“…I’ll continue to see things as a child. It’s not so far to fall.”― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
There are always loose ends, aren’t there? Second thoughts, changes of mind. And never a completely tidy ending except in books. Here are a few notable, lovable titles I couldn’t fit into my 2011 columns. Here’s to a fresh new year of reading.
Monica Brown’s Waiting for the Biblioburro, with bright folk-art style illustrations by John Parra, tells the story of a traveling library in Colombia and the wonders it delivers to a village girl named Ana. The story works on its own, Parra’s paintings deliver great feeling and interesting detail, but what’s especially wonderful is that Ana’s story is inspired by a real librarian, Lui Soriano Bohórquez and his Biblioburro, a traveling library pulled by donkeys Alfa and Beto. The Author’s Note includes information on traveling librarians and libraries around the world and there is also a useful glossary of Spanish terms. A beautiful and inspiring book for readers 4-6 years old.
The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece by Anthony L. Manna & Soula Mitakidou with evocative water color illustrations by Giselle Potter is a retelling of a Greek folk tale with a feminist slant, the story of an orphan girl (“ . . . for as people say in Greece, ‘A child becomes an orphan when she loses her mother.’”), her cruel stepmother and her spoiled step-sisters. The Orphan takes uplifting turns while conforming to the satisfying contours of the Cinderella story readers know and love. The stepmother here is a classic villain, counting the drops of water the poor orphan drinks, and the step-sisters are perfectly hideous; what’s different is that the young orphan finds strength by visiting her mother’s grave, and instead of a fairy god mother, mother earth herself comes to her rescue: “As her mother had once done for her, the orphan bathed herself in musk-scented water and combed her hair with an ivory comb. Then she put on her gown stitched with flowers of the meadow; her wreath of the Evening Star, and her tiny shoes the color of the deep blue sea. Instantly, she became as brilliant as the sun, as beautiful as the moon, as graceful as the dawn.” Readers 4 and up will return again and again to this story of a courageous girl and the power of a mother’s love.
Calico Dorsey, Mail Dog Of The Mining Camps by Susan Lendroth, with vibrant illustrations by Adam Gustavson is the rousing true story of a Border Collie who carried the mail to miners in remote, hilly encampments. Stray dog Dorsey is irresistible, and Gustavson’s paintings capture all vitality of this eager, happy dog who eats bacon and beans, a mail-pouch slung over his back and leather booties on his paws, and of life in Calico and in Bismark, mining town in the hills beyond. This book will delight readers 4 and up.
Older readers will be happy to know that Norman Juster’s and Jules Feifer’s The Phantom Tollbooth has been released in a beautiful 50th anniversary edition, complete with gold-embossed cover, a new preface by the author, and essays by Jeanne Birdsall, Michael Chabon, Susanne Collins, Philip Pullman, Mo Wilems and others, as well as old and new photographs of Juster and Feiffer. The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth is a gorgeous feast for Tollbooth enthusiasts cooked up by Leonard Marcus who interviewed Juster and Feiffer, and which includes early drafts, notes, the serendipitous publication history (Feiffer and Juster were Brooklyn neighbors). All ages.
Jo Perry has a Ph.D. in English, taught literature and writing, and worked as a college administrator and as a television writer and producer. She is a reviewer for BookBrowse.com and is an ongoing contributor to kidsLA Magazine for which she writes about the city, children’s books, and conducts interviews. For two years she wrote the Kids’ Book Club column for the L.A. Times’ Kids’ Reading Room page.