Fox + Chick

You may not have noticed, but I’ve been writing a dissertation in between posts. That’s been fun (no, really, it is!), but it does mean I’m not actually doing this full time, and that means that I miss out on writing about a lot of books I love. Books I love deeply.

Such as?

Well. Remember This Is Not a Picture Book!, by Sergio Ruzzier? Remember how much I loved it? (I’ve given it as a gift more than a few times.) Well, Sergio Ruzzier, to my great delight, wrote another book last year, Fox & Chick: The Party + Other Stories. (I never know whether those & and + are right, but let’s say they are!) I bought it and loved it and so does my Changeling. I never got around to writing it up here. It did rather well, to my delight, and was a Theodore Seuss Geisl Award Honoree (I may have squealed with joy over that). And then, a few weeks ago, Fox & Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride + Other Stories came out! I just got my copy today from my local Children’s Book Shop, and now I happen to have a crack of an instant to write here and I’m determined not to let the chance to sing the praises of these two delightful books pass me by.

We all know and love odd literary couples: Frog and Toad, Ant and Bee, Charlie and Mouse… well, if you love that kind of dynamic, you will adore Fox and Chick.

Tonight I read one of the Fox & Chick stories (“Chocolate Cake”) with the Changeling before bed. (She was as excited for new Fox and Chick stories as I was! She’s about five and a half, and the perfect age for these books, I think.) I asked her which of the two characters she preferred. She hemmed and hawed for a long while, mulling over the tricky question. “Fox,” she finally said, “because he’s a little bit more sensitive and always knows the right thing to say.” I see her point and was impressed by her reasoning, but I will tell you that that’s not the right answer. It wasn’t a question I was asking to find out anything about the characters, both of whom are lovable by any right-minded person; I asked the question to find out more about my daughter, and I wasn’t surprised by her answer.

Fox is decidedly sensitive, smart, and clear-thinking. He always sees reality, and sees the road straight before him. Chick is flightier, more imaginative, and more prone to fits of emotions of all kinds. He sees Anne Shirley’s “bends in the road.” Fox thinks twice and speaks once, Chick speaks before he thinks at all.

Each collection contains three stories, and they are all equally imaginative, original, and fresh. Despite the age-old technique of bringing together two opposing figures and hoping something fun comes of it (Aesop’s Fables, anyone?), the trick has not gotten old, and Sergio Ruzzier’s characters run into adventure after adventure (in Chick’s view) without ever getting boring (in our view!).

I was going to choose one story to talk about to give you a sample of what I’m talking about, but I quickly realized that would give the wrong impression, that the stories all follow a similar pattern. They don’t. In some, Chick might get up to mischief (“The Party,” in which Chick asks Fox if he can use the bathroom… but doesn’t tell Fox exactly what that request entails!), but in others, there’s peace and beauty (“The Sunrise,” in which the two friends might miss the sunrise but find beauty elsewhere) while in others there are moments of true, shared friendship (“Chocolate Cake” teaches us the joy in giving, receiving, and sharing). Nor are these divisions more than arbitrary; many share these elements and more.

I will tell you the plain truth: I’ve missed writing about every book that comes my way and delights me, but I haven’t felt too guilty about it, because a) this is a blog, not my profession, so I can’t possibly review everything– I’m not The Horn Book!; b) I’ve been busy, as mentioned above, with a little thing called my dissertation, not to mention my family; c) I write here for pleasure, and if I felt guilty that would detract from my pleasure, now, wouldn’t it?

I felt guilty when The Quiet Boat Ride came out and I realized I’d never reviewed The Party.

Why, I wondered? And I realized: it wasn’t that I felt like I’d let down Sergio Ruzzier– I like him very much, but I doubt he’s waiting on my thoughts! I felt like I’d let down Fox and Chick. They’d become my friends, much like Frog and Toad are my friends. Frog and Toad taught me the values of persistence, friendship, and hard work today so you can relax tomorrow. I wonder very much what Fox and Chick will teach the young readers of tomorrow? I know they’ve taught me to sit still for portraits, look for pirates in ponds, and always share my chocolate cake.

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This Is Sadie: Redux

Dear Readers:

I am writing, writing, writing. Work is going well, but I need to get back to it. So I have only one thing to tell you: This is Sadie has been released as a beautiful, complete board book! Just saying. I got a copy for my little niece. I’m guessing you know someone who needs a copy of this book, too, whether as the board book or hardcover.

this-is-sadie

I’ll be back after I’ve finished the body of my dissertation and am onto the copyediting. I have so much to tell you! Hint.

International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day and I, a woman, am trying to write my dissertation. I can’t look my supervisor in the face if I don’t. I can’t look my daughter in the face if I don’t.

But I can’t look myself in the face if I don’t, on this day, acknowledge the huge debt the book world owes women creators of books (authors, illustrators, editors, designers, publishers, etc., etc.) which teach our own young women to be strong women and so to change the world.

So I’m just going to set my timer for five minutes– there I go– to say: THANK YOU to all of the women out there creating the books I give my daughter and other young women. And I’m going to just rattle off some names of women book people whom I love to share– and I’m going to ask you to add your own names in the comments, or feel free to recommend them to me by email!

Here’s my list, in no particular order: Shirley Hughes, Diana Wynne Jones, Joan Aiken, Micha Archer, Rebecca Green, Liz Wong, Lesléa Newman, Diane Adams, Claire Kean, Hilary McKay, Judith Rossell, Janet Ahlberg, Nancy Cohen, Joanne Schwartz, Cynthia Rylant, Catherynne Valente, Eleanor Farjeon, and Ursula Le Guin.

That’s a deliberate mishmashmixture! Browse the site for those names and more and share yours with me! Let’s get inspired to write for a new generation of women!

And now my timer rang, so, for International Women’s Day, I will do my own work as well as I can. As women do.

“Mama, how does the sperm reach the egg?” and other questions + giveaway!

I recently heard some very good news from a member of my family, and was permitted to share this news with my little family. From my husband, it prompted a “Mazal tov, I’m so happy to hear that!” From my daughter it prompted a pleased wriggle, “Will I get to hold the baby?” and then some Other Questions.

Now, this isn’t the first time the Changeling has Asked Questions. When she was a little over three, maybe closer to four, she started exploring her anatomy and asked some Questions. Questions like: “Mama, what does this do? Why do I have a bum over here” patting her behind “and a smaller bum over here?” patting in front of her. So I accordingly did what I always do– I went to the library and talked to the librarians. I was shocked to discover that most of the books explaining bodies to young children were somewhat older, but they’re actually pretty darned good. So I bought two of them: Amazing You! by Gail Saltz, illustrated by Lynne Cravath, and, thinking ahead, What’s the Big Secret? by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown. I was very proud of myself for thinking ahead, too. And it was great! We talked a bit about anatomy and where babies come from and how and why, and it was fabulous and I was so proud of myself for handling tricky territory with grace and openness.

And then a year passed. And now the Changeling has started asking New Questions, Questions which are more pointed, more detailed, and don’t let me get away with answers like, “Well, maybe we can discuss that in a year or two, what do you think?” Questions like, “If the daddy has the sperm and the mummy has the egg, how does the sperm get to the egg?” and “What does sex look like?” and the follow-up “Then how old do you have to be to see sex happen?”

I did some additional research (which is to say, I consulted the expert– Erika Moen –NSFW– Erika’s site is wonderful and educational, but save that link for a private space), and she directed me to It’s So Amazing! by Robie S. Harris and Michael Emberley, which is for ages 7 and up.

So the Changeling and I have talked and talked, she comfortably, and I calming down as I become more comfortable, and it’s all gone so much more smoothly than I thought it would. Partly, I realized, because I know more than I thought I did, partly because librarians and Erika are wonderful and directed me to great resources, and partly because the Changeling is teaching me more than I am teaching her!

So I thought, after talking to a few friends and family members who also had curious youngsters, or anticipated some curiosity in future– maybe a brief exploration of these resources would help you all out, too– and provide a forum for people to share their stories, experiences, and helpful resources.

Amazing You!.jpg

Amazing You! is a lovely early book for explaining the basics: what your body is, what it looks like, and how it’s private and individual to YOU. It really emphasizes anatomy and privacy and is wonderful, I think, starting at about age 3. It has excellent basic diagrams and is packed with accurate information reframed for a foundational level. My daughter has moved past it at age 5, but, as I said, she is perhaps unusually curious, so your experience may vary.

What's the Big Secret.jpg

What’s the Big Secret? is a great next step: it’s more explicit about sex, sexuality, and, particularly, about being open and unembarrassed with your questions in the face of a society which casts shame on these subjects. It still emphasizes privacy and bodily autonomy for both boys and girls. My daughter still had more questions than were answered here– we have homosexual friends she didn’t see represented in here, for example– but for the basics of explaining how sex works, this is more direct and a little bit older than Amazing You! I’d say the target age here is around 5 or 6.

It's So Amazing.jpg

For questions that go beyond just “how are babies made?” and into questions about love, sexuality, and, basically, living life beyond childhood, It’s So Amazing! is a wonderful introduction to what an adult universe looks like. It still affirms basic facts about anatomy, biology, and science. It also talks about loving relationships (of all kinds– this is where my daughter was able to see our homosexual friends represented), families, and where sex figures into that. It even has some basic information about sexually transmitted diseases, which I was certain would confuse the Changeling, but was so well presented that it hasn’t. I love the graphic novel + text format: some pages are funny discussions between the bird and the bee in a standard graphic novel page, which engages a new child reader, and some are laid out in a more “picture book” page, but more text-heavy and informative. As it says right on the cover, it’s for ages 7+, but even before I got to it the Changeling (now aged 5 and a half) zoomed to it and I decided to let her. She was absorbed in about five seconds flat and had only lucid questions. It’s very basic, very clear, and very engaging.

So, these are three stepping-stone books for you all! The only “complaint” I have is that they are all rather old. That said, the books are excellent, and have served me well. I have no problem with these books and recommend them without reservation, but I do question why no new child-oriented books about sex are being published in this era. I’d have thought it a topic which could use updating on a regular basis.

So, dear readers, since I understand that I’m not the only parent with a curious child, I want to present this information to you with a little giveaway treat, and here’s the only rule:

Tell me (in the comments or at deborah@childrensbookroom.com) your story about your kid’s sex ed question (the funniest, cleverest, or just most thought-provoking question) and I’ll enter your name in the hat!

I will use a random number generator to pick one of you and you can choose which of these three books you prefer for your child. If you have questions about the books, I’ll happily answer. Open to anywhere in the world. You have ONE WEEK (March 1-7) to get your entry in!

Enjoy!