The Spooky Old Tree

As many of you know, Hot Pink Heather and I had a daughter last year. She is now 1 year old, which I figured was old enough for one of the favorite books from my youth: The Berenstain Bears’ The Spooky Old Tree.

Sure, it’s a little scary and might scar her for life, but that was a small price to pay to share this bit of nostalgia with my offspring. I can’t remember where I read The Spooky Old Tree. I seem to remember it being the school library, but that seems unlikely as it is too young a book for my library memories. But I do remember reading it. And not only did I love it because it was age-appropriate spooky (being about a Scooby-Doo on the spooky scale), but I loved it because the artwork suggested a large structure with lots of areas to explore. As you probably know, I always loved it when something could be contained in something else (the NES games in the NES, the Strolling Bowling ball in the bowling alley). Well, I also loved pictures that showed large castles or dungeons with lots of nooks and crannies. And The Spooky Old Tree had that in the titular tree, as you can see from this picture:

In fact, The Spooky Old Tree really goes above and beyond by having a logical arrangement to the tree. You can see that in the picture as well. As you see in the early pages of the book, the bear cubs went in through the hollow branch hole and slid down. The next area they came across was the rickety old stair with the crocodiles, which is at the bottom of the above picture, right where it should be if the slid down after entering. Then the call to the hall with the suits of armor. It must be behind what we see in this picture. Then they come upon the great bear, and the rest you can see for yourself. So it was a completely logical arrangement, which just makes it even cooler.

Now I remembered all that, probably because I stared at it for hours as a kid. What I didn’t remember is that the tree had a face. See the nose (which is how the bears get in) and the eyes?

What I realized as I was reading this to my daughter is that this face looks very familiar.

Yeah, it’s the entrance to Dungeon 1 in The Legend of Zelda. No wonder I knew to go into that tree as soon as I saw it. I had been trained by the Berenstain Bears!

It was a lot of fun reading this book with my daughter today. I hope she comes to love it as much as I did when I was young. And if she doesn’t, well, then I hope it scares her real bad!

Eerie Series Ghosts

After rediscovering Seymour Simon’s Space Monsters book, I wanted to track down the rest of the Eerie Series. That lead me to this one:

The simply named Ghosts is a very different book from Space Monsters. While Space Monsters focused on creatures from movies and TV shows, Ghosts focuses on specters from folklore. Simon records a lot of standard tales about haunted houses and ships and graveyards. One of the best stories is about the Nameless Horror of Berkeley Square, a Lovecraftian ghost that crawled out of the sewers in London to literally scare people to death. There are also poltergeists, ghost dogs, and various other apparitions in the book. There is even a photo of one such apparition, the Brown Lady of Rayhnam Hall.

And there are more pictures in the book than that. In addition to a few other photos and wood carvings, there are also several pieces of original artwork by Stephen Gammell, such as this one:

If the style looks familiar, it should. Gammell was also the artist of the Scary Stories series.

I honestly don’t remember if I read this book as a kid. There is nothing specific about it that I can remember as there was with Space Monsters. But it is a possibility. It is certainly the kind of thing I liked to read back then. And though it’s a little below my current reading level, it’s still the kind of thing I like to read today.

Weird Al Has A Children’s Book!

A mega thanks to CNN for the heads up and excerpt concerning Weird Al’s children’s book, When I Grow Up, that hit store shelves today. Make sure to follow the link above to read the whole interview. As soon as I can break free of the ice and snow that has descended on my neck of the woods I am heading to my local Barnes and Noble and snagging a copy!

“”As my father used to tell me, the only true sign of success in life is being able to do for a living that which makes you happy,” Yankovic said. And what made him happy turned out to be a career that, Yankovic admits, no one in his family ever thought would go in the direction it has.

“One of the reasons I was inspired to write this book was because my career path was sort of circuitous,” he said. “I went to college and got a degree in architecture, because when I was 12 years old I had a guidance counselor talk me out of my dream of being a cartoonist for MAD Magazine.”

“He said, ‘Oh there’s no future in comics, you’re not going to make a living doing that.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re good at drafting, you’re good at math, you’re creative, why don’t you be an architect?’ So I decided, OK, I’m going to be an adult, I’m going to grow up, and this is what I’m going to do for a living.”

After three years at architecture school, Yankovic said, he realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do. With the support of parents who weren’t interested in pushing him into any specific career, but rather just “really wanted me to be happy,” Yankovic took a chance on his passion.”

With the help of Youtube and Harperkids we also have a video below with Al reading some excerpts from his book, illustrations done by Wes Hargis.

Five Greatest Children’s Books of the 1970s

Here are what I consider the 5 greatest children’s books that were published in the 1970s. All of them were special to me as a kid and to some extent contributed to who I am. What would your list be?

5. The Sweet Smell of Christmas

Scratch and Sniff! Now can you think of a better way to capture the visceral feel of X-mas then the smell of pine, mint and ginger? Patricia M. Scarry was the genius behind this holiday classic and I say genius, not just because a book that smells like Christmas is a great idea, but also because the smell fades over time, ensuring resales. If I could only make this blog Scratch-N-Sniff.

Search for the Sweet Smell of Christmas on Amazon

4. Grandpa’s Ghost Stories

This difficult to find horror-themed book by James Flora, is a 32 page masterpiece filled with ghosts and ghouls, that is perfect for the little haunter in all of us. I would read this book almost every night leading up to Halloween and of course I would think that I saw ghosts everywhere I went. It is the perfect way to show kids that things that go bump in the night aren’t all that scary.

Search for Grandpa’s Ghost Stories on Amazon

3. Me and My Flying Machine

A kid who builds his own plane and flies from adventure to adventure, winning races and helping people really appealed to me as a kid, but the message in the book goes way beyond “use your imagination”. At the end, the kid takes his flying machine out for a spin and it does not fly, instead it falls apart. He doesn’t get angry or frustrated, he decides tomorrow will be a good day to try building a boat. So if your dreams don’t work out how you hoped that doesn’t mean you should give up. Good stuff!

Search for Me and My Flying Machine on Amazon

2. Watch Out! A Giant!

This wonderfully illustrated book by Eric Carle, who also wrote the classic “Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me”, has been described as scary by some. I found the tension of kids being chased by a giant to be wonderful as a kid. The ending made for a fun twist that was a “relief” (it’s imagination of course) and the colorful artwork kept me coming back for more time and again.

Search for Watch Out! A Giant! on Amazon

1. You Will Go to the Moon

This out-of-print masterpiece by Mae and Ira Freeman challenges a child’s mind with basic science and opens them up to the idea of space exploration. This is the book that taught me that not only is it important that we understand the universe, but that one day those dazzling points of light might be within my reach. I am still waiting to reach the stars, but would have given up a long time ago if it weren’t for “You Will Go to the Moon”.

Search for “You Will Go to the Moon” on Amazon