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When The Toys Came To Life: A Non-Scary Blog

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

It’s ok to come in, Darling Reader.  There will be no mention here of Chucky, the murderous redheaded horror movie icon, or of any other scary incarnations of dolls (shudder) becoming sentient.  We’re only going to talk about the fun, charming toys that inexplicably develop intelligence and the ability to communicate.  If you are of the sort that finds it unbearably creepy to think about any toy becoming mobile and verbal, you might wish to bypass this blog and tune in to my next brilliant installment.  But if you’re brave enough, take my hand while I introduce you to a random assortment of toys who have something to say . . .

First up on our list (because you should know by now that I do what I want) is the magnificent, delightful, enchanting The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (J F DIC).  Edward Tulane is a gorgeous, arrogant china rabbit who lives in an enormous house, wears only the finest clothes, and feels that he should be admired by all for his singular beauty.  Anyone can see that Edward is headed for a heartbreak (nothing like the Winger song from the 1980s, but I couldn’t resist borrowing that particular turn of phrase.  Apologies, Kip.)  Through no fault of his own, Edward is sent on an odyssey in which he learns what it’s like to lose, yet to love and be loved again.  This is my very favorite of all of DiCamillo’s books, and one of my favorite children’s books; the lush, intricately detailed illustrations by award-winning artist Bagram Ibatoulline enhance Edward’s adventure so beautifully, and make this journey worth taking again and again.

Next on my list, and the reason for this month’s blog theme because of the cinematic release of Christopher Robin in August of this year, is Winnie-the-Pooh by Alan Alexander Milne (J F MILNE).  Winnie the Pooh, aka Pooh Bear, first appeared as Edward Bear in a poem in A.A. Milne’s1924 children’s verse book When We Were Very Young.  The first collection of stories about Pooh and his friends was Winnie-the-Pooh, published in October of 1926 and followed by The House at Pooh Corner in 1928.  Milne named the character for a teddy bear owned by his son, Christopher Robin Milne, who was of course the inspiration for the character Christopher Robin.  Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger were also toys belonging to Christopher Robin Milne and were incorporated into A.A. Milne’s stories.  Owl and Rabbit were created from Milne’s imagination, and Gopher was later added in the Disney theatrical adaptation.  Are you having a day, Darling Reader?  Make yourself a nice cup of tea and get a “smackerel” of something like Pooh would, find a quiet place, and spend some quality time with Pooh and his wonderful friends, before you go see the new movie adaptation.

Another book-to-movie-to-remake in this same vein is the Caldecott-winning book Jumanji by gifted storyteller and artist Chris Van Allsburg (J E VAN).  There are Judy and Peter, bored out of their little skulls and left completely unsupervised while their parents’ attend the opera, when they encounter a long, thin box that says JUMANJI, A JUNGLE ADVENTURE GAME, and also has an ominous, handwritten message taped to the box:  “Free game, fun for some but not for all.  P.S.  Read instructions carefully.”  There is an additional caveat in the game’s instructions, and apparently it’s a crucial one, since the writer of the note put it in all capital letters:  “VERY IMPORTANT:  ONCE A GAME OF JUMANJI IS STARTED IT WILL NOT BE OVER UNTIL ONE PLAYER REACHES THE GOLDEN CITY.”  Hilarity and highjinks ensue, and Judy and Peter survive the game just in time for their parents return home, with guests in tow.  They had a tremendous adventure that day with the game that became all too real, and learned a valuable lesson that day regarding the importance of reading the directions . . . but the sly, clever final paragraph of the book implies that young Danny and Walter, who are notorious for never listening to instructions, may not fare quite so well.

I often say that it’s a desperately sad irony that working in a library really cuts into one’s time for pleasure reading.  Hence, much time passes between my opportunities to read Beatrix Potter’s delightful, classic tales of little beasties, and I forget between readings about how charming and clever her stories are.  Such is the case with The Tale Of Two Bad Mice (J E POTTER).  “Once upon a time there was a very beautiful doll’s-house; it was red brick with white windows . . . it belonged to two Dolls called Lucinda and Jane .”  One fine morning while Lucinda and Jane were out of the red brick dollhouse for a spin in their perambulator, the aforementioned two bad mice, Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca, trashed the dollhouse out of frustration—they were hangry, to use a modern portmanteau—because they discovered that the appetizing delicacies on the dining room table were actually not edible.  Hunca Munca continued the rodents’ crime spree by absconding with a pillow, a baby’s cradle, and some of Lucinda’s clothes, and also some “useful pots and pans, and several other things.”  Reparations of a sort were later made by Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca for their vandalism and larceny, when he found a sixpence under the rug and stuffed it into one of the dolls’ stockings on Christmas Eve; and every morning before anybody is awake, she sweeps the Dollies’ house with her purloined broom.

Darling Reader, I’ve saved my favorite title for last.  I don’t remember exactly when a smart-mouthed, spiky-haired kid named Calvin and his very real stuffed tiger Hobbes entered my life.  I’m reasonably certain that it was not November of 1985, as I was a smart-mouthed, big-haired high school junior who was more concerned with my reflection in the driver’s-side mirror of my 1978 Camaro than with reflection on love, art, theology, mortality, public education, paleontology, environmentalism, and the repercussive effects of human free will.

Calvin and Hobbes was conceived by American cartoonist Bill Watterson and made its syndicated debut on November 18, 1985, and ran until December 31, 1995.  The strip follows the raucous antics and adventures of Calvin, a precocious six-year-old boy, and Hobbes, his quick-witted toy tiger.  The pair was named for 16th-century French theologian John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English philosopher.  Hobbes’ shifting duality is a defining theme of the strip:  to Calvin, he is always a live, anthropomorphic tiger; to all others (his parents, his archnemesis Susie Derkins, et. al.), he is merely an inanimate plush toy.  Darling Reader, if you have room in your existence for only one toy that comes to life, I beseech you to make it Hobbes.

That’s it for today, Darling Reader.  Tune in again next month for my meandering musings on literature and life.                                


Yeah, I did say there wouldn’t be any Chucky references in the blog . . . but I didn’t place any such restrictions on the appearance of his lovely bride Tiffany.  Also, any similarities between Tiffany and the author of this blog are purely coincidental, with the exception of the motorcycle jacket.
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Rockin’ Reads For Kids

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

In honor of this year’s summer reading “Libraries Rock” theme, here is a random assortment of rockin’ reads for the young, or young at heart.  In absolutely no discernable order:

Who Are The Rolling Stones? by Dana Meachen Rau  (J92 ROL)

Sanitized for your protection, this book chronicles the meteoric rise and unparalleled success, five decades later, of this author’s favorite band.  As this is a children’s book, none of the lurid details of the many (ahem) colorful incidents that earned The Stones their reputation as the bad boys of the British Invasion are present.  (Also worth reading in this engaging series of biographies for elementary and middle school-aged students:  Who Is Elton John?; Who Was Bob Marley? (to be published in June 2017);  Who Was Elvis Presley?;  Who Were The Beatles?; Who Was Michael Jackson?; and many more music-related titles.)

Jimi:  Sounds Like A Rainbow by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J92 HEN)

A beautifully written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented musician James Marshall Hendrix, later known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earthly realm entirely too soon at the age of 27.  His legacy lives on through his music, and his influence continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash by G. Neri and illustrated by A.G. Ford (J 92 CASH)

Those four simple words were how this man with the deep, soulful, often otherworldly voice would start his shows after “I Walk The Line” became the number one country song in America, and the anthem for how this once dirt-poor man from Arkansas wished to live his life.  Neri captures The Man in Black’s legend in free verse, and Ford’s lush, detailed paintings of the Southern backdrop of Cash’s life make this book one that will be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Music Lab:  We Rock!  A Fun Family Guide For Exploring Rock Music History by Jason Hanley  (J 781.6609)

If an alien landed in your bedroom one night and tasked you with teaching him/her/it about Rock & Roll, it would be fortuitous if you had this sensational book close at hand.  Written by Jason Hanley, Ph.D., education director at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this book offers an introduction to some of the greatest songs in rock history, provides anecdotes about the artists and the social and historical events at the time the songs were written, and provides fun lab-style activities that begin with the basics of rock and move through the soul and punk genres, and then cover dance and new wave.  Best of all are the frozen-in-time photographs and the recommended set lists.  I totally have to throw the horns for this book. (Don’t know what that means?  Look it up.)

How The Beatles Changed The World by Martin W. Sandler  (J 782.4216 SAN)

When the Lads From Liverpool burst onto the music scene in the tumultuous decade known as The Sixties, they charmed and excited millions of fans the world over, and they ultimately transformed and transcended the rock genre.  This compendium of their rocketship ride to musical stardom contains hundreds of stunning photographs that capture the rich, beautiful history of The Beatles.

Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed The World by Robbie Robertson, Jim Guerinot, Sebastian Robertson and James Levine  (J 920 ROB)

Penned by 4 multitalented music industry veterans, this very cool volume would look right at home on anyone’s coffee table and includes 2 CDs with tracks from such legends as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, and Hank Williams, to name just a few.  The book pays loving tribute to twenty-seven groundbreaking artists whose innovations and creations altered the music landscape for generations to come.

Strange Fruit:  Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216  GOL)

At the time of “Lady Day’s” death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, she was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time.  Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the civil rights movement.

What Was Woodstock? by Joan Holub  (J 781.6609 HOL)

Well, duh, Woodstock was the sweet little yellow bird who was Snoopy’s best friend.  Right?  Charles Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip publicly acknowledged in several interviews during the 1970s that he named the bird after the music festival held at Max and MiriamYasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York, over three days in August of 1969.  (Artwork from the festival features a bird perched on the neck of a guitar.)  My favorite part of this clever little book is the page of “Sixties Slang.”  You dig?

Shake, Rattle & Roll:  The Founders of Rock & Roll by Holly George-Warren  (J 781.66 GEO)

A whimsically-illustrated introduction to 14 of rock & roll’s groundbreakers and earthshakers, such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, and more.  In the words of Chuck Berry:  “Hail, hail, rock & roll!”

Rock on with your bad selves, and happy reading–


As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and in no way representative of WCPL, its employees, or their parents who may have shouted at them to “turn that infernal noise down!” at some point in their lives. To that end, you may have to speak up a bit when talking to the author, because she spent many hours next to a Marshall stack in her flaming youth, and last week.

ROAR! Fiercely Favorite Dinosaur Books for Kids

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

With the recent release of Jurassic World:  Fallen Kingdom, the fifth film installment in the Jurassic Park series (F CRICHTON, the book from whence it all began, just so you grownup types will know) playing in a theater near you, what better tie-in than a blog about dinosaurs for those who are too young to get in to see a PG-13 flick?

Let’s start off with two options from the fabulous Mo Willems:  Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct (J E  WILLEMS) and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.  Everyone in town loves Edwina, and what’s not to love?  She makes excellent chocolate chip cookies, has spectacular fashion sense, but most of all, she is a great friend.  So when oppressive know-it-all Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie delivers a report to his classmates on “Things That Are Extinct,” no one really listens to him . . . no one except Edwina, that is.  Hoobie-Doobie pontificated at great length as to the truth about dinosaurs, and Edwina was shocked (or “shook,” in today’s parlance.)  But you know what?  Edwina didn’t care!  And by the end of his lecture, neither did RVHD.  He was so stoked that someone finally listened to him, and was just pleased to enjoy Edwina’s friendship, along with a batch of her famous cookies.  The subtle irony of the situation, combined with Willems’ signature artwork, make this a delightful read.  Added bonus:  cameo appearances by Willems’ Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny.

Further evidence of Mo Willems’ brilliance is found in Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (J E WILLEMS), his sly and hilarious adaptation of the classic fairy tale.  Behold:  “Once upon a time, there were three hungry Dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur . . . and a Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.  One day—for no particular reason—they decided to tidy up their house, make the beds, and prepare pudding of varying temperatures. And then—for no particular reason—they decided to go . . . someplace else. They were definitely not setting a trap for some succulent, unsupervised little girl.  Definitely not!”  Hysterical, I tell you.

Here we have the perfect explanation for those trying times when you can’t find your mascara, and you are certain that you put it back in your traincase, or the crayons are inexplicably scattered across the playroom floor, and you know you stowed them neatly in their container before going to bed.  What The Dinosaurs Did Last Night:  A Very Messy Adventure by Refe and Susan Tuma  (J E  TUMA) is a whimsical and imaginative tale that will appeal to those of us who occasionally scoff at following the rules.  See also:  What The Dinosaurs Did At School by the same authors.

Rounding out the picture book category in today’s blog are the numerous How Do Dinosaurs . . . titles by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague  (J E  YOLEN).  The problem-solution formula for this series helps children and parents or caregivers navigate various situations such as anger management (How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad?), personal responsibility and ownership (How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Rooms?), social interaction (How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends?) and many other scenarios.  My personal favorite in the series is How Do Dinosaurs Go To Sleep?

For those times when you need more than a cute bedtime dinosaur story and want to expand your factual knowledge of prehistoric creatures, these two nonfiction choices fit the bill perfectly.  Dinosaurs:  A Visual Encyclopedia  (J 567.9 DIN) and Ultimate Dinopedia:  The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever  (J 567.903 LES)  both contain profiles of hundreds of dinosaurs, including several recently discovered dinos. 

Darling Reader, wasn’t that ever so much better than watching a bunch of ill-mannered, poison-spitting, computer-generated dinosaurs?  Happy reading!

 


As always, the opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, who wishes she had a pet pterodactyl so that she could avoid flying via commercial airlines.  Also, I want to acknowledge a T. Rex-sized assist on this blog from my awesome friend Nate of Birmingham, Alabama.

June is African-American Music Appreciation Month

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Originally decreed as Black Music Month by then-president Jimmy Carter in June 1979, the designation was changed in 2009 to African-American Music Appreciation Month. In his 2016 proclamation, former president Barack Obama stated that African-American music and musicians have helped our country “ . . . to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Hence, I bring to you in no particular order, a great selection of books from Williamson County Public Library Children’s Department celebrating “Lady Day’s” soaring vocals, the Motown Sound, Bob Marley’s plaintive ballads, Jimi Hendrix’s groundbreaking guitar playing, and much more.

First on the list for today’s magical musical journey is Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through The Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney (J 781.6440 PIN) “You ready, child? Let’s go.” Thus begins this beautifully written account of young performers who were catalysts for change in American music, and along with it, a cultural revolution. The 1960s were exciting and often turbulent times. For Berry Gordy, the man who has been largely credited with creating what would come to be known as “the Motown Sound,” it all started with an $800 loan and a vision of greatness. The year was 1959, and Gordy was on the brink of something amazing, something that would have far-reaching influence on music for decades to come. Drawing upon the talents of his family and local performers, Gordy created a record label for black musicians such as Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, and Diana Ross, just to name a few. The rest, as they say, is history.

Next up on the recommended reading list for African-American Music Appreciation Month is Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (J 92 HENDRIX).   A stylishly written and illustrated story of the phenomenally talented James Marshall Hendrix, known to the world as Jimi, who departed this earth at the way-too-soon age of 27. His legacy lives on decades later, and his groundbreaking music continues to inspire and electrify fans of all ages.

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday And The Power Of A Protest Song by Gary Golio (J 782.4216 GOL). At the time of her death from liver and heart failure in 1959 at the age of 44, Billie Holiday (nee Eleanora Fagan) was heralded as one of the greatest female vocalists and jazz singers of all time. Her best-selling record and signature song “Strange Fruit” challenged the attitudes of racism in America and was an important milestone in what would become the American civil rights movement.

No reading list about African-American music would be complete without mention of the excellent books about black musicians in the “Who Is/Who Was?” series, which features titles such as Who was Bob Marley? (J 92 MAR), Who Was Louis Armstrong? (J 92 ARM), Who Was Stevie Wonder? (J 92 WON), and Who Was Michael Jackson? (J 92 JAC). The books in this series feature whimsical illustrations and side notes about the subject, and are so much fun to read . Check ‘em out! (OK, that’s my one and only pun for this blog, I swear.)

                   

Trombone Shorty by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews (J 788.9316 AND) is a delightful, picturesque story of how a talented young boy from New Orleans didn’t always have the money to buy an instrument, but he did have the dream to play music. Plucked from a crowd by none other than the legendary Bo Diddley and allowed to play his trombone on stage, he was then inspired to form his own band. Today, Andrews is a frequent performer at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the place where he got his first break.

Last but not least on my list of recommendations is Bob Marley: The Life Of A Musical Legend by Gary Jeffrey (J 92 MARLEY). Part biography, part graphic novel, this very cool book celebrates famed Jamaican musician Bob Marley. His body ravaged by cancer, Marley departed this earthly realm at the young age of 36, but his music and his message of peace continues to inspire people all over the world.


As always, the opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone, and not representative of any other WCPL employees. Ms. Parish can occasionally be overheard quoting Jimi Hendrix’s lyrics and belting out “Voodoo Chile,” but only when she’s home alone or behind the wheel of her car.

Words and Music by . . .

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

On more than one occasion, usually to no discernible effect whatsoever, I’ve admonished my own children as well as library patrons for seeing the movie before they read the book.  I can’t do that with the  titles in this blog, for the simple reason that a different medium preceded the book; to wit, this is a list of children’s books that were inspired by rock, pop, or folk songs.  Turn it up, y’all . . .

It was immediately clear to me which book/song I wanted to start this blog with, for a couple of reasons.  Bob Marley, the enigmatic and often misunderstood Jamaican singer-songwriter who achieved international acclaim before his untimely death from cancer at the age of 36, has long held a spot in my heart.  His daughter Cedella has written five books to date, all based upon or inspired by her iconic father’s life and music.  One Love and Every Little Thing (J E MARLEY) are both delightfully inspirational, and emphasize how one person can make a difference in this world, and that of course “every little thing is gonna be alright.”

Next up on my songs-to-books list is another transformative song that was also written and published in an era of revolution, war, and enormous historical and cultural changes to the American landscape.  “What A Wonderful World,” written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss and recorded by Louis Armstrong, was not initially a hit in the United States; it sold fewer than 1,000 copies because the president of ABC Records did not like the song and therefore did not promote it, but was a major success in the United Kingdom, reaching number one on the UK Singles Chart in 1967.  The eponymous children’s book illustrated by Tim Hopgood (J E HOPGOOD) is just as sweet, hopeful, and uplifting as the song.  (Author’s note:  my very favorite writer of books for grownups, Michael Connelly, takes inspiration from this song for his complex protagonist Harry Bosch, and his next novel is entitled Dark Sacred Night, which is of course a line from this beautiful song.)

The brave and persistent Itsy Bitsy Spider from the children’s finger-play nursery rhyme is back, and on an even bolder adventure in this charming book written and illustrated by Iza Trapani (J E TRAPANI).  She manages to survive encounters with a fan, a mouse, a rocking chair, a cat, and a gigantic maple tree, and is finally able to build her web and relax.  Trapani’s rich watercolor illustrations and playful rhythm transform this simple song into a delightful journey to be enjoyed again and again.

Also from the fabulous Iza Trapani is her brilliantly illustrated Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (J E Trapani).  While we have several different versions of the song-to-book rendition of this sweet little song, Iza’s is far and away the best of the bunch.  (Pete the Cat’s version comes in second, because I love him so.)  Just as in Itsy Bitsy Spider, this modern spin on the traditional classic will yield many hours of reading pleasure.

Last on this list is Puff, the Magic Dragon (J E YARROW) by Peter Yarrow, an American singer-songwriter who was one-third of the 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.  Yarrow once said, “Puff has appeared to me both childlike and wise, a king but also a willing follower of just about any bright spirit that inspired him. Puff gives his whole heart and soul to one special friend…One day, as you can see at the end of this book, a new and special friend comes to Honalee…In this way Puff and Jackie’s friendship continues through new children like you.”   Both Yarrow and co-writer Leonard Lipton have adamantly and repeatedly stated that “Puff the Magic Dragon is not about drugs.”  He has also said of the song that it “never had any meaning other than the obvious one” and is about the “loss of innocence in children,” and dismissed the suggestion of association with drugs as “sloppy research.”  So, disregard that urban legend.  The book is comprised solely of the lyrics to the song with no additional text, but the lush illustrations imply a new twist to the sad final stanza.

Come visit the rock star librarians at WCPL to check out these and many more music-related titles to enjoy during our Summer Reading Program—which is not coincidentally themed “Libraries Rock!”  Happy Reading—


Librarian by day, aspiring fiction writer by night, and enthusiast of rock and roll 24/7/365, the author lives with her two children and four cats, not all of whom share her taste in music.

Seven Sweet Children’s Books For Valentine’s Day

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Well, here we are, that most obnoxious made-up “holiday” that some of us despise, Valentine’s Day. Yes, Darling Reader, I understand . . . and I’m here to help. Rather than dwell on the superficial and hypermarketed unpleasantness that I find Valentine’s Day to be (and you don’t EVEN know how tempted I am to abbreviate that to Vile Day, or even nastier, VD, throughout the rest of this blog), let’s try to find some positives.   Why don’t we celebrate the day with books instead of garish, sappy greeting cards and booty-widening/tooth-rotting candy, and flowers that die three days after they arrive? Hence, in no particular order, is my personal antidote to February 14:

Here Comes Valentine Cat (J E Underwood) by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. Cat haaaaaaaaates Valentine’s Day. (Sound familiar?) Especially when the day arrives at the same time as a new dog next door. Through a series of misunderstandings, Cat comes to realize that maybe he has judged his loud new neighbor too hastily.  

Henry in Love (J E MACC) by Peter McCarty. Henry the cat is the strong, silent type, and he has a little bit of a crush on Chloe the bunny, who is pretty and popular and can execute a perfect cartwheel. This sweet, subtle story is beautifully illustrated and demonstrates that sometimes just the right gift can capture the attention of the one your heart yearns for.

Zombie In Love 2 + 1 (J E DIPUCCHIO) by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Scott Campbell. This sequel to DiPucchio and Campbell’s previous collaboration, Zombie In Love, may not be everyone’s idea of precious, but it makes me smile every time I read it. Mildred and Mortimer reprise their roles in this subtly hilarious book, and a new baby named Sonny is an adorable addition to the family dynamic. But Mildred and Mortimer are worried to death (oooh, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Sonny hardly ever cries, his teeth are coming in instead of falling out, and most terrifying of all—he’s awake all day and sleeps through the night!   This charming twist on the terrors of parenthood is sure to have you shrieking with delight.

Pete The Cat: Valentine’s Day is Cool (J E Dean) by Kimberly and James Dean. You might think that a cool cat like Pete wouldn’t think much of Valentine’s Day . . . and you’d be wrong. Pete reflects on how many special people he knows, and wants to acknowledge them all (especially his very best friend Callie, who just happens to mention as he skateboards past her that this is her favorite holiday of all) with perfect Valentine’s Day cards. So Pete sets about commemorating his love and gratitude to his friends with just the right card to each of them. As the title page says, I Meow You.

Llama Llama I Love You (J E DEWDNEY) by Anna Dewdney. Anna passed away in 2016, but her gentle spirit lives on through her books. Llama Llama I Love You is no exception, as Little Llama demonstrates to his family and friends how much he loves them with valentines and big llama hugs.

Love, Splat (J E SCOTTON) by Rob Scotton. Love is complicated. Splat, the adorably neurotic cat who made his debut in 2008’s Splat The Cat has a tremendous crush on Kitten, a fluffy white cat with mesmerizing green eyes. Splat likes Kitten more than fish sticks, more than ice cream. Unfortunately, he has a rival for Kitten’s affections in Spike, a boorish tomcat who gives Kitten a fancy valentine. Spike’s actions prompt Splat to throw his valentine to Kitten in the nearest trash can, but she notices it and reciprocates with an awesome valentine of her own to Splat. Let love rule.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! (J E NUMEROFF) by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond. This spinoff from Numeroff’s wildly popular “If You Give A . . .” series follows Mouse as he strives to make a perfect valentine for everyone. Each valentine is lovingly customized to represent what Mouse likes the most about each of his friends, such as Bunny because “she’s the best at hide-and-seek” and Pig because “she is the best dancer.” Of course, all of Mouse’s friends reciprocate with valentines and cookies, which as everyone knows, are one of Mouse’s very favorite things.


*** Darling Reader—please know that no harm came to any living creatures or books during the writing of this blog, even though the author hates Valentine’s Day with the fiery intensity of Dante’s ninth level of Hell.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow . . .

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

What can you think of that is better than hearing a mellifluous voice (if you have children attending Williamson County Schools, that voice belongs to none other than the fabulous Carol Birdsong, WCS Communications Director, who may well be the most beloved woman in this county) leave a message on your machine, informing you that there will be no school?  The answer is:  not much, if you are a student or a teacher, and you have just learned that you get an unscheduled little break from your school day routine.  Maybe not so much if you still have to go to work and/or find someone to watch your kids.   Of course, you don’t have to wait for actual inclement weather to hit before reading some delightful books about snow.  Here is a list, in my usual no-particular-order style to get you started.

From the inside jacket flap of The Snowy Day (J E Keats) by Ezra Jack Keats:  “No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snowy Day, winner of the (1962) Caldecott Medal.  Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.”  Darling Reader, I fully agree.  This sweet, whimsically-illustrated story is indisputably a classic. 

Nobody thinks that a few flakes will amount to anything—not the Man With the Hat, the Lady With the Umbrella, not even the weather forecasters on the radio and television.  But one boy and his little dog believe that it will stack up into a spectacular snowfall, and they are the only ones who know how to truly enjoy the experience in Uri Shulevitz’s Snow (J E Shulevitz).  It is a beautiful depiction of the transformation of a city by snowfall, richly rendered in watercolor and pen-and-ink.

Darling Reader, Matthew Cordell’s Wolf In The Snow (J E Cordell) nearly brings me to tears every time I read it.  The story is essentially wordless, save for a few barks and howls, but the metaphor of trust and friendship between a little girl and a wolf pup who find themselves lost in the same blizzard shines through via the beautiful illustrations, without the need for words.

Lois Ehlert’s Snowballs (J E Ehlert) is in her signature collage style, and details the anticipation of a perfect snowball day for which the narrator has been saving “good stuff in a sack” in order to create an awesome Snow Family in their yard.  Alas, just like a good book, snow creations don’t last forever.

Another Caldecott Medal winner makes an appearance on my personal list of snow day favorites:  Owl Moon (J E Yolen) by Jane Yolen.  Beautiful prose and intricate illustrations by John Schoenherr, including many not-so-hidden critters combine to make this book a timeless classic.  Yolen said in an interview that Owl Moon was a particular pleasure for her to create, as her beloved late husband David Stemple frequently took their three children owling on winter nights near their rural Massachusetts home “with the same anticipation and excitement as the characters in the story.”

As is often the way of things, I’ve saved my favorite for last.  I have loved Frederick (J E Lionni) by Leo Lionni from the very first time I read it in 1976, when I was a precocious little bookworm of a first grader.  At first glance, it appears that Frederick is totally slacking off while the other little mice hustle to prepare for the coming winter (for you Game Of Thrones enthusiasts: Winter Is Coming.)  However, Frederick was working in his own inimitable way, gathering sun rays, colors, and words, with which to feed the spirits of his family members during those cold, dark winter days and nights.

So, there you have it, Darling Reader.  May your holiday season and your new year be filled with love, laughter, friendship, happiness, and family . . . and with good books.


As always, the opinions and viewpoints expressed in this blog belong to the author alone, and are in no way representative of WCPL employees, their family, or their pet mice.  Blessings upon you all, Darling Readers.

Here There Be Monsters . . . Kinda

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

“Eight more days ‘til Halloween, Halloween . . .”  OK, maybe not the most appropriate way to lead into a blog about scary-but-not-too-scary creatures who live in children’s books, by invoking a jingle used in the classic horror film “Halloween,” starring the fabulous future kid-lit author Jamie Lee Curtis, but with that tie-in, how could I not?

The Wild Things

First in our no-particular-order list of creepy creatures: the Wild Things inhabiting the island where Max sailed his private boat in and out of weeks and almost over a year in Maurice Sendak’s fabulous classic Where The Wild Things Are.  Being the King of all Wild Things was a blast for a while, what with having no homework, no bedtime, and no rules, but Max became terribly lonely “and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”  So he abdicated his throne and sailed back into the night of his very own room, to find his still-hot supper waiting for him.  The lesson here, in my opinion?  Those who truly love you will forgive your occasional monstrous behavior, and maybe even make you a grilled cheese sandwich.

The Grinch

“You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch/Your heart’s an empty hole/Your brain is full of spiders/You have garlic in your soul.”  Hence, the next monster in our Monster Mash-Up, that grouchy green grump who lives on Mount Crumpit.  Yes, friends and fiends, the antagonist-turned-protagonist of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is next in the roster of scary-not-scary monsters.  Let us ponder for a moment the classic literary juxtaposition of Good vs. Evil.  After a busy night of  animal abuse, cosplay, and totally highjacking all the boxes and bags and the last can of Who-Hash from Whoville, yet waking up to the sound of Cindy Lou Who and all her friends and relatives singing and celebrating anyway, the Grinch has an epiphany.  “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.  What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  The Grinch’s heart “grew three sizes   that day,” making him not so monstrous after all.

Dementors

I implied at the beginning of this article that the monsters listed here wouldn’t be too ghastly.  Darling Reader, I lied.  You should now take the opportunity to fortify yourself with some chocolate before proceeding onward, because the Dementors from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and subsequent books in the series) are making their sinister presence known in our melange of monsters.  According to Professor Remus Lupin, “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself – soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”  According to the website Pottermore.com (and if you don’t know about this marvelous site, you must visit as soon as you finish reading this delightful and not frightful blog), Dementors are the true scary beasties of the mystical realm.  Oh, it is also imperative to note that Dementors cannot be destroyed, but only driven away temporarily by using the Patronus Charm.

The Gruffalo

Yikes. Okay.  Let’s flee the darkness of the Dementors and continue onward in our odyssey of oddities.  Do you know the gruffalo?  No? Oh!  The Gruffalo is a children’s book written by Julia Donaldson that was inspired by a Chinese folk tale in which a fox borrows the terror of a tiger.  In Donaldson’s story, a mouse is taking a walk in the woods and encounters several creatures—a fox, an owl, and a snake– who would like to make a meal out of him.  The clever mouse declines the “invitations” to their homes by telling them that he already has lunch plans with his friend the gruffalo, who is a monster-like hybrid of half grizzly bear and half buffalo, whose favorite snack happens to be whichever animal that the mouse is trying to evade.  Terrified by the description of the fictional beast, each animal flees. Mousie is so proud of himself, and taunts them:  “Silly old fox/owl/snake, doesn’t he know?  There’s no such thing as a gruffalo!”  But here comes the plot twist! The mouse is shocked to encounter a real gruffalo, who threatens to eat him.  Again, Mousie’s cunning saves the day.  The mouse tells the gruffalo that he is the scariest monster in the forest, and proves it by leading the gruffalo past each creature that menaced him earlier, causing them to run away again when they see them walking together.  The gruffalo is increasingly impressed by this, and is apparently clueless that *he* is the scary one, so the sly mouse further presses it to his advantage by threatening to eat the gruffalo, who then hightails it into the forest.  Personally, I find this to be an excellent instructional tale for those among us who are physically diminutive (I’m 5’2”, Darling Reader) but make up for it in confidence.

So there you have it, Darling Reader, some charming-and not-alarming (well, with the exception of those foul Dementors) monsters who inhabit the pages of children’s books, and now your own imagination.  Have a frighteningly good Fall, and don’t be afraid to keep exploring the vast forest of literature that is available to you at WCPL.  Happy reading–

 


***The opinions and viewpoints expressed here are, as always, solely a product of the sometimes-disturbing contents of the author’s head and are in no way representative of the employees of WCPL, their families, or their Halloween-costumed housepets.   The author also wishes it to be known that while the nickname “Scary Stacy” was bestowed upon her by some sorority sisters in college, she really is trying to mellow into a kinder, gentler sort of modern monster.

Children’s Books That (Some) Librarians Don’t Love

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Darling Reader, I’m going to let you in on a little industry secret.  A couple of them, actually.

Most human librarians have not read–and occasionally don’t have an awareness of–every single book in their respective libraries.

And . . . brace yourselves for Librarian Secret #2 . . . there are books that some librarians don’t even like.

Okay, okay, simmer down now.  I know this may come as an unpleasant shock to some of you, but it really shouldn’t.  Just as even the esteemed Dumbledore enjoyed lemon drops but didn’t much care for Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, so it goes with those of us who spend our days surrounded by the good, the bad, and the ugly of literature.  (Dirty little secret #3: there are actually librarians who do not like the Harry Potter series, but in the interest of good citizenry, I shall not reveal their identities here.  Hey, just because I love those books to the point of dressing up as Bellatrix Lestrange on Halloween and random Tuesdays doesn’t mean that everyone has to love them.)

Since it is a bankable fact that I’m a tremendous slacker and try to get my colleagues to do my work for me whenever any opportunity presents itself . . . oh, wait . . . I mean, since I value the viewpoints and opinions of my co-workers and try to practice inclusion whenever I can . . . and because this would be a really boring article if I just rattled on about the books that I despise (Johnny Tremain), I have solicited (and paraphrased in some instances) opinions from my smart and talented fellow librarians, and several of them have been kind enough to share their thoughts with me about children’s books that they personally find odious, irksome, or just plain weird.  I have also given my “guests” pseudonyms taken from the aforementioned Harry Potter series (and did I mention how much I love those books?) so that no repercussions may befall them for placing their confidence in me.  Therefore, Darling Reader, I present to you in no particular order a short list of books that are disliked by at least one (and sometimes more) WCPL employee.

“The only book that I can truly say that I despise is Madonna’s The English Roses.  And the reason has more to do with the fact that Madonna says she wrote it because, when she had her child, she ‘couldn’t find any good books out there for children, so she had to write her own.’  The arrogant ignorance of that statement caused me to hate the book on general principle!” says a kind and lovely librarian to whom I’ll refer as “Madam Pomfrey,” Hogwarts’ school matron, or school nurse, in American parlance.  (Author’s aside:  a used hardcover copy of The English Roses is available at Amazon for the astonishingly low price of fifteen cents.  I am so not making this up.)

Librarian “Godric Gryffindor” is also not a fan of Madonna’s alleged books, or of those by almost any celebrity or pop-culture figure, whether they go by one name, or two or three.  “However, I doubt if I could name a specific title, because I’ve banished all the crappy ones from my mind,” Gryffindor states.  And by Merlin’s beard, don’t even get him started on some of the adult “classics” . . .

Next up, a two-for-one.  Staffers “Kingsley Shacklebolt” and “Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank” weigh in on Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  “This book is sweet if you don’t think too hard about it; very stalker-mom if you do think about it, and once you do, you can never go back to sweet,” says Shacklebolt.  “It is just so incredibly sad!” states Professor Grubbly-Plank.  The author concurs on both opinions.

“I like books that teach or are an example of good behavior or qualities, and use proper grammar.  Also, humor is wonderful, but not bathroom humor,” says a librarian I’ll refer to as “Molly Weasley.”  Again, the author agrees.  I adored the late Barbara Park, author of the popular Junie B. Jones books, as she was a wonderful person and a fellow alumna of the University of Alabama, but I truly cringe every time I connect a child with ol’ Junie B.  Some folks find Junie B. charming and funny, others find her to be ill-mannered and obnoxious.  Ditto for Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books, as well as Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  Personally, I try to make myself feel a little better about young patrons being devoted to these series; at least they’re engaged and reading something, I tell myself.  The darker side of my psyche usually responds with a profanity-laced reply that I keep to myself.

The final entries in this ridiculous annoying snarky insanely funny blog are brought to you by two fabulous librarians to whom I shall bequeath the pseudonyms of “Luna Lovegood” and “Hermione Granger.”  Hermione told me that she put some thought into my query, and that there aren’t that many kid-lit choices that she really detests, but that any books featuring Caillou (that whiny bald-headed Canadian kid who torments his little sister Rosie and the family cat Gilbert) are definitely on her list.  Also, “there was this dead bird book that was pretty morbid.”  Indeed—The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, author of the  classics Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.  Luna’s least-favorite children’s book also contains a theme of death and grieving:  I Cried Too by Jim Schmidt.  Our sweet Luna wants to make it clear that she doesn’t dislike this book, but that the subject matter just makes it so hard to get through.

Darling Reader, if you’ve stuck with me this far, thank you.  I hope this blog made you laugh, made you think, but most of all I hope it made you want to read—even if it is something that isn’t universally loved by librarians.  Because really, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  Read what YOU love, and have fun.  Until next time–


Unlike most of my other blogs, the opinions and viewpoints in this article DO represent those of some other employees of WCPL.  Names and other identifying details have been altered, via my intense love for the world of Harry Potter, to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent.  Lastly, just because your favorite librarian may not like a particular book, that doesn’t mean that she or he won’t help you find that one, or thousands of other amazing and wondrous books that are available at WCPL. Happy reading!

Mo Books, Mo Fun! The Wonderful World of Mo Willems

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

I often say that having the great fortune to be employed in a library—yes, Darling Reader, paid to be here—is a wondrous thing, but it really cuts into one’s reading time.  Library Mythbuster Numero Uno:  we don’t get paid to sit around and read.  What, you think the books get back on the shelves all on their own? And that all library patrons are as smart and savvy as you and don’t need my assistance and expertise?  I’m so sorry to be the one to burst your bubble if you were operating under that premise, and were making career plans accordingly.  We are, however, expected to possess an extensive breadth and depth of knowledge of the materials that are available to patrons, especially in the departments in which we spend our days (and evenings. And weekends.  Library Mythbuster Numero Dos:  this is not a 9-to-5 weekday gig.)  Some of us amass this knowledge through advanced degrees in Library Science and/or work experience in libraries, and others of us learn about the abundance of wonderful children’s books from the hours we spent reading to our own offspring.  (Some of us also have a deep-seated loathing for certain children’s books, usually through no fault of the author but because of the stultifying number of times we have read certain books that our kids loved but that we did NOT.  That’s a topic for a future blog, but I have two words for you in the meantime:  Johnny Tremain.)  It saddens me a little that I missed out on the joy of reading Mo Willems’ books with my children, but I have immensely enjoyed perusing them since signing on to the Children’s Department at WCPL and recommending them to patrons.

If you have children, or have ever spent any time with children, you surely know that they have these acute, finely-tuned internal sensors that enable them to see right through any awkward attempts by adult humans to try to be funny or whimsical or relatable when they just aren’t.  One thing that differentiates Mo Willems’ books from the paper-and-cardboard sea of kiddie lit is that they are very, very funny.  I mean . . . a picture book about a naked mole rat who just wants to express himself through creative sartorial choices?  Come on, people, that’s freaking hilarious, I don’t care who you are.  Willems’ formula works due to the culmination of several factors:  excellent timing, precise word choices, and just-right repetitions of words and phrases.

 

Mo Willems was born in February 1968 in suburban Chicago and grew up in New Orleans.  He graduated cum laude from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.  After graduation, Willems spent a year traveling around the world, and he commemorated this journey by drawing a cartoon each day.  These cartoons were subsequently published in the book You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons.  When he returned to New York after his adventure, Willems began his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street, where he was awarded six Emmy awards for writing during his tenure from 1993 to 2002.  Since 2003, Willems has authored dozens of books for children, many of which have earned him critical acclaim and numerous literary awards.  (A bibliography of Willems’ books appears at the end of this article.)  My personal favorites include, in no certain order:  the previously mentioned  Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed; Edwina The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was ExtinctKnuffle Bunny:  A Cautionary Tale; and Don’t Let The Pigeon Stay Up Late! Check ‘em out, Darling Reader.  (See what I did there?  Y’all know I couldn’t make it through a blog without a pun.)  Happy reading–

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