100 Picture Books: 95-91

No matter how many times you tell a kid not to draw on books from the library, it doesn’t seem to sink in. But I guess that’s a story for another day. Without further ado, here are another five picture books.

95. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

This book was published by a child welfare agency as a story to help kids when they have to be separated from their parents. The mommy raccoon plants a supernatural kiss on the kid raccoon’s paw so that it will glow whenever the kid raccoon misses his mommy. It’s a bit schmaltzy. Peanut liked it okay, but she didn’t really understand the point the book was trying to make. She didn’t request it much, not even the raccoons could draw her in.

I found a little bit of discrepancy as to the true inspiration of this story. On her website, the author states she saw an interaction between two raccoons in a park, but she is quoted in a few news stories as saying the raccoons were on train tracks. Strange. It’s also a bit controversial, as the School Library Journal (who published the list I’m working from) initially gave the book a poor review, saying it was propaganda for the Child Welfare Agency. It has continued to be popular, however, and has resulted in half a dozen or more sequels covering other big topics such as death, moving, and new siblings.

94. The Mitten by Jan Brett

This book is beautifully illustrated, but most of the details would go right over the head of a young listener. There are side panels showing what the boy is doing and what the next animal to burrow into the mitten are, but they are small and not super obvious. The story is also a little ridiculous. Those mittens would have to be very well made for a bear to squeeze in.

I tried looking up the original folk tale this story is based on, but all I found were a couple synopses of other English translations. It appears that Brett’s version is actually the least fantastical, as all the others feature talking animals with names and possibly evening attire. (It wasn’t clear, but I like to imagine a little rabbit hopping about in the snow wearing a tuxedo.) I do think Peanut would have been more interested in a fashionable talking rabbit though.

93. Traction Man Is Here! by Mini Grey

This book was really cute but it had a lot of visual gags that, again, would be glossed over by the young ones. Peanut did request this book a few times, I think she liked the adventures that Traction Man got up to, even if she didn’t understand the references and jokes. The premise is that a boy is playing with an action figure of a superhero, and using his imagination in a variety of common household environments. So the bathtub becomes an underwater adventure, etc. There are some asides to events happening outside the imaginative play world, but those are hard to insert into the story while reading aloud in a way that isn’t jarring.

There are two other Traction Man books that we could read, maybe when Peanut is a little older. The most interesting side note about this book and author is that the author was born in a car! Grey’s biography is on her website and it’s really cute. I was hoping for some additional information on the creation of the character, but didn’t see any. The website does feature full color previews of her books, which gives an idea of what to expect.

92. The Gardener by Sarah Stewart

This book was boring for both reader and listener in this case. It’s written as a series of letters from a girl to various addressees. She moves from wherever her parents are to a city with her aunt and uncle to run a store. She ends up growing a garden on the rooftop. That is really pretty much it. Peanut suffered through it two times and never asked for it after that.

I did learn that the book was more of a vehicle for the illustrator’s art, as his wife is the author, and she pretty much only writes books for him to illustrate. The art was beautiful, but it wasn’t enough to hold our attention.

91. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka

This book has a very unique and interesting idea, but the actual story is not so good. It’s a riff on the “updated fairy tale” schtick, but it’s poorly done. (The more I read these updated fairy tales, and the less I think people should bother trying.) The book is “narrated” by Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk fame), and he has brought a collection of “fairly stupid tales”. I can’t even describe the style choice of the stories, most of them just end. For example, in the “stupid” version of the Frog Prince, the frog is not a prince and so after the princess kisses him, he says “just kidding”, and hops away. And that is the end. Most of the other stories sort of go the same. The Little Red Hen is interspersed throughout the story randomly, but the story isn’t actually told. Peanut liked it enough to request it a few times, but I’m not sure she really made the connection that it was a parody of stories she had previously heard (and she was familiar with most of them).

Apparently my poor opinion of the book isn’t shared, as it won a bunch of awards and was adapted into a stage production. So there’s a play with someone dressed up as a Cheese Man out there.

You know what comes next! 90-86. Some mischievous characters are coming up!

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