Children's literature experts offer 'top 10' books for gift-giving

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Children's literature experts offer 'top 10' books for gift-giving

Thinking you’d like to buy books for the young people on your holiday gift-giving list, but have questions about which ones to pick?

Angelica Carpenter and Denise Sciandra have the answers you need. In fact, they’ve developed “Top 10” lists of classic and newly released children’s books to guide shoppers this holiday season.

Carpenter is curator of the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, the largest and most significant research center for the study of children’s books on the West Coast. Sciandra is president of the support group, Arne Nixon Center Advocates.

The center, housed in the Henry Madden Library at California State University, Fresno, is named for a beloved, former professor who taught children’s literature and storytelling on that campus for more than 30 years. Dr. Nixon also issued lists of his favorites for children, reflecting his interest in multicultural books for all ages.

Carpenter and Sciandra said that developing the lists was tough because there are so many excellent children’s books.

“The difficult part of listing 10 top classics is restricting the list to only 10!” said Sciandra, who selected the books of years-past.

Carpenter, the author of three children’s books (a fourth is in the works) who was named the first curator of the Nixon Center in 1999, compiled the list of new books.

“There are so many wonderful new books for young readers that compiling a ‘top’ list is difficult. “These new books, in my opinion, are future classics – books that today’s children will want their own children to read,” she said. “They reflect a wonderful array of cultures. They’re my Top 10 for this week, at least!”

The lists (in alphabetical order) with comments are:

Top new books (recommended by Angelica Carpenter):

“The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy” by Donald R. Hettinga (Clarion, 2001, 180 pages). Fans of fairy tales will enjoy this biography of two famous brothers who collected and published these oral stories in the early 1800s. Like other authors, they struggled at first to earn a living. Jacob worked as a clerk in the Hessian war office, where he had to wear a stiff uniform and a powdered pigtail. Wilhelm, yielding to pressure to remove “certain situations and relations” like Rapunzel’s pregnancy after the prince’s first visit, rewrote the story so that the prince proposed to her right away. A history of the Grimms’ times, too, with photographs and illustrations.

“Chato and the Party Animals” by Gary Soto (Putnam’s, 2000). A sequel to the controversial “Chato’s Kitchen,” written by an author who grew up in Fresno. Novio Boy, a cat from the pound, has no birthday to celebrate. Chato, his best friend in el barrio, plans a super cool party for him anyway, with flea combs, collars with shiny bells, and extra kitty litter, just in case. The best game is “Going to the Vet,” where you get to scream your head off. Susan Guevara’s illustrations are so funny and complex that you have to read this twice, once for the witty words and again (and again!) for the pictures.

“Cinderella/Cenicienta,” by Francesc Boada (Chronicle Books, 2001). This bilingual English/Spanish picture book offers a simple text with sophisticated illustrations. Monse Fransoy’s striking, decorative pictures are set in the fairytale past, with overtones of retro 1950s style. The late Arne Nixon owned many versions of the Cinderella story, and this makes an elegant addition to his collection.

“The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins” by Barbara Kerley (Scholastic, 2001). In picture book format with historical notes, the true story of the Victorian artist who designed and built the first life-sized models of dinosaurs. After dazzling London with his creations in 1854, he was invited to construct American dinosaurs in Central Park. Brian Selznick’s vibrant illustrations include a “then and now” comparison of how artists depict dinosaurs, and a menu from one of the most unusual dinner parties ever held. The best book of 2001, so far!

“Esperanza Rising” by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2000, 262 pages). In this novel, set in 1930, 12-year-old Esperanza Ortega lives a pampered life on a Mexican ranch. After her father is murdered and the family home burns down, she flees with her mother to a new life, picking fruit in California. Valley fever and a labor strike help Esperanza to realize that family and community are more important than riches. The author will teach in Fresno as part of the CSU Summer Arts course, Literature for Children, July 14-27, 2002.

“Fair Weather” by Richard Peck (Dial, 2001, 139 pages). A perfect follow-up to Peck’s Newbery-winning “A Year Down Yonder,” about a city girl who goes to the country. In “Fair Weather,” set in 1893 Chicago, Aunt Euterpe invites her country relatives to visit her during the World’s Columbian Exposition. Rosie, aged 13, her older sister, and little brother arrive with their Granddad (the biggest nuisance in the county) and his dog. This hilarious romp plays like a movie in the reader’s mind as just about everything that could go wrong, does, and then some. But much more goes right in this perfect novel that includes photographs and historical notes. Peck will speak at a meeting of the Arne Nixon Center Advocates on Oct. 2, 2002.

“The Greatest: Muhammad Ali” by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic, 2001, 172 pages). Cassius Clay was a flamboyant young boxer who could float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. As heavyweight champion, he shocked the sports establishment by becoming a Muslim and changing his name to Muhammad Ali. Banished from boxing in 1967 for refusing induction during the Vietnam War, he helped to change public opinion. Ali’s life, the history of racism, and the hazards of boxing are interwoven in this admiring account. The new movie “Ali,” coming Dec. 25, will stimulate interest in this title.

“Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Retrospective Celebrating 85 Years of Storybook Friends” by Patricia Hall, with artwork and story by Johnny Gruelle (Simon & Schuster, 2001, 40 pages). Political cartoonist Gruelle drew a new face on old rag doll, named her Raggedy Ann and gave her to his daughter Marcella. After Marcella died at age 13 in 1915, her father published the stories he had told her and later created a brother for Ann named Raggedy Andy. Raggedy Ann is popular this season (poor Andy gets left out!) as new picture book “adaptations” of Raggedy stories flood the market. Skip them and buy this lovely, illustrated history of the real books and dolls, with a story included.

“The Shark God” by Rafe Martin (Scholastic, 2001). In this glorious picture book retelling of a traditional Hawaiian legend, a brother and sister save a shark, then celebrate their feat by beating on the king’s forbidden drum. Sentenced to death, they are saved when their parents appeal to the fearsome Shark God. David Shannon’s Gauguin-like paintings transport the reader into a beautiful and frightening world.

“We Were There, Too: Young People in U.S. History” by Phillip Hoose (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2001, 264 pages).At age 17, Diego Bermudez sailed with Columbus. Eleven-year-old Harriet Hanson led a mill strike in Massachusetts in the 1830s. Peggy Eaton was a teenaged hobo during the Depression. With wonderful introductions, illustrations, sidebars and first-person accounts, this book tells the stories of 70 young people from diverse cultures. Even the endpapers fascinate, filled with quotes like “I was standing on a bed of snakes, large ones and small ones.”

Top classics (recommended by Denise Sciandra)

“The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 2, Tintin and the Broken Ear; The Black Island; King Ottokar’s Sceptre;” (Little, Brown & Co., 1994, 186 pages). Tintin is a boy sleuth-reporter who has adventures all over the world. Tintin, along with his loyal dog Snowy, the blustery Captain Haddock, the absent-minded Professor Calculus, the bumbling detectives Thomson & Thomson and the glamorous Madame Castafiore, has been entertaining readers since 1930. The adventure series of 21 stories is written and illustrated by Belgian artist Hergé. It contains satirical and political humor and is illustrated in comic book form. The Tintin stories have dedicated fans of all ages and have been known to be read by boys who thought they did not like to read.

“Freddy the Detective,” by Walter R. Brooks (Overlook Press, 1997, 192 pages). Freddy, who lives on Mr. Bean’s farm in upstate New York, is a multi-talented pig who writes poetry and has been described as ingenious, intelligent, loyal and resourceful. In this book, he sets out to demonstrate his detective skills and actually does solve a few mysteries around the farm. Walter R. Brooks wrote 26 “Freddy” stories from 1927 to 1958. Through the efforts of the international Friends of Freddy fan club, this beloved series is gradually being reissued in first edition facsimiles. Michael Cart, a nationally recognized expert on children’s literature and a member of the advisory board for the Arne Nixon Center, grew up loving Freddy and says he still finds comfort in the books. He appreciates the theme of friendship and taking care of each other that runs throughout.

“Goodnight Moon” and “Runaway Bunny,” by Margaret Wise Brown (HarperCollins, 2001, 64 pages). “In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.” So begins the gentle, beloved goodnight story of the 20th century. “Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, ‘I am running away.’ ‘If you run away,’ said his mother, ‘I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.” So begins the comforting story of a mother bunny’s love for her child. These classics are now available as a set in an attractive slip cover.

“Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel,” by Virginia Lee Burton (Houghton Mifflin, 1999, 44 pages). Originally written in 1939. Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel Mary Anne are a team. They are inseparable. They love their work. Along came new gasoline shovels, electric shovels and diesel motor shovels putting the steam shovels out of work. Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne were very sad. Other steam shovels were being sold for junk but Mike couldn’t do that to Mary Anne. They left the big city and went to the little town of Popperville where their hard work and friendship paid off in an unexpected way. A wonderful read aloud story.

“The Shrinking of Treehorn,” by Florence Parry Heide (Holiday House, 1988 63 pages). Originally published in 1971. Treehorn is shrinking but no one believes him. His mother, who is baking a cake that has just fallen says, “First it was the cake, and now it’s this. Everything happens at once.” Treehorn’s teacher says, We don’t shrink in this class,” and sends him to the Principal. It is up to Treehorn to solve his problem. All children will recognize themselves in this story. Author Heide says of this book, “I wrote it because communication is of paramount importance, and the lack of it one of the saddest and least necessary happenings in history. People simply don’t listen to CHILDREN. So I wrote Treehorn.” Illustrated with witty pen-and-ink drawings by Edward Gorey.

“Song of the Swallows,” by Leo Politi (Atheum, 1987, 32 pages). This is a story of the friendship between Juan, a little boy, and Julian, the old gardener and bell-ringer at the Mission of San Juan Capistrano in California. Together they ring the bells to welcome home the swallows on Saint Joseph’s Day. Leo Politi, a native of Fresno, was a good friend of the late Dr. Arne Nixon. He wrote and illustrated 18 multicultural picture books from 1938 to 1978, before multiculturalism in children’s books was popular. He was a gentle man who loved children and animals. His gentleness, happiness and childlike innocence are captured in the artwork in his books. This book won the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children.

“Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” by William Steig (Scott Foresman, 1989, 32 pages). Sylvester, a donkey who collects “pebbles of unusual shape and color,” feels lucky to find a pebble that will make all of his wishes come true. When he unexpectedly encounters a lion, he unthinkingly wishes to be a rock. Now, in the form of a rock, he cannot turn himself back into a donkey. As time passes, Sylvester and his parents are miserable without each other. How Sylvester is eventually reunited with his loving family makes a tender, magical story. As always in William Steig stories, this one is emotionally engaging with gentle humor and strong characters. This book is the winner of the Caldecott Medal.

“The Tailor of Gloucestershire,” by Beatrix Potter (Frederick Warne & Co., 1987, 58 pages). Originally published in 1903, this story is one of 23 “little books” written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter who is best known for “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.” This tale is based on a true story in which a tailor leaves an unfinished waistcoat for the Mayor of Gloucester in his shop one Saturday morning and is amazed to come back on Monday to find it ready except for one buttonhole for which there was “no more twist.” In reality, his two assistants had secretly completed the job, but Beatrix Potter has the work finished by little brown mice. The story is set on Christmas Eve, when animals can talk, and includes many of Potter’s favorite traditional rhymes. This tale was Beatrix Potter’s personal favorite.

“Where the Sidewalk Ends,” by Shel Silverstein (HarperCollins, 1974, 176 pages). Children’s poetry was forever changed by this book. Silverstein humorously writes about subjects to which any child can relate such as wanting to sell one’s sister, making up excuses to stay home from school and “washing a behind that I’m sure wasn’t mine” in a crowded bath tub.

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” by L. Frank Baum (Books of Wonder, 2000, 272 pages). This story is an American fairy tale. How Dorothy and Toto are swept away from Kansas in a cyclone and meet up with the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion and their fantastic journey down the yellow brick road in search of the Wizard of Oz has become part of American folklore. L. Frank Baum’s 14 Oz stories are available from Books of Wonder in beautiful first edition facsimiles with all of the original illustrations.

EDITORS: To arrange interviews with Carpenter or Sciandra and photographs of their “Top 10” books, call Shirley Armbruster at 278-5292.