recess radio program

Books, Books, Books
    by John Cech

You can't go wrong with a book as a holiday gift. The only problem is that there are so many to choose from this year, and every year. But to help you just a little, here are a few hints. First, try to avoid most celebrity driven books -- especially volumes like Joy Behar's Sheetzu, CaCa, Poopoo. The title says it. The exceptions: John Lithgow and Jamie Lee Curtis, whose picture book, Is There Really a Human Race?, really has something to say about our species. And give wide berth to books about dogs that are known for the gas that they pass. I'm thinking of William Kotzwinkle's series about the odiforous dog named Walter, whose fourth adventure has just been published. Run, don't walk, to the nearest exit.

For young children, there are some terrific board books -- like the clever, square volume about sounds, Woof-Woof by Sami, and his other books in the series like Flip-a-Face and Flip-a-Shape. These are visually bold, perfectly balanced books that will engage your toddler. If you're looking for something a bit more interactive, Stephen Johnson's My Little Yellow Taxi has plenty to keep an early reader (and her nimble fingers and tactile imagination) occupied. And everything for young children by Rosemary Wells is very good. Ms. Wells is the master of the short form, and her books about siblings leading their lives and working out their daily problems in often hilarious, often surprising, ever tender ways always ring true. For adults, too.

In the realm of picture books, the sky, literally, is the limit. David Weisner has a splendid new book, Flotsam, about a camera that washes up on the shore with pictures that take the viewer, wordlessly, on a perceptual journey through elaborate, interlocking panels and plot-lines. Norman Messenger's Imagine is a rich compendium of puzzles and visual tours-de-force -- with references to artists like Grandville, Escher, Archimboldo, and Magritte, among many others. And even though it's about a haunted house and some typically Halloween monsters, Maurice Sendak's Mommy? is not to be missed. And be sure to add to your present list Norton Juster's The Hello Goodbye Window -- about a little girl's visit to her grandparents -- with Chris Rachska's wondrous, Caldecott-Award-winning illustrations.

For older children, there's the end, at long last, to Lemony Snickett's archly ironic Series of Unfortunate Events -- maybe. But then there's Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane -- about a self-absorbed toy china rabbit who is hurled out of his privileged existence into a series of soul-making adventures. Though this rabbit really gets his once-safe fur ruffled, not a word is out of place in this perfect book.

Copyright 2006 John Cech

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Tuesday, 28-Nov-2006 15:03:20 EST

"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."