Books MINOR WORKS

What the well-read kid should get for Christmas.

Well, well. ’Tis the season to stuff stockings again, and around my house that gives us an excuse to go to the book stores and immerse ourselves in some pretty heavy browsing disguised as Christmas shopping. I used to pretend I was buying books for a cousin or someone so I could spend an hour or two with the children’s books. Parenthood has made that excuse unnecessary. It has also made me a warier shopper. So herewith a few caveats and commendations.

Your temptation at Christmas is, inevitably, to give a Christmas book. Unfortunately, with a small child that means you’re going to be reading stories about Santa Claus next Easter if the kid likes the book. And if he doesn’t, what good is it?

A fairly typical children’s Christmas book is Merry Christmas, Harry, written and illustrated by Mary Chalmers (Harper & Row, $3.95). It’s about this kitty cat who asks his mommy to ask Santa for a baby kitten for Christmas. And about as sticky-poo as that. Chalmers’ illustrations have a certain charm, but since they’re black and white the smaller children probably won’t groove on them the way they do big, highly colored ones. And older children will ask all Well, well. ’Tis the season to stuff stockings again, and around my house that gives us an excuse to go to the book stores and immerse ourselves in some pretty heavy browsing disguised as Christmas shopping. I used to pretend I was buying books for a cousin or someone so I could spend an hour or two with the children’s books. Parenthood has made that excuse unnecessary. It has also made me a warier shopper. So herewith a few caveats and commendations.

Your temptation at Christmas is, inevitably, to give a Christmas book. Unfortunately, with a small child that means you’re going to be reading stories about Santa Claus next Easter if the kid likes the book. And if he doesn’t, what good is it?

A fairly typical children’s Christmas book is Merry Christmas, Harry, written and illustrated by Mary Chalmers (Harper & Row, $3.95). It’s about this kitty cat who asks his mommy to ask Santa for a baby kitten for Christmas. And about as sticky-poo as that. Chalmers’ illustrations have a certain charm, but since they’re black and white the smaller children probably won’t groove on them the way they do big, highly colored ones. And older children will ask all sorts of difficult questions about why Santa didn’t bring them the baby brother (or baby kitten, for that matter), they asked for.

A much better Christmas book, one I like for sheer wacky whimsy, is A Small Sheep in a Pear Tree, written (if that’s the word) and illustrated by Adrienne Lobel (Harper & Row, $5.95). It’s ’The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the word “sheep” substituted for the partridge, doves, hens, birds, rings, geese, swans, maids, ladies, lords, pipers and drummers of the original carol. The illustrations are appropriately loony. I don’t know whether this book is going to confuse my daughter when she gets around to learning the words of the original song, but we’ve had fun with it so far.

The original “Twelve Days” is included in a very nice collection called A Book of Christmas Carols (Harper & Row, $8.95). It has piano arrangements and guitar chords for over 60 carols, with an international range and texts in the original language. You won’t find “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” here, but you will find “Ritsch, ratsch. filibom” in the original Swedish. And “Silent Night,” “The First Nowell,” and “Deck the Halls.” Good, informative introductory texts and pleasant illustrations by Haig and Regina Shekerjian.

You may also be tempted by the big glossy “holiday” books – the juvenile equivalent of the coffee table book – like A Time to Keep: The Tasha Tudor Book sorts of difficult questions about why Santa didn’t bring them the baby brother (or baby kitten, for that matter), they asked for.

A much better Christmas book, one I like for sheer wacky whimsy, is A Small Sheep in a Pear Tree, written (if that’s the word) and illustrated by Adrienne Lobel (Harper & Row, $5.95). It’s ’The Twelve Days of Christmas” with the word “sheep” substituted for the partridge, doves, hens, birds, rings, geese, swans, maids, ladies, lords, pipers and drummers of the original carol. The illustrations are appropriately loony. I don’t know whether this book is going to confuse my daughter when she gets around to learning the words of the original song, but we’ve had fun with it so far.

The original “Twelve Days” is included in a very nice collection called A Book of Christmas Carols (Harper & Row, $8.95). It has piano arrangements and guitar chords for over 60 carols, with an international range and texts in the original language. You won’t find “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” here, but you will find “Ritsch, ratsch. filibom” in the original Swedish. And “Silent Night,” “The First Nowell,” and “Deck the Halls.” Good, informative introductory texts and pleasant illustrations by Haig and Regina Shekerjian.

You may also be tempted by the big glossy “holiday” books – the juvenile equivalent of the coffee table book – like A Time to Keep: The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays (Rand McNally, $5.95). Let it be said at the outset that I find Tasha Tudor a much overrated children’s book illustrator, and that I suspect her popularity has to do with what parents would like their children to be: clean, industrious, well-dressed like the models of deportment that behave themselves through the twelve holidays nostalgically assembled here. I find such views of childhood through rose-colored glasses (even the dogs – corgis, naturally – behave themselves) depressing. But if these are your role models, you’re welcome to them.

While we’re on the subject of books that 1 don’t recommend, let me mention Donkey Head (Atheneum, $8.95), Lisl Weil’s attempt to retell the Bottom and Ti-tania episode of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like most attempts to get the kiddies into the classics it winds up being neither faithful to the original nor entertaining on its own terms. Part of the problem lies in Weil’s illustrations, which are too artsy-freaky for the subject.

We were not amused by the illustraof Holidays (Rand McNally, $5.95). Let it be said at the outset that I find Tasha Tudor a much overrated children’s book illustrator, and that I suspect her popularity has to do with what parents would like their children to be: clean, industrious, well-dressed like the models of deportment that behave themselves through the twelve holidays nostalgically assembled here. I find such views of childhood through rose-colored glasses (even the dogs – corgis, naturally – behave themselves) depressing. But if these are your role models, you’re welcome to them.

While we’re on the subject of books that 1 don’t recommend, let me mention Donkey Head (Atheneum, $8.95), Lisl Weil’s attempt to retell the Bottom and Ti-tania episode of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like most attempts to get the kiddies into the classics it winds up being neither faithful to the original nor entertaining on its own terms. Part of the problem lies in Weil’s illustrations, which are too artsy-freaky for the subject.

We were not amused by the illustrations or the story of Anna’s Magic Broom (Houghton Mifflin, $7.95), either. Barbara Westman tries to tell a didactic fable about littering, but her illustrations are so littered with details that they don’t work in tandem with the story. A shame, because Westman is obviously a talented illustrator – but not for the kids.

Nor is Rodney Peppe’s Puzzle Book (Viking, $6.95)ofmuch use. Peppe seems to be inspired by the little visual games played on “Sesame Street.” in which kids are asked to find the hidden figure or match up the things that belong together. But Peppe’s puzzles are too hard for little kids and too easy for the older ones – you’d be out seven bucks for a one-shot game book. Better to buy a few jigsaw puzzles.

I have reservations about the kind of animal book that tries to be “realistic” while still telling a narrative fable that demands a certain amount of anthropomorphism. This sort of thing was created, 1 think, by the Disney people when they started turning out their “True-Life Adventures” about bears and beavers and seals, with their cunning blend of documentary photography and set-up shots. Two recent books in this genre are Small Rabbit (Little, Brown, $5.95) and The Baby Cardinal (Putnam, $5.95). Nature in these books is potentially red in tooth and claw, but neither bunny nor bird actually gets eaten, so the whole thing seems to me a cop-out. Miska Miles’ rabbit is warned about hawks by his parents, but mistakes a butterfly for a hawk. Nice illustrations tions or the story of Anna’s Magic Broom (Houghton Mifflin, $7.95), either. Barbara Westman tries to tell a didactic fable about littering, but her illustrations are so littered with details that they don’t work in tandem with the story. A shame, because Westman is obviously a talented illustrator – but not for the kids.

Nor is Rodney Peppe’s Puzzle Book (Viking, $6.95)ofmuch use. Peppe seems to be inspired by the little visual games played on “Sesame Street.” in which kids are asked to find the hidden figure or match up the things that belong together. But Peppe’s puzzles are too hard for little kids and too easy for the older ones – you’d be out seven bucks for a one-shot game book. Better to buy a few jigsaw puzzles.

I have reservations about the kind of animal book that tries to be “realistic” while still telling a narrative fable that demands a certain amount of anthropomorphism. This sort of thing was created, 1 think, by the Disney people when they started turning out their “True-Life Adventures” about bears and beavers and seals, with their cunning blend of documentary photography and set-up shots. Two recent books in this genre are Small Rabbit (Little, Brown, $5.95) and The Baby Cardinal (Putnam, $5.95). Nature in these books is potentially red in tooth and claw, but neither bunny nor bird actually gets eaten, so the whole thing seems to me a cop-out. Miska Miles’ rabbit is warned about hawks by his parents, but mistakes a butterfly for a hawk. Nice illustrations by Jim Arnosky. Ellen Galinsky’s story about the cardinal is told in photographs – black and white ones, unfortunately.But there are some satisfactory attempts in this genre. Frances Zweifel’s Bony (Harper & Row, $4.95) is about a baby squirrel who falls out of a tree, gets adopted by a small boy, and has to be set free when he gets too obstreperously squir-relly for the household. Whitney Darrow, Jr.’s illustrations are the witty saving grace of the book.

For the older kids, there’s Jemimalee (McGraw-Hill, $5.95), a good, suspense-ful narrative about a cat who foils an invasion of rats. To the eyes of the humans in the book, Jemimalee is a perfectly normal cat who sleeps on top of the refrigerator and eats catfood. Secretly, she’s a poet who helps her master – also a poet – overcome writer’s block (why don’tthe three I keep stuffed with Tender Vit-tles help me out sometime?). Mary ElsieRobertson tells a story well, and JudithGwyn Brown’s illustrations help.

Also for slightly older children is What’s by Jim Arnosky. Ellen Galinsky’s story about the cardinal is told in photographs – black and white ones, unfortunately.But there are some satisfactory attempts in this genre. Frances Zweifel’s Bony (Harper & Row, $4.95) is about a baby squirrel who falls out of a tree, gets adopted by a small boy, and has to be set free when he gets too obstreperously squir-relly for the household. Whitney Darrow, Jr.’s illustrations are the witty saving grace of the book.

For the older kids, there’s Jemimalee (McGraw-Hill, $5.95), a good, suspense-ful narrative about a cat who foils an invasion of rats. To the eyes of the humans in the book, Jemimalee is a perfectly normal cat who sleeps on top of the refrigerator and eats catfood. Secretly, she’s a poet who helps her master – also a poet – overcome writer’s block (why don’tthe three I keep stuffed with Tender Vit-tles help me out sometime?). Mary ElsieRobertson tells a story well, and JudithGwyn Brown’s illustrations help.

Also for slightly older children is What’s Happening to Daisy? (Harper & Row, $6.95). What’s happening to Daisy, a horse, is pregnancy. Sandy Rabinowitz’s drawings that show Daisy giving birth to her foal are realistic but not too realistic. I suppose it’s up to you to decide when and whether you want to deal with what’s happening to Daisy and how it happened to the lady across the street and so on and so on and so on. But this is a sensitive, sensible, handsome little book apart from the Larger Issues.

Frankly, my household would just as soon let nature take its course, and literature take another. Lately we’ve had some enthusiastic rereadings of Mice on My Mind (Houghton Mifflin, $5.95). It’s about this cat who is obsessed with mice. In fact, it’s a little kinky: He even goes to Happening to Daisy? (Harper & Row, $6.95). What’s happening to Daisy, a horse, is pregnancy. Sandy Rabinowitz’s drawings that show Daisy giving birth to her foal are realistic but not too realistic. I suppose it’s up to you to decide when and whether you want to deal with what’s happening to Daisy and how it happened to the lady across the street and so on and so on and so on. But this is a sensitive, sensible, handsome little book apart from the Larger Issues.

Frankly, my household would just as soon let nature take its course, and literature take another. Lately we’ve had some enthusiastic rereadings of Mice on My Mind (Houghton Mifflin, $5.95). It’s about this cat who is obsessed with mice. In fact, it’s a little kinky: He even goes to a psychiatrist to rid himself of the obsession, but the shrink turns out to have the same problem. It’s one of those books to treasure because an adult can enjoy its sophisticated levels while the child responds to the silliness of the story. Bernard Waber’s text and pictures are nearly perfect.

Another agreeable fusion of text and pictures is Two Admirals, by David Mc-Kee (Houghton Mifflin, $6.95). McKee’s story is pure slapstick – two admirals in retirement compete to see which is the better and brighter, and their competition almost destroys the town they live in – but the colorful, lively illustrations are the main delight of the book.

If you’ve got a squirmer on your hands, you need a book with a lot of reader participation, like Stan Mack’s Where’s My Cheese? (Pantheon, $3.95). It’s a sequence of misadventures, every page of which involves a question and an answer, and the squirmer will delight in helping you find the answer to each silly question. And since all the questions and answers a psychiatrist to rid himself of the obsession, but the shrink turns out to have the same problem. It’s one of those books to treasure because an adult can enjoy its sophisticated levels while the child responds to the silliness of the story. Bernard Waber’s text and pictures are nearly perfect.

Another agreeable fusion of text and pictures is Two Admirals, by David Mc-Kee (Houghton Mifflin, $6.95). McKee’s story is pure slapstick – two admirals in retirement compete to see which is the better and brighter, and their competition almost destroys the town they live in – but the colorful, lively illustrations are the main delight of the book.

If you’ve got a squirmer on your hands, you need a book with a lot of reader participation, like Stan Mack’s Where’s My Cheese? (Pantheon, $3.95). It’s a sequence of misadventures, every page of which involves a question and an answer, and the squirmer will delight in helping you find the answer to each silly question. And since all the questions and answers are three words apiece, it’s a good book for early readers.

Wordless books have a lot of charm for my daughter, who can curl up with one and “read” to herself, and consequently a lot of charm for me because as long as she’s reading aloud I don’t have to worry that she’s trying to put her mother’s panty hose on the cat. A Birthday Wish, by Ed Emberly (Little, Brown, $5.95), is one of those Rube Goldberg cause-and-effect sequences that are, I suppose, educational as well as entertaining.

“Word” books, the ones that don’t tell stories but simply label interesting picare three words apiece, it’s a good book for early readers.

Wordless books have a lot of charm for my daughter, who can curl up with one and “read” to herself, and consequently a lot of charm for me because as long as she’s reading aloud I don’t have to worry that she’s trying to put her mother’s panty hose on the cat. A Birthday Wish, by Ed Emberly (Little, Brown, $5.95), is one of those Rube Goldberg cause-and-effect sequences that are, I suppose, educational as well as entertaining.

“Word” books, the ones that don’t tell stories but simply label interesting pictures, are popular with my three-year-old, too. She’s particularly fond of Little Monster’s Word Book, by Mercer Mayer (Golden, $4.95), which is a series of charming reptilian children doing funny things. If you like your monsters monstrous you probably won’t care for it. The Things That Go Word Book by Tony Hutchings (Rand McNally, $4.95) is not for tech-nophobes, for it’s page after page of every kind of vehicle from the motorcycle to the SST. They’re realistically drawn, with cutaways showing their innards, but tures, are popular with my three-year-old, too. She’s particularly fond of Little Monster’s Word Book, by Mercer Mayer (Golden, $4.95), which is a series of charming reptilian children doing funny things. If you like your monsters monstrous you probably won’t care for it. The Things That Go Word Book by Tony Hutchings (Rand McNally, $4.95) is not for tech-nophobes, for it’s page after page of every kind of vehicle from the motorcycle to the SST. They’re realistically drawn, with cutaways showing their innards, but cartoon animals operating them. Three-year-old, who loves the construction on Greenville Avenue, delights in the book.

Older children will probably like The Upside-Down Man (McGraw-Hill, $5.95), a scary send-up of the Frankenstein story. The text is by columnist Russell Baker and the illustrations by weirdo cartoonist Gahan Wilson, so that should give you some hint of the rather sardonic flavor of the book. Not, as Parents’ Magazine used to say, for the impressionable.

Also for older children, David Ma-caulay’s Castle (Houghton Mifflin, $8.95), cartoon animals operating them. Three-year-old, who loves the construction on Greenville Avenue, delights in the book.

Older children will probably like The Upside-Down Man (McGraw-Hill, $5.95), a scary send-up of the Frankenstein story. The text is by columnist Russell Baker and the illustrations by weirdo cartoonist Gahan Wilson, so that should give you some hint of the rather sardonic flavor of the book. Not, as Parents’ Magazine used to say, for the impressionable.

Also for older children, David Ma-caulay’s Castle (Houghton Mifflin, $8.95), another in his fascinating series of books about architecture that trace the design and execution of cathedrals, pyramids and cities. It isn’t just for children, of course – college ’”Western Civ” texts should be so lucid, so brilliantly illustrated, so interesting.

If you need another book of nursery rhymes (we don’t – we’ve got scores of them), you might look at Nicola Bayley’s Book of Nursery Rhymes (Knopf, $4.95). Though she’s a stunning colorist, with a jewel-box palette that reminds me of Elizabethan miniatures, there’s something fussy about her work that my daughter doesn’t like. And the illustration for “Three Blind Mice” is downright macabre. But there’s no doubt about her artistry, so you may want to buy this one for yourself.

Best for last. Welcome back. Padding-ton Bear, Michael Bond’s winsome emigrefrom darkest Peru. If you haven’t discovered Paddington. Christmas is a greattime to do so. There are in fact two seriesof Paddington books, one for the veryyoung, another for older readers. Thelatest is The Great Paddington Book(Collins-World), an incredible bargainat S3.95. It’s full of Paddington stories,plus games, projects (cooking and sewingamong them), and delightful pictures byIvor Wood.

another in his fascinating series of books about architecture that trace the design and execution of cathedrals, pyramids and cities. It isn’t just for children, of course – college ’”Western Civ” texts should be so lucid, so brilliantly illustrated, so interesting.

If you need another book of nursery rhymes (we don’t – we’ve got scores of them), you might look at Nicola Bayley’s Book of Nursery Rhymes (Knopf, $4.95). Though she’s a stunning colorist, with a jewel-box palette that reminds me of Elizabethan miniatures, there’s something fussy about her work that my daughter doesn’t like. And the illustration for “Three Blind Mice” is downright macabre. But there’s no doubt about her artistry, so you may want to buy this one for yourself.

Best for last. Welcome back. Padding-ton Bear, Michael Bond’s winsome emigrefrom darkest Peru. If you haven’t discovered Paddington. Christmas is a greattime to do so. There are in fact two seriesof Paddington books, one for the veryyoung, another for older readers. Thelatest is The Great Paddington Book(Collins-World), an incredible bargainat S3.95. It’s full of Paddington stories,plus games, projects (cooking and sewingamong them), and delightful pictures byIvor Wood.

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