Princess Smartypants

Yes it’s been six years but anyways- time is like that when you have kids! That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Now on to Princess Smartpants. The other day a friend on Facebook asked for book suggestions for her 6 yr old twins and the majority response was magic treehouse and captain underpants- dumbed down, poorly written, stereotyoe-laden, boring as hell, not my favourites to put it mildly. This is why I’m here today and hoping to pick up where I left off– starting with this fabulous book by (sadly recently died) Babette Cole whose whole oeuvre is worth checking out. Princess Smartypants is in heavy rotation right now with our 5 yr old – it’s funny, has super expressive illustrations, features a princess with a lot of personality and a very happy ending with a twist! 


Diana Wynne Jones

i just heard that Diana Wynne Jones has died and I am so sad. I only just found out about her a few years ago and it’s been such a pleasure to go through her bibliography. She’s written a LOT of books, which, with very few exceptions, are really compelling, funny, imaginative and infinitely readable. I just read one she published last year, and I was looking forward to future stories with the same characters- it was definitely set up at the end for lots of follow-up. The Power of Three is my most recent read by her- and it’s a gem. I’m not a fan of sci-fi AT ALL so i had avoided this one- to my anti sci-fi self it looked pretty cheesy, and the names of the characters are a little too olde tyme celtic for my taste. HOWever once i got beyond that – wow what a book. It’s got a great twist in it that really took me by surprise- it’s a total page-turner. It’s definitely for older kids (8? 10? and up) – there’s a brutal murder in the first chapter. It’s a really great read though. As are really almost all her other books which are all happily quite available in libraries and bookstores everywhere- they are all still in print hooray! Hopefully they will be for many years to come. Such a sad loss for children’s literature today.

The Cat-Whiskered Girl

just a quick note here- anyone who wants to check out the marvellous Daniel Pinkwater can read his latest book here. it’s being serialized online, which is brilliant. And so far I love it. I think i have laughed out loud at least once per chapter. The characters are so instantly engaging I dont know how he does it. The blog entry format is fun to read- the comments are also quite entertaining. I have also listened to some of his spots on NPR’s weekend edition and they’re really funny and thoughtful. Yay Daniel Pinkwater!

The Goodwill Haul

I have to just pause here in my reviews to extoll the virtues of the thrift shop as children’s book source. Today I stopped into the Goodwill at Sherbourne and Bloor and was really blown away by their book section. It’s huge, and pretty tidy, and I found lots of goodies, without too much fine-tooth combing. I found an Edward Ardizzone we dont have (Ginger, Ships Cook), a couple of Arnold Lobels (one a book of fables, which we are into quite a bit these days), a Roald Dahl i dont know (The Giraffe, and the Pelly and Me), Mr Popper’s Penguins (never read it, heard of it though, bought it for 49c), Make Way for Ducklings (been meaning to read it), The Importance of Crocus by Roger Duvoisin (he wrote Petunia)- the cover is fabulous- i love his illustrations, i got a couple of board books i couldnt pass up- one is from the 60’s with photos of baby animals in fields of buttercups, soft focus… very nice, the other is a Telling Time book from the pre-digital age. Nice illustrations. I also got a big hardback collection called “Every Child’s Story Book, A Horn of Plenty of the Best Reading for Boys and Girls”, published in 1959 with fantastic illustrations by Gioia Fiammenghi. It looks like it could be a treasure trove. I also could not resist a couple of vintage Golden Books- they’re called “Golden Shape Books” and the illustrations are raw 70s schlock, which i happen to love. A mother goose, and a big eyed Bambi. Very nice, although the Bambi story is brutal- i think it’s one of these “book from movie” deals- hell on earth in other words. Oh and I got another horn of plenty book called Best In Children’s Books- it’s got different illustrators including Ezra Jack Keats (a fave), and the Poppy Seed Cake (which i have a copy of somewhere- hmm i think my mum may be hoarding it come to think of it!- fabulous russian folk illustrations and tales)- plus more. Looks good.

I have also found Value Village to be a good source on occasion- depending where of course. I’m guessing the VV to end all VV’s, Barrie VV, will have an awesome selection. And the Halifax one- the one on Strawberry Hill Road is probably a gold mine too. The VV’s in Toronto are just so-so, although the one in the east end- on Queen at Carlaw has been a consistently fabulous toy source- wow, that place is incredible.

Burglar Bill

Just reread this one after a long time- it’s great. The illustrations are pure Ahlberg genius, packed with interesting details, beautifully painted. The story is simple: Burglar Bill is burgling one night and ends up inadvertantly taking home a baby. Then a few nights later, he wakes up to hear his own place being burgled and when he goes downstairs to confront the burglar, he meets Burglar Betty. She’s heard of him and is very apologetic for burgling him, they have a cup of tea and she asks him why all the nappies hanging in the kitchen, he tells her about the baby- it turns out to be her baby. They fall in love, decide to live an honest life, return all the stuff they’ve stolen and get married. He becomes Baker Bill. It’s a classic, what can i say.

The Education of Robert Nifkin

I am obsessed with Daniel Pinkwater. And Daniel Pinkwater is obsessed with kids books, apparently. He has a regular gig on NPR talking about kids books, and possibly a podcast- I clearly have to look into this a bit more thoroughly. And i will. The guy is prolific- he has been writing since the late 60s and has not stopped as far as i can tell. There’s definitely a range in quality, but i would say so far I have loved (or at least liked) everything I’ve read by him . There are some that have totally knocked my socks off like the Ygyssey and the Neddiad- which left me feeling elated for days after i finished them. There’s something about his characters that goes straight to my heart- i LOVE their names, their attitudes, their adventures. He is a really funny writer. The names alone he comes up with are sheer pleasure in and of themselves. I am now on a mission to own all his books- been doing some internet trolling and find lots of second hand deals- sadly i think a lot of his older books are out of print, or at least very hard to find (though many are in the toronto public library system- how i love you TPL). they are worth the effort though let me say. There’s one really old one- a picture book- i think it’s called Ducks- about a kid who buys a duck from a corner store and the duck turns out to be a very bossy, surly angel. It’s really wacky and funny- without being self-conscious (or religious in any way, no fear). Too many kids books being published right now are so self-consciously “kooky” or “offbeat” or whatever- irksomely so. Daniel Pinkwater is the real deal. I read The education of Robert Nifkin a couple of days ago- it seems to be for an older crowd (there’s swearing and making out).It’s very funny, though not soul-achingly BEAUTIFUL like the Neddiad. It’s an essay for a college application by this kid in Chicago in the 50’s. He describes his high school experience- his dismay at his first high school where his teachers are idiots who are obsessed with finding communists, and then his confused happiness at the high school he finds later on- an experimental, beatnik school where everyone just does their own thing. It’s totally readable, but not his absolute best. I would not recommend this one as a first DP, but totally as a third or fourth once you’ve fallen in love and you feel he can do no wrong. It feels a little like there might be a lot more book somewhere- like an editor went too far in the second half. I dont want to sell it short though, it’s a great read, totally worth it. Once Upon a Blue Moose is a solid first choice, for DP chapter books- or Borgel- that’s another classic. And of course the Neddiad. Or the Hoboken Chicken Emergency- that’s another ace- and the other two in that series, Looking for Bocowitz and The Artsy Smartsy Club are fantastic, really really great books. I think I better stop and just blog some more about other books by him another day…

Hiawatha’s Childhood

This is another library find by Errol le Cain (and H.W.Longfellow). It’s a poem, and an old one, so the language is quite flowery and lovely to read aloud. The pictures are really beautiful- full of detail and pattern as per usual E.LeC. It’s a gentle poem, another great one for winding down – lots of repetition too, again good for inducing sleep. It’s the story of a young Hiawatha- a baby with owl eyes in his grandmother, Nokomis’ arms, and then a little boy full of questions for her, about the world around him. It’s part of a bigger poem, the Song of Hiawatha. I was a bit skeptical at first because it’s clearly not told from a First Nations perspective- it’s a white, romantic poet telling the story. It is a little bit “noble savage” in some ways, although it is better than a lot of white people’s (re)tellings of indigenous peoples’ stories. The language is so gentle and not so over the top- i just have a slight discomfort with it as it’s part of a really bad tradition. I am kind of undecided about it to be honest, although we enjoyed reading it and the pictures are stunning.