Category Archives: Age: All

Halloween books are waiting for you!

Ack!   Shivers down my back—is that a black widow going on a stroll on my tingling neck?!  Oh no, it’s just happy shivers because it’s the month of Halloween.  It’s a time that brings out some wonderful picture books, some creepy and some just wacky fun.

From the Patterson Picks archives, don’t forget about The Halloween Kid and Dying to Meet You in the 43     series.The Hallo-Wiener is a family favorite by Dav Pilkey of Captain Underpants fame. Oscar, a dachshund, is dressed up by his mom as a giant hot dog in a bun.  His mom is so excited about the costume he doesn’t have the heart to say no to this awful getup.  So his friends tease him on Halloween night.  Worse yet, he can’t keep up with them in his cumbersome costume.  But then a hideous black monster with a pumpkin head chases all his dog friends into a lake.  Naturally Oscar saves the day.  I can’t tell you the ending.  But suffice it to say a couple sneaky cats are brought to justice.

Ready to move around?  It’s time to Shake Dem Halloween Bones!  This is a 1997 Scholastic paperback written oh-so-infectiously by W. Nikola-Lisa and illustrated in big, bright oils by Mike Reed.  It seemed like a nice book in my 2nd grade classroom, but it got a life of its own being read aloud at home.   The refrain goes

Shake, shake,

Shake dem bones now.

Shake, shake,

Shake dem bones now.

Shake, shake,

Shake dem bones

At the hip-hop Halloween ball.

A whole cast of characters parade through like “Li’l Red” (Little Red Riding Hood), Tom Thumb and Goldilocks.

The rhythm and drive of it is irresistible.  Excuse me, I have some shaking to do!

Have you ever been to a doctor’s or dentist’s office?  If so, you’ve probably seen the little hardcover Popcorn with tear-out cards inside to buy books in the series.  In fact our copy says on the cover



It’s a 1979 book and I’m happy to say we acquired our copy by honest means.  Popcorn is subtitled A Frank Asch Bear Story.  Sam the Bear on the cover is dressed in his Indian Halloween costume, a headband with a feather.  Behind him is a huge kettle overflowing with popcorn.  His parents have left him alone on Halloween night (remember it’s 1979) and he has a costume party of his own.  Turns out everyone brings popcorn. I’ve read this countless times and I pledge to you it’s still fun when the popcorn fills up every cubic centimeter in the house.  What can you do but chow down?

The illustrations are super simple.  All the better to survey the popcorn spilling off the pages.  The gag at the end is obvious but perfect.

What kind of Halloween season would it be without a mutant pumpkin as big as a truck hurtling downhill and mowing down anything in its path?  Fortunately we have The Runaway Pumpkin (2003) written with fiendishly catchy rhythm by Kevin Lewis and illustrated in exhilarating cartoon style by S. D. Schindler.

Somehow at the top of a hill two kids manage to budge it.  And then it just builds up speed.  Listen:

“Round and ‘round across the ground

Makin’ a thumpin’ bumpin’ sound

Came that thumpety bumpety thumpin’ bumpin’

Round and roll-y RUNAWAY PUMPKIN!

As it knocks down fences and pigsties, the adults stand frozen watching, thinking of pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread.  Some visual highlights are pigs and squirrels hanging from tree branches and a chicken flattened and sticking to the pumpkin.  Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.  And so will you if you pick up The Runaway Pumpkin.

The Pumpkin Man is an unassuming little beginning reader from 1998 written in a pleasant rhyming style by Judith Moffatt.  Moffatt illustrates the text with bright cut paper scenes  with a nice sense of shadow and depth.  It’s a nice little narrative that tells how to make a pumpkin man with a pumpkin head and old clothes and boots you stuff with leaves.  Through absolutely no initiative on my part it has inspired pumpkin men on our front porch several different Halloweens.

Thank you Ms. Moffatt and  original Pumpkin Man.

Aren’t we just about due for a little vacation getaway?  Why not make it a trip to Monster Town?  Welcome to Monster Town by Ryan Heshka is a 2010 paperback issued by Scholastic, but it might as well have been put out by the Monster Town Chamber of Commerce.  It’s got it all.  The cover is a postcard-style design highlighting friendly skulls, bats and mummies.  At the bottom of the cover, a friendly green boy about age six or seven waves to us.

Things get started when the sun goes down, zombies stumbling to work and green kids hopping on the Ghoul Bus with their lunchboxes.  Each spread is an ingenious scene.  My favorite is “Giant Squid serves the best midnight brunch in town.”  He’s behind a round lunch counter doing it all with seven of his legs, like pouring coffee, flipping a green egg, stirring green slime.

Even if you don’t book a tour to Monster Town read the book for the cheeriest spooky scenes you’ve ever seen.


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Filed under Age: All, Age: Early Elementary, Age: Middle Grade, Age: Preschool, Age: Young Adult, Holidays: Halloween

Play Ball!

Batter up!  The Major League baseball season is about a quarter over and none of my three teams have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs!  Go Baltimore, Cincy and the Cubs!  (And Cubs, you might want to strive a little harder.)  Don’t you think we should talk some baseball here and promise to recommend a few kids’ books at the end?  After all, baseball has inspired more great book writing than any other American sport.

I recently came back from an 18 year hiatus.  I gave up on baseball in about 1994.  Labor strife that year, greed, steroids, etc.  But now the Kid is back.   And his top two teams have been riding high.

I got back kind of sudden.  My book club read Moneyball by Michael Lewis.  I’d not heard of it and I didn’t even know it was a recent and well-regarded movie with Brad Pitt.  But man, it sucked me in.  Lewis carts us away with him to the world of Billy Beane, a can’t-miss big league prospect in the ‘80s, who missed.

Beane decides the scouts blew it on picking Beane, that they went on gut instinct and not the right kind of data.  So he reinvents the art of managing a baseball franchise and becomes a crazy successful general manager of the Oakland A’s.  And he turns into a scientist of statistics, climbing up the metaphorical shoulders of the shunned genius Bill James.  (James has finally gained respect from the baseball establishment and helped the Red Sox win their first two World Series championships since 1918 in 2004 and 2007.)

Somehow Beane has the smallest payroll and the best teams circa 2001, gathering a team of discards that don’t look right to the baseball scouts.  Moneyball:  an enthralling book about the baseball world being willfully clueless and finally getting outsmarted.

And now on October 3, 2012, his A’s have done it again:  they’ve come from 13 games out and won their division in the 162nd and last regular season game in a feat with only four precedents in history (1914 Boston Braves, ’51 New York Giants in Willie Mays rookie year, the ’78 Yanks and the ’95 Mariners.)  With the smallest payroll in the majors!  Ouch, Texas Rangers, that’s gotta hurt!

Moneyball was so fun to read and talk about that- shazam! I was a fan again. Just in the nick of time for my teams.  (And just as my brother in Atlanta was coming into the fold again. Nice wild card entry for the Braves, bro.)

So here I am:  Dan Patterson, baseball fan.  And it’s time to reassimilate.  News items:

1. There are now 6 divisions instead of four.

2. There are now 30 teams including ones in Denver, Phoenix, Washington D.C., Tampa Bay, and Miami.  Sorry, Montreal.

3. The  Brewers have switched to the National League.

4. I know the names of few players.

…time to get back to speed!

I became a fan in 1976.  I bought hundreds of ’75 and ’76 baseball cards.  (It was all Topps then.)  I read the sports pages every day.  And there was a writeup for every game (unlike now when the Oregonian only writes up two or three games).  I spent my spring afternoons in 4th grade gazing out the classroom windows, thinking about playing when I got out.

Pretty soon I was expert.  I could name some complete lineups.  I’d guess within a year I could name 10 players easy off the top of my head for any of the 26 teams (by the time Seattle and Toronto joined in ’77).

And you want statistics?  I was brimming with home run numbers, RBI’s, ERA and win totals for people like Joe Morgan, George Foster, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Fred Lynn, Dave Parker, Amos Otis, Dave Concepcion and Ken Singleton.

I guess in 2012 I just expected it to all come back to me.  Except I can’t afford baseball cards anymore.  (Come to think of it, 1994 was about the time cards turned crazy expensive.  In ’76 it was $.10 for seven cards plus a horrible piece of bubble gum.) And my dad no longer subscribes to Sports Illustrated and anyway, he’s 2000 miles away.  (And when the O’s are on the cover, it’s hard to even find it on the newsstand.)  And the paper doesn’t cover baseball too well.  And I don’t have cable TV.

Wish I could learn the players.  The names that stay with me have familiar surnames like Prince Fielder.  I remember his slugging dad Cecil.  And Matt Kemp, who I guess isn’t related to the Tiger’s old star Steve Kemp, but at least the name jogs my memory.  Plus there’s a guy or two that’s still around, like Chipper Jones who’s retiring this fall at the age of 40.

So here I am, a clueless baseball fan, enjoying it all again but wondering how I’ll ever learn a new generation of names so I can feel good about my teams and about myself.  Shouldn’t there be internet-era ditto pages I can download and cut out, nine players to a page?

Well, if you’re still with me, thank you very much.  And now I’ll mention some juvenile baseball books.  At Powell’s I just picked up a perfect book for a middle grade or 47 year old baseball fan. A 2010 Scholastic paperback called Ultimate Guide to Baseball:  Facts, Stats, Stars and Stuff by James Buckley, Jr.  Great history as well as a spread about all 30 teams.  Indispensable to Dan!

           And now let’s go to some dustier places.  We had a battered, corny-looking old paperback on our shelf in about 1979 that my brother-in-law got me to read.  And he was right, The Kid Comes Back by John R. Tunis was really engaging.  So was the previous book, The Kid From Tomkinsville.  (And a quick search shows Tunis was a revered writer and a New Yorker regular.)

Suddenly I remember loving a novel from my dad’s era, Safe! By Harold Sherman (1928).  Corny but delectable.

The series that enthralled me as a kid was Major League Library by Random House.  They were these handsome hardcover books I think I paid $3.00 for at B. Dalton.  I loved Baseball’s Zaniest Stars and several others.

Recently I polished off Great Hitters of  the Major Leagues by Frank Graham (1969).  Willie Mays is on the cover and it has a chapter on 11 greats going back to Ty Cobb.  Still very entertaining.

I tried recently to re-read Strange But True Baseball Stories by Furman Bisher.  Promising topic, but disjointed, incompetent story-telling.  Far superior is More Strange But True Baseball Stories by Howard Liss.  You read about a catcher trying to catch a throw off the top of the Washington Monument and other great stuff.

Have you ever had that bedtime problem when it seems WHATEVER you read over-stimulates you and gets your heart pumping?  For some reason, these baseball books are my antidote.  Fun but neutral.

Excuse me, I have Third Base is My Home by Brooks Robinson right here beside me.  Time to unwind.  (blogmaster’s note: Patterson’s copy of Third Base is My Home is signed by Brooks Robinson!)


Filed under Age: All

Book Taming

After Christmas it was high time to tame the books in our house, especially the kid shelves.  Our daughter had a stack of chapter books on her floor that were starting to look like a night stand and our son had so many picture books on his bedroom shelf that you couldn’t find a thing.  I had the sinking feeling there were big winners on his shelf we hadn’t read for a year or more.  Chaos!  Breakdown of civil society, at least on our shelves.  Adding to the family shame, I had books in the Bob Room (our storage room) that the kids hadn’t seen for years.  Things like The Library Dragon (watch for the review) and Sweet and Sour Lily.  Great stuff!

So we went to the kids and they responded like the terrific folks they are.  They made big stacks of books that could go into the Bob Room or head down the road.  Of course a dad has to have thick skin.  (How could our boy push out Mop Top, Don Freeman’s 1955 classic?  And can our daughter really be done with Amelia’s Notebook?)

At any rate it was exciting how seriously they took their tasks.  We found board books to pass onto pre-school friends, stuff to sell back at Powell’s, Goodwill books, and books to take to the free shelf at the kids’ school.

It’s fun to see what they value.  For instance our daughter has her chapter books on the primest shelf space.  Even though she now reads way beyond Junie B. Jones, she’s not ready to part with the belly laughs Junie B. brings.  I love that she still loves a range of picture books.  Most of her culls were from the picture books, but she kept a lot of  favorites.

 Naturally she hung onto Scrambled States of America Talent Show and She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head.  No surprise she kept What Do People Do All Day by Richard Scarry and Shark Vs. Train, one of her recent favorites.  And she stuck by many classics such as Olivia, Tikki Tikki Tembo, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, and even Journey Cake, Ho (from 1953, with the wonderful Robert McCloskey illustrations)

Our six-year-old was pretty ruthless, taking out at least half of his books.  So I chekced out what he saved. For one category, all his picture books drawn from the Little House books (called “my first little house books“).  Which reminds us, it might be time for some full-on Laura Ingalls Wilder bookage.  Many books were no surprise.  He definitely kept his Chris Van Dusen books, two about Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee, as well as If I Built a Car.  Naturally he kept Pirate Cruncher and Jake Starts School.  Another no-brainer was Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry.

I was pleased that he kept the two picture books about a bear who is like Thoreau including Henry Hikes to Fitchburg.  Local authors fared well, whether my son knows they’re local or not.  He hung onto his Just a Party illustrated by Robyn Waters, The Big Wish by Carolyn Conahan, and Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox written by Susan Blackaby.  I was amazed by two books he kept:  William and His Kitten, our old library discard from 1938 by Marjorie Flack (did we even read it?), and the snoozy-to-Dad Yesterday’s Fire Engines, a library discard from 1980.   I shouldn’t be surprised; we’ve navigated its dense prose quite a few times.

OK, our shelves are freshened up and we’re ready to have a great reading year in 2013.  Kick out the reads!


Filed under Age: All

How I Learned Geography

What is it about terrific illustrators who have immigrated to the US giving us brilliant picture books about their childhoods?  I’ve already reviewed recent books by Ed Young (The House Baba Built) and Allen Say (Drawing From Memory).

Now here’s a slightly older gem by Uri Shulevitz, How I Learned Geography (2008).  Shulevitz is a distinguished picture book artists known for his Caldecott honorees like Snow.  He also wrote a leading text for would-be picture book authors, Writing with Pictures:  How To Write and Illustrate Children’s Books (1997).

How I Learned Geography is a quick, delicious book I’ve shared with many classes of various ages.  Little Uri is a displaced person living far from home.  (We find out in an explanation on the back page that he and his family fled Warsaw, Poland, with his family in 1939 and ended up in Central Asia, in what was then part of the Soviet Union and is now Kazakhstan.)

They live in squalor, the three of them sharing one room with another couple.  One day his father goes out in his mis-fitting clothes to try to get a bit of food for the family.  Much later he comes home with no food and a long paper roll under his arm.

“I bought a map,” he says.

His family is shocked.  “’No supper tonight,’, Mother said bitterly. ‘We’ll have the map instead.’

’I had enough money to buy only a tiny piece of bread, and we would still be hungry,’ he explained apologetically.”

Shulevitz writes that he was shocked and thought he would never forgive his dad.

cropped imageThe second half of the book is Dad hanging the giant world map on the wall and Uri becoming completely absorbed in it.  He studies it and draws it on scraps of paper.  Soon he is going on flights of fancy to deserts, beaches, snowy mountains and exotic temples. We see him dancing, climbing and even flying over wonderful scenes the map brings out of his imagination.

Maps are magical to me too.  Shulevitz gives us a touching, true story.  And it gives a chance to think and talk about wonderful places you want to discover someday.  What a big, exciting planet to explore, even if it’s just with a picture book.


Filed under Age: All, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews

Are We There Yet?

I’ve been to Australia!  It was free!

Are We There Yet?Okay, it was actually via Are We There Yet?  A Journey Around Australia, a picture book written and illustrated by Alison Lester.  But her 32 page trip is so marvelous that I can only hope the actual Australia is as wonderful as her book.    The other three quarters of my family discovered this 2005 book without me.  But when I finished reading it to my then-toddler and kindergarten kids (taking 10-15 minutes- lots of detail!) they asked for me to read it again immediately.

Lester  has some kind of magic touch because turning your year-long family trip in the camper into a compelling picture book for all ages sounds like an unlikely feat.  She takes us to a coral reef, to the Outback including Uluru, the famous rock, and through the rainforest.  Her ink and water color pictures scattered over each page give you a sense of the varied landscapes of Australia.

But it’s the little details that make it magic to me.  For instance, she gives us a map and cross-section of the camper and even shows big brother Luke sleeping on the ground nearby in his sleeping bag.  We attach to the story as we see the family interact with each location, like when Luke is pretending to surf on the curves of Wave Rock or when Grace (the eight year old narrator) reaches her fingers in the air to imitate boab trees with huge trunks and little branches like claws starting way up high.  You’re there!

I enjoyed frequent little maps showing us our progress in a full trip around the continent.  What a superior way to start finding out about Australia compared to a thick, intimidating adult book.  Then Joe Curious has a little foundation for finding out more.

What family trip do you wish Alison Lester could have documented for you?


Filed under Age: All, Non-Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews

Drawing a life

           Up until this year I’ve missed the boat on Allen Say, a prolific, widely-admired writer and painter of picture books.  Imagine my surprise to find he’s a resident right here in Portland!  At the Atkinson Elementary Scholastic book sale I saw his new book, Drawing From Memory.  For me it’s just irresistible.  What a format, a multi-media memoir of his path to becoming an artist in WW II era Japan.  It’s a large 64 page book that feels quite a bit like a graphic novel.  It’s an absolute perfect blend of photos, painted illustrations in color and black and white, and even color comics.

His parents aren’t pleased with his art inclination.  Dad tells him artists aren’t respectable.  Then in first grade his teacher tells him he has a wonderful talent.  It’s a blast to see his color drawing of her that he’s done from memory over 50 years later.

Remarkably he ends up living alone at age 13 in a room in housing for the poor so his family can send him to a prestigious school in Tokyo.  His room becomes his art studio.  He makes sure to do well in school but dives into art.  Soon he’s an apprentice working for his favorite cartoonist in Postwar Japan.  Amazing! The cartoonist even puts two new characters in his comic strip based on Say and the other apprentice that this book shows a sample of.  Allen Say gets to see his sensei (teacher) again more than 50 years later.  (Say had immigrated to America in 1952

I’m trying not to tell you too much. But I hope you’ll enjoy the wonderful ride through Say’s early life and his art development.  Subsequently, I read two more Say books, Erika-San and Tea with Milk.  They don’t have the exciting multi-media format, but they are lovely stories about cultural displacement and assimilation.

One more thing:  at one point Allen Say’s sensei tells him he’s a young Hokusai, the great Japanese painter (everybody knows his painting of the great wave).  Speaking of Hokusai, I just have to tell you about a fabulous French book by Francois Place called The Old Man Mad About Drawing:  A Tale of Hokusai (2004 American edition).  It’s a terrific, genre-bending book.  It’s a sort of small format biography full of color illustrations telling us the story of the great man.  It’s a book you want to tell everyone about.  Feels like a perfect biography hitting on themes of talent and persistence.  Cartoon-y color pictures make it feel like a graphic novel.

Hope the “graphic memoir” genre continues and thrives.  Remind me to tell you sometime about the compelling and remarkable book The Wall:  Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis about growing up in Czechoslovakia.  Some books are perfect!

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Filed under Age: All, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews

Simplicity and Brilliance

Sometimes a book blows you away.  I was amazed by the simplicity and brilliance of One by Kathryn Otoshi when I encountered it a couple years ago.  My daughter’s school librarian talked her into it and we got to read it with her at home.  It’s a 2008 picture book with simple swirls of watercolor.  It stars Blue, a little blob of blue watercolor.  He has friends who are also color dabs.

Unfortunately Red is a hothead who has to put down Blue to feel okay about himself.  Red becomes a worse and worse bully who gets bigger when the other characters don’t stand up to him.  The other blobs don’t want Blue mistreated, but how can they stand up to him when he’s so blustery and powerful?  Finally they find a way for everybody to “count” in this world.  And yes, Red the ex-bully will count too.

Sounds a little abstract maybe?  Sure, but somehow the blobs and the story feel as real as the first time you ever got bullied in elementary school.  Young kids can enjoy this book, but I think the theme might resonate more with upper elementary kids.  Otoshi gives all her readers a dose of worth and dignity between the pages of this remarkably original picture book.


Filed under Age: All, Fiction, Picture Books