Tag Archives: children’s literature

Blueberries for Sal


By Robert McCloskey

Viking, 1948

Little Sal picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail…kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk! She picked three more berries and ate them. Then she picked more berries and dropped one in the pail — kuplunk! And the rest she ate. Then Little Sal ate all four blueberries out of her pail!

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The Two Cars


By Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

New York Review Books, 1955

The two cars came to a nice, flat stretch of road. They both drove along smoothly, not faster than allowed, but not slower either. Their motors liked the cool night air and purred like kittens.

I wish I could remember where I found this book. It was somewhere random, like a book store in D.C.’s Union Station. It was wrapped tightly in plastic, so I couldn’t leaf through the pages, but I was so charmed by the drawing on the cover (not to mention the quality of the binding), that I bought it, stuck it in my office closet, and gave it to my son for whatever big gift-giving holiday came up next. Neither he nor I was disappointed. It’s “The Tortoise and the Hare,” but with cars. One is fast, shiny, and boastful. The other is an old jalopy, scratched up a little, but reliable and safe. On a magic moonlit night, the doors of their garage swing open and they head out to see who is “the best car on the road.” The d’Aulaires were a renowned husband-wife team known for their illustrated versions of Norse and Greek myths. The drawings within — some black and white, some color — remind me of New Yorker cartoons, but with sentiment and an accessible sagacity, and the writing is nothing less than dreamy.

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Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Little Dog


By Maj Lindman

Albert Whitman and Company, 1946

Then they all started towards the orchard. Mother carried Mike, and the three little girls went sadly along. Flicka walked close beside Mike, holding his front left paw. Ricka patted Mike. Dicka cried a little.

Yes, this post pays tribute to The Little Dog, but all the Flicka, Ricka and Dicka books are equally satisfying. (As a little girl, my favorite was Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka Bake a Cake, most likely because I was enthralled with the illustration of the finished product.) This Swedish trio of young girls are kind, industrious and independent enough that you genuinely want to be friends with them, rather than simply envy their blonde hair and blue eyes. In this tale, the girls find a wet little dog crying on their doorstep. They take him in, hoping to keep him, but the next morning, Mother finds a notice in the paper. Crotchety, clog-wearing Mr. Carlsson has lost his watchdog! [Insert ominous Swedish music here.] Love the karmic conclusion: Do the right thing, and good things will follow, ja?

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The Little Auto


By Lois Lenski

Random House, 1934

Mr. Small has a little Auto. It is red and shiny. He likes to look at it.

When my son was one, he asked me to read this book to him. Every. Single. Day. He loved everything about it, from the simple “Dick and Jane”-style text to Lenski’s trademark modest illustrations. On the surface, not much happens — basically, Mr. Small takes his car out of the little garage, drives to town, gets rained on, and returns home — but that’s the appeal of it. You feel dropped into Mr. Small’s calm, innocent world, where the worst thing that happens is a flat tire. (But it’s easily fixed and then the sun comes out.) If you need a book for a car-loving toddler, this is it. And check out the other fabulous books in the series — The Little Fire Engine, The Little Farm, Papa Small, and Policeman Small.  (He’s quite the Renaissance Man.) The only disappointment is The Little Airplane, which, quite honestly, reads like a pilot’s manual.

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Kate and the Beanstalk


By Mary Pope Osborne, Illustrated by Giselle Potter

Atheneum Books, 2000

Kate was a plucky girl who loved to help. “Don’t worry,” she said, giving her mother a hug. “I’ll take care of everything.” And she set out for market with their cow.

This magical retelling of  “Jack and the Beanstalk” comes courtesy of Mary Pope Osborne, the acclaimed author of the Magic Treehouse series. Instead of Jack buying magic beans and outwitting a foul-tempered giant, it’s brave Kate. Osborne’s rounded out the story with an exasperated giantess who must serve up wagonloads of bacon and mountains of hash every morning, and a benevolent Queen of the Fairies working behind the scenes. The Kahlo-ish illustrations have fun with the giant’s great size. (The gold coins he so lovingly counts are the size of chocolate chips.) My only complaint is the bizarre — and quite offensive — smell of… feet emanating from my library copy. Surely librarians are trained to notice and neutralize such odors?

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Gomer & Little Gomer


By R.A. Herman, Illustrations by Steve Haskamp

Dutton Children’s Books, 2005

Gomer loves to feel the wind rushing past his ears. He loves to bring the stick back to Donna and get a pat on his head.

The word “cute” gets a bad rap. We tend to equate it with trying hard but falling noticeably short of a goal. Girls who aren’t gorgeous are “cute.” Kids who sing off-key during a school recital: “cute.” And so on. But when I say that Gomer, a short tale about a sensitive Golden Retriever who loses his stuffed dog in the park, is one of the cutest books I’ve ever read, I mean it as a compliment. It’s sweet without being cloying. Gently suspenseful. And the charming, funny ending hits it out of the park. Just prepare for your child to contract some major Puppy Fever, thanks to the cute illustrations.

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The Seven Silly Eaters


By Mary Ann Hoberman, Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Voyager Books, 1997

Creamy oatmeal, pots of it! Homemade bread and lots of it! Peeling apples by the peck, Mrs. Peters was a wreck.

Is it hyperbole to refer to Mary Ann Hoberman and Marla Frazee as the Robert DeNiro/Al Pacino of children’s literature? I see either of their names on a book cover, and I grab it up.  Seven Silly Eaters is a dream collaboration: detailed drawings you can pore over hundreds of times without getting bored and a fabulously funny rhyming narrative. The silly eaters of the title are a lovable, rambunctious brood of kids, but the star of this book is their devoted mother who picks, peels, strains, scrapes, poaches, fries and kneads to keep them happy. There’s also an Easter egg for parents: acknowledgment that no matter how much you love and adore your kiddos, they can freaking exhaust you. Fortunately, that exhaustion is always temporary. Only thing missing from this book: A recipe for Mrs. Peters’ accidentally delicious birthday cake. Pink lemonade, applesauce and bread dough? I’m intrigued (and a little grossed out.)

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