Flashback Fridays: Living in Color . . .

You’re a wizard living in a world of grey and you’re so unhappy with the look of the world that one day you’re puttering around with potions and invent something new–something you will call BLUE!  But will one color do the trick?  Surely not . . .

Do you remember:


The Great Blueness and other Predicaments by Arnold Lobel (HarperCollins, c1968)

It all started with a librarian.  I don’t remember her name, but I remember vividly sitting in the school library in first grade listening to her read us some amazing stories.  That was where I first heard so many books that I still remember fondly.  This was one of them.  However, I didn’t remember the title or the author at the time, so for years I only knew sketches of the plot.  I’d try to figure out the title, but had little success.  Quite by accident, I  was browsing a brand new Arnold Lobel Treasury and lo and behold, in the middle of the book was THAT story!  Ever have that excitement of discovery of something you remember so well but can’t identify or find again?  That was me.  So I took the treasury home to read to my own kids, and reacquaint myself with a piece of my childhood.

Our wizard lives in a land of long ago, where there are no colors and everything is grey.   In this time of the Great Greyness he wants something more, so he goes down to his basement and putters and discovers blue.  Well everyone is so blown away with this new color that they all want it and they paint everything blue.  So begins the Great Blueness–which seems wonderful at first, until  all that blue starts making people sad and gloomy.  Our wizard comes up with another solution: Yellow!  And of course everyone decides to use it to paint the world yellow . . . which eventually gives everyone headaches and makes them irritated.  So the wizard invents Red, the same overpainting ensues and everyone becomes angry and starts fighting with one another.  The wizard can’t seem to invent any other colors … until he realizes he can mix them together to create new ones.  So he make an entire range of colors and gives them to the people and advises them to use all of the colors and not just one.  The results lead to our happy (colorful) ever after.

Now I’ve known of Arnold Lobel for years as a children’s librarian.  Most folks know him for his ever-popular Frog and Toad easy readers.  But he was a prolific creator of picture book for children,  many of them possessing his slightly subversive humor and wild imagination.  The Great Blueness is a marvelous bit of whimsy that connects colors with people’s emotions and behavior, opening the door to discussions of color and its effect, as well as how emotions feel.  It certainly lends itself to artistic discussion!  The straight forward text that keeps the story moving forward at a comfortable clip is perfect for younger children.  My son is happily reading the entire Treasury himself while my daughter begs him to read it to her.

There were stories in the treasury I’d never come across before: Bears of the Air and The Man Who Took the Indoors Out in each of these stories, characters rebel against the normal way of things.  In Bears of the Air, four young bears aren’t interested in doing what their grandpa’s book says are good things for a bear to do.  They want to  play violins and do rope tricks and learn to tightrope walk.  In The Man Who Took the Indoors Out, one singular gentleman decides the indoors should have the opportunity to come outside for the day, and he takes all his indoor furniture and  appliances on a jaunt, but the indoors gets carried away with carousing and takes quite a while to come back home again.  Although Arnold Lobel  died in 1987, these stories still feel lively and delightful today–ready to entertain another generation of children.

What childhood stories have you rediscovered?

Comments welcome!

A Tuesday Ten: Growing a Star Wars Fan

I first saw Star Wars huddled in the back of my parents’ station wagon at the Drive-in theater   I was probably all of five, and my main memory of the whole movie is that I was so crushed when Obi-wan Kenobi died that I was inconsolable for the rest of the movie. Nevertheless, I was a Star Wars fan from that early age on.  My brothers and I had a Darth Vader action figure case and a whole mess of figures.  So you can imagine I have a certain amount of glee in seeing the new Star Wars movie on the horizon and a son who’s old enough to go see it.

But the movie isn’t all that’s new–there are a lot of books recently published for babies, kids and tweens on Star Wars.  And while I usually avoid discussing books based on other media, I’ll bend the rules in this case.    So, how can you introduce the new generation to the Star Wars fandom via books?  That’s the topic of this newest Ten . . .


Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope by Jack Wang and Holman Wang (Chronicle Books,  April 2015)

If you aren’t familiar with the creators of Epic Yarns and Cozy Classics, you really should see some of these amazing board books! Our creators handcraft scenes out of felt–in this book twelve in all–and add one word descriptions to each scene.  In the case of A New Hope, the creators take actual scenes from the movie and recreate them with an impressive amount of detail and accuracy.  The story may be truncated by the format, but it’s an adorable gift for the tiniest Star Wars fan and their parents.


Star Wars: Attack of the Clones by Golden Books, illustrated by Ethen Beavers (Golden Books, July 2015)

When I was growing up , Little Golden Books were sort of the staple for early childhood.  Well they’re still around and busily publishing a whole line of picture books about the Star Wars universe!  The illustrations are bright and entertaining and while the stories are certainly toned down and shortened for the sake of audience and space, they can be a great way to open the world of Star Wars to your toddler and preschooler!



Lego Star Wars: A New Hope (DK Readers Level 1) by Emma Grange (DK Children, 2014)

Lego has gone and gotten mighty clever and funny in its various depictions of popular movies and superheroes.  This easy reader series combines the Lego toy images with simple story reading for young fans just beginning to get the hang of reading.  The Lego aspect does keep it more light-hearted and kid friendly in some ways, but it’s also just rather smartly done so I can’t really complain.  The original trilogy is represented in 3 easy readers, each one bumping up to a higher DK reading level.  There are a lot of easy readers out there, and while the text and story won’t be brilliant, it engages the beginning reader and gives them a universe they can begin to scratch the surface of while knowing there’s much, much more.


Star Wars: The Adventures of Han Solo by Lindsay Kent (DK Publishing, 2011)

If you prefer not to go the Lego route, DK also offers a number of readers featuring the actual characters.  Be forewarned that while this says Level 2, the overall vocabulary is pretty complicated.  For kids really getting the hang of reading on their own, however, these stories are great–especially since this is just about the age when they might see their first Star Wars movie.


Vader’s Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown (Chronicle, 2013)

On the lighter side, we have the funny side of the dark side!  Jeffrey Brown reimagines Darth as somewhat less of a villain and somewhat more of a dad.  This is an absolutely adorable collection that adults and kids will enjoy paging through and chuckling over.


Star Wars, Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron, illustrated by John Cassaday (Marvel, September 2015)

For the slightly older crowd (9-14) there are the new Marvel comic offerings that readers can discover alongside their favorite superheroes and anime adventures.  Some of these adventures translate pretty readily to  comic form!



The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken (Disney Lucas Film, September 2015)

I’ve got to admit that this new treatment of the original Star Wars movie as a novel-length adventure has me excited.  Broken into three parts, each of the main characters tells a chunk of the story from their perspective.  We start with Leia, shift to Han and wind up with Luke.  It’s not a new story, but the variation on it adds new dimension and details, as well as introducing a new audience.  You’ll notice that the rest of this list is made up of Disney Lucasfilm books, mostly because, well, they own the rights.  I normally try to vary up publishers in a list, but in this case,  I’m limiting the field substantially.



Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castelucci and Jason Fry (Disney Lucas Film, September 2015)

Part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens series.  I admit I’m focusing on the Leia book here because this is an awesome cover!  The series covers adventures set between the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with Leia leading a group of rebels.  This MG chapter book apparently offers some hints and clues about the upcoming Star Wars Movie  . . .




Edge of the Galaxy by Jason Fry (Disney Lucas Film Press, 2014)

`This is the first book in a the new series; Star Wars Rebels: Servants of the Empire.  It provides a look at different characters and stories. Zare Leonis thinks he’s a loyal servant of the Empire until his sister goes missing and Zare begins to see the destruction the Empire is causing.  The seeds of doubt lead him to start questioning everything he knows . . . This high-adventure Star Wars series will offer readers something beyond what they know of the Star Trek universe.


Star Wars: The Original Trilogy Stories based on the story and screenplay by George Lucas, illustrated by Brian Rood (Disney Lucasfilm, September 2015)

A really gorgeous coffee table style book with metallic edged pages, photos and illustrations.   The text should be approachable by 3rd and 4th grade readers, and it’s a nice collector’s item to provide a young fan.   This book encompasses the first trilogy in its entirety however, so if you want to have them learn the plot by watching, this might be a nice gift for after the fact.

There’s plenty more out there. Especially since the publishing rush is just warming up in regards to Star Wars.  But I think this offers a nice range of stories and types of books for all young readers.  Got your own favorites to add?  I’m all ears!  Comments welcome!

Flashback of a Flashback: A “Dunn” deal . . .

You’re a curious kid with a yen for science and math.  Your widowed mom is the live-in housekeeper for a brilliant professor who invents some crazy cool stuff.  So it’s only natural you’re going to want to poke around and try things out . . . and that’s going to lead you and your friends into some wild science fiction style adventures!

Do you remember:  

Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint by Jay Williams & Raymond Abrashkin, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats (McGraw-Hill Companies, c1956)

I was far too young to encounter the original Tom Swift series when I was a child, but I did manage to catch the tail end of the Danny Dunn books during the early 1980s.   The basic premise of these books was that Danny and his mom lived in Professor Bullfinch’s home and Danny was the kind of bright and curious boy who loved to learn about the professor’s latest inventions–sometimes without asking permission first.  He and his friends, Joe and Irene, wind up having a series of adventures that went on for 15 books spanning three decades.

Authors Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin worked together on the series for the first five books, but by the end of the fifth title, Abrashkin succumbed to ALS at the age of  49.  Jay Williams insisted that Abrashkin be given full co-author credit for all the remaining titles as he felt the man was essential to establishing the characters and nature of the series.  Something I learned while looking up the titles is that Ezra Jack Keats illustrated the first four titles of the Danny Dunn series.

Like the Tom Swift stories, these science fiction tales for young readers involve adventures surrounding scientific inventions and breakthroughs.  They are science and tech positive without much exploration of the darker application or dangerous uses of science–lightweight and fun for readers just getting into longer chapter books.  Also like the Tom Swift books, these titles are more than a little dated.  What’s interesting about the books, though, is that there is a lot of sound scientific discussion and exploration going on.  So despite the dated aspect and the fact that some of the science is incorrect or has been surpassed, this still holds up fairly well.

What smart phones looked like in the 1950s . . .

What makes these markedly different from the Tom Swift adventures is that Danny is not a super-genius.  He’s got an interest in science and a good head for it, but he’s not the brilliant inventor, boy wonder.  He’s the boy next door, the curious kid who idolizes the professor and wants to grow up and do similar kinds of work.  Also notable is his friend Irene (who I believe is literally the girl next door) is just as intelligent and interested.   She’s a real character in the story and contributes to the adventures.   I think her inclusion made these books more appealing to boys and girls alike.  Given that most of the serials out at the time completely separated boy stories and girls stories, this one managed to be a little less of an all-boys club.

Now, I haven’t read all of these titles since they’re hard to get a hold of.  Currently all of them are out of print, which isn’t surprising given how the stories have become so dated.  Still, it would be a boon if they were at least available electronically, since I don’t think they should be lost to the foggy shores of obscurity.

I firmly feel we need more modern-day stories like these.  Books that push the boundaries of science and get the younger readers involved and excited about the scientific process and discovery, about invention and technology.  The Danny Dunns and Tom Swifts of yesteryear can’t quite do it.  We need new stories in this vein for the newer generations of readers.

If you’re wondering about the order and titles of books in the Danny Dunn series, I’ve listed them here, along with a quick bit about the plot.  In several cases I’m working from very meager knowledge about the actual story–please feel free to correct or add information in the comments so I can fix any errors or exclusions.

1. Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint (1956) –one of the weakest of the bunch, this featured space travel before man had actually gone into space and thus is full of incorrect assumptions and ideas.  Still, this was the title that started the series.

2. Danny Dunn on a Desert Island (1957) When the Professor and Danny and his friend crash-land on a desert island, they need to figure out how to survive with only the items in their pockets until help arrives.

3. Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine (1958)–Danny and his friends decide to use the Professor’s state of the art cabinet sized computer to help them get the answers for their homework.  But when a rival sabotages the machine, it’s up to Danny and his friends to help the Professor repair the damage.

4. Danny Dunn and the Weather Machine (1959)–Danny accidentally discovers that the Professor’s ionic transmitter can make small rain clouds.  So now rather than complaining about the weather, Danny wants to do something about it!

5. Danny Dunn on the Ocean Floor (1960)–another accidental discovery leads to a material that helps Danny and the Professor explore the deeps of the ocean.

6. Danny Dunn and the Fossil Cave (1961)--The Professor’s new C-Ray that can see through rock offers the perfect opportunity for our characters to go spelunking, until they get trapped inside the caverns!

7. Danny Dunn and the Heat Ray (1962)–Danny tries out a heat ray that the Professor has invented. (not much info available on this one,

8.Danny Dunn, Time Traveler (1963)–The Professor’s time machine takes the kids back to meet Benjamin Franklin.

9. Danny Dunn & the Automatic House (1965)–Danny and his friends get trapped inside an automated house set up as a demonstration.  I remember reading this one.

10. Danny Dunn and the Voice From Space (1967)–The professor invents a radio telescope that the government hopes will allow them to contact extraterrestrials.

11. Danny Dunn and the Smallifying Machine (1969)–This one’s pretty self-explanatory.  What’s cool about this shrinking adventure is that the author explores some of the actual physics of being super small (water tension, challenge of walking, etc.)

12. Danny Dunn and the Swamp Monster (1971)–on the search for a swamp creature along the Nile river, Danny and the Professor discover a new species of fish.

13. Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy (1974) –Despite the title, this was more about the ability of using tiny bug like robots to explore (being essentially invisible)  the pilot uses gloves and a helmet for a sort of VR feedback.

14. Danny Dunn Scientific Detective (1976)–In order to solve a mystery at school, Danny “borrows” some of the professors new crime fighting science inventions.

15. Danny Dunn and the Universal Glue (1977)–The last of the series (most likely due to Jay Williams’ death the following year).  In it Danny figures out how to use an amazing glue the Professor has invented to help fix a pollution problem.

Did you read these books as a kid?  Which was your favorite?  If you have any plot points to add or fix, please comment!


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