All of my posts have been transferred to The Bleeding Pelican. That is the site I'll be using to muse on picture books (and life) from here on out.  Please join me over there; you can sign up for updates right here! Thank you!!!

In Other News...

After much discernment and receiving counsel from trusted sources, I'm going to be reintegrating myself into the blogging world, outside of just picture books. Instead of just writing and saving all the files on my computer, I will be publishing them online for now. For whatever it's worth, I am called to write and to make my thoughts known (to myself and others!)

If you are interested in my musings outside of the picture book world, I'd be happy to have you tune in.


And now for something peculiar.

Have you met Treehorn yet? I just finished The Treehorn Trilogy and was delighted at the unexpected, unorthodox tales of this odd little boy and his completely aloof, dismissive parents. When Treehorn shrinks, all mother can say is "That's nice, dear." When money starts to grow on Treehorn's tree, it's a "You can't go outside after dark, dear." And when Treehorn has a birthday, he gets a sweater, leftover casserole and left alone with his birthday cake.

Modern parents will not like the Treehorn books. They will be disturbed by the morbid disinterest all the adults have for this child throughout his stories. Of course, the notorious Edward Gorey probably clamored to get this illustrating gig. I'm certain no one else could have so perfectly captured Treehorn's dull face or the parent's apathy. His pen and ink drawings are perfect here. I find these stories to be sheer delights. They aren't the treasures to use for capturing the hearts or inspiring virtue in young children, to be sure... but they are certainly a peculiar and even thought-provoking diversion for slightly older readers: my 10 and 12 year olds found Treehorn dreadfully amusing.

And off-the-beaten-path items that capture their imagination at this age, are items to which I like to introduce my children. To be exposed to the various genres of literature, even in the picture book world, is a valuable thing I think, when properly timed on a developmental level.

Top 10 Summer Family Read Alouds

While picture books are my bread and butter, all families should be reading aloud longer chapter books with their children.  With summer peeking over the horizon now, it's a good time to plan out your summer read-aloud(s).  Reading as a family, morning, noon or at night, is an excellent way to stay connected with all the activities of a freewheeling summer.  Audio books make for a superb option as you are road tripping. And certain books are just perfect for this warm season in particular...  here are my choices for optimal summer reading that the whole family will enjoy:

 It's a classic for a reason. The four siblings are slightly more grounded in this world than the Narnia children, but the similarities are still there.  I was unsure that my children would really get into the fairly descriptive, not-exactly-cliff-hangar-chapters, but they ate it up! Sailing, adventure, independent children soaking up summertime bliss. Something about Ransome's style just weaves enough magic into the story to make a solid impression on children aged 7-13 in this house! The only unfortunate thing is that while this book makes its way on lots of "best of" lists, not a lot of people make efforts to continue the series; the books are a bit lengthy... but so worth it.  We are knee deep into the sequel: Swallowdale in our family and loving every bit of it.

Don't be mislead by the sweet cover. While it's tempting to want to curl up with your 5 year old daughter with this for a cute innocent adventure (try Milly-Molly-Mandy for that), the book is admittedly best suited for slightly older children... maybe age 10 or so. Feuding and intrigue and happy endings... all taking place in the heat of the south. Grab some iced tea and enjoy!

So, it sounds like a Roald Dahl comedy: boy finds a bunch of monkeys who escaped from a circus train.  A large reward goes to whomever can return them to the owner.  But the book isn't a funny book by design. It's full of adventure and suspense and for the sake of all that is good, do NOT get the paperback version which has a photograph of the boy on the cover. Photograph covers on books constitute a cardinal sin in my opinion (more on cardinal publishing sins to come)—no room is left for a child to form his own personal impression in their own minds; photograph covers ruin imaginations! Anyway, it's a great book!

We love Homer Price in this family!  He is just the bee's knees if you asked my boys and easy, independent chapters of his adventures back in the 'good ol' days' will be perfect for lazy summer reading... don't forget the sequel! Light, enjoyable reading at its finest.

Boys only please (okay, I would've read and loved them as a tomboy 'tween but your mileage may vary).  These guys have a clubhouse, impressive IQs and adventures galore that would fill your child's brain with plain old good stuff during summertime.

Summertime is E.B. White time!  This is the time to bust out the glorious, early chapter books to your 5 and 6+ year olds.  Be it Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little or The Trumpet of the Swan... all are so perfectly suited to long, slow summer days.  I re-read Stuart Little recently with my children and was reminded again at how unique White is in the children's literature world: the ending is moving and poignant... but not your typical super-happy, loose ends tied up conclusion. Same with Charlotte's Web now that I think about it. I remember feeling sad at the dear little spiders floating away to find their place in the world... (even though I can only WISH that spiders in my house would float away...)

Oh my! Oh my! Have you seen the "Puffin in Bloom" collection yet?! The covers are stunning!  Yeah, yeah, Heidi is fantastic summertime reading (watch out for the photograph covered editions, blech!). What could be greater than the Alps and a wild child and new friendships?! But seriously, check out this new cover by artist Anna Bond.  And there's a whole set of them coming soon!  What a stunning gift even an individual title would make here.  Take a look at the individual covers here.

 Often called "The boy's Little House series", Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers is great for boys and girls in my opinion.  And this title is where it all starts. And let me tell you: these stories are so incredibly satisfying for both parent and child. There is just enough of a hat tip to adult sensibilities to make these books fantastic for everyone.  I bought it on audio and we listened to it on our way to a camping trip last year.  So, so, so good. A must have for anyone who loves the value of hard work, simple humor, and excellent storytelling.

 But of course!

Back in print! Back in print!  I'm so excited to find The Happy Hollisters revived in popularity. What is so lovely about this family of five children who get mixed up into lots of little mysteries and adventures is that they are always positive and fun. I devoured almost the entire series of these books when I was about 10 or so and longed for more titles. My cousin and I used to spend hours reading together, pretending we were just reading them to make fun of the funny, vintage language some kids used ("Gee whillakers!") but that's because we thought we were too cool to actually enjoy the fun in these books.  Thankfully, my children don't think they are too cool for these books and they are eating up every copy I manage to acquire. They are all great reading, don't need to be read consecutively, and some particularly summery titles are The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip and The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach...

* * * The Honorable Mention "Next 10"or "After Further Thought" Additions to this list. * * *

Our Lady of Fatima: May Giveaway!

I've often felt disgruntled that there is what I opine to be a great emptiness in the picture book world regarding Our Lady of Fatima. Guadalupe enjoys at least three excellent options as far as I can tell (like this, this, or this) plus a couple other 'good' options. Meanwhile, Fatima is left quite in the dust. I own the book Jacinta's Story and it is pretty good and really one of the only picture book options that I know of. But it's not one that I read in one sitting to the children. It's best broken into a few days' reading during Morning Basket time because the story is fairly extensive. Still hoping for a simple breakdown of the story at a young, elementary level.

Thankfully, there are a number of chapter books that do the story justice. And it's a story that needs to be told to people of all ages.  The Children Of Fatima: And Our Lady's Message to the World is one of the best options on the market in my opinion, and it suits reading aloud quite nicely. May is the perfect month to devote to Our Lady and her message to both the children and to the world.

TAN Books has graciously offered to sponsor a giveaway of this book by Mary Fabyan Windeatt in honor of Our Lady and her upcoming feast day this month. The awesome thing is that while TAN publishing is known for their older, more traditional titles, they are making efforts to keep things fresh and relevant to families even today. In development right now are some workbooks that go along with the books in this series and the accompaniment designed for The Children Of Fatima will be one of the first ones done!  (Sneak peak coming soon hopefully!)

In the meantime, there will be 3 winners in this giveaway who receive a copy of this book! All you have to do is comment on one way, simple or extravagent, your family tries to celebrate the month of May in your home. You have until Mother's Day to enter.  This Sunday, the 10th.  Blessings!

****Closed! We have three winners! Pre-literate Henry was asked to circle 3 names on the list: Congrats to the Holloway family,  Erin and Monica!****

Bring Back Stories

I stumbled across this article recently... discussing the problems publishers are having in the picture book industry and it made some very compelling points.  Something I've noticed more and more of recently is the flourishing population of clever, popular, concept books. Books that have very little text but that are either neat to look at or innovative in design (think the hip: This Is Not My Hat or engaging Mix It Up! ) I love books like these myself and enjoy throwing them in our read-alouds often.  But I almost never buy them. These are not the food with which I feed the souls of my children. These don't offer the narrative weaving and pacing a good, healthy tale does like Many Moons or Princess Furball.

Stories need to be developed and while the fun, sparsely worded books are enjoyable to look at and giggle with... they aren't something that I put as high of a value on... both psychologically and monetarily.

Publishers are noticing that some of the old standby classics are still selling well; people STILL want to invest money in things like Mike Mulligan and Little Toot even though there is nothing contemporary or short about them. We want a satisfying, soul feeding experience of sharing a tale with our children... we aren't interested in just amusing ourselves or being fascinated by innovation.  To get this feeling, an investment of time, talent and treasure needs to be made by all parties: author, illustrator and publisher.  This is what parents are chasing when they keep spending money on old stuff... it's not that we are just hopelessly nostalgic suckers— excellent books can still be found newly published today after all— it's that we want that beautiful development of story that is increasingly shunned by publishers today in deference to some desperate grasp of innovation, coolness or humor. This is why we hunt down out-of-print titles with a feverish hope... we are trying to escape the bilge of awful books on publishers' shelves today and reach into our memories for something meaningful and authentic.

Top 10 Little Books

Beatrix Potter knew what she was doing as she created the world of Peter Rabbit. When she turned down initial publisher's offers (due to their requests to modify her books in length and size), she went ahead and self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit on her own at first, because she had a very specific vision for her work. Namely, she wanted her books to be small enough to fit in a small child's hands... and her illustrations were designed to fill the page of one small book.

To this day, while there are many compilations and anthologies of the Peter Rabbit series, nothing... NOTHING compares to the magic of the small, hardback set of single, independent, tiny volumes. If your home library of picture books consists of nothing other than this set, you'll be leagues ahead of 90% of your parenting peers in the sheer quality of what you're offering.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the awesomeness of tiny books in general. What child doesn't love miniature things designed just for their size? Especially when the miniatures are real, be it functional tea cups, utensils, brooms, aprons etc. So it is with books. There is something special about volumes published under 7 inches tall. And the only thing I love more than reading tiny books to my children, is seeing my young ones sprawled out in the grass on their own with a little book of their own fitting so nicely in their little hands.

Little books pack into diaper bags well, fit into stockings, Easter baskets and everyday baskets, and make fantastic little bonus gifts to accompany other items.  Here is my pick of the 10 best little books on the market today:

 The Peter Rabbit books. Of course. Just go ahead and throw all 23 titles into one listing here. Each is excellent.

 The Story of Little Black Sambo. Okay, so all the modern parents prefer The Story of Little Babaji (also on the small side) because it is more PC, but I love the original myself. I have both books and my children like both equally but I have a nostalgic spot for the old one because my mother read it to me so many times...

 The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak. Alligators All Around is the standout book in this 4-volume set but they are so well priced as a collection, I'd go ahead and purchase the others with that title.

 Pelle's New Suit (mini edition). I normally prefer my full-sized Elsa Beskow books, but this one in particular works as a mini because it doesn't have as much text as most of her other titles.  For that, and the fact that it is the perfect springtime book, it's on the list.

 A Hole Is to Dig is perhaps my very favorite "nonsensically profound" books (I made that category up; nice eh?). From the silly to the thought provoking, Ruth Krauss found magic in pairing with Sendak on this title.  The hardback is out of print, but worth finding...

 A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog is the first in the series and my favorite Mercer Mayer books by far. They are wordless but tell a lovely story... don't forget the equally excellent sequels Frog Goes to Dinner,  Frog, Where Are You? and others.

 The Brave Cowboy. My three year old fell in love with the Brave Cowboy when he first met him and it's still one of his favorite books to call his own and to be found curled up with in a corner somewhere. That's enough to merit a spot on this list.

 Alphabet of Boats. Linocuts. Boats. Education. Beauty. Simplicity. All under 5 square inches.  I can't help that so many of the books I love are out of print— sorry!  Just keep your eyes peeled for this little gem.  (Which reminds me... I've seen enough good stuff now to warrant "Volume 3" version of Top Ten Alphabet books... hmm, will attend to that soon hopefully.)

 Let's Be Enemies. Sendak illustrating again!  He excelled at the tiny books. Janice May Undry created a lovely little tale of making and breaking friendships. It's very fun to read with a 5 year old...

 The Little Train... or really, any Lois Lenski books. All are small. My favorite ones are his seasonal books which are a bit spendy OOP, but any of his occupational books like this one or Policeman Small or The Little Airplane, etc are vintage winners as well.

And now, some qualifying remarks:

I would've included the gorgeous Flower Fairies Alphabet, but I'm mad that they skipped the letter X. You can cheat a little or work around it... but don't skip the letter altogether!

Also, these are slightly larger than 'tiny', but of immense importance in the picture book collector's world: The Year in Brambly Hedge Set and Adventures in Brambly Hedge Set. Unfortunately these books are long out of print but they are really wonderful to own and cherish... in the same botanical goodness vein as one would find the Beatrix Potter books.

And lastly, I've requested an inter-library loan to get my eyes on The Treehorn Trilogy. It looks fabulous. Edward Gorey is not everyone's cup of pictorial tea but I like him and am eager to see these books!

The Winner!

I reached into my bag of meaningless methods and chose a winner for Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World.  Here is how it worked:

Write down the posted times of all the comments.

Ask child number 1: "am or pm?"

All the PMs got crossed out.  Sorry!

Ask child number 2: "8 or 9?"

All the 8s got crossed out.

Ask child number 3: "11 or 47?"

47 takes all.

Mary, who commented on the post at 9:47 am (PST) wins!  

Congrats and I hope you all tune in for next time!

Just for Today...

In one of my rare moves, I made an immediate and full-priced purchase of the newest book by Bimba Landmann (I had been saving my Amazon card points!): Just For Today, which is the title of the famous decalogue by Pope St. John XXIII.  She's been one of my absolute favorite illustrators ever since I discovered her other titles like Clare and Francis, A Boy Named Giotto and others.

I tried looking up the history of the prayer, because its origin isn't universally accepted and several adaptations of the prayer exist, one is in use by AA.  Here is a common one:

  1. Just for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once. 
  2. Just for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behavior; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
  3. Just for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
  4. Just for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
  5. Just for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
  6. Just for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
  7. Just for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.
  8. Just for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.
  9. Just for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.
  10. Just for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

And I think that is a fantastic prayer for meditation.

Bimba Landmann's style isn't one that everyone will immediately appreciate. She has a whimsy to be sure... but not a fun, cutesy, whimsy like Elisa Kleven that everyone adores... Bimba's is more ethereal and almost Byzantine influenced. In this book, for example, the pictures are gorgeous but aren't always a perfect correlation with the text at first glance. There's a boy (who is he? The young pope?) who seems to be living in some kind of Turkish or Muslim-inspired seaside village.  And he has, um... a pet reindeer... I think that's what it is at least.

Yet despite these oddities, it all somehow fits.  And it makes the prayer's meditative quality shine through to not have such literal illustrations.


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