Nightmares and Beasts for Children

The 2012 “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge: February Edition

Hello all! It’s been a while since the last time I posted anything on the blog. I’m sorry I’ve been so absent, but I’m seriously drowning in work right now. BUT, I decided to give myself a bit of a break today. I’ve caught up on a tv show a started watching a few weeks ago, called Lost Girl (totally fun show, by the way), and I made myself an enormous sub sandwich for lunch, and now I’m taking the time to write a couple blog posts.

For today, I have two more books for the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge.  Like last time, they are picture books (they’re short and quick to read in what little spare time I have, and I just love them).

Fore info on the Challenge, see Emlyn Chand’s post: “The Books That Made Me Love Reading Challenge.”

For January’s edition, see “How Alexander and Garfield’s Terrible Days Made Me a Writer.”

First, There’s a Nightmare in My Closet, written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer:

Let’s be honest: EVERYTHING Mercer Mayer does is completely awesome. I love every picture book he has ever done.  But I think this one might be my favorite.  My mother read it to me so many times when I was growing up, I could probably STILL recite most of it.  This book, about a boy who decides to confront the scary monster in his closet only to discover it’s as scared as he is, is so easy for children to relate to, and so adorably illustrated, how could you HELP but love it?

The funny thing is, I don’t remember EVER being afraid of monsters in my closet or under my bed.  Maybe it’s because my mother read it to me at a young enough age that I learned that monsters were scared of me before I was even old enough to be scared of them first?  I have no idea.  I was, admittedly, always scared of the possibility of things being right outside my window (and still am, quite frankly), the whole monster-under-the-bed (or in the closet or basement) thing never really occurred to me.  *shrug*

I just sat down to read this book again (I bought a copy at Barnes & Noble recently expressly for this purpose, as my mother’s original copy was destroyed in a flood, like many of our books, a few years ago), and it’s as wonderful as I remember it.  I like to think that this book has helped many children learn to not be afraid at night over the years.  It’s hard to tell how much a book really helps with things like that.  Maybe it’s more about how the parents deal with such situations.  But it’s still nice to think books like this help.  In any case, this book still makes me smile.

With pictures like this, is it any wonder?

For the curious, Mercer Mayer also wrote There’s An Alligator Under My Bed, and There’s Something in the Attic, which are along the same vein, and both equally adorable.

Second, Beauty and the Beast, retold and illustrated by Jan Brett:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love fairy tales.  I’ve read many, many versions of Beauty and the Beast (and seen many film and tv versions as well), but Jan Brett’s rendition is still one of my favorites.  Brett was mainly inspired by the version of the tale as told by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, which was published in 1910.  The story itself doesn’t change too much from the version most people are familiar with (merchant cuts a rose from the beast’s garden and Beauty goes back in his place, etc etc etc).  What really makes this version so special are the illustrations.

For me, a picture book is ALL about the illustrations (it’s a PICTURE book for cryin’ out loud!).  Obviously, the story should be good or cute or easy for kids to relate to, but I will not by a picture book that doesn’t have outstanding art.  And this one (like everything Jan Brett does) has it.

Don’t believe me? Here:

Picture books like this, with detailed, luscious, colorful, elegant, BEAUTIFUL art, opens my mind up to joy and wonder and possibility just as much as a story does.  A good picture book reminds me of the wonders and beauties of the world, of people, of imagination.  This picture book (as well as many others) is the reason I really wish my artistic skills were more up-to-par.  I really want to write and illustrate a picture book someday.  My drawing skills are… okay… but not great, and finding the time to improve (on top of the million-and-one other things I do) has proven difficult.  I’ll probably have to cave in and collaborate with an artist if I ever want to get that picture book idea off the ground.

But I guess we’ll see.

So, there a couple more of my favorite children’s picture books.  There’s plenty more where that came from, but I think these are the last ones I’ll do for the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge.  Maybe I’ll get around to sharing more from my picture book collection one of these days.  In the mean time, which picture books do you still love?

How Alexander and Garfield’s Terrible Days Made Me A Writer

January Entry for the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge:

As you may recall, I joined two reading challenges this year, the 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge, and the “Books That Made Me Love Reading” Challenge (click the image above to go to the info page for that challenge).  I posted my first review for the TBR Pile Reading Challenge last week, which you can read here: “A Review of Angela Kulig’s Skeleton Lake #1.”

Now, it’s time for my first post for the second challenge.  I decided to start from the beginning, with some of the picture books that were particularly special to me as a child.

And I’m starting with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz.

“What’s so special about this book?” you might ask.  Well, beside that fact that it is a wonderful, fun, beautifully-illustrated picture book, it was one of the first things that ever contributed to my path toward being a writer.

In second grade, each class had a mascot.  In my class, that mascot was Garfield.  Drawings of him littered the room, we had a stuff doll of Garfield, and everyone took turns taking him home for weekends to “babysit,” for which we all wrote little journals about the things we did together.

Now, in second grade, we read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in class in one.  And we all enjoyed it so much, that we decided as a class to write our own version of the book with Garfield as the star.  Each student was in charge of writing and drawing a single page.  We worked on these for at least two weeks, in between our other classroom assignments.  And I worked diligently to make sure every word was spelled correctly, every letter was written with perfectly straight, neat lines, and my drawing was as close to the real Garfield as possible.  It was my pride and joy.

At my elementary school (the third elementary school I was at, actually), Montclair Elementary School in Virginia, the school had an ABSOLUTELY wonderful program unlike most schools I’ve been to (and I’ve been to many), called Quill and Scroll.  First: the school had a program for which we could by small hand-bound, cloth-covered booklets with blank pages, and write our own little stories in them.  They would also take already written pages to laminate and then bind them with wire rings.  And THEN, once a month, the library hosted a Quill and Scroll Night, during which any student could read what they had written to an audience of students, teachers, and parents.

Our class had our book, Garfield and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, laminated and bound.  And then, in a vote, I was given the honor to read the whole book at Quill and Scroll Night in front of my mother, my friends, the teachers, the other parents.  I was horribly nervous (I didn’t then, and still don’t, do well in front of audiences of any size), but also ridiculously proud.

The book stayed in the second grade classroom, to be shown as an example to future students.  I can’t really remember what my page look liked, or what we all wrote exactly.  But I remember that experience to this day, and always will.

Reading Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day again this morning (yes, I own a copy – I’m working a collection of picture books, in fact), makes me remember with vividness the hilarity and joy we got from the book in second grade.  As Alexander awakens to gum in his hair, stubs his toe, is forced to eat lima beans, and endures all manner of other horrible things, we could all relate to his plight.  Because who among us didn’t hate eating lima beans (and probably still DO hate them)?  Who among us hasn’t had one of those days when absolutely everything manages to go wrong?  And that’s the joy of writing: even when you write things that are strange, unique, or absolutely off-the-wall, you can find a way to make it relatable for people.

That’s what a good book does.  That’s what makes me love reading.  And what makes me love writing.

So, does anybody else remember that book with fondness?  What picture books really inspired you? Or made you extra-happy?  I’d love to hear about them!