The Tale of Lazy Lizard Canyon... etc.

I've said before that asking a bibliozealot to choose a favorite book is like asking her to choose a favorite child.  And although I have dozens and dozens of "absolute, 100%, very, very favorite books", I think I'm ready to back-peddle on that statement.  I do have a favorite book.  This post isn't about that though... a thorough post on that is coming...

This post is about a title by the same illustrator: Doris Burn.  I have made a point to collect all the books that were written and illustrated by Doris Burn (there are only three and two are out of print).  But she has illustrated a half dozen books in addition to these.  A fellow Washingtonian, Doris Burn won my heart with Andrew Henry's Meadow years ago. Then I stumbled on my precious, precious favorite which she illustrated We Were Tired of Living in a House.  I'm not linking it because I don't want my unwitting readers to accidentally buy the new, awful version of that book... more on this later.

Last year, I acquired The Summerfolk and loved it.  This year, I finally got my hands on the missing part of the trifecta— I'll offer pictures before commentary:

The first thing I noticed about the book was the departure from her earlier style of simple black and white sketching.  In this title, Burn uses a brown pencil wash which is actually quite fitting for the Old West themed story.

The story itself didn't immediately grab me in the way her other titles have.  This is written in a true, olden time fashion.  Unlike modern cowboy books, Doris doesn't shy away from whiskey, guns or brawls.  She tells it like it is to which many contemporary parents will probably stick up their noses.  The tale is of two feuding families ultimately brought together by a romantic, non-fighting son and a pretty lil' Miss.  This isn't something I would read to my 6 and under set, but my 8 and 10 year old boys found it to be amusing, while I found the writing... the STORYTELLING to be indeed very deliberate and authentic.  I don't think you will find much in children's picture books these days about the authentic Old West... fun, stylized versions, yes... but the nitty, gritty, dag-nabbit, root-tootin mess that it often was?!  Not likely.  So this book is nice to fill in that area.  

That said, it wasn't an area that I felt essential to get into and I wouldn't call this title a MUST-HAVE for anyone other than die-hard Doris Burn lovers like myself...

If You Want to See a Whale

I was eagerly waiting to get my hands on this book.  When Julie Fogliano paired her first story And Then It's Spring with illustrator Erin Stead... it was a match made in Heaven and one of my very favorite books of last year.  I loved it so much that I did what I almost never do for children's books: paid full price for it just to call it mine and see it sitting pretty in my springtime basket. So when If You Want to See a Whale came up, I snatched it up at the library and dove right in.

I had to read it twice. I wasn't in the right mindset at first and I found myself getting lost in the lyrical side of it, wondering what the heck relevance this book had to a young reader. The pictures were gorgeous of course, and the text placement well thought out and the paper quality excellent... but I missed the magic boat initially.  So I read it again without my analytical, book critic glasses on.  It occurred to me that from the perspective of a young child, this book was a pure slice of lovely. Who cares if it was slightly off-center with where-is-this-going logic?!  I had to look at it the way I have to look at the genius of the incomparable A Hole Is to Dig for example.
      If you want to see a whale you shouldn't watch the clouds, some floating by some hanging down in the sky, that's spread out side to side or the certain sun that's shining because if you start to look straight up you just might miss a whale.
I read an interview of Fogliano recently where she remarked that she loved working with Erin Stead because Stead often knew what she was trying to express better than she did. And I think this point is especially evocative in this story. The illustrations make the magic; they connect the sometimes disparate sentences.  Don't get me wrong; the writing is great, and the cadence is well done... you just have to snuggle up with someone little and love it with them and for them to really appreciate it.

The NEXT Top Ten Alphabet Books

I can't help it; there are so many good ones!  Whether it's lovely alphabet books that tell a story or clever ones that explore a concept or theme, the genre is loaded with many books that are much better than any disconnected alphabet books that may exist. So, here is my Top 10 NEXT best Alphabet Books... to be taken as a follow-up to the first titles that made the cut.

 Alligators All Around by Maurice Sendak is one title I can't believe I forgot on the first list! Maurice Sendak at his best and I really love the size of this book. This is an important piece of psychological consideration authors and publishers have to make.

ABC Bunny by Wanda Gag. Here is a sweet, simple story (decked out in Gag's wonderfully folksy illustrations) that just happens to be an alphabet book.

 The Z Was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg.  The man who thrives in the "books noir" category has given us a clever little treat detailing the demise of all the letters of the alphabet.  Whether the B gets bitten or the K gets kidnapped, this is a fun book for kids just past the toddler stage.

 On Market Street by Arnold Lobel.  There is nothing super clever about the text in this book, it's the illustrations that make it shine.  Watching the man get smothered by his purchases on market street will be sure to evoke giggles from all.

 The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni.  Now this is an unusual alphabet book.  Rather it's a story about phonics and literacy and team-building.  Don't expect the typical "A is for..." Instead it's a learning adventure, good for slow-to-start readers perhaps.

 The Alphabet Game by Trina Schart Hyman.  No story here, just pictures filled with words beginning with each letter of the alphabet.  I am a fan of Schart-Hyman's work in the fairy tale genre and this came as a refreshing addition to her opus. It's another small book for small hands... I love those.

 Anno's Alphabet.  Who doesn't love Anno?!  Each page spread features a letter and an accompanying picture of something starting with that letter.  It works the brain though too; there are hidden images in the border... lovely all around.

 The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vacarro Seeger.  A truly clever book. Each letter contains the shape somehow of objects beginning with that letter.  A fun exercise for kids to figure out what it's trying to detail.  Check out the product video on Amazon.

 Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks From A to Z.  The classic.  All homes should have this in their baby basket.  It's one of the best, simple and most engaging books for toddlers ever.  Get it now.

 ABC3D by Marion Bataille.  I love this book even though I won't own it.  See, it's a pop-up and we have a volatile relationship with pop-ups here in this house.  But I see it's tremendous benefits especially for kids who may struggle with dyslexia or other learning issues.  It offers a tangible, tactile presence of the letter and that is valuable for many, many learners.


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