Wednesday, August 6, 2008

An ambitious squirrel dives into art

By John Lithgow
Illustrated by C.F. Payne
2002, Aladdin Paperbacks

Anyone who sat near my desk during my years as a family and parenting reporter heard more than enough of my thoughts on children's books written by celebrities. I'll spare you the full rant and just summarize: They infuriate me. Vapid, twee, self-absorbed and bestsellers nonetheless, the vast majority stand as clear evidence of the hijacking of American childhood by the uninspired engines of commerce.

OK, um, partial rant.

Still, I feel entirely comfortable making an exception for John Lithgow, who seems less of a celebrity-turned-author, and more of a children's writer who happens to be famous for other stuff too.

A friend sent us "Micawber" for my daughter's second birthday a few days ago, and already she's insisted on several recitations -- last night she even asked to bring the book to bed.

Our edition lists 4-8 as its recommended age range, and Lithgow doesn't dumb down his word choices ("beguiler," "viridian" or "peregrination," anyone?) Still, even much younger kids will love this imaginative tale of an art-loving squirrel, with a comfortable cadence that leaves room to linger over Payne's lush images.

Micawber's dull life, with its tedious toils,
All at once seemed a hundred times duller,
As he straggled a palette and squeezed out some oils
And discovered the wonders of COLOR!...

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