this is coming from a parent who periodically goes on strike against new picture books because she’s tired of seeing pretty pictures with no readability or a promising story with mediocre illustrations. I’m especially a big fan of making the picture books be readily available, though if you liked, you could periodically have the “out of print wishlist” post.

  3. Keep it! Absolutely!

    Jules, we dwell in the library and through bookstores all the time but I think most of the parents I talk with are always curious how I find the books I find. (We prefer trying to match a book with birthday presents instead of more junk toys).

    Books need to have a few things for those younger set. Words or language style that make the parent want to read it. I hate reading a book that ‘dumbs down’ the language for little kids. Also the books need to have good pages to turn. If the paper is lightweight the book won’t last too long with a toddler fighting to turn the page back to see something.

    I got two books my household like sif you want to add them.
    An easy color book – Dog’s Colorful day. A Messy story abotu colors and counting. By Emma Dodd. The book has simple picks and with each turn of the page Dog gets another smudge of dirt on him. A full rainbow of colors and you count the spots up to 10 till the youngest in the family decides to give Dog a bath. The best part of the book besides the simple story is that the pages are nice and thick. I can leave this book out and about and not worry about the pages ripping or a fight breaking out.

    We also checked out a book at the library a few months back that we have recommended to others who are in the picture book market. The web files by Margie Palatini. It is in homage to the TV series “Dragnet” and the 2 & 5 year old loved hearing both mom and dad read it. I think it was the part with “Dum Dee Dum Dum.” That got them.

    Keep up the great job. Glad I found you guys!

  4. Loyal reader delurking…

    I’m in that group you thought you might hit originally — non-industry, non-librarian — just an interested parent who puts in significant time finding and reading great books for my kids. When I went looking for some blogs about childrens’ books last year, this was exactly what I had hoped to find, but it’s been a bit elusive. The quality of the blogs (writing, focus, community) is incredible, but it often seems a little too in-crowd and cutting-edge for my needs.

    And not to quibble, but as great as this first list is, you may find that you still have trouble connecting with “busy parents” like me. Books that were published late in 2007 are simply not in my library yet — I just punched these nine titles into my library’s online catalog and they only have three of them.

    Not that I want you to spend much energy unearthing gems from the ’70s, but I bet there are thousands of great books from the past 10 years that are probably already in my library. Oh, and we’re pretty much library-only types…almost never purchase kids’ books unless they’re super-extra special, for birthdays or Christmas.

    Anyway…love the blog, and I love this feature. Thanks for putting the time into it.

  5. Oh yes, Keep this feature! I could use the lessons of When Randolf Turned Rotten with my little siblings today! I also love Good Days Bad Days by Laurence and Catherine Anholt.

  6. Thanks for the feedback, Jen and Alkelda and Quinn and Nancy.

    And Jeremy . . . you just rocked my world. Seriously. I, honestly and truly, had absolutely no idea if parents read the blog. So, to see you delurk I think made me gasp. And your feedback is really valuable. I can see how this blog might leave parents at a loss, might be too “cutting-edge,” as you put it — for your average parent on the street, that is, who isn’t a children’s lit geek like we are.

    I was talking to a blogger just the other day about brainstorming ways to take our expertise and passion for children’s lit and turn it into a job that compensates, since we do this for fun and only have so many hours in the day to blog. That’s to say that I wish we could do that and have a completely separate site geared just at parents — and marketed toward parents — with just what parents like you need. For now, though, I can think about what you wrote and perhaps adjust my Alice lists.

    For the record, I did check my libraries to see the availability of these titles, and they were there or on order. But I can understand how some libraries might not have them yet — still.

    Thanks so much, Jeremy. I appreciate everyone’s feedback, but it’s nice to have feedback from a delurking parent who doesn’t already blog about children’s lit or isn’t a librarian or some such thing. I find that I struggle to keep up with new titles that are sent to me and new titles I find at the library, so blogging about older titles might be even more added extra work that I can’t find an hour to snag to get done, as much as I’d love to (oh how I’d love to), but I will certainly think about what you said.

    (and thanks to those of you who recommended specific titles).

  7. First of all, yay for Alice.
    Secondly, rock on with your great ideas.
    Third time’s the charm, and I adore the third cover you posted here because of the cat.
    Go fo(u)rth and conquer, because I’m not a parent and can’t advise you in that way, but I can tell you what works as a bookseller and storyteller, and what worked when I was a kid.

  8. Yep, I second the rock on! A great new feature. I am both a (future, almost) school librarian and a parent of a three-year-old, and this is a list that I love for both hats. I’m a YA junkie and it’s nice to hear about the books for the wee folk since it’s not always on my radar. And between grad school, student teaching, and raising the young ‘un I like that it’s going to be aimed at BUSY parents, ’cause I’m y’know, like, busy.

  9. Just wanted to add my thanks to Jeremy for his feedback. It’s so easy to get in-crowd and cutting edge focused on these blogs. These are things I struggle with on my own blog, and I’m going to keep his feedback in mind going forward.

    As for the older titles, that is a hard one, because it’s hard enough to keep up with the current titles. But you know, you’ve been blogging for quite a while, so maybe if you just occasionally re-focused and excerpted from some reviews that you wrote a year ago (last January’s top hits, or whatever), you could come up with something relatively quick and helpful as part of this feature. Just a thought…

  10. Like the new idea, ladies!

  11. Hi Jules, I’m another long time lurker, busy parent, and a nashvillian! I love your new feature and can’t wait to share these books with my children.

    I really appreciate all the time and effort you and eisha put into your blog. through you guys, i’ve heard of wonderful books that i never would have otherwise.

    thanks! Heather

  12. When I first read about your project on Sunday I started a new folder in my Bookmarks for “New Illustrators”. and marked my calendar for the next four sundays to remind me. I started collecting ilustrated books for my grandchildren 4 years ago and have begun to purchase YA. I found this blog on Sunday also, take a look Thank so very much for all your tireless work.

  13. Thanks, everyone, especially the lurkers coming out of the woodwork. Hi, Heather, and go Nashville! And hi, Eleanor, what a neat blog you found.

    Jen, good point about highlighting older books. More food-for-thought. I think I might just have to stick to new titles in this series, but I’ll try extra hard to make sure they can be available in libraries. And that’s ’cause I have enough trouble keeping up with the new titles, though I wish I had ten more hours in the week to meet the need of parents like Jeremy.

    Kathy, good luck with school!

    I really appreciate everyone’s feedback.

    Jen, I’m KICKING MYSELF for not telling everyone about your PBS feature in this post. If anyone’s still reading, don’t miss this!

  14. Luverly, Jules, and so helpful to a bunch of folk, methinks. But, c’mon, what’s the deal? Do you never sleep? Or do have an Evalyn Woods speed-reading-writing-blogging degree? Or what?????

  15. Thanks for referencing my PBS Parents gig, Jules. Of course I would love it some of your site visitors should feel inclined to stop by.

    And your picture book feature will be awesome, no matter how you work out the details.

  16. This is a great idea, Jules! I love it. I think it’ll appeal to busy parents–but also to many other busy people who still love children’s books. And oh, I identify with you, with the challenge of writing a short review!

  17. Thanks, you all!

  18. Jules, when I re-read my comment and your gracious response, I think I may have been laying it on a bit thick — it comes across as more critical than I was actually feeling. The beauty of blogs like this is that they reflect the personal passions and interests of the *writer*, not the interests of the reader(s). As a reader, I can filter out the stuff I’m less interested in or go find some other voices that suits me better. But I like the focus here a lot, and I don’t have time to go searching for a bunch of alternatives, which is why I said “loyal reader’ in my delurking.

    And the fact is, there are tons of “best kids’ books” reference guides out there already to draw attention to the best older books…no need to specialize in that area. Anyway, thanks for the great response, and for continuing to share your passion here.

  19. Jeremy, you did not at all seem too critical. It was great to get your feedback — and everyone else’s, too. I have been meaning to email you and thank you (there’s a draft of an email for you that’s been sitting around for about a week — I don’t think I got as far as your email address, ’cause I’ve been swamped).

    I wish I could do lists of older titles for parents like you and many others, but I’ll just have to stick to these lists — due to the restraints of time — and try my best to capture books that should already be in libraries. (“Restraints of time” sounds like the title for a bad romance novel, but you know what I mean).

    I totally got that you appreciate our blog (THANKS!) and that you were giving some helpful constructive criticism and feedback. Not a problem; it meant a lot. Thanks for piping up!

  20. Oh good…and I think you’re right: these books obviously should be in libraries.

  21. I just stumbled onto your blog through a link on Angry Chicken, which I had stumbled upon through a link to her deoderant recipe on Tree Hugging Family. Now I have requested 15 books through our library, and I can’t seem to stop reading your reviews for “Impossibly Busy Parents.” My kids are going to be thrilled.

  22. Thanks, Katherine. I haven’t done one of these in a while. Maybe one day I’ll get back to them. In the meantime, you’re free of course to peruse our archives.


  23. Hi! The babes are here! This is my sexiest site to visit. I make sure I am alone in case I get too hot. Post your favorite link here.

  24. You can definitely see your skills within the paintings you write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. Always follow your heart.

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