Weekly Readings (Holiday 2013 Edition)



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


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

Melrose and Croc: A Christmas to Remember

by Emma Chichester Clark (@emmachichesterc)

 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

Publisher: ABRAMS

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!

The Snatchabook

The Snatchabook

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

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.


1-LCBX-Cover 2

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-

[sz-youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDO67tBm1Ls&feature=c4-overview&list=UUXaZSMw3JR9jEo-x7B549wQ” userdata=”Taury” /]

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.

Picture Book Month – Author Spotlight #3: Two Lost Lights of 2013


Today’s Spotlight will be a little different, and possibly tissue-inducing, but I hope no less inspiring. 


While I’m all for celebrating the variety, depth and daring feats accomplished in picture book art and text today, I want to take this spotlight to give honor and reverence to two author-illustrators who we lost in 2013-



Marc Simont (1915-2013)

I wasn’t as familiar with Marc Simont’s work, at least not directly, but learned some interesting things in doing research.

A few years ago, I wrote a series of stories about a character named Crocodile Flint, a gruff reptilian sleuth with a semi-hard boiled tone, and some of the feedback I got was advising me to read other mysteries for chapter book readers, and one of the books suggested for me to read was the “Nate the Great” series which is a mystery series for emergent readers (Kids 6+), and though the series is written by Marjorie Weinman , it was Marc Simont who did the illustrations for the early books in the series when it debuted in the early 70s-

Nate the Great (1st)


 Today, the series is currently illustrated by Jody Wheeler-

Nate the Great, Where Are You

(Cover for “”Nate the Great, Where Are You?”

to be released in May 2014)


But in addition to illustrating the works of other authors, he also penned and sketched books all his own, most notably his picture book “The Stray Dog” that became a Caldecott Honor book in 2001-


The Stray Dog

 (*Click the cover image above if you’re interested in purchasing)

As for Crocodile Flint, it evolved from being a chapter book to a novelette type story that I will soon be publishing it via the new reading platform called “Snippet” but I’ll share more details on that in the near future.


And speaking of crocodiles…


Bernard Waber (1921-2013)

Lyle Montage #1 Lyle Montage #2

I saved Bernard last for the simple reason that it was the most INTENSE for me personally as an author early on in my career. It was a week after my birthday this year when I heard the news on Facebook, and it truly rocked my world, in a non-awesome way. I still get shaky thinking about it as I type these words. For, much like the death of Maurice Sendak in 2012 (Also in May, ironically enough), this was the most core-shaking author death for me since Brian Jacques (Author of the Redwall series, and my unofficial “Rival”)

Of his many notable books, his most well known are “Ira Sleeps Over” and his series starring “Lyle the Crocodile” which are are a personal favorite of mine. What I love most about the Lyle series is how even though Lyle never speaks, you still feel you know him. He’s the kind of character where actions and expressions say all you need to know, and despite the “distant” narrator, it doesn’t feel like you being told what Lyle thinks and feels, and anyone whose tried to write a tight first person or close third POV know this is NOT easy to do.

While picture books are usually in third person, and often past tense, there are some in eithe first person, and even second person (If You Give A Mouse A Cookie), that with a skilled author can bring freshness to the narrative and it’s adjoining illustrations without being pretentious.

That said, it’s not easy to use a detached narrator and avoid the issue of readers not feeling connected to the characters or being told how they feel.

Of course, back in the days of silent films, this was a common way stories were told visually, with an occasional caption in the place of spoken dialogue (For those of you saw my original welcome video for T.A.A., the last bit at end was a riff on old silent movie dialogue cards)

But the advantage of picture books (And by extension, Comics and/or Graphic Novels) is to use visuals to express what words alone either can’t convey, or are unable to within the vocabulary and word count constraints inherent in picture books especially.

This is made more impressive by the charming illustration style and how facial expressions really pop.

While some “Modern” picture books can take it to task in the wake of the “Minimalist” movement of books in general this first decade in the 21st century, for me, this is a case where the old-fashioned feeling of the story is its strength, rather than as a liability.

The word “Dated” has negative connotations in publishing, but to me, what really dates a book isn’t necessarily slang (Though is a legit concern, especially in novels), but it’s stance to the reader.

For me, the most enjoyable picture books are the ones where as clearly labored and thought out they may be, they never read self-conscious to neither the kids or the parents (Or other family members) who share the story together.

It had always been my hope that I’d get my Lyle books signed, and shortly after learning of his death, I went to “The Book Beat” (An independent bookstore in my home state of Michigan) and bought a signed hardcover of “Lyle and the Birthday Party” and will be a cherished part of my personal library, and will NEVER sell it! (Short of financial desperation or family inheritance)


For a chatty, detail freak like myself, when you can relate so pogiantly to a character who doesn’t speak, you can’t help but say “WOW!” if only to yourself.

Being primarily a novelist, taking away a character’s ability to speak in WORDS for me is like taking a kid’s favorite toy without asking, cruel and jarring, but it also inspires me to better pay attention to facial ticks and unspoken (yet still RELEVANT) feelings of my characters.

Vital for picture books, but still apply to novels, though there’s more freedom of structure and word choice because of the larger canvas you have. In short, I’ll miss you, Bernard Waber, but I thank you for bringing your books into this world.

I came to the joy of picture books later than many, but I know that I’d be just as charmed by Lyle at 4, as I am now at 26, with no kid siblings or kids of my own (Yet…) to hide behind.

My site may be called “Talking Animal Addicts” but Lyle shows us that animals (real or imagined) still have a voice. This is merely a voice you need to feel and see rather than hear.

Have you Marc Simont’s “The Stray Dog” or Bernard Waber’s “Ira Sleeps Over” or one (if not ALL) the Lyle books, and any of his other books? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments. Your literary rat loves to hear from you.

We’ll lighten up the mood on our next spotlight with highlighting picture

books by authors and/or illustrators who made their debut in 2013.


Until then, may the fantastical fauna be with you.