Have a very Alice New Year

If you'd like to buy yourself a present to celebrate the new year
may I suggest Simply Read's astonishingly beautiful  Alice 2011 calendar.

Also, watch for Alice Through the Looking Glass, which is being published by Simply Read Books as a follow-up to their Alice in Wonderland, both illustrated by the simply amazing  Iassen Ghiuselev.

Go here to see more of his work.


What is Real and What is Not

"Werner Herzog" reads The Night Before Christmas.  With thanks to the lovely Esta.

Dream Christmas

The Christmas book that I meant to talk about here was Eric Carle's Dream Snow.  Only I never got around to it and here it is Christmas, already.

In other news, there's a new Doctor Who story online that you can read here.


Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown

Okay, so I never expected to be excited by a book published by Hallmark, but this one pushes all the right buttons, so to speak.

How lovely is it to be able to push the little Linus-face button and hear his "that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown" speech? *

This book was a gift to my little guy from his grandmother.  She scored big points with that one, but then hit it out of the park with her next gift:

Really, have you ever seen such a dear little tree?

* As a general rule I loathe books with sound chips, but this is an exception.  Will blog my all time favourite example later on ... and it's another Christmas book too!


826 reasons to buy

It's that ding-dingaling shopping time of the year again.  For those looking for suggestions, you might consider perusing the wares at the 826 National Store.

The shop is full of things you probably didn't even know you needed.

As well as gifts bound to be suitable for someone on your list.

And the proceeds go to one of the very best of causes.

What’s the 826 National Store?
No, really, what is it? We’re still pondering that ourselves, so if you figure it out please drop us an email. We think it has something to do with an online location where you can purchase products created by 826 National to support all of our wonderful chapters. From t-shirts and buttons to notebooks and stationery, we have 826-inspired goodies aplenty for your perusal. All proceeds support our eight writing and tutoring centers across the country.


The Heart and the Bottle

Dear Helena Bonham Carter,

Will you please, pretty please read my book for me?

If you don't want to cry, then please don't read Oliver Jeffers' The Heart and the Bottle.  But take my advice - sometimes you really do need a good cry and in which case you could either watch The Snowman (and David Bowie agrees with me on this one) or you could read this book.  Or go wild and do both.


Boy and Penguin Are Friends

I very seldom think of picture books in terms of topics, as in "I need a book to explain to my child about first day of school/losing a tooth/getting a baby brother/having two moms or three dads or whatever."  But today I was thinking about picture books about friendship.
And here's the reason why:

We got this book today and we've already said "aw" three times.
Up and Down continues the story from the wonderful, wondrous Lost and Found which I've spoken of before here, but let me just say that if you're buying this book for yourself or someone you love, you're going to want to buy Lost and Found as well.  We're big Oliver Jeffers fans in these parts and if you are too, you might want to seek out his page on Facebook.
I love how Jeffers is able to navigate the tricky territory of friendship without getting sickly sweet but still managing to hit on something you feel in the deep heart's core (as Uncle Willie would say.)


Frances is Fifty

Frances was one of the great friends of my youth and now she is turning 50.
I hadn't realised that Lillian Hoban did not illustrate the first of the Frances books.

There's an excellent audio edition of several of the Frances stories, suitable for those first making her acquaintance.  It was a big hit with my young friend Ezra.


Favourite Canadian Books

There will be a call-in discussion of children's books on CBC Radio Maritime Noon today at ... well, noon actually.

On the program:   Kathleen Martin, vice-president of the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia and the author of seven works of non-fiction, Mary Ann Gallagher, who owns Benjamin Books in Rothsay, New Brunswick, and Barb Kissick, a Youth Services Librarian at the Charlottetown branch of PEI's Public Library Service. 

A Cloudy ABC

Here's a woman who has really looked at clouds from both sides now.

From Metro.co.uk:

It has become a real passion,’ said Daniele from her home in Zurich, Switzerland.
‘I find myself constantly looking up into the sky and seeing different pictures and shapes. ‘After I saw the letter ‘‘L’’ I decided to spot the whole alphabet. As far as I know no one has found all 26 letters in the clouds before.’


Remembrance Day

My young son's first literary prize.  

Here's a little sample:

I walked across the street, a ringing in my head.
What was going on? Why did I feel dead?
I wondered if I would see my wife again.
I wondered if I’d live to show her the wonders of Big Ben.
Tears trickling down my face and zeppelins in the air,
Smoke rising to the highest heights but not a soul was there.


11th Day, 11th Hour

Thinking more about Remembrance Day this year for a variety of reasons and because we are back in the Maritimes, my boys will be laying a wreath in honour of their great-grandfather,  a lovely man who I wish they could have known.

I received the following video from Linda Granfield, author of Remembering John McCrae: Soldier-Doctor-Poet.  McCrae was, of course, the author of "In Flanders Field."

Here's the info on the video:

"11th Day, 11th Hour" is a song that honours all who have served in the armed forces. The accompanying video pays tribute to those from Canada and the United Kingdom who served during the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, in peacekeeping efforts and now the war in Afghanistan.   Recently, the song has been arranged for a children's choir. It provides a companion piece to the song "In Flanders Fields," performed by many choirs around the world. "11th Day, 11 th Hour" was written by Saxon-Jaimes-Dooley and appeared (original version) on a 2001 CD called "The Poppy Disc." 

Pass it on.


Book or Treating

The best kinds of traditions are sometimes the ones you make yourself, and Neil Gaiman has just come up with a winner.  

It's called All Hallow's Read and the idea is that you celebrate Hallowe'en by giving someone a scary book.  If you pop by the site you can see some lists of recommended books (the one I'm most curious about is Jim, Who Ran Away From His Nurse, and Was Eaten By a Lion by Hilaire Belloc which was recommended by Monica Edinger).

The last kids books I remember finding quite genuinely spooky were Joseph Delaney's series  called The Spook's Books and I think I may have fallen a few books behind which should be rectified.  I see from a quick visit to his site that your can now read the first of the series, The Spook's Apprentice, online for free.  So there you are.  My gift to you.

A few other quick links: you can watch or just listen to Neil Gaiman read The Graveyard Book in its entirety right here.   And by visiting Book or Treat you can contribute to the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign.  Just 75 cents could buy a child a book.


Vincent and Whovian Portraits

Last night we watched the Van Gogh episode of Doctor Who again and I think it may be one of my all-time favourites (Richard Curtis!  Bill Nighy!  Sets that look like paintings!)

It reminded me that I'd meant to show this picture (stolen from Crooked House) to our little Vincent fan.

One of these years we need to get to Mahone Bay for the Scarecrow Festival.

Also courtesy Steph, the following tilt-shift photo of Starry Night.

More tilted Van Goghs here.

And as long as we're on the subject of Doctor Who, I wonder if anyone can explain to me the portrait hanging on the wall in The Lodger.

Notice how his eyes follow you around the room?


In A Darkling Wood

Shadow puppets!  Did that get your attention?

Over at the Simply Read blog, you can find a fun activity tied to the release date of this simply beautiful book, Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward with illos by the lovely Julie Morstad.  (Caroline may well be lovely too, but I've never met her.  Let's just assume that she is.)

Here's the book...

And here's a little inside peek that I snagged from We Heart Books.

Mittens on strings!

Seeing your breath on a crisply cold day!  Almost makes me nostalgic for my Saskatchewan childhood.


Pretty, pretty

Puffin has been doing some lovely limited editions in their "Designer Classics" series.  I love this Lauren Child take on The Secret Garden:

'I thought it would be interesting to do a cover where one could peel back the paper layers, one by one until the garden and the girl are revealed - it was just a nice way to conjure the secretness of the garden.' – Lauren Child

 And what a pretty thing it is.

Spotted at Nathalie Foy's book blog.


House of Henry

Spending the day down at the House of Henry Open House.

If you're in the neighborhood, then drop by!  Faye will have loads of lovely things in the shop and treats on hand in the cottage.

That's me with the goose...


Reform School

I love this site!  Reform School is a little treasure trove located on Sunset Boulevard which also has a great online shop.

And you know they must know their stuff, because there's my little book alongside everything from "know it all" pencils to Amish scooters!



Oh this is lovely.
On October 29, 1868, six year old Laura Jernegan sailed from New Bedford with her family on the bark Roman. They were off in search of whales. It was the height of the whaling era and whale oil was still in demand. Because whaling journeys often kept men away from their families for as long as three and four years, Captain Jared Jernegan decided to bring his young family along. Laura, her mother Helen, and her younger brother Prescott joined the Captain and a crew of 31 men as they headed around Cape Horn for the rich whaling grounds of the Pacific Ocean.  We know about this voyage because of a journal that Laura kept between the years of 1868 and 1871.
And you can see the entire journal reproduced here.   Or you can even have it read to you.  It's a fantastic site - full of photos and all manner of materials to contextualise the diary - and produced by Martha's Vineyard Museum.  Spotted via boingboing.


Young People's Texts

There is a very interesting article about my favourite publisher, Simply Read Books, in Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 2.1.  The article is by Carole Scott and begins:
As I delved into the box of books that arrived from  Canadian publisher Simply Read, I was immediately impressed by the wide variety I found. Not only were  the books of all sizes, shapes, formats, and designs, they also spanned multiple genres and audiences. Primarily picture books or illustrated books, they included board books for very young readers, books with edgy and often philosophical humour, classics with striking new illustrations, books with historical and/or cultural implications, and mysterious books exploring the surreal and twisting perspective.[... ] I found many works that are graphically startling and inventive, and many that are thoughtful and provocative, involving complex messages regarding human values and philosophical perspectives. The more accessible books for younger children have bright visuals and evocative language and sounds, and many are educational in various ways. It is not surprising that the books have garnered a significant number of awards and honourable mentions from across the world.
It's lovely to see such a thorough examination of the work produced by the press since its inception in 2001.  I think that anyone who speaks to publisher Dimiter Savoff about his work with Simply Read is bound to be impressed by his enthusiasm, discernment and dedication.  I know that when their first book, a stunningly beautiful edition of Pinocchio, appeared in 2002 and I interviewed him in my role as a columnist for the Vancouver Sun, I could tell that he was a publisher unlike any I had ever met before.  (Full disclosure:  I was, in fact, so impressed that I was determined to publish something with the press.  And I know every parent thinks their babies are beautiful but my two books with Simply Read truly are and I can't wait to see the  third.)

                          Portrait of the publisher as a young person

The Jeunesse journal is published by the  Centre for Research in Young People's Texts and Cultures which is out of the University of Winnipeg.  And when I have more time, I'll be having a good old browse around their site.  I like that use of people in their title.  Once, when approaching the schoolyard my son and I spoke simultaneously.  "Look at all the kids," I said, while he said: "look at all the people!"  Oh yes, I realised, children think of themselves as people, don't they?



The trailer for the next installation in the Narnia series - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - is now up.

We've been re-watching the old BBC versions of the books.  The special effects and costumes are pretty dire, but (some of) the performances are really very good and overall I'd still rather watch the old films even when it's for the 8th or 9th time.

We're anxious to see who will be cast as Puddleglum in The Silver Chair as Tom Baker* absolutely owns that part.  You can catch a little bit here.

And if you're looking for copies of the C.S. Lewis  Narnia novels, there is an excellent set of re-issues featuring the original Pauline Baynes illustrations.

*Tom Baker was, of course, the fourth Doctor.



In Sam Leith's review of the new Roald Dahl biography over at the Spectator, we find quoted the following interesting albeit slightly wonky analogy:
Up to now, a whole lot of grown-ups have written reviews, but none of them have really known what they are talking about because a grown-up talking about a children’s book is like a man talking about a woman’s hat.
I appreciate the sentiment here - children know what children like - but he loses me with men and hats, particularly as I feel that Philip Treacy, say, could discuss women's hats at far greater lengths than I am capable of.

                              Horse in a Philip Treacy hat, The Guardian 

The book is Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl and it's by Donald Sturrock.  Part of me wants to read it and part of me feels I've read so much about Dahl lately here and there that maybe I don't even need to read it.


My First Novel

I love this.

It's a notebook from UK designer Sukie, available through Larkmade.

According to the site:
Sukie is Darrell and Julia Gibbs from Brighton, UK. Their stunning range of notebooks, journals and agendas is loved around the world and now includes a beautiful organic textile collection. The range will be available from October 2009. Sukie is the name of Julia's childhood cat.
Spotted in the latest issue of LMNOP.


Dodie Smith

Look at these beautiful illos of Dodie Smith by Asaf and Tomer Hanuka ... done for a book about Ambrose Heal.

Smith is perhaps best known as the author of 101 Dalmatians and in her own time enjoyed great success as a playwright.  But I Capture the Castle really is her masterwork.  It was filmed in 2003 with Romala Garai in the role of Cassandra Montamain, Rose Byrne as her sister and Bill Nighy as her father.

Worth watching, but really you should read the novel first.


Do You Believe?

We spent last evening watching Fairy Tale: A True Story, which is all about the two little girls who photographed the Cottingley fairies around 1917-1920.  A very good cast, with Peter O'Toole as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harvey Keitel as Houdini and Paul McGann* as the father of the elder of the two girls.

We also watched this little clip from Antiques Road Show.

In it the daughter of Frances Griffiths talks about her mother and shows the camera which she used to take the photographs along with some of the original pictures.  According to her, four of the pictures were faked, but the fifth is real.

And then young son went and tried making his own fairy photo:

* Doctor Who connection:  the movie featured both McGann (8th Doctor) and the wonderous Bill Nighy (from last season's excellent Van Gogh episode).


Funny Prize

Philip Ardagh picks his top ten children's books by Roald Dahl in an article in the Guardian.

Ardagh, who won the upper age category in last year's Roald Dahl Funny Prize for the first of his Grubtown Tales, is perhaps best known as the author of the Eddie Dickens (which we are currently reading and about to go in search of further volumes).  The household choice for top children's book by Philip Ardagh would have to be The Fall of Fergal from the Unlikely Exploits series.  If you use the look inside feature here you can read the very funny opening of this book, which begins:
The very last words young Fergal McNally heard in his life were: "Don't lean out that window!"  The very last sounds were probably the air whistling past his sticky-out ears as he fell the fourteen stories, the honk of traffic horns below (getting nearer and nearer, of course), and--possibly--the SP of the SPLAT! he himself made as he hit the pavement.  Fergal certainly wouldn't have heard more than the SP, though, because by the time the LAT! part had followed he would have been well and truly dead.
My son thinks this is the  funniest thing he has ever heard, although I'm somewhat partial to the description of the father that follows on the next page:
Of course, their father could have brought them up, but he was a useless dad.  he even went so far as to get a note from his doctor saying that he was "excused parenting" and left everything for poor old Jackie to do.  He kept himself busy by collecting empty bottles.  They were full when he first got them but were certainly empty by the time he'd finished with them.
Now I'm off to look for more Philip Ardagh books.  I've always meant to read Why Are Castles Castle- Shaped just because I love the title so much.


Who are You Calling Simple?

We have been exploring the Robert Sabuda site and spent a while working on "Simple Pop-Ups You Can Make" and while we feel simple may be a bit misleading, it was fun.

This month on the site, they are giving away a copy of Maurice Sendak's Mommy? illustrated by frequent Sabuda collaborator Matthew Reinhart.

I'm not generally a big fan of holiday-themed kids books (mostly because you have to either pack them away or put up with Christmas in July), but this is an excellent choice for both Hallowe'en and year-round.  Perhaps not for the youngest of readers as this is one of the more fragile pop-ups, but an excellent choice for bed-time reading by tired parents as it's just one word over and over.


Pretty Little Things

Now isn't this a little bit of loveliness?  And don't you think you might need it?

                                                    image property Desideratum

This is one of a pair of earrings from Desideratum Art Jewelry's "Whimsical Collection," hand-crafted by the talented Gwen Buchanan and John Ackerson right here in St. Martins, New Brunswick.  You can see more at the Desideratum blog.


Toys with Issues

I hardly ever succumb to the temptation of reading the "weird news" that pops up when I'm looking for real news (which is weird enough most days, thank you), but had to take a peek at "Toymaker makes cuddly animals with mental health issues."  Really?

According to the article:
The toys range from Dub, a turtle who suffers depression, to Kroko, a crocodile with an acute phobia of water, as well as an hallucinating snake called Sly and a sheep called Dolly who has a personality disorder. 
And here's Dub the depressed turtle...

You can play a very bizarre game of "doctor" at parapleusch where the toys are sold.


International Literacy Day

Today is International Literacy Day and I almost missed it.   Fortunately ABC Life Literacy Canada have declared September Life Literacy Month so I have lots of time to catch up. 

I only found out about all this because I was reading in the Globe and Mail about problems with declining literacy rates in Canada and that lead me to look up The Canadian Council on Learning to find out more.  Then I got hooked by a piece on Comics and Prose Literacy for Boys  (I keep typing literacy as litearcy which would be an embarrassing slip to let stand).

Here's a sample from the article:
Research has suggested that boys may report being less interested in reading than girls because their literary interests are not well-represented in school libraries and classrooms. Boys are much more likely to enjoy reading science and non-fiction books, informational texts and “how-to” manuals. They are also more likely to enjoy fantasy, adventure stories and stories that are scary or “gross” along with books about hobbies and things they do or want to do.

Boys also tend to prefer visual media, such as the internet, newspapers and magazines, that focus on sports, electronics and video games. Yet, while boys show clear preferences for specific reading material these genres and media are generally under-represented or even unavailable in school libraries, a reflection of the views of teachers and librarians who judge such material inappropriate.

I will confess that I've always been a bit of a snob about comic books but I am coming around.  I have two sons and while the elder has been a voracious reader from an early age, the younger turned out quite differently.  He wasn't what I would describe as reluctant reader as I understand the term, but rather a perfectly competent reader who was strongly visually-oriented and treated texts as inspiration for projects rather than something to immerse oneself in.  Maybe that is a fair definition of one sort of reluctant reader.

The first book that this boy read - and by that I mean read in that "don't talk to me" and "I'll have supper later" sort of way was Jellaby, a graphic novel by Kean Soo.  And that's what made me a convert.  

Since then, the boy has become much more of a reader, although he does have some of the characteristics described above.  He likes to read for information and he likes humour - this means that the series of Horrible History books have been a huge hit with him.  He's worked his way through all of the Calvin and Hobbes and most of the Peanuts books, including Sparky, the biography of Charles Schultz written by Beverly Gherman for young readers. But he's also reading more prose fiction and particularly loves Roald Dahl and Philip Ardagh.  

The article mentioned above includes recommendations of comic books and I will be looking for Melvin Monster by John Stanley which is being re-printed by the fabulous people at Drawn & Quarterly.  I would welcome any other suggestions in this line.

Going off on another tangent, this has reminded me to recommend (again) the series of Macbeth graphic novels produced by Classical Comics.  Since Macbeth is part of the high school curriculum here, it would be fantastic to see these books made available to boys either through their school libraries or local libraries.  There are three versions available: original text, plain text and quick text.

I think that it's brilliant idea and along with several other Shakespeare plays there are a number of other titles available including Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations.


Bow-ties Are Cool

Funny conversation with young son who is awaiting Christmas even more anxiously than ever this year, because that's when the new Doctor Who will be on.  We'd been talking about the fact that Neil Gaiman was writing an episode for series two and I showed him the photo just posted on Gaiman's blog which shows Matt Smith standing between Neil Gaiman and Steven Moffat right after they'd done the table reading for the new script.

"So that means because I've met Neil Gaiman, I've met someone who has met Matt Smith," I told Euan.

He did an exaggerated jaw dropping and wandered off.  Half a moment later he was back with his jaw dropped even further.  "You've met Neil Gaiman?" he exclaimed.

Lately, there seem to be fewer than six degrees of separation between nearly anything and Doctor Who.  I picked up a novel by Esther Freud called The Sea House for a lovely spate of grown-up reading, and told my young son that I thought she was the daughter of Clement Freud, who, of course, wrote Grimble.  When I googled this, I realised that it was Emma Freud I was thinking of (and that Esther's father was Lucian Freud), but I also learned that when Esther Freud was an actress one of her roles had been in Attack of the Cybermen.  And that she is married to the "Other Doctor," David Morrisey.

We are looking forward to seeing what ilk of monster Gaiman chooses to deploy in his episode.  And in the meantime, we are thinking we might need this new set of figures:  The Eleven Doctors.

So nice to see Paul McGann in there with the rest of the boys.


Very Cheeky

There's been international coverage of something that happened on British Columbia ferries this week.  The on-board bookshops will not stock Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean because they deem the cover inappropriate.
According to The Province newspaper:
B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall defended the move Friday.  "The publisher of this book approached us over a year ago," she said.  "Because we're obviously a 'family show' and we've got children in our gift shops, we had suggested we could carry the book if there's what's called a 'belly band,' wrap around the photo."
Marshall said that, when publisher Random House refused, B.C. Ferries chose not to carry the book.
The cover features a picture of a naked youth on a horse. The book is a fictional account of the time the philosopher Aristotle was tutor to a young Alexander the Great; it has been widely praised in literary circles.
"While some people might think it's art or appropriate or whatever, parents of young people might not think it's appropriate for young children to view," said Marshall.

The New Yorker picked up the story and now The Guardian's Alison Flood has written about it.
Judge for yourself.

When I showed this to my young son and asked if he felt it was inappropriate, he scoffed: "There's a bum in The Snowman and that's for children."


You Have to Love a Boy in a Striped Shirt

This video of Oliver Jeffers talking about his books, career and process at OFFSET 2009 has already popped up a few places ....

Oliver Jeffers - OFFSET 2009 from OFFSET on Vimeo.

During his talk Jeffers showed pictures, including several staged photos of his cousin Henry done at the time of the launch of an exhibition of art from his book Lost and Found.

(screen capture from OFFSET video)
In this one Henry is inside the penguin enclosure at the Belfast Zoo and in the words of Jeffers:  "I don't know if you can tell from that picture, but he's absolutely terrified."

I love it.


The P.K. Page Irwin Book Fund for Children has just been announced.  It will provide illustrated versions of traditional stories to Afghan and Canadian children and you can read more about it here.  

And you might want to look for a copy of this lovely chapbook - The Old Woman and the Hen - suitable for readers young and old, and lovingly produced by The Porcupine's Quill.


The Fantastic Mrs. Dahl

Patricia Neal - the onetime Mrs. Roald Dahl - has died at the age of 84.

Young son thought that this was quite sad, but also thought that if the last film premiere she had attended was The Fantastic Mr. Fox then that was quite nice.

He's been reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and reports that "Roald Dahl must have been absolutely mad when he wrote this!"

"Why?" I ask.

"Because it's brilliant!"

Here is a Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator quiz that I plan to administer later this evening.

UPDATE:  young son has now finished CATGGE and reports that it has a "rather tedious ending."


Baby's Own

I found this fantastic online resource of classic children's books at the Library of Congress more or less by accident.

You can flippity-flip your way through all manner of pretty books here.

And here's one of my very favourites: Walter Crane's Baby's Own Aesop (1887).  So lovely.

I have a miniature edition of this somewhere ... the trouble with miniature things being how easy they are to misplace.  I see that I could pick up a first edition for the quite reasonable price of $400 on ABE.  


Painting With Plasticine and a Little Green Man

What would childhood be without plasticine?  The substance was 
invented in the 1890s by art teacher William Harbutt.

I recently came across this 1958 newsreel clip of his daughter, Miss Olive Harbutt (80), who was a pioneer in the field of painting with plasticine.


Plasticine always makes me think of Barbara Reid (and how happy it would make my mother if I ever wrote a book which she illustrated). In this video, Reid demonstrates how to create artwork with plastiscine.

And finally, here's a video in which my son is having fun with plasticine.