Friday, August 31, 2012

Scaring Your Kids (or Edgar Allan Poe for Children)...

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by my mother's prized set of Poe. I remember these books, purchased as a set at an auction, as being completely off limits to me as a child. Wrapped in gray covers that belied their very nature, they were housed behind the glass doors of the bookshelves that butted up against the fireplace in our living room. I could look, but I couldn't touch.

On one of my birthdays, my seventh I think, my mom selected one of these books, had us corral our sleeping bags, lit a candle, and read to us from "The Tell-Tale Heart." My earliest memories are of my mother's voice, changing shape and texture as it wove stories for me, her voice so intertwined with the pictures that even now, as I read to my own children, I can hear her talking, the distinct sound of herI had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out --"Who's there?"

"The Tell-Tale Heart," a terrifying tale if there ever was one, left blue trails on my thoughts. My child's mind became entranced by the old man's blue eye, filmed over by the years, and the young man's murderous hatred (and his inability to keep his mouth shut). "The Tell-Tale Heart" is not a ghost story, but a tale of human cruelty, which makes it all the more frightening - and good. When a story is complete and utter fantasy, we can turn off our imagination, say "It's just a dream." With a tale like "The Tell-Tale Heart," fantastical as it is, there are roots in our reality that make it a little close for comfort. As a kid, I thought a lot more about Poe's story than any other book that had settled into my mother's lap. It stuck with me.

So this Fall, when the day-glo pumpkins and witch's brooms take over the land, give yourself a dose of Poe. Read a little about "The Raven" or "The Black Cat." As for me, I will select that same volume my mother had so many years before, light a candle, pull up a chair by the fire, and give myself a little scare.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Crooked Mile...

This nursery rhyme ran through my head the other day as I was painting... and painting... and painting (I have spent over $700 in paint in the last three days).
There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
I didn't realize the significance of this rhyme until tonight when I looked it up online (all that kept repeating in my brain, like a cat chasing its tail, was "There was a crooked man...," followed by "crooked house" and "crooked mouse"). When I read the lines together, they sum up my current situation. We bought a crooked house. I couldn't paint a straight line in it if I tried (believe me, I have). We have three crooked cats. I found evidence of a mouse (or mice) previously inhabiting the premises under the refrigerator. And I have definitely walked a crooked mile.
Nothing in life is easy. Anything worth having is worth working for. You take the good with the bad. We've all heard these adages before. But they mean something. When my mother used to get upset when I was a kid, I would tell her, "You're not gonna die from it." How simplistic this seems from an adult point of view. But how true it is at the very same time.
At this very moment, we are all tucked away underneath of our crooked house in the basement, my eldest daughter and sick husband asleep in the pull-out couch bed, the little one in her pack n' play, and me sitting cross-legged on the floor writing to you. Upstairs is a mine-field.
Life is good. Crooked houses have character.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back to School...

Going back to school is often like walking into a haunted house. Monstrous bullies lurk on the playground. Threatening teachers tower over your head, rulers in hand. Cackling witch-girls leer from the locker-room walls, waiting for the next easy target. For some, going back to school is a time of excitement, filled with new clothes, new kicks, and old friends. For others, it's a nightmare.

In honor of terrorized children everywhere, I give you Matilda.

Purchase your copy of Matilda here.

This book, by Roald Dahl, refuses to candy coat the scholastic experience. In fact, it amplifies every single aspect of school culture that children might find frightening. For example, Miss Trunchbull, the school's principal (who most definitely is not your "pal"), is the worst of the worst.

Befriending Students.

She mentally and physically abuses her charges and rules the entire school, teachers included, with an iron fist. But the good thing about Matilda is that Miss Trunchbull gets hers in the end. And her demise is hilarious. Dahl deftly strips his characters down to their worst attributes with a humor that resonates across generations and cultures.  I got a ridiculous amount of satisfaction as an adult reader out of Miss Trunchbull's downfall. Call me a bad person. I don't care. If you liked Dolores Umbridge getting her comeuppance in the Harry Potter books, you will love Matilda. It's a children's novel with teeth.

So, get back to class. Wrap your knuckles around Dahl's book before Miss Trunchbull raps them for you.

Next post, the crooked house (with a crooked mouse).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I'm baaaack....

I will be the first to admit I have read all of the Twilight books. I enjoyed reading them.  All four of them, as long-winded and overwrought as they are (even the second one, which most people hate). Perhaps because I read them poolside one lazy summer while I was trying to figure out my next career move. Perhaps because they seemed a pure form of escapism. I know it wasn’t because of the emo main character Bella Swan. Sigh.

Teaching Twilight (yes, I taught the book, mainly because it was a cultural phenomenon that I thought worth investigating; I believe, like Stephen King, that Meyer couldn’t write her way out of a paper bag), I was struck by how many of the young females in my classroom identified with this character, a girl, in my mind, better suited to the 1950s world of June Cleaver. Spoiler Alert: Bella Swan gives up her human life, her family, her aspirations (if she had any; it seemed like she wanted to go to college at one point) – everything, all in the name of marriage and motherhood. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with being a wife and mother. I am both. But when your definition on this earth is mate and mother alone, then I have a problem. Especially when you are influencing the lives and aspirations of millions of young girls while you’re at it.

The problem with Bella Swan is that what she wants, all that she wants, is a man (and another baby, ye-ah… - points if you recognize the song).  A really old man, by the way (creepy vampire pedophile, Edward). This is normal when you are a teenager.  I remember those days, when you think you are so in love with someone that the world will end if your relationship does (… and then it ends, and you move on to the next boy).  What would Bella think of Edward’s controlling, overbearing nature if she met him when she was 30? 40? We will never know, because she is now a resident of Neverland. She will never grow up.  She will never have the chance to figure out who she is without Edward. Imagine being married to the first guy you fell in love with for eternity. No thanks.       

I am not one for limiting what my kids want to read (I read mountains of Jackie Collins books in my day; if my mother only knew what was in those books!!). I won’t tell them that they can’t read the Twilight series. But I will want to have a serious conversation with them about Bella’s qualities when they are finished.  I highly doubt they will want to have this conversation with me, however. Sigh.

As for me, give me Katniss Everdeen or Sookie Stackhouse any day.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A New Chapter Begins....

At roughly 4:25 this afternoon, we closed on our new home. Closing a chapter in our lives brings to mind these lines from P.D. Eastman's The Best Nest:

I love my house.
I love my nest.
In all the world,
my nest is best.

A few months before we moved our household from Missouri to Pennsylvania (about four years ago now), my oldest daughter received this book in the mail as part of her Scholastic Book Club. It helped to make the transition from our old world to our new world easier. Eastman's book helps you remember that home is where you lay your hat (and that it doesn't have to be the classiest joint on the block). 

You can find The Best Nest here. I'll warn you, though, that Mrs. Bird is kind of a bitch.
You'll feel bad for Mr. Bird;).

Follow along over the next few weeks as I transform my youngest daughter's room from New England crab shack (pics to come soon - I forgot to take them today in all the hustle and bustle) into an "Owls and Books" abode. To give you an idea of just how "interesting" the wallpaper in this room is, I give you my oldest daughter's room (we are actually keeping this wallpaper, because she loves it - as you can see;)).

When searching for ideas about how to make over the wee one's room, I found this print from Jane Mount. The print is part of a series in which Mount "documents" people's bookshelves in an effort to capture their personalities. As Mount notes, "you can actually learn a lot about people from their bookshelves" (I wonder what people think when they look at mine? Hmmmm......).
Unfortunately, this print is currently sold out, so I am thinking of ways to recreate it with my daughter's own favorite books. Stay tuned for this project.

While we're at it, another unique idea I came across on Pinterest a few months back. This will definitely be making an appearance in some way, shape, or form in our new abode.

So, in the words of Dorothy, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home." If I could only click my heels and all the boxes would be unpacked and the house would be completely finished. On that note, I will be off the grid for the next few days as we reboot into our new house. When I return, Bella Swan - heroine worth reading about or an emo June Cleaver?

Good night all;).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures....

When you were growing up, did your parents ever tell you cautionary tales to get you to behave? Something along the lines of "If you don't stop doing that, [insert bogeyman here] is going to get you"? (My grandmother always told us, in her language from the Old World, that God was going to get us; she went straight to the top for her bogeyman).

Struwwelpeter (or, in English translations, Slovenly Peter: Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures for Little Children) is a bogeyman of sorts, a German children's book designed to warn children away from bad behavior. This book is so cruel and unusual in its punishments it makes you want to giggle. The kind of giggle that bubbles to the surface when you are in really bad trouble. The uncomfortable giggle.

Meet Peter.
I recently ordered Struwwelpeter for a research project I have been working on, and was taken aback when it arrived by the violent, terrifying nature of most of its images. Moreover, the words from the book's author, Heinrich Hoffman (who, as legend has it, wrote and illustrated the book in 1845 for his young son after not being able to find a book for the boy he liked - thanks, Dad), encourage the reader either to ridicule the misbehaving boy or girl or to relish in their demise. Take poor Peter, whom I have been haunted by since opening this sad little book.  Hoffman sneers at his uncleanliness: "Just look at him! There he stands, with his nasty hair and hands ..." Peter doesn't get the worst of it, though. A girl burns to death after playing with matches; a boy, who has been warned to stop stucking his thumbs and doesn't, has his fingers hacked off by the scissor-man. Pretty gruesome stuff.

Would you ever suck your thumbs again? I think not.
You would think that this book would have terrified kids so badly that it would have died its own death after the first printing. Instead, it was wildly popular. I wonder who liked it more - the parents, grandparents, and mean aunties buying the books for their misbehaving offspring or the children themselves? Is it a warning to children from overbearing parents or some strange form of "torture porn" for kids (of the Saw variety for today's young adults)? Either way, I have been thinking about the consequences of such children's books. I don't think it's a stretch to wonder if reading a book like Struwwelpeter conditioned German children to look askance at violence, to ridicule the scapegoat.

Unlike most of the other books in my house, Struwwelpeter remains on a high shelf.  I don't think I want my girls to read it. It scares me. But I do think it's a thought-provoking children's book from the past worth continued exhumation by children's literature scholars and connoisseurs. I find interesting the version linked below, illustrated by Sarita Vendetta (her last name is Vendetta; I love that) and with an introduction by Jack Zipes.

Click on the image to purchase this version at Amazon.
Tomorrow's post, MOVING DAY!!! - or how to make over a little girl's room that is currently covered in wallpaper declaiming the merits of the New England shore, red carpet, and bright blue paneling.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gorey in the NYRB...

In light of today's earlier post, I had to add this, which I found on my Twitter feed today. How appropriate.

"A Treasure Trove of Edward Gorey" by Eve Bowen

As she notes, "Gorey Preserved” is on view at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New York City until August 10, 2012.  You still have a day if you are in NYC. This is why I sometimes wish I lived in the Big Apple:(.


Cheers to Edward Gorey ...

So, I was in this bar called Cheers (yes, that Cheers), chatting up one of the locals, a dude who seemed like your typical Boston guy - Red Sox jersey, ball cap, accent (my lunch is pictured below).

Mmmmm.... beer.
After the usual small talk, he asked what I was doing in town. I had gone to Boston to deliver a paper on horror elements in children's literature, a book project I am currently working on, and gave the guy the quick rundown, expecting him to nod and mutter "uh huh, uh huh" (kind of like my husband does when I start telling him about anything work-related). Instead, he asked excitedly if I had ever heard of Edward Gorey.

Now, I had to admit, and this is probably shocking to some of you out there, that I had actually never heard of Edward Gorey before (especially shameful considering what I was working on). This Boston boy gave me a Gorey education. I left Cheers (with a slight buzz), headed to the nearest book store, and picked up an Amphigorey. When I got home and began digging more into Gorey's work, I quickly learned that he is a master of the macabre for children.  His books are delightfully weird and the illustrations are superb; there is an exquisiteness to the art that makes it both miniscule and larger than life (or, in the case of The Gashlycrumb Tinies, death personified).

Find the books here. You'll want his entire bibliography.
One of the most exciting things that Boston boy told me was that you can visit Gorey's house at 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port, MA. You see, I've always had this dream, since reading about Emily Dickinson's house, of taking a driving trip through New England, visiting the homes of all the writers who have touched my life (and my head) in some way. I've added Gorey's house to the list.
Find out more about the Gorey House here. The latest exhibit at the Gorey museum is The Envelope Art of Edward Gorey. Why don't we decorate envelopes anymore:(? A lost art.
The winner of yesterday's challenge (ok, the only person who commented, but I'll take it) described Miss Maleficent thus: "Beautiful, intelligent & powerful." Amen to that. Also, this poster reminded me of the Villain Store at Disney World, which I had completely forgotten about. You can find items from the store at this link. My favorite, this pop-art piece titled "Birthday Wishes." It's only $494.50 (tongue firmly inserted in cheek).

Available for purchase at the Disney Store, Disney Villains section.
 Tomorrow, I'll introduce you to a young man I like to call Slovenly Peter.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Villain within....

At the Magic of Disney Animation attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando, you can take a little quiz that helps you figure out what Disney character you would be.  My mom took the quiz - she was Mrs. Potts. My daughter took the quiz - she was Belle. I took the quiz - I was Maleficent. Yes, Maleficent, the Mistress of All Evil. This probably tells you something about me. Maybe I shouldn't have answered the question that asked "What would you like most for lunch?" with the answer "My guests." Hey, they offered (insert maniacal laugh here).

Today's Challenge, what are the top three words that come to mind when you think of Maleficent?
Comment below. Winner gets an honorable mention in tomorrow's blog.
I've always been drawn to the Disney Villains more than their sugar n' spice counterparts. There's Ursula, the hypersexual, big-bosomed, voice-stealer in The Little Mermaid. The heart-eating Evil Queen in Snow White. The Queen of Hearts and all her tarts in Alice in Wonderland. Cruella de Ville, who is willing to kill in the name of fashion. Not all of Disney's Villains are women (think Gaston, Captain Hook, the Shadow-Man), though I would argue a disproportionate number of them are (especially the ones who are most memorable). I'm guessing I'm not alone in this fascination. What is it about these characters that intrigue us?

Check out Ursula's profile at this really intriguing blog, Cautionary Women: Your Guide to the Most Evil Women in Entertainment, Literature, and Popular Culture.
One of the things I like most about these women is that not one of them is a shrinking violet (Ursula is a very LOUD purple ... hehehe). They are connivers, schemers, and manipulators, and they refuse to get less than what they think they are worth. They are outspoken, and, if they sing, they sing with conviction. They have motives, people. Those motives may be suspect, but at least they are beyond the pale, typically something besides marrying the most handsome man. Yes, most of them end up dying under unusual circumstances (they are impaled, fall off of really high precipices, or are impaled AND fall off of really high precipices).  But they make the stories interesting. Without them, we would have Aurora wandering around in the woods all day singing along with the creatures of the forest. How fun. I think I'd rather be Maleficent than Sleeping Beauty. Really, I do. Who wants to sleep for a hundred years and wake up to an arranged marriage?

To celebrate your villain within, I suggest MAC's Venomous Villains Collection.

Yes, I know this collection is no longer available at MAC counters, but you can still nab some of the products through other venues. I purchased the lip gloss "Hot House" (pictured above, the one with the Evil Queen from Snow White on the packaging) at a cosmetics outlet store in Washington a few weeks ago - and at a fraction of the cost of the original pricing. These cosmetics are also available at Ebay and other online outlets, but those offered here are a bit more costly.

Hot Topic also often has Disney Villain merchandise. I scored an Evil Queen keychain to match my lip gloss (on sale for $2.50; I love a deal!). Just leave your kids at home when you shop. If they are over the age of seven, they will probably be mortified. 

I don't leave home without them. Neither should you;).

And, finally, for the kiddos, some Disney Villain coloring pages. Why not? You know they are little monsters underneath it all;).

Tomorrow's blog, Edward Gorey's house - next year's vacation spot?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Once upon a time...

A little girl was born. Well, she is soon to be born. My sister-in-law, who is one of the most important people in my life, is due with her first child, a girl, at the beginning of September. And she (mom, not daughter - well, not yet, anyway) loves Harry Potter. And she's a reading specialist. And she is crazy about damask (she used to be obsessed with zebra; damask is the classier version of this print).

Taking all of this into account, we decided to throw her a children's book- and damask-themed baby shower. I was a little curious, I have to admit, how all of this would come together at the beginning of our planning. The results, however, exceeded my expectations.

For the centerpieces, I found images of children's book covers on the net, adjusted the coloration, and wrapped books that I had lying around the house (trust me, I have plenty; I just packed over 30 banker's boxes and 10 milk crates full of books, not to mention 4 other boxes for oversized ones).  Another friend provided the linens, tablecloths, and decorations (she does have a side business in this, but you could easily reproduce the results with cheaper materials).

One of my favorite book covers of all time. I like the 60s/70s vibe of the drawings.
The one and only game asked people to try to figure out the "real" children's book title based on "new" titles, many of which were ridiculously hard to figure out (I have to admit that I used a version of a game we found online and added more questions. You can find some good examples here and here).

My favorite is "Emerald Yolky Food with Accompanying Pig Product."

The food table blended decorations from Alice in Wonderland and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

A very naughty caterpillar (hehehe)....

Luckily our punch didn't make anyone grow/shrink...
The cake was the stuff of fairy tales.

Thinking back, I would have put "a princess" now....My mom was right. She always is (damnit;)).

And, finally, since this girl means the world to me and has helped me through a lot of hard times, I wanted to make her a special gift, one that would hinge on the theme of the shower. I decided to make her a basket filled with the things that I would call "mama" essentials (my favorite things that bring back good memories of my own childhood and motherhood) each with a little tag explaining their significance. I started with one of the books my mom read to me all the time when I was little, The Giving Tree. This book, in my eyes, sums up what it means to be a good parent - you give and give and give and give, and kids take and take and take, and you love them more and more and more with each passing day.

Please note the wine in this basket, an absolute "mama" essential.
To go with it, I made her a Family Thumbprint Tree (a gift a friend had given me a few months back).

Please disregard the mess in the background - I'm getting ready to move;).
Each family member adds a "leaf" (his/her thumbprint in green), along with name and date of birth. Over the generations, that tree should fill out nicely. Ours currently looks like this (You can find ideas for your family tree on Etsy). 

I had fun putting together the basket, and I made her cry, so I call that a success:). 

Last, but not least, because it is so damned cute, I had to post this fruit basket another friend made (she found the idea on Pinterest). I mean seriously, how cute is that???

So, come on baby girl, get here. Your Auntie is ready to meet you. I promise I'm not as scary as I look;).

Tomorrow's blog, lip gloss and apples and villains ... oh my!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Dark Side...

Imagine this scenario. You walk into a decrepit, deserted house, moving cautiously through an empty kitchen, a dirty bathroom with a "dead spider the size of a small cat" in the tub, and down a desolate hallway (Gaiman Coraline 126). You enter what used to be a bedroom with a "large metal ring" in the center of the floor (127). You realize, grimly, that this ring opens a trapdoor, a door that you have to open to discover what's inside. "Terribly slowly, stiffly, heavily," the trapdoor lifts to reveal a set of stairs leading down into utter darkness, and terribly slowly you make your way down those stairs, into the darkness and the stench, which smells of damp soil and rotting bread-dough. You feel along the walls and find a light switch, which turns on a naked bulb that sways dimly from the ceiling, revealing crude drawings of eyes on the peeling walls, cardboard boxes filled with molding newspapers, and a pile of curtains - with a foot protruding from underneath. You pull back the curtains, and there, on the floor, is a bloated, swollen doppleganger of your father. The thing turns its head to look at you, and its "mouth open[s] in the mouthless face, strands of pale stuff sticking to the lips, and [in] a voice that no longer even faintly resemble[s your] father's," it whispers your name (129). After a few painful moments, in which you discover that this zombie version of your father now stands between you and the cellar stairs, between you and escape, the "white, and huge, and swollen" thing dashes across the cellar towards you, "its toothless mouth open wide" (131). You realize you're left with two choices: "scream, and try to run away, and be chased around a badly lit cellar by the huge grub-thing" until it catches you and devours you - or draw on your own resources and do "something else" (131).

This seems like a lovely scene right out of the pages of your favorite children's book, right? Something you might read to your kiddos before sending them off to dreamland? Though it seems to be drawn more from the latest horror flick haunting the screens at the local cinema, the scene, in fact, comes from the popular children's book Coraline, written by Neil Gaiman and published in 2002. This book, chock-full of props from the horror genre, is not an anomaly in the world of children's literature either. In many of the world's most popular and well-known children's tales, terrifying characters often rear their ugly heads. From the child-devouring Baba Yaga in "Hansel and Gretel" to the biting, snatching Jabberwock in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass to R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series, horror elements are everywhere in the child's literary world. Consider the fairy tales written by the Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault, for instance: Little Snow-White's evil stepmother wants to consume her innocent stepdaughter's heart for dinner; Little Red Riding Hood is devoured by a wolf for straying too far from the path and must be cut from the wolf's stomach by the huntsman; Bluebeard's dead wives are ranged along the walls in various states of murdered disarray.

What are scenes this frightening, so sensory and so ghastly, doing in books most often picked up by tween readers (my daughter read Coraline when she was 7 - and adored it)? Mainly, they must be truly terrifying in order to be successful; the children reading Coraline must be good and scared as Coraline sets foot into the Other Mother's world so that they can glean the true lesson that the book tries to teach (and Coraline, like any good fairy tale, has a moral). The child reading Coraline learns that you can only defeat your dragons by facing your fears, being brave when you don't want to be brave at all, a lesson that can translate from the haunted corridors of Coraline's gothic house to the schoolyard and the child's own dark bedroom. She also learns that she has to rely on her own intelligence to defeat the evil being. The moral? "Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky," as spoken by one of the ghost children Coraline meets who was not wise or brave or tricky enough (167).

Talking about the appeal of his novel for young children, Gaiman mused that "It was a story, I learned when people began to read it, that children read as an adventure, but which gave adults nightmares" ("Questions and Answers"). The horror that appears in Coraline heightens the delicious intensity of the adventure. As Coraline herself muses after she is told by her neighbors that she is in peril, danger can sound intriguing to a kid who is bored out of her wits: "In danger? thought Coraline to herself. It sounded exciting. It didn't sound like a bad thing. Not really" (31). For young readers, most likely also bored out of their skulls, the fantasy of the novel makes the danger safe. Like an adult getting pleasure out of the ax-wielding Jack chasing his son through the maze at the close of The Shining, who knows that the little boy will most likely escape (and he does, like Coraline, through his own cunning), the child reading Coraline knows that when he or she closes the book, he or she closes the door to the Other World. When the house lights go up, the Overlook and the Other World go dark. Nonetheless, we will continue to wonder what's on the other side of the wall and wait for our next adventure to the dark side.

Check out Gaiman's Coraline here. Make sure you read it in the dark, with a flashlight.

Tomorrow, a post of a different color - a children's book-themed baby shower.  You won't want to miss it.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole.....

What is it about Alice and her adventures in Wonderland/the Looking-Glass World that lures generation after generation of youngsters down the rabbit hole? What do we like about going over to the other side of the mirror along with her? Even if you've never read either of the Alice books, you know the general pattern of the story - little girl gets lost in a fantasy land that borders on the stuff of nightmare, almost loses her head, battles Jabberwock (albeit vicariously), listens to a bunch of idiotic adults argue about idiotic things. Maybe that last suggests one of the reasons kids like her so much: she's plucky, lucky, and smart - and all of the adults are stupid.

I've been obsessed with Alice for the last, oh, 25 years. She became one of the major subjects of my dissertation. I teach the Alice books whenever I get the chance. I've read them countless times to my kids (much to their chagrin). I collect different versions of the books - the creepier and more disturbing, the better (my favorite is the one pictured above, by Camille Rose Garcia). I'll tell you why one day soon. But this story is one that is best unraveled slowly. I will say this: the Alice books symbolize, for me, my beginnings as a reader - and I haven't changed much over the years. I like the thrill of the Jabberwock. I want to jump into the book to defeat that beast with my vorpal sword.  And I like the villains best of all.

As this blog grows, I hope to be able to put my finger on the pulse. Which children's books really succeed in capturing the imagination? What are the best books to spark your kids' growth as readers, thinkers, and people?  Why do we Peter Pans who refuse to grow up remain enthralled in these books? (You know, deep down, that you really want the Where the Wild Things Are sheets on sale at Pottery Barn Kids for yourself, not for your son.)

So, come fall down the rabbit hole with me. It'll be a long and trippy trip. Pinky swear. Just remember, we're all mad here ...

Tomorrow, we'll look at Alice 2.0: Neil Gaiman's Coraline.