Tag Archives: good books for kids

Fun Fourth Friday Future Favorites: 2010-2016

Newbery Medal winners from the partial decade:

2010–When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
2011–Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool
2012–Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos
2013–The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
2014–Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo
2015–The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
2016–Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña

Caldecott Medal winners:

2010–The Lion & the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney
2011–A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
2012–A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka
2013–This Is Not My Hat, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
2014–Locomotive, written and illustrated by Brian Floca
2015–The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, written and illustrated by Dan Santat
2016–Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Predicting the future isn’t an exact science, of course, but I’m willing to put my neck (and the neck of my favorite neighborhood librarian!) on the line and suggest that the following authors from the early 2010s have the potential to make a lasting impression on children’s literature with their books! (The medalists also have a pretty good chance, but they’re already getting their limelight in the lists above!)

Bob SheaDinosaur vs. the Library–Not all of Shea’s work was published in the 2010s, but many of my favorites were! Dinosaur vs. the Library, Dinosaur vs. the Potty, and I’m a Shark are just a few examples. His work is funny, and his illustrations are bold and simple. BoyChild has loved everything I’ve ever read aloud of his, and stories about stubborn dinosaurs just don’t get old!

Interrupting ChickenDavid Ezra Stein–Ever since my parents introduced my children to Interrupting Chicken, we have been fans of Stein’s work! Dinosaur Kisses and Ol’ Mama Squirrel are a couple of my other favorites, and I really want to read Tad and Dad now that I’ve seen it! These are fun picture books that are great read-alouds, and I look forward to more of his work.

Toys Go OutEmily JenkinsToys Go Out was published in 2008, but the rest of the series was in this decade, and GirlChild has loved them (and BoyChild, too, when we had an audiobook)! In the same vein as Raggedy Ann and Toy Story, this series of stories of toys with a life of their own are funny and silly and intelligent, and they have the potential to be favorites that our kids pass down to their kids someday.

Tuesdays at the CastleJessica Day George–Day George started publishing in the early 2000s, but my favorite series of hers, the Castle Glower series, began in this decade! Tuesdays at the Castle was the first, and the final installment, Saturdays at Sea, is in my Amazon wish list for when it’s published in February 2017! She writes light-but-detailed fantasy with strong female leads and a lot of humor mixed in with the conflicts, and they have the kind of vaguely historical (but highly magical) settings that don’t fade with age!

 

I know that these authors aren’t the only ones worthy of literary endurance; tell me in the comments some of your favorite new authors and books from the decade!

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Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1980-1989

The 1980s were my childhood decade. I went from infant to tween in the space of those ten years, and it seems obvious that the books of the decade would stick with me since I was both an early and indiscriminate reader.

[1980-to-1989-book-list]

Here’s a sampling of the historical events of which I was probably completely unaware while I was being a child:

1980–Pac-Man video game released
1981–First woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor, who spoke at my university years later!)
1982–E.T. released
1983–Cabbage Patch Kids popular (now this I remember!)
1985–Titanic wreckage found
1986–Chernobyl disaster
1989–Berlin Wall falls, World Wide Web invented

Newbery medalists of the decade include a number that I remember reading (but not all), and the honor books (some of which I’ll address later in the post) were also standard fare:

1980–A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832, by Joan W. Blos
1981–Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson
1982–A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, by Nancy Willard
1983–Dicey’s Song, by Cynthia Voight
1984–Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary
1985–The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
1986–Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan
1987–The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman
1988–Lincoln: A Photobiography, by Russell Freedman
1989–Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, by Paul Fleischman

Caldecott medalists, including some of my most remembered illustrators (like Trina Schart Hyman, Stephen Gammell (whose more recent work I didn’t connect to these books), and Chris Van Allsburg):

1980–Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
1981–Fables, by Arnold Lobel
1982–Jumanji, by Chris Van Allsburg
1983–Shadow, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown (French text by Blaise Cendrars)
1984–The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, by Alice and Martin Provensen
1985–Saint George and the Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
1986–The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg
1987–Hey, Al, by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Richard Egielski
1988–Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
1989–Song and Dance Man, by Karen Ackerman, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

While a number of the above titles have stood the test of time, my personal favorites will show up again in the reviews below!

Richard Scarry's Best Word Book EverRichard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever: New Revised Edition, by Richard Scarry (1980): Okay, I know that this was not published originally in the 1980s, but it was such a giant in my vocabulary development as a wee lass that I had to include it! My brother, born in the previous decade, had the 1963 version for his edification, but I learned about the bear twins’ clothing, shapes and colors, and parts of the body with a few more females in male-dominated fields and a few more gender-neutral job titles (fire fighter as opposed to fireman, for example). Love, love, love this book. My mom made sure to get each of her sets of grandchildren a copy so they, too, could examine each page diligently as they grew!

Fables, by Arnold Lobel Fables(1980): This book of one-page original fables was a favorite of mine as a child. I’m not sure where I got my paperback copy–either a book fair or a RIF (Reading Is Fundamental) give-away, I think–but I treasured it! It was a Caldecott Medal winner, and each fable has a large, detailed illustration to go with it. Each fable comes with its own explicitly stated moral, such as “Satisfaction will come to those who please themselves” and “Advice from friends is like the weather. Some of it is good; some of it is bad.” It would be a great mentor text for writing stories with a moral (or even just a message), and I might suggest covering the morals up, reading the fables aloud, and letting the class brainstorm what each moral might be. Because the animal characters are so silly, the fact that there is a message to each one won’t ruin the fun!

If You Give a Mouse a CookieIf You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond (1985): I apparently missed this as a kid, but the Kohl’s Cares reprints and accompanying toys were a big hit with my children when they were smaller! (In fact, this particular title was the one we didn’t own, and BoyChild–age 5–discovered how much he loves it when he found it sitting with our library books and made GirlChild read it to him!) It’s a cause-and-effect story that has just enough silliness to disguise the fact that it is a great literacy learning tool!

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan Sarah, Plain and Tall (30th anniversary edition)(1985): This Newbery Medal book tells the story of a father and his children who are hoping that the father’s advertisement for a wife will bring songs back to their home and hearts. Sarah from Maine answers the letter and comes to the plains for a trial period. Anna and Caleb hope that Sarah, who describes herself as plain and tall, will learn to love their home and stop missing the sea. When she goes into town alone one day, the children are worried that she has decided against staying and is buying a train ticket home to Maine. However, Sarah returns with special gifts and tells them that although she misses the sea, she would miss them more. The book is a fast, simple read and would be a good choice for historical fiction for middle grade readers starting around third grade. I’m going to give it to GirlChild to try! (The book flap says the story is based on “a true event in [the author’s] family history”–always a great way to get story ideas!)

The Whipping Boy (updated cover)The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman (1986): Our cat, a kitten we rescued from the storm sewer on our street, was named Jemmy after this book; it’s one of those that my mom read aloud to us in that memorable way (where she used different voices for different characters but didn’t even realize it) that made the book come alive! An orphan named Jemmy catches rats in the sewer to earn money. He is snatched from the streets to live in the castle as the whipping boy for Prince Brat (not his given name). When the prince tires of Jemmy’s stoic response to whippings and his father’s lack of attention, he makes Jemmy help him run away. There is a circus bear, a pair of kidnapping highwaymen, and a chase through a city sewer–all the ridiculousness and excitement a middle grade student needs! This historical fiction book (quite possibly more popular with boys but obviously something I quite enjoyed!) won the Newbery Medal.

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Dianna Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle(1986): I have to admit that I checked this book out and still didn’t get a chance to read it! So many of my fantasy-loving friends have mentioned it, however, that when I discovered it had been published in the ’80s, I had to include it. I have read another of her fantasy titles for young adults, The Dark Lord of Derkholm (which is not quite as dark as the title might imply!), and Wikipedia (that monolith of solid information!) says that she has been compared to Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman, both authors whose books I have loved (although I can’t read Coraline and look at the illustrations at all!), so I am going to keep my borrowed copy of this book until I actually get it read! It was made into a movie in 2004, so we’ll see if I have to look that up, too, after I’ve finished!

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters (updated cover)Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale, by John Steptoe (1987): Steptoe retells a folktale first recorded in published form in 1895. The moral points out that being kind and caring is more important than being beautiful (and reaps better rewards), but the illustrations that earned it a Caldecott Honor are worth the purchase price of the book even without the story! Another positive aspect of the book is that the author clearly did research, not only citing the first printed version of the story that inspired his book but also the origins of the names he chose, the inspiration for the scenery in the illustrations, and the people (and related institutions) that assisted him in his research. Additionally, unlike many books where there is a king seeking a bride, there is actual mutual consent and respect shown between the king and the woman he asks (not just chooses!) to be his bride. Definitely a lasting title great for any home, school, or classroom library!

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen Hatchet (updated cover)(1987): When I discovered many years ago that my husband had never read this Newbery Honor book, I actually read it aloud to him while we traveled! It’s the kind of book I can’t believe a boy in the ’80s would have missed! So many things from the book still linger with me, and the survivalism depicted–both his physical survival and emotional survival–could be empowering to modern readers as well. I’m sure some of the aspects of the story haven’t aged well–Brian would have had a cell phone handy, for one thing, although he might not have gotten a signal in the woods!–but the overall themes and internal struggles still ring true. Gary Paulsen is a master of realistic survival stories (and has lived a rather adventurous life to get the credibility and experience needed to do them real justice), and this is a classic. I think the youngest reader I’d suggest would be probably fifth grade, but the protagonist is thirteen, and there is real meat to the story, so middle and high school readers are likely to get the most out of it.

The MittenThe Mitten, by Jan Brett (1989): I’ve blogged about Jan Brett’s books before, and part of it is because she has just written so very many! The exquisite detail in her illustrations, her lifelike but anthropomorphic animal characters, and her gravitation toward snowy scenes and retellings of traditional tales make her the quintessential author for a primary school library. Because of the way part of the story is told in words and part in pictures, (particularly the images featured around the borders of each page, in this case made to look like decorations pinned to a birch bark panel), readers get several layers of story when the story is read versus when they are able to spend time examining the illustrations. Another great thing about Ms. Brett is that her website contains links for pages to color among other things! The Mitten–the story of how a variety of cold animals squeeze into one lost mitten–is one of her most well-known and loved books.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, True Story of the Three Little Pigsby A. Wolf, as told to Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1989): I’m not sure if I’ve said this before (I’ve said this before), but I love Jon Scieszka! While my first introduction to his work was The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, this book was actually his first picture book! Fractured fairy tales are a genre I have always enjoyed, and this title is a great example. In it, Al Wolf (from his prison cell) defends himself against the claims that he cold-heartedly ate the first two little pigs when what he really did was have a sneezing fit while trying to ask to borrow a cup of sugar to make his granny’s birthday cake (and then eat the pigs when their homes fell down so as not to let them go to waste!). He has been framed! Like much of Scieszka’s work, young readers will need to have somewhat sophisticated reading skills to really get the story independently, but these books are also great to share and discuss with kids (and then let them explore them alone to see the nuances and clever details that might be missed in a first read-through)–great for discussing inference, voice, and point-of-view!

Number the StarsNumber the Stars, by Lois Lowry (1989): Set in Denmark in 1943, this Newbery Medal book tells how a young Danish girl helps her Jewish friend during the Nazi occupation of her country. The family’s determination, inventiveness, and bravery in spite of reasonable fear are clear throughout, and I know that my mother has used this book as a literature supplement to her history lessons in her sixth grade classroom. (Another World War II historical fiction book I can suggest for upper elementary and middle school aged readers would be Michael Morpurgo’s Waiting for Anya (1990).)

I obviously have quite a few favorites from the decade, and the bloggers over at What Do We Do All Day? had a list with even more forgotten favorites on it! (My kids just finished listening to the Wayside School books on audiobook during our summer travels this year!) I do notice a few common threads on both our lists: silly/slapstick, folktales, and historical fiction. I don’t know whether these things were just en vogue at that time and really dominated children’s literature or if we bloggers just have similar taste in our ’80s books!

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Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1940-1949

[1940 to 1949 book list]

The 1940s were clearly a tumultuous time in the world. Here are some highlights and trivia from about.com:

1940–Bugs Bunny character debuts
1941–First Captain America comic published, M&Ms created
1942–Anne Frank’s family goes into hiding
1944–D-Day
1945–Germans surrender, microwave oven invented
1946–UNICEF founded
1947–Dead Sea Scrolls found, Polaroid cameras invented
1949–Nineteen Eighty-Four published

Newbery winners for the decade are a better mix of male and female authors than before:

1940–Daniel Boone, by James Daugherty
1941–Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry
1942–The Matchlock Gun, by Walter Edmonds
1943–Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray
1944–Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes
1945–Rabbit Hill, by Robert Lawson
1946–Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski
1947–Miss Hickory, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
1948–The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois
1949–King of the World, by Marguerite Henry

Caldecott Medals awarded during the decade include the following:

1940–Abraham Lincoln, by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire (with Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans, a perhaps better-known runner-up)
1941–They Were Strong and Good, by Robert Lawson
1942–Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey
1943–The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton
1944–Many Moons, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, by James Thurber
1945–Prayer for a Child, illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones, by Rachel Field
1946–The Rooster Crows, by Maud & Miska Petersham
1947–The Little Island, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, by Golden MacDonald (Margaret Wise Brown)
1948–White Snow, Bright Snow, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin, by Alvin Tresselt
1949–The Big Snow, by Berta & Elmer Hader

Betsy-TacyBetsy-Tacy, by Maud Hart Lovelace (1940): I had never read this book when I first heard of it in library school, but several classmates listed it as one of their all-time favorite childhood books. Then a good friend mentioned it as something that reminded her of our girls, so I grabbed a copy of it for GirlChild…and she has since read it twice! This first book in the (apparently very long) series starts when the two girls are not yet five years old and are just meeting for the first time. (Within the first chapter, a bit of antiquated terminology will throw an older reader for a loop, but my eight-year-old didn’t even register that her hat had a very peculiar name. That said, when you find it, DON’T GOOGLE IT.) The books takes place in Minnesota during the time period when little girls still wore winter underwear and petticoats under their dresses and people moved into houses with the aid of a dray (a low cart without sides used to haul heavy things) instead of a moving van. Betsy is friendly and eager and inventive, and Tacy (short for Anna Anastacia) is reserved but just as imaginative. (Neither one seems to be aware that a milk cow or a hen is always a she.) Betsy has an older sister, and Tacy is one of eleven children. There are small issues (first day of school, etc.) that the girls handle together, but the death of Tacy’s baby sister is a serious one that is dealt with gently. Mostly the author just describes the stories the girls tell and the different ways they play together (like going calling dressed in their mother’s old clothes and leaving cards where they’ve visited–I seriously want to bring back leaving calling cards!). The very last chapter introduces a new character, Tib (short for Thelma), a girl who is introduced to Betsy and Tacy because of one of the calling cards they leave at a home they pass on their way to school. (The shout-out to Milwaukee was a fun part, too, since that’s where we are, and GirlChild’s friend moved here from Minnesota.) I’d recommend this first book as a read-aloud for a young listener (kindergarten-ish) or independent reading for an older reader like GirlChild, but you might need to be prepared to explain some of the less-than-modern elements of the story to help them fully understand.

Make Way for Ducklings, Make Way for Ducklingsby Robert McCloskey (1941): This Caldecott-winning picture book tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s search for a place to raise their ducklings. Mrs. Mallard dismisses each idea as being too dangerous (foxes or turtles might be there!) until they arrive in Boston and find a little island in a pond in the Public Garden, and they almost decide to stay there until they discover the number of children on wheeled toys rushing by on the banks. They fly all over town looking for another place to nest, and they finally settle on an island in the Charles River since it seems peaceful but is close enough to the Public Garden to benefit from the peanuts people give them! When Mr. Mallard goes on to explore further down the river shortly after the ducklings hatch, Mrs. Mallard teaches the children all kinds of ducky things before they set off to meet Mr. Mallard at the Public Garden. Michael the policeman stops traffic for the little train of ducks, then he calls downtown to get support to stop traffic along the rest of their route as well. (Here’s where the book gets its name!) When they arrive at the Public Garden again, the ducklings love the island, so they decide to remain in the garden pond, eating peanuts and sleeping on the island.

The Hundred DressesThe Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin (1944): This Newbery Honor book is familiar to many of my era, and GirlChild really enjoyed it, too. (I reminded her of another book we’ve read with a similar theme, Jacqueline Woodson‘s Each Kindness.) In the book, a Polish immigrant girl is constantly taunted by a pretty, popular, and well-to-do girl named Peggy because she has dared to claim that she–Wanda Petronski, who lives in Boggins Heights and wears the same faded dress to school every day–has one hundred dresses lined up in her closet. Maggie, Peggy’s friend, is unsettled by the mockery because she worries that she may become a target, too, since she is also poor, but she says nothing. The day when the teacher announces that Wanda has won the drawing contest for her one hundred beautiful dress designs, she also receives and reads a note from Wanda’s father explaining her recent and now permanent absence in the light of the mockery over her name and speech. The girls, especially Maggie and Peggy, are riddled with guilt and write a letter to try to patch things up. Wanda replies back that they may all keep the drawings she made, and Peggy and Maggie realize the ones she designates for them were actually drawn with their faces before all this happened. Maggie realizes in the end that she will never really be able to make things right except to never allow that kind of cruel behavior to happen to another child again; she vows to always speak up.

The Carrot Seed,The Carrot Seed story by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Crockett Johnson (1945): This is by far the simplest book of the bunch. While I’m not entirely sure that this particular title is well-known, the illustrator certainly is! (His Harold and the Purple Crayon will show up in next month’s post.) I loved the story, too, actually, and BoyChild listened carefully, remarking on how “mean” everyone was to tell the little boy that his seed wouldn’t grow. (We had a bit of a connection to make, actually, since we just planted carrot seeds in our garden and are waiting for them to grow!) Each page has a single sentence and illustration as the little boy waits, pulls weeds, and waters the seed. Finally, “a carrot came up”–a vast understatement since the carrot top that springs forth is taller than the boy–“just as the little boy had known it would”–and he carts off a gigantic carrot. BoyChild was somewhat shocked and very pleased by the sudden and very large carrot crop, and I think this would be an excellent read aloud to share with a classroom of young children who might be studying plants!

My Father's DragonMy Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett, illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett (1948): While I acquired this book somehow in an inherited classroom library, I was not aware of its background at all. I happened to see it on a list of first read-alouds for kindergarten children when I was looking for a book for a friend, and then I realized that it was also a Newbery Honor book, so I decided to give it a try! After reading through its simple silliness, I do think I’ll read it to BoyChild to see what he thinks. It tells the story of a boy (referred to as “my father” in the book, thus the title) who is kind to an alley cat who then tells him about another creature who is in need of rescue: a baby dragon on Wild Island. The boy sets off to help the dragon. He tricks or distracts several different animals on the island so that he can access the dragon and set him free, and they fly away together. There are several opportunities for a little fun prediction and a little light suspense, so I agree with the age-level and read aloud suggestion for this one, but I’m pretty sure GirlChild would enjoy reading it as well!

Blueberries for Sal, Blueberries for Salby Robert McCloskey (1948): This book is the Caldecott Honor picture book that tells the story of a little girl who goes blueberry picking (eating?) with her mother and not the horrifying story about the child who is stung by bees while picking berries and dies of an allergic reaction like I first thought (and therefore avoided the book). It follows a human mother and her child, Little Sal, as they go berry picking, but it also follows a bear mother and her child, Little Bear, as they forage for berries, too. BoyChild and I each kind of expected a more frightened response when each child started following the wrong mother, but worry about the missing child seems to be the only fear shown; the human mother and child even continue picking berries on their way home after they’re reunited!

A few other iconic books that were published in this decade but that were too long for me to reread and review this time are The Black Stallion (1941), My Friend Flicka (1941), and Misty of Chicoteague (1947). Books about horses for more advanced juvenile readers were apparently pretty popular in the ’40s! Misty of Chincoteague (and all the Marguerite Henry books, actually) was my favorite, and my mom read all the Black Stallion books aloud to us at some point, too. What Do We Do All Day’s comparable review list doesn’t have any overlap, but it does mention a couple books that I chose to review since I’ve chosen to focus on lasting favorites while that blog tries to share hidden gems!

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Themed Third Thursday: Books Get Meta

meta- : Describing or showing an awareness of the activity that is taking place or being discussed; self-referential

Books getting meta. Books about books. Books that refer to themselves as books. Books where the characters are aware of being in a book. While my categories may stray from the generally accepted definition of “meta,” these self-aware books and books about books are sure to be page turners for your book-loving readers!

Product DetailsThe Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Snow, illustrated by David Smollin (2003–most recent edition): In this Sesame Street classic book, Grover warns the reader not to continue on with the book because there is a monster at the end of it, and he is scared of monsters! In his distress, he tries everything to avoid getting to the end. Not to worry, however–Grover himself is the monster at the end of the book! I vaguely remember this book from my childhood, and the fact that it is still in print is telling. A great breaking-the-fourth-wall book for preschool and early elementary children, this book is best shared as a read-aloud.

Book! Book! Book!, Book! Book! Book!by Deborah Bruss, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (2001): When the children all go back to school after a summer of fun, the animals on the farm are bored. The hen decides to go looking for something to do, and the other animals follow. When they come upon a building where people with smiles on their faces are exiting, they decide this is the place for finding something to do! (The place is the public library.) The horse thinks the hen is too small to be the one to go in to ask, so he goes in, but all the librarian can hear is “neigh, neigh,” so he leaves sadly. Each of the other larger animals also try, but the librarian can only hear their animal noises. Then the hen, frustrated, determines to go in herself. When she arrives, she starts clucking, “Book! Book! BOOK!” It takes a few tries, but the librarian suddenly realizes that she’s asking for books! She gives her three, and the hen takes them back to the farm with the other animals to read together. Everyone is happy except the frog; he keeps claiming that he’s already “read it!” With a cute story and simple plot, a read-aloud (to emphasize the chicken-y sound of the word “book” in particular) to children as young as preschool would be a crowd-pleaser!

We Are in a Book!We Are in a Book! (An Elephant & Piggie book), by Mo Willems (2010): Gerald the Elephant and Piggie are sitting back to back on the ground when Gerald suddenly notices that someone is looking at them. When Piggie gets up to investigate, coming closer to the reader, they realize that they are being read by a reader! They are very excited and try to get the reader to say the word banana, then they laugh and laugh about it. Piggie offers to let Gerald try it before the book ends, and Gerald is shocked to realize it will end (on page 57, no less). He is distraught over the approaching end, but Piggie comes up with the idea to ask the reader to read the book again to prolong their fun. The book ends semi-abruptly with the two of them hoping their request works (because, after all, having a conclusion to a book where the characters want it to be read in a continuous loop would be counterproductive!). While this is a perfectlly acceptable book for an independent young reader, all the Elephant and Piggie books make amazingly fun read-alouds as well.

The Best Book in the World!, The Best Book in the World!by Rilla (2014): When I looked up this author’s website to see if I could figure out her name (her full name is Rilla Alexander, but the library copy I have has “Rilla, Alexander” like Rilla is the last name!), I discovered that she is primarily an illustrator and graphic designer (which, considering the appearance of the book, didn’t surprise me). I also discovered another of her books (also featuring the character she calls her “alterego, Sozi”) that I really must have–Her Idea! (I was just having a chat with a friend this morning about all the writing ideas I have that I never carry through to completion!) The relevant book to this theme, however, features Sozi as she gets started on a book. With book in hand and a superhero mask over her eyes, she moves through town as she progresses through her book, and then things start to focus in more on the story world she enters. The book states, “Page by page you’re carried away. So let yourself go!” Sozi (whose name isn’t mentioned in the book) travels deep into her book, picking up strange companions on her way. Just as things seem to be getting overwhelming, she takes a moment to “rest [her] eyes” and dozes off. All the characters who populated her book now populate her dreams, and they huddle around her book–The Best Book in the World–as she dreams because of the secret they share: “the story won’t stop…[i]f we go back to the beginning again!”

The Children Who Loved BooksThe Children Who Loved Books, by Peter Carnavas (2012): Angus and Lucy don’t have a lot in the way of personal possessions; in fact, they even live in a camper with their parents instead of a regular home or apartment. What they do have, however, is books. They have so many books, in fact, that they soon overwhelm their tiny living space, and their father hauls them off. In addition to the logistical problems they start having because books were a literal prop in their home, the abundance of space in their house allows a lot of space to form between the members of the family as well. When Lucy brings a book home from the library, they can’t help opening it up and starting to read aloud. They all crowd around the father as he reads, and they read together on the couch late into the night (where they also all fall asleep). Bonded together once again through a shared story, they take their bike out first thing in the morning and head to–you guessed it!–the library for more books. As the last page says, “Angus and Lucy didn’t have very much, but they had all they would ever need.”

What Happened to Marion’s Book?,What Happened to Marion's Book? by Brook Berg, illustrated by Nathan Alsburg (2003): Marion is a hedgehog who loves to read all kinds of books in all kinds of places. She’s looking forward to starting school because her nana said that she should become a librarian some day, and she knows school is the place to start! She is most excited about visiting the library and taking out two books at a time. One morning at breakfast, however, she drops some raspberry jam on her open library book and knows she can’t just leave it there. She tries all kinds of things to fix the red stain (from letting the dog lick it to washing it in the washing machine!), and she even considers donating one of her own books to replace the ruined one, but all of her books have been dirtied because she reads them everywhere. She worries that she doesn’t know how to treat books, will be banned from the library, and will never be able to become a librarian. She finally gets the courage to tell her mom, and her mom tells her that she’ll have to pay to replace the book. When she brings the ruined book back to the school library, the librarian is disappointed, of course, but she gives Marion a tour of the “book hospital” where books are repaired and gives her a bookmark to remind her how to care for books. And, of course, Marion pays for the ruined book and checks out two new ones! (This hit close to home since GirlChild’s milk Thermos leaked in her backpack and spoiled a library book recently!)

Wild About BooksWild about Books, by Judy Sierra, pictures by Marc Brown (2004): In this rhyming story, librarian Molly McGrew accidentally drives the bookmobile to the zoo. Instead of being perturbed by her mistake and their reluctance, Molly starts reading Dr. Seuss aloud to attract a crowd. Soon, all the animals come to check out books (in two senses of the phrase!). The crocodiles enjoy Peter Pan, an elephant reads Dumbo, the pandas request books in Chinese, and then the puns begin! The llamas read The Grass Menagerie, the scorpion leaves stinging reviews of the poems the insects are inspired to write, and the hippo wins a Zoolitzer Prize for her memoir, Mud in my Blood. Then Molly hires some of the construction-minded animals–the beavers in particular–to create a branch library to satisfy their literary needs right there at the zoo. Now that they have their very own zoobrary, it’s sometimes hard to see the animals because “[t]hey are snug in their niches, their nests, and their nooks, [g]oing wild, simply wild, about wonderful books.” This book is a great one not only for introducing the concepts of reading, getting inspired by reading to write, and finding the perfect kind of book for your interests, but it also appeals to little readers who simply like animals and learning new animal names!

Have I Got a Book for You!, Have I Got a Book for You!by Mélanie Watt (2009): Al Foxword is a creature (of some sort, I can’t really place him!) and a salesman. This book serves as an infomercial for itself as Al tries to convince the reader not only that he or she should buy a copy of the book but that he or she should buy multiple copies of the book. He tries every trick of the trade, wheedling and exaggerating, throwing in bonus gifts and deals for buying more than one. When all his efforts seem to have failed, he reminds us of the one big rule of merchandise: “You break it, you buy it!” And the last page is “torn.” Definitely meant to be read aloud by someone with few inhibitions. 😉 (Also, might be a great book to use when teaching information literacy and the tricks advertisers use!)

Wanted: Ralfy Rabbit, Book BurglarWanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar, by Emily MacKenzie (2015): Ralfy Rabbits loves books so much that “one thing led to another,” and he starts actually burgling books from people to get his fix! Unfortunately for Ralfy, Arthur also loves books, and he notices when parts of his well-organized collection start to go missing. Arthur stakes out his bookshelves and sees Ralfy, but no one believes his story about a thieving rabbit, not even the police. That is, I mean, until Ralfy accidentally burgles the home of PC Puddle, the officer to whom Arthur had spoken when he called in his complaint. When Arthur is called in to view a line-up of bunnies wearing “I ❤ Books” shirts, he isn’t sure which rabbit is the robber until a conveyor belt of goodies is passed in front of them, and the only bunny who goes for books instead of the carrots and lettuce offered is Ralfy. Arthur feels sorry for Ralfy because he is only in trouble because he loves books, and he has a great idea of where Ralfy can borrow his fill of books without having to steal them: the library! And Arthur and Ralfy become “best ‘book buddies'” and visit the library together often. Good fun for elementary readers.

The Book that Eats People, The Book that Eats Peopleby John Perry, illustrations by Mark Fearing (2009): I read this aloud to BoyChild, and he was a little concerned about it. Once I realized it wasn’t just a play on words or something, I was a little concerned, too, that young BoyChild would be having nightmares about his books…but it was better to finish and remind him that it was just pretend than to leave him hanging with carnivorous books running through his dreams! Recommended for ages 3-7 on Amazon, I’m going to go ahead and suggest a slightly older crowd despite the relatively small amount of text per page. I’m thinking middle elementary is probably a safer bet what with the book actually eating people and phrases like “it coughed up his bones and they clattered across the floor like wooden blocks” and the like. Sure, it’s darkly hilarious, but that seems like more the sort of thing that children with a stronger grasp on the concept of reality versus fiction might enjoy. Featuring a ton of collage elements and a very cranky-looking book, the visuals are also geared toward the upper end of the suggested age range and beyond. Future fans of the Series of Unfortunate Events would like this book!

Incredible Book Eating BoyThe Incredible Book Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers (2006): Henry loves books, but not in the same way that most people do; he literally devours them. It starts by accident at first, when he mistakenly licks his book instead of his popsicle when he’s distracted. It quickly progresses, however, into tearing into pages and then into whole books and eventually several books at once! He eats all kinds of books–he’s not picky–and finds that he grows smarter and smarter with each one he ingests! Eventually, though, eating all those books so quickly without giving himself time to “digest” them leads to confusion and nausea. Henry stops eating books then, and it takes him a while to figure out what else he can do with his books…and he tries reading them. Just like before, he gets smarter with each book he reads, although this method is slower. Now he reads all the time, and he only occasionally slips back into bad habits (as evidenced by a large “bite” taken out of the last few pages and back cover). The irony and graphic design elements of this book make it better for slightly older picture book readers, middle to upper elementary.

Return of the Library Dragon, Return of the Library Dragonby Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael P. White (2012): Miss Lotty (short for Lotta Scales, we discover), librarian at Sunrise Elementary School, is retiring. As she tries to reassure the students that the new librarian will be as much and more fun, one of the children asks if the new librarian will let them use computers, and her old dragon-ish ways rear their heads briefly as she declares, “Over my dead dragon body!” On her very last day of work, she is greeted in the morning by the unpleasant discovery that IT has arrived, taken all the books, and filled the library with electronics only! Miss Lotty is steaming mad (literally), and the students beg for their books back, listing all the reasons books are still relevant and enjoyable. They also discover, however, how enticing technology can be, and Mike Krochip (the IT guy) crows that soon the kids will forget all about books in a month! Miss Lotty loses her temper, and everyone flees, but they warn the young woman in the hallway that the “librarian’s a real dragon!” This young woman, it turns out, is the new librarian, and she is the same woman who, as a child twenty years prior, had convinced Miss Lotty to shed her draconic book-lending practices in the first place. (You have to read the short newspaper article in the front matter for this to make any sense, actually, so don’t skip it!) Molly reassures Miss Lotty that the books will be returned because she insisted that they remain as a condition of her employment, and completely replacing books with technology makes her feel a little dragon-ish as well. The last page shows an image of Miss Molly at her desk with children, books, and a sign proclaiming Technology Free Tuesday–striking a balance between printed and electronic resources. This is apparently the second book about the Library Dragon, so reading The Library Dragon first would be an alternative to making sure the newspaper article page gets read. Quotes on reading, books, librarians, and information technology fill the end papers. The controversy about technology and the proliferation of punny names and book titles probably wouldn’t register with younger readers, so I’d suggest a middle elementary to upper elementary audience for this book.

It's a BookIt’s a Book, by Lane Smith (2010): This book is more for big kids and adults than it is for the picture book crowd (particularly if you don’t want to read/have your kid read the word “jackass” for comedic effect–just giving you a heads-up here!). It features a mouse, a jackass, and a monkey. The monkey is reading a book (with the mouse under his hat, for some reason), and the jackass is using a laptop. The jackass keeps asking the monkey if his book can do some thing that the laptop does (scroll down, connect to wi-fi, play music, etc.), and the monkey keeps responding with, “No, it’s a book” (or some variation on that theme). Then the monkey hands his book over so the jackass can see for himself, and the jackass gets totally absorbed to the point of not wanting to give it back. When the monkey gives in and lets him keep it (he’s going to the library anyway), the jackass offers to charge it up for him when he’s done. That’s when the mouse says, “You don’t have to…it’s a book, jackass.” So, a book that might have been fun to read with small children of the digital generation kind of gets fouled up with a double entendre. If you don’t care and wish to share it with your children anyway, that’s fine; it’s a clever book! If that’s a little more mature than you like to go with your child’s vocabulary (or if you’re a school teacher and probably shouldn’t), you can try It’s a Little Book for the same kind of cleverness but in a board book without the words to make children giggle (and with contents suited for an even younger set).

Books for Older Kids that I Wish I’d Had a Chance to Actually Read and Review Properly But Didn’t:

Secrets of the Book, Secrets of the Bookby Erin Fry (2014, upper elementary): This book features a book called Pandora’s Book which is full of images of positively influential historical people that the guardian of the book can bring to life. That there is a shady man who has a book called Pandora’s Other Book suggests that infamous historical people are included in that book. The heroes of the story are sixth graders: a boy who is losing his sight, another with autism spectrum disorder, and the “resourceful” granddaughter of the previous keeper of the book (who goes missing right after passing the book on).

Archie Greene and the Magician's SecretArchie Greene and the Magician’s Secret, by D. D. Everest (2015, upper elementary): The first in a new series, this book tells the story of Archie Greene, a boy who receives a very old book on his twelfth birthday and learns that he is part of a gifted family given the job of protecting and preserving magical books. Archie himself has some hidden talents as well. The reviews I read suggest that there is a lot of content to process, so this is probably good for a dedicated reader who enjoys the concept of magic hidden in the real world. The summaries made me think strongly of The Librarians show and of Warehouse 13, if you happen to be the adult in charge of selecting books for your tween or early teen and know those series!

Inkheart trilogy, Inkheartby Cornelia Funke (2003, upper elementary to middle school): Meggie’s father, a man who repairs rare books, never reads aloud to her, and she discovers why when one of the characters he accidentally read out of a book (and Meggie’s mother into it) shows up outside their home late one night. This fantasy story starts with the idea that spoken words–particularly words spoken by someone with talent–are powerful, and the three books in the series continue in that vein, and with added elements of the power of skillful storytelling and writing added in, to create a world where a good reader can literally make a book come alive and a good writer can transport you into a book. (I have actually read all of these books, but it was long enough ago that I can’t give a very specific review!)

I know there are many, many more of these books available! Just search the subjects “Libraries–Fiction” and “Books–Fiction” to find a vast selection from which to choose!

 

 

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 6–Dinosaurs’ Christmas

Dinosaurs' Christmas

Dinosaurs’ Christmas, by Liza Donnelly (1991)

When I showed this to BoyChild and said it was one of the dinosaur Christmas books I had picked up, he was confused at first until saw the dinosaur ornaments on the tree. When I pointed out the large dino face in the window…then he got it! He loved looking at this book alone and having it read aloud as well!

A dinosaur-loving boy and his dog, Bones, go sledding on Christmas Eve. The boy spouts some completely non sequitur dinosaurs/Ice Age information before finding a great hill and sledding over several pages until…he goes up a dinosaur’s long tail! The Plateosaurus (because that’s what it is, apparently!) speaks to him in dinosaur language (I think–the speech bubbles are “translated” in the text beneath the pictures) and tells him that things are all haywire up at the North Pole because Santa’s elves are making the toy dinosaurs wrong! He brings the boy and Bones to the workshop where the boy sets them all straight, correcting face shapes and wing, tail, and spike placement on a variety of different types of dinosaur toys. Santa brings the bad news that all the reindeer are sick with the flu, and all seems lost until Plateosaurus puts out the call for help, and the living versions of all the toy dinosaurs show up to pull Santa’s sleigh. They drop the boy and his dog off at his house (via the chimney), and he declares it the best Christmas ever!

The art is pretty simple and not focused on realism. The dinosaurs depicted are not the top five you usually see (except the Pteranodon), so I can only assume they are somewhat accurately shown (although the Pentaceratops–which I assume should have five horns–only has three clearly visible). There are plenty of dinosaurs shown, so BoyChild really enjoyed previewing this book on his own. (He gave me a pretty good illustration-driven summary of the story, too!) The illustrations are a great middle ground between the very basic illustrations that often work best for very young readers and the more complex kind that older readers sometimes prefer; enough detail to provide a lot to look at but not so much realism as to make them too busy or distracting. The author/illustrator used “waterproof black ink and either a rapidiograph or quill pen. Paints are a concentrated watercolor called dyes” (via the front matter of the book). An illustrated glossary at the end of the book gives a general description, pronunciation guide, and name meaning for each of the dinosaurs in the book.

This book is really not a Christmas book as much as a dinosaur book, so that fan base is where you’ll find your audience for this title! The author has also written Dinosaurs’ Thanksgiving and Dinosaurs’ Halloween, all available either used or as a Kindle book!

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 5–Dinosaur vs. Santa

Dinosaur vs. Santa

Dinosaur vs. Santa, by Bob Shea (2012)

Don’t read this book aloud if you happen to have a throat tickle…all the roaring will put you into a terrible coughing fit! BoyChild was super excited to see a dinosaur book in the stack of Christmas books I brought home from my most recent solo venture to the library, so this was, of course, his next selection!

Dinosaur is getting ready for Santa, and he approaches each activity with his usual roaring zeal! Writing a letter to Santa, decorating the tree, making presents for his parents, and…being extra good? (That one’s hard for Dinosaur, but he WINS AGAIN!) Falling asleep on Christmas Eve is hard for Dinosaur, too, and he does all the usual stalling techniques. He then does something “no dinosaur should ever do”…when he hears a jingling noise, he sneaks downstairs and sees Santa’s shadow on the wall! He rushes upstairs again and frets that Santa has seen him and will return his presents…and he drifts off to sleep. When he wakes up, he wins again because the train set he wished for is under the tree, and Christmas morning is a success.

I have read several Dinosaur vs. books, and it took me all this time to actually get that the main character isn’t really a dinosaur. I don’t think. The last illustration in this book is what clued me in. While Dinosaur has pranced through the pages in a variety of so-called ugly Christmas sweaters (I wore those before they were cool! 😉 ), he has always looked like the same little, red dinosaur. His bathrobe-clad parents, however, as viewed from about the waist down, appear to be wearing slippers (which BoyChild thought were gingerbread men feet) and pajamas, and the hand you can see holding the gift from Dinosaur to one of his parents appears to be a human hand (although an odd pale green color) with human fingernails. So, not unlike many little children BoyChild’s age, this “Dinosaur” is actually just playing dinosaur all the time as opposed to being an anthropomorphic dinosaur like I had supposed him to be! I would once again say that the illustrations have collage elements, but here are Mr. Shea’s own words regarding his medium on his most recent book: “Lots of different things. Right now I am cutting shapes out of black paper. Usually I draw with black ink on watercolor paper. Sometimes I scan in textures and work with those. I put it all together in the computer stripping it of any legitimacy.” (I really think I want to start following his website…or maybe visit the online cards and prints shop he and his wife created!) The simple design still conveys a variety of emotions and actions, and the stylized and decorative fonts are as much a part of the illustrations as the little guy is.

The zest for life that the titular Dinosaur shows is so much fun to portray in a read-aloud! You just can’t read it to a little dino lover without a lot of growling, vocal stomping, and ROOOOOOOARS! BoyChild likes to choose these books when I’m just getting over being sick; he apparently feels that my coughing adds something to the story. 😉 This is most definitely a good book for preschool and early elementary aged dinosaur lovers, particularly fans of the other books in this series, like Dinosaur vs. the Potty and Dinosaur vs. the Library!

 

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Themed Third Thursday: Dolls and Toyland

Yes, yes, I know the real phrase. However, I mean to say that this post is all about dolls and toys with lives of their own! One of my best-loved books as an elementary reader was When the Dolls Woke. It was a little scary, but not Wait Till Helen Comes scary, so that was good for me. These books aren’t like that–well, these books aren’t all like that! Some are silly or sweet, some are thought-provoking, and some are a little bit creepy. Or a lot creepy. Take your pick!

[Dolls and Toyland book list (alphabetical order by author, suggested interest levels included)]

Corduroy, by Don FreemanCorduroy, by Don Freeman (1968, preschool to early elementary): Corduroy is a toy on the shelf in a big department store, and he has been overlooked for a long time. When a little girl asks to get him and her mother says no because he’s missing a button, Corduroy decides to go in search of his missing button after the store closes for the night. He makes discoveries along the way (“Could this be a mountain?” [on the escalator] “I think I’ve always wanted to climb a mountain!”), but when he pulls a button off a mattress, he knocks over a lamp and gets the attention of the night guard who brings him back downstairs to the toy shop (not realizing Corduroy is the one who made the noise). The next morning, the little girl, Lisa, returns and buys Corduroy with her own money, and she brings him home to her bedroom. When she sews on a new button because she thinks he’ll be more comfortable that way, Corduroy says that he has always wanted a friend, and Lisa responds as though she has heard him speak aloud and gives him a hug.

The Lonely Doll, The Lonely Dollstory and photographs by Dare Wright (1957, preschool to early elementary): This is not the earliest example of a living doll story I found, but it is unique in that it is a picture book illustrated with photographs of posed toys and with no toy owners a part of the story at all. (They are half-implied in that the doll tries on adult-sized high heels and puts on lipstick she finds, but the doll is lonely and has no one to play with until Mr. Bear and Little Bear show up at her door one day, so it seems as though there is no child at least–and no worries about being caught by any human.) Some of the contents haven’t aged particularly well, but it is the kind of story a modern child could use as a mentor text to create his or her own photograph-illustrated story about what toys do when they’re alone.

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!, by Mo WillemsHooray for Amanda and her Alligator!, words and pictures by Mo Willems (2011, preschool to early elementary): Amanda’s alligator doesn’t like waiting for Amanda to get home when she leaves him. He frets and fusses and hopes she’ll bring him a surprise. Like most Mo Willems books, this one has a lot of silliness and a bit of the unexpected. The alligator seems to be fully living, and the stuffed panda at the end is as well (although she doesn’t look like it when she first arrives). The alligator is kind of suspicious of the panda at first, jealous of her newness and not-sale-bin qualities (the alligator was on clearance), but when they are both left behind, the panda reveals she is not good at waiting either, and they enjoy each other’s company doing all the silly things the alligator is always waiting and wanting to do with Amanda but doesn’t always get the chance.

Babushka’s Doll, by Patricia PolaccoBabushka's Doll, by Patricia Polacco (1990, early elementary): Natasha isn’t a naughty little girl, exactly, but she is rather pushy and demanding. If she wants something from her grandmother, she wants it now, and she doesn’t see why Babushka won’t drop everything she’s doing to do it. Babushka decides it is time for Natasha to play with her old doll, the doll she played with just once, and leaves Natasha with the doll while she goes to get groceries. As soon as Babushka leaves, the doll comes to life and starts giving poor Natasha a taste of her own medicine. At first, Natasha is thrilled to play with a living doll, but she is soon worn out by the persistence and insistence of the little doll. By the time Babushka returns, Natasha is exhausted to the point of tears, and insists once was enough to play with the doll. When Babushka puts the doll away again, the doll winks at her before becoming just a doll again, and Babushka’s mission is complete.

The Velveteen RabbitThe Velveteen Rabbit, by Marjery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson (1958, early elementary): Because of this story, I spent a good portion of my childhood afraid that my parents were going to torch all my belongings every time I got sick! (I had an over-active imagination and a whole lot of hypochondria…) In it, a simple stuffed rabbit longs to become Real: “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” When the boy loses his usual sleeping companion toy, his nurse gives him his old rabbit, and soon they are inseparable, and the velveteen rabbit becomes what he knows as Real. On one excursion, the velveteen rabbit meets two living rabbits, and they want him to play, but he can’t. Now, however, he dearly wants to do the things they talk about doing–play and hop and dance–but he is content to stay with the boy who loves him. When the boy becomes sick with scarlet fever, the velveteen rabbit is there to comfort and encourage him, but once he recovers, the doctor orders that all the toys and books must be burned to get rid of the germs, so the rabbit is put out with the other rubbish. He mourns the unfairness of becoming Real only to end up in this situation, and a tear falls to the ground. From it grows a blossom, and from the blossom comes a fairy–the nursery magic fairy. She tells him that her job is to take the toys that have been loved and make them Real, really Real to everyone, not just the child who loves them, and she takes the velveteen rabbit to the forest to be Real. He meets the boy again in the spring while he is with the other rabbits, and while the boy is reminded of his old, beloved bunny, he never realizes that is really the rabbit he is seeing.

Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures Toys Go Outof a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic, by Emily Jenkins, pictures by Paul O. Zelinsky (2006, elementary): GirlChild found this amusing–her favorite character is Plastic, a rubber ball–but I think that the audience range is pretty wide, particularly if it is used as a read-aloud to a younger group (who might not realize how funny melodramatic StingRay is or how practical under-appreciated Plastic is) and for independent chuckles for older readers. The toys interact with one another and with other household objects (the bathroom towels, the washer and dryer), and their peculiar worldview makes even the most ordinary event extraordinary! GirlChild also read the sequels, Toys Come Home and Toy Dance Party, on the plane and in the car when we were on vacation.

The Doll PeopleThe Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, pictures by Brian Selznick (2000, elementary): Annabelle, a 100-year-old 8-year-old china doll, is more restless than usual ever since stumbling upon her missing Auntie Sarah’s hidden journal. Gone for almost half a century, Auntie Sarah recorded things that she never could have seen from inside the dollhouse, and Annabelle starts to have questions–questions the adults in the house don’t really want to answer. When a new doll family moves into the human house (a gift for the younger daughter to keep her from rough-housing with the antique dolls her older sister owns), their carefree, modern ways are just the incentive Annabelle needs to spur her to action (with the help of Tiffany, her plastic counterpart in the other family). The rest of her family is more reluctant, but it’s going to take more than just the two girls to save Auntie Sarah from being lost forever! The endpapers mimic the different ads that would have been contemporary for each dollhouse purchase, highlighting the differences between the two doll families. The first of several in a series.

The Very Little Princess, The Very Little Princess, by Marion Dane Bauerby Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles (2010, elementary): This was not the cute, silly story I expected from the cover and jacket description. That’s not entirely fair–it was that, but it was also a very heart-wrenching story of abandonment and loneliness. (I probably should have expected something sad; this is the author of the most traumatizing Newbery Honor novel of my childhood, On My Honor.) Zoey’s mother unexpectedly tells her to pack to visit her grandmother, a grandmother she never knew she had. They drive for hours before they reach the country home where her mother grew up, and Zoey is greeted at the door by a woman who looks much like her own mother but older. While her mother and grandmother argue downstairs, Zoey escapes to the upper floor of the house and finds her mother’s old room and old dollhouse. A tear–whether of excitement over the doll or from the stress of the argument downstairs–falls onto the doll from the house, and she wakes, startling Zoey. This doll turns out to be Princess Regina, and she considers Zoey her personal servant. Zoey is happy to play along–she’s played this game before with her mother, and she’s eager to avoid the conflict downstairs–but the doll keeps losing her ability to speak and move when she’s left alone too long. While the doll is incapacitated and Zoey is unable to get her to come back, Zoey’s mother leaves, leaving Zoey behind indefinitely, because she “needs to be alone,” and Zoey is heartbroken, weeping on the doll in her sleep. Princess Regina wakes up and fully realizes that Zoey’s tears are what gives her life, so she tries to make her cry more, but in so doing, she comes to understand the deep hurt that makes Zoey cry, and her first feelings of empathy make her cry instead, and she becomes really and permanently real. She, Zoey, and Zoey’s grandmother then work through their fears and pain by taking one day at a time with whatever comes. (I’ve not read it yet, but there is another of these books that is about Zoey’s mother, Rose, and the doll.)

When the Dolls Woke 001When the Dolls Woke, by Marjorie Filley Stover (1985, middle to upper elementary): You might very well have a hard time finding this title for sale anywhere, and I’m not going to claim that it is a literary masterpiece–only that I loved it as a child (and still have my old copy)! Gail, a shy fourth-grade girl who has just started at a new school, is sent an old dollhouse by her Great Aunt Abigail whose Aunt Melissa had received it as a gift from her sea-faring brother, Abigail’s father. Gail is thrilled until she sees that it has fallen into disrepair, that the doll clothes are shabby and their hair unkempt, and her mother tells her that she just doesn’t have time to help fix it up right then. Soon after the dollhouse arrives, however, Great Aunt Abigail follows for a visit, and she gladly works with Gail to refurbish the house. Sir Gregory, Lady Alice, Maribelle, and Tommy are the dollhouse family, and they have a Dutch ragdoll maid, Becky, who replaced the wooden doll, Martinique, who made the other dolls uncomfortable with the tales of voodoo from her homeland. The family, recently woken from a long sleep in storage, believes that Gail has the gift of being able to “hear” them–get an understanding of their thoughts–when they wish hard enough, just like her great grandmother (the one who stashed Martinique away in anger) and Great Aunt Abigail before her. And when they discover that their beloved Abigail is in dire straits, they work to communicate the secret of the dollhouse…a secret only Sir Gregory knew and is just beginning to remember again. (Rereading it as an adult, I really don’t know why I felt it was even a little scary–maybe just Martinique’s voodoo attempts and the fact that she makes the other dolls nervous? It really isn’t frightening at all, and things work out for Martinique!)

The Indian in the Cupboard, Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banksby Lynne Reid Banks (1980, middle to upper elementary): Set in England in the 1970s, the story begins when Omri receives both a plastic Indian and an old medicine cabinet cupboard for his birthday. His mother gives him an old key that fits the lock, and he puts his toy inside and locks it. When he wakes in the morning, he finds that the plastic toy has come to life. His original excitement over having the ability to bring toys to life dims as he realizes the gravity of having such responsibility for the tiny life, particularly when he realizes that “his” Indian, Little Bear, is a real person from history–an Iroquois from the time of the French and Indian War–who has somehow been brought forward in time as a miniature and deserves respect. His friend Patrick doesn’t quite grasp the seriousness of the situation and, against Omri’s instructions, brings a cowboy to life using the cupboard and key, creating additional chaos. Eventually, the mutual respect between Omri and Little Bear allows him to do the hardest thing–send his new friend back to his own time and place. (There is a little bit of language in the book, and, like many older books, some stereotypical depictions. I feel like Omri’s respect for Little Bear and life in general is a strong positive, however.)

House of Dolls, by Francesca Lia BlockHouse of Dolls, by Francesca Lia Block (2010, upper elementary to middle school): The dolls in Madison Blackberry’s dollhouse have an idyllic life. Wildflower (a very old doll that had belonged to Madison’s grandmother) has Guy (apparently an army figure), Rockstar has B. Friend (a studious stuffed bear), and Miss Selene (a fairy doll) has a vast and elaborate wardrobe she shares, and they all have each other. Madison envies them. She envies their finery, their companionship, and their happiness. Her grandmother shakes her head at her for her moods, but she doesn’t engage with her. Her father travels the world for work, her mother is a socialite, and her little brother gets all the family attention, so friendless Madison takes out her frustration on the dolls, taking first their boyfriends, then their clothing, away from them. Miss Selene is hit particularly hard because she had always used the clothing to distract her from something else she had lost long ago. Wildflower decides to communicate with Madison’s grandmother to try to get her to show love to Madison like her own mother had shown love to her before she died. When Madison’s grandmother shares her pictures of her mother with Madison and makes Madison a beautiful dress to rival any that the dolls had ever received, Madison loses her resentment and returns the lost companions and clothing to the dolls. The rest of her family somehow seems to feel the need to show love again, too, and things start to look up for them all. This seems to be a simple book, but it isn’t simple to explain. The brevity competes with the seriousness and complexity of the subject matter, and it is clearly much more than a story about dolls.

The Dollhouse Murders, The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wrightby Betty Ren Wright (1983, upper elementary to middle school): I think I’d consider this one Wait ’til Helen Comes scary. (I should not have started it late at night!) There are some definitely dated things in this book (rugby shirts, cassette tapes, and a complete lack of cell phones), but the use of the word “retarded” in the jacket description is what really threw me for a loop. It was used to describe Louann, the younger sister of the main character, Amy, but the phrases “like a little kid” and “brain-damaged” were the only terms actually used inside the book, if I recall correctly. There are two intertwined story lines in this book: almost-thirteen-year-old Amy being pushed to the brink by her mother’s expectations of her in regards to her sister and a decades-old family murder mystery that is being played out in the replica dollhouse in her great-grandparents’ former home. If you have an easily spooked reader, I’d avoid this one (particularly if there’s a dollhouse in the house…), but older readers looking for a not-too-graphically-gory spine-tingler might be interested. I’d recommend you read it yourself first, but, again, I wouldn’t recommend a late-night reading unless you’re braver than I am!

Hitty: Her First Hundred YearsHitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop (1929, upper elementary to middle school): Hitty is a wooden doll, skillfully whittled by a peddler who stays the winter with the Preble family of Maine while Captain Preble is out at sea, and the story is told in first person from her point-of-view. (Calculating from the time the book was written, this is likely to have been set in the first half the the 19th century, probably in the 1820s. The date is only mentioned once, near the end of the book, but current events such as wars are mentioned often enough to get a vague sense of the 100-year chronology as the book progresses.) She appears to have limited mobility, and she only is mentioned to use it a few times during the book. (She interprets the other dolls she encounters as being either too rude or too self-absorbed to interact with her, but I got the impression that she was actually the only doll with any life in the book.) When Mrs. Preble and Phoebe join Captain Preble on his next voyage, Hitty begins her worldwide travels and adventures. Through the travels of the doll, the reader experiences life on a whaling vessel, tribal conflict on a tropical island, snake charmers and missionaries in India, higher society in Philadelphia, simple Quaker life, upperclass New York, meeting several artists, musicians, and writers of the time (some of whom appear to be fictional, some real historical people), a Rhode Island mill town, Mardi Gras, a Cotton Exposition, a cargo boat on the Mississippi, a black country family, a railroad station, a home with a vast doll collection, and eventually an antique shop. It really is true that older books have more complex language, and that is part of what makes this Newbery Medal-winning book an upper elementary or middle school title. The other big thing is the need to thoughtfully interpret the events and portrayals of different people in a different era and realize how attitudes of the time might color the way the author characterizes the people Hitty encounters; some of the portrayals are pretty offensive, actually, despite the fact that Hitty is a mostly impartial observer who admirably considers different points-of-view and lifestyles as she changes hands. Could be used in conjunction with a history class on the time between the War of 1812 and the end of World War I.

Doll Bones, Doll Bones, by Holly Blackby Holly Black, with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler (middle school): The illustrations creeped me out more than the contents did, despite their extensive creepiness–I had to store this book cover down! Middle school friends Poppy, Zach, and Alice have an elaborate game they play together with their dolls and action figures. Zach, who has just discovered a skill for basketball and whose deadbeat father has recently returned to his life, is afraid that Poppy’s brothers will reveal his secret to someone he knows and make his life rougher than his father is already making it, but he is devastated when his dad throws his bag of action figures away while he is at school because he feels Zach’s too old for that kind of play. Desperate to hide what happened from Poppy and Alice, Zach lies and tells them he just doesn’t want to play anymore, and Poppy tries to lure him back in by promising to get the Great Queen (the creepy bone china doll her mother keeps locked in a glass cabinet) out to add more excitement to their play. This, however, sets a series of events in motion that involves horrific dreams about a little girl, a middle-of-the-night trek across the state on a quest Poppy insists is the doll’s demand, and a variety of really, really creepy events. (I am seriously getting goosebumps all over while writing this despite having finished the book itself weeks ago!) Definitely not for the faint of heart, there are layers and layers of story in this book, from the doll’s origins to the current struggles of each of the main characters. While you try not to toss the book away in horror, you’ll struggle not to really feel for the kids in the book (even if you’re still a kid yourself)! Again, depending on your kid, you might want to preview to make sure this “don’t try this at home” book doesn’t inspire behaviors you don’t want your child copying (like taking a midnight train out of town without permission). This book received a Newbery Honor in 2014.

There are, I am sure, many more books in this category–Winnie-the-Pooh, for example! If you have a favorite living toys title you or your children have read, share the title in the comments!

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