Paper Towns is John Green's third book and the first I have read. I am an instant admirer. As of this writing, Green has only three titles to his name - Looking for Alaska, his debut novel and winner of the Michael L Printz Award - the teen literature version of the Newbery Award, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns. His most recent book, Will Grayson, Will Grayson was cowritten with the amazing editor and author David Leavithan, who is also the coauthor with Rachel Cohn of one of my all-time favorite teen books, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. And, Green is part of the super-teen-triad, along with Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle, that created Let it Snow, a collection of three intertwined stories. Despite the fact that he has only a handful of published works under his belt, Green has made a huge impression on the world of teen literature that will last for years to come. His reputation is big enough that I found myself a bit skeptical when I opened Paper Towns but deeply satisfied and rewarded by the time I closed it. Green delivers exactly what I think makes a novel a work of true literature. His characters and plot are interesting and well-rounded and their crises compelling, but he takes his story to a higher level by weaving symbolic themes and literary references throughout his multilayered story.
I included both the paperback and hardcover images for Paper Towns because they are both brilliantly conceived and wonderfully representative of the story within. Where to begin? Margo Roth Spiegelman. Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Paper Towns. The Prom. If I had to sum up the thrust of this book in a gerneal, one sentence thesis for an English class essay, I think I would say that Paper Towns is about how you can think you know a person and even love a person, but ultimately you only know what s/he wants you to know. Of course identity, sense of self and personhood are key issues to a contemporary, first world teenage experience, but, rather than explore these issues from the inside out as most authors do, Green explores them from the outside in with the main character and narrator, Quentin Jacobsen, also known as Q, and his realization that he doesn't know all their is to know about a person he thinks he loves.
Being the (almost) lifelong neighbor to Margo Roth Spiegelman, the "most fantastically gorgeous creature that God ever created," is, in Q's mind, his one alloted lifetime miracle. Even without Quentin's glowing descriptions, Margo is clearly a unique and special person, as we see when she climbs through Q's window at midnight (after falling out of friendship with him several years back) and asks him to be her driver as she tackles her "eleven problems." With reservations, Q rolls his mom's minivan out of the garage and embarks on a night of helping Margo exact revenge on people he thought were her close friends and even boyfriend. Their first stop is the Publix store where Margo hands Q a hundred dollar bill and a list that includes, "3 whole Catfish, Wrapped separately/ Veet (It's for Shaving your legs Only you don't Need A razor It's with all the Girly cosmetic stuff)/ Vaseline/ six-pack, Mountain dew/ One dozen Tulips/ one Bottle Of water/ Tissues/ one Can of blue Spray paint." When Q comments on the "interesting capitalization" used in her list, Margo replies, "Yeah, I'm a big believer in random capitalization. The rules of capitalization are so unfair to the words in the middle." What follows is a truly inspired, calculated adventure that apparently exemplifies the outward persona that Margo projects to her peers.
Margo disappears after that night and Q finds himself following a sparse trail of clues that will lead him to another Margo, one that she has never shared with even her closest friends. This isn't the first time Margo has taken off or left clues as to her whereabouts, which have included letters in the bottom of a bowl of alphabet soup. When he notices a poster of a guy playing a guitar that has the words THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS taped to the backside of the window shade in Margo's room (which is directly across from Q's) Q realizes that this is a clue for him and he enlists the help of his two closest friends, Ben, a Prom obsessed big talking fan of the "honeybunnies" and Radar, a compulsive editor of entries at Omnictionary, Green's inspired fictional version of Wikipedia. Radar is constantly checking entries for accuracy and righting the juvenile wrongs committed by others as well as adding his own entries. Because of this, he is very savvy when it comes to the internet and quickly links the web of clues and leads left behind for Q to follow.
I think that it is hard to write a relevant book for teens these days without making specific cultural references because consumerism and media are such tremendous parts of everyday life in the 21st century, yet they are also rapidly replaced by new trends. Thus, to mark a novel with these references is to date the text and possible detract from the more profound aspects of the story. I think that Green finds a brilliant way around this paradox by having Margo be the kind of person who is interested in anything but contemporary teen culture. Maybe I just think that this is brilliant because that's the kind of teenager I tried to be in the 80s - music was only interesting if it was made before I was born, and the same went for the literature that I read, which ranged from Fitzgerald and Maughm up to Salinger, Kerouac and Herman Hesse. Anyway, Margo's interests, as the boys learn when they inspect her bedroom while her parents are out, are encompassed in an extensive record collection that includes John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Guided by Voices, the Buzzcocks, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Billy Bragg, who's Woody Guthrie tribute album has the same picture on it as the poster and another clue - the song "Walt Whitman's Niece" had been circled. As Q pores over the heavily underlined copy of Leaves of Grass he finds in Margo's bookshelf, he tries to understand what she wants him to know, reading the text in as many different ways as he can. Green quotes extensively from the text in his book and I love, absolutely love, the idea that hundreds and thousands of teenagers who would otherwise never read a line of Whitman's poetry are being exposed to "Song of Myself."
I am so tempted to go on describing Margo's clues and Green's exemplary plotting of this novel, but I definitely don't want to deprive anyone of the joy of discovery with this amazing book. What I do want to mention is Green's wonderful metaphorical and physical use of the concept of "paper towns." In the first section of the book, Margo and Q stand on the roof of one of the tallest buildings in Orlando in the middle of the night. Q thinks the city below them is beautiful, but Margo tells him "Everything's uglier close up." She goes on to tell Q that he lives in a paper town, "all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all those houses that were built to fall apart. All those people living in their paper houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm . . . Everyone demented with the mania of owning things. All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too. I've lived here for eighteen years and I have never once in my life come across anyone who cares about anything that matters." The use of this great metaphor exemplifies Margo's feelings of emptiness and outsider status, feelings Q remains oblivious to even as he listens to her. Much later in the book and in his search Q is discussing a once troubled classmate who is going on to college with his parents, both of whom are child psychologists. Q's dad says, "The longer I do my job the more I realize that humans lack good mirrors. It's so hard for anyone to show us how we look, so hard for us to show anyone how we feel." His mother adds, "But isn't it also that on some fundamental level we find it difficult to understand that other people are human beings the same way we are? We idealize them as gods or dismiss them as animals." He father finishes the thought with, "Consciousness makes for poor windows, too." Q listens and thinks to himself, "Margo Roth Spiegelman was a person, too. And I have never quite thought of her that way, not really; it was a failure of all my previous imaginings. All along - not only since she left, but for a decade before - I had been imagining her without listening, without knowing that she made as poor a window as I did. And so I could not imagine her as a person who could feel fear, who could feel isolated in a room full of people, who could be shy about her record collection because it was too personal to share. Someone who might read travel books to escape having to live in the town so many people escape to. Someone who - because no one thought she was a person - had no one to really talk to." Personhood and recognizing the existence of a self in others seems to be a strong theme in the teen literature I have been reading of late. In these books, psychological analysis by secondary characters and introspection on the part of the main characters are integral parts of the plot, whether the story is based in reality or fantasy. I am very excited to see this line of questioning, especially in teen literature where the answers to this questioning can be concrete and clear cut, whereas an adult work of literature might require more ambiguity and work on the part of the reader to make sense of the personal and moral dilemmas faced by the characters in the novel. I am so happy to see that these authors, in their own creative ways, are asking readers to think about others and to think about the importance of connections (or lack of connections) we make with others in our lives. After years of adulthood and parenthood (and therapy) this, to me, seems like one of the greatest accomplishments we can make in our lives - being aware of and empathetic to the existence of those around us and connecting in a meaningful way that eases the pain and deepens the enjoyment of life.
Also, unbeknownst to me, "paper towns "has a literal meaning as well. Apparently, a paper town was a creation of mapmakers to protect against copyright infringement. A fictitious town was added to a map by the cartographers and, if the map was copied without permission, the mapmakers would know when the fake town showed up on another company's version of the map. Apparently, Mountweazel (Margo's dog is named Myrna Mountweazel) is also a fictitious name created to be used as a fake entry in an encyclopedia. Thanks Omnictionary, uh, I mean Wikipedia! Green masterfully weaves the metaphorical and concrete ideas of paper towns throughout the novel as clues to Margo's whereabouts and clues to her internal struggle. Finally, I was so engrossed with the layering of plot lines, metaphors, clues and cultural references that I forgot to mention that Paper Towns is laugh out loud funny on almost every page. John Green really does deserve all the praise and attention he has garnered and I look forward to more from him in the future.
For those of you interested in more of the world of Green, he has a YouTube channel that he started with his brother, Hank, vlogbrothers, which began as a way for the brothers to communicate in 2007. This spawned, as Green's bio notes, "a community of people called nerdfighters who fight for intellectualism and to decrease the overall worldwide level of suck. (Decreasing suck takes many forms: Nerdfighters have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight poverty in the developing world; they also planted thousands of trees around the world in May of 2010 to celebrate Hank’s 30th birthday.) " The Nerdfighters are a force to be reckoned with. Also, something I absolutely love about the relatively "small" community of teen writers is that they are very much a community. Even before I decided to review teen literature on my blog I was an avid reader of this genre, hoping to keep pace with my daughter.
As a reader and bookseller, I noticed that a lot of the same authors contributed to group works and, when I began reading the Author's Notes and various blogs by the authors, I realized that they really are a community. They read each other's works, support each other with link on their blogs and shout outs for new books and tour together. John Green happens to be in a writing group that includes Emily Jenkins (aka E Lockhart) Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier and Maureen Johnson. I think that is is amazingly wonderful and, if I may make a leap, perhaps it is this community and connection among the authors themselves that comes through in the literature that they write. Whatever it is, this is a really cool group of people doing some pretty cool stuff in the world and I wouldn't think twice about encouraging my daughter to read their books and more! Maybe even join up with the Nerdfighters!
The Cool Crazy Crickets Club and The Cool Crazy Crickets to the Rescue are (hopefully) a new series of beginning reader chapter books from author David Elliott and illustrator Paul Meisel. Besides his many other chapter and picture books, you may recognize David Elliott from last year's superb picture book, Finn Throws a Fit, illustrated by the magnificent Timothy Basil Ering, illustrator of the Newbery winning Tale of Desperaux by Kate diCamillo. Finn Throws a Fit perfectly chronicles the the impossible to anticipate moods of a toddler that, in the best cases, are weathered with patience and love by mystified parents.
The Cool Crazy Crickets series, along with Jennifer Richard Jacobson's Andy Shane series, both of which are published by the always excellent Candlewick Press, really deserve a Reading Level label of their own, which I have now bestowed upon them! Reading Level 1.5! These books are shorter and a bit easier to read than the average second grade reading level book (think Magic Tree House, Junie B Jones, Daisy Dawson and The Time Warp Trio) but more difficult than a traditional first grade level book like Mercy Watson, Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa and Poppleton. While there are increasingly more and more beginning to read books that also make great read out loud books (Elephant and Piggie, Poppleton, Mercy Watson and Frog and Toad) books written at this level are best for reading alone because the plots are more basic, the vocabulary a bit more simplistic and they are meant to appeal specifically to their intended six or seven year old audience.
Two boys and two girls make up the main cast of characters in this series. In book one, The Cool Crazy Crickets Club, Leo is sitting on his front porch with his friend Marcus and his dog, Noodles when they decide to start a club. Phoebe and Miranda show up, join the club and start suggesting names. There is a back and forth between the boys and girls about what a good name would be and a great team effort in choosing the name. Next, the club needs to find a club house and a mascot. An empty refrigerator box and Leo's dog Noodles prove perfect for these goals. In book 2, The Cool Crazy Crickets to the Rescue, the action picks up a bit when the club decides to earn money for snacks instead of charging dues. There is a funny scene where the kids share some wordplay with "do's," "dues," and "don'ts." The Crickets babysit, pet sit and sell lemonade and are trying to figure out how to spend their earnings when they discover the neighborhood stray cat sleeping in the clubhouse. When Phoebe notices that the cat is sick, they know how to spend their money - taking their new mascot to the vet.
The Crickets and Andy Shane series take experiences and concerns from the lives of kids and present them in a format that these very kids can read and appreciate on their own. I hope that there are more books of this variety to begin filling the shelves soon!
This August, my book review blog will be two years old, but I think I've been feeling that 7 year itch about 5 years early. My eyes have been wandering and my attentions straying - to teen books.
Before I committed my attentions to reading kid's books for the purpose of reviewing them, I would read the occasional teen book, especially as my daughter approached that age and content level. Because I shelve in that section, as well as kid's, I have been a "blurb reader" for many many years and noticed the quality and selection of books improving immensely. JK Rowling's Harry Potter raised the bar and bumped adults' interest level for kid's books, and there are so many excellent fantasy novels that have come out for kids in the last ten years, perhaps because of this. Something similar, but not equal, has been happening in the teen section. I think that teen books, on their own, were gradually, steadily improving their content and quality of writing over the last ten years, perhaps riding the tide of Harry Potter. The publication of (and subsequent popularity of) Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga in 2005 definitely created a tsunami of books with similar themes in the world of teen literature. This wave of titles still fills up a large display table in the teen section more than 5 years later. Meyer's book also seemed to coincide with an increase of adult titles in the genre termed "urban fantasy," titles of this nature being found in both the science fiction and romance sections of the bookstore. For adults, this basically means a bunch of sexy vampire hunters who wear leather pants and have tramp stamps (Laurel K Hamilton) or every day folks living amongst vampires, weres and shapeshifters (Charlaine Harris.) These are just the two most popular authors in this genre at the moment. There are many, many more. In fact, it seems to be spreading like a disease every day. I share this with you both for your own edification and also to let you know that I do not intend to review books of this genre, however I will be reviewing fantasy novels that may even contain the occasional, albeit ironic, vampire. I hope to focus my attentions on books that are more along the lines of literature with a capital "L," for teens, if that doesn't sound too pretentious. Don't get me wrong, though, I love less serious books and will probably end up reading and reviewing them from time to time as well.
In spite of the overwhelming presence of supernatural, urban fantasy genre on the shelves, some really amazing authors have been writing some fantastic novels for teens. One interesting thing I have noticed is that there seems to be a very strong community among these authors. They often contribute to anthologies, co-write books together and all seem to know each other and maybe even hang out, kind of like the cool but odd and geeky group of kids in high school. A perfect example of this is GEEKTASTIC. Holly Black , co-auhtor with Tony DiTerlizzi of the Spiderwick Chronicles and among many other things, her Modern Faerie Tale series and teen author Cecil Castelucci came up with the idea for the first story in the book while appearing at the 2007 Comic-Con in San Diego. They decided that no one would publish their story alone and recruited their friends to contribute stories and make it a collection, giving it the subtitle of Stories from the Nerd Herd. Zombies vs.Unicorns is another amazing collection/concept due out in September of this year and is also headed, in part, by Holly Black, who leads Team Unicorn. Justine Larbalestier, author of the Magic or Madness Trilogy and, most recently, Liar, which was the subject of some interesting cover art controversy, leads Team Zombie. Big name competitors, I mean contributors, include Garth Nix, Meg Cabot, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson and Scott Westerfeld. Another thing that I noticed while reading Author's Notes and perusing author's websites is that these people do actually (mostly) all know each other and support each other enthusiastically. John Green happens to be in a writing group with E Lockhart, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier and Maureen Johnson. The amazing editor and writer David Levithan co-writes with Rachel Cohn and John Green. John Green co-authors with Lauren Myracle and Maureen Johnson. Wendy Mass has a sort of fan page on her website showing pictures of herself with other authors she admires.
Before posting my first review, I wanted to read up a bit so I could get an idea of the lay of the land. I read four books and feel enthusiastically excited about all of them. Interestingly, two are fantasy and two are reality based fiction. And, although I said that I do not anticipate reading and reviewing any of the books from the teen urban fantasy genre, the one book that inspired me to read teen books again is Adam Rex's debut teen novel, Fat Vampire. Don't worry, though. If you know anything about Adam Rex's work you will know that his book is more social commentary than urban fantasy by leaps and bounds. Another thing that reading these books opened up for me was the realization that teen novels, besides being able to have swears, sex and drugs as part of the plot (if so desired, and it is not always desired by authors, I promise) can visit gray areas that young adult literature can't always. I have discovered a level of introspection, thoughtfulness and philosophical probing that (rightfully) doesn't exist in YA books. Duh, I know, but honestly, I thought that teen books on the whole were all kind of like Gossip Girl - vapid, superficial and obsessed with clothes and romance. But, teen books are kinda like high school - there are the cheerleaders, the popular kids, the goths, the stoners, the jocks, the band-aids, gang bangers, the D & D crowd, the quiet kids. They are all here and some of them are zombies, fairies, Greek demigods, werewolves and vampires. Some become your boss. Some end up in jail or dead, but they are all here.
My goal is to read and review books that I would want my daughter to read, or at least wouldn't mind if she read them. My other goal is also to review books that you, the adults, might enjoy reading as well. I know that a lot of you already read YA books and I hope you will join me on my journey into the world of teen literature. I don't have any plans at this point to provide a rating for the books in terms of content, however, if there is enough interest I will consider it. To be honest, I read for character and plot and don't want to have to keep a tally of the use of swears, illegal substances or intimate moments. Hopefully my reviews will give you a good idea of what to expect in terms of possibly inappropriate content based on your personal values system, and as I always (naïvely) hope, maybe even encourage you to read the book before you give it to your child.
Speaking of that, I am very grateful to have both my teenage daughter and my husband (who has been a high school teacher only slightly longer than I have been a bookseller) for reading and discussing these books with me as I venture into the world of teen literature...
So, this time Friday my first review of a teen title will post here. I have added as many labels as possible to alert readers to the fact that this is a TEEN book with TEEN content and I hope there will not be any confusion.
Daisy Dawson and the Secret Pond, written by Steve Voake, illustrated by Jessica Messerve, 87 pp RL 2
Daisy Dawson and the Secret Pond is book two in a series written by Steve Voake and illustrated by Jessica Messerve. If you remember my review of lat year Daisy Dawson is on Her Way, the first book in the series, you know how enchanted I am by this fabulous series of books for emerging readers.
Animal lover and dawdler, Daisy is always late for school. This is especially so after she encounters a magical yellow butterfly that gives her the gift of talking with the animals. When Daisy is given a camera for her birthday (and some smelly Strawberry Surprise perfume) and a school assignment to study animals in their habitats, she sets of into the wilds behind her home. Trixie McDixie, the barn car, tells Daisy that she thinks two otters have moved into the pond upstream and maybe they should go investigate. The squirrels, Uncle Cyril and his water loving niece and nephew Hazel and Conker, join in the expedition.
The group makes it across the dangerous Darkwater Sump to the pond where they meet the cautious otters, Dampsy and Spray, who are fascinated by her camera and end up posing for Daisy. After the photo shoot, the otters invite Daisy to swim with them and Conker and Hazel gleefully join in.
A storm breaks as Daisy, Boom and the squirrels are heading home and crossing Darkwater Sump proves even more dangerous than the first time. When Hazel falls out of the crossing tree and into the river, both Daisy and Boom have to be brave in ways they never have before. Don't worry, though, all ends well for Daisy and her friends and she has some wonderful pictures to add to her habitat project when she gets home.
Here is a sneak peek of book three, Daisy Dawson and the Big Snow, an excerpt of which appears at the end of Daisy Dawson and the Secret Pond. Daisy has the pleasure of meeting Shirelle the sheep and her lambkin, Lillian on a snowy afternnoon. Unfortunately, Woolverton, a lamb, has gone missing and Daisy and Boom, along with the herder dog Ricky Round-up, must find him.
The Mercy Watson Series by Newbery Award Winner Kate Di Camillo with brilliantly crisp and colorful illustrations by Chris Van Dusen is a gem, a real treasure. I'll be honest, up to this point, I had only read one book by Kate DiCamillo, beloved to many adults and children, and had not enjoyed the experience. Because of this, and the fact that they were only published in hardcover, I avoided Mercy Watson for the last five years. Now that the first three books in this six book series are in paperback, I am willing to admit the error of my ways!
The six books in the series are as follows:
Mercy Watson to the Rescue
Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride
Mercy Watson Fights Crime
Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise
Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig
Mercy Watson: Something Wonky This Way Comes
Although these books test out at a mid-second grade reading level, I think that they can happily be read by motivated first graders. Technically, other books at this reading level include Junie B Jones and Magic Tree House, which have quite a bit more text than the Mercy Watson Series and look like chapter books. The Mercy Watson Series has half the amount of text, is heavy on illustrations and looks more like a picture book. These qualities make the series the ideal bridge between beginning readers and chapter books, which can sometimes be a difficult and boring bridge to cross.
Of course the gorgeous, detail rich illustrations by Chris Van Dusen, illustrator and author of Circus Ship, one of my favorite picture books last year and one that topped my list of Best Picture Books of 2009, draw you in to the Mercy Watson Series right away. But, it is DiCamillo's quirky characters, the least of whom is Mercy, will keep you reading. The Southern charm in these books is thick as molasses, spread out amongst the characters and their odd, but somehow sensible habits. Mr and Mrs Watson dote on their pig and treat her like a cross between a child and a dog. Their neighbors, the elderly sisters Lincoln sisters, Eugenia and Baby, love and loathe Mercy. Then, there are the firemen, Ned and Lorenzo and Officer Tomilello, who are called upon to make a rescue, catch a thief or some other daring act in each book. And then there is Mercy. Mercy is a bit like a huge, buttered toast loving dog. She can be cajoled into a pink princess dress with the promise of buttered toast, expertly buttered by Mrs Watson. But, the best thing about Mercy is that she is a pig. Just a pig. She doesn't talk. We don't get to hear her thoughts. She is just an animal and she acts like one. Often, she is the most predictable, sane character in any given story. And I love that.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention another favorite beginning reader pig of mine, Poppleton, by the prolifically amazing award winning Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by an all-time favorite of mine, Mark Teague. These are more along the low end of the first grade reading level and a delight to read as a story book or for an emerging reader.
Iggy Peck Architect written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts AND The Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale by Steven Guarnaccia
Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty won the Parent's Choice Silver Medal in 2007. Sadly for me, I didn't discover it until June 2008 when I was reviewing Paul Fleischman's superb quasi-graphic novel, The Dunderheads, illustrated by the absolutely amazing David Roberts.
But, before I rave on about Robert's illustrations, I have to tell you what a marvelous book Beaty has written. It is both funny and poignant at turns, and very endearing. But, what amazes me above all else is Andrea Beaty's way with a rhyme. You may not realize it until you have been reading picture books out loud for over a decade, but the well written rhyming picture book is a RARE thing - especially if you don't take the Seussian out and make up your own words. Iggy Peck, Architect stands out in this category, along with Chris Van Dusen's brilliant and beautiful The Circus Ship, which made my Best Picture Books of 2009 list. This is how Beaty's wonderful book begins...
Young Iggy Peck is an architect
and has been since he was two,
when he built a great tower - in only an hour -
with nothing but diapers and glue
"Good Gracious, Ignacious!" his mother exclaimed.
"That's the coolest thing I've ever seen!"
But her smile faded fast as a light wind blew past
and she realized those diapers weren't clean!
She goes on to tell the story of Iggy's ups and downs, all the while illustrated with Roberts' fabulous patterns and prints and angular style that lends itself perfectly to a story of this nature. Also, it must be noted that Roberts is a master at subtly integrating the classrooms of his picture books. Whether you like architecture or not, Iggy Peck, Architect is just a fun, fun book to read out loud and look at.
the Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale is the newest picture book/design primer for children from Steven Guarnaccia, former Op-Ed Art Director at the NY Times and current chair of the Illustration Department at Parsons the New School for Design Steven Guarnaccia. As an art school drop-out, (from the Otis College of Art and Design during the decade it partnered with the Parsons School of Design, no less) there is much about this book, and Iggy Peck, Architect, that appeals to me. For those of you who share this interest, be sure to visit the Moleskine website where there is a very cool video of one of Steven Guarnaccia's sketchbooks and its contents.
I suspect that the Three Little Pigs: An Architectural Tale will be nothing more to you than yet another retelling of the old story if you are not interested in the history of art, architecture or design. If you are, though, I can't think of a better way to hook your kids and start some really great conversations and maybe even projects. The endpapers of Guarnaccia's book are filled with sketches of great pieces of design and architecture fame from the 20th century and can serve as a key to most of the pieces in the book. For the rest of the works that you may not recognize, thank google and wikipedia. The book begins with the three pigs setting out to make their way in the world as their mother waves goodbye to them from The Gamble House built in 1908 by masters of the Arts and Crafts movement, Greene and Greene. Architects all, the pigs, with nods to Frank Gehry, Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, set off to make their way in the world.
The first little pig takes some scraps and builds The Gehry House, Frank Gehry's own home in Santa Monica, CA. I grew up about a mile down the road from this house and marvelled (and, to be honest, snickered) at it when I passed it as a child. I didn't find out who Frank Gehry was until almost a decade later when I was in college and saw Gehry's Standing Glass Fish sculpture at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and put two and two together.
The second pig, Philip Johnson, builds Glass House, in Connecticut, which was completed in 1949.
The wolf, who makes quick work of Gehry and Johnson's houses, moves on to the third little pig, a.k.a Frank Lloyd Wright, and his home, a.k.a Falling Water, which was built in 1934 in Pennsylvania.
Once inside, we are treated to more masterpieces of design, which Pig Three has naturally furnished his house with. The story of the three little pigs and their house building adventures makes a nice frame to hang this story on. But, what this story is really about are the designs of the houses, and that is fine with me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and then researching all the little bits and pieces that go together to make up this book and I think that you and your children will as well!
Steven Guarnaccia is also the author and illustrator of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: A Tale Moderne. As with the pigs and their houses, Guarnaccia uses the bears and their furniture to introduce young readers to the design greats, including Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi and Alvar Aalto.