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, January 3, 2011

Dogs playing poker and a crafty new graphic novel heroine

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Like so many other aspects of parenting -- all of them, really -- the technological/non-technological is a hard balance to strike.  We go to the library, and Eleanor and her friends spend at least half of their time playing or watching other kids play on the children's section computers.  (The last time we were there, Eleanor spent several minutes fiddling with a Dora the Explorer game that consisted solely of standing Dora in front of a stocked closet and getting her dressed.  Urgh.)  But we also have our Library Bag hanging from the stroller handle, and our Library Shelf at home in the girls' room, and both girls reach for books as much as or more than they reach for anything else.  That new picture on the right is Isabel at Jeff's parents' place over Christmas, after trying several times to get herself and her enormous book up into that chair.

And then, of course, there are your wonderful gifts!  We've just finished one of the longer books in the box, and are all enamored of this quirky, funny graphic novel/middle-grade reader hybrid.  Ottoline and the Yellow Cat, written and illustrated by Chris Riddell, is a pure pleasure.  As so many early and middle-reader books seem to be, it's a mystery, but the mysterious bits (why are there so many lost lapdogs?  Who is stealing rich women's jewelry?  Where is the disappearing laundry in the Pepperpot Building going?) aren't really the point.  The young heroine, Ottoline, lives in a large apartment filled with her parents' collections (four-spouted teapots, extremely small paintings, etc.) with a small hairy Norwegian bog-person named Mr. Munroe.  Her parents are always away on collecting trips, but they write postcards with eerily accurate advice about what Ottoline should be taking care of at the moment.  The book is packed with pictures and diagrams, and many, many things are labeled and explained -- the drawings feel rich.

The illustrations include floor plans (these were fun to explain to Eleanor) and maps and newspaper clippings and pages from Ottoline's notebook, and are all done in black and white with the occasional shading of red. 

It is so much fun I don't want to give much more away, except to say that Ottoline is a Master of Disguise, and there is also a bear.  A total hit!  Thank you.

Love, Annie

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