Nate the Great

A few weeks ago, I posted some illustrations from Harry the Dirty Dog that utterly charmed me. Today, I’d like to share another lovely retro find: Nate the Great, written by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and illustrated by Marc Simont.

Nate the Great

I’m pretty sure I read this series as a kid, but I didn’t remember anything about it. So when I started reading the first book recently, I was shocked by how much wit and voice Sharmat had managed to pack into a second-grade vocabulary.

I’ve always toyed with the idea of writing a children’s book some day, but I’d never been interested in writing “easy readers.” As an adult, I’d long considered that stage to be the dark ages of childhood reading, when one’s inability to read more advanced books barred access to richer, more literarily interesting worlds.

That totally changed when I reread Nate the Great. I’d never before appreciated the challenge–the art, really–of writing for the very young reader. As Sharmat so elegantly demonstrates, reading level constraints are not so much a literary hindrance as a creative opportunity.

And then there are the illustrations. Has someone written an undergraduate thesis examining how children’s books can reflect society’s cultural values? (Because that’s the thesis I should have written.) Nate the Great is such an awesome example of this.

Nate the great



Harry the Dirty Dog

I recently became an English tutor for the son of a family friend–which means I now have a perfectly legitimate reason to spend time in the children’s room at the library.

What a delight it has been!

I had forgotten how utterly charming and clever classic children’s books can be. The illustrations, especially in older books, are wonderfully retro in ways I had never noticed as a kid.

For instance, here is Harry the Dirty Dog, the 1956 classic written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham. It’s such a simple story, but Zion is a master of drama. Plus Graham’s drawings, which buzz and hum with life and warmth, are just too darn cute.

(By the way, if you’re wondering why I have the Spanish version: I was in one of my self-improvement moods and decided to manipulate my desire to read children’s books into an opportunity to learn more Spanish, which I last studied in the 11th grade. The goal is to some day be able to read Gabriel Garcia Márquez not in translation. For now, though, I’m going to stick with Harry, el perrito sucio.)

harry the dirty dog

harry the dirty dog

harry 4

harry the dirty dog

14 Books for 2014

Over the course of 2013, I acquired a large number of books.

Some were binge-purchased at the beginning of summer, right before I left New York City (because I knew it would be the last time I’d get to shop at the Strand for awhile). Others were picked up during my subsequent road trip to California, which included lots of stops at interesting bookstores. A few others were discovered when I moved back here, at some really excellent local library book sales.

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to actually reading those books. I blame the fact that I no longer have a daily subway commute, which, when I lived in New York, used to be prime reading time. But I guess I’ve also been sort of preoccupied with trying to figure out the whole career thing. And watching TV.

Now, however, the new year is here–which means it’s time to resolve, finally, to read everything I bought.

So here’s my reading list for this year:

Book photo 1

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I’ve been trying to finish this book for awhile now. And by “awhile,” I mean since 2012. But don’t take my slow progress as a slight against Anna Karenina itself, which is every bit the masterpiece of finely observed human emotion that it’s known to be. I’d especially recommend the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition translation, which is so sprightly on its feet, it feels like Tolstoy wrote this stuff yesterday.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Early last year, I started reading Vanity Fair because I was interested in Becky Sharp as an unlikable female character (see also this article). I read the first half on my Kindle, surprisingly enjoyed how funny it was, and then, as with Anna Karenina, got distracted by other new and shiny books. For Christmas, however, I just received this lovely hardcover edition, which is the perfect excuse to bump this one back to the top of my list.


B is for Busy (and Bad Poetry)

B is for Bad Poetry Cover

Oh man, this week has been a whirlwind!

Classes have started, I’ve moved (sort of), and the Euclid Street Shop is now an official business registered with my city, county, and state. This basically means I’ve spent the last couple days running around town buying art supplies, turning in paperwork, and taking care of a million other errands. I feel like I’ve spent every waking moment trying to cross things off my to-do list.

Strangely, I’m happy. I know that’s such a cliche, that being busy makes you happier, but I always thought I was personally immune to that. I was always like, um no, I’d rather sit on the couch and watch TV all day, thanks. But now here I am. And maybe I’m beginning to understand another cliche: that being busy with what you don’t want to do is the problem, not being busy itself.

I’ll have to reflect more deeply on that another day, perhaps. For now, on to the Bad Poetry!

Pamela August Russell’s poems–which are collected in her book, B is for Bad Poetrycame at me out of nowhere. There I am, scrolling through my Tumblr feed, and BAM, her poems run out in front of me like a suicidal deer in the road.


What Should I Do With My Life?


I discovered this book, Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life?, at the library last week. It was sitting prominently on a display with all these other books encouraging positive life changes (e.g., The Power of Kindness, Why Courage Matters), none of which, to be absolutely honest, I was in the mood to read right then. 

In fact, I almost didn’t even want to read What Should I Do With My Life?. I had recently made the decision to enroll in a design certificate program, which already felt like a solid move towards answering the book’s eponymous Question. I didn’t want any more advice that might encourage me to change my mind. I didn’t need any more choices. I just needed to make a choice!

But I’m a real sucker for people’s life stories, especially when it comes to The Question, so I decided to check out the book anyway. “I’ll just read a couple stories,” I thought.

I couldn’t put it down.