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Posts Tagged ‘baker’s dozen’

groundhog.jpgAs a Pittsburgher, Groundhog Day is something of a Big Deal — admittedly, not a tremendously big deal — something on a scale between President’s Day and a Steelers Super Bowl win. We’re the closest major city to Punxutawney, the home of Groundhog Phil, who is the designated rodent for predicting the weather via shadow. (Yes, I know you probably knew that. But there are many who don’t. My father once spent a Feb. 2nd on an airplane next to a British gent. Said gent listened to my father’s explanation of the day and seriously thought he was getting his leg pulled. If you really need to know All the Facts, go to groundhog.org, where you can find interesting tidbits such as the fact that Phil was, until the reign of King Philip, once known simply as “Br’er Groundhog.” Huh.)

I meant to pull together a full Baker’s Dozen booklist of the best Groundhog Day books, but to tell the truth, there really aren’t that many worth getting excited about. My library system buys every single Groundhog Day-related book it can get its paws on, and Lo, many are lame. There’s one that actually called — I kid you not — “Andrew McGroundhog and His Shady Shadow.”  (Can a shadow be anything besides shady?  The word makes it sound as if the shadow was up to dodgy dealings in some dark alley.)  But here’s what is worth taking a gander at:

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Note: A common theme I’ve noticed with these books is that the plot usually goes like this: Joe Groundhog is about to predict the weather.  An Obstacle prevents him from doing this.  Joe racks brain, overcomes Obstacle via Clever Solution, does/doesn’t see shadow and Life is Good.  I understand that there’s only so much a person can do with this nutty wannabe holiday, but really.  The repetition made me a little jaded at the end of writing this booklist, and I’m only annotating five books.

Substitute Groundhog by Pat Miller —   In this case, the groundhog is sick and must interview other animals to take his place for the Big Day.  But I’m not complaining in this case — the text is funny and interesting enough to get a roomful of preschoolers to engage in some creative thinking about what animal they would choose for the job.

Gregory’s Shadow by Don Freeman — This title was published posthumously by Freeman’s estate, and as a result, the illustrations look a little sketchy and unfinished, but I don’t mind.  He who gave the world Corduroy can do little wrong, in my opinion.  In this sweet story, Gregory’s best friend and confidante is his shadow, but when Greg accidentally leaves his shadow on a friend’s doorstep, it disappears.  How will Gregory do his weather forecast without it?  There’s a sweet solution, but the what’s appealing to me is the whole notion that a shadow can be lost — as I child, I encountered this idea in Peter Pan and Jack Kent’s The Biggest Shadow in the Zoo.  Chances are, your kids will think it interesting, too.

Go to Sleep, Groundhog! by Judy Cox, illus. Paul Meisel — Hibernation takes a holiday — three of them, in fact — when Groundhog decides to wake up earlier than Feb. 2nd and experiences Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas for the first time.  Fearing that he will be too tired to predict the weather (see what I mean by this pattern?) various holiday characters — Santa, a witch, etc. — take turns tucking groundhog back in.  Meisel’s acrylics are colorful, bold, and full of fun details — who wouldn’t want to be sung lullabyes by a Thanksgiving turkey?

The Secret of the First One Up by Lois Hiskey, illus. Renee Graef — the story gets cuteseyfied in this book, and by that, I mean that the illustrations feature a groundhog sporting a waistcoat and bow tie.  Which I think is pretty wonderful.  All groundhogs should, by law, be required to wear bow ties.  But, anyway, in this story, a young groundhog discovers why her Uncle Wilbur is always the first to rise on Groundhog’s Day (I, uh, won’t give away the obvious reason why).  But it’s neat to see the Groundhog Ur-Story done over as a passing-of-the-torch kind of family tradition.  Besides, most little kids I know wake up at the crack o’ dawn anyway, and this book does a good job at capturing that bit of magic at being the first one up and about in the house.

Punxutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill, illus. Jeffrey Ebbeler — Phyllis wants to predict the weather — BUT — her family won’t let her because she’s a girl.  When she decides to take up the job anyway, she proves to be superior to her Uncle Phil (the current official forecaster) and proves that Girls Can Too.  Okay, okay — I do seem a little jaded with this book.  But you read the note at the beginning, right?  The redeeming part of this book are Ebbeler’s illustrations.  Oh, how I loves them cute groundhog clothes.  They really are adorable lil’ cuddly animals.

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I can’t help it — I love the way that Pixie Stix Kids Pix showcases her booklists. How can I resist following up with my own version of this idea?

People who are already fully initiated in the kidlit world will not be surprised or intrigued by what they find here (eh, maybe not with the Steve Almond). But my readers who aren’t (and I think most of them fall in that category) will probably enjoy the list immensely. Mostly, this is my mental checklist — what do I like the best, again?

Without further ado, I present a list of my personal thirteen favorite books for Halloween — these are books I turn to again and again, and make for great reading aloud.

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  1. The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams — Ooooh, the ultimate big-group storytime read-aloud. Not too scary, but not wimpy, either; a perfect autumn confection of a downhome lady who knows how to outwit a troublesome visitor.
  2. Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes, illus. Yuni Morales — A Spanish/English romp. It’s hard to find bilingual books that aren’t . . um . . . lame, so most librarians I know were kissing this book when it came out. Yuni Morales’ luminous illustrations are perfectly eerie.
  3. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam RexThe best book of monster poems, period. And you can take that to the bank.
  4. The Halloween Play by Felicia Bond — You may love or hate her If You Give a ___ a ___ books, but this lil’ number stands out for capturing the excitement of a school holiday celebration.
  5. The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg — Yes, yes, another author with a love/hate relationship in the kidlitosphere. Hey, you may pooh-pooh The Polar Express or ho-hum The Wreck of the Zephyr, but I LOVE The Widow’s Broom. The tale of the wiley widow and the magical broom that lands on her doorsteep is perfect for reading to older elementary school kids, and the illustrations are big, simple, and glorious in black-and-white.
  6. Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian — I don’t know why, but a lot of librarians really love Lorna Balian, and I’m one of ’em. Humbug Witch concerns a witch removing her cackly clothes to reveal the girl hidden underneath: an outcome that will surprise nobody, but manages to be refreshingly adorable nonetheless.
  7. Scary, Scary Halloween Eve Bunting, illus. Jan Brett — Look! It’s a book illustrated by Jan Brett that doesn’t involve Scandinavian culture in some way! Okay, okay — sarcasm aside, this is a wonderful book for getting little kids over a fear of Halloween bumps-in-the-night and other general spooky stuff. And there’s cute kitties in it. Can’t go wrong with cute kitties.
  8. A Tiger Named Thomas Charlotte Zolotow, illus Diana Cain Bluthenthal — Zolotow is a master of the picture book story, and this book shows off her mad skills. The story of how Thomas uses his Halloween costume to find new friends incognito is pure genius.
  9. Halloween Countdown Jack Prelutsky, illus. Dan Yaccarino — This fun little poem is extracted from Prelutsky’s It’s Halloween, and I think it’s improved in the board book format. Yaccarino’s minimalist images show sprightly little ghosts making mischief in the most satisfyingly ordinary way. A great seasonal treat for toddlers.
  10. Moonlight the Halloween Cat Cynthia Rylant, illus. Melissa Sweet — This story, like a lot of Rylant’s books, is a bit slower-paced and dreamy than the others. Written from the cat’s perspective, it portrays classic Halloween scenes in a pastoral setting. Lovely for lap-reading.
  11. Revenge of the Witch: The Last Apprentice, Book One by Joseph Delaney — Oooooo, this story is PERFECT for reading out loud to middle schoolers — especially the part with the ghost in the Spook’s house — or wait, there’s the part with the witch in the pit — no! No, the part with the girl talking to the mirror is the creepiest! Oh, I can’t decide — go read it yourself and see why this is a soon-to-be-classic spooky book.
  12. Coraline by Neil Gaiman — Meanwhile, this book is pretty much already a classic spooky book. I’m not going to describe it to you, because doing so will make me have bad dreams. Seriously. And I don’t want that. Take that as you will.
  13. Candyfreak: a Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond — I know, I know, it isn’t a children’s book, it’s adult non-fiction. But to me, this is what Halloween is really all about: the candy, the candy, the candy. Almond’s tales of his sweet-obsession are both hilarious and mouthwatering. I call it “candy porn.” Mmmmm. Candy porn. Mmmmm.

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