Extremely Graphic Content

September 22nd, 2011 · 22 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

It’s hard to know who was more excited when the Amazon box landed with a thunk on our doorstep last week, Phoebe or her parents. We knew from the heft what was inside: All 640 pages of Brian Selznick’s new book, Wonderstruck. We’ve spent many dinners and car rides and bedtimes discussing Brian Selznick. His last book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, for me, was one of those books where you just think, Wow, that’s amazing. I guess I’ll never write a children’s book! I mean that in the nicest possible way: it’s hard to imagine even attempting to create something that transporting and beautiful, let alone succeeding at it. If you gave me a different brain and some artistic talent and a million peaceful years to make it happen, no. But that’s just me. For Phoebe, our resident dreamer and book critic, Brian Selznick is something different: he’s a writer who has taken her beloved graphic novel form and turned into something bigger and better. Phoebe just seems to love the added layer that imagery adds to a story, the way she can keep going back and getting more out of it. This is not to say that she doesn’t like chapter books, but if you asked Phoebe to pick her ten favorite books, a hundred bucks says all ten would be graphic novels. I kind of hope that never changes. Wonderstruck is not a graphic novel, just to be clear. I don’t know what to call it. It’s a chapter book with hundreds of luminous, moody, full-bleed illustrations, which unspool in these amazing ten, twenty, thirty page stretches, like the greatest flip book ever created. As Phoebe says, when asked why she loves it so: “He makes you feel it.”

We thought we’d use this book’s arrival as an excuse to round up our latest favorite graphic novels for 8- to 12-year-olds. And, like always, I’m going to turn the mic over to the reader herself. – Andy

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick: “If you liked The Invention of Hugo Cabret, you’ll like this book. I can’t really explain it, because this author makes his books really complicated, but it’s about a deaf boy and a deaf girl. It makes you think about how hard it must be to be deaf. It’s half pictures and half words; the girl’s story is pictures and the boy’s story is words. He puts so much feeling into his stories. And there’s a surprise at the end, which is always good.”

Phoebe rating: 9*

Parent note: Why not a 10? Because Phoebe said it wasn’t quite as good as Hugo Cabret.

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman: “This is one of my favorites. I read it like three times on vacation. It’s about a school in space and it’s cool: they have anti-gravity drills and time-bending watches and things like that. Everything that’s impossible on earth is possible there, pretty much. It’s funny and adventure-y. My favorite character is Miyumi San because she has a watch that lets her travel in time and because she acts tough. She’s like a tomboy.”

Phoebe rating: Half 9, half 10*

* Parent note: I assume this means 9.5.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword* by Barry Deutsch: “Okay, this is a tale of knitting and pig-chasing. Weird, right? It’s the story of an Orthodox Jewish girl named Mirka who has nine brothers and sisters and she’s always wanted to fight dragons and trolls. I know all this sounds really strange, but if you read it, it’ll make sense. This is a good book for people who like adventure. It makes you want to go grab your own sword and start fighting some trolls!” (more…)

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Summer Book Club

July 5th, 2011 · 43 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Rituals

In some ways, I feel like my mother’s philosophy of raising children can be distilled into two of her favorite expressions. The first one is this:

Only boring people get bored.

This was not so much an expression as it was a response to the “I’m booorrred” cries from my brother, sister, or me when we’d be driving somewhere or if, God forbid, there was no formal activity scheduled for a stretch of hours when Rocky III was not playing on HBO. The idea was that we should be resourceful enough to entertain ourselves at all times. You can only imagine how annoying this phrase was to a 10- year-old who had an entire shelf of lock-and-key diaries, the contents of which proved she was anything but boring. But apparently, the line was not annoying enough to have stopped me from using it at least once a week in my own house with my own kids 25 years later. Not only do I love this expression — I have embraced it as my worldview.

The other expression from Mom is: (more…)

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There Goes the College Fund

January 18th, 2011 · 18 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy, Rituals, Uncategorized

I can’t remember ever making this Official Family Policy, but Jenny and I are completely powerless against a kid — our kid — who asks us to buy her a book. (Full disclosure: We love books and are happy to encourage as much reading as possible in our house, but if we’re honest, there’s also an element of self-preservation at work here. I’m in the book business as an editor, and Jenny is in the book business as a writer, and I guess we see this as doing our part to keep the ol’ boat afloat.) I’m not about to revoke this policy, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t have its drawbacks, either: It isn’t cheap with Phoebe around. Her graphic novel and comic book obsession continues apace, and now seems to be infecting her little sister, Abby. We’ve spent many dinners lately — and many car trips, including one to Virginia over the holidays where Abby was so deeply immersed that she ended up actually puking on the book — talking about Raina Telgemeir’s latest book, Smile. The girls seem to connect to this one on some primal level –in no small part because they’ve both racked up crushing dental bills in the past month, and this seems to offer some measure of comfort. We’ll be ordering Raina’s other books within the week, I’m sure. (You’re welcome, Amazon. I could have paid for a semester at Bennington with all the one-clicking I’ve done in the past few years.)

We couldn’t vet all of the following books on our own — I haven’t read a word of some of them, as Phoebe is impossible to keep up with and I have, you know, a life — so it only seems fair to cede the floor to the third grader herself (with some help from her second grade sister, Abby), and let them tell you why they like them. Rankings are from 1 (not good) to 10 (the best ever). I suspect there’s some grade inflation at work here, as always, but these kids are enthusiasts. What can we say?

Smile by Raina Telgemeir ”This is a true story about a girl named Raina who has an overbite and a little bit of gum damage and she knocks her permanent two front teeth out. She goes through a lot of trouble at the dentist and her friends make fun of her. It takes place a long time ago, when the author was little. In the book, she’s in sixth grade. Boys might like this, but it depends on their style.”

Phoebe rating: 10.

Abby rating: 11 (And, yes, that’s out of 10. As Abby says, “I love it because I’m lucky not to have that tooth accident.” This coming from someone who had two molars yanked yesterday.)

Parents note: We realized before it was too late (Abby had already devoured the book 3 times) that there was a page or two of teen talk (body changes, boy crazy girls, etc)  that might have been confusing and maybe a tad inappropriate for a seven-year-old. So just be warned.

Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka: “I totally grew out of this last year. But I liked this series. It’s about a lunch lady who is really a superhero but she pretends to be a lunch lady. She has all kinds of cool gadgets and an assistant who makes the gadgets and will go in disguise so she can distract the person they’re fighting. Is it funny? No, not very. But you always want to know what’s happening next. Boys might like it. It’s probably good for seven year olds. On the back of each book, it says, ‘Serving Justice and Serving Lunch.’”

Phoebe rating: 7. (more…)

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Put Down the Book, or No Dessert Tonight

July 22nd, 2010 · 28 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment, Posts by Andy, Rituals

There’s a girl, all 42 inches of her stretched out on the family room couch, reading a comic book. There’s a dad or a mom, standing over her, failing to get her get her attention.


No response.


Not a muscle moves.

“Phoebe. Come on. It’s time for dinner.”


“Phoebe! Put the book down. Time to eat!”

The comic book is slowly, reluctantly lowered to her chest, and the face of an eight year old girl is revealed. “Do I have to?” says Phoebe. “Just a few more minutes.”

Some variation on this scene has played out pretty much every night before dinner in our house for the past two years, with one of us trying to pry Phoebe away from her book as dinner sits on the table, growing colder, and Phoebe so deep into her world of comic book heroes that her ears seemingly cease to function. It’s the good kind of problem, but still: it’s a problem.

And it all started with Jules Feiffer.

In the summer before first grade, Phoebe discovered a book at our local library called Meanwhile… by the great Jules Feiffer, which is about a boy who loves comic books – loves them so much that he dreams he is living inside of one, fighting pirates and running from mountain lions and floating weightless through outer space. From there, it was a short trip to Phoebe trying to draw her own comic books (called “Mini Man,” which drew, um, heavily from Feiffer), and then from there, onto The Adventures of Tintin. We bought her all six volumes, eighteen stories in all, and she read them non-stop for the next few months, over and over and over again, until she practically had them memorized. When that phase ended, she looked around like, “So anyway, that was fun. What’s next?” We needed some new material. Not knowing where to turn, I asked my much smarter and comic-savvy former colleagues at GQ, Alex P and Raha, for some cool suggestions – comics that were girl-friendly but not princessy, challenging but not too adult, not likely to cause nightmares. Raha actually (more…)

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