June 6, 2007

Library Card Tales: Leo Lionni & Truckers

The kid and I left the crappy Maisy book at the library the other day, but we brought home two books, one decent and one great. To choose them, I made a stack of six books we read or flipped through or knew, then I told the kid she could pick two to check out.


First, the Truck Song, written in 1987 by Dianne Siebert is, as the suspiciously upbeat Amazon commenter says, "a beautifully-written tribute to interstate-trucking". It's got four to the floor in the rhyming department, good buddy, which entertains the kid, but frankly, I got it for Byron Barton's unadorned illustrations; he paints everything as crisp, flat fields of color, and it still looks very fresh. It's more naturalistic than the line drawn style of his own books, somewhere between Alex Katz and early David Salle, but without the creepy ennui.

And since we spent Memorial Day weekend on the road, playing marathon rounds of truckspotting, the kid was primed for a good truck book.

Truck Song is available in paperback for as little as $1 on Amazon, but the in-print version originally included a cassette, which is either a must-have or must-avoid, there's no middle ground.

The real score, though, was from an unsurprising source, Leo Lionni. Lionni's the thinking man's Eric Carle [or is Carle the grumpy, curmudgeonly egotist's Lionni? It's hard to keep them straight. Just remember: Carle's the one who named the museum for the whole field of children's illustration after himself.]


Anyway, I picked up Little Blue & Little Yellow as an antidote to Maisy, and wow, unplug the TV. The kid was transfixed, she got to learn about mixing colors, but the amazing part was how effective the story was. I mean, it just doesn't seem possible that you could make someone care about ripped blobs of paper using only five words/page.


When we brought it home, and the kid showed it to my wife, we had a whole other Lionni epiphany. Turns out the French version, Petit-Bleu et Petit-Jaune, was a staple of her 3rd grade French class, and she began reciting it immediately.

The school tradition was to perform it as a play, with a lot of colorful leotards and many dancing interludes. Since I never went to girl's school, and my leotard phase was only those few weeks sophomore year [it took me until 1998 to finally round up and destroy the last photo evidence], I had no idea about this book's cultural importance. I just liked Swimmy when I was little. Which is not in the library, for some inexplicable reason.

Both Lionni's Little Blue & Little Yellow and Petit Bleu & Petit-Jaune are available on Amazon US, though depending on shipping, the French edition may be cheaper from France. [amazon]


Just remember Carle's also the one who paid for (almost) the entire museum himself.

[credit where it's due, but do donors get to control the curatorial content of the gallery that bears their name? There's a glaring conflict of interest, but if it's the only way to get A museum of children's books built, then whatryagonnado? -ed.]

Thanks -- we're always looking for new books over here, I'm going to try the ripped color blobs one.

OK OK Stop with the Maisy bashing already!!!! What did she DO to you? I just think you missed the Maisy moment- she's better with younger kids. BTW there is a very happy song by Maisy- ...it's called " I like Trucks".

[sorry, she's the one who just crossed my path and got stuck under my library-going tires, roadkill for my blogging. I'll get more scientific about who the biggest licensing whore is in another post. -ed.]

My wife's mother just gave us the French version of Petit-Blue et Petit-Jaune for our daughter when she was out from Paris a few weeks ago, so this is timely. I think it's great, but the kid's a little too young still to grasp the nuances of the colors.

Speaking of French kids stuff, we've got her hooked on a few classic shows from our youth that we've found on YouTube: Chapi Chapo and Casimir. She even dances to the song "Le chat n'a pas touche a sa patee". Check those out, Greg. I'm sure your kid will love 'em.

fyi, ordering from amazon.ca is a lot cheaper than ordering from amazon.fr. I had forgotten about Lionni - thanks for the reminder.

[and I had forgotten about French-speaking Canada, so we're even! Thanks! -ed.]

If you're ordering from Amazon.ca, do it fast, the way your dollar is going against ours! (And we are SO hitting the Target at the outlet mall across the border in Bellingham, WA, this summer...)

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