1. Olivia Goes to Venice, by Ian Falconer. The Olivia books are, *makes kissing motion with fingers.* I love them. The drawings are fantastic, the narratives are reliably unpredictable, and at the end, Olivia always falls asleep (and sometimes dreams of the Supreme Court?). As soon as I saw that everyone’s favorite determined pig was off to Italy for a family vacation, I was IN. These are my desert-island children’s books. Ros is into them too!
In this little ditty, Olivia’s whole family goes to Venice for spring vacation. On the plane, her mother informs her that you can get pizza and gelato everywhere in Venice (fact!). Olivia falls in love with the place, completely and unselfconsciously, which is what I love about Olivia. When she is into something, she commits 100%, and while that does get her into trouble occasionally, she will never change. Olivia actually seems to be the one in charge the entire time, as is usually the case in the Olivia stories. She books the gondola ride, she declares when it is time to get another gelato, and everyone just falls into line. I get why Ros likes her. Anyway, when Olivia decides that she must have a souvenir from Venice (“Perfume? No…she’s planning on starting her own line.”), she eventually settles upon plucking an actual stone from the bell tower in Piazza San Marco. As her family realizes they have to hit the road if they’re going to make their flight home, the bell tower actually crumbles to dust behind them as they walk away. They leave Venice in a pile of rubble. “‘Mommy, I’ll always remember Venice. Do you think Venice will remember me?’ ‘Probably!” And in the next frame, Olivia board the plane and – yep – falls asleep. What the hell??? Are we meant to believe that this actually happened? Or is it just an extended fantasy of Olivia’s, like the scene with the shattering glass in the language lab in The Breakfast Club? I don’t know, but what a weird and fascinating book either way!
2. Wet and Dry, by Erica Donner, an installment in the “opposites” series. Paint can be wet, and paint can be dry! (and if you’re lucky, you get to watch it dry!) A dog can be wet, and a dog can be dry! This particular dog, though, Ros insists is actually a cat. In fact, when I read the printed words on the page (which are as I just quoted), she snatches the book from me and superciliously corrects me: “A cat can be wet, and a cat can be dry.” And then she allows me to continue. The book takes roughly 70 seconds to read, and it often leads to some interesting conversations. What else can be wet, and what else can be dry? Much to unpack. Whatever it lacks in nuance, it makes up for in brevity.
3. Let’s Go ABC! Things That Go, from A to Z, by Rhonda Gowler Greene, illustrated by Daniel Kirk. I bet you already know what this one is about – there are 26 letters in the alphabet, and there is some sort of mode of transportation that begins with each one! Sometimes we have to reach – as in Narrowboat or eXpress train, but we’ll find a way to make it rhyme.
Sorry, I fell asleep writing that last sentence. It’s cool, we only read this book every night while Ros is trying to poop. It’s on the list of titles going stealthily back to the library someday soon.
4. The Amulet and the Amethyst, written by Catherine Hapka, based on an episode by Matt Boren, presumably adapted from an episode of Disney’s TV show “Sofia The First,” which takes place in the realm of…Enchancia. Okay. In theory, I have nothing against princesses or princess stories – I was pretty into Ariel and Belle, myself, as a little kid. HOWEVER, THIS BOOK SUCKS, and I am going to criticize it and make fun of it a little, and my remarks are not going to be suitable for children. Okay, here we go: Sofia and her friends Ruby and Jade are all hanging out hoping to be the Chosen One to sing the Enchancian anthem at the Harvest Festival. Do you think there might be some conflict brewing? Guess what: Sofia is chosen! Do you think that might have anything to do with the fact that she is the princess of the realm? Was that fair? Whatever – her friends are happy for her! They’re probably used to this. Sofia is then rushed off to rehearse the song, get her picture painted (by the Painterazzi! get it?), be interviewed, and receive tons of gifts and admiration. Her friends, meanwhile, are waiting for her this whole time (my ladies, you had nothing better to do?) and Sofia feels bad! But not, like, that bad, because she has had SUCH a cool day! And she apparently doesn’t notice that her friends aren’t happy listening to her brag! But, oh no, now she is cursed with a croaky singing voice – what to do? The rest of the book – 15 more pages – is all about how Sofia desperately tries to figure out how to make her voice pretty again. Quick, apologize to the friends! Nope, still croaking. So ultimately she gets onstage to sing the Enchancian anthem, but because she’s so generous (and totally not because she is physically unable to sing and needs to save face) she invites her friends to come up and sing the song. As soon as she does that, the curse is lifted, she gets her voice back, and her friends are like, hey, sing with us! We don’t question any of your motives at all!
I think kids are supposed to read this book and reflect on the importance of being a good friend. But really, this is all about what Sofia wants for Sofia; there is no reflection at all on her friends’ feelings. She apologizes to them as a means to solving her problem. When it doesn’t, she invites them to sing onstage because she is covering her croaky ass. And as it turns out, that ‘gesture’ is enough to satisfy whatever arbitrary curse policy rules the realm of Enchancia, and voilà, she gets to sing and be the center of attention again – literally, the last frame is of the three of them singing, Sofia right in the middle wearing all her jewels, ever The Princess. If anything, she just got herself a couple of backup singers who are still willing to let her hog the spotlight. Also, this book is way too goddamn long. Can I please hide it and pretend I have no idea what Ros is talking about when she asks where it is?
Good thing Ros doesn’t care at all whether I like a book or not - and yes, that really is a good thing! My powers of suggestibility are rapidly dwindling, and my authority to veto exists only if I want to fight for it, which at bedtime, I don’t. She doesn’t get a lot of choices, so I respect that she wants to exercise as much control in this arena as she can get her hands on. Still, I hope we run into better princess books somewhere down the line.