My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch
by Graeme Base (Abrams, $12.95; all ages). American readers of Graeme Base know him best for three recent books: Animalia, a fun and exotic look at the alphabet; an illustrated volume of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky; and The Eleventh Hour, a picture book detective story for children. These three volumes -- two of them international best sellers -- have all been published since 1987, an enviable track record for the 33-year-old writer and illustrator.
What most American fans of Base may not know about, however, is his first book: My Grandma Lived In Gooligulch, first published in 1983 in New Zealand and Australia, and only recently brought out in this country.
As in Base's other volumes, the story is told in rhyme, this time about Gran, a crazy grandmother who lives in tiny Gooligulch (population 32), located "A little west of Lawson's Rest/ And south of Johnson's Gap/ But nowhere much near anywhere/ That shows up on the map."
Gran isn't any old grandmother. She rides kangaroos -- a feat that earns her a reputation in far-off Sydney -- befriends a lute-playing wombat and dons goggles to fly to the shore not by airplane but by pelican. She also disappears forever, swept out to sea while riding an inflated rubber horse, a fact that may trouble some very young children. But Base seems to deal successfully with this by imagining where he thinks his grandmother now lives and what she may be doing: Taming tigers in Tingoor? Riding a train in San Francisco? Visiting England or Spain?
Readers familiar with Base's more recent books will enjoy discovering this early work and will recognize some familiar themes, as well as his usual boundless imagination and detailed drawings. My Grandma is not as polished as Animalia, nor does it have the layer upon layer of detail found in both the plot and the illustrations of The Eleventh Hour. But it is a worthwhile find, a book that children and parents will enjoy reading and re-reading.
Orlando: A Camping Holiday
by Kathleen Hale (Frederick Warne, $14.95; ages 3-6).
Orlando Keeps A Dog , by Kathleen Hale (Frederick Warne, $14.95; ages 3-6). Parents love to rediscover stories from their childhood and read them to their own children. Keeping this in mind, children's publishers regularly revive some of the old classics.
Two books from the 18-volume series about Orlando the cat are enjoying this treatment. Orlando, "a marmalade cat with eyes like twin green gooseberries," was first introduced in England in 1938. The books, written and illustrated by Kathleen Hale, were based on stories that she told to her two young sons. Orlando doesn't have the pizzazz of the well-loved King Babar, and his dear wife Grace is no Queen Celeste. But the stories are sweet, even a little sappy, while the pictures have a warm, fuzzy, endearing quality.
In the first volume, Orlando takes his family on a camping trip with some predictable problems and a happy ending. In the second, Orlando and Grace advertise for "a clean, honest and loving" pet for their three kittens. The response is huge and they find themselves overwhelmed by eager animals willing to take on the job. To their rescue comes Bill, a cocky French poodle and his companion Flute, a cat that mimics everything his friend does. The two drive away the other animals. A relieved and grateful Orlando lets them stay, despite some reservations.
Bill, however, quickly annoys Orlando, Grace and the kittens and is on the verge of being dismissed. Things change when he turns a simple walk with Grace into a thrilling adventure with, yes, another happy ending.
The danger with reviving classics is that they sometimes contain stereotypes. In the Orlando series readers will have to wade through some dated language, British colloquialisms and familiar sexist stereotypes. Grace worries about not having the right outfit for a family outing and after shopping apologizes to Orlando for spending too much money on clothes. Her main activities are housework and childcare, an image that will make many parents today bristle.
Still, the books are generally amusing and could be a starting point for talking about how some things have changed. While many parents may not place the Orlando books at the top of the list of reissued classics, a small survey of one three-and-a-half-year-old boy found them fun.
Talking About Stepfamilies , by Maxine B. Rosenberg (Bradbury Press, $13.95; all ages). Divorce is a way of life in the United States. So is remarriage, because hope usually triumphs over experience. Today, nearly one out of every five children under 18 is a member of a stepfamily.
The effects of living in a stepfamily are increasingly documented by social scientists. But what's it like in human terms? How does it feel to have your mother or father remarry? What happens when one day you're an only child and the next you have a house full of stepsiblings? How do you learn to accept and love a step-parent without feeling disloyal to at least one of your biological parents?
Maxine B. Rosenberg, herself a stepchild, helps youngsters understand this strange and often troubling experience in her book, Talking About Stepfamilies. Rosenberg asked children in-depth questions about the problems and the benefits of being part of a stepfamily, then compiled 16 of the interviews into this book.
The result is essentially a child's view of remarriage, although some of the stepchildren are now adults who, looking back on the experience, see the wisdom of things they couldn't comprehend as kids. The collective voices paint a generally positive picture, albeit one fraught with confusion, difficulties and fears.
Owen, 13, was scared to death before his mother married his stepfather. Three weeks before the wedding, his family moved from their apartment to another city and his mother gave up her job. Owen spent the time terrified that somehow the wedding wouldn't work out and they would be left homeless, penniless and without any friends nearby.
The theme that runs throughout the book is the sense of loss these children feel for their original families. Whether they have lost a parent through divorce or death, they yearn for the past.
At the same time, most recognize that they have gained something valuable from their new "family." Most develop close, loving relationships with their "blended" families even if this new arrangement doesn't fit the image the children may have imagined for themselves.
Children will identify with the very diverse experiences in Rosenberg's book, while adults will find it surprisingly insightful on this side of divorce and remarriage.
The Girl with a Watering Can , by Ewa Zadrzynska; illustrations by Arnold Skolnick (Chameleon, $15.95; ages 4-up). Parents searching for a way to introduce a little art and history into their children's lives will enjoy The Girl with a Watering Can.
Illustrated with paintings from the National Gallery of Art, this whimsical story stars the fair-haired girl with a watering can, who stands so sweetly in a garden painted by the French master Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1870.
The little girl has been bothered by a stone in her shoe, according to the story by Ewa Zadrzynska. To ease her discomfort she takes off her shoes and jumps from the painting, taking all the color with her. She notices another little girl nearby -- "The Girl with a Hoop," also painted by Renoir. She asks her to play, but is snubbed. So she steals the hoop and thereby drains the color from that painting as well.
This starts the little girl with the watering can on a mischievous adventure that disrupts the calm life of characters in eight other masterpieces. Along the way, she breaks a cup from "Still Life" by Henri Fantin-Latour, teases the monkeys in a painting by Henri Rousseau and accidentally capsizes a boat in "Breezing Up" by Winslow Homer. All is put right with the help of St. Jerome from a painting by Giovanni Bellini.
The book is a little slow going at first, as the color is drained from masterpiece after masterpiece. But it picks up quickly and has a very clever ending, including a challenge that will send many Washington area readers to the National Gallery to check out the answer. Sally Squires is a staff writer for the Health section of The Washington Post.