Countdown to Caldecott: The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

I first encountered 1943 Caldecott Medal winner The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton via the Disney cartoon short adaptation that I loved when I was a child. This was in the days before VCRs, even, so I had to be grateful whenever I managed to catch the short on TV, and it was never often enough. The story’s essential distrust of human nature spoke to 5-year-old me, and I think this interest is what grew and flourished into a lifelong love of dystopias, post-apocalyptic scenarios, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

But I digress.

I had no idea that my beloved cartoon was based on a book until I finally stumbled across a copy when I was a preteen, and I keenly felt the years I’d been robbed of not knowing of the book’s existence. I’ve been making up for lost time rereading and recommending it to people ever since. The endpapers tell the whole story with its rows of images of the house slowly fading and growing unhappier as time goes by and horses, trees, and fields are replaced by trucks, skyscrapers, and telephone wire. I saw a great exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum some years ago that delved into Burton’s experience as a print maker and fabric artist and how her work with patterns in those areas impacted her illustration, and I see that in these endpapers as well as in the book itself. Repeated images are part of every page, and Burton employs sweeping curved lines and shapes throughout. This provides a sense of constancy and reassurance as the book moves into its hard edge. One of my favorite illustrations is the first full spread, which shows the pink house on a hill covered in rows of daisies with a series of suns arcing overhead from left to right in a wash of gold, showing time passing. I love how cheeky that sun is, too, winking and flirting with the audience. Everything speaks to contentment and happiness here, even the house itself with her (it’s identified in the text as female) window eyes happy and porch steps gently smiling. The next several spreads talk about night and show the seasons passing; we see the house in the exact same spot while the world changes around her.

Then the city starts moving in with its houses and cars and pollution. As the houses become buildings and then skyscrapers, Burton’s predominantly blue and green images grow more and more black and the little house fades, her window eyes and porch steps becoming sadder and sadder.

The way Burton anthropomorphizes this house is genius. It is the subtlest of strokes that give this house life and emotion, and this is a hard thing to pull off without becoming silly. Much as I still love that Disney adaptation (you can view it here), its images of the house are less subtle and affecting. The cartoon house doesn’t really look like a house, and its hard to take its emotions seriously. In the book, this house always looks like a house, and what that poor house goes through is heartbreaking for a few pages. Thank goodness it comes out okay in the end, and Burton gives us a lovely spread that echoes the beginning. The little house once again in her place–the seasons, sun, flowers, greens, and blues all doing cameos.

I went to the Carle way back when to see that Virginia Lee Burton exhibit specifically so I could see original pieces from this book, and wow. Just wow. I stared and stared and wanted to steal them, though they are in bad shape and probably best left in the hands of preservationists.

I will always love this book.

30 days until Caldecott Day!

Revisiting Mother Goose

I recently reread this Horn Book article about Mother Goose rhymes, which has gotten me all into reading nursery rhymes again, because apparently I didn’t have enough reading to do. Every time I revisit Mother Goose, I am surprised. For instance, somehow I’d missed this one all my life:

Bat, bat,
Come under my hat,
And I’ll give you a slice of bacon,
And when I bake,
I’ll give you a cake
If I am not mistaken.

Bacon, cake, and bats all in one rhyme, and somehow I managed to go almost two decades without ever making it into a felt board or using it in a storytime. That’s criminal.

Also new to me is this one, which clearly is the inspiration for “I Saw a Bunny Go Hop, Hop, Hop”:

Once I saw a little bird
Come hop, hop, hop,
So I cried, “Little bird,
Will you stop, stop, stop?”
I was going to the window
To say, “How do you do?”
But he shook his little tail,
And far away he flew.

I want to do a storytime right now so I can use this rhyme and we can all shake our tail feathers, because that would be hilarious. And fun.

Also, this version of this rhyme is completely new to me:

The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine,
I drew thee to my Valentine.
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And fortune said it should be you.

I had no idea “Roses are red, violets are blue” came out of Mother Goose. I’ve always thought of that rhyme as silly, and I know I’m growing soft in my old age, but this version is downright sweet.

Even though I love being a library director, it’s clear I’m not giving up children’s librarianing any time soon.

Quotable Sunday

“When the Boxcar Children was first published, there were some upset adults who felt that children shouldn’t be enjoying themselves so much without adult supervision. To which I say, is being a kid hobo living in a boxcar really that fun?”
-John Green

I imagine most of my readers will have already seen this video, but, if not, it’s worth watching.

What I Did in Storytime Today and How It Worked Out

Anne went to a training thing today, so I got to do her storytimes. I felt a little nervous about it, to be honest, because I’m out of practice and wanted to do a good job (Anne does excellent storytimes), but I wound up having so much fun.

Storytime #1: The Babies

For this, I searched my own blog, found this post I did on my Stories for Wee Ones at WPL, and used the rhyme and song plan I posted there. It was like visiting old friends: “Wiggle Fingers,” “Here is a Beehive,” “Five Plump Peas.” Those guys are the best. For books, I read I Like It When by Mary Murphy, We’ve All Got Bellybuttons by David Martin and Randy Cecil, and Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang. One of the babies was completely freaked out that I am not Miss Anne, but he seemed to decide that I was okay after a while. One of the babies was very wee–just five months old–and so full of smiles. There was an older sister there, too, who was about four years old and was an enthusiastic and excellent example to the smaller ones. At the end, we had playtime, for which Anne has this most excellent tube that the kids can crawl through. I wanted to crawl through it, too, but I don’t think I would fit. If I wasn’t wearing a short skirt, I might have tried it anyway. I KNEW I should have worn my yoga pants to work today.

Storytime #2: The Toddlers

I use the term “toddlers” loosely. There were maybe 20-25 kids there (Anne, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I forgot to count. I will be confessing this to you in person soon enough.), and they looked to me to range in age from about 6 months to maybe 6 years old. That one girl may have been 7 or 8. I may have the order here a little off, because I didn’t take notes as I went and made a lot of decisions as I went along, as I am wont to do.

Longer “I Wiggle My Fingers”
Seriously, how much fun is this rhyme? I’d forgotten. I had so much fun with this, we did it four times in a row. I think we’re all lucky I didn’t go on with it for the entire half hour.

The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom
The interactive element of this book helped me remember that it’s good to not spend the entire storytime doing one rhyme. Because books are fun, too.

“Mr. Wiggle and Mr. Waggle”
My classic. I enjoyed watching how a group who had never heard it reacted to it.

“I Saw a Bunny Go Hop, Hop, Hop”
We did this three times. I was all about rhymes today.

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh
Before we read this, we counted the three mice on the cover and counted three on our fingers. It was a lot like doing the budget.

“Once There Was a Quiet Mouse”
We did this a couple times, too. The kids really liked my mouse puppet, but I hid him right away again so no one stole him or snotted on him or anything. He’s my favorite puppet, after all.

“I Saw a Snake Go By One Day”
This one is still so funny.

Cookie’s Week by Cindy Ward and Tomie dePaola
As one child observed, Cookie is a really naughty cat. Everyone seemed to enjoy the part where Cookie fell in the toilet, which is one of those things that is hilarious when it happens in a book (as opposed to when it happens in real life, but I may be the only person who has a cat who actually falls in the toilet if someone leaves the lid up).

“Little Bunny Foo Foo”
Of course.

Do Pigs Have Stripes? by Melanie Walsh
The kids were way too smart for this tricky book, per usual.

Longer “Open Them, Shut Them”
The only thing that kept me from doing this one five times in a row was the fact that our half hour was up. Too soon! Too soon!

At this point, as the kids were all standing around awkwardly, I realized I’d forgotten to bring the hand stamp they were expecting, so I ran out to Anne’s desk and stole these cool heart stickers she keeps there, which was a TOTAL WIN. Who needs stamps when you have stickers? No one, I say.

Even better? Anne asked me to do a couple storytimes again in a couple weeks!

I Can’t Imagine There Was Ever a Time in Which This Version of Little Red Riding Hood Wasn’t Creepy

Scary Red Riding Hood

This is one of the Little Golden Books I inherited from my late husband. He had quite a collection. It was originally published in 1948, and in 1973, it was in its thirty-fourth printing. For all those years, thousands of parents were buying this thing for their children, and the cover looks like a horror movie poster. I mean, Red has black holes for eyes. It’s almost as bad as the buttons in Coraline.

Of course, fairy tales are supposed to be scary, so this has a prominent place on my bookshelf. Right near All My Friends are Dead and my zombie picture book collection.

Learning the Alphabet and How to Count and Other Useful Things

Something I’m having to adjust to in my new job is not reading about picture books all the time. I still read about them some, but I’m not buying them anymore, and it’s different. Anne brings me picture books she thinks I’ll like sometimes (she’s always right), and lately I’ve been getting in the habit of checking out the new shelf once a week or so and grabbing a pile of books to read that look interesting. I discovered a couple books I really liked this week: Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout and One Two That’s My Shoe by Alison Murray.

Backseat A-B-See is a bit of an update of Tana Hoban’s I Read Signs, which is fantastic and still works but also looks a bit dated. Lieshout gives us digital illustrations rather than photographs. The endpapers are a top-down view of a road (genius), and (further genius) she has an author’s note on the first page in a caution sign and a “WRONG WAY” sign blazing on the back endpaper. From there, we see a child and parent heading off in a car, finding signs that correspond to each letter of the alphabet, making this a concept book on more than one level. It teaches signs (the first things many children learn how to read) and the alphabet, and its bright, bold colors make it a good book for teaching colors as well. There’s some great vocabulary in here, too: “heliport,” “junction,” “merge.” For “Q,” Lieshout writes “quack” on a duck crossing sign. This is the kind of book you can see a child sitting through five million times. My only concern with it is the way the book is put together. Our copy was processed in July, and the stitching’s already coming apart. The pages also don’t nestle inside the book in a way that is pleasing and a little kinder to their fragile edges. This is less a concern for home use, but I do think libraries will find themselves repairing it.

One Two That’s My Shoe! by Alison Murray is a take on “One, Two Buckle My Shoe,”  making it another concept book–this one focused on counting and rhyme. In it, Murray reframes the rhyme to tell the story of a dog stealing a shoe from a little girl and running around with it. The illustrations have a 50s vibe, and I feel like the dog is a direct descendant of Harry the Dirty Dog, all white with black ears and mischief. The bold illustrations, the simple story, and the bouncy text make this one a great choice for storytime, too, even for smaller kids. This is a book I’d buy in multiple copies.

Tiny Beautiful Things

This week, I read Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, which included this letter I’d never read from her column. The letter made me weep, and Strayed’s response made me weep, and I feel compelled to share it with all of you.

In the twisty way life works, Liz is the one who convinced me to read Tiny Beautiful Things even though I felt like I’d probably read most of the columns online already (which turned out not to be true), and the day I started Tiny Beautiful Things was also the day I finally got to read Liz’s new book, Think Big, which is fantastic. I feel like I should read it out loud to the staff every morning before we open the library to get us all psyched up. It’s that kind of book.

The Oatmeal always makes me laugh, but this week, it made me laugh and cry at the same time.

It was a laughing and crying kind of a week.

Also this week, I learned that the plural of papyrus is papyri.

So far today, I’ve been reading and writing instead of taking a shower or cleaning my house. I’ve also been working on getting ready for this two-part webinar on homeschooling I’m teaching in a few weeks. A girl maybe can’t do everything, but I’m doing quite a lot. And I’ll probably take a shower. Eventually.

“Live in the Layers”

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   

but because it never forgot what it could do.
-from “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Jules introduced me to this poem some time ago, and I’ve had it in my mind over the last few weeks as people have been in various ways honoring the work I’ve done at WPL. I felt weird about the attention at first, but then I relaxed about it. I am grateful that so many people have in enjoyed the work I’ve done as much as I have, because I love my work. Much of it is, as Nye says, nothing spectacular–buying books, managing budgets, answering people’s questions, reading to kids–but I’ve always pushed myself to do things a little better today than I did yesterday and tried to do the best job I can.

On Tuesday, there was a lot of fanfare for me in the morning and early afternoon, and I appreciated and enjoyed it so much. I spent the end of my day working in the Children’s Room, though, the way I always have, helping people find books. I wound up spending some time with a family I’d never seen before. It started with a mother asking me for help finding books for her 10-year-old daughter. After we spent some time going through the stacks talking books, and the girl had a few books in her hands to take home (we bonded over our shared love of Wendy Mass), the woman called over her sixth-grader, “Come over here! This woman knows what she’s talking about with these books!”

So I found that girl some books, too. I got her started on Meg Cabot.

And that was just as rewarding as anything else that happened that day. Because that’s what I do: I help people find books.

Missy wrote up a beautiful post about my last Stories in the Park, with a wonderful gallery of pictures that she and Amy took. (I think you can see those photos even if you aren’t on Facebook. If not, I’ll have to post them elsewhere.) What a gift these things are, as is this post my friend Val did over on her blog.

I have a few days off, sort of, before I start my new job on Tuesday. I’m going in to Henrietta to meet some of my new coworkers this afternoon and get a handle on a few things I have to do immediately, and I have some other things going on, but I’m moving at a more leisurely pace than I’ve been, enjoying these beautiful summer days to their fullest.

This is my favorite time of year.