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Monthly Archives: August 2011

SMARTYPANTS (Pete in School) by Maira Kalman

As the school year begins and we rush around, picture books are often overlooked. For a young child they can open the world, and for an older child they can quiet or explain a world that might be best explained visually. In this fast paced E-Reader world, remember the value of a picture book collection of your own and support authors who share their brilliant work with us.

This book is by Maira Kalman, one of my all time favorite artists. She is absolutely brilliant. I laughed out loud just reading the back of this book. I hope you and your children will treasure Smartypants.

Pete the dog eats everything! No kidding. After a long summer, Poppy Wise and her brother Mookie go back to school. Poor Pete is lonely at home without them, so naturally Pete heads to school. He interrupts every classroom eating everything along the way, including the 26-volume encyclopedia in the principal’s office.   That night, Pete is able to speak. He is brilliant and filled with knowledge from eating everything at school. He tells the children fabulous facts and helps them with homework. The next day, Poppy Wise and Mookie disguise Pete and sneak him back into school.  He gets to enjoy a typical school day, answering questions, being engaged and enthusiastic to learn. Unfortunately, by the evening Pete has digested all the information and is no longer able to speak; his knowledge is all gone and he is Sweet Pete the dog again.

Thanks to a vivid imagination, a fabulous story and quirky wonderful illustrations, Smartypants is my winner for the start of the school year.

Recommended for ages 5yrs to 100yrs.

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Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

As I will tell most everyone, I’m not ‘up’ on a lot of celebrity gossip. While I am the first person in the room to point out a random appearance of a mildly obscure actor—be it Stephen Merchant or Faran Tahir—in whatever film we may be watching, I am the last person to find out when JLo and Marc Anthony have split up (though in that particular instance I was trying to figure out how Mark Anthony even knew JLo as he had died in 30 BC). I’ll scan an outdated People Magazine at the hair dresser’s or dentist office, but it takes a pretty special celebrity for me to openly gush. Please don’t ask anyone I went to high school with about me and Elijah Wood.

That being said, it takes an especially special celebrity for me to want to read their autobiography. Simon Pegg is one such celebrity.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHave you ever felt haunted by a book that wanted you to read it, no matter what?  The wonderfully-titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children followed me around for a couple of weeks, then appeared in my house under suspicious circumstances.  Which is to say, it was recommended to me on various websites, by word of mouth, and I saw it reviewed all over the place.  But I resisted, and wasn’t sure that I really wanted or needed to read it.  I wish I could remember what finally convinced me to pick it up, or where or when I finally bought it.  All I can say for sure, however, is that it made its way into my home, at the very top of my TBR, and I’m grateful that it did.

This book takes a series of odd (or let’s say “peculiar”) vintage photographs and builds a narrative around them.  The concept works so well that it becomes entirely plausible to consider the pictures as proof of the story, instead of merely a jumping off point for spinning this yarn.  In truth, I would have been fascinated by the book if it was just a collection of strange and creepy photographs with whatever limited information about their origin was available.  (The photos all come from personal collections, mostly cultivated through flea markets and other somewhat anonymous sources, so there is probably very little solid information available on any of them.)  In some cases you can guess at the techniques used to create an image of an invisible boy, or a girl trapped in a jar, or a young man lifting a large boulder with one hand.  Though I still found it impressive in an age when “dodge and burn” was not achieved by a mouse click in Photoshop.  Other of the photos are not as easy to explain away, and I spent more time than I care to admit just staring at them in amazement.

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Tollins: Explosive Tales for Children by Conn Iggulden, illustrated by Lizzy Duncan

Tollins: Explosive Tales for ChildrenThis book is gorgeous.  I knew as soon as I picked it up that it had to be mine.  And it didn’t disappoint.

Conn Iggulden is best known for his Dangerous Book for Boys, a 2007 runaway bestseller that counteracts today’s culture of overprotected children by suggesting “dangerous” activities they might engage in.  Tollins, published in 2009, follows suit.  A Tollin is like a fairy, except bigger and not as fragile.  And by “not as fragile,” Iggulden means that they can be used as an ingredient in fireworks, with non-lethal results.  Fairies are actually used and abused by Tollins throughout these stories.  It feels wrong to laugh at “fairy cushions” and “fairy handkerchiefs,” which are not cushions and handkerchiefs made BY fairies, but rather actual squashed and snotty fairies.  At the same time, well, fairies have had their day.  These stories are about Tollins, and if a few fairies get crushed in the making, it’s hard to be too broken up about it.

Tollins have always led idyllic lives, drinking nectar in the summer and waiting out the winter in underground tunnels.  But when their way of life is threatened by the arrival of a train station, fireworks factory, and other developing human innovations, they must find a way to cope with the changing world.  The book is made up of three stories, all starring a Tollin named Sparkler who dares break the First Law of Tollins: don’t speak to humans.  Granted, what Sparkler says to humans involves the fact that it is not strictly necessary to use Tollins as ingredients in fireworks, but this still gets him in a bit of trouble with the High Tollin.  For such short stories, there manages to be a good deal of adventure, cunning, and humor packed in.

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