Frog and Toad are their own right size

I come before you today with the unpleasant task of making the case against Frog, of Frog and Toad. In Arnold Lobel’s immortal series, the two friends play and work, suffer and triumph together; but Frog is the superior friend in every way. He is responsible and sensible, a hard worker, patient, and willing to try new things and enjoy every season. Toad is none of these things. Toad takes, and Frog gives.

OR DOES HE?

Consider:

He manipulates Toad into believing his head has grown overnight, rather than just offering to shrink his hat. (“The Hat” from Days with Frog and Toad.

He tricks Toad into thinking it’s Spring and that he’s slept for several  months

 

so Frog will be able to have company. (“Spring” from Frog and Toad Are Friends)

He forces Toad into winter clothes, coming into Toad’s house against his protests. “I have brought you some things to wear,” he said. Frog pushed a coat down over the top of Toad. Frog pulled snow pants up over the bottom of Toad. He put a hat and scarf on Toad’s head.

“Help!” cried Toad. “My best friend is trying to kill me!” (“Down the Hill” from Frog and Toad All Year)

He shames Toad for his housekeeping habits. Dusty chairs? Well, Frog, maybe if you came all the way in and visited Toad where he was, instead of sticking your head in and making him feel bad

the chairs would be free of dust. (“Tomorrow” from Days with Frog and Toad)

Worst of all — and I find this one really unforgivable — he holds the ball of string and makes Toad do a running try, a running and waving try, a running, waving, and jumping try, and a running, waving, jumping, and shouting try, and Toad’s legs are much shorter than Frog’s.

Why can’t Frog take a turn running? (“The Kite” from Days with Frog and Toad)

Listen, they are good friends. I can see that. Frog loves Toad. He tells him stories, he makes him tea, he teaches him how to do new things, and he prompts him to enjoy life more. He is endlessly patient while Toad has tantrums over buttons, and he does his best to chase away the curious creatures who want to see Toad in his bathing suit.

They spend Christmas together, they are brave together, and they enjoy the shivers together. In a forever-unrevealed Gift of the Magi scenario, they rake each other’s leaves.

And Toad needs Frog, certainly. Frog wants the best for Toad. Most of his excesses come from wanting Toad to learn a good lesson about life. He doesn’t just want Toad to be happy; he wants to improve him.

But this is not a clear-cut case of the good friend and the bad friend, the giver and the needy one, the shining star and the dead weight. Frog is the kind of person who mistakes inborn temperament for virtue, and I very much admire Toad for sometimes digging in his heels and spending the day the way he likes: In bed.

This is, of course, what makes their friendship all the more delightful and real. Toad is lazy, pessimistic, easily discouraged, and an occasional berserker; but he is also intensely loyal, and generous, if heavy-handed.(“Alone? Frog has me for a friend! Why would he want to be alone?”) He’s sincerely penitent when he’s self-centered. But it’s not just a one-sided relationship. They are deeply entwined with each other, and each provides something that the other needs, whether Frog knows it or not.

Toad’s love for Frog is revealed in the deep panic he feels on Christmas Eve, as he runs out barefoot into the storm, armed with a pan and a rope, imagining that Frog has simultaneously lost, being chased by an animal with sharp teeth, and in the bottom of a deep hole.

But Frog needs Toad just as much. He seems to rarely knows how to spend his time unless it’s with Toad, and when Toad has a problem or is sad, his day is consumed with searching for an answer. He sits all day with Toad, waiting for the snail to deliver his letter with the sole message that Frog is glad for Toad’s friendship. And when Toad is paralyzed over his lost to-do list, Frog buys into the idea that he can’t act without it, and works up a sweat trying to catch it. Frog is just as needy as Toad, in his own way. He needs Toad to need him.

Toad is painfully aware that Frog is more accomplished than he is, and it eats away at him, at least subconsciously. In his dream (which should be required reading for every adolescent and adult), he finally triumphs over Frog so entirely that Frog disappears altogether, and Toad realizes that being second-best is not nearly as bad as being alone. He wants Frog to be “his own right size,” even if that’s bigger than Toad.

I challenge you to find a truer and more beautiful portrayal of friendship anywhere, even in books with many more syllables per page.

Well-behaved characters rarely make books (but here are some that do)

You know that irritating bumper sticker, “Well-behaved women rarely make history”? Well, poo. First, it’s not everyone’s job to make history. The world functions better for everyone when most people go to work, act decently, are thoughtful of others, and save the rebellion for emergencies.

Second, and more importantly, it depends what you mean by “well-behaved.” If you mean “The only possible way to change the world is to take your top off and scream at people,” then I’d have to demur (and so would the Virgin Mary).

It’s true, though, that well-behaved characters rarely carry books, and it’s hard to write a book full of people who are kind — by which I mean disposed toward helping and being generous toward others, preferably gently and good-naturedly. It’s possible to write such a book, but it’s rare.

Authors of children’s books, especially, tend to want to give their characters authenticity and appeal by making them sassy, prickly, bratty, rebellious, morose, or dysfunctional — or good at heart, but with a tremendous flaw to overcome. Kindness is often portrayed as weakness or naïveté, and not desirable as a dominant virtue.

Here are a few of my favorite characters who are not only basically virtuous, but who always, or almost always, show kindness to other people in the story.

First I’ll get the two wild cards out of the way: Dido Twite and Pippi Longstocking. You can argue with me if you like!

Dido just barely qualifies, because she learns kindness gradually — but it’s a trait that anchors her character. I’m rereading Joan Aiken’s Nightbirds On Nantucket and am just in love with Dido, who wants so badly to get back to London, but realizes that drippy old motherless Dutiful Penitence is more than just her ticket home.

Dido gradually takes responsibility for patiently teaching Pen to enjoy life, to become less fearful, to stand up for herself, and to practice loyalty. Dido and Pen’s characters both develop, and they ultimately escape their predicament, as Dido deliberately cultivates kindness and gentleness toward the fragile Pen.

(Joan Aiken is great at portraying kind but interesting, well-realized characters: see cheerful Nate in the stories with Dido, and also the resourceful and protective Simon (in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts In Battersea). To a lesser extent, Arabel of the Arabel and Mortimer series is also a kind and responsible kid, although she’s also just naturally mellow.)

Pippi Longstocking is outrageously kind, a trait is just as much a part of her character as her outrageous recklessness.

She spends her time alone cooking and packing picnics for her friends, hiding treasures, and organizing all sorts of surprises and adventures. She’s enraged only by bullies who prey on the weak; and she uses her own incredible strength only for good (and some showing off). When her teasing and storytelling confuse or upset someone, she is usually contrite. Without her kindness, her outsized personality and habits would be monstrous.

The Pippi Longstocking books aren’t about character development, anyway — partly because they’re episodic, and partly because they’re sort of mythical, with Pippi as a preternatural figure whose inexplicable strength, cleverness, generosity, and radical independence are entirely self-sufficient. It’s impossible to imagine Pippi growing into adulthood or marrying, because she is already a complete person. She’s not depthless, though. She does weep, briefly, over a dead bird; and once, Tommy and Annika see her alone in her kitchen at night and it occurs to them, for the first time, that it’s possible for someone so strong and cheerful to be lonely. These glimpses into her private life make her kindness more believable.

Which other books portray characters who are thoroughly kind, without reducing them to dull foils for naughty kids with more spirit?

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett plays fairly close to the line, as Sara Crewe is almost overwhelmingly virtuous in every way.

But the scene where she struggles mightily with herself to turn her long-coveted bun over to an even hungrier child is very moving, and the book is saved from absolute melodrama by the strength and suspense of the plot and by the writing itself.

Burnett’s The Secret Garden, published six years after A Little Princess, is the better book and has more complex character development. The main character and her foil are both selfish, immature, and self-pitying early on, and their conversion and development are gradual and believable. But Dickon, the outdoorsman, is gloriously kind and open-hearted, as is his whole family.

Most people would include Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web in a list of kind protagonists, but I have always struggled with this book. It includes too many hard truths and not enough comfort for my tastes; and I always thought Charlotte was much too hard on little Wilbur emotionally, even though her actions saved him in practice. Of E.B. White’s books, my very favorite is The Trumpet of the Swan,

which includes the watchful, helpful, and loyal Sam Beaver.

She’s not in a chapter book, but I can’t neglect the lovely Nyasha, the good daughter in Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe.

The unforgettable illustrations go a long way to filling out her character, but her words and actions also demonstrate unflagging kindness, patience, and civility toward every single creature she meets, from her nasty, scheming sister, to the apparently needy folks she meets in the woods, even to the snake she encounters on the throne at the end.

(In the category of fairy tales, the 2015 live action movie of Cinderella explicitly praises kindness as a virtue to be pursued. Recommended!)

Mrs. Trotter of The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Peterson?

Oh, my heart. Her kindness is a little complex. She acknowledges that poor William Ernest Teague’s education need a harder edge than she can provide, and so her kindness perhaps shades into weakness; but in a throwaway line, she stands by her basic character, acknowledging dryly to the social worker that she’s well aware the world doesn’t consider her a real mother. Oh, Trotter. The truest portrayal of a good Christian I’ve ever seen in literature, period, for kids or for adults.

Strangely enough, the wild, anti-authority, sometimes brutal Roald Dahl books often have central characters who are very kind. Some of them are kind to most, but vengeful toward their parents and enemies, and this response is portrayed as delightful and just; but some wish even their enemies well, and are willing to risk their own safety for their friends. Charlie of Charlie in the Chocolate Factory is like this, and so is James of James and the Giant Peach;

and the vengeance is wrought by fate, rather than the protagonist. I haven’t read The BFG in many years, but I recall that the BFG’s main trait was kindness. In Danny the Champion of the World, the father is meant to be a kind man, but the reader of conscience can’t ignore than he is a criminal and a vengeful man.

Honorable mention goes to the very helpful Elmer Elevator of My Father’s Dragon,

who takes everyone he meets at face value, never uses more force than necessary, and even remembers to bring a birthday present home for his father.

Likewise Freddy the Pig throughout Walter R. Brooks’ extensive series of books,

who sometimes gets irritated or falls into self-pity, but is ultimately the friend everyone needs to have. The trio of cows, Mrs. Wiggins, Mrs. Wogus, and Mrs. Wurtzburger are also kind sorts, and tremendously appealing.

Finally, a recommendation from Rebecca Salazar: John Carter from A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I haven’t read this series, but I trust Rebecca (although she warns that the series is 100 years old, and contains references to “red men” and savage Apaches and the like, and that the first three are the best).
She says: It is a cheesy pulp novel, but one of the overarching differences between John Carter and the martians is that he treats subordinates and defeated enemies with kindness, and he doesn’t just automatically kill someone because they’re an enemy.

One example of kindness in it is that the green Martian tribe Carter becomes a chieftain in have horse analogue animals that they basically subdue through force, and this they’re dangerous to their riders, but Carter treats his with kindness and tames them and the rest of the warriors are shocked by how superior his mounts are because of this.
***
As you can see, my reading list needs some updating! I stand by all my recommendations, and hope that my kids will love these characters as much as I do; but I’d be happy to add to the list, especially to include newer books.
Who else in children’s literature is predominantly kind without being dull, two-dimensional, or drippy?

10 gorgeous Easter books for kids

Easter is April 14th 16th. I know, because I have Googled it eleven times in the last week people on Facebook told me so after I got it wrong after Googling it eleven times. That means if you have Amazon Prime, you can still order a nice Easter book for your kids, and it will get here in time.

Most of these books are linked through Amazon. (I’m an Amazon Associate and earn a small percentage of all sales made after getting to Amazon through my links. Please bookmark my link!) Note: Most but not all of these books are available with Prime. Please check shipping dates if you’re shopping for Easter! If you can’t find a good price on Amazon, I recommend checking Booksprice, which gives you a side-by-side price comparison of many booksellers. 

And now the books! I own some of these, and some have been recommended by folks I trust.

1. MIRACLE MAN: THE STORY OF JESUS by John Hendrix 

Top of my wish list.

The illustrations are fresh and exciting, with the text incorporated into the images

and the reviews promise a new and captivating take on a very familiar story.

2. THE MIRACLE OF THE RED EGG by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson, illustrated by Daria Fisher

A traditional Orthodox story telling how Mary Magdalene goes to a feast with the Emperor Tiberius. She spreads the thrilling news that Jesus has risen from the dead.

 

When it reaches the Emperor’s ears, he says, “Do you see this egg? I declare that Jesus can no more have risen from the dead, than this egg could turn blood red.” Which it does.

3.THE TALE OF THE THREE TREES: A traditional folktale told by Angela Elwell Hunt, illustrated by Tim Jonke

This looks very moving.

From the customer reviews:

“The story opens with three trees on a hilltop; one longs to be made into a dazzling treasure chest for diamonds and gold, the second wants to be a mighty sailing ship that would carry kings across the ocean, and the third simply wants to remain on the hilltop to grow so tall that when people see her, they will think of heaven. As woodcutters fell each tree, we find that although at first they cannot understand why their dreams weren’t fulfilled in the way they wanted, God used them for much greater purposes than they could ever dream.”

4. THE EASTER STORY by Brian Wildsmith 

 

 

Wildsmith’s own passion for the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection is unmistakable in his glorious, metallic-gold-hued illustrations, which tell the story more vividly than words ever could. In fact, to his credit, Wildsmith adapts the story of Jesus’s last days in as simple and straightforward a manner as possible, allowing young readers to glean the substance from the paintings, symbolism, and, most likely, discussion with grownups who may be reading along.

The donkey’s-eye-view of the events allows a slightly different perspective from the standard, without being overly intrusive as a literary device. Lush jewel tones capture the richness of the narrative, and mesh in a strangely beautiful way with the simple paintings of Jesus, the angels, Mary Magdalene, and others in the biblical cast of characters. The Easter Story will make a gorgeous addition to any Easter basket. (Ages 5 and older)

5. THE MIRACLES OF JESUS by Tomie dePaola

Twelve miracles explained plainly and with dignity, and illustrated in dePaola’s unmistakable, luminous style.

We have this book and the kids love it.
6. and 7. LOTS OF BOOKS BY Maïte Roche

So difficult to choose just one or two by Maïte Roche. I can’t find a reasonably priced edition of My First Pictures of Easter, which I recommend heartily, so keep an eye out! It’s a treasure.

You will also love
MY FIRST PICTURES OF JESUS, a sturdy little board book with captivating illustrations for little ones to pore over. This book is arranged with lots of pictures and only a few words, to inspire your own conversations with kids.


Another lovely offering from Roche:
MY FIRST PRAYERS WITH MARY.
Here’s one of my favorite illustrations from this book: Mary teaching baby Jesus to walk

It includes several short, simple prayers to Mary, with large, bright pictures of Mary, Jesus, and Joseph, accompanied by smaller pictures of modern children on the facing pages. The faces are very inviting.

8. LET THE WHOLE EARTH SING PRAISE by Tomie dePaola

A departure from dePaola’s familiar Renaissance-inspired, style:

From the reviews:

“This joyous book sings thanks and praise for everything in land, sea, and sky-from the sun and moon to plants and animals to all people, young and old. Beloved author-illustrator Tomie dePaola captures the beauty of God’s creation in his folk art-style illustrations. With text inspired by Old Testament Scripture and artwork fashioned after the beautiful embroideries and designs of the Otomi people from the mountain villages around San Pablito, in Puebla, Mexico, this is a wonderful celebration for all to share.”

9. EASTER by Fiona French

Brilliant stained glass-inspired illustrations paired with passages from scripture

to tell the story of Easter, starting with Palm Sunday and ending with the ascension.
10. THE DONKEY AND THE GOLDEN LIGHT by John and Gill Speirs 

Illustrations in the style of my man Bruegel! This is on my wish list. From the reviews:
“[A] young donkey named Bethlehem and the interaction he has with Jesus beginning the Messiah’s birth and proceeding through the flight into Egypt, the baptism by John, the wedding feast at Cana, the events of the Last Supper, and finally with the Jesus’ crucifixion at the hands of the Roman authorities.” Christ appears somewhere on each page.

BONUS:
If you are looking for a DVD, I recommend The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus

Pretty intense, as you can see from this clip:

I was skeptical, and boy do I want to be careful showing my kids any moving, speaking representation of Christ. This is not perfect, but it’s good, and powerful. Hope to rewatch soon and provide a more detailed review.

But then, one summer, everything changed! 5 offbeat books from my childhood

Friday is usually “What’s for Supper?” day, but this week we had hamburgers, tacos, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, tuna noodle, and pepperoncini beef sandwiches for supper, and no end of chips and carrot sticks. We had good reasons for eating cheap and easy all week, but I just couldn’t bring myself to write 900 words about it.

Instead, just for fun, let’s talk about odd books we read as kids. Anybody remember these?

The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken (1980)

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Joan Aiken’s more popular books are the funny and thrilling Wolves Chronicles (a loosely-connected historical fiction adventure series set mostly in an alternate London where James II was not deposed), many featuring the wonderful Dido Twite; and the hilarious Arabel and Mortimer series, about a sensible little girl and her almost-coherent pet raven; but Aiken also wrote several novels about the supernatural. One of these, The Shadow Guests is creepy, and fairly sad, but with a satisfying finish. An Australian teenage boy is sent off to live with a distant relative after his mother and her more-favored son apparently commit suicide together. Already lonely and upset, he begins to see ghosts — and they may have a particular message for him. Very dramatic and captivating. Aiken’s characters are always so well conceived and fleshed out and sympathetic. For middle school and up.

***

Miss Osborne-the-Mop by Wilson Gage, illustrated by Paul Galdone. (1963, so not technically from my childhood, but I did read it then)

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Wilson Gage is the pen name of the prolific Mary Q. Steele, which sounds like even more of a pen name. A glum and shy girl has to spend the summer with a cousin she doesn’t like. They accidentally magically bring a mop to life — a mop who looks and acts disconcertingly like a bossy former teacher. The mop takes over their life, and their summer gets much harder, and much more fun, than they expected. Here’s a bunch of people who also remember this strange and charming book with fondness.  It’s one of those books where something ridiculous and unlikely happens, and the characters know it’s ridiculous and unlikely, and they have to figure out how to deal with it like real people. For grade 3 and up.

***

Peter Graves by William Pène du Bois (1950)

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The author is much better known for the offbeat fantasy The Twenty-One Balloons, but I think Peter Graves is the better book. A rowdy teenager, while showing off for his friends, accidentally destroys the home of an eccentric old inventor who lives on the outskirts of town. To help repay him, the boy goes on a mission to help him market an amazing but volatile substance he has invented. It turns out to be harder than it looks. The way I remember it, this story doesn’t really have a theme or a point; it’s just super interesting and funny and weird, and very much in tune with a real child’s imagination. For grade 4 and up.

***

Singularity by William Sleator (1985)

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I honestly can’t remember if this book is any good or not. It centers on twin boys who are not alike and who do not get along. One summer, the smaller, less confident twin discovers something that may finally give him a leg up, but he’ll have to pay a horrible price. There was more to the plot — I think there was a monster? — but the unforgettable part is the scene where he’s deciding whether or not to go through with it. Anyone remember this book? Was it any good, or just weird? For middle school and up.

***

Banana Twist by Florence Parry Heide (1982)

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Heide is best known for The Shrinking of Treehorn, illustrated by Edward Gorey, which I don’t think I’ve ever read. I’m only mentioning this book because I read it five billion times, hating it every time. Why do kids do this to themselves? I don’t know. The hero is an irritable TV- and candy-obsessed kid named Jonah B. Krock who is trying to finagle his way into a boarding school so as to escape his health-obsessed parents. His life becomes intertwined with his repulsive neighbor, who falls under the illusion that Jonah has an obsession with bananas. But at the end, there is a twist! This is such an 80’s book. It’s basically a lame and pointless joke spun out to book length for no reason at all. Naturally, there is a sequel.

***

Finally, a book that doesn’t fit in with the rest of these books at all, but maybe you can help me find it! It’s a picture book, with no words at all. The pages are cut into three or four horizontal strips. By opening the cut-up pages into different combinations, you can make all kinds of odd scenes. They were very cleverly drawn so that every combination worked. I remember it being in a hyper realistic style, or maybe sort of surrealist, like Chris Van Allsburg or David Wiesner. I feel like there were lots of umbrellas involved, and also factories and maybe giant lollipops. Anybody have any clue?

***

Happy Friday!

And in His hand, the golden ball

I’m not sure if you want to cry, or what; but if you do, you might consider reading Tomie dePaola’s The Clown of God. (If you don’t own the book, you can hear and see it read aloud in this video.)

Quick summary: In Renaissance Italy, a ragged street boy falls in with a travelling show troupe, and as he grows, he becomes an expert juggler. Eventually he strikes out on his own, and becomes a celebrated performer all over the country. He has a complicated routine, but always ends with a rainbow of balls and then “The Sun in the Heavens,” a single golden ball that he tosses impossibly high.

He enjoys his fame; but then times get hard, the clown gets old, and no one cares about his act anymore. He even drops “The Sun in the Heavens,” and the crowd jeers. Now a ragged beggar, he stumbles back to his old hometown, where he takes refuge in a dark church and falls asleep. He wakes up in the middle of the night to blazing lights and music, as a procession of villagers and religious present Christmas gifts before a statue of Mary and a somber Child Jesus.

When they are all gone, he gazes as the statue; and, remembering that he once made children smile, he suits up and goes into his old juggling routine one last time. He works his way through all his tricks, and finishes with the rainbow of colored balls. Finally he adds “The Sun in the Heavens.” He juggles it higher than ever before and cries out, “For you, sweet child, for you!”

And then his old heart gives out and he falls dead to the ground. A sacristan finds him and calls a priest, who blesses the old man’s body.

But the sacristan backs away in fear: The child Jesus is smiling, and in His hand, He holds the golden ball.

***
Among other things, it’s a story of when things are almost too late — when we almost miss Christmas, because of all the hustling and costume changes and juggling and fuss.

If you can, remember that phrase: “For you, sweet child!” — and toss Him one golden ball.

Apologize to someone if you were rude.
Put your phone down and read a book to your kid.
Let an insult pass without comment or retaliation.
If a street person asks for one dollar, give him ten.
Stop and pray for someone, or give a word of encouragement, before you go on with your juggling routine.

For you, sweet Child! He will catch that ball, and smile.

My book sale phinds and phooeys

I used to try to make extra money selling used books online. I would go to library book sales and try to spot rare and unusual volumes that people would be willing to pay a fortune for. Using only my intuition, I paid $1 for a probable first edition of a biography of Charles de Gaulle, which I turned around and sold for $80. Wildly encouraged, I used that same intuition to buy another fifty or sixty likely-looking books, also for a dollar each. And every single one of them, nobody wants because nobody needs. Thus ended my bookseller’s career.

People do actually make money buying and selling used books online, but you have to really love every single thing about books – and, less romantically but more practically, you probably also need to have a handheld ISBN scanner, which will instantly tell you if you’ve found a rare gem or a turkey before you decide whether to buy it.

As with so many other things, the money value of a book is more about how rare it is than how good it is. And so people who sell books because they love reading may find themselves scooping up junk because they know it will turn a profit, which is kind of a heartbreaker.

Anyway, now we have the luxury of just buying books that we want to read ourselves. This time, we filled four shopping bags. Here’s what stands out this time around:

Book there were inexplicably three zillion copies of:

Girl with a Pearl Earring.

book cover girl with a pearl earring

Really nicely written, overall. I have no idea how faithful it is to the actual biography of Vermeer, but it was a good, sad story, if a bit heavy handed at times. After reading it, I checked out the author’s earlier work, The Virgin Blue, and found it very much an earlier novel, and unbearably message-y. Should I keep reading, anyone? She’s done five more novels.

The Thorn Birds. This I read, I don’t know why. It is one of the worst novels I have ever encountered. If that one guy said, “I’m not a man, I’m a priest!” one more time, I was going to tear out the page and eat it in a rage. It’s so painful to read something by someone who clearly has talent, but who is overwhelmed, chapter after chapter, by fawning prejudice and a weakness for the easy way out. She opted for goo every time, until her characters were just little stubs of puppets struggling under a greasy load of caricature.

Stephen King everywhere. Holy mackerel, can we say overrated? I read several of his books in high school, and you know what he is? Competent. Hooray! Let us crown him with many crowns!

 

Book I put my foot down about this time: books that make noise. I long ago gave up the battle against toys that make noise, but I’m holding the line when it comes to books; and yes, five-year-old, that includes books whose batteries are dying and so they only make a small amount of noise.

The kids didn’t even ask for books that summarize Disney movies.

I also said no to a Care Bear puzzle that smelled like cats.

I did, however, green light a Harry Potter trivia game

hp trivia game

which miraculously had all the pieces. They’ve played it at least five or six times, so it must be pretty good. Apparently it has a few inaccuracies, which only adds to the drama.

 

Things I buy every single time I see them:

The Family of Man (got two hardcover copies this time!)

book cover the family of man

Wrote about this wonderful collection of  photographs and quotations here. I can’t pick it up without losing at least fifteen minutes. If you can find a clean copy, this would make a really nice wedding present. If you wanted to explain to an alien from Mars what human life is like, you could just show him this book.

 

Things I buy in hopes that I can leave them around the house and they will be so nice and bright that someone will learn something for once around here:

The Colour Library of Art: GOYA. 49 plates in full color? Yes please.

Byzantium: City of Gold, City of Faith by Paul Hetherington and Werner Forman. Gold! Candles! Mosaics!  O Byzantium!

book cover byzantium

 

Replacement books that no one will be thrilled to see because we already have a few copies, but these ones have ALL THE PAGES:
Great Brain books. So weird and funny.

Lloyd Alexander’s  Chronicles of Prydain. Actually, I haven’t found any kid who especially likes these books, but there are still plenty more kids, so I keep buying them.

Henry Huggins and other Beverly Cleary books. I am always on the lookout for Otis Spofford, Ellen Tebbits, and Emily’s Runaway Imagination. These aren’t as common as the Henry and Ramona and Beezus books, but they capture the puzzles and comforts of childhood just as honestly.

Homer Price books

homer price

 

Defiant purchase:

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

book cover song of solomon

I like Toni Morrison, but I have less patience than I used to for books that just flit around here and there and make you figure out what happened when. I could also do without the recurring made-up phrases. You know who could get away with that? Homer. But “Baby Suggs, Holy,” is just not the same, and I do not need to hear it twenty-three times. But,I still like Toni Morrison, in small doses.

 

Trash books I considered buying just to remove them from circulation, but cheaped out because it wasn’t fill-a-bag day:

Dan Brown nonsense. I read The Da Vinci Code out of curiosity, and at first enjoyed it because of the astonishing things I was reading. I have worked with editors before, and I was just endlessly entertained trying to imagine who could actually do this for a living and yet let these passages see the light of day. But after a while, it just got depressing, and I ended up feeling like my brain had been worked over on some kind of exceedingly silly lathe.

Judy Blume nonsense. It’s recently come to my attention that Judy Blume has “written” “novels” for “adults.” I picked one up at the dump one time and read the first few pages.

book cover wifey

It was like, “One day, the house wife was housewifing around, because her loutish and impotent husband forced to make sandwiches, which were made out of wheat bread, mayonnaise, turkey, and iceburg lettuce, which she preferred over romaine lettuce, even though she knew it was somewhat less nutritious. Then a mysterious stranger came by on a motorcycle and masturbated at her. THEN EVERYTHING CHANGED.” Geez louise. There oughta be a law.

And of course The Golden Compass, which I wrote about in Things that have no right to exist.

I took comfort from the fact that it was day two of the sale and there will still plenty of copies lying around, so maybe they will just send themselves to the garbage without any effort from me and my social conscience.

Take-a-chance books:

What It Feels Like to Be a Building

book cover what it feels like to be a building

I haven’t read this one yet, but it looks like a neat concept. Here’s a review:

Have you ever felt squashed? Squeezed? Pulled? Tugged? If so, then you know what it feels like to be a building! Here, with playful drawings and humorous text, award-winning author Forrest Wilson uses human figures (plus some dogs and rams) to show that architecture and people have more in common than you might have believed. This book will delight everyone who is fascinated with the buildings around us.

SUPER SCORE:

CDs of The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce

cd cover great divorce

For like $2 each! Foolproof plan: play these for the older kids at night while we fold laundry. This has got to be better than our current system, which is to never ever ever fold laundry.

 

The most-read book of the lot so far:

A Birthday for Frances

Pure pleasure.

birthday for francis

Frances is probably the realest little kid in all of children’s literature. There is no more exquisite passage portraying the triumph of man’s higher nature over his own passions, than this short work depicting a young badger’s struggle to relinquish the Chompo bar that she bought for her undeserving little sister Gloria’s birthday party.

 

Guilt purchases:

None! Yay me! No “I really ought to finally read this,” “my kids ought to know this”, “we ought to have one of these around the house,” “it’s really time I learned how to quilt,” etc. I already stock my brain with stuff like that — no need to clog up the living room, too.

How about you? Any good book sale finds?

Oh, and as long as we’re talking about books, I forgot to take my ebook of sale, so you can still get The Sinner’s Guide to NFP ebook for $2.99!  I’ll leave it up for another day, and then it will go back to full price.

At the Register: Maite Roche is a treasure

 

As a writer with children, I receive lots and lots of Catholic children’s books, and nearly every time, I regretfully decline to review them, because I cannot deal with the way Mary and Jesus’ faces are drawn. The best of them are blank and insipid, giving the impression that the Holy Family was dabbled in narcotics; and the worst are goony and pandering. Take it from me: transferring Spongebob’s features onto a human body and slapping a halo on his head is not, in fact, the best way to attract little children to the Faith.

Maite Roche is different! Read the rest at the Register.