With one week before Christmas, it’s high time I shared some of the books I’ve read and will be re-reading this holiday season. Two are modern classics (In your humble Literary Rat’s Opinion, anyway…) and three are new titles released in 2013.
Two aren’t specifically “Holiday” books but were released before or in December 2013 and even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, two of the three books still have the spirit we try to bring to the winter holidays, friendship, being grateful for what we have, and sharing it with those dearest to us.
As long time readers know, Weekly Readings is when I share some of the picture books I’ve read in the last week or so and give mini-reviews of them. This week is Holiday Themed, but again, even if you don’t celebrate a specific holiday, there are books you can get great enjoyment from, and I’ll start with one of them now-
Herman and Rosie
by Gus Gordon (@IllustratorGus)
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (An Imprint of Macmillan)
Pub. Date: October 15th, 2013
Books have always had a storied history with an ongoing playlist of love songs to iconic settings (Real, imagined, and all in-between) and picture books are no different.
In fact, with SO MANY love songs to a specific place, it’s HARD to stand out, but I believe ”Herman and Rosie” is one such stand out. For me, of the many love songs to New York City (Real or Surreal), this book DOES jump out in the most positive sense.
The story follows titular characters: Herman, a crocodile salary-man who loves playing his oboe, hot dogs in winter, and movies about the ocean, and Rosie, who loves toffee, movies about the ocean, and singing her heart out at a jazz club at night, after working in the restaurant biz by day.
While both Herman and Rosie love life in the city, it can feel lonely at times, sometimes lacking the kind of community building more directly inherent in a small town, or county within a large city or town.
The illustrations do an excellent job projecting the urban motif, using collage scrapbook-like elements to further enhance the overall charm to the illustration.
When I first saw the cover for this book, I almost wanted to weep with joy, because it’s unabashedly old-fashioned, in a tune when being modern is often meant to mean “Simplistic to a fault.”
Please understand, I’m not bashing simplicity, when it’s right for the story that’s fine, whether we;re talking words or text, but I don’t want simplicity to overly dictate stories that frankly demand some finesse and sophistication.
These two have a lot in common, yet like most city slickers, start out as two wayward spirits who are strangers to each other, but certainly not to the readers of their story.
When Herman loses his job (Due to lack of sales), and Rosie learns the jazz club where she sings is forced to close down, the two once mostly content souls have been infected with the “Lost my job, (Herman) Lost my Passion, (Rosie), whatever will I do now” blues…
They spend days and weeks at home.
Herman too bummed out to play his Oboe.
Rosie too down in dumps to sing and share her song to others.
Eventually, the two find their way back to their musical passions and soon after, AT LAST, find each other…
There’s something about the vintage feel that I’ve always responded to, long before I even knew the history behind it, which only enriched my appreciation as I got older.
This book manages to feel modern without also feeling cold and lifeless. It also brings a certain flair to the everyday hustle and bustle that those of you who are urban dwellers will find familiar, yet those you in the boonies will feel right at home with theme this book organically projects: connections to friends helps fight the day do day doldrums we all face, wherever in the world we call home.
For me, of the many love songs to New York (Real or Surreal), this book DOES jump out in the most positive sense.
Melrose and Croc: A Christmas to Remember
U.K. Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s UK
U.S. Publisher: (Bloomsbury Kids) Orginally Walker & Company (An imprint of Macmillan)
U.S. Pub. Date: October 3rd, 2006
U.K. Pub. Date: October 3rd, 2005
This is the first in a series of books starring a dog named Melrose and the plucky little reptile, Croc. Like “Herman and Rosie” this is a story about two lonely souls in the big city, but gives a more childlike quality to the characters and a softer tone to the charming illustrations by author-illustrator Emma Chichester Clark, best known for her “Blue Kangaroo” series, the first of which won the Christopher Award
Those of you who grew up watching “Oswald” back before Nick Jr. was its own channel (Created by author-illustrator Dan Yaccarino) Melrose and Croc have that unassuming quirkiness that stands out from other books.
I honestly feel in love with Melrose and Croc long before I even read a book in the series, buddy stories always get my heart going as I didn’t have many friends growing up, or when I did they moved or I moved and it didn’t last, so books have been healing in a way for my not having a lifelong bond to call my own.
Melrose and Croc is especially endearing to me because like Herman and Rosie, this odd couple creature duo not only become friends, but you get this unspoken sense they’re become the other’s family, too.
Melrose the slightly paternal straight man (Er, dog) and Croc, the adoring kid brother those of you with more wild kid siblings might’ve liked to have instead…(I’m an only rat, so I bow out on that here)
Coyote Christmas: A Lakota Story
By S.D. Nelson
Pub. Date: December 1st, 2007
Fans of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will love how the infamous trickster of Native American myth and lore lets greed and mischief get the better of him, with frenetic and “biting” results!
Written by Helen Docherty
Illustrated by Thomas Docherty
U.K. Publisher: Alison Green Books
U.S. Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
U.K. Pub. Date: October 2013
U.S. Pub. Date: December 2013
In the forest, books and story time are celebrated and sacred (You know, really super important), but books start going missing, ruining the late night joys of story time, whether it’s the one reading a book to themselves, or a family reading to each other before bedtime, and a rabbit named Emily is determined to find this thief of books and get them back.
Illustrator Thomas Docherty (Helen’s Husband and also an author himself) channels his inner Seuss in the illustrations that properly compliment Helen’s solid but non-traditional rhyme scheme and can happily stand up to author-illustrator duo, Julia Donaldson and Axel Schrieffer (Who brought us gems like “The Gruffalo” and most recently “The Highway Rat”)
The Snatchabook manages to envoke a feeling of nostalgia (For those of us old enough to have that perspective, and you don’t have to be 30+ to have it, in my opinion…) and deliver the modern reader’s demand for quick moving tale that lingers in the RIGHT ways and for the right REASONS. Something that may sound counter-intuitive, but something you’ll get when you read this book for yourself and/or to others.
But make no mistake, this story is no fake wannabe, when your literary rat compares ANYTHING to someone as beloved (And often debated about) as Seuss, it’s NOT faint praise, and is still a solid title in its own right, and Helen and Thomas Docherty have a lot to be proud of. The Snatchabook is their second collaboration in book form, and I believe it will be known as their breakout work, you heard this first from your Literary Rat, I highly recommend it, and that will be that.
Lyle at Christmas
By Bernard Waber
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pub. Date: September 29th, 2003
Back during T.A.A.’s celebration of “Picture Book Month” I shared my thoughts on the death of author-illustrator, Bernard Waber, best known for “Ira Sleeps Over” and the Lyle the Crocodile series of picture books. For his close friends and family he’ll certainly be missed, but readers who grew up with his books, or found them later in life (As in my case) we’re grateful his books and their illustrations remain.
This is a charming Christmas story with surprisingly frenetic moments to help the pacing feel smooth and slow in a GOOD way. I’m always impressed when I come across characters that don’t audibly speak are able to show their actions and feelings without the narrator feeling omniscient in a distant way that feels annoying telling when read aloud. Trust me, as a writer myself, that’s not easy to do.
Written by Jerry Davis
Illustrated by Katie Davis (Yes, they’re related!)
Pub. Date: November 2013 (Sales End 12.26.13)
Those of you who followed T.A.A. back in November may remember my highlighting this book before, and this is my review of the book originally on Amazon
NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: I was given a review copy of this book, but am not personally affiliated with either the book’s author or illustrator, other than sharing fellow respect for them both as an author myself.
As commercialized as most holidays have become, I do believe the hallmark values of Christmas still exist, even without the direct religious contexts, and you don’t have to just mine the classics of yesteryear to share stories that delight and teach (NOT preach…) with the “Little Chicks” in your life.
“Little Chicken’s Big Christmas” is a 21st century example of just that. Again, it doesn’t preach its message, but is a natural part of the story.
Rather than obsess over wanting toys for himself, Little Chicken instead wants to give a gift, reminding all of us (Particularly us “Big Chickens”) that kids can be just as capable of generosity as St. Nick himself, who clearly has been around longer than most…
As is common with picture books (Though there are exceptions), you needn’t have read the previous book to get enjoyment out of this one, but those who have read L.C.’s Big Day will enjoy various through-lines in the illustrations by Katie Davis, who usually is also the author of her other picture books, the words in this story (As in the original book, “Little Chicken’s Big Day”) were penned by her husband, Jerry (As made obvious via the cover)
For those of you wary of literary family team-ups, I promise you this one works, and I love when the fun and joy book’s creators have is translated into a solid experience for the end lay reader.
One of the hallmarks of a picture book is how well it stands up to that idealistic image of parent reading the book to their child. I am not a parent yet, but I would not hesitate reading this story to one of my own.
That said, some books are dependent on not just the interests, but the overall temperament of the child him or herself.
Because L.C. himself is as bouncy and direct as most kids are, even the most fidgety ones are welcome.
Katie’s spare and smartly directed illustrators, along with Jerry’s spare text and light refrain and repetition naturally guide the story on a swift click.
I do hope Simon and Schuster imprint, “Margaret K. McElderry Books” (Who released “Little Chicken Big Day”), seriously considers bringing this story to print in the future.
Fans of Katie Davis in general (Or L.C. in particular) make no mistake, NO corners were cut in either the presentation or execution of this story, and while picture books are still best realized in print, this digital first sequel is no less worthy in overall quality, and as a print book-centric reader myself, that’s saying a lot!
I knew when “Little Chicken’s Big Day” came out in 2011, it would not likely be the last time we’d see L.C. grace the literary landscape, and this holiday follow-up has happily proven me right.
If you’re reading this review at the time before sales end on December 26th, 2013, this is the FINAL week and a half for you to buy it for your Kindle, or the Kindle app for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 8, or web app for PC or Mac.
If you need a little more convincing watch the trailers for this book-
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This was made by your very own “Literary Rat” Taurean J. Watkins, who was part of the OFFICIAL launch team.
Trailer #2 was made by the Illustrator, Katie Davis-
[sz-youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLA6lBeQhNI&feature=c4-overview&list=UUG2zl8V-E8jSOf8DRaG_BkA” userdata=”Katie Davis” /]
You can find these videos and more on our “T.A.A. Holiday Showcase” Pinterest board-
You’ll also want to like us on Facebook for more fun fantastical fauna goodness, and special holiday goodies you’ll only find there.
That’s it for today. Until next time,
May the fantastical fauna be with you.
P.S: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of
the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by
clicking on the affiliate cover images above.