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.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Dear Aunt Debbie,

How lovely to read about Thurber -- I hadn't thought of those books in ages, but deeply love every one of them, not least because they remind me of Grandpa. I remember poring over the illustrations in The 13 Clocks, which are so saturated and rich. I remember the moment I got the joke in The Wonderful O about why Ophelia Oliver had to hide from society when no one was allowed to pronounce the letter O anymore. Towards the end of Grandpa's life, I remember reading him a lot of My Life and Hard Times, and even though his memory was fading and he couldn't keep track of the narrative for too long, he savored every sentence. He'd stop me and say, "He could really write." I'm going to go put Many Moons on the library list right now.

A few days ago, our friend Beth (mother of the indomitable Max) emailed to ask for recommendations on books about opposites.

The first that sprang to mind was

Olivia's Opposites

I actually like this book better than the more narrative Olivia books. (Perhaps "narrative" is the wrong word, as Ian Falconer's Olivia series sort of meander along with a partial plot that doesn't get very far before turning its attention to something else.) It's a very short board book, all black and white drawings with red accents, and has pairs of pictures of Olivia doing opposite things: "coming" and "going" on a scooter; "quiet" and "loud" involving taming a lion; "plain" and "fancy" with Olivia dressing up. Eleanor liked it early, and we've read it a lot.

Then there's the wonderful
Quick as a Cricket

I didn't even think of this as an opposites book at first -- Audrey Wood's text and Don Wood's illustrations have such personality to them. On each page, a boy compares himself to different animals with opposite characteristics: "I'm as quick as a cricket/I'm as slow as a snail. I'm as small as an ant/I'm as large as a whale." This is another one of the books we read aloud with accents ("I'm as tame as a poodle" always comes out British, while "I'm as wild as a chimp" is broad Southern). It's a great one for exploring the idea that we all contain multitudes.

Finally, I want to mention a book that has a section on opposites but is so, so much more:

Food For Thought

Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers are crazy geniuses. On each page of this (quite long) book, they have cut and shaped different kinds of fruit and vegetables to resemble faces, shapes, and animals illustrating a variety of concepts: colors, the alphabet, numbers, and, yes, opposites. Their leek people, cauliflower and olive sheep, and bok choy fish are not to be believed.

What else do you recommend on the opposites front?

Love, Annie


  1. It's not very "literary" but both my kids loved the Sesame Street book of opposites - maybe it's called Elmo's Opposites.

  2. I hope you don't mind me asking you both the following unrelated questions (I couldn't find a way to email you):

    1. Do you know of a pictorial world almanac for children, something with photos of different cities and short descriptions?

    My 5yo daughter became interested in this when reading a picture book called The Travel Game. In The Travel Game (by John Grandits), the protagonist pretends to go to different countries and uses such an almanac (apparently a pretend one, as I can't find it anywhere, called 1001 Pictures from Around the World or something along those lines).

    2. Do you have any recommendations for poetry for young children (ages 2-5)? Poetry is not my strong suit. So far the only book of poems that has been a hit with my kids is Rhymes for Annie Rose by Shirley Hughes.


  3. okay, i just now found this, and i have one question. ive read the wonderful o like three times now, but i still dont get the joke about ophelia. can you explain it please?

  4. "Ophelia Oliver," without the O's, reads "Feel ya liver."