The White Marble


The White Marble by Charlotte Zolotow, 1963.


It’s a hot night in the city, and John Henry’s parents decide that they should go to the park to cool off.  John Henry is a little thrilled to be out with his parents at night, stopping to pick up a beautiful white marble he finds as they enter the park, but disappointed when he realizes that he is the only child there.

Then, a little girl he knows from school, Pamela, comes to the park with her mother.  John Henry is pleased to see her because only another child could understand how magical this night in the park really is.  He calls to her to come run with him, and the two children run off to play in the park together.


The children kick off their shoes and run barefoot in the cool grass.  They lie in the grass for awhile, drink water from a fountain, and have ice sticks (we always called them popsicles when we were kids) from the ice cream man.

John Henry shows Pamela the little white marble he found.  Pamela thinks it’s as beautiful as he does, and John Henry realizes that no adult could understand how beautiful a small, simple thing like that could be, only another child.  That’s what binds John Henry and Pamela together.  As children, they can still appreciate the simple pleasures of life and the beauty and magic of small, ordinary things that adults take for granted, like a small white marble someone forgot in a park or how nice an evening can feel as rain moves in after a hot day.


When it’s time to go home, John Henry gives Pamela the white marble, a memento of this special night.

The pictures in this edition of the book are different from the ones that I remembered from the first time that I read it.  This edition of the book, available through Internet Archive, shows the pictures that I remember.  The pictures in the later edition of the book are black and white, but the ones in the original edition are done in three colors: black, white, and blue.  Of the two, I really prefer the original drawings.  They capture the magic of a lovely night shared with a friend.

Drac and the Gremlin


Drac and the Gremlin by Allan Baillie, pictures by Jane Tanner, 1988.

The great thing about this book is that you really need to look at the pictures in order to get the full story.  If you read the text alone, it sounds like a magical space adventure story, but when you see the pictures, you realize that it all takes place in a girl’s imagination as she and her younger brother play in their backyard.  The book never mentions the children’s names (or directly talks about reality at all).  The girl calls herself “Drac, the Warrior Queen of Tirnol Two”, and her younger brother “the Gremlin of the Groaning Grotto.”


Drac begins by trying to capture the The Gremlin.  She pursues him across the jungles, but when she finally traps him, she receives a message from the White Wizard.  The White Wizard is being attacked by “General Min” (their cat, Minnie) and desperately needs her help!  Drac persuades the Gremlin to help her.


The two of them get into Drac’s “anti-gravity solar-powered planet hopper” and race to the rescue!  They arrive just in time to save the White Wizard in her current form (a moth).


But, they are soon facing another peril: “The Terrible Tongued Dragon” (their dog)!   Drac is almost overcome by the dragon, but the Gremlin saves her just in time!


Their adventure ends at the palace, where the “White Wizard” (their mother) rewards them with “the Twin Crimson Cones of Tirnol Two” (ice cream).


I love the way that the adventure unfolds in the children’s minds and the pictures show what is actually happening to the children, as their mother and everyone else sees them.  The pictures are beautiful and realistic.  The book was originally published in Australia, and I recognize some of the plants from pictures that a friend of mine there has sent me!

Tell Me Some More

Tell Me Some More by Crosby Newell Bonsall, 1961.

I liked this picture book when I was a kid.  It’s one of those books that plays on the power of children’s imaginations.

Two friends, Andrew and Tim, are talking, and Andrew starts to tell Tim about a mysterious “place” he knows about.  Andrew doesn’t say right away what the place is, but he makes some amazing claims about it.

Andrew says that at this place, a person can hold an elephant under his arm and a camel in his hand.  With each new claim, Tim says, “Tell me some more.”

Many of Andrew’s claims involve animals, but he also says that in his place, he can be taller than a tree, that he can pick up a river without getting wet, and that there are all sorts of wonderful things there, like mountains, kings, trucks, and lakes.  Basically, this place has everything.

When Tim says that he doesn’t believe it, Andrew says that he’ll take him there and show him.  The “place” is the public library.  All of the amazing things that Andrew described are in the books.  You can pick up and carry around elephants, camels, and rivers easily when they’re in book form.

As the boys walk home, they talk about the giraffe, elephant, rocket, and steam shovel that they’re bringing home in book form as if they’re really full size.  When they get home, Tim starts talking to his sister, Tansy, like Andrew did to him earlier, introducing her to the library.

The Polar Express


The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, 1985.

One Christmas Eve, a young boy is lying awake in bed when he hears strange sounds.  When he looks out of his window, he is astonished to see a train outside of his house, where there aren’t any train tracks.  He goes outside to investigate, and the train conductor tells him that the train is heading to the North Pole and asks the boy if he wants to come.


The boy (who is never named) believes in Santa Claus even though some of his friends no longer do, and he gets on board the train.  The train is filled with other children, singing Christmas songs, eating candy, and drinking hot cocoa.


After a long trip over mountains and through forests, they arrive at Santa’s city at the North Pole, where they get to take part in a ceremony to give the first gift of Christmas.  Out of all the children from the train, the boy who narrates the story is chosen to receive the first gift.  He can ask for anything he wants for Christmas, but he asks for a bell from Santa’s sleigh as proof of his adventures and Santa’s existence.


When the children get on the train to go back home, the boy seems to have lost the bell because of a hole in his pocket, and he is sad.  However, the bell reappears on Christmas morning as a mysterious extra present under the tree.  The boy’s parents can’t hear the bell ring, and they think it’s broken, but the boy and his sister, Sarah, can hear it.  The boy says when he and his sister grew up, Sarah eventually reached the point where she could no longer hear the bell, but he still can because only people who believe in Santa can hear the bells on his sleigh.


The book is a Caldecott Medal winner, and it has become a Christmas classic!  Some places that have trains hold special Polar Express train rides where they decorate the trains with Christmas decorations and try to re-create the ride from the book.  There is also a movie version of the book, although the story in the movie includes incidents which weren’t in the book to make the movie longer and more dramatic.  The original story was very calm and low-key, although still magical, the kind of thing that you could easily read to a child in bed on Christmas Eve.

Thomas’ Snowsuit


Thomas’ Snowsuit by Robert Munsch, 1985.

Thomas absolutely hates the new snowsuit that his mother bought him.  He thinks it’s ugly.  When it’s time for him to go to school, his mother has to wrestle him into it because he refuses to put it on himself.


That’s fine until it’s time for Thomas to once again put on his snowsuit so he can go outside for recess.  His teacher insists that he has to wear it, but he refuses.  When the teacher tries to wrestle Thomas into his snowsuit, the results are hilarious!


Thomas and his teacher end up getting their clothes all mixed up.  When the school’s principal tries to help, it only makes things worse.


Finally, Thomas is persuaded to put on his snowsuit when a friend of his wants him to come out and play.


Thomas eventually helps set the teacher and principal right again after recess, and the principal decides that it’s time to retire to Arizona, so he won’t have to deal with snowsuits again.


Like all Munsch books, the storyline is bizarre and hilarious, and half the fun is watching it unfold in the pictures!

Murmel, Murmel, Murmel


Murmel, Murmel, Murmel by Robert Munsch, 1982.

Robin is playing in her backyard sandbox when she hears a “Murmel, Murmel, Murmel” sound from a hole that she has never seen before. In the hole, Robin finds a baby. Since Robin herself is only five years old, she decides that she needs to find someone older to take care of the baby.

Robin asks various people, but they all have reasons why they can’t take the baby. Then, Robin encounters a truck driver who is enchanted with the baby’s “Murmel, Murmel, Murmel” and says that he wants him.

The story never explains where the baby came from, how he ended up in Robin’s sandbox, or if his parents are looking for him, but apparently, he’s happy with the truck driver. As for the truck driver’s truck, he says that Robin can keep it because he already has seventeen others. Robert Munsch books are like this. That’s basically the explanation.


Something Good


Something Good by Robert Munsch, 1990.

Tyya begs her father to buy “something good” at the grocery store. Tyya would much rather have him get something like ice cream and cookies instead of boring things like bread and eggs, which is what he usually gets.

However, when she tries to get whole cartloads of ice cream and candy bars, her father makes her put it all back. Tired of her messing around, Tyya’s frazzled father tells her to just stand in one place and not move. Unfortunately, he tells her that near a display of large dolls. Because she doesn’t move, a store employee mistakes Tyya for a doll and puts her on the shelf with the others, giving her a price tag of $29.95.

Some people try to buy Tyya, but she yells at them, scaring them away. Tyya’s father comes to get her, but he has trouble taking her out of the store because she still has a price tag on her, and the man at the register insists that her father has to pay for her.

In real life, no grocery store would try to sell a child, and it would be a crime if they did. However, because this is a Robert Munsch story (where all kinds of crazy things happen), Tyya’s father finally pays the $29.95 because she’s worth it, and Tyya says that her father finally bought something good at the grocery store.  Sort of touching, in an odd kind of way, I guess.

One of the benefits of this story is that it has a lot of potential for reading aloud because the reader can really play up the parts where the characters yell.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

Moira’s Birthday


Moira’s Birthday by Robert Munsch, 1987.

Moira wants to have a birthday party and to invite every kid in her school, from kindergarten to sixth grade. Her parents say that she can have only six party guests total, not six grades’ worth. However, so many kids at school want to come to her party that she ends up inviting the whole school anyway.

When every kid in school shows up on the day of the party, Moira’s parents are bowled over. There are so many kids that they hardly fit in the house. Moira calls up a pizza place, asking for an enormous amount of pizza, and a bakery, asking for an enormous amount of birthday cakes. The kids also help out by supplying their own food from home.

Naturally, Moira’s house is a mess, and her parents are upset, but Moira, seeing the enormous pile of birthday presents that everyone brought, promises a present to everyone who helps to clean up.

But, just when everything seems to have worked out all right, the trucks from the bakery and pizza place show up with the rest of Moira’s order.

This House is Made of Mud


This House is Made of Mud by Ken Buchanan, illustrated by Libba Tracy, 1991, 1994.

The edition of this book that I have is the bilingual edition with English and Spanish.  Originally, the book was written in just English. I like to use kids’ books for Spanish practice, which is why I like this one.  It’s a Reading Rainbow Book.

The story is written in a poetical form (non-rhyming), describing an adobe house, which is why it’s made of “mud.”  It’s a traditional way of building houses in the American Southwest, where I’m from.


As the book describes the house, it compares it to the land around it and the world in general.  Like the Earth, the house is round, which is how some Native Americans build their houses.


Aside from the people who live there, animals also share the house, from the family pets to bugs and mice who live in the walls and under the floor.


Their yard is the desert, surrounded by mountains and full of cactus.


The people who live there have many friends who come to visit, and it is a house full of love.


Monster Slayer


Monster Slayer retold by Vee Browne, illustrated by Baje Whitethorne, 1991.

This is a retelling of a Navajo folktale.  An Editor’s Note at the beginning of the book explains a little about the original legend.  It is actually part of a much longer story.  The book only focuses on the Walking Giant part.  The Walking Giant threatened the villages of the Anasazi.  The author and illustrator of this book are both Navajo.

Changing Woman, who created both humans and monsters, had twin sons, but they did not know who their father was until they were twelve years old, when their mother told them that their father was the Sun.


The twins went to see their father, but they were returned to Earth to help their people to fight the monsters which plagued the land.  The monsters prevented the Anasazi from planting their crops, and people were starving.  The people appealed to Changing Woman and her sons for help.  The twins’ father gave them his lightning arrows to use in the fight.


Hearing the sound of thundering footsteps, Changing Woman told her sons that it was the sound of the Walking Giant.  The twins took their armor, sacred magic feathers, and lightning arrows and set out to find the giant.  Eventually, they found him by a lake.  The twins hid behind a rock, but the giant could smell them.


As the fight began, the twins let the giant shoot the first arrow at them because their father told them to, since Walking Giant was older that they were.  However, their magic feathers helped them to evade the giant’s boomerang.  Then, one of the twins used a lightning arrow to finish off the Walking Giant.  To commemorate their victory, Changing Woman named this twin Monster Slayer.  (The other boy was already named Child Born of Water.)


This story is interesting but felt a little disjointed to me. That may be because it is a shortened version of the legend.  I kind of wish that the beginning note explained a little more about the context of the story.  This book won the Best Juvenile Book Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.