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.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The joy -- and danger -- of bookstores

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I'd love to hear you go into detail about the Berenstain Bears sometime.  Not a fan of them myself -- too preachy.

We went to a marvelous bookstore today -- Anderson's Bookshop, in Eleanor and Isabel's grandparents' town.  Fabulous children's section, including a train table, and lots of really well-chosen books.  Eleanor was thrilled to recognize some of her favorites, but then as we got really into looking, she gravitated toward the Disney and Barbie junk: bright-pink books with no plots to speak of and no actual authors listed.  She spent much of the rest of the visit enthralled by them (they were all, of course, on the lower shelves, just at her eye-level).  She asked to buy them, but didn't put up much of an argument when we said no -- we were walking out with several other purchases.  But it made me wonder: when you stock your shelves, how much of the junky bestselling branded stuff do you put out there?  Where do you draw the line?

One of the books we did buy was one I remember from my childhood, but hadn't seen or thought of for years: Tikki Tikki Tembo, a Chinese folktale retold by Arlene Mosel, with utterly appealing woodcut-like drawings by Blair Lent.  It's a simple story about two brothers who, on two separate occasions, fall into a well.  The second brother's name is Chang, so his older brother is able to explain quickly to their mother and then to the Old Man With The Ladder what's happened.  But the elder brother is named "Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi pip peri pembo," and that is the joy of this book.  Tikki tikki tembo's full name appears on almost every page, and as Chang tries to tell his mother and the Old Man With The Ladder to come rescue him, he runs out of breath and can barely get the words out.  So much fun to read aloud.  When we got back to the house, it was the first one Eleanor wanted to read, and I think we'll be hearing a lot of it in the days to come.

Love, Annie

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