I’ve been reading my way through a bunch of the New York Review Children’s Collection titles lately. Several of them I’ve passed along to you here and there.
Today I have a bunch to recommend, particularly if your sense of humor and delight runs along the quirky line.
If you’re not aware of the New York Review Children’s Collection, they are titles from quite some time ago, written and illustrated by masters of the craft, that are being republished in beautiful editions. Presently there are over 80 of them, and you can find them all at the site here. Some, like Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories, are hundreds and hundreds of pages long. Some, like Duvoisin’s Donkey Donkey are short picture books. I love finding old treasures I’ve never encountered before, and this collection is one great way to find them.
Beginning with the briefest story of today’s set…
The Backward Day, by Ruth Krauss, pictures by Marc Simont originally published in 1950
Ruth Krauss was a deeply thoughtful woman whose high regard for children’s ideas gave us treasures such as A Hole is to Dig, which you should definitely get acquainted with if you aren’t already. Here she teams up with beloved illustrator Marc Simont to tell the story of a little boy who awoke one morning and declared it to be backward day.
Watch this topsy-turvy day unfold, surely to the delight of children ages 3 and older who just might want to try this out for themselves.
Fletcher and Zenobia, by Victoria Chess and Edward Gory, illustrated by Victoria Chess originally published in 1967
Herein is the story of Fletcher, a cat, and Zenobia, a little girl, who find themselves fairly stuck in the branches of a tall tree and pull off a whangdoodler of a party there…
…complete with “a lemon cake with five layers which she covered with raspberry icing and walnuts and decorated with green and blue candles,” as well as balloons, stunning party hats, dancing to a gramophone, and a most surprising visitor who comes in verrry handy the next morning.
Yes. It is quite the story! Just the right size for ages 4 and up.
Junket is Nice, written and illustrated by Dorothy Kunhardt originally published in 1932
You know Dorothy Kunhardt for one reason: Pat the Bunny. But Junket is Nice was her very first book! Aren’t you just a wee bit curious?
It seems that once upon a time a very old man with a monumentally large, red beard and jolly red slippers was sitting at a table eating junket out of a capacious red bowl. And boy-howdy, this fellow could put away a lot of junket! Astonishing.
As a crowd gathers to watch his junket-eating, the old man invites them to play a guessing game with him. The guessing game makes up the bulk of this rambly, nonsensical tale.
There’s a bit of a Wanda Gag feel to the handwritten text and the cadence of the story. Peculiar and unexpected ideas abound in this longish piece for ages 4 or 5 and up.
Supposing, by Alastair Reid, illustrated by Bob Gill originally published in 1960
When my son was a little boy, he and one of his best buddies used to have conversations quite like the supposings in this book. “Oh, oh, oh! What if…” one would say, and they were off, concocting more and more elaborate and outlandish scenarios. (As an aside, they are both now pursuing their PhDs in the sciences. Cultivating imagination in children is no fool’s errand!)
This is a collection of wild supposings. Each one unattached to the one before, and accompanied by a sketchy drawing by master-of-design, Bob Gill. Imagination-stretching, for ages 5 or 6 and up.
Ounce, Dice, Trice, by Alastair Reid, illustrated by Ben Shahn originally published in 1958
Okay you logophiles, you linguists, you poets and wordsmiths. Yes, there are many of these among the Ages 3 to 8 population, you know. Children love words! Silly words. Tongue twisters. Rhyming words. Onomatopoeia.
This extraordinary collection, this tintinnabulation of words is a fizzing wonderland for them and for you, too! Lists of ZZZ-ing words and squishy words. Names for elephants or whales if you prefer.
Names for twins. Newly-invented ways to count to ten. Words to bamboozle and confound. Words to pull out when the cat’s got your tongue.
All quite marvelous. Illustrated masterfully by artist Ben Shahn. A highly-unusual treat for ages 6 to 100.
The Robber Hotzenplotz, by Otfried Preussler, illustrated by F.J. Tripp, translated from the German by Anthea Bell originally published in 1962
One fine morning, Kasperl’s grandmother sits in her garden grinding the day’s coffee in her brand new musical coffee grinder. It’s a birthday gift from her grandson Kasperl and his best friend, Seppel. BUT! The wicked robber Hotzenplotz steals the coffee grinder — the joy of her heart! — and it’s up to Kasperl and Seppel to retrieve it.
This is much, much easier said than done. And is not accomplished until the boys can outsmart both Hotzenplotz and a wicked magician named Petrosilius Zackleman who, luckily, has a weakness for fried potatoes. And it involves an alliance with a toad-fairy. Yup.
Merrily illustrated, this absurd little adventure would make a dynamite read-aloud for ages 6 and up. It’s the longest of today’s titles at 121 pages. My kids would have loved it.