Christmas in Sweden, c.1930

Flicka Ricka Dicka and Their New Skates by Maj Lindman

What a lovely Christmas gift this book, with its accompanying set of triplet paper dolls, would be for a doll-playing or ice skating little girl. Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka are Swedish triplets from the 1930’s who each receive a pair of “shiny skates on white shoes” for Christmas. The three blonde Scandinavians go to visit their Uncle Jon and Aunt Lisa after Christmas, and as they are out skating on the pond they make a new friend and have a rather breath-taking adventure.

This new edition of an old storybook, published by Albert Whitman & Company, comes with the afore-mentioned paper dolls. (DO NOT buy paperback editions of these books. The paperbacks are poorly constructed, and the pages fall out with only a little wear.) The illustrations, and the paper dolls, are beautiful, and the story is old-fashioned and charming, with just a hint of danger to spice it up. I loved these books when I was a kid of a girl, and I love them now.

The other books in the series are:
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Three Kittens
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the New Dotted Dresses
Flicka Ricka Dicka Bake a Cake

Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Little Dog
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Strawberries
Flicka Ricka Dicka Go to Market
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Big Red Hen
Flicka Ricka Dicka and Their New Friend
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Girl Next Door

The ones in italics are the ones I have in my library. I wish I had all of the others—and all of the Snipp Snapp Snurr books, too:

Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Red Shoes
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Big Surprise
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Reindeer
Snipp Snapp Snurr Learn to Swim

Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Buttered Bread
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Gingerbread
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Yellow Sled
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Seven Dogs

Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Big Farm
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Magic Horse

There’s something about twins and triplets that just intrigued me as a child, and these books still suck me into the small, simple world of a trio of Swedish sisters (or brothers) growing up in the rural halcyon days of the early twentieth century. If it’s idealized, then perhaps we can use a little of the ideal from time to time.

The Seashore Book by Charlotte Zolotow

Take an imaginary trip to the seashore.

This 25th anniversary edition from Charlesbridge publishers of a Charlotte Zolotow classic is illustrated by Wendell Minor, not an illustrator I’m familiar with, but a talented one indeed. From what I can tell, the cover illustration for this new edition is new, but the inside illustrations are the same as the ones from 1993 when the book was first published.

Charlotte Zolotow, one of my favorite picture books authors, was more of a poet than a storyteller. Her books usually create a mood or tell a simple story of parent and child or friends enjoying a quotidian experience together, such as a day in the park (The Park Book) or a thunderstorm (The Storm Book) or the choosing of a birthday present (Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present). Other books feature sisters or brothers or even grandparents with family squabbles and misunderstandings that generally get resolved in the end. Her books are gentle and familial, full of beautiful, evocative, but simple language.

A couple of examples from The Seashore Book:

“You stand and look at the ocean. Far, far out, so far it seems like a toy, a little white sailboat skims over the water and disappears.”

“The fishing pier we pass is white as a snowfall with hundreds of crying seagulls waiting for the fishing boats to come in when the sun sets.”

For children who live near the ocean and who might get to take a beach trip, this book is a lovely introduction to the sights and sounds that a day at the seashore might yield. For children like the child in the book who live “in the mountains” and have “never seen the sea”, the text along with the beautiful illustrations by Minor will give a pretend trip to the beach such a real feel that they might want to go back over and over again.

I’m definitely going to read this book for my next library story time.

Chester Raccoon and the Almost Perfect Sleepover by Audrey Penn

Chester Raccoon is going to his friend Pepper Opossum’s house for a sleepover, “his first whole day away from home”. Chester, Pepper, and several other animal friends, including Sassafras Skunk, play together, learn to get along, and eventually, when they are “all tuckered out”, they curl up in the opossum’s hollow to go to sleep.

This picture book is the tenth in Ms. Penn’s Kissing Hand series. Chester takes his kissing hand, the one that Mother Raccoon kissed right in the middle of the palm, with him to Pepper Opossum’s house, and it is a comfort when the friends go to bed. But Chester still misses his own bed in his own home.

Preschoolers who are just getting to the age where they might spend the night away from home could appreciate this gentle, somewhat humorous, story of a “dayover” that ends with a comforting trip home for Chester. During the day, the animal children play and work out their minor differences, and they are very tolerant of Skunk’s “stinky puffs” that seem to overtake him at several inopportune moments during the day. I enjoyed both the story and the illustrations, and I think preschool children would like it even more than I did.

It turns out the the original book in this series, The Kissing Hand, made School Library Journal’s Betsy Bird’s Top 100 Picture Books list a few years ago, coming in at #95. I’ve never read The Kissing Hand, about Chester’s first day of school, but Ms. Bird says, “This title falls dangerously close to the realm of the sentimental picture book.” However, she also opines, “The Kissing Hand seems to raise no ire. It simply fulfills its purpose in life and continues onward after that.” So, yes, the tenth book in the series is a bit on the precious side, but maybe it, too, fulfills its purpose.

Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco

I was only recently introduced to picture book author and illustrator Patricia Polacco, a gap in my kidlit education and appreciation if there ever was one. Ms. Polacco writes rich traditional family stories about children and their cultural heritage. Often the stories are based on or come from the Russian/Irish family history and traditions of Ms. Polacco’s birth family.

“My fondest memories are of sitting around a stove or open fire, eating apples and popping popcorn while listening to the old ones tell glorious stories about the past.”

Thunder Cake, the author tells us in the introduction to the book, “is the story of how my grandma—my Babushka—helped me overcome my fear of thunderstorms.” Babushka tells the little granddaughter in the story to come out from under the bed and count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder to see how far away the storm is. Then, they will know how long they have to bake a thunder cake “and get it into the oven before the storm comes, or it won’t be a real Thunder Cake.”

The impending thunderstorm becomes an occasion for celebration and for facing down fears as the girl and her Babushka gather the ingredients for the thunder cake. Babushka teaches her granddaughter to draw on the courage that she has within herself while depending on the loving support of her Babushka.

If you want to enjoy the entire story now, here it is, read by the author:

I just added Thunder Cake to my library, and I’m pleased to think of my patrons enjoying the story together. It even has the requisite recipe for “Thunder Cake” on the last page—a cake recipe with a secret ingredient. Who could resist?

I have two other books by this author in my library: Mrs. Katz and Tush and The Keeping Quilt. There are several others I would like to have, including The Blessing Cup, An Orange for Frankie, Christmas Tapestry, Pink and Say, The Bee Tree, Chicken Sunday, and Rechenka’s Eggs. In fact, I guess I’ve became a Patricia Polacco fan.

What Do You Say, Dear by Sesyle Joslin

What Do You Say, Dear? A Book of Manners for All Occasions by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
What Do You Do, Dear? Proper Conduct for All Occasions by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

My favorite Maurice Sendak books are not those he wrote and illustrated himself, not even the wildly popular Where the Wild Things Are, but rather this set of two volumes on good manners and proper conduct by Sesyle Joslin. What Do You Say, Dear won a Caldecott honor for Sendak’s pictures, and his droll, kid-friendly style does add to the book’s charm. However, I really love the situations that Ms. Joslin came up with for both of these books, situations that any child might find himself called up on to deal with at any moment. Example:

“You go to London to see the Queen. She says, ‘Oh, you must stay for dinner. We are having spaghetti.’ So you do, and there is spaghetti for the appetizer, spaghetti for the main dish, and a spaghetti salad. By the time the Queen’s guard brings spaghetti for dessert, you cannot fit in your chair any more and you want to leave the table. What do you say, dear?”

What person hasn’t found himself at some time or another at Buckingham Palace and burdened with a surfeit of spaghetti? *What DO you say, dear?

What Do You Do, Dear?, a second handbook of etiquette for young ladies and gentlemen to be used as a guide for everyday social behavior, is just as delightful as the first book, although not an award winner. You can use this second book to find out what to do when the Sheriff of Nottingham interrupts your reading or how to handle a handsome prince who proposes marriage when you unfortunately have just taken a great mouthful of pudding.

In addition to just tickling ye olde funny bone, these books use memorable vignettes to help children and adults remember the rules of etiquette. And which of us don’t need a little mnemonic device like a funny story to remember to mind our p’s and q’s? Oooh, I just found another “manners” book by Ms. Joslin that I would love to have: Dear Dragon . . . and Other Useful Letter Forms for Young Ladies and Gentlemen Engaged in Everyday Correspondence by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Irene Haas. It looks great.

*Of course, the proper thing to say to the Queen when you’ve reached your limit on the spaghetti is, “May I please be excused?”

Oh, Were They Ever Happy by Peter Spier

This classic story of three children left “home alone” on a beautiful Saturday may be my favorite picture book of all time. It’s certainly in my top ten.

The story begins: “It happened on a Saturday morning that Mrs. Noonan said to her husband, ‘When are you going to paint the outside of the house? You’ve been talking about it for months!'”

Then Mr. and Mrs. Noonan leave for the day to run errands, telling the children to “behave themselves” and that the babysitter would be there shortly. “But the sitter never showed up.”

” . . . there was plenty of paint in the garage.”

You may think you can imagine what happens next, but unless you’ve seen this book with Mr. Spier’s wonderful illustrations, I can assure you that your imagination falls far short of the glorious picture book reality. The details in each illustration are so much fun to study, and the overall story—and the ending–are epic.

The plot of the story is similar to my other favorite Peter Spier title, Bored–Nothing To Do, but I love this one even better. It’s so colorful!

If you can find a copy of this picture book, I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, it’s out of print, and copies of the used paperback are selling for more than $10.00 online; the hardcover is more like $20.00+. Check your library, then used bookstore, either storefront or online.

Amos and the Moon by Jan Balet

Jan Balet “was a German/US-American painter, graphic artist and illustrator. Affected by the style naive art he worked particularly as a graphic artist and as an Illustrator of children’s books. Besides this he painted pictures in the style of naive art. Referred to as a “naïve” painter, his works exhibit a dry wit and refreshingly candid, satirical view of life.” ~Wikipedia, Jan Balet.

Amos and the Moon by Jan Balet was first published in 1948. The AMMO Books reprint edition that I received for review is certainly a lovely re-gift to today’s children from the golden age of children’s literature. The story is reminiscent of James Thurber’s Many Moons, which won a Caldecott Medal in 1944. In Thurber’s story, the ailing Princess Lenore wants the moon, and her father, the king, directs various servants and courtiers to get it for her. In Balet’s picture book, Amos sees the moon in his mirror, believes it belongs to him, and goes out to find it himself when it disappears the next day. Various vendors and storekeepers give him gifts–a piece of ice, a horse, a watch, a moon-shaped cookie—- as he searches, but none of his friends can give Amos “his moon”. Finally, Joe Ming, the Chinese laundryman, wisely tells Amos, “No one has the moon always–just once in a while.”

It’s a gentle, old-fashioned kind of story, and the illustrations are delightful. Mr. Balet was first and foremost an artist, and the pictures of the various shops that Amos visits in search of his moon will interest and appeal to anyone, young or old, who is inspired by detailed scenes, exquisitely rendered. The illustrations sort of remind me of Norman Rockwell or Currier and Ives or even the Impressionists like Manet, but Balet has his own style and subject matter. There is a European feel to the story and to the pictures, perhaps because of the many immigrants and ethnic groups that Amos encounters on his quest, even though the story is obviously set in an English-speaking, probably American, city.

AMMO Books has reprinted another of Balet’s picture books, The Five Rollatinis, which is a circus story and a counting book combined. Some of his other books, both those he illustrated that were written by other authors and those he wrote himself, are available on Amazon used. I really appreciate the publishers who find these old, treasured titles and bring them back into print for a new generation.

Thumbelina, illustrated by Elsa Beskow

In the mail the other day, I received a review copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina, illustrated by famous Swedish artist Elsa Beskow. Ms. Beskow’s illustrations are justly known throughout Sweden and the world as classic artwork, both for her own books and for stories by other authors. Of course, Andersen’s story of a tiny girl “no taller than your thumb” is perfectly suited to Ms. Beskow’s lovely watercolor pictures.

This edition of Thumbelina features beautiful framed, full-page illustrations. The illustrations probably come from one of the eight (!) fairy tale collections that Elsa Beskow illustrated. Like Beatrix Potter, Ms. Beskow was a close observer of nature, and her pictures remind me of Potter’s, except larger. The “largeness” of the world, from Thumbelina’s vantage point, is portrayed quite well in this book, and a child reader will identify with Thumbelina as she travels through the countryside until she finally finds a home with the tiny King of the Fairies.

Elsa Beskow also wrote thirty-three stories of her own in Swedish, many of which have been translated into English and published along with her original illustrations. In my library I have Ollie’s Ski Trip and Pelle’s New Suit. Floris Books, the publisher of this Thumbelina, also has available and in print: Peter in Blueberry Land, The Land of Long Ago, The Sun Egg, Princess Sylvie, The Children of Hat Cottage, Emily and Daisy, Children of the Forest and many more. If you like classically styled picture book art, like the picture on the cover of Thumbelina, and then you will probably enjoy all of Ms. Beskow’s books.

The author and her husband Nathanael Beskow, a minister, had six children—all boys. I’m sure she enjoyed creating the pictures for Thumbelina and feeding the “girl-y” part of her nature, while surrounded by all those boys.

Playground by Mies Van Hout

Originally published in the Netherlands under the title Speeltuin, this visually rich and colorful picture book is fun to look through, if a little confusing. The pictures are stunning, busy, and lively. The plot is almost non-existent: two children travel through the pages of this colorful world on their way to The Playground. The reader is invited to “take an exciting trip through this book! Find the way with your finger. These red arrows on each page show you where to start and where to go next.”

Maybe I just don’t get it, but the arrows seem unnecessary. If a child reader wants to run his finger over the double page spreads of rather abstract landscapes, I can’t see how the arrow on the edge of each page helps. But the adventure in art is enticing, and as the two children collect animal friends on each page to accompany them on their journey, the illustrations become more and more imaginative. I can see how this book would inspire children to create their own artistic journey-scape.

The ending is . . . disappointing. Perhaps the author/illustrator is trying to show that the journey is more interesting than the destination, or maybe I’m reading too much into it. At any rate, I would let children explore this book on their own and see what they come up with. Maybe start them on the adventure with the invitation, “Let’s go to the playground! Are you coming?”, but the text, translated from the Dutch, is fairly basic and dull. In fact, I can see this one as a wordless book, and it might work better that way.

Enjoy the color. (Did I mention that the book is very colorful?)

Sam and the Construction Site by Tjibbe Veldkamp

This over-sized picture book is a translation from the Dutch, illustrated by the Dutch illustrator Alice Hoogstad and translated by Ineke Lenting. It translates well. Sam is a little boy who loves watching the big machines at the construction site and imagining himself driving the steamroller or manipulating the crane. One day he’s left to keep an eye on the construction site while the workers go off to lunch.

“If anyone does enter the construction site, call the police!” says the boss. But will someone else call the police if Sam is the one who breaks the rules and enters the construction site?

Sam and the Construction Site is an exciting story for preschoolers, especially those who have a love for big machines and big adventures. The pictures themselves are big, and yet detailed, with hidden clues to the ending of the story that make the book a read-again-and-again book rather than a one time read. Sam has a bad reason for going into the construction site, a dare from some bigger boys, but then he has a good reason for his next rule-breaking actions.

What a great story and such an opening for discussion! Preschoolers might want to talk about rules and rule-breaking, dares, when to call the police, consequences, observational abilities, and of course, steam rollers, cement trucks, and cranes. Pair this one with Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton, Trucks and New Road! by Gail Gibbons, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherry Rinker, and Building a House by Byron Barton.

Other favorite building construction picture books?