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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Cariens
Sunday, April 4, 2010

Get Busy, There Are Lots of Children's Books to Read

I simply cannot resist reading books about books. Three recent additions to EVPL's collections really caught my attention. I hope you'll find them interesting, too.

Barbara Bottner's newest picture book is a gem of a story. Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don't) is a match of wills between school librarian Miss Brooks and Missy, a very disgruntled first-grader, who lays claim to the "I Don't" part of the title. Who cares about Babar, or the Wild Things, or the Hungry Caterpillar? Certainly not Missy, the "enfant terrible" of story time. And then, to Missy's horror, Miss Brooks wants everyone to pick a favorite book, dress up as the main character, and tell the class about the book. Missy knows she's doomed. "Can we move", she asks her Mom? Wise Mom assures her that there would be librarians wherever they move. Armed with a bag of books from Miss Brooks, Missy pooh-poohs all selections. "They're too kissy. Too pink. And too silly", she sulks. "I want to read a story with warts!" shouts our non-reader. Finally way down in the book bag she finds the perfect book. And it is? Here's a clue or two. The character is big, green, warty (of course), and is looking for an equally "revolting bride". Give up? Just ask your favorite librarian. Bottner's book is delightfully illustrated by Michael Emberley whose own family knows a thing or two about books. Michael's dad, Ed, is the Caldecott Medalist for Drummer Hoff, written by mom, Barbara. Sister Rebecca is an author in her own right, most recently collaborating with Ed for a rousing rendition of Chicken Little. Although Barbara Bottner dedicated this book to William Steig (ah, another clue), it could equally be dedicated to librarians everywhere who strive daily to match the right customer with the right book, or CD, or magazine, or whatever the request. Bless 'em.

Someone else who knows a thing or two about books is Anita Silvey, a former editor and reviewer of The Horn Book Magazine. Silvey has compiled a coffee table book for the book junkie in all of us, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life. Divided into six broad categories (inspiration, understanding, principles and precepts, vocation, and storytelling) readers are given glimpses into the private lives of famous people—authors and non-authors alike—and how children's books have been important to them. NPR's Scott Simon reflects on Goodnight Moon; historian David McCullough writes about the importance of historical fiction using Ben and Me as his model; Presidential daughter Lynda Johnson Robb offers a family connection to author-illustrator James Marshall of the fabulously wonderful "Miss Nelson" series: Marshall's mother was the attendant at Lady Bird's and LBJ's wedding; and writing about The Bobbsey Twins, actor-author Kirk Douglas stresses the importance of reading with these words: "…in this age of technology, we don't read to children enough, and they suffer because of it. We can't allow reading to become a lost art; young people must be encouraged to be readers." To read other literary testimonials, treat yourselves to this celebration of books.

I've long come to the realization that no matter how hard I try I will never, ever be able to read all the books I want to read. I feel like Missy from Miss Brooks. Doomed. Now here comes Julia Eccleshare and a team of literary experts with their doorstop-sized tome, 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up and I realize it's even worse than I thought. I'm already way beyond grown up and here's a boatload of children's books I still need to read! Doomed, just doomed. I really thought I was on top of my game. Apparently not. So, let's get busy. The titles in 1001 are divided into age categories (0-3, 3+, 5+, 8+, and 12+) and represent decades of the best of children's books from around the world. Classic titles and new favorites—they're all here. Page-long annotations and color jacket art describe each title. From The Little Engine That Could to The Giver; from Marigold Garden to The Railway Children, Eccleshare's guide is a mini-course in children's literature. Don't miss it. OK, here's my plan. 1001 books. Count up the ones I've read already. Subtract that number from 1001. OK, got it. Take that number and plot out how to read one, no, better make that two books per week, maybe more during vacation weeks…ummm, how long will it take? How many months? Years? Oh bother, pass me some Hershey's chocolate. I need serious brain food to figure this out…