Book Looks

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

From The Columbus Dispatch's arts editor, Nancy Gilson, comes a cornucopia of suggestions for great new kids' books!

Young readers will find themselves informed and entertained by three new historical picture books -- especially one written with tongue in cheek.

"Big Wig: A Little History of Hair" (Scholastic, 48 pages, $18.99, ages 8 to 12) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Peter Malone

Krull won the 2011 Children's Book Guild Nonfiction Award for her body of work, so she probably gets her facts straight.

And what fun she has with the facts in her newest book.

She begins with prehistoric Africa, when everybody had hair all over their bodies -- until evolution determined we need it only on our heads for protection from the sun. She goes on to spill more surprising -- and, sometimes, outrageous -- information about our crowning glory.

Aristotle rubbed goat urine on his head to cure his baldness; and Hippocrates, the father of medicine, tried a brew of opium, wine, green olive oil, horseradish and pigeon poop. (Presumably, neither worked.)

Krull writes in a smart tone nicely countered by Malone's silly gouache paintings.

"The Bravest Woman in America" (Tricycle, 32 pages, $16.99, ages 5 to 9) by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Andrea U'Ren

During her 69 years of life, Ida Lewis rescued more than 18 people while tending the Lime Rock Lighthouse in Newport, R.I.

As a young woman, she assumed the job from her ailing father, keeping an eye out for sailors in trouble.

Moss tells her story in brief, clear text; and U'Ren provides stunning watercolor, ink and acrylic paintings. The best one is a scene of Ida watching from the lighthouse as four boys tip over in a wave-tossed sailboat.

She rescues them, of course.

"Dream Something Big: The Story of the Watts Towers" (Dial, 36 pages, $17.99, ages 5 to 9) by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Anyone who has seen the Watts Towers in Los Angeles will appreciate how they came to be.

The three artistic structures -- the tallest is nearly 100 feet -- are a marvel of pottery chips, tiles, seashells and glass fragments, all collected and fashioned into towers by Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant who barely spoke English.

Roth's collage-style illustrations mirror the towers' eclectic style of construction; one scene includes fragments of black-and-white photos of the real towers.

Aston doesn't delve much into Rodia's personal story: His towers were vandalized (probably by Watts residents who didn't appreciate them), and he abruptly left the neighborhood in 1955 -- 34 years after he had begun the project.

The story, though, pays homage to Rodia's masterpiece and encourages children to follow their creative visions.

* * * * * * * * *

The father of the title character in Roald Dahl's Matilda -- a bully -- tells her, "I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Oh, the lives of the young.

Fortunately, contemporary children's authors (as did Dahl) champion little people, producing fun picture books for those too young to read.

Toddlers and preschoolers should enjoy these five:

"Everything I Need To Know Before I'm Five" (Schwartz & Wade, 36 pages, $17.99, ages 1 to 5) by Valorie Fisher

The brilliantly colored concept book covers numbers, opposites, shapes, colors, weather and the alphabet with appealing photos of toys.

The few words and letters used should spark conversation between children and grown-ups.

"I Am Small" (Scholastic, 22 pages, $8.99, ages 1 to 3) by Emma Dodd

Children will identify with the starring chubby penguin who feels his size in an icy land: "The world is big and I am small. . . . The ocean is deep and I am small."

So goes his world as he experiences wind, stars, snow and -- finally -- the enveloping love of his parent.

"Maisy's Amazing Big Book of Learning" (Candlewick, 48 pages, $14.99, ages 2 to 5) by Lucy Cousins

The popular mouse stars in a colorful concept book, a companion to other Maisy titles. Here, Maisy encounters questions about numbers, the senses, noises and more. Clever flaps reveal answers.

"Why Do I Have To Make My Bed? Or, a History of Messy Rooms" (Tricycle, 32 pages, $16.99, ages 4 to 7) by Wade Bradford and Johanna van der Sterre

The age-old complaint spans many generations -- and none of the children ever gets an answer.

The premise allows author Bradford and illustrator van der Sterre to describe household and farm chores from modern days back to cave days, with plenty of humor to go along with the facts.

"The Wicked Big Toddlah Goes to New York" (Knopf, 40 pages, $16.99, ages 4 to 8) by Kevin Hawkes

A couple from Maine -- complete with New England accents and a little boy the size of the Statue of Liberty -- take in Big Apple sites.

When Toddie is separated from his normal-sized parents, he is fine on his own until he realizes he's lost.

In his sequel to The Wicked Big Toddlah, Hawkes has great fun with his enormous character and his not-so-subtle theme of empowering little ones.

Roald Dahl would approve.

-Nancy Gilson