Thursday, May 28, 2009

Busy Penguins

Book: Busy Penguins
Photographs by: Jonathan Chester
Text by: John Schindel
Publisher: Tricycle Press

By popular demand, I am featuring the 94% adorable Busy Penguins (more on the 6% later). I defy anyone not to go "awww" at some point during this book, but the interesting thing is that it isn't a "cutesy" book, either.

We commemorated Baby H's first trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with this book as a souvenier (OK, and a few other things, too). It was also his first trip with his other baby friends, Baby Z and Baby G, two way-cute little girl babies. I was reading the book in detail while we were waiting for the three babies' restroom / eating cycles to get in sync, when I saw...

My least-favorite spread: "Penguins pooping" / "penguins drooping." I showed BlueDog this page, and she immediately said something like, "I could have never seen that in my whole life and been happy!" I agreed completely, which is why I also had to show her. Being grossed out loves company, I guess. Also, "penguins drooping" made me sad. Guess it's not a party all the time when you're a penguin. (Global warming commentary? Just tired penguins?) Anyway, maybe the pooping is one of the reasons the books isn't overly cutesy, which is a good thing.

Baby H's current favorite spread: He likes many of them, but the "penguins sliding / penguins diving" is his favorite. I think he likes the contrast of the penguins sliding on the ice.

My favorite spread: I love "penguins sharing / penguin caring." It's so sweet. Although again, the "sharing" image reminds me of global warming. Maybe I'm paranoid.

Deep thoughts: It's a crisp, modern photo book, making it a refreshing alternative to most of Baby H's collection of illustrated books. The words are fun--the rhyming is bouncy but not obnoxious--and the way the words look is fun, too. Many spreads have the text's appearance reflect the action--so "penguins sliding" the text is sliding down, too. Very fun.

The "penguin pooping" page is inexplicably yucky to me, since all baby caretakers witness way worse than that every day. I'm sure babies wouldn't even think twice about it, since it's a normal part of a day for penguins, babies, and anyone else! Maybe I just have enough poop in my day to deal with.

Then again, when we're trying to teach Baby H to use a toilet, perhaps it could be helpful in some way. "You don't want to poop on the ground like a penguin, do you?" Actually, that kind of makes it sound like fun. In any event, the book's a charmer, and Baby H isn't old enough to know when I skip a page yet.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Counting with Wayne Thiebaud

Book: Counting with Wayne Thiebaud
Art by: Wayne Thiebaud
Text by:
Susan Goldman Rubin
Publisher: Chronicle Books

This genius book uses a selection of Wayne Thiebaud's delicious paintings spanning his career to help teach numbers. Art, math, rhyming text, and lots of luscious food? What more could you or your baby need from a book?

I am just a little bit too pleased that this is Henry's favorite book! In addition to being entertaining, educational, and scrumptious all at once, there is some history to why I like this book so much. Here it is:

Wayne Thiebaud is one of my all-time favorite painters. When I was in high school, I discovered his painting "Toy Mickey" in a book of painters reinterpreting Mickey Mouse--it was my favorite painting in the book. When I was an Art major in college, I realized that Thiebaud actually taught classes at my school. I would often wander around on the painting floor of the art building with no real reason other than to see if he happened to be there. (Alas, I never saw him in my wanderings.) I don't think I was ever so excited to register for a class as when the stars finally aligned and I could be in an Art History class he was teaching!

He was delightful. He wore a bow tie every day, for one thing, which was completely charming. Mr. Thiebaud is currently 88 years old, and still painting; when I took the class, he was in his early 80s. He was so enthusiastic about art. I loved getting to hear him talk about his favorite paintings, and why he liked them, and also about his early career as a painter. It was truly a privelege, and no matter how modest he was, I never got over how lucky I was to get to take a class from Wayne Thiebaud!

I also have rarely been as nervous as when, near the end of the quarter, I finally went to his office and found him there. I wanted to ask him about "Toy Mickey." (Is Mickey a toy? Or is Mickey really Mickey?) His reply: "Look at the shadows." He explained he'd always been very interested in shadows and what they reveal. (The "Toy Mickey" shadow does show a toy outline, so my take: The painting is a toy, seen from the perspective of a kid, or someone who believes the toy is real.)

Anyway, that's a really long way of saying, when Brad got me (I mean Henry) this book for Christmas, it was the perfect gift.

Baby Henry's current favorite spread: The hot dogs ("Seven Hot Dogs," 2006)

Henry slaps at the hot dogs on the page!

My favorite spread: "Pie Slice" (1991)

The texture of the painting comes across very well, especially for a baby board book. Plus, Henry often dives right into this page and smushes his mouth against the pie, which cracks me up. (Of course, I want to do the same--but how does an 8-month-old who's never had pie even know that that would be fun?)

Spread that could inspire OCD: The last one, "Gum Machine" (1964). The text prompts the reader to count all the gumballs. If you did this, though, maybe you'd get really good at estimating and win one of those "how many M&Ms are in this jar?" contests.

Deep thoughts: The concept is brilliant, and you get fun language, a little math, and lots of lovely pictures. I love the clean font and the soft, creamy yellow and light blue-green-gray page backgrounds. They perfectly set off the paintings and drawings, the real stars of the book.

It's an artsy book, but it's not pretentious; it's beautiful, but accessible to anyone; and I love it more the more I see it. Just like Thiebaud's paintings. Looking at the paintings from Henry's perspective is also great fun--and of course, I'm still studying the shadows.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Petit Connoisseur: Art

Book: Petit Connoisseur: Art
Concept by: Karen Salmansohn
Designed and illustrated by: Brian Stauffer
Publisher: Tricycle Press, an imprint of Ten Speed Press

No matter what kind of baby thing you're looking for, it's pretty easy to find a cute and fuzzy form of it. Baby clothes, toys, and books are generally pastel-colored and adorable, if not terribly thought-provoking. Which is great. But sometimes you want a toy or a shirt or even a book with some edge to it. That is why I love what I'm calling hipster baby books. Especially this one: Petit Connoisseur: Art.

The book has seven spreads dedicted to terms relating to art AND can be made related to baby terms, too. Examples: Dada and MoMA. This book totally cracked me up the first time I read it and "got" all the terms! So clever.

My current favorite spread: The same as Baby Henry's, "Dali (dolly)." It's gorgeously weird and wonderful.

Spread I had to do some research for: Yeah, it was the Dada one. Even though I was an Art Studio major, I still had to remind myself of how to pronounce it (and, uh, what exactly it means).

Deep thoughts: Much like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, which Henry also loved on his first visit, his reaction to the "Dali" spread reminds me that he's not yet old enough to be really creeped out. (A very nice revelation.) The baby doll with a Salvador Dali mustache, and the "melting" doll à la "Persistence of Memory," is certainly eerie to me; Henry is enchanted.

I appreciate how this image keeps the same theme of the Dali painting: from the mustached baby and the flat, unchanging "landscape," we can tell time is distorted in this baby world. It's a concept that I'm betting a lot of parents can relate to: how some days are so long, but how fast your baby grows up! No melting Dali clocks necessary to get that message across.

(Incidentally, I just googled the fitting expression "The days are long but the years are short" to see if I could find who coined the phrase. I didn't find that, but I did find this very sweet video:

Anyway, Henry just loves to look at this spread and smile. So do I--and that goes for the entire little book.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pat the Bunny

Book: Pat the Bunny
Creator: Dorothy Kunhardt
Publisher: Golden Books, Random House Children's Books

In honor of the blog's title, I thought the first book post should be about its namesake, the baby book classic, Pat the Bunny. Pat the Bunny is one of the most famous children's books ever--in my extensive research from reading the back of the book, it's sold over six million copies since it was first published in 1940. It's even a Hallmark ornament! (Which I have, of course, since it combines two of my own mom's favorite things: Pat the Bunny and Hallmark.)

But like many classics that I haven't read in a while, my memory of it was a little different than the actual book.

I loved Pat the Bunny because of all the fun things to DO. When you're older, books don't really let you DO a whole lot, other than turn pages (and think, I suppose). Which is great, but I like a book with a verb in its title. (I just want to point out here that "Pat the Bunny" refers to actually patting the cottony fuzzy bunny, and that Pat isn't the bunny's name. The bunny's name is just Bunny (as we learn from the "Judy's Book" section--more below).

Anyway, I was so excited for the baby to do all the things I remembered: Mailing the letter! Answering the old-fashioned phone! I couldn't wait to help our baby do it all. Brad and I ventured to the bookstore while I was pregnant to buy our own copy.

Then I realized, after wandering around for a while and searching on the store's computer, that the book I had many fond memories of was actually the very similar The Telephone Book, which is currently out of print.

This is sort of like how, when you ask someone who likes the Beatles what their favorite song is, it's never one that's played on the radio, but something from the White Album like "Blackbird"--a great classic in its own right, but not as famous, for who knows what reasons.

Anyway, back to Pat the Bunny, the more well-known of Dorothy Kunhardt's books, but not the one I remembered the most. However, it all came back to me when I started reading it with Baby Henry.

I will update more as I have more sleepy thoughts while reading the book for the next several, um, years!

My current favorite spread: Judy's Book.

I love the book within a book, and I remember the words of Judy's Book more than the rest of Pat the Bunny! "Hear the tick-tick, Bunny?" and "How Big Is Bunny"/ "So-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o big!" especially. Plus, the fact that "Judy's Book" is all about the Bunny is funny. At least, it's funny on a few hours of sleep, and Henry seems entertained by it.

I'm further intrigued because Judy seems to be looking at a page that isn't in the "Judy's Book" version we get to see.

My current least-favorite spread (and least favorite from when I was little, too): The Stinky Flowers.

I never thought these flowers smelled good. I don't know why Paul likes to smell them. If they must have a scent, I would hope they could smell better after all this time and with our modern technology. They sort of smell like soap, only not in a clean way.

Baby Henry's favorite spread: Not apparent just yet for Pat the Bunny

Deep thoughts: In terms of how Pat the Bunny is illustrated, I like how the characters float on the page (there are no horizon lines), and have simple lines. It makes it look like a how-to manual, which is exactly what it is, in a way: how to have fun with a book; how to read and look and feel a book. I appreciate the delightfully soft bunny now more than ever, in the age of eBooks and Kindle. Technology has many fantastic uses, but there is something special about the joy of holding a book. Pat the Bunny reminds me of that.

I will post another entry on Pat the Bunny after I read the book I got Brad (shh!), the very lovely and hefty Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way. From a quick skim, though, I've already learned that the Bunny is based on a real-life stuffed animal bunny! I'm intrigued. I hope you are, too.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A New Blog

Of course, I still love my Beetle, but I find that post-baby arrival, my thoughts have turned from my Bug to books. Board books. Lots and lots of board books!

I've always loved picture books. Now I am delighted to see that having a baby gives me a great excuse to look at them again. Some I am more impressed with than I remember. Some just make me go what? And some make me love them so much, I develop a bookish crush on their creator (I'm thinking of you, Pigeon...and Mo Willems).

And speaking of crushes, is there anything better in the world than seeing your husband and your baby curled up together on the couch, reading a book together?

(Maybe only when it's followed by said husband offering to soothe the reluctant baby to sleep, thus enabling me to start a new blog!)

I was so excited to write about board books. Then it occured to me that there were probably other people doing just that, and I've spent the last hour and a half (hmm, I think my husband fell asleep with the baby) enjoying their blogs!

There will be many cross-overs. Originality isn't the point for me. I think this blog is great incentive to look more carefully at Pat the Bunny and Goodnight Moon and so many others the next time (and the next time...and the next time...) that Baby H and I snuggle up to read. I hope you'll follow along, too.