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January 30, 2013

On yarn, yarns and Extra Yarn

9780061953385I’ve been knitting a baby blanket this last while, its colour yellow as selected by Harriet for whom yellowness is a sacred thing. And perhaps it was my current knitting project that got me thinking about the CanLit/Knitting Connection recently, about knitting in books and knitting about books. Then I thought about it more yesterday when we took out Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen from the library. What a spectacular book, about a little girl whose magical yarn stash never seems to run-0ut (and I know a lot of knitters, actually, with a similar affliction). I don’t know that Jon Klassen has ever gone wrong, and we loved this story with its splashes of colour, amusing prose, and sinister archduke (plus, SPOILERS, happy ending). Of course, you probably know all about this book already, especially since it was selected as a Caldecott Honour Book on Monday. Which was a particularly good day for Jon Klassen who also won the Caldecott Medal proper for the wonderful This is Not My Hat. I imagine this exciting news has changed Klassen’s whole life a little bit, but it’s changed mine too, because now I get to say that my website features an interview with a Caldecott winner.

October 18, 2012

Our Best Book of the Library Haul: The Green Ship by Quentin Blake

We haven’t had a best book from the library haul in ages, not because the book are no good but because they generally all are, and because life is whirling along at a frenzied pace here so that library books are not what our days hinge about as they once did. But then we picked up Quentin Blake’s The Green Ship from a display at the library about sea and boat books. What a strange, mysterious, magical book about a brother and sister on holiday with an aunt who scramble over a wall to find themselves in a secret garden that is more like a jungle. And in the centre of the garden, they discover a ship except it is not a ship. It’s a strange fixture designed to look like a ship, built from pruned trees, and two tall trees which function as masts. A kind of garden shed is near the front, and inside the brother and sister discover a ship’s wheel, and then they’re discovered themselves.

They discovered by an older woman and the man she calls Bosun (“boatswain”, and actually he resembles a gardener). Stowaways, the boy and girl are made to scrub the deck, which is really to sweep away leaves, and then they all take tea and have madeira cake. The man and woman are all too happy to have the boy and girl join their crew, and so for the rest of the children’s holiday, they  all partake in the ship life together.

I love this book for the same reason I love most of my favourite children’s books: because there is another story going on beneath the surface but we’re not privy to its details. In this video, Blake suggests that the old woman had lost her husband at sea, that he’s the “captain” she references, and that the green ship is a memorial to him. The story is viewed through the children’s eyes only who never stop and wonder at the circumstances around this wondrous thing they’ve found, and I actually like that the woman’s story is left untold. I like that it might not occur to children to wonder why grown-ups do any of the inexplicable things they do.

I loved the story’s climax, when the green ship is taken by a storm and it is though the ship is really a ship at sea as the rain pounds and the wind blows, and the old woman steers the ship and remembers what the Captain would have advised her: “Steer into the eye of the storm”. I have no idea if that’s really good advice, but it’s a line I love, and I imagine that it’s applicable somewhere.

July 18, 2012

Our Best Book of the Library Haul: Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall is the story of a young girl who is eager to fit at school, but who must also conform to her mother’s cultural expectations. When Rubina is invited to a birthday party, her mother sees no reason why her younger sister Sana can’t go too, even though Rubina protests that everyone will think it’s strange her sister comes. And she’s right, they do. When a while later, Sana is invited to a birthday party of her own and is expected to take along their smallest sister, Rubina overcomes the temptation for revenge and steps in to set their mother right

I’ve read this book five times today, at Harriet’s request, and I’m not sure what draws her to it exactly– she’s a bit too young to get it, and I think she’s mostly entranced by the idea of lollipops. And perhaps there is some attraction to the power struggles between the sisters in the book, the squabbling over sharing that she engages in herself with her own friends. I think both of us are also in love with Sophie Blackall’s illustrations, and the fact that two spreads are maps on which we trace our fingers to follow Rubina’s walk home from school, and the sisters’ dash around the furniture.

Big Red Lollipop defies picture book convention in so many ways. Significant time passes in this book, a good year or so. There are clear instances of injustice taking place in the text, no matter how petty, and it’s frustrating to encounter this as a reader. The characters are of an Asian-immigrant background, but the background is not the point of the story. Here is a book in which an Asian-Canadian child can see herself reflected, and in which my daughter can see people who look different than she is–a reflection of the community we live in. In which the parent is both honoured, but also shown as a person who can learn from her children. It is a picture book with the depth of a novel.


May 3, 2012

Our Best Book of the Library Haul: Katy the Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has read this book at least twice daily all week long, but still, the experience has granted me a certain authority to say that it’s one of the finest train books out there– even better than Virginia Lee Burton’s Choo Choo and Don Freeman’s Chuggy. The Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet is about a delightful red caboose called Katy who longs for quiet and stability, for the end of a life of rumbling, smoke, and dark tunnels. Her wish comes true in the most surprising way, but not until the very end of the story. Before it does, there is plenty of train track adventures, rumbling through field and town, passing houses with faces as charming as Katy’s own, and perilous pulls around mountain ledges. Our resident train fiend loved this one, and I did too, mostly because I’m a sucker for rhyming couplets every time. If there is a book I have to read twice daily for a week, it always goes down so much better in verse.

April 3, 2012

Our Best Book of the Library Haul: Zoom by Tim Wynne-Jones & Eric Beddows

The great news is that the library workers have been back to work since Friday, and that we’re off to the library tomorrow to freshen this haul that’s been kicking around for a while. But this haul has been a good one, and it’s sustained us while the library workers had to go and stand up for what’s owed to them. And we have been particularly enamoured of the Zoom trilogy by Tim Wynne-Jones and Eric Beddows (who is also illustrator of Night Cars. It’s possible that I’m genetically predisposed to fall in love with any book his nib has touched).

Zoom is all the elements of the fantastic, but without the dragon and gauntlet cliches. That Zoom is a small white cat is incidental to these stories, in which other worlds are accessed via strange tall stairways and bookcases in a rather curious house. Zoom’s adventures all involve his sea-faring Uncle Roy and a woman called Maria who explains nothing, and it never occurs to Zoom to ask anyway as he travels down an underground Nile to ancient Egypt, or follows a tiny corridor in pursuit of the North Pole.

March 21, 2012

Our Best Book from the Library Haul: The Red Carpet by Rex Parkin

Well, this blog feature is going to have a cramp in its style because our public library workers have gone on strike. The only bright spot in all this is that we got 20 books out of the library last week, and that most of them have turned out to be really good, and let’s hope I don’t have to feature them all one-by-one until our librarians are back at work and our haul can be replenished.

In the meantime, there is Rex Parkin’s The Red Carpet, first published in 1948. When the doorman at the Hotel Bellevue rolls out the carpet in preparation for a visit from the Duke of Sultana, something bizarre happens. Turns out that carpet’s length is infinite and it just keeps going and going in a whimsical tale of causality and chaos than puts me in mind of Curious George Gets a Medal and Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo (and illustrations with a touch of the wonderful Virginia Lee Burton).

We are slaves to rhyming couplets over here, which we never tire of reading over and over again, so this book suits our tendencies. Though I do delight in the story’s one week point, at which “Kobe” and “globe” are meant to rhyme, and I make a point of pronouncing “globe” as “glow-bay”.

March 2, 2012

Our Best Book of the library haul: Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth

I must confess to not understanding very much about the spiritual nature of Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth, but still the book was immediately appealing. My impression is that it’s structured around several Zen koans, woven into a story of a group of children coming to know and appreciate an elderly neighbour. Presiding over this lesson is Stillwater, a giant panda whose nephew Koo has come to visit for the summer. Koo won my heart by speaking in haiku. It’s a lovely, calm, meditative story with gorgeous illustrations, and Harriet, for whom it’s just “the panda book” has been requesting to hear it over and over again. Though for her, Zen Ties is the second-best book of the library haul because she’s awfully stuck on a book called Air Show written by the actor Treat Williams (which, although lacking the depth of Zen Ties, is unterrible in an astonishing number of ways).

February 10, 2012

Our Best Book of the Library Haul: Our House by Emma and Paul Rogers, Priscilla Lamont

I love picture books that show the passage of time, the largeness of history and our relative smallness (but our place nonetheless) in the  scheme. And of course, I also love house books, so Emma and Paul Rogers’ Our House, which is illustrated by Priscilla Lamont, was inevitably going to be a delight. The illustrations are very Ahlberg-meets-Shirley Hughes, and the sense of place and history in the text is similar to Virginia Lee Burton’s in The Little House and Life Story. The book is made up of four pretty ordinary domestic stories taking place in 1780, 1840, 1910, and 1990, each showing subtle changes in the house and surrounding area, and also the lifestyles of its changing inhabitants. The final story shows an awareness of the people who’d lived in the house before, as the family, whilst searching for an errant pet mouse, finds bits of history under floorboards and in backs of cupboards. (“We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those left behind.”– Tom Stoppard, Arcadia.) There is no supernatural element at work here, but the connection between the child in the first story and the child at the end reminded me of my favourite time out of time novels like Tom’s Midnight Garden, Charlotte Sometimes, and A Handful of Time. And of course, we love the pictures where the house’s fourth wall has come away and we can see its skeleton, under its floorboard, plumbing, all the rooms and the people who make their lives inside them.

Bonus: Our best short film of the library haul appeared on the very excellent Harry the Dirty Dog DVD by Scholastic, and is the excellent “I Want a Dog” by Sheldon Cohen. Based on the book by Dayal Kaur Khalsa, narrated by Marnie McPhail (who was Annie Edison!!), and with a soundtrack by Neko Case, it’s absolutely wonderful AND you can watch it on the National Film Board of Canada website!

January 26, 2012

Our Best Book of the library haul: Sarah Garland's books

Still not sure where Sarah Garland has been all my life… An author/illustrator whose texts are not terribly interesting, but whose illustrations are so rich and jumbled with the stuff of every day life. Those of us who adore Shirley Hughes will find much to love in Garland’s “Coming and Going Series,” simple stories of ordinary adventures like going to the local pool, to playgroup, or having friends over for a cup of tea outside (until the rain comes and washes the party away). The houses are untidy, Mums are unravelled and pear-shaped, someone’s always putting on a cup of tea, and they live in a cottage and have an aga! (Yes, be still my English-fetishizing heart.) There is a certain vagueness to the plots which allows little people to project themselves right into the stories, and indeed, Harriet loves these books as much as I do. We’re besotted.

Check out an interview Garland did in The Guardian when her books were republished in 2007.

December 23, 2011

Our Best Book of the library haul: Don't Slam the Door by Dori Chaconas and Will Hillenbrand

Of course, this was our favourite book from the library haul this week. Don’t Slam The Door has rhyming couplets, fabulous vivid drawings, and is one of those causality lesson books (like Tumble Bumble, one of our favourites). The little girl implores the dog not to slam the door, but then he does and all hell breaks loose, just as she’d predicted– knotty wool, stinging bees, cows in the bed, and whatnot. Delightful. But I especiall admire the bossy little girl at its centre, demanding everything of everyone around her, and doesn’t she seem just a little bit familiar.

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