Fox in Socks

last night Alex was sick so we didn’t really read as normal, but his latest previous book selection was Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss.

Alex has picked this book about five times this month. Damn you, Dr. Seuss, you clever bastard, I still can’t read it through without screwing things up at least once. I think Alex enjoys daddy’s failure to read through the book without tripping over his tongue like Jack Box saying “chipolotole”. I know I would were I in his footie pajamas.

Small nitpicks: the fleas flying through the freezing cheese trees could stand an illustration, and I’ve drawn better roses than Dr. Seuss managed here. Other than that, an outstanding effort. Four and a half Pochaccos.

Thomas Breaks a Promise

last night’s bedtime book: Thomas Breaks a Promise, of uncredited authorship, illustrated by Richard Courtney. Here at the house, we have Thomas and the Treasure, a DVD that we ripped off from the library; we have this book; and we have a few Thomas trains that grandma got for Alex. He really loves all this stuff, and I can see why; the addition of friendly faces to the convenient blank canvas of the front of a steam engine is an awesome merchandising idea. Alex digs trains in general, and trains with faces–watch out now!

Despite being one of Alex’s favourite books, this one is all the pablum you’d expect from a children’s book written by a branding committee. The most interesting aspect of the Thomas material that Alex has is front and center here, though, as Sir Topham Hatt elicits the promise that Thomas makes (possible spoiler: and then breaks in the book’s climax). If you aren’t familiar with the Thomas stories, from the stuff I’ve seen Hatt is The Man on the island of Sodor’s railways, keeping the trains in line and running on time. The thing about Hatt I find fascinating is that he appears to be a total dickhead. In his really difficult job of keeping things running on a small island with an amazing retinue of trains at his disposal, he curtly issues orders, happily passes out harsh words and punishments for infractions, and rarely has a kind word for anyone. Sometimes I wonder if the Hatt character (and others in children’s media that I’ve been exposed to, like Mister Websley from Leap Frog’s Letter Factory series) is written the way he is to program kids subconsciously to put up with this shit when they join the work force.

Anyway, Richard Courtney’s artwork here is superficially impressive, but keep an eye on the trains–things like noses and eyes wander in placement from one page to another. I think he knew he was slumming to take this job on.

Drawbacks aside, at least the book doesn’t hop the tracks into a total marketing meltdown with come-ons to buy the seventeenth engine in the Sodor line or something. It’s just an uninspiring, vanilla book, and we give those two Pochaccos around here.

Mary Engelbreit’s Mother Goose

last night’s bedtime book: Mary Engelbreit’s Mother Goose, by Mary Engelbreit. The subtitle of this book is “One Hundred Best-Loved Verses” but I’m pretty sure there aren’t 100 people worldwide who love some of these nursery rhymes; once you get past the old stand-bys like “Humpty Dumpty” nursery rhymes quickly degenerate into uselessness in my experience.

Nobody’s hiring Engelbreit for her taste in nursery rhymes, though–they want the pictures. You’ll find some neat work with patterns and textures among the gingerbread in this volume, but the most striking thing about Engelbreit’s work is her very shaky grasp of perspective and the vanishing point. For that, and the idea that a compendium of nursery rhymes was a necessary or desirable thing, I have one and a half Pochaccos.

Paddington at the Zoo

last night’s bedtime book: Paddington at the Zoo, by Michael Bond. This book gets off to a rollicking start by having the zookeeper threaten to ban Paddington from entry because there are no pets allowed; R W Alley’s illustration of Paddington giving the fellow a hard stare is humorous. This entry in the Paddington series also features the most sophisticated two-sentence description of penguins I’ve ever read, and it is the only story in the series that has a villain–a cad who would steal a marmalade sandwich from a cute stuffed bear doesn’t deserve to live.

Of course, you don’t have to take such a hard line when you’re explaining the book to your kid. I’m going to wait until Alex is three before I give him that summary of the action.

Paddington at the Zoo has all the positives of Paddington at the Palace with none of the drawbacks. This is another solid children’s book in the Paddington canon (Alex has the Paddington Suitcase, which we got in China). I’ll read anything Alex chooses from his bookshelf so far, but I’m always secretly happy when Alex picks any of them.

Four Pochaccos.

The Monster at the End of This Book

last night’s bedtime book: The Monster at the End of This Book, by Jon Stone. I don’t know whether I had this book myself as a yout, or if I just ran across it as an older child in some younger kid’s book collection, but I was immediately familiar with it when Alex first chose it as his bedtime story though I don’t remember reading it before. Starring lovable, furry old Grover of Sesame Street fame and a mysterious monster at the end of the book, your kid will enjoy the Grover illustrations and you’ll enjoy some of the funnier-for-adults stuff that Grover says.

There’s not a lot of substance here, but still, it’s a solid choice. Three Pochaccos.

Paddington at the Palace

last night’s bedtime book: Paddington at the Palace, by Michael Bond. Let’s get the good out of the way first: the Paddington books are excellent children’s books. R.W. Alley’s illustrations in this series are excellent. Paddington the Bear is a cute character without being cloying or manufactured, and there’s at least one funny thing for adults in each of them I’ve read. For example, Paddington being mistaken for a busby is a good gag whether you’re 2 or 32, especially compared to what passes for humour in the average children’s book.

Now for the bad points of the book. The action in the volume turns when a mysterious figure within the palace notices Paddington’s failure to see the changing of the guard because he was stuck behind everyone in the crowd. An assistant is dispatched to open the grounds to Paddington in what is obviously a case of special treatment. Really, the only reason Paddington is allowed the access he gets is because someone notices he’s a cute little bear; there’s no value in that as a lesson.

But here’s the bigger issue: as might be anticipated this book is about a visit to Buckingham Palace, and I am sorry to report that neither main character is properly dismissive of the legitimacy of the monarchy. As I’m sure you’ll agree, the royals are wastes of perfectly good internal organs who ought to return all their earthly possessions to the people and get real jobs. It’s not as bad as ooh-ing and aah-ing at the Vatican would be, given the horrible and asinine predilections of the Catholic church, but come on–Prince Harry wore a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party. These people are assholes, soup to nuts. As a possible mitigating factor, it might be too early for the target audience of this book to grasp the derision with which the figureheads of British state should be regarded.

Frankly, given this book’s shortcomings, it is my least favourite Paddington story in the seven books Alex has. As a reflection of the strengths of the series, though, it still rates three and a half Pochaccos (on the JesusH rating scale of zero to five Pochaccos).

The Sailor Dog

last night’s bedtime book: The Sailor Dog, by Margaret Wise Brown, of Goodnight Moon (and Mister Dog) fame. The hero of this book is Scuppers, the Sailor Dog, who spends the book sailing, wishing to sail, sailing, shipwrecked, sailing, provisioning, and sailing again. Scuppers is sailing at least half the length of the book. His single-minded pursuit of what he plainly considers his life’s work is an excellent reminder for all of us who tend to spend too much of our precious time doing random bullshit we don’t want to be doing.

This is a better book than Mister Dog, even without considering the 88 word sentence near the end that is a fun challenge for those of us who are reading the material out loud to read in one breath. However, Garth Williams’ illustrations aren’t as clever or refined overall as they are in Mister Dog, and every time I read the book I’m unhappy that the Sailor Dog finds a chimney’s worth of red bricks on the island he shipwrecks on.

On the last page of the book, Brown wrote a song for Sailor Dog, which I came up with a simple tune for sometime in the first dozen times I read the book to Alex. Now when he chooses this book I always ask him if he wants me to sing the song, and he always says no. I’m sure he’s not saying anything about my singing voice.

Two and a half Pochaccos (on the JesusH rating scale of zero to five Pochaccos).

Mister Dog

last night’s bedtime book: Mister Dog, by Margaret Wise Brown, of Goodnight Moon fame. “Once upon a time there was a funny dog named Crispin’s Crispian. He was named Crispin’s Crispian because he belonged to himself.” The book starts with that premise and makes less and less sense as what passes for a story develops. Brown had apparently begun the long slide into full-blown dementia before she wrote this.

There’s a great picture of a rabbit smoking Mister Dog’s corncob pipe, though.

An amazon reviewer mentions that they began reading this book to their son when he was about 5. Your kid should be reading this book by himself in about ten seconds by the time they’re five, people. Get with it.

Two Pochaccos, mostly for Garth Williams’ illustrations.