11.28.2008

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Michael Emberley, 32pp RL 1

Mary Ann Hoberman is a genius with rhymes. This may explain why, on the heels of Jack Prelutsky, another great children's poet, she is the new Children's Poet Laureate through 2010! She also happens to be the author of one of my all time favorite picture books about a harried mother trying to please all of her wonderful, deserving children, Seven Silly Eaters, illustrated by the incomparably magnificent Marla Frazee. And, she is the author of the classic National Book Award winning A House is a House for Me, published in 1974 and illustrated by Betty Fraser. Hoberman's You Read to Me, I'll Read to You is an ingenious series of rhyming picture books for two readers, to be read out loud, similar to Paul Fleischman's Newbery Award winning book, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, but for beginning readers. A portion of the profits from the book are donated to Literacy Volunteers of America, which makes perfect sense since you can't read these books alone.


Purple paragraphs on the left, orange paragraphs on the right and blue in the middle signal who's turn it is to read the rhyme, the blue being for both voices together. Hoberman begins her fairy tale book with an introduction to the style of writing and tips on how to read, as well as suggestion to grown-ups that they make sure children are familiar with the original versions of the fairy tales inside before reading as Hoberman makes some playful changes. These are very short fairy tales in which some two, some four pages, in which "wolves are tamed, trolls are transformed and peas are triumphant." A poem introduces the book and then eight fairy tales follow. The Three Bears, The Princess and the Pea, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Three Pigs, Little Red Hen and the Grain of Wheat and The Three Billy Goats Gruff are all turned into rhyming, two voiced poems in this clever book. The collection ends with a short poem that encourages children to seek out the original fairy tales and read them on their own.



Hoberman's rhymes and retellings are superb! As Child magazine wrote when they awarded it one of the Best Children's Book of 2004, "The content is as smart as the format with fresh takes on old plots." This is so true. Hoberman manages to end each story with friendship and cheer, the characters saying to each other, in one way or another, "And when our story is all through, You'll read to me and I'll read to you!" Since I discovered this series of books well after my second child was reading, I have not had the chance to read them out loud with a young friend. I suspect kids love them, though. The rhymes are hard to resist and you feel a little bit like an actor as you read out loud with someone else. Since I think I have a few years to wait before my youngest is ready to read out loud with me, I can't wait to give these books a test drive with my niece the next time I see her!

Besides the original, Your Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together, which is available in paperback, the other three, in hardcover only, are Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together, Very Short Mother Goose Tales to Read Together and Very Short Scary Tales to Read Together.

11.27.2008

Andy Shane and the Very Bossy Dolores Starbuckle by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, illustrated by Abby Carter, 56 pp, RL 1


Andy Shane and the Very Bossy Dolores Starbucke by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, pictures by Abby Carter, is such a perfect book for a new reader who has just begun to be a fluent reader. At fifty-six pages with great illustrations throughout, it is just the right length. There are four chapters in each book, with a story arc that progresses from beginning to end, unlike a Frog and Toad book where each chapter is an individual story. Like the chapter books for more advanced readers, this book gives new readers the chance to try their skills on something a little longer with a slightly more complex story line than the average early reader book.

The plot of the book is very timely for emerging readers - school and socialization. Andy Shane, who lives with Granny Webb, gets along in this world just fine, unless Dolores Starbuckle is around to tell him what he is doing wrong. Andy Shane is a shy, observant boy who doesn't like being the center of attention, especially for the negative reasons Dolores keeps pointing out. Wonderful descriptions of the class room, Morning Meeting, math center and interactions with the teacher, Ms Janice, are simply but well written. When Dolores' attitude becomes too much, Andy Shane asks to stay home, but Granny Webb puts him on the bus anyway. When he walks into his classroom, Granny Webb is there helping out in the classroom. Dolores tries to boss Granny Webb, who is a bug expert and knows their Latin names, around as well. Granny Webb finds a way to get around Dolores and teach her a thing or two by having Andy Shane teach her something about bug names.

One of my favorite passages describes the relationship Granny Webb and Andy Shane have. "Andy Shane had lived with Granny Webb all his life. When he came into the world, he needed someone who could take good care of him. Granny Webb needed someone to share the fun of the hilly woods, salamanders, and stories with. So the two of them became a family. Just like that." This is a great representation of the Jaconson's straightforward writing and focus on connections between people, which is a lot from a book this short written at this reading level.

Andy Shane and the Pumpkin Trick, Andy Shane is Not in Love, Andy Shane and the Barn Sale Mystery and Andy Shane and the Queen of Egypt are available in paperback as well as the above book. Andy Shane, Hero at Last is available only in hardcover only right now.

Andy Shane, Hero At Last


Other books at this level your child might like are The Cool Crazy Crickets Series.



11.26.2008

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman, painted by Betsy Lewin, 44pp RL 1


Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa is a series of beginning reader books that any horse loving girl is sure to devour. These truly are first grade reading level books - there are no contractions and key words are repeated frequently. If you can teach your reader to sight-read "cowgirl" "Kate," and "cocoa," she'll be set. There aren't too many other long, odd words in the books. There are four chapters in each book, with each chapter telling a different story. These books are similar to the Poppleton in that they divided into chapter/stories and the words are fairly simple.

In the first book we meet Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa, a horse who talks, and learn how he was named. Cocoa is the color of chocolate with a mane the color of caramel, Cowgirl Kate's two favorite candies. We also learn that Cocoa loves to eat. But, as much as he loves to eat, he cannot wait for surprises. When Kate brings him his breakfast, a bucket of oats, and a surprise in a box, he kicks over the bucket of oats, rips open the package and takes a bite out of his surprise. It does not taste too good, and it doesn't look to good on Cocoa either, since he bit a hole in the front of it. Kate tells Cocoa, "Next time you should eat your breakfast and not your surprise." Kate plays Frog to Cocoa's Toad. She talks Cocoa through his loneliness and jealousy when Kate goes off to school in the fall and brings home a new friend. She convinces Cocoa that horseshoes are better than cowboy boots when he won't let the ferrier near him. And, it is Kate who convinces Cocoa, the cowhorse, to help her find Molly's calf before they play hide-and-seek.

These books are a step above most beginning readers in the quality of the writing and uniqueness of the stories and are worth seeking out for any readers who love cowgirls and/or horses.


11.25.2008

Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole story and pictures by Wong Herbert Yee, 48pp RL 1


Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole is dedicated to, "Friends of Frog and Toad." And, while it is very much in the style of Frog and Toad, with two friends from the same species (rodent, not amphibian) who are thoughtful homebodies, neither has the neurosis of Toad nor the wisdom of Frog. Nevertheless, this is a great series of books that is perfect for a hungry new reader.





Mouse and Mole live in a tree. Mouse is upstairs in the trunk, Mole is downstairs under the roots. As they go about their days the encounter differences and conflicts but resolve them with care and understanding. Wong Herbert Yee, who is also the author and illustrator of the terrific Fireman Small picture books, draws rodents reminiscent of Kevin Henkes' Lilly and friends. Like his story, his illustrations are quiet, homey and simple, but not simplistic. And, the stories are funny and playful. Mishaps ensue when darkness-loving Mole visits Mouse's sunny kitchen and when Mouse gets a few bumps while dining at Mole's on lightly fried and raw worms. But, they each, in their own turn, realize that they are different creatures with different likes and dislikes and end the story by exchanging gifts to help out during subsequent visits - sunglasses and candles. In the last story in the book, Mouse and Mole have a grand time trying to row a boat with one oar and floating along in the rain.


For readers who aren't ready to make the jump to longer chapter books like Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series, books like Upstairs Mouse, Down Stairs Mole, Frog and Toad and George and Martha and Houndsley and Catina are perfect in tone, content and length. The stories, though brief, have substance and value and are meaningful, unlike so many of the other mass produced beginning reader books. I think that, if they lived in the same countryside, Mouse and Mole would be friends of Frog and Toad as well as for friends of Frog and Toad.

Frog and Toad written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, 62 pp, RL 2






















As I was writing a review for Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole by Herbert Wong Yee, which is dedicated to friends of Frog and Toad, I realized that, even though most everyone is familiar with Frog and Toad, I mention them so often in reviews that they deserve their own review/tribute.  Arnold Lobel is an author, illustrator, Caldecott winner for Fables in 1980, Caldecott Honor winner for Frog and Toad are Friends, and a Newbery Honor winner for Frog and Toad Together. He was also married to the colorfully unique illustrator and author, Anita Lobel and they collaborated on the Caldecott Honor winning ABC book, On Market St Like James Marshall, Lobel died at a young age and left a relatively small library of books behind.  There are less than twenty books written and illustrated by Lobel in print today. Besides Frog and Toad, two of my favorites that are seared into my memory from childhood are The Ice Cream ConeCoot and Other Rare Birds and Miss Suzy, which was written by Miriam B. Young. Miss Suzy is still in print, but The Ice Cream Cone Coot is not. You can, however, see some brilliant illustrations from it at John Rozum's blog.
















Why have Frog and Toad had such staying power for over almost forty years now? And which one is frog and which one is toad? This is how I remember them - Toad is the neurotic, self-centered one and Frog is the calm, thoughtful one. I guess you can also tell them apart because Toad is short and brown and Frog is tall and green. They are opposites of sorts. Not exactly the black and white, good and evil forces from fairy tales, but resonant in their amphibian-ish humanity. Toad learns the lessons of an unfair, random and sometimes cruel world and Frog stands by, helping Toad through his his dilemmas and difficulties, sometimes giving him the extra push he needs.

In fact, many of these stories remind me of Buddhist teachings. One teaching is, learn to live with uncertainty. In Frog and Together, the story A List depicts a desperate Toad faced with uncertainty. Toad happily spends the morning crossing off things from his "list of things to do today," but when he loses his list while taking a walk with Frog he becomes frantic. He can't even look for his list because that was not on his list of things to do. Toad sits and does nothing in the absence of his list until. it grows dark and Frog urges him to go to bed. Toad then remembers the "go to bed" was on his list of things to do and he returns home happily. Another teaching, the cause of suffering is desire, could be the theme of the story, Cookies, also from Frog and Toad Together. Toad bakes up some delicious cookies that he shares with Frog. The two quickly realize that the cookies are so good they cannot stop eating them, but they know they will become sick if they eat too many. Frog tells Toad that they need will power. "What is will power?" asks Toad. They then try putting the cookies in a box, but they can open the box. They tie string on the box, but they can untie the string. They move the box to a high shelf, but they can reach the shelf. Finally, they agree to divest themselves of the delicious cookies and end their suffering by feeding them to the birds.

I could go on and on with the comparisons, but I will stop here to sum up my admiration and appreciation for the existence of Frog and Toad in this world, especially the world of beginning readers, by calling attention to the genius or Arnold Lobel. He was a man who was able to work in miniatures. He could take a huge theme like desire, whether intentionally or not, and shrink it down to the size of a cookie. And relate it in a way a child can grasp. And throw in some pretty great illustrations as well. And that, I think, is why Frog and Toad are not only on the shelves at the bookstore to this day, but their wooden effigies are climbing ladders, decorating the entrance to the children's department of bookstores across the country!

Lobel's other books in the I Can Read Series include: Owl at Home, Grasshopper on the Road, Uncle Elephant, Small Pig, Mouse Soup and Mouse Tales.
Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel: Book CoverMouse Soup by Arnold Lobel: Book CoverOwl at Home by Arnold Lobel: Book Cover

Grasshopper on the Road by Arnold Lobel: Book CoverUncle Elephant by Arnold Lobel: Book CoverSmall Pig by Arnold Lobel: Book Cover

And, of course, Lobel's Caldecott winning Fables and Caldecott Honor winner illustrated by his wife, Anita Lobel, On Market Street.
Fables by Arnold Lobel: Book Cover




11.24.2008

Ook Book and other Silly Rhymes by Lissa Rovetch, illustrated by Shannon McNeill (and other REALLY great VERY early reader picture books)

I have a confession to make. In addition to the Berenstein Bears and the unsettling Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, (this link to the blurb about Munsch's book helped me to understand why it disturbs me and why I don't think of it as a book to read to children) I do not like books by Dr Seuss. Not even The Cat in the Hat. That was one malicious, deviant cat and even as a kid he made me uncomfortable. However, as a parent I have found Dr Seuss' books can be useful with children who are in the earliest stages of learning to read and here is why.

Letter recognition and the awareness that different sounds go with each letter is the first step for an emerging reader. Phonological and phonemic awareness, the understanding that language is made up of individual and separate sounds and the ability to notice and work with those sounds, is the next step in reading readiness. This is where Dr Seuss comes in. In a 1954 article for Life magazine detailing the numerous reasons why students weren't learning how to read in school, among them the dismal state of primers filled with "abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls," John Hersey asked, "Why should [school primers] not have pictures that widen rather than narrow the associative richness the children give to the words they illustrate - drawings like those of the wonderfully imaginative geniuses among children's illustrators, Tenniel, Howard Pyle and Theodore S. Geisel." By the time this article was written Seuss had already published fourteen books including two Caldecott Honor winners, Horton Hears a Who and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Rising to the challenge to create a entertaining picture book that also had the qualities of a school primer, Geisel was given 400 words (known as sight words today) his publisher thought children were learning in school. He then wove 236 of them into a rhyming story, 33 of which occur twice and only one with more than two syllables. While Geisel's original idea was to write an entertaining story using sight words, the bulk of his books are filled with rhyming, often nonsensical words with equally ludicrous characters and plots, if you could call them plots. I realize that Seuss is beloved my millions, and I while like some of the books he wrote before The Cat in the Hat, like his first book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, I get tired of the made up words and characters pretty quickly. However, Hop on Pop is one great book for phonemes -the smallest parts of language that combine to make words. (/h/o/p/) are phonemes that combine to make the word "hop," and by changing one letter (or phoneme) you get "pop," "top" and so on. This is how kids learn to read - one three-letter rhyming word at a time!


I am happy to announce that there is an alternative to Dr Seuss for those of you who are ready to try something new. The Ook Book and Other Silly Rhymes is by Lisa Rovetch and illustrated by Shannon McNeill, who's paintings are reminiscent of the works of the great children's illustrators Giselle Potter and Sophie Blackall. This book has fourteen poems, each of which has a sound like "ook," and a rhyming word, like "book," as part of the title. "Ake the Snake," "Ug the Bug" and "Ee the Bee," are just a few. While Rovetch uses made up words like Geisel, these words are the roots of all the rhyming words in the poem, serving as the names of the characters in each, and are the only made up words in the poem. The illustrations are bright, colorful and funny and they provide visual clues to the words in the poems. I think this is a great book for new readers and, while it is short, the artwork definitely makes it worth owning - especially if you have more than one child who can benefit from it.

Through my job as story reader at the bookstore where I work, I have found a handful of outstanding picture books with simple text and superb visual cues. Every once in a while I'll have some young listeners at story time who require short, very colorful picture books to keep them entertained. In addition to being good for new listeners, these books are great for new readers! And, always remember the Five Finger Rule: if there are more than five words per page that you child cannot read in the text, the book is too difficult.



Every book by Eric Carle has excellent visual appeal, especially, I've noticed, for toddlers. A few of his books are also good for emerging readers. Besides the now classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, Panda Bear, Panda Bear and the newest, Baby Bear, Baby Bear, all written by Bill Martin Jr, Head to Toe and the Very Hungry Caterpillar are great for their simple text and precise visual cues.






Another fantastically diverse author and illustrator is Kevin Henkes. You might be familiar with his picture books for slightly older kids like Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, Sheila Rae the Brave and the Caldecott Honor winning Owen, all of which capture emotional aspects of childhood with a insightful accuracy and a brilliant vocabulary, as well as winning illustrations, but Henkes also has a handful of books that are quieter and gentler and great for new readers. My favorite of them is A Good Day, which begins with the first line, "It was a bad day..." I just love the fact that the first line of the book sets up the story with a seeming contradiction. Henkes simplifies and brightens his illustration style for this book to tell the stories of five bad days that turn into good days for a bird, a dog, a fox, a squirrel and a little girl. Henkes' other books that might be good for early readers are the Caldecott Honor winning, Kitten's First Full Moon and his newest picture book, Old Bear.

Lois Ehlert is also an author/illustrator with a vivid visual style who employs collages and short narratives in her books. While her vocabulary isn't all drawn from sight words, it tends to be on the simpler side and will give readers a good chance to sound out new words. In addition to illustrating the hugely popular Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Ehlert has illustrated and written Snowballs, Red Leaf Yellow Leaf, Leaf Man, Eating the Alphabet and Growing Vegetable Soup. She also wrote and illustrated a book I have never heard of before but plan to order - the cover alone sold me - titled, Hands: Growing Up to be an Artist, about a child who works alongside her parents gardening, sewing, doing carpentry and thinks about being an artist herself when she grows up. There is a 2004 edition that is a reprint of a 1997 version, and is interactive with shaped pages and flaps to lift.
















I know there are probably hundreds more books that could join the list, and I encourage you to share titles with me and I will update this post. I believe whole heartedly that seeking out picture books, rather than books written expressly to teach a child how to read, for your emerging reader will provide the foundation for a love and appreciation of art and literature that will enrich your child's experience of the world for his or her whole life. Until then, I leave you with a new book and winner of the Caldecott Honor this year. Laura Vaccaro Seeger's First the Egg begins with the line, "First the egg," and an oil painting of an egg and a die-cut. When you turn the page you get a yellow chick in the space where the cut-out is. Things go on morphing on every page of the book, including "first the word, then the story," ending quite nicely where it began - with the egg.

11.23.2008

New Reader Week and What I have Learned!

I didn't plan to do a post like this before kicking off "New Reader Week," but I feel like, despite shepherding two of my three children through the learning to read process and selling books to parents for over 13 years that are supposed to do the same thing, I LEARNED some stuff I didn't know!!!

I have my reviews this week organized by reading difficulty level - tomorrow starts off with a re-write of a post from September on some of my favorite sets and publishers of beginning to read materials, as well as a link to a site with a great list of "sight words" so you and your reader can make your own books.  Also, with great serendipity, I was able to add a link to a spectacular site that teaches you/kids how to make your own books!  Thanks to my sister-in-law for your thoughtfulness and timeliness in sending me that link!!

Next, I have a post on picture books that can double as reading primers and a bit on the history of Dr Seuss' foray into that realm, which was new to me, as were some technical words I picked up from Education.com.  Tuesday is a tribute to one of my favorite picture books/beginning to read books - books I have already mentioned in six other posts! - as well as a review of a beginning to read series that is similar.

Wednesday is a new series I discovered and Thursday is the first, best, only chapter book (under 50 pages) for new readers that I know of.  Reading and reviewing this book helped me understand the progression of complexity in the world of beginning readers, which I can boil down to this simple, possibly obvious, distinction:  Beginning to read books, those categorized as such, are, on the whole, collections of short stories.  While they have chapters, often three or four, these chapters are really self-contained stories with their own beginning, middle and end. The jump to chapter books brings one continuous plot with a story arc that takes the reader through the book.  This signals a fluency in the reader that allows her/him to grasp the complexities of a longer story/plot.  I wish there were a shelf full of more books like the one I review on Thursday - I have so many parents, kids and reading specialists asking why there isn't a chapter book for kids who aren't ready for Junie B Jones and The Magic Tree House, the two dominant titles in the second grade readers series section?

And, finally, on Friday I have a beginning to read fairy tale book that I am so excited about!  I hope some of you out there will pick it up and share your thoughts (and your kid's) on it with me (as with every book I review, but especially this one for reasons you'll see in the review.)  I found so many great links and such a wealth of information about the author and related topics while writing this post. The author's site has links to the work of her three grown children who are truly amazing in their own right - I hope you'll check it out!

I had such a great time putting these reviews together (notice the proliferation of exclamation points...)  I hope you have half as much fun reading them!

11.21.2008

Barrel of Laughs: A Vale of Tears, written and illustrated by Jules Feiffer 180pp RL4


I love A Barrel of Laughs: A Vale of Tears by Jules Feiffer. If Monty Python's Flying Circus had written a young adult book, this very well might be it. (Actually, Eric Idle wrote a very funny retelling, and now out of print, in novel form, of Edward Lear's poem "The Owl and the Pussycat.") Jules Feiffer has a spectacular sense of humor and a very nice way of letting the reader in on the joke. If you haven't already read it, don't miss my favorite of Feiffer's many excellent picture books, Bark, George!


Roger, the son of the kindly King Watchamacallit, has a gift that is also a curse. He is a carrier of joy and he spreads it before him wherever he goes, his remarkably high spirits casting a spell over anyone or anything who comes within a half mile of him. Because of this, very little gets done in the kingdom and it is J. Wellington Wizard who determines that Roger must go on a quest. Prince Roger journeys through the Forever Forest, across several other well named geographical challenges and onto the Mountain of Malice. Each locale has a clever challenge that Roger must meet to continue on his quest as well as a host of unique characters. As he struggles to understand himself and the world around him, all that Roger sees and everyone he meets has an impact on him until and changes him in some way until he emerges from his quest a more thoughtful person. He finds friendship, marries and has a child. By the end of the story, amidst his happy ending, Roger decides that "in his lifetime there might be a dozen, a hundred more quests, quests of all kinds waiting out there to be found. But where else would he have found this woman? Or this child? Or these friends?"

In my polemic on books that teach life lessons, I said that I disliked books that blatantly taught lessons to children. I prefer books that artfully and creatively weave certain truths of existence - life is difficult, but we learn how to be better people when we go through difficult experiences, etc. - into an artful story that makes you feel and think things you hadn't before. While this book doesn't have the black and white good and evil embodied in a person or animal of a traditional fairy tale, it does have dark and dangerous places that can put a person in peril. And, as Bruno Bettelheim points out in his treatise on the importance of fairy tales, there is a hero who has to "go out into the world all by [himself] and who, although originally ignorant of the ultimate things, finds secure places in the world by following [his] right way with deep inner confidence." This hero allows the listeners/readers an example of a person they might like to be like and gives the tools to make "coherent sense out of the turmoil of [their] inner feelings" and gives them idea on how to put their inner houses in order. Barrel of Laughs: A Vale of Tears is definitely one of those books and not be missed by anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale.

If your child enjoys this book, suggest The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer, Doll People, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Far-Flung Adventures, The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, Sisters Grimm Series by Michael Buckley, and Whales on Stilts by M. T. Anderson.

Fairy Tale Friday & New Reader's Week Announcements!

Fairy Tale Fridays:  This Friday and next I am going to spruce up some reviews of Fairy Tales that I wrote before I had the idea to start Fairy Tale Fridays.  For those of you who have been reading for that long, I apologize for the repeats.  For those of you new to the blog, I am happy to have the chance to reintroduce some books that I think are great.  Also, I am struggling a bit to find chapter books that are traditional fairy tales, retellings of fairy tales or just plain fairy stories.  I have several 4th & 5th grade reading level books yet to review and read, but I feel like I am floundering a bit.  If you know of any chapter books that are fairy tales, fairy stories or fairy tale retellings, please let me know and I will seek them out to read and review.  Eventually, I think I may just have to relax my definition of fairy tale and allow in some general fantasy titles and rename it Fantasy Fridays.

New Reader's Week:  A new and improved version of my post titled, "The Beginning Reader Dilemma" will kick off New Reader's Week this Sunday, to be followed by a review every day of beginning reader books that are creative, unique, extraordinary and/or stand-outs in their genre.  We will return to our regular programming schedule the following week...

11.19.2008

The Secret History of Giants by Professor Ari Berk, illustrated by Wayne Anderson, Douglas Carrel, Gary Chalk, Kevin Levell and Larry MacDougall


The Secret History of Giants: Or the Codex Giganticum, written and collected by Ari Berk, Magister and Scribe of the Order of Golden Quills, is an superb new book from one of my favorite publishing houses, Candlewick Press. Publishers of the Ology series of books, including Dragonology, the original fun reference books with flaps, envelopes, books within books and all sorts of other goodies, Candlewick Press are masters at making a visually beautiful book and they have an excellent roster of artists to draw from, including one of my favorites, Wayne Anderson, illustrator of the picture books Tin Forest and The Dragon Machine, both by Helen Ward (and contributor to the Dragonology books) when making a multifaceted book like The Secret History of Giants. They have also found an excellent, scholarly author in Professor Ari Berk, who holds degrees in Ancient History, American Indian Studies and a Ph.D in Comparative Literature and Culture. In addition to this, Professor Berk has worked with the amazing fantasy artist and conceptual designer for the movies Labyrinth and Dark Crystal, Brian Froud. The two collaborated on Goblins! and Runes of Elfland and the very funny but adult Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Letters.



I tell you all this because I think it is remarkable to know the academics and artistry that go into this gem of a book, especially if you have never had the chance to read one of the original 'Ologies books and their knock-offs. These aren't just elaborate pop-up books for kids about fantastical (and real) creatures and places, these are collective, collaborative works that come in gorgeous packages, as is this wonderful. The conceit of The Secret History of Giants is that The Order of the Golden Quills, who count among its magisters and scribes Professor Berk, Hesiod, Ovid, Morgan le Fay and Shakespeare, in an effort reestablish a mutual understanding and appreciation between the Huldur, or secret folk, and the human race, has decided to publish its collected knowledge as a means to achieving this end. While the existence of Giants may be fictional, there is quite a bit of folklore from around the world regarding giants, and much of it can be found in this book. Professor Berk blends this folklore with facts of his own creation, although I am hard pressed to tell you which is which. There are sections of the book that cover the early years of the world and the birth of the giants, enduring evidence of giants, the life cycle of giants and giants at work. There are also fascinating entries on the mysteries of the giant's sack, giant fashion, stone lore and charms, and earthfasting, which is when giants, weary at the end of a long life, lay down to sleep, becoming one with the earth again. Finally, there is a section on the giants of the world, from North America to the Mediterranean and Asia as well as the Celtic and Norse giants.






While this book does not have the envelopes and tactile specimens like dragon dust that can be found in the 'Ologies books, it does have flaps, booklets and gatefold pages (that open into a four page spread) and a tassel that hangs off the spine, all richly and gorgeously illustrated. This is more than just a book. Each page contains several little chunks of information, making it perfect for picking up and flipping through any time. Obviously this book will appeal to both boys and girls who already have an interest in fantasy and folklore, but it might also be a good diversion for boys who like to read manga and chapter books packed with illustrations like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. And, really, this book isn't just for kids. The Secret History of Giants will definitely grab the eye of any adults who are fans of fantasy, folklore and books rich with wonderful illustrations and fascinating information.

Don't miss this other phenomenal book from Professor Berk with yet another amazing cast of illustrators, The Secret History of Mermaids!


And, coming in October of 2012 . . .