Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A concept classic returns! Yellow Yellow by Frank Asch & Mark Alan Stamaty

Yellow Yellow, by Frank Asch/Illustrated by Mark Alan Stamaty, (May 2019, Drawn & Quarterly), $15.95, ISBN: 9781770463585

Ages 2-6

Originally published in 1971, Yellow Yellow is back for a new generation of readers. A boy finds a bright yellow hat as he goes walking in the city one day. He wanders the streets, wearing the hat, until he finally meets up with the hat’s owner: a burly construction worker, who needs his hat back. When the boy goes home, he makes his own yellow hat.

Yellow Yellow has vintage ’70s artwork that just explodes across the page, and the story is truly written in a different time; the boy wanders crowded urban streets with no parental guidance, walking along a construction site loaded with screws, pipe fittings, and paint cans; passes blocks jammed with small storefronts, like a barbershop, a bookstore, and a deli; and passes through a lunch counter joint, where he weighs himself on a scale that costs a penny. This is the urban New York landscape of my childhood, and I love every single second I spend with this boy and his stroll. Tiny details abound, providing a feast for the sharp-eyed reader. The black and white scratchy ink drawings have yellow touches for effect and appear like 1970s-era mandalas for Gen Xers like myself. Mark Alan Stamaty made each 2-page spread filled with things to see, from the paint cans that offer inspirational messages (read ’em!) to the boys’ room at home, walls covered in pictures of planes, numbers, and letters. Surreal touches dot the artwork, too: the boy has fish in a birdcage, and two birds thriving in a clearly full fish tank. At the lunch counter, a live frog waits under one glass dome, while a bird makes a nest in another. Hope they’re not on the menu!

If you love the old school Sesame Street music cutaways, like the famous pinball “12” song, Yellow Yellow will hit you right in the heartstrings. Right this to your kidlings, play the Number 12 song, and have plenty of yellow construction paper handy to make yellow hats.

Frank Asch went on to create the classic Moonbear books, and Mark Alan Stamaty wrote another children’s classic, Who Needs Donuts, in 1973.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle School, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

McSweeney’s brings back a classic by the author of The Neverending Story

momoMomo, by Michael Ende/Illustrated by Marcel Dzama/Translated by Lucas Zwirner, (Aug. 2016, McSweeney’s), $14.95, ISBN: 9781944211066

Recommended for ages 12+

Momo is a little girl who just appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and lives by herself in a small amphitheater in town. The people in the neighborhood embrace her and seek her out; she has the gift of listening, that seems to help soothe everyone’s nerves, solves problems, and fixes broken friendships. But the awful gray men are moving in and sucking the joy, the life, out of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. They Gray Men recognize that Momo is special and are determined to get hold of her before she can throw a wrench in their plans to steal time from everyone around her.

I am a huge Neverending Story fan, so I picked up Momo with tons of good childhood feelings (and that Limahl song on a loop in my head). Much like Neverending Story, Ende tackles a lot of big concepts in a middle grade book. The Neverending Story gave us a story about conquering depression: The Nothing was a devastating darkness that threatened to consume all of Fantasia. Ende also uses The Neverending Story to address concepts like grief, loss, and existential crisis. It’s the kind of book you read as a kid and appreciate the fantasy, and read as an adult, on a completely different level. Momo is similar in scope, contemplating the loss of free time and personal relationships. Pretty weighty and forward-thinking, especially when you consider that this book was written 40 years ago, before we were consumed with smartphones, tablets, and cable television. Momo’s gift for listening makes her adored until the gray men – who live off the time they steal from everyone – decide to isolate her by corrupting everyone around her. Children aren’t allowed to run and play in the streets any longer; parents don’t have time to spend with their children because they’re working so hard to save up free time – the rat race isn’t a new concept, and Ende mourns a time when people knew one another by name, listened to one another, and had time for one another.

Previously published in hardcover in 2013, McSweeney’s is giving the book a proper 40th anniversary celebration, with new illustrations from Marcel Dzama and a new translation from the original German by Lucas Zwirner. I’ve seen The Neverending Story on quite a few reading lists over the last couple of summers, which makes me really happy – and I’m going to happily booktalk Momo to middle schoolers who are looking for more realistic fiction with a touch of the fantastic: no gnomes, no knights, no spells, but something… more. If you know readers who love Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, give them Momo.

A strongly suggested addition to middle grade and middle school-level collections.