Monthly Archives: May 2013

Winning Numbers: Two Books About Math to Love (Seriously)

Maybe you’ve never been a “math person.” Maybe you only recently learned that googolplex is not the name of the Google cafeteria. Maybe when you’re out to lunch with friends you sit quietly when the check comes, hoping someone else will calculate how much you owe. But that doesn’t mean your six-year-old isn’t fascinated by numbers.

How Much is a Million by David M. Schwartz, illustrated by Steven Kellogg

“If a goldfish bowl were big enough for a million goldfish … it would be large enough to hold a whale.” – How Much is a Million?

At the beginning of kindergarten I bought my son How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz, originally published in 1985. The book is considered a classic — you see it now with a 20th Anniversary Edition banner — but it didn’t exist when I was in elementary school. Though this is a book I thought L. would tolerate at best, he was captivated from the first reading. Schwartz manages to put numbers like million, billion and trillion in concrete terms that speak to five, six and seven year-olds perfectly. For instance: A million Continue reading

Tomi Ungerer: The Menswear Collection

We were re-reading Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers (1963) the other day. I never get tired of the story’s sinister fairytale feel; the color palette of black and midnight blue; or Ungerer’s use of the word “blunderbuss.”

p5But I realized something new this time around. Those voluminous cloaks and bell-shaped hats are very Yohji Yamamoto.

Yohji Yamamoto Fall-Winter 2012

Discovered: The Meat Pie from Danny, Champion of the World!

Roald Dahl understood the power of food, and not just of the purely sugary sort (i.e. chocolate churned by waterfall, edible blades of grass, Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delights). The whole plot of The Fantastic Mr. Fox basically builds up to the magnificent subterranean feast of chickens, ducks, smoked hams and bacon. In the BFG, the “disgusterous” snozzcumbers — filthing, coarse, knobbly and tasting of frogskins — are so vividy described you can practically smell their fishy stench. And in Matilda, when Miss Honey serves Matilda tea, brown bread and margarine on an upturned box, that does it; the two are bonded for life.

meat-pie-dannyIn all of Dahl’s books, the food moment that made its biggest impression on me comes in chapter 10 of Danny the Champion of the World. After a long and harrowing night involving a rescue of his father from a pit surrounded by armed guards, a kind local doctor gives Danny a package wrapped in wax paper.

I began to unwrap the waxed paper from around the doctor’s present, and when I had finished, I saw before me the most enormous and beautiful pie in the world. It was covered all over, top, sides, and bottom, with rich golden pastry. I took a knife from beside the sink and cut out a wedge. I started to eat it in my fingers, standing up. It was a cold meat pie. The meat was pink and tender with no fat or gristle in it, and there were hard-boiled eggs buried like treasures in several different places. The taste was absolutely fabulous. When I had finished the first slide I cut another and ate that, too. God bless Doctor Spencer, I thought.”

A cold meat pie — with hard-boiled eggs inside, buried like treasures! The image haunts me to this day, even though I realize that it probably sat in your stomach like a giant brick of Spam. Continue reading

A Dream Vacation a la Roald Dahl

Fjord_OsloI have to admit, it was Hugh Jackman who turned me on to what has become my favorite Roald Dahl book. A few years ago Jackman told InStyle (where I was working at the time) that he was so taken with Dahl’s 1984 memoir Boy: Tales of Childhood and the description of the Norwegian islands where Dahl spent summers as a youth that he was planning a vacation there with his own children. (See the page here.)

boycover1 I eventually got hold of the memoir and all I have to say is: Hugh, I’ve never quite understood your appeal, I don’t care about X-Men, and you could not pay me to sit through Les Mis — but you are so on the money about Boy! The book covers Dahl’s years from ages 7 to 20, much of it focusing on his terrifying experiences at English boarding schools. The book is hilarious, dark and poetic all at once.

S & L were practically screaming with excitement when I read them the parts about Dahl’s boyhood pranks (one involving a dead mouse and a candy shop owner) and the whippings he endured at the hands of his school’s headmaster. But like my friend Hugh, the chapter of Boy I love best is “The Magic Island,” in which Dahl describes the summers he, his Norwegian mother and his five siblings Continue reading

Out-of-Print Gem: Happy Mother’s Day (1985)

If you can find a copy, this is a genius book to share with your family — the kids as well as their father — in advance of the hallowed day. Because author Steven Kroll seems to understand what mothers crave on this occasion.happymothersday-flowersNo, not flowers. Though they are a nice touch. And no, not even jewelry (although I do not think a pair of Ted Muehling earrings would be too much to ask for). What a beleaguered mom really wants on Mother’s Day is for the family to HELP AROUND THE GODDAMN HOUSE WITHOUT HER HAVING TO NAG EVERYBODY. In the story, the mother arrives home to find a series of handwritten notes from her six children, each accompanied by a welcome surprise: a tidied-up room, a mended curtain, a swept fireplace.happymotherday-bedshappymothersday-curtainThe father has even gotten the baby into his crib, pajamas and all. Interestingly enough, he Continue reading