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Cybils: Old-Fashioned Picture Books

The Christmas season makes old-fashioned feel so hip. We watch classic movies and fantasize about horse-drawn sleighs. We dream about a few decades ago when things seemed simpler. Well, here are three books nominated for the Cybil awards — one Christmas, two not — that have that old-fashioned feel about them.

Great JoyGreat Joy, by Kate DiCamillo, is set in the past — let’s say the 1940s. A little girl sees an organ grinder and his monkey out in the cold and wonders where they go at night. When it turns out that they sleep on the street, the girl wants to invite them into her house. The mother objects because they are strangers — which, I’m sorry, seems kind of logical to me. On the way to her Christmas play, the girl invites the organ grinder to attend the play at church, and when he does, it spurs her to remember her all-important line in the play. The pictures were lovely, though it was mentioned elsewhere that there is a disturbing lack of diversity in the city streets. I’m back and forth on the story, which is sweet in the girl’s concern and caring, but a bit heavy on the “little children know best” for my taste. My sympathies tend to run with the mother, who’s probably very busy with the holiday season, not to mention pretty stressed, and she’s trying to get the kid ready for all the seasonal activities that they’ve booked  — and it’s not like those four dozen cookies for the church Christmas party are going to bake themselves — but she’s the one who takes the rap for being uncaring in this book.

The Story of Cherry the PigThe Story of Cherry the Pig, by Utako Yamada, looks and reads like it was done fifty years ago. Cherry the pig loves making — and eating — desserts. When she hears some mice call her pie incredible, she decides to enter a baking contest. Later she finds out that they thought the pie was incredibly awful, and her feelings are hurt and her confidence shot. But then she sees that the mice like dry, cheesy biscuits, and she understands that everyone likes different things. And, I suppose, that we can’t base our opinion of ourselves on what someone else likes. Particularly mice, who are notably off-base when it comes to personal judgment. The message was fine, but it felt like it took the long way around to get to it.

The Growing StoryThe Growing Story, by Ruth Kraus, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, does feel old-fashioned, and indeed was originally written in 1947. A boy notices everything around him growing — the chicks and the puppy and the flowers — but he doesn’t see himself growing. As spring goes to summer, the mother puts away the boy’s warm woolen clothes, and he sees all the farm springing to life in the orchard and the fields. But he can’t see himself grow until he tries on his old winter clothes again, and they don’t fit. It’s a good depiction of the seasonal cycle of a farm and a gentle discussion of growing up. Sweet book with cute illustration, and the message seems to be that everyone grows up sometime. Well, at least physically, since I have several examples of people who haven’t really grown up all that much. (No, Bill, we’re not getting a Playstation 3 for Christmas because we already have a Playstation 2. Stop hinting.)


Jules at 7-Imp said...

Yeah, all the mice I've known in my life have been way off base, too. Heh. Thanks for the reviews. I enjoyed reading them. I covered Great Joy the other day, too, at 7-Imp, but I mostly ended up pointing the way to another review, which I thought summed things up nicely.

And I love those others, esp. Oxenbury's illustrations in The Growing Story.

Jules, 7-Imp

Anonymous said...

I just discovered The Growing Story-it is beautiful! Thanks for the wonderful reviews and book suggestions. Love the site!

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