Friday, January 10, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Children's Book Characters I Love

There are far more than 7, so this may have to be another ongoing series of Quick Takes. But the following will represent a good start. RUN, don't walk to your nearest library, or even to Amazon.com (especially if you buy through this blog! I get a small cut--4%, I believe--and every little bit helps to go towards my "buy a $1 coffee at 7-Eleven with my blog earnings" fund.)

I love Frances. There are several Frances books, all written by Russell Hoban and nearly all of them illustrated by Lillian Hoban (the first, "Bedtime for Frances" is illustrated by the inimitable Garth Williams). I think it is a HUGE plus when the books you read your children don't bore you to tears, and Frances is such a delightful character that I never tire of reading her…which is good, since between my mom and the local library we have nearly all of them at our house right now. What I like best about the Frances books is how perfectly Hoban captures the preschooler/young girl spirit and way of talking. Either that, or my little girl just happens to be extremely Frances-like. Here's a section from the book pictured above, "A Birthday for Frances" (probably my favorite of them all).  
It was the day before Frances's little sister Gloria's birthday. Mother and Gloria were sitting at the kitchen table, making place cards for the party. Frances was in the broom closet, singing: "Happy Thursday to you, Happy Thursday to you, Happy Thursday, dear Alice, Happy Thursday to you."  "Who is Alice?" asked Mother.
"Alice is somebody that nobody can see," said Frances.  "And that is why she does not have a birthday.  So I am singing Happy Thursday to her."
"Today is Friday," said Mother.
"It is Thursday for Alice," said Frances.  "Alice will not have h-r-n-d and she will not have g-k-l-s.  But we are singing together." 
"What are h-r-n-d and g-k-l-s?" asked Mother.
"Cake and candy.  I thought you could spell," said Frances.
Don't you just love it?  I certainly do!  

Another spunky heroine who perfectly captures the preschooler mystique.  Olivia the pig has two little brothers and enjoys bossing them around playing with them, as well as dragging the cat around.  She has had several adventures, my favorite of which is the first one.  I really love the facial expressions of her parents in the books.  

You might starting to be sensing a theme…but dash it all, I do love a strong and independent female character!  I like all of Kevin Henkes' mouse books, and Lilly appears in several (I also like her in Chester's Way).  She's a goofball and marches to the beat of her own accordionist.  What I like most about this book, though, is her teacher.  Mr. Henkes lovingly but adeptly hits the nail on the head when it comes to creating a progressive constructivist groovy elementary school teacher man (didn't we all know a guy like this?  I know I did…Mr. Wright, my 5th grade teacher.)  The whole book is sweet without being syrupy (another important feature in books that I will be happy to read to my children over and over again.)


You had to have seen this one coming.  I mean, my kids are named Ruby and Max (not strictly in honor of the bunnies, but I was certainly aware of them).  The TV show of Max and Ruby is cute, but not as cute as the original board books from the late '70s and early '80s, in my opinion.  This is one of the classic ones.  If you've ever read one, you know the basic plot line.  Ruby tries, in varying degrees of officiousness, to help care for her brother Max.  Max somehow makes mischief.  Repeat as needed.  And so far, quite true to life in my house.  


Cynthia Rylant should get the Nobel Peace Prize.  Why?  Because she has created multiple different beginning reader book series (Mr. Putter and Tabby, Henry and Mudge, Poppleton, Annie and Snowball, Brownie and Pearl) that are actually engaging and interesting not only for the beginning reader but for the parent or teacher listening to the beginning reader read them.  I say this not from experience as a parent (Ruby is not reading yet) but as a former K-1 teacher and literacy coach, I can say that some beginning reader books are so boring and so tedious that after you've heard the same story in umpteen reading conferences you want to pull your hair out.  Not so with Cynthia Rylant's books, and I particularly enjoy the Mr. Putter and Tabby series.  The illustrations are just too sweet and the stories are fun and goofy and tender.  Best of all (at least in Ruby's estimation) they are technically chapter books.  Never underestimate the power of a picture book that is divided into chapters.  Oh, how grown up it makes a child feel! Even listening to chapter books is exciting (to Ruby, anyway).  

We don't own a pug, but we did live with one for a while, and anyone who was a kid in the '90s probably remembers the movie Milo and Otis, so I tend to enjoy pugs.  i especially enjoy pugs that look like angry little trashcans (see above illustration).  Mr. Bud is the amiable other dog in the story and Zorro is the pug.  They have a hard time getting along.  And then they become friends.  The sequel, Zorro Gets an Outfit, is equally wonderful.  In looking for the picture for this, I discovered that now there is a new one in the series, called Mr. Bud Wears the Cone.  Looks like a winner to me!  


Harold's purple crayon is rather remarkable.  He draws his way into one adventure after another.  There is no attempt to explain this phenomenon, nor is there ever a clear distinction between reality and the purple crayon universe.  They seem to be one and the same.  Harold can climb into a bed he has just drawn with his purple crayon. How can he do it?!  If I were a recreational marijuana purveyor in Colorado or Washington, I would stock these books next to my wares, because I imagine that this reading them while high could definitely boggle one's mind even further.  Can't you just hear the exchange?
"Dude, he just MADE HIS OWN REALITY. With a CRAYON! It's so meta!"
"And how come the crayon never wears down???"  
"Deep, man."  
Anyway, my favorite of his adventures is probably Harold's Trip to the Sky, wherein he takes a rocket to Mars and meets a Martian, and puts a "completely damaging crack" into the Martian's flying saucer, thus preventing him from coming to Earth to scare children.  It has the driest sense of humor of any of the Harold books, and although witticisms about how the government shoots off rockets in the desert for fun go right over Ruby's head, I enjoy them.  

As you can see, these are only the picture book characters that I like so much.  I didn't even get into characters from chapter books.  Perhaps next time...
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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