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.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Just-right" reads

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Here in New York, we are happily wallowing in our post-Christmas reading glut -- the books you sent, coupled with a number of others from relatives and a select few that Jeff and I bought for the girls, are keeping us very happy.  Thank you!

Scrolling through headlines in the New York Times today, I was caught by a feature called "What's 'Just Right' for the Young Reader?" It poses the question, "How do you know the age at which to introduce children to certain books that might have 'big kid' themes?" and then asks eight people with expertise in children's literature -- authors, librarians, a middle-school teacher, academics -- to answer it briefly.  The short response essays are interesting and varied in content.  They touch on some themes we've written about here: what's "too scary" for your younger child? Your chapter-book reading age child? Most of the focus in these mini-essays is on books for kids who are reading on their own, and several mention the Harry Potter problem: the series which begins as appropriate for one age, but by book four becomes weighted with far more adult themes.

The consensus seems to be what we've come to many times over: it's good to be up to date on what your kids are reading, and to be able to have conversations with them about difficult material (see here and here).

This train of thought started me thinking again about what it means for a book to be "just right" for a kid.  There's "just right" content, which is largely what the NYT essays talk about.  There's "just right" reading level, as we're beginning to experience regularly with Eleanor.  Now that she's in kindergarten, she brings home a new set of five books every week, chosen from the bins that have been deemed right for her reading level.  These are tiny paperback books, most of them not terribly interesting in content, which help her practice what she can read on her own and push her to challenge herself a little bit.

There's "just right" in terms of what kids want to have read to them before they can read to themselves: for whatever reason, Isabel recently became enamored with a picture-book version of Dumbo, and we had to read it several times a day so that she could keep engaging with the story.  (Her latest obsession, thank goodness, are the two Alfie treasuries you sent for Christmas.  Much more fun to reread!)

One of the essayists, Deborah Pope, writes about the importance of older kids, even kids who are able to read chapter books alone, returning regularly to picture books.  Happily, I am so often reading the same books to both girls at the same time -- and of course, the arrival of baby #3 will continue the trend -- that Eleanor will be interacting with picture books for years to come.  For Christmas, Eleanor drew a pop-up book for her grandparents, containing a story told entirely through pictures: "Like Flotsam," she told me, when I asked if she wanted to include some words.

Finally, there's "just right" in terms of what a kid gets out of the same book, years or even just months after reading it for the first time.  This week, my in-laws have been staying with us, and Eleanor's Lala read her the third Nancy Drew book.  It was fascinating to see how Eleanor responded differently to Book #3 than to Book #1.  The excitement over possible danger was still there, in spades -- this girl cannot sit still when there's any kind of suspenseful moment -- but added to that was a whole layer of far more active participation.  She kept asking Lala to pause, and then would engage her in conversation about what might happen next, looking ahead and using the pictures and captions to make inferences and predictions.  Her ideas were pretty good, too.  Essentially the same book, but the kid, six months older, engaged with it in a totally different way.

As always, I am left feeling grateful, and feeling like I have a tremendous amount to look forward to in the years ahead.

Love, Annie

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dear Annie,

Ah, the Nutcracker!  Ah, Christmas!

Both my daughters are home now.  We trimmed the tree last night (complete with a cookie-cutter-shaped star you made circa 1982).  Then we read one of our many Christmas Eve books so that we can get through the rest of the huge pile tonight.  It was a perfect way to feel that family holiday time had started, while keeping one foot in my retail world.  The book is about matching a toy, a child, and a grown-up, with some lovely scenes in a toy store. 

The Story of Holly and Ivy
by Rumer Godden (pictures by Barbara Cooney) is probably the entire family's favorite.  Here's the beginning:
This is a story about wishing.  It is also about a doll and a little girl.  It begins with the doll.
Her name, of course, was Holly.
It could not have been anything else, for she was dressed for Christmas in a red dress, and red shoes, though her petticoat and socks were green.
Holly is placed in the window (note red-clad doll in center of illustration) and told by the other toys that "We must be sold today," Christmas Eve.  They all long for a home and the touch of children's hands.
( I feel right at home with this picture.  Last night I'd just been through a pretty intense day of last-minute shopping, with another coming up today.)

The story is full of longing: Ivy, an orphan in a city, announces she's going to spend Christmas with her grandmother, even though (as she's scoffingly reminded by Barnabas, another orphan) she is without relatives.  Ivy is sent to another orphanage for the holiday, but gets off her train at a small town.  She wanders through a Christmas Eve market, buying food, tea and a balloon.

We start following a local couple -- the husband is a policeman.  The wife is longing for something -- or someone.  She buys a Christmas tree and candles.  He goes to work, reminding her to have his breakfast ready when he finishes the night shift.  Ivy looks in their window and wants to live there.  First, though, she spends a night alone.  Holly goes unsold, despite the efforts of the store owner and his assistant Peter.  During the night, Ivy spots Holly through the store window, and both know they're destined for each other:
"My Christmas doll!"
"My Christmas girl!"
and they wish very hard.

Eventually the policeman finds Ivy (I'm leaving out a sub-plot here), who says she's staying at her grandmother's house, and leads him to his own home.
  Mr. Jones seemed rather surprised.  "Are you sure?" asked Mr. Jones.
   "Qu-quite sure," said Ivy [shivering from the cold].  "She has m-my breakfast ready."
   "Did you say . . . your breakfast?" asked Mr. Jones.
  "Of course," said Ivy, "L-look in at the w-window.  There," she told him.  "Th-there's my Ch-Christmas t-tree."
   Mr. Jones thought a moment.  Then: "Perhaps it is your Christmas tree," he said.
   "Sh-shall we kn-knock?" asked Ivy.  But, "You needn't knock," said Mr. Jones.  "You can come in."
As the girl and the grown-ups are realizing that they're getting their wishes, Peter takes Holly (part of omitted subplot) from the store and leaves her under the Joneses' tree, where Ivy finds her.  This all leads eventually to Ivy's adoption by the Joneses.  When the orphanage director visits to arrange the adoption, Ivy says, "Please tell Barnabas."

The end of the story recaps everyone's fulfilled wishes, concluding:
I told you it was a story about wishing.
So satisfying.

May wishes come true for you and yours and everyone reading on this Christmas Eve.

Much love,


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Classic Christmas ballet

Dear Aunt Debbie,

What an excellent post from Bob!  I've never read any Rosemary Sutcliff, but it's clear that I should.  She'll go on my maternity leave reading list, for sure.

This weekend has offered the first breather for me in quite a while, after a punishing week of teaching and grading and kids' school holiday parties.  Thanks to my most excellent in-laws, yesterday I had a chance to finish my Christmas shopping, including a visit to Book Court, our favorite local independent, to pick up a few last books I'd ordered.  Seeing the crowded, cheerful store, I thought happily of the business you've been doing.

In the children's section, there were several Christmas-themed picture books facing out, including one I've been wanting to write about for a few weeks: The Nutcracker, by Susan Jeffers.  We discovered this book a couple of years ago, completely unconnected to the Christmas season: Eleanor picked it up at the library, and then wanted to read it every night for three weeks.  My general rule on library books is that if they occasion two or three requests to renew them or take them out again, we'll go ahead and buy them, so about a year ago I bought Eleanor this copy.

It's a clearly-told, sumptuously illustrated version of the story which hews closely to the plot of the ballet, and contains lots of good dancing pictures.  One of the charming and odd things about it is the number of pages where, if you look closely, no one's feet are touching the ground: everybody seems to be floating.

(Apologies for the slightly cut-off text -- the pages are oversized, and my scanner is not.)

The Mouse King is a little creepy, but not too terribly frightening, and there are pages of dancers in various costumes, allowing both Eleanor and Isabel to announce on reaching each page which of the dancers they'd like to be.  (Eleanor is partial to the Sugar Plum Fairy, natch.)  We went to see a version of the Nutcracker ballet this year, and Eleanor was slightly confused that the name of the heroine was Clara -- in Jeffers's book,  as apparently in Alexandre Dumas's retelling of the original and creepier E.T.A. Hoffman story, the girl is called Marie.  Marie or Clara, she points her toes and flies through the air here in a totally winning, slightly cheesy manner which both of my girls adore.

It's a good book for Christmas, or for ballet-loving kids, or for anyone in the mood for a slightly loopy fairy-tale story that ends well.

Love, Annie

Friday, December 21, 2012

Guest blogger: History and Lit

Dear Annie,

I can never quite remember from year to year the rhythms of the holiday season in the toy and book store, but it sure has been intense this year.  So my spouse is stepping in, delivering an entry I've been hoping he'd write for quite a while.  Without further ado, here's Bob Thompson, guest blogger:

At some point in the early 1960s, when I was maybe 12, I picked a novel by Rosemary Sutcliff off a shelf at the public library.  Half a century later, I'm still rereading her.  This says a lot about the way certain books can grab you, emotionally and intellectually, when you're young, and also about the uncanny ability of Sutcliff –- a prolific British writer of historical fiction –- to evoke lost worlds.

original 1959 cover
The Sutcliff I'm rereading right now is The Lantern Bearers, and the lost world it evokes is Britain in the 5th century A.D., at the very end of Roman rule.  Waves of Germanic invaders, known generically as Saxons, threaten to overrun what's left of Roman Britain (it is no secret that they will eventually succeed) while a half-Roman, half-British war leader named Ambrosius Aurelianus struggles to keep them at bay.  Ambrosius is a real though extremely murky historical figure, plausibly reimagined.  His successor, who plays a supporting role in The Lantern Bearers but stars in Sutcliff's adult novel Sword at Sunset, is the historical antecedent of the legendary King Arthur.

A heroic, doomed fight against long odds that emerges as legend: Who can resist that narrative?  It goes back to Thermopylae and beyond.  Yet what made Sutcliff's version stick with me are the individual stories woven into the larger drama –- people I came to love, and the adult-level complexities of their lives.

The Lantern Bearers begins with a quick sketch of family happiness in perilous times.  Aquila, a young Roman cavalry officer, arrives home on leave to his father's farm.  Flavia, his sister, has turned 16 since he left.  “I don't suppose you can even run now,” he tells her.
     She sprang up, her face alight with laughter.  “What will you wager me that I do not reach the terrace steps ahead of you?”
     “A new pair of crimson slippers against a silver buckle for my sword-belt.”
     “Done!  Are you ready?”
     “Yes.  Now!
Flavia wins, but Aquila's debt goes unpaid.  Without warning, Rome pulls its last troops out of Britain.  Aquila makes an agonized decision to desert his command and stay.  Days later, Saxons kill his father, burn the farm, and carry Flavia into captivity.  Her screams will haunt his sleep for years.

Aquila survives his own, separate captivity with one goal remaining: to find his sister.  Yet by the time he does, her Saxon ties –- a man, a child –- are too strong to break.  Looking for a cause, and an outlet for his bitterness, he seeks out Ambrosius and ends up commanding a British cavalry wing.  By this time, however, he has withdrawn from risky human connection, and when forced into marriage, for political reasons, he is equipped only to do damage. 

Here is his wife, Ness, condemning his self-protective callousness:
It is never the things that you do, but the way that you do them.  You took me from my father's hearth as you might have taken a dog -– no, not a dog; I have seen you playing with Cabal's ears and gentling him under the chin -– as you might have taken a kist or a cooking-pot that you did not much value.  Did you never think that I might have knifed you with your own dagger one night, and been away in the darkness?
She does not knife him, and slowly, after the birth of their son, his human feeling returns.  Naturally, this opens him to the pain he has been suppressing.

Ness is a subtly-drawn character, as are so many in The Lantern Bearers; I can’t do them justice here.  I’m also slighting the action part of the plot.  War is a constant in Aquila's life, and Sutcliff describes the fighting with heart-stopping vividness.  Then, in the aftermath of one last battle, the public and private narratives converge.  Aquila encounters a wounded Saxon warrior with Flavia's face, and is forced to decide -– as when choosing between Britain and Rome –- which loyalty to betray.

Spoiler alert: It turns out to be no contest.

“You must tell her that I send her son back to her,” Aquila tells the wounded man -– at last putting his own grievous wound behind him -- “in place of a pair of crimson slippers.” 

Thank you, Bob.

And love to you, Annie.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Psst -- look to the right: book lists!

Dear Aunt Debbie,

What a roller coaster of a week.  I missed a post this week because of total exhaustion and overwork, we welcomed cousin Ava (hoorah!), and yesterday's events in Newtown have left me and every other parent I know deeply shaken.  We were out and about in Manhattan today, feeling both joy in the holiday atmosphere and the strange dissonance of knowing about unspeakable tragedy and needing to go on and prepare for Christmas.

Because, as you've been posting from the retail front lines, the holidays are upon us!

Earlier this week, a friend expecting her second child emailed to ask me if I had some recommendations for books about older siblings welcoming younger ones into the family.  Yes! I emailed back immediately.  In fact, we have a whole list!  I directed her to our Picture Book list, and advised her to scroll down to "New Baby Books."  She responded with thanks, and a lovely Facebook post in which she applauds our lists.  At the risk of being self-serving, I'll quote from it here:

the book lists she has compiled are astounding! books for babies, picture books, learning to read, early chapter books, not to mention subcategories like "awesomely british," "books with holes in them," "books with racially diverse/mostly non-white characters," and "mice who like to use human things." just when you thought you had read them all, i promise you haven't even come close. behold this wonderful resource then go and refresh the bookshelves of your favorite kiddos at your local book store.

I love putting together these lists, categorizing and adding to them as we post each week.  After more than two years and 500 blog entries, they're pretty comprehensive.  So here's my plug for tonight: readers, check out our book lists, over there to the right, as you're finishing up your Christmas shopping!  It's the next best thing to being able to walk into Child's Play and have a face-to-face conversation with you, Aunt Debbie.

Love, Annie

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Santa: the origin

Dear Annie,

We have another cousin!  Ava was born on 12/12/12 (what a great date to carry through life).  Her parents had the first amazing wedding of the 2010 Summer of Amazing Cousin Weddings.  Ava is Eleanor and Isabel's third cousin -- and she'll soon get a third third cousin from your family.  Welcome, Ava!

Life stays busy in the toy and book store.  I feel like I'm constantly racing to replace sold-out books.  Since my last post, the dam has broken on the Calvin and Hobbes complete set, we keep selling the Lord of the Rings boxed set, and now the box that won't sell is the first 28 volumes of Magic Tree House at $140 -- not my favorite series, as you know.  It's fun to wonder what won't be there anymore after my day off on Saturday.

The Charles Santore-illustrated Wizard of Oz is doing quite well, as always.  This year I've brought in more of his Snow White because I was thinking good thoughts about it after your post.  We're carrying  a Santore-illustrated Night Before Christmas (in large and small editions).  And Santore has another L. Frank Baum story: a retold version of  The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.

It's an odd story -- one could argue that all of Baum's are.  And although you know how much I love Santore's Wizard of Oz illustrations,  these veer toward the more cloying end of the artistic spectrum.  I've scanned two for your perusal.

The story starts in the Forest of Burzee, where immortal magical beings live -- fairies, nymphs, etc.   Somehow a foundling comes into their midst, and a bored and disgruntled wood-nymph named Necile decides to raise him, despite local rules against the presence of humans -- "I need a task, and this baby is helpless."   An exception is made for this kid, whom she names Claus.  Everyone in fairyland thinks he's sweet.
(redhead is Necile, Claus's mom)
He's a cute little kid and a hunky late teenager, taken from his mom by Ak, the Master Woodsman of the world, to get an education in the world of humans.  Claus discovers there are a lot of children who are human like he is, and there's a fair amount of poverty.  He decides to live in the world and work to make children happy.  Various magical creatures are sent to look after him, and Claus starts whittling toys for children.
(colored beings are magical helpers)

His walking expeditions to deliver toys to the locals grow into a nighttime trip to a new town with two Burzee deer and a sleigh:
Right away he saw a problem.  Because it was nighttime, all the townspeople had gone to bed.  "The doors are locked," he said.  "I can't get in, so I can't give the children their toys!"
Glossie [one of the deer], however, had a suggestion.  "Why don't you climb down the chimney?"  And with one leap, the deer had pulled the sleigh to the roof.
He keeps Glossie and partner Flossie out too late, so the royalty of the magical kingdom decide to limit his travel with their deer to one night a year -- Christmas Eve.  Claus gets eight additional reindeer for the evening: "Racer and Pacer, Reckless and Speckless, Fearless and Peerless, and Ready and Steady."  In the following years, Claus delivers toys, starts the tradition of gifts in stockings hung by the chimney (more efficient than delivering to bedrooms!), and invents the Christmas tree by delivering one to a family in a teepee on the plains.  One wonders if Baum's original prose would include a little more sense of the ridiculous in all these feats.

Ultimately, Claus gets old and white-haired.  The immortals come to visit, giving him their Cloak of Immortality, which keeps Claus alive and energetic enough to keep manufacturing toys and jumping down chimneys.

I, for one, am glad Claus is still making those leaps.  Here's hoping he'll bring new baby Ava some wonderful books in just 12 days.



Friday, December 7, 2012

December: notes from the front lines

Dear Annie,

Oh my, you've posted so many things recently that I want to respond to thoughtfully.  I have other books by George MacDonald, and the wonderful combination of L. Frank Baum and Charles Santore sitting by the computer waiting for scanning and blogging.  I need to comb through my shelves for some good books with Latino characters.  And I'll get there too -- just not tonight.

I was in the store 11 hours today, working flat-out the whole time.  Hanukkah starts tomorrow, so the holiday rush has heated up more quickly than in some other years.  (Heaven knows what'll happen to shopping madness next year when the first night of Hanukkah is the evening before Thanksgiving.)  Some of the many things that happened to me today:

-- In YA: at closing time, we had only one copy each of Every Day, The Fault in Our Stars, and Where Things Come Back: I suspect they'll all sell out before noon tomorrow (more coming on Monday).  We seem to be selling more YA books than in the past.  There's a great crop of new ones this year, but I also suspect that more families that have been shopping in my book section since their kids were tiny now have teenagers -- and they keep coming back!

-- After giving a very enthusiastic description of the Anna Hibiscus books to one customer, I reached for the first in the series, only to find it completely gone.  I know that we had 20 copies a little more than a week ago.  A thorough search unearthed our last four copies in the back of an overstock shelf, but I ran to the computer to place an urgent order for another few dozen to get us through the next weeks.

-- An African-American grandmother asked if we had an early chapter book series starring a black girl.  As I pulled books to show her -- we had five series in stock -- another woman (white) came over to listen because that was one of her interests.  There was only one copy of a few of the titles I was showing; I worried about that, but left them amicably perusing all the books.

-- A discussion of the depressingly bad grammar in the Junie B. Jones early chapter series veered into talking about Latin -- the customer teaches it at the college level -- and its strict grammar.  I really liked the woman, and before long we were talking about college texts of the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh epic.  I could have gone on in that conversation for a while, but too many others called.

-- Someone walked past me carrying volumes 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Wrinkle in Time books, leading me to worry that we were out of #1.  No, she smiled, her daughter had read the first and wanted to read all the rest of them.  That quick interaction meant I didn't have to stare at the gap on the shelf trying to remember what had been there.

-- The man who ordered the gorgeously illustrated three-volume hardcover boxed set of The Lord of the Rings ($100) came to pick it up.  But I have yet to sell one of our four-volume paperback boxed sets of the complete Calvin and Hobbes comics (also $100).

-- I had to explain that although, no, we don't have a book with animal characters that would explain sex to a three year-old, we do carry some good ones with people.  I don't know what the outcome was on that.

These conversations are all part of daily life in the job of a bookseller, but the volume and variety increase at this time of year.  It's what makes things interesting.



Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ripped from the headlines

Dear Aunt Debbie,

My wonderful friend and poet Emily alerted me this evening to an article in today's New York Times about the dearth of Latino representation in children's books, especially those taught in schools.  We've written recently about looking for books which reflect different kinds of families (gay parents, adopted kids, families with three children), so that kids can have some experience of seeing themselves reflected in the books they read.

Because we've been talking about this so much lately, I almost hesitated to post about it tonight -- I don't want to fall into the same discussion of under-representation.  But then I was reminded of a tremendous TED talk I watched earlier this year, titled "The danger of a single story."  The speaker is Nigerian-born novelist Chimamanda Adichie, and if you have 20 minutes to spare, it's a thought-provoking listen.

Adichie talks about growing up in Nigeria reading British novels, never seeing people like herself and her family reflected in the pages of stories.  When she wrote stories as a child, they were filled with the same white characters and references to British experiences that she's read about, because that's what she believed stories were.  

I think of my own students -- the great majority of whom are Asian, either immigrants themselves or first-generation -- and how many of them, when given the chance to write fiction, populate their stories with blonde, blue-eyed heroines or characters with flat, white-sounding names rather than the constellation of names in a variety of languages which we hear every day in our classroom.  

The Times article says that the people creating the new Common Core curriculum are working to address this disparity, to increase diversity in the books they recommend, hopefully without making it feel like tokenism.  I wish them luck.

Love, Annie

Monday, December 3, 2012

Can't stop looking . . .

Dear Annie,

Ah, Charles Santore.  I've always felt the cover of his Snow White is one of the weaker illustrations in the book -- makes it seem bland, which it isn't.  Your choice of internal pictures was great.

I've just spent an hour poring over a wonderful mostly-wordless book, trying to pick just the right pictures to scan.  Here's Matthew, who (we are told) runs every morning.  He starts out on a spring day . . .

 but encounters a banana peel . . .

then meets Isabella and her dog Max, who have just what he needs . . .
 and they go shopping together to get something else he needs.

Isabella and Matthew end up chatting together on a park bench.  The fun of all this is that it takes some time to find Matthew -- or any of the other many characters -- in every picture:
If Richard Scarry were transformed into a tasteful German graphic designer, this would be the result.  Author and illustrator Rotraut Susanne Berner has created her world with a wonderful sense of humor and details that just don't quit.  She also did the delightful illustrations for The Number Devil, another great German book.

In the Town All Year 'Round
is divided into four seasons.  At the start of each section we meet more than a dozen characters -- each comes with a caption:
Emma and Jonas want to play ball in the park
Oliver will be surprised while working in the garden.
Will Suzie lose something while riding her scooter?
What is a fox doing in the city? [Note fox in picture above, chasing a goose.  It ends up investigating dumpsters.]
During the course of the year, there's lots of weather, a construction site that results in a new kindergarten, evolving relationships, and much more.  That was just the beginning for Isabella and Matthew: by the fall they're using their cell phones to find each other in the crowd, looking a little irritated.  Another of my favorite characters is Martha, the penguin-loving nun -- although I can't tell if the penguin she carries around is real or a stuffed one.

There's just so much to look at.  A reader -- child or adult -- can get sucked right in, seeing all the tableaux, following changes from page to page and season to season.



Saturday, December 1, 2012

A lush Snow White

Dear Aunt Debbie,

It's funny that you brought up Curious George this week.  The day before your post about him, my friend and colleague Mark was talking at lunch about reading so many Curious George books to his twin boys, so often, that he and his wife have started trading ideas for an adult spin-off about what the Man in the Yellow Hat does every time he goes off and leaves George alone.  One concept: the Man in the Yellow Hat is secretly trying to abandon George in every story, but in various ways keeps getting pulled back to him.  These are the thoughts going through the brain of the parent forced to read the same not-so-great books ad nauseum....

We're starting to think about gift-giving at our house too, though the regular drumbeat of kids' birthday parties always has us looking for the best books to give kids around Eleanor and Isabel's ages.  This morning we went to Isabel's friend Sydney's party (she's the one whose mom gave Isabel the gorgeous Bird, Butterfly, Eel).  When asked what we should get for Sydney, our newly-princess-loving Isabel didn't hesitate: "She'd like Snow White."

Charles Santore (he of the brilliantly illustrated Wizard of Oz, still one of my favorite go-to gifts) has illustrated Snow White with a similar lushness.  His paintings are gorgeous, and the book includes a few spectacular two-page spreads, including one of Snow White running through the forest filled with wild animals on her way to the dwarfs' house:

Santore's dwarfs are individualized, but not buffoons -- they look like real people, small middle-aged men:

You may notice that Santore, hewing close to the original text, depicts Snow White as a young girl: she's seven years old when she becomes more beautiful than her stepmother, and has her death sentence proclaimed.  She's a kid here, rather than Trina Schart Hyman's young teenager, and her youth makes some of her decisions a little more understandable, though still not exactly smart.  In this version, the evil queen disguises herself as a peddler woman not once, but three times, leading to Snow White's death and resurrection from lace-up dress and poisoned comb before we get to that deadly apple.  You think she'd learn.

The picture on the cover is one of the last ones in the book.  To move away from the creepy idea of Snow White as a child bride, Santore has her age in the illustrations as she sleeps; when she wakes up again, she looks to be in her early 20s, and a wedding makes sense.  Reader alert: Santore's faithfulness to the original Brothers Grimm includes the fate of the wicked queen, who is forced to put on a pair of magic slippers at Snow White's wedding to the prince:

The minute they were on her feet, the slippers forced her to dance and dance, faster and faster, until she dropped down dead.  There was great rejoicing in the hall, and Snow White and the prince lived in the palace and reigned happily over the land for many, many years.

Um, yay?  Eleanor and Isabel both really like this bit -- such a vivid, strange way to kill your enemy -- but it would be easy for parents of more squeamish children to leave a sentence or two out.  The final picture shows only the shoes.

Love, Annie