Monday, April 28, 2008

Tales from Silver Lands

How do I hate this cover....let me count the ways. I read the 1924 edition from the University Library. It had wonderful block prints inside. The publisher should have used one of those for the cover.

Tales from Silver Lands by Charles J. Finger won the Newbery Medal in 1925. It is a collection of folktales from Central and South America. Reminiscent of Kipling's Just So Stories these are wonderful, original stories that seemed more like fairy tales than folk tales. In general I prefer to read novels because there is a long story to get engrossed in. So it took me quite a long time to finish this book. Reading individual tales is much less satisfying to me, so my interest wanes easily. Sigh...the next medalist, Shen of the Sea is a collection of Chinese folk tales....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Barkis by Clare Turlay Newberry is a lovely book for families to read together. The 1966 edition I read is a large square book. It would be nice for a child and a grown up to each hold an end of it as the story is read. The text is fairly dense, so smaller children will need someone to read it to them. There is sibling rivalry over a new puppy in the family. This is resolved very reasonably. The drawings are soft, velvety, dreamy. It's a charming book that won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1939.

This was another interlibrary loan book. It came from the Community District Library in New Lothrop, MI, Northeast of Flint. Markings in the book indicate that it was once called the Twin Township Library. The back of the book says, "Hand-set in Weiss Antiqua type by Arthur Rushmore and Elaine Rushmore at the Golden Hind Press, Madison, New Jersey, 1938."

Clare Turlay Newberry won the Caldecott Honor several other times for April's Kittens (1941), Marshmallow (1943) and T-Bone, the Baby Sitter (1951).

Monday, April 21, 2008

The House on Mango Street

My daughter is reading Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street for her Women's Lit class. This was one of the books on the syllabus that I hadn't read. I really enjoyed it. It's quite short. Made up of little vignettes. It's the story of 12 year old Esperanza coming of age in a Latino neighborhood in Chicago. This book won The American Book Award in 1985.

The vignettes contain numerous finely detailed characters. The prose is quite beautiful, even poetic. At one point Esperanza describes her mother's voice, singing along with a record of Madame Butterfly that she has checked out of the library, her lungs velvety and strong like morning glories.

Esperanza checks many books out of the library and reads quite a lot of children's lit classics, including The Water Babies, Rip Van Winkle and "The Carpenter and the Walrus" from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This is the second time in the last few months that Rip Van Winkle has come up. I really should get around to reading that...

Wee Gillis

Finished Wee Gillis, written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. It won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1939. This is Lawson's second Honor Medal. The story is set in Scotland. Wee Gillis, whose full name is Alistair Roderic Craigellachie Dalhousie Gowan Donney-bristle MacMac (!!!!), alternates living with his mother's relations in the Lowlands tending cows, and his father's relations in the Highlands stalking stags. In both scenarios he exerts himself in ways that make his lungs strong. Eventually he is forced to choose his path in life, become a Lowlander or a Highlander. Just at the point when all his relations expect him to choose, who comes along but a bagpiper. It was easy to see where this was going, which is fine. It's an original story that shows children that it's okay to choose a different path.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Wanda Gág won the Caldecott Honor Medal in 1939. The story stays very close to the tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. There are moments when Snow White is first in the house of the dwarfs and tries their food and beds until she finds what is just right for her. This seemed very "Goldilocks" to me, but upon checking the Grimms' text (which I haven't read for many years) I found that it was indeed part of the original story. At the end the wicked queen puts on red hot shoes and dances until she is dead. This was reminiscent of Anderson's The Red Shoes and my daughter and I were very surprised by it.

The illustrations are charmingly drawn and detailed. The timing of the publication of this book seems interesting. With Disney's first full-length animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs having been released in 1937. This book includes the three attempts (as opposed to the Disney film's one) of the wicked queen to kill Snow White: tightly drawn laces, poisoned comb and finally, poisoned apple.

Gág won another Caldecott Honor in 1942 for Nothing at All. She also won two Newbery Honors, Millions of Cats in 1929 and ABC Bunny in 1934. This always seemed odd to me since these two are picture books, but it is important to remember that the Caldecott Medal was not established until 1938 and so there was no other award for which to nominate picture books until then.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Before Green Gables

Perhaps a better title would have been Anne's Depths of Despair. I stumbled across this book at Nichola's Books right after it was released in February. It was in the children's section, but I don't think this is a children's book. Its best audience is perhaps adults who grew up with Anne and are intrigued enough to take a chance on a prequel by a different author. I've spoken with a number of Anne fans who have no interest whatsoever in this book. They cringed and shuddered at the thought of a prequel. I recently read William Horwood's sequel to Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows and enjoyed it very much. So I took the chance myself.

The novel is well researched. Time and place are very well mapped out. How household tasks were performed and the artifacts used to do this are all explained. We learn the origins of many things like Anne's imaginary friends Katie Maurice and Violetta, the source of her advanced vocabulary and how she learned to administer ipecac for croup. This is all satisfying to the Anne fan, but not really enough to make the journey through cruelty, alcoholism, tragic death and betrayal worth it.

This book, while compelling, is rather exhausting. Anne's life of horrendous drudgery and disappointment is very depressing. There are a few kindred spirits here and there but they have too little authority to rescue Anne from her life of toil and pain. When I finished this book I immediately re-read the first several chapters of Anne of Green Gables in order to see Anne safely to a better place.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mei Li

Finished Mei Li by Thomas Handforth. This is the second book to win the Caldecott Medal, in 1939. It is the story of a small girl in China who sneaks away from her family to attend the New Year's Fair. She is continually scolded, especially by her brother, who says "what can a girl do?" She does what she wants, that's what she does. She asks a girl acrobat to balance her upside down in the palm of her hand, she feeds bean curd cake to a trained bear, has her fortune told and gives one of her lucky pennies to a beggar girl. She has a wonderful time. The story is a bit wacky, but probably fun for the target audience of 4-8 year olds. The drawings look like a combination of ink and charcoal. Once again I am reminded of Robert McCloskey's style.

I had to request this book through interlibrary loan. It came from the Pere Marquette District Library in Clare, Michigan, 144 miles Northwest of here. Markings inside the book suggested that it was once the Garfield Memorial Library. The book itself is large, 9.25 inches by 12.25 inches. As you can see it has a bright cover with a picture of Mei Li and her brother San Yu at the fair. The interior illustrations are black and white. This seems a shame since so much color is mentioned in the text, but I suspect that books with color illustrations were a bit pricey in 1939.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Finished All Things Bright and Beautiful, the second book in James Herriot's series. I think I liked this one more than the first book All Creatures Great and Small. More time is spent on James tending to his various patients and their unusual and droll owners. This book is funny and charming. It is very interesting to consider what new drugs appeared that changed the veterinary world forever, antibiotics for example. Various bizarre and old fashioned remedies come to light, many suggested by the local farmers. It is a comfortable read populated by characters I know and love, especially Siegfried Farnon.