Tomorrow you can sit down and read the New York Times Book Review childrens' literature special insert. The annual feature is one way to find a choice picture book to give to a young person, and it also gives us the gift of the insane seriousness with which the Times reviewers treat the subject. The task of making these kinds of books relevant to the adult reader is admittedly a difficult one, and yet the best of the overwrought sentences that follow truly make us feel like children again. Unbelievably stupid children.Our favorite five bon mots:
5. "The story is told in a fluid, seemingly effortless manner. Neither showy nor dull, the text has that feeling of giving you the right words in the right order with the right pacing," says Amy Krouse Rosenthal about Jon Agee's The Retired Kid. Chills, Amy. 4. In his review of Doreen Rappaport's Lady Liberty, James McMullan breaks out the big guns: "The book also provides several pages of facts about the statue and its history: important events, selected sources, an author’s note and an illustrator’s note. This added material seems totally appropriate for the smart, practical kid I can imagine poring over this volume." Don't push us too far, James. We don't want to hear this semiotics bullshit. Stick to the here and now.
3. Some of the best moments happen when the critic is forced to really tear into the author, as when John Green writes of Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Dead and the Gone, "Some of the plot seems more symbolically resonant than realistic — Alex, for instance, takes coats and shoes from dead people to trade for food, and it’s hard to imagine a shoe shortage in a mostly depopulated Manhattan." A shoe shortage is what he doesn't find believable. I hope he doesn't start reading The Retired Kid. 2. We feel for Becca Zerkin, who is given the heady task of reviewing alphabet books. Her opening line is "If only life were as tidy as an alphabet book." No words. 1.: The big prize has to go to children's book critic Leonard S. Marcus, author of Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature. In his review of The Monster Who Ate Darkness, he summarizes the villain in the following fashion: "But to a small child the dark can be palpably real, a malleable and at times sinister medium, and the suggestion that a monster might exert a beneficial influence in a small child’s world is one that brims with possibilities." Amazing, Leonard. You may collect your prize.