The Cricket in Times Square

I’ve been seeing The Cricket in Times Square ever since the librarians let me sneak into in the “big library” when I was in first grade (the primary levels in our school used to have a separate kiddie library), but somehow I never got to read it, not until I found the audio book at the bargain bookstore.

I can’t listen to an audiobook without having read the book first, because my attention tends to drift away after a while, and I end up tuning out the sound. I wanted to listen to the Cricket audiobook because the box said it was narrated by Tony Shalhoub, so I dug out the wornncopy of the book I had lying around in Planet TBR and decided it was finally time to give it a shot.

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Vintage Parade! (Picture Book Roundup #9)


It’s been months since my last picture book roundup, and I miss doing it, even though it takes a bit longer to put one together. I love picture books and have a growing collection of them, because buying them doesn’t make me feel guilty about adding to my TBR (hehehe!)

So far I’ve done eight picture book roundups this year (here they are if you want to check them out:  one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and a special on The Three Little Pigs), and I’m aiming for at least ten for this year, so here’s another one.

Today’s roundup covers some vintage picture books I’ve acquired lately: An ABC of Children’s Names by Doris and Mary Ewen (facsimile of the Oxford edition); The Real Mother Goose (75th Anniversary Edition); Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine by Evaline Ness; Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag; and Curious George by H.A. Rey (books #145-149 for 2009).

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Up, Up, and Away

(blogging about another old favorite, as I’m still in the middle of reading Silverlock and am majorly swamped, hay…)

When I was in 4th grade, my dad usually picked me up after work so I had a few hours to kill while waiting. I usually read books if I didn’t have any homework to work on, or if I didn’t feel like doing it, which was more often the case.

Now in those days, we decorated the room with special corners for each subject — Christian Doctrine, Science, Math, Social Studies, etc. Of course, my favorite corner was the Reading Corner, where everyone brought a book or two to share with the class and we would have a mini-library to escape to in between classes or during DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time, so we wouldn’t get listed down as “noisy girls”. Haha, magically by the end of the school year the books would have dwindled to a couple mo.tley ones; I lost a lot of books to the Reading Corner, although I gained some other kids’ books too, wink, wink.

One of the books I discovered in our 4th grade reading corner is the 1947 Newbery Award winner The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois, which I first read while waiting to get picked up from school one rainy afternoon at Gate 1.

The Twenty-One Balloons one of the best escapist stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it and how many copies I’ve worn out and lost (e.g. loaned and never returned to me! grr).

I really love the premise: Professor William Waterman Sherman decides to retire from teaching arithmetic to grubby kids, and decides to fly off on a grand vacation — drifting aimlessly on a hot-air balloon! I loved the detailed description of how The Globe (Prof. Sherman’s hot air balloon) was constructed — a small wicker house with an observation deck, and everything made from the lightest materials — even a small library of paper-bound books in tiny print!

Professor Sherman left San Francisco intending to fly across the Pacific Ocean, and three weeks later, he mysteriously turns up floating in the Atlantic Ocean, in a wooden wreckage with 21 balloons!

Where exactly has he been? On the island of Krakatoa (he flies over the Philippines!), which turns out to be an extremely wealthy island-nation of eccentric citizens!

The Diamond Mines

I love the idea of Krakatoa in The Twenty-One Balloons, and this book has made me daydream about living there, and given the choice, I’d drop everything and go. The island has an expansive diamond mine right under the volcano Krakatoa. According to Krakatoan history (as narrated by Mr. F), a sailor got shipwrecked on the island and discovered its treasures. As soon as he was able to return to America, he handpicked 20 families of diverse talents and interests. Each family was renamed with a letter of the alphabet, e.g. Mr. A, Mr. B, A-1, and A-2 and so on until the Ts, and the small nation lives a leisurely life financed by discreetly selling a small load of diamonds each year.

The Coat of Arms of Krakatoa: “Not New Things, but New Ways”

What’s most interesting about Krakatoa is its “Gourmet Government.” Each day of their 20-day calendar (A through T) is assigned to a specific family, who is tasked to serve meals at their house, which functions as a restaurant specializing in a particular cuisine — A for American, B for British, C for Chinese, D for Dutch, etc. It’s a lot of fun, as each house resembles the architecture of the country too — from an Egyptian pyramid to a Russian tea house to an Italian Bistro and a miniature Versailles! — and the families are very competitive in coming up with great dining experiences for one another, and they have theme months too, like “Month of Lamb,” depending on their surplus stock. I imagine every day to be a gastronomic adventure!

There are also a lot of imaginative Krakatoan inventions in the book, including a bed that automatically changes sheets, a collapsible dining room, living room bumpcars, sky beds, and flying merry-go-rounds. William Pene du Bois is not only a gifted writer, he illustrated the book as well, and the illustrations are great fuel for the imagination.

M-1 and M-2’s Sky beds

Of course, you will have to read the book to find out how Professor Sherman ends up in the wrong ocean with 21 balloons. It’s a great book for all ages; kids and adults alike will appreciate the rich experience that Pene du Bois lays out for the reader.

Interesting factoid: the story came out around the same time as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz” in 1947, which has a similar plot although very different ideas. William Pene du Bois writes a horrified note as an introduction and quips,”The fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald and I apparently would spend our billions in like ways right down to being dumped from bed into a bathtub is altogether, quite frankly, beyond my explanation.”

My copy: trade paperback. Looking for a hardcover copy!

My rating: 5/5 stars

A Pig, A Panda, and a Tiger (Picture book roundup #4)

Another picture book roundup for lazy Sunday, so I can catch up on my reading (cramming a few more books into what’s left of March). Today’s roundup includes three award-winning books: Olivia, written and illustrated by William Falconer (Book #51 for 2009), Zen Shorts written and illustrated by John J. Muth (Book #52 for 2009), and A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen (Book #53 for 2009).

I’ve wanted an Olivia book for so long, but I rarely buy picture books for more than P100 at Book Sale so I had to wait until I came across this great P65 board book. Olivia is the latest addition to the list of my character-based collections – Madeline, Babar, Curious George, and Eloise.

Olivia (Caldecott Honor Book 2001) is the story of that now-familiar scribbly pig who likes fashion, art, ballet, and books — a very cultured pig indeed. This picture book has few words, and as the story is character-based, there is not much of a plot. It’s mostly an introduction to Olivia as a character, and the rest of the Olivia books tell the stories.

The illustrations, of course, make the book special (hence the Caldecott). Olivia’s peculiar appearance gives her instant recall — a top heavy pig with little spindly arms and legs, rendered in charcoal and gouache, looking like she’s been scrawled onto the page. Olivia is mostly grayscale (except when she gets sunburnt at the beach), with the occasional spot color (usually clothes), and the simplicity emphasizes her comic appeal — she’ll have you in stitches with the visual humor that appeals to all ages.

There’s something very French and chic about Olivia (and not just the name) that delights me, because it’s unexpected from a pig character. The book is great for a budding fashionista — Olivia, and her family dress up in decidedly French styles – maillot swimsuits, striped shirts, turtlenecks, opera gowns, sailor dresses and dark shades. Her cultural tastes are also French, from Degas (there’s a Pollock too, though) to ballet, and Callas.

Next on the lineup is Zen Shorts (Caldecott Honor 2006), which I actually read a couple weeks ago for the Flippers’ Japanese book discussion. I found my paperback copy at Book Sale for P60, and as soon as I spotted it, I knew I had to buy it.

Zen Shorts features a panda named Stillwater, who befriends siblings Michael, Karl, and Addy. Enclosed within this story are three Zen “shorts” – short stories from Zen Buddhist literature that challenge the reader to reexamine his or her habits, desires, concepts and fears. In the same way, Stillwater uses the Zen “shorts” (“Uncle Ry and the Moon,” “A Heavy Load,” and “Farmer’s Luck”) as gentle teaching tools for the three kids.

There are two illustration styles used in this book, a full-color watercolor wash for the main story, and a heavier pen and ink style for the Zen Shorts, a great juxtaposition of Western and Oriental techniques that mirror the realistic Western story framing three stories of Oriental philosophy. I like how this all ties together in introducing abstract philosophical concepts to kids, with Stillwater as the very huggable sensei, not to mention that it makes for a very engaging picture book.

The last book, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for the Innocent and Experienced Travelers caught my eye because it had both the gold and silver badges (Newbery Medal 1982 and Caldecott Honor 1982), and it was only P65 at Book Sale.

The book is about a fictitious inn owned by William Blake, which houses his fantastic creations, such as the Rabbit, the Rat, the Wise Cow, the King of Cats, the Tiger, and the Man in the Marmalade Hat. William Blake is also one of the characters in this collection of poetry that pays homage to Blake’s work.

Gouache paintings bring the poetry and all its vivid characters to life, with intricate architectural details. I love the tigers and the cats in particular, who remind me of my beloved Tabby, Tomas :) A beautiful book showcasing beautiful poetry, this is a great addition to my picture book collection!

My copies: Olivia, board book; Zen Shorts and A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, paperback

My rating: Olivia 5/5 stars; Zen Shorts 5/5 stars; A Visit to William Blake’s Inn 5/5 stars

Before The 39 Clues…

… there was a little book entitled The Westing Game. And although they were written 20 years apart, The Westing Game still trumps The 39 Clues big-time.


(I wasn’t able to finish the book I am reading (From Charlie’s Point of View) because I was busy sorting books and squee-ing because of my latest book hoard, so let me share one of my favorite books instead.)

Winner of the 1979 Newbery Medal, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game is a book I’ve read more times than I can count — I remember a few times I actually read it twice in one day. I’ve also run through 4 different editions of the book — mass market, Puffin Modern Classic, trade paperback, and finally, a hardcover I found at Book Sale last year. It’s original, intelligent and entertaining, and a brilliant whodunit to boot!

Sixteen different people — of different ethnicities, and of no apparent relationship to one another except that all of them either live or work in the same apartment building — are summoned for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will.

All 16 of them are surprised to find out they are heirs to the Westing fortune — Sam Westing is the founder of Westingtown, Wisconsin, and owner of Westing Paper Products. The catch? The will is a contest: one of the heirs has murdered Sam Westing, and whoever finds the culprit will be the heir to strike it rich.

The heirs are a crazy and spirited bunch, among them:

James Shin Hoo, owner of a Chinese restaurant, also an inventor;
Madame Sun Lin Hoo, Shin Hoo’s wife, imported from China;
Doug Hoo, a track and field athlete;
Christos Theodorakis, a kid confined to his wheelchair and an avid birdwatcher;
Theo Theodorakis, Chris’ brother, a high school student, pal of Doug Hoo;
Dr. Jake Wexler, podiatrist;
Grace Windsor Wexler, Dr. Wexler’s idle wife;
Turtle Wexler, the Wexlers’ smart aleck younger daughter;
Angela Wexler, the Wexler family beauty, engaged to be married to
Dr. Denton Deere, an intern;
Flora Baumbach, a dressmaker;
Alexander McSouthers, the apartment’s doorman;
Josie-Jo Ford, a judge;
Berthe Crow, the cleaning lady;
Otis Amber, the messenger;
and Sydelle Pulaski, a secretary.
The characters are full of little quirks that make them all interesting and endearing, and they plod through blizzards, burglaries and bombings in deciphering the clues to get the family fortune. I also like that the female characters in the book are feisty and liberated (or gain liberation along the way). Turtle Wexler rocks!

What’s fun about this book is that it will keep you guessing, with a variety of imaginative puzzles you can solve together with and the characters… and then wham! Revelations throughout the book will make you doubt your original guess. And just when you’re ready to give your final answer… bam! Raskin turns everything around with a twisty plot!

I am getting worked up just talking about it, hahaha. I just love this book :)

My copy: hardcover with dust jacket, plus a trade paperback for lending and rereading

My rating: 5/5 stars