Author Archives: Mrs. Little

About Mrs. Little

I’ve worked in magazines for nearly 20 years, editing and writing stories about fashion, art, design, beauty, food, celebrities and society for Vogue, W, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle and Allure. But at the end of the day what do I really want to read? Stuart Little, Harriet the Spy, Danny the Champion of the World, The 21 Balloons, and The Pushcart War. Oh, and I want to live at the House on East 88th Street.

Best Baby Gift for Food Lovers: the Cook in a Book series by Lotta Nieminen

I’m obsessed with food, I’m obsessed with children’s books and I’m obsessed with food in children’s books. (See earlier posts on this here.)

Last year, Phaidon released the ingenious board book Cook in a Book: Pancakes! by Lotta Nieminen.

In terms of interactivity, it’s Pat the Bunny x 10. On each page, kids can emulate the steps of a real recipe for pancakes.

Pull a sliding tab and white flour seems to pour from a measuring cup; spin a dial on the side of a bowl and liquid and dry ingredients magically blend into a batter. I showed this book to a three-year-old and he was ENTHRALLED, demanding an immediate re-read, and then another. 

Earlier this year, Niemann, a Finnish-born graphic designer and illustrator whose chic client list includes Hermes, Marimekko and Liberty of London, published her equally genius follow-up, Cook in a Book: Pizza! which includes a satisfyingly squishy plastic-covered clump of “dough” for kids to knead.

Check out this video demonstration below (she gets to the dough at 3:27).

Live Illustration: Graphic Designer Lotta Nieminen

Lotta Nieminen is a graphic designer and illustrator whose interactive children's board books have won a cult following. She joins us to demonstrate the drawing and paper engineering techniques she uses in books like those of her cook-in-a-book series, "Pancakes!" "Pizza!" and "Tacos!" Leave your questions, and The Times's Maria Russo will ask some.

Posted by The New York Times Books on Tuesday, June 27, 2017

 

Now Phaidon has published a third in the series. Tacos. Normally, I’d think: Enough Already!  But this one is just as irresistible. Nieminen keeps coming up with new “paper engineering” ideas to keep the series fresh.

This time, kids can chop scallions, slice radishes, and mince cilantro with a little cardboard knife and a slide tab that appears to transform the veggies into neat little segments — you gotta try it to believe it. Also, the tortilla pops out and folds in half.

I am in love with these books. They are the EZ-Bake oven of board books. And best of all, there’s no mess.

Complicated crushes, sibling rivalry, poverty, family secrets, adoption, bisexuality, racial profiling and the up side of boredom…

I reviewed five new YA novels for the NYT Book Review this week: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erica L. Sanchez,  Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, and Nothing by Annie Barrows. Check it out HERE.

 

 

Mean Girls of 1974: Thoughts running through my head while reading Judy Blume’s Blubber for the first time

 

I’m not sure why I never read Blubber when I was a kid. But the other night I finally picked it up and yow. While I can’t say it’s an enjoyable 153 pages, it’s brilliant and fascinating on multiple levels, from the details of everyday suburban life in the 1970s to the jaw-dropping brutality of the fifth-graders at the center of the story. The novel is definitely worth a read, if only to remind yourself that while many aspects of childhood have changed (these kids have an unsupervised lunch period at school, for instance, giving them the perfect opportunity to torture Linda) other things remain the same: Nice fifth grade girls from nice families can seem totally normal while being secretly sadistic torturers. It is psychologically dead-on.

I don’t usually mark up my books, but I did it this time because 1) I knew I was never going to read Blubber again and 2) It’s the kind of book where you find yourself muttering out loud. Circling sentences and scribbling things like “Holy Shit!” on the newsprint-soft pages of an old paperback with an Uni-Ball pen can be oddly satisfying.

Tracy Wu!

Tracy Wu, Jill’s best friend, is depicted as utterly unexotic. Daughter of local physician Dr. Wu (naturally), Tracy collects stamps, eats hot dogs and lives in fear of getting on bully Wendy’s bad side — just like Jill. For a book written in the 1970s, this is totally refreshing.

It’s only much later in the novel that Tracy gets called a “chink.” Because it seems to come out of the blue, it seems that much uglier. Very effective.

The ubiquitous bum costume

A lot of kids show up at school on Halloween dressed up like the homeless “bums,” complete with smudgy faces and bundled-up bandanas tied onto sticks. In fact, the hobo costume is so common among her peers that Jill deems it “nothing original.”

I remember dressing as a bum too. It was a very easy costume to pull off. Sometimes I’d just dress up like a bum for fun, even when it wasn’t Halloween.**

Young kids, sharp knives

Jill and her little brother (I think he’s nine) carve their own pumpkins every year.  The jack o’lanterns usually turn out somewhat lopsided but nobody loses a finger and it is NBD.In my own household, this was the first year I let my 13-year-old carve our pumpkin all by herself. For this, I felt like I deserved a “daredevil mom of the year” award.

Jill is no bookworm.

If you ask me, there are WAY too many middle-grade books featuring earnest, deeply bookish protagonists who serve as stand-ins for the authors’ younger selves. For most kids, It’s impossible to relate to these nerds.

Blubber‘s Jill, on the other hand, is an all-around mediocre student who gets Cs in social studies and struggles in math. It’s the mean girls, Wendy and Caroline, who are the star students.

Who’s afraid of fifth grade girls?  Me.

Chapter 11 is when the torturing of Linda goes from nasty to horrific. The girls make Linda recite “I am Blubber, the smelly whale of class 206” before they allow her to get a sip of water, use the bathroom, eat lunch or get on the bus. Bullying becomes a group activity the girls look forward to because it makes school life less “boring” for everyone. Blume lays bare the ugly truth that for some kids, sadism can be fun.As a desperate survival tactic Linda even starts to volunteer these words before anyone makes her, in the hopes of appeasing her tormentors. This sounds like something straight out of a Maoist re-education camp.

And nobody gets expelled?!

Just when you think it can’t get worse, shit gets even more twisted. The girls hold Linda down and force her to show the boys her underpants.

Then the girls pinch Linda’s nose closed and force-feed her a piece of candy that they tell her is a chocolate-covered ant. Wendy keeps her hand over Linda’s mouth “so she couldn’t spit anything out.”  Linda gags and vomits.

She is going to need years of therapy but these girls don’t even get detention.

Where are the adults? Ha!

Blume wrote Blubber years before Columbine, National Bullying Prevention Month, the movie Heathers or helicopter parenting. The adults in the book are absent, useless and blissfully oblivious to Wendy’s well-supported reign of terror. Although at one point it’s pretty clear that Linda has told her mother something about being picked on (she starts getting driven to school to avoid the bus) we never actually see her mom and the woman never raises a stink.

At one point halfway through the novel, Jill does bring up the situation with her mother in a roundabout way, telling her that there’s a girl who “lets everybody walk all over her.” Her mother says exactly what you’d expect: “You should try putting yourself in her place.” To which Jill responds exactly the way you’d expect: She ignores it.

These days schools spend a lot of effort cooking up anti-bullying programs and kindness curriculums. But I can’t help but think that preaching this stuff to kids can be a waste of time.  The advice goes in one ear and out the other, and the next thing you know some poor kid is getting a chocolate-covered ant shoved in her mouth. I desperately want to believe in the recent studies suggesting that people gain empathy through reading fiction. As a book lover, I’m surely biased, but it makes sense to me. Reading Blubber, Wonder or The Hundred Dresses has got to be more effective than telling kids to “try putting themselves in other people’s shoes.” I think Judy Blume, at least, would agree.

What do you think?

**As a reward for those of you who actually read to the end of this post, please enjoy this 1979 photo of me in my “bum costume.” 

Have You Seen Ryan Gosling’s Tattoo?

This is not news —it was just news to me.

Ryan Gosling has a tattoo of The Giving Tree on his left arm.

After some intense googling, all I could find by way of explanation is an interview in Metro.co,uk where he says that his mother used to read the book to him and his sister when they were kids and this 2010 interview with Vulture, where we get the (false) impression that it’s a faux tattoo, for his role in Blue Valentine:

And your character has a tattoo of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree on his arm? That book is so fucked up; that story’s the worst. I mean, at the end the tree is a stump and the old guy just sitting on him; he’s just used him to death, and you’re supposed to want to be the tree? Fuck you. You be the tree. I don’t want to be the tree.

He says the story is “the worst.” So what gives????

At any rate, this little segment Jimmy Kimmel did on the book a couple years ago is priceless:

On Emily Arnold McCully, dueling grandmas and Mirette

On Sunday, my mother-in-law took my lucky children to see Hamilton. This give me the chance to check out the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival, an annual event in nearby Chappaqua, NY, which gathers local authors for a day of readings and signings. This year there were nearly 90 authors and illustrators, as well as food trucks, face painters, and people dressed in full-body costumes of Elephant, Piggie and Clifford. When I got there Victoria Kann (Pinkalicious and its 37 sequels) was sitting in a prime position at her very own table at the center of the lawn. She was wearing a sparkly sequined cardigan and the line to meet her was at least 40 families long.

But the author I was most excited to meet was Emily Arnold McCully.

She’s been illustrating books since the ’60s and to date she’s written or illustrated nearly one hundred titles, including the Caldecott-winning Mirette on the High Wire (1992). My husband adores Mirette and when he used to read it to our kids he always wondered aloud why it hadn’t been made into a movie (more on this later). My own personal favorite Emily Arnold McCully book is a funny little “I Can Read” title from 1998 called The Grandma Mix-up

It’s about a girl named Pip whose parents go away for the weekend, leaving her with her two grandmothers. Grandma Sal is a fun, relaxed, let-them-eat-cake-and-watch TV type of grandma. Grandma Nan, on the other hand, is a rule-bound, type A grandma with a penchant for schedules and vegetables. The grandmothers take opposite stances on everything, making Pip miserable. But by the end, Pip saves the day: she stands up to her dueling grandmothers and insists that they compromise. The book is a lesson in moderation.

The illustrations add a fascinating, if unspoken, layer. Fun grandma may be sweet and lovable, but as drawn by McCully she’s also kind of fat and dumpy. She looks like someone who watches a lot of daytime TV. Strict grandma, meanwhile, looks like Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz — all sharp angles and disapproving scowls. But she also comes across as smart and high functioning. She’s the kind of grandma whose car is plastered with decals from Ivy League schools.

The interesting thing about the book is that Pip doesn’t actually prefer fun grandma over strict grandma, as most kids probably would. “Grandma Nan is too hard, and Grandma Sal is too easy,” she writes in a secret letter to her parents.

I have my own takeaway from this book, which is that I feel sorry for strict grandma. She probably loves Pip just as much as fun grandma does and she’s just doing what she thinks is best for the child. She can’t help it if she’s a born task master — sort of like my own mother.

My kids are fortunate to have two devoted grandmothers, both actively involved in their lives. But my husband’s mother is most definitely the fun one (think: Hamilton tickets) and my own mother, bless her heart, is the not-as-fun-one. (To be absolutely clear here, neither are dumb or dumpy.) I know that my mom would love to be the fun one, if she could be. But just like Grandma Nan, she can’t help her essential nature, which is to buy educational gifts and say “no.”

She’s a tiger mother and, well, I guess I can relate.

** P.S. Emily told me that Mirette on the High Wire, which has been optioned three times, is finally being made into a film. London director Helen O’Hanlon is in post-production on the short film, Mirette, which stars a talented young unknown actress named Dixie Egerickx in the title role. With any luck we’ll be able to see it streaming somewhere next year. You can check out the movie’s website here.

Actress Dixie Egerickx plays Mirette

 

Harriet’s Bullying Solution Method?

If you look for the Japanese translation of Harriet the Spy you can find this treasure:

 

And if you put the title (スパイになりたいハリエットのいじめ解決法) through Google Translate, it results in some curious gobbledygook: HARRIET’S BULLYING SOLUTION METHOD WANTING TO BE A SPY. A crude, not to mention gramatically problematic translation, to be sure. But it does me wonder how it’s really translated and what it says about the Japanese publisher’s interpretation of the novel. Anyone out there able to shed some light?

It’s surely not as straightforward as the Italian translation:

Or the German translation:

Or the French translation:

 

Summer Sanity Savers

Otherwise known as activity books! You know, the books with doodling pages, stickers, word scrambles, puzzles and other old-fashioned distractions? These things used to feel like throwaways, printed on the cheapest paper. But now publishers are putting out some very sophisticated, beautifully designed activity books, some of which are tempting enough to get kids to put down their iPads.

I corralled a bunch of local kids to figure out which were the best.  Here’s my roundup in the NYT Book Review.

 

Louise Fitzhugh’s Lovable Little Hipster: Suzuki Beane

If you are a fan of Louise Fitzhugh and Kay Thompson  —and you have an extra hundred bucks lying around— you can find rare copies of this 1961 book, The Wonderful Adventures of Suzuki Beane by Sandra Scoppettone. A beatnik take on Eloise, it tells the story of a naughty little hipster who lives on Bleecker Street with Hugh, her Beat poet father, and Marcia, her spaced-out sculptor mother. The distinctively grotesque and scratchy looking illustrations (by Louise Fitzhugh) look straight out of Harriet the Spy.

I was hoping I could find a copy of it through the library, but no luck. Fortunately, you can read the whole thing here on Scribd.

Also, there’s this amazing 1962 pilot for a TV show (never made) based on Suzuki Beane. Totally worth watching:

 

A Book About a Hapa Baby? I’m In!

I was VERY excited to come across this book, and not just because it’s by Patricia MacLachlan (of Sarah, Plain and Tall fame). It’s just that you don’t often come across a book for kids featuring a mixed-race white and Asian family. Which seems nuts when you think about it because there are so damn many of us these days, and, well, we love books.

Of course, You Were the First  isn’t explicitly about being a multiracial child of Asian or Pacific Islander descent (feel free to use the term hapa). The book, with lovely illustrations by Stephanie Graegin, is a prose poem that parents of any color can read aloud to help prepare their toddler for a baby on the way. It reminds the kid that they were the first to crawl, the first to sing, the “first to lift your head, to look at the trees and flowers and sky.” Underlying message: “Be nice to the new baby! She’s got nothin on you!”

There’s no plot here. It’s one of those sweet, sing-songy, soothing books that don’t need a plot. I love that it exists. Even if the publisher missed out on titling the book “You’re No Second Banana.”  Ha ha.

The grandmother in this illustration is secretly debating whether the baby looks white or Asian. The mother in the picture knows exactly what her mother is thinking.

I’ve recently started a new project on Instagram devoted to hapa culture. Feel free to check it out @generationhapa