Friday, April 22, 2011

All about Eggs (and the Easter Bunny)

Spring comes with Easter. Close to Easter, each day we witness the spring’s dominant presence in our backyard, streets, and neighboring parks. Easter is the day that we celebrate every thing that comes back to life after the long winter (literally and metaphorically). For children, it is about eggs, egg hunting, a bunny that lays eggs, and family gatherings, all of which carry out Easter’s spirit, and yes, fun. So here we have electrifying eggs and Easter bunny stories, Susan Glass’ The Great Eggscape and Lorna Balian’s Humbug Rabbit.

In The Great Eggscape, two villain protagonists, Benedict, aka “Benny,” a mean soul, and Aggie, a “hard-boiled type,” decided to escape their fate of becoming colored Easter eggs (“They ain’t got nuttin’ on me”), and wanted to have some fun. Cracking out of the carton, they roughed up everyone in the fridge and went on to the pantry. "They mashed the potatoes, stalked the celery, and tossed the salad.” Those peace loving foods are horrified, but helpless. Chocolate Chip was watching his favorite TV show, when interrupted by this gang. Unintentionally, Chip carries out the mission to beat the “rotten eggs,” while other food neighbors are watching and cheering (Ketchup says, “We’ll catchup soon” and Sugar bowl and Honey bottle exchange remarks, “Isn’t this eggs-citing, honey?” “Eggs-tremely, sugar!”). With clever word play and humorous comic-book style illustrations, this book delivers a delightfully action-packed story with an unexpected ending that kids will love.
Publishers Weekly calls The Great Eggscape “bad food pun extravaganza. . . The Bonnie and Clyde of the refrigerator set,” and praises Cornelius Van Wright's illustration, “ [his] lighthearted paintings kick this already entertaining entry up a notch. His vision of life in the rough-and-tumble world of egg crime features skillful drafting, believable textures, unexpected points of view, and dynamic use of space.”

As many people would agree, I think Lorna Balian is one of the best children’s book authors America has. She is a natural storyteller for children: whimsy, yet warm, sweet yet, with a twist, her stories and illustrations resonate with children’s imaginations so keenly and brighten their faces with smiles. Humbug Rabbit is as delightful as her other works, yet all the charms of her work is illuminated even more.

Granny lives with Gracie, the hen who lays one egg every day, Otto, the rooster, and a devilish cat, Barnaby (you will see why she is devilish!). It is spring now and Easter is coming. Granny has invited her grandchildren for an Easter egg hunt, but Granny can’t find Gracie’s eggs. Granny was worried about Gracie. Meanwhile, the rabbit children who live in the burrow right below Granny’s house, just heard all about Easter from the mouse that lives in the next burrow. They are convinced that their father is the Easter Bunny (the mouse told them so!), and ask him when he is going to start laying Easter eggs. “There is no Easter Bunny!” “Rabbits do not lay eggs!” Father Rabbit exclaims to his children. But, well, the mouse’s story is more convincing. In the mean time, the devilish cat Barnaby helps Granny find her eggs (Gracie has hidden them), and Granny colors and hides them for the Easter egg hunt. It is Easter morning now. Will Father Rabbit really lay eggs?

Each spread page of the book is divided into two worlds: on top is above ground with Granny, and on the bottom is the rabbit family burrow. The two different worlds meet happily on Easter day with colorful surprises that bring joy to everyone, and big smile to readers.

Friday, April 8, 2011

PW’s review of A Donkey Reads

PW has published a review of A Donkey Reads, calling it “a fine introduction [for children] to the dozens of tales about Nasreddin, the legendary 13th-century wise man.” Indeed, the protagonist of the story, Nasreddin Hoca, an imam, a teacher, a judge who lived in the 13th century in Anatolia (now Turkey) is a celebrated historical figure, tales about him are widely read/told in Turkey and the Middle East. He is a sage, yet full of wit. In A Donkey Reads, Nasreddin teaches a donkey to read to save a poor villager, Mustafo from the tyrannic Mongol ruler. Muriel Mandell’s retelling of this tale is engaging: readers will learn the secret of a donkey reading, and therefore, “thoroughly enjoy watching the Mongol leader get his comeuppance”(PW). PW also praises the artwork: “Portuguese artist Letria paints figures in a naïf, folk-art style nicely suited to this traditional story; their movements are puppet-like, yet their expressions are convincing, even moving. Full-bleed spreads alternate with entertaining spot illustrations of rows of villagers or miniatures of their offerings to the Mongol leaders.”

To read the full review from PW, click here, to read our blog posting click here.

A Donkey Reads is also Junior Library selection.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Good Night, Little Sea Otter’s author Janet Halfmann talks about her works and life as a children’s book writer with VS Grenier, editor of Stories for Children’s Magazine on Blog Talk Radio. Award-winning author of more than 30 children’s books, Janet’s new books include Star Bright Books’ Good Night, Little Sea Otter, which has been very well-received by children’s literature blogosphere, as well as by readers. Learn more about Janet, and her works, visit the magazine’s April issue that features Janet, and listen to her talk! (did you know that before being a full time children’s book writer, she had been a waitress, grocery store checker, daily newspaper reporter, editor of a national children’s magazine, and a creator of coloring and activity books? And did you know that she writes “in an upstairs office that overlooks a huge old maple tree?”)

Big Box for Ben

I am often amazed at wonderful toys and craft tools today (iPad included), many of which certainly spark and cultivate children’s imagination, creativity, and critical thinking. On the other hand, I wonder if children’s imagination is somewhat manufactured or confined by those educational/fun/creativity boosting toys and crafts. In an abundance of toys and crafts (and yes, iPad included), children may not have a chance to exercise their full capacity of creativity and imagination.

My not-yet-four year old friend loves playing with twigs and sticks as much as he loves playing with Lego toys. Out of twigs, we make a ladder, a flag pole, and a mast for a boat. Of course, empty cardboard boxes are always one of his favorites. It turns into a cave where his miniature dinosaurs have lived(hidden) for many years, into simply a hide-and-seek place, or into a firetruck that he is in charge of. He even made a space shuttle out of packaging foam. Nothing goes to waste; everything is recycled into fun toys. With cardboard boxes, my friend's world expands as far as he wants it to, constructing his own adventurous narrative. So does our little friend Ben.

Deborah Bruss's Big Box for Ben is simple, yet adorable story that young children will immediately identify with, even be inspired by! Ben has a big box. It’s a simple, ordinary cardboard box. But as Ben and his dog, Wags unfold their journey, the box become as many things as Ben imagines: it turns into a race car; a boat that he can paddle; a top of a mountain where he almost reaches the sky; the back of an elephant he is proudly riding on. And at the end, it turns into a cozy place where Ben and Wags fall asleep hugging each other after their extraordinary adventure. A simple, rhythmical text fits perfectly to read aloud with a young child, and Tomek Bogacki's illustrations creates Ben's dog, Wags as a silly companion that brings smiles to young readers. Big Box for Ben cheerfully articulates that children create their own amazement out of ordinary things only geared by their powerful imagination. Toys and craft tools may be wonderful, but cardboard boxes are inspiring. Join Deborah Bruss for a reading, signing, and play-date at Barnes and Noble in Manchester, NH, on May 7th (from 11 to 1:00). Of course, there will be plenty of boxes for the kids to play in (and with).