In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

You -- yes, you! -- are reading this book

Dear Aunt Debbie,

You have your finger on the pulse of the children's book world with your thoughts about superhero books!  In this weekend's NYT Book Review, Roger Sutton touches on the same subject (though I must say, he's a little more dour).  I'm kind of sorry to see Bumblebee Boy go off by himself -- afraid, I guess, that his solo books will be aimed at boys and perhaps take boy readership away from the Ladybug Girl books, the way Dora was more okay for boys to like until Diego came along.

Writing last week about books that engage the reader with the idea that a book is being constructed as they read got me thinking about a few picture books written in the second person which are big hits at our house.

Right Where You Are Now, by Lisa Montierth, came to us as a family gift: cousin Molly sent it recently to Eleanor and Isabel (she's friends with the illustrator, Ashley Burke).  I wasn't at all sure what to expect from the cover, which has a sort of Hansel and Gretel vibe, but the book is based on an interesting idea, and the illustrations are terrific.  Each double-page spread includes a scene of today's world on the left, and a scene from prehistoric times on the right:

It gets you talking about prehistory, with all its lava and lush rainforest growth, and it certainly increases your prehistoric animal vocabulary: plesiosaur, merychippus, nimravid.  If you're concerned about telling these guys apart or pronouncing their names properly, never fear: the last pages include a visual dictionary, so you can be sure you're not mixing up megacerops and uintatherium (as I did on the first reading).  It's kind of awesome to hear your 2-year-old yelling out "Nimravid!" when you turn the page to see the face of a saber-tooth cat-like creature (actually not a feline, but related as much to hyenas as to cats).  It's my favorite kind of nonfiction book: well-written, imparting its information in context, leading to lots of questions.

There Are Cats in This Book and its sequel, There Are No Cats in This Book, are purely playful.  Viviane Schwarz is the author-illustrator here, and the two books focus on a trio of cats (Tiny, Moonpie, and Andre), who address the reader directly.  In the first book, the cats want you to play with them.  They tell you when to turn the pages, and ask you to throw them balls of yarn and open the boxes they're hiding in.  When they get wet on a page full of fish, they ask you to blow on them, and emerge all fluffy.  The pages abound with flaps, and the cats are very good-natured and eager for what's going to come next.

In There Are No Cats in This Book, the cats are antsy.  They want to get out of the book, and will try pretty much anything: pushing the side of the page, jumping out (the book becomes a pop-up for a moment), and finally, asking you to wish them out.  Then they send you a postcard, before eventually returning to the book.  The cats' manic energy is totally engaging.  Even though Eleanor and Isabel both know that they're not really changing the content of the book by doing what the cats ask, they get into playing with it.  Another way of exercising your superpowers, I suppose....

Love, Annie


  1. _Right Where You Are Now_ sounds great. We often talk about how what looks like a mountain near our home was once a giant reef.

  2. The cat books sound adorable. I'm definitely going to see if the library has them.

  3. Wonderful book suggestions. I look forward to going to the library with my niece.

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