Children's books

Culture | Reading for bedtime

Issue: "Iraq: What went wrong?," May 15, 2004

Surveying the world of children's books can be discouraging. It may seem as though titles like Walter the Farting Dog and books by celebrities like Madonna hog the charts. Some better choices exist, and here are a few. Note: Since some books appeal more to parents than to children, and some appeal to boys more than girls, we've solicited the input of moms and small kids to help us rank the books. BK in what follows means "buy and keep," CL means "check out from the library," and DB means "don't bother."

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Inga Moore | BK | Some children have loved The Wind in the Willows, but others have bogged down in the middle. They won't with this abridged version: Purists might sneer, but this is a beautiful book, lushly illustrated in a large format that makes it perfect for bedtime reading. (Candlewick, 2003)

Tales from the Odyssey (Book 4): The Gray-Eyed Goddess by Mary Pope Osborne | BK | Tales from the Odyssey is a wonderful series of chapter books based on Homer. They are perfect for middle elementary students who are ready for chapter books but still benefit from a large font and ample white space. The action-packed books use a rich vocabulary and begin to introduce children to these classic stories. Parents might want to buy the books in order, but each book has enough background so it can stand alone. (Hyperion, 2003)

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Dr. Ernest Drake's Dragonology edited by Dugald A. Steer | BK | Reluctant older readers and fantasy fans will love this interactive book with its flaps and pages within pages. (This one gets a BK because it's hard to imagine the clever doors and windows holding up to library use.) It purports to be the journal of a famous dragon expert, containing his field notes, bits of dragon skin, diagrams of dragon anatomy, and charts of the dragon life cycle. It even includes notes on spells and charms. (Candlewick, 2003)

Clare and Francis by Guido Visconti | CL | The story of Francis and Clare, two saints of Assisi who gave up material wealth to follow God, is well told in this lovely book. Richly hued medieval-style paintings, with gilt highlights, make this book visually appealing and a worthy addition to school libraries. Those who love art or stories about saints might want to own a copy. (Eerdmans Books, 2004)

Gator Gumbo by Candace Fleming | BK | Monsieur Gator has lost his touch. He's getting old and slow, and all the other critters in the bayou taunt and make fun of him. Instead of giving up, Gator begins to concoct a pot of gumbo. Of course the other critters won't help (shades of The Little Red Hen), but when the gumbo is almost ready to eat, they all come around-and Gator gets the last laugh. Delightful rhymes and exuberant illustrations. (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2004)

The True Princess by Angela Elwell Hunt | BK/CL | A brightly illustrated fairy tale about a king who must go on a journey, leaving his young daughter behind with her grandmother. To protect the child, Nana and the princess leave the castle and take up life in a bakery. There the princess learns simple lessons about love and selflessness. When her father returns, he must discover the true princess from among a group of silly, self-centered pretenders. (Lamplighter Books, 2002)

I'll Never Share You, Blackboard Bear by Martha Alexander | BK/CL | The charming series of Blackboard Bear books features Anthony and his "bear," a chalkboard drawing of a bear that climbs off the board and joins Anthony in his fun. In this story, Anthony is unwilling to share his bear with his friends. When they discover where the bear comes from, they want Anthony to draw them a bear, and he must figure out a solution. Very simple text and bright illustrations make it appealing to younger children. (Candlewick, 2003)

Giving Thanks by Jonathan London | DB | The promising title and a relatively rare story of a boy and dad made me think this might be a keeper. But instead of thanking God for all the unique critters in the world, the father teaches the boy to thank the creation: "Thank you, Mother Earth. Thank you, Father Sky. Thank you for this day." (Candlewick, 2003)

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.


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