Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Cariens
Thursday, June 28, 2009

Proven Children's Authors Offer Three New Titles

This summer young readers are invited to "Bee Creative @ Your Library" and what better way to learn about the creative process than to read about the children's authors, illustrators, and poets who have entertained us through the years with their talents. Here are three new titles to enjoy this summer.

In the grand tradition of great storytellers Will Hillenbrand shares the tail, oops, tale of a young porcine artistic genius whose incessant drawing on walls, pillows, and even in the mud foretold a great future in the art world. Inspired by his mother pig's stories of her own mischievous "piglethood" in Paris where she was one of twelve little girls who marched in two straight lines, our young artist "would stay up late and draw…" her wonderful adventures. Umm…twelve little girls…marching in two straight lines…Paris. Sound familiar? It should. Hillenbrand's Louie! is a thinly disguised paean to the great children's author and illustrator, Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962), the creator of that irrepressible petite fille, Madeline. Just like Louie, Bemelmans turned his own mother's childhood into stories that have become classics of children's literature. One of his published works, Madeline's Rescue, was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1954. The Bemelmans' artistic tradition lives on in John Bemelmans Marciano, Ludwig's grandson, who has produced the first new Madeline adventure in fifty years: Madeline and the Cats of Rome.

The discovery of previously unknown works from a celebrated children's author is cause for celebration. Two books, handmade by Caldecott Medalist and Newbery Honor Medalist Arnold Lobel (1933-1987) had been given as gifts to Crosby Bonsall (1921-1995), herself a renowned children's author and illustrator (most notably for some of the earliest (and best!) titles in HarperCollins I Can Read series). Both books were returned to Arnold's daughter Adrianne from the Bonsall estate. For the first book Adrianne took Arnold's original pen and ink illustrations of frogs and toads and turned them into watercolor treasures. The Frogs and Toads All Sang is a collection of "sweet silliness [which] reminds us why Arnold Lobel's characters continue to be so popular years after their debut". Parents, if you grew up with Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, and all the other gentle tales of the two amphibian BBFs, you must share these poems with your own tadpoles. Adrianne's own artistic gene pool runs quite deeply, by the way. Besides the achievements of her father Arnold, her mother Anita Lobel is a Caldecott Honor Medalist and a National Book Award finalist (for On Market Street and No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War, respectfully). Ahh, yes, and some of us have trouble drawing a straight line with a ruler. Well, I was speaking for myself there. (Look for the second Lobel "find" later in 2009.)

Many years ago Jack Prelutsky, an up-and-coming children's poet visited Evansville for a special school program. He became enormously successful through his many published works of poetry and eventually was designated as the first ever Children's Poet Laureate. Enjoyed by young and old alike, his poetry is a delightfully jumbled mix of fun, frolic, witty repartee, with a bit of shivery spookiness thrown in every now and again. In Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a Poem, Prelutsky shares his foolproof methods for writing great poems that anyone can follow. For example, look to your own family for ideas. Prelutsky turned many of his family's quirks and foibles into laugh out loud poems. His mother's lack of culinary skills is documented in "My Mother Made a Meat Loaf". Paula Deen she is not! "I Wonder Why Dad Is So Thoroughly Mad" enumerates all the pranks mischievous Jack played on his Dad, including putting bread crumbs in his bed, setting a mousetrap to snap in his shoe, and nailing his whitey tighties to the wall. Jack was some fun son! And his poems reflect that. Jack is a firm believer in keeping a notebook and pencil handy. By "…keeping [his] eyes and ears open and by paying attention to what's going on around [him]" Jack (and even all of us) can record ideas anytime, anywhere. Ideas that can later be developed into something wonderful. I've been a fan of Jack Prelutsky ever since his visit to Evansville and of all his many poems I have two decided favorites. Read these the next time you visit your library and watch your laugh-o-meter go crazy: "My Mother Says I'm Sickening" (Mom's many rules for eating at the table) and "There's a New Kid on the Block" (a bully of whole different kind!).