tight times.

During theĀ  course of my library work not too long ago, I came across a book illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman that was in a sad state of disrepair. Since I love Trina’s illustrations, I promptly looked to see if I could replace it, and, as is my wont, went on a spree of buying replacements for any other shabby titles by her, as well as buying any available titles that we didn’t currently own.

One of those arrived the other day–Tight Times, written by Barbara Shook Hazen. It was published originally in 1979, but the story of a little boy who can’t have a dog because his father just lost his job is suddenly, achingly relevant again for children today.

The writing is lovely and spare, and the pictures work beautifully with the text, such as when the young narrator tells us that after he got home from work, Daddy made them each special drinks, the picture shows us his covered in whipped cream, while Daddy’s is in an old fashioned glass.

I think that sometimes my ear and eye are so focused on picture books that I can use in storytime, I sometimes overlook books like this one. It’s a sad read with a realistically happy ending, so give it to your 1st-3rd graders who are clear-eyed realists, and it just might help them feel a bit better about Daddy losing his job.*

I suppose now I have to be on the look-out for books to help kids with Daddy’s possible future drinking problem.

*This book is also cited in may “how to write” books, and my coworker told me she found an instance of where it was used to teach the concept of inference, so it’s quite a versatile and concept rich little piece of work. All hail the concise power of a picture book!

how it all began.

It all began with a monster.

Lovable, furry old Grover, to be precise. He was afraid, you see–afraid of the monster at the end of the book.I wasn’t afraid, though.

To a certain extent all reading is interactive, but this book was, and is, particularly so. Grover ignores the fourth wall and speaks directly to the heart of every little child who is powerless in the world. When you read this book, you can decide Grover’s fate. You have the power to turn a page that is made entirely out of a brick wall.

This book is the one I remember having read to me as a child. I’m sure there were others, but this is the one that shines most brightly in my memory. I’ve begun taking it out to read to school groups and I was relieved to learn that it has lost not of its charm over the years. I love hamming up Grover’s reactions in the book and pulling the children into the sturm und drang of his dire situation. I love teaching them the definition of the word “embarrassed” in a fun way.

(The sequel with Elmo, however? Well. I’m certainly no advocate of book burning, but if I were, that would be the first one on the fire.)

* * *

In the fourth grade, I fell in love with fantasy/science fiction after reading A Wrinkle in Time. I loved that the main character, Meg, was a plain, lonely, smart girl, much like myself. I loved the literary humor in the names of the three women. I longed for an Aunt Beast of my own–someone safe, who loved me for who I was, who demanded no more and no less of me than what I was capable of, and who pushed me to realize exactly how much I could do. I loved Calvin, and dreamed that some day someone would notice that I, too, had beautiful qualities behind a less than conventionally beautiful exterior.

What books turned you into a reader?

Book Crave*

I am somewhat of a thematic programmer, but I am also a weirdo who connects books, rhymes and songs the way Thelonius Monk improvises– it makes glorious sense, but not in the way you’d usually expect.

I needed a new story time to take out on some preschool visits, and I was blanking on what I wanted to present. I’d recently read aloud to a group of third graders for a Day of Reading, and I’d taken some books from our woefully under-utilized folk and fairytale collection: The Talking Eggs by San Souci, illustrated by Pinkey, and Gobble, Gobble, Slip, Slop: A Tale of a Very Greedy Cat, told and illustrated by Meilo So.

I’d wanted to use more of So’s books with kids ever since I’d discovered the wonderful Tasty Baby Bellybuttons (have I told you about how a colleague andĀ  I told that story using stick puppets? Remind me to do that, will ya’? It presents interesting problems regarding fair use, copyright infringement, and whether or not small children should be exposed to handcrafted stick puppets).

Anyway. I read that book to the 3rd graders and we all fell in love with it. The watercolors! The ontemontepeia! The decadent grossosity of that greedy, greedy cat! The classic fairy-tale trope of cutting your way out of a greedy creature’s belly!Read More »

The Giving Tree

The Pioneer Woman wrote a post about The Giving Tree, which inspired me to write a brief little note about how I think the boy in that book is a complete jerk.

It is still a lovely story about unconditional love, but that doesn’t change the fact that that boy is awful. He takes, takes, TAKES, and the Giving Tree gets so very little in return (also brings to mind that domestic violence classic from Oliver!, “As Long as He Needs Me“). Maybe I’m extremely sensitive because I feel like I am a Giving Tree in a world of Taking Boys.

How do you feel about The Giving Tree?