Tag Archives: Bernard Waber

Jenny Slate is my Children’s Books Guru

There are so many reasons to love Jenny Slate. The 35-year-old comedian-actress is funny, sexy, fiercely feminist, and just goofy enough that you feel like she could be someone you know. I loved her in Obvious Child (the 2014 indie film that flaunted both her ingenue radiance and raunchy potty mouth) and to this day I cannot order a sandwich without thinking about Catherine, her bizarre 12-part web series that is either totally unwatchable or the best thing you’ve ever seen on YouTube. (I guess you could call it normcore. Please try it!) Of course, Slate is also co-creator of the genius Marcel the Shell web series (and children’s books).

But what really sealed my fandom is that Jenny Slate is a vintage children’s book nerd. How did I learn this? Instagram.

Here’s her shout-out to the Dorrie the Little Witch series by Patricia Coombs. Which I only vaguely remembered and immediately ordered from the library because most of them are out of print:

Here’s a post with her childhood copy of Elmer and the Dragon:

Here, with Tomi Ungerer

A page from Sarah, Plain and Tall:

I have no idea what book this little mouse is from, so if anybody knows, please tell me in the comments:

Ok, I am clearly obsessed. I also did some Googling.

In a recent interview with New York magazine, she says she loves the 1980 book Emma by Wendy Kesselman so much she has it on display in her house where she can see it when she wakes up. (I still have to get my hands on a copy):

“It’s about an old woman who doesn’t love how she’s alone, and then learns to make herself not alone through art, and draws people into her life through art. It’s the fucking best thing.”

She told Jezebel she loves Ox-Cart Man and Miss Rumphius, both also illustrated by Barbara Cooney (I’ve written about Ox-Cart Man here).


And also a book called I’m Telling You Now, illustrated by Lillian Hoban (of Bread and Jam for Frances fame):

She describes it as “this beautiful watercolor book about this boy who did all these things that he wasn’t supposed to do … but he was only curious.”

She kind of sums it all up in this interview with Vogue:

“I always wanted to be a children’s author and I have a really big library of children’s books. All the ones from when I was little, they are just so beautiful. I read kids’ books and they calm me down … I love all the Lyle the Crocodile books. I like Robert McCloskey’s books—One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings. I like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, all the Barbara Cooney books, like Miss Rumphius and The Ox-Cart Man are really good. And I like Chris Van Allsburg, those books like Just a Dream and The Polar Express. I like the classics. They’re classics for a reason.”

In short, friends, she’s one of us.

I Want to Live in Ira’s House

IraSleepscoverIt’s one of those things you appreciate only the second time around, when you’re reading the book to your own kids. Ira’s house in Bernard Waber’s Ira Sleeps Over (1972) seems at first like a typical 1970s suburban home, but when you look closely there are lots of details that convey the kind of culture-loving, bohemian-leaning people Ira’s parents are. It’s the kind of environment I think I should be raising my kids in — if only we got rid of our TV and all took up instruments.

I love how Ira’s mom is curled up with the newspaper while her husband is just hanging out, playing the cello:

IraSleepsParents Even when Ira’s big sister is taunting him, she’s in the middle of practicing the piano: IraSleepsPiano The dad looks very comfortable in the kitchen … and they clearly don’t eat Wonder Bread:IraSleepsCookingThe parents are also fans of ballet: IraSleepsCelloLast but not least, check out what’s under the dad’s arm when he comes to answer the door during the sleepover:IraSleepsAlbumAn album by the noted Ukranian violinist, Igor Oistrakh!IgorOistrakh1

Out-of-Print Gem: Rich Cat, Poor Cat (1963)

The other day at the library I discovered a Bernard Waber book I’ve never seen before: Rich Cat, Poor Cat. And I am in love.The concept couldn’t be simpler. Each left-hand page shows the cushy, pampered life of a rich cat (clearly, a member of cat society’s 1%). Each right-hand page shows the contrasting life of a penurious streetcat named Scat.

There isn’t much of a plot per se, but no matter. It’s sweet, witty, and gorgeous to look at. The scenes of ’60s New York are stunning. How can you not love the outfit on this woman?

Of course, there’s a happy ending for Scat, with a great little twist on the last page. It’s hard to get hold of an original copy of this book (there’s a seller on EBay offering it right now for $99), but I just bought a copy of the 1970 Scholastic paperback on Etsy for $3.00. Now I won’t be tempted to “lose” my library’s copy.