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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, January 30, 2005

These Celebrity Authors Write for a Young Audience

One of the many bright spots about being a librarian is the element of surprise. We never know what information we will be asked to access during a day's work. That certainly makes life interesting.

A recent query in the READ Center (the children's department of Central Library) sent our staff looking for children's books written by celebrity authors. We knew several titles already, as many TV, movie, political and sports personalities have entered the field of children's publishing fairly recently. An Internet search produced many more titles. We've picked out some of our favorites. The concept of celebrity as author is not new. Shirley Temple "wrote" some children's books back in her youth. Fred Gwynne, who played TV's Herman Munster, produced several engaging wordplay books in the 1970s.

Nibbles and Me by Elizabeth Taylor (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Children).

Even movie star Taylor wrote and illustrated a children's book while still a child star at MGM. Recently reprinted for new audiences, Nibbles and Me is a collection of short stories about her pet chipmunk, Nibbles, a most remarkable rodent.

Nibbles was adopted by Taylor around the Lake Chelan area in Washington state when she was on location for the film "The Courage of Lassie." The book provides glimpses into the childhood of an American icon, not only as a sweet child but also as an aspiring writer and as an animal activist.

Taylor's journal abounds with her love for Nibbles and all his foibles, as well as for her many dogs and horses. By the way, Nibbles almost made his film debut in "The Courage of Lassie," but in true Hollywood fashion, his scene ended on the cutting room floor. Gives one paws, uh, pause, doesn't it?

It's Hard to Be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel by Jamie Lee Curtis (Joanna Pane Cotler Books/ HarperCollins).

There's nothing like the angst of a 5-year-old regarding the complexities of life.

Nobody relates the inner workings of a child's mind better than Curtis. A recognized actor in her own right, Curtis is the daughter of acclaimed actors Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. "It's Hard to Be Five" is Curtis' latest foray into publishing and a dead-on explanation of learning self-control, something many adults are still to master!

The pre-kindergartner's self-proclaiming "Dare 2B 5" T-shirt on the book's cover speaks volumes, thanks to Laura Cornell's quirky illustration. She aptly portrays our book's hero as both fearless and fearful throughout the book. "It's hard to be 5. Just yelled at my brother. My mind says do one thing; my mouth says another." Yep, we've all been there.

Eddie, Harold's Little Brother by Ed Koch and Pat Koch Thaler (G.P. Putnam's Sons).

Former New York City Mayor Koch and his sister, Pat, give readers a brand-new tale of big-brother worship. Set in Depression-era New York City, it is a story of a big brother, Harold, who is good at everything, especially baseball.

Eddie, on the other hand, falls way short in the athletic arena.

Harold always makes it clear to the neighborhood teams that if they want him for the team, they have to take Eddie, too.

Eddie practices and practices, but his ineptitude as a ballplayer is a source of frustration to both brothers. Everyone notices, however, that Eddie can recount everything that happened during the game, inning by inning.

With Harold's encouragement, Eddie enters another arena --public speaking -- and becomes a dynamite orator. And the rest, as they say, is history.

James Warhola's delightful illustrations of argyle-sweater-and-knickers-clad characters hit a resounding home run in this story of individuality and personal achievement.

Just the Two of Us by Will Smith (Scholastic Press).

The all-consuming love of a parent for his child is explored in award-winning musician/actor Smith's adaptation of his hit rap.

From his son's birth through his growing years, Smith reassures his child that he is loved and cherished, even if the complexities of car seats and CD-ROM games totally befuddle his parents.

Kadir Nelson's pen and oil paintings nicely complement Smith's affirmation of filial love.

This oversized picture book is perfect for sharing during some quality time between father and son.

Lu and the Swamp Ghost by James Carville with Patricia C. McKissack (Athen-eum Books for Young Readers).

From the bayous of Louisiana comes another Depression-era remembrance, courtesy of political analyst Carville.

Written in tandem with McKissack, a Coretta Scott King Honor Medalist, Carville shares a tale from his mother's childhood. Lu's mama always said, "You're never poor if you have a loving family and one good friend."

Lu certainly has a loving family, but that friend part, she'd have to work on that. Quite by accident, Lu discovers her one good friend and solves the mystery of the swamp ghost at the same time.

A joyous read, full of fun with just a shiver of spookiness, the book comes with a that's supposed to be CD narrated by Lu's son.

David Catrow's fanciful watercolor and pencil drawings perfectly capture the slimy green of the swamp and Lu's waif-like frailness.

Don't forget to keep looking behind you!

Carol Banks is supervisor of the READ Center, Central Library's children's Department. Contact her at (812) 428-8222. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.