Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Recommendations from the kid lit shelves

I've often thought about reviewing a couple of kids' books here. Trouble is, by the time you get 10-pages-in, you're mostly done. Maybe I should switch to a 20-words-in format for kids' lit? We struck gold on our last trip to the library and through random luck ended up with quite a few books that were clever enough to engage me while still appealing to the boys.

In university, I took a Canadian Literature course that eventually became one of my favourite courses of all time. The first day, the prof asked us to contribute, anonymously, a few books we would like to study. I don't remember which books I said I did want to study, but I do clearly remember him laughing as he read out loud my plea: "Just about anything is fine, but please - no more Margaret Atwood." I've since changed my mind about her, and Margaret Atwood is in fact one of my favourite authors, one whose prose I savour and whose writing I hold as a standard to strive towards. I have not, however, warmed entirely to her poetry.

With the charming book Up in the Tree, even her poetry is appealing to me. (The fact that I am only drawn to poetry for beginning readers must surely say something about my level of literary sophistication.) The book was recently released to the US for the first time, and the new edition contains a small note from the author says that in 1978, when the book was first published, it was considered too risky to publish a children's book in Canada. To mimimize costs, Atwood not only wrote and illustrated the book herself, but she hand-lettered the text and used a simple two-colour process of red and blue ink. Between that and the thick, glossy pages, I think I enjoyed the tactile experience of reading Up in a Tree as much as I enjoyed the words themselves.

The same day, we also got Judith Viorst's Just in Case. It's a lovely little book about a little boy named Charlie who likes to be prepared "just in case". He does things like making 117 peanut butter and jam sandwiches just in case the food stores are all closed and bringing a net and some oars to the beach "just in case" a mermaid grabs him by his big toe and drags him off under the sea to play. It's quite charming, and the prose has a lyrical quality that makes reading it out loud a pleasure. And the repitition at then end of each section works for both the almost-three year old, who hears it coming and likes to say it along with me, and the almost-five year old, who recognizes the words and likes to say them along with me.

Also on the same day, we got a silly little mystery book by Karma Wilson and Jack E Davis called Moose Tracks. The narrator wonders, in perfect verse, who has left the moose tracks all over the house. The bear hair is explicable, the wood chips are from the beaver, and the chipmunk is responsible for the shells. But who has left the moose tracks? We also enjoyed the witty, cartoonish illustrations in this book.

Care to share a few recommendations?

(Edited to add: for a comprehensive list of toddler-approved books from a toddler who happens to be the daughter of a librarian, not to mention a "cultural nationalist in training", be sure to see this post from the Mad Hatter!)

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