Author: Don Freeman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
In a big department store, a small stuffed bear named Corduroy sits on the shelf waiting for someone to take him home. One day, a customer points out that he’s missing a button, prompting a midnight expedition through the store in search of said button. Corduroy finds lots of interesting things that night. But the next morning, he finds something even better–a home and a new friend.
Over 50 years old, this picture book is just as charming and engaging as it was when it was originally published. Corduroy is just a very cute story, with a nice sprinkling of adventure and humor and a satisfying “happy ending.” I appreciate the way the author expresses Corduroy’s opinions of his experiences–“I guess I’ve always wanted to” or “I think I’ve always wanted to” for all the adventures in the store, but “I know I’ve always wanted” when it comes to a friend and a home. It’s a nice way of using repetition with variation that I like to see in kids’ books. Fair warning that this book is a bit text heavy when compared to other picture books; at age two-and-a-half, my niece is just now able to sit still for and enjoy reading the text in its entirety, but before that, I had to do some summarizing. (It’s recommended for ages 3-8, technically). As for the art itself, it’s got a charming old-school feel to it, one that both captures the flavor of when it was written back in the 1940’s but that is still enjoyable and approachable today. Corduroy is definitely a classic, and a picture book that I would recommend for just about any younger child.
Author: Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrator: Clement Hurd
My rating: 3.5 of 5
A little bunny goes through his nighttime ritual, naming the objects he sees and saying “goodnight” to each individually. As he goes, he gets sleepier and sleepier, until just as he’s finishing his goodnights he’s drifting into slumber.
Whatever else you can say about Goodnight Moon (and yes, there’s a lot that can be said), it certainly can boast longevity–it’s been around since 1947. And yes, that age shows in the style and content of the pictures. This picture book is also addictive for little kids it seems; it was my brother’s favorite book when he was little, and he insisted on reading it every single night. And for really young kids, I think it is something of a nice bedtime ritual. The rhythms of naming items and saying “goodnight” to each of them–all in rhyme–has a certain comforting pattern to it, especially when it’s a daily consistent activity. So for it’s intended audience (babies and kids up to about 4, maybe), I’d have to give Goodnight Moon 5 stars. My 3.5 rating is a compromise between that and my personal opinion rating of approximately 2 stars. Because as an adult, this book holds very little appeal. It quickly gets repetitive, has no real story (see the summary above), and has a rather atrocious color scheme. So on the one hand, if you have small children they might really enjoy Goodnight Moon, but on the other hand, if they fall in love with it, I feel sorry for you. . . .
Author: Mariko Nagai
My rating: 5 of 5
Mina Tagawa was born in the U.S. She sees herself as an American just as surely as her best friend Jamie Gilmore is American. Sure, her family speaks both English and Japanese in the home, eats miso soup as well as potatoes, it’s never mattered. Until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and suddenly everyone in her hometown looks at her like she’s the enemy. Until she and her family are forced from their homes into camps like war criminals in their own country.
Dust of Eden was a hard book to read. I can only imagine how hard it was to write. I feel that Mariko Nagai chose a very important but difficult topic in depicting the internment camps the government forced many Japanese Americans into during the second World War. And I do feel that she handled this topic with grace and respect. Mina is a beautiful character, and her loving family and supportive friend Jamie do a lot to soften the story without diminishing the unfairness and wrongness of the situation. The entire story is written in verse from Mina’s perspective, and Nagai’s poetry is truly beautiful and moving–a style that reminds me greatly of Helen Frost’s work in that it is poetic and elegant without ever stooping to being rhyme-y or cheap. I ended up crying through a large portion of the book; it’s that sort of story. I found Dust of Eden in the children’s section, and it’s appropriate for younger readers although I would recommend an adult reading the story first and being available to discuss it. But this is a book that breaks age barriers and speaks an important memory to adult readers as well.
Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi
Ever since he was young, Jiro Horikoshi has dreamed of the sky and the aircraft that inhabit it so gracefully. He would have loved to be a pilot, but due to his poor eyesight, that dream would never come to pass. Realizing this early on, he takes a note from his hero, the Italian airplane designer Caproni, and pursues a career in aircraft design. A combination of innate talent and unflagging work keep him on the path, designing better and better planes, always pursuing the ideal craft that exists only in his dreams.
Over the years, I have come to expect great things from Studio Ghibli, and from Hayao Miyazaki in particular–and I must say The Wind Rises is something special indeed. It is, at its core, nearly a documentary on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero–a plane used by Japan during the second World War. Yet Miyazaki transforms this young man’s life story into something beautiful and spectacular. Jiro deals, throughout the story, with the impossible question: would you pursue your dreams, even knowing what you create may be used in war, or would you live in a world where you abandon your dreams and refuse to create? The telling of the story itself is fascinating–you are given snapshots of various important events in the life of Horikoshi, but each is filled out in great detail, enough to give a good idea of who the characters are. I love that Miyazaki included Jiro’s brief, fateful relationship with Nahoko his beautiful, sickly wife (although I find Nahoko herself a strikingly Mamoru Hosoda sort of heroine). All the aircraft that are included only serve to emphasize that this is a Hayao Miyazaki movie–they’re kind of his trademark. The art is classic Studio Ghibli–breathtakingly beautiful. I think the inclusion of certain rather surreal elements, particularly in Jiro’s dreams, adds a lot to the story as well. I think my favorite Miyazaki movies will always be his fantasies like Spirited Away and Howl, but The Wind Rises is pretty incredible as well–you should check it out, especially if you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli or of older planes.