Jamie McAlister

Books are one of the best ways to introduce very young children to Halloween customs. Mouse's First Halloween by Lauren Thompson is a gentle and beautifully illustrated portrait of the happier side of the holiday's sometimes frightening aspects Illustrator Buket Erdogan's use of nighttime shades of indigo, deep reds, and autumnal umber on textured canvas are masterful, fit to be hung on your child's bedroom walls.

For those who have ever had difficulty coming up with creatively creepy costumes, party ideas, and miscellaneous decorations for Halloween events, Jane Bull's The Halloween Book: 50 Creepy Crafts for a Hair-raising Halloween will surely open the door to a mausoleum full of ideas guaranteed to turn a few heads (and maybe a stomach or two). There are tons of practical and very innovative ideas, basic pumpkin carving to making scary window silhouettes, lamp shades, and simple but scary costumes without having to lose an arm and a leg buying all the supplies. The latter section is the real winner, providing some wild food, drink and game ideas to make your Halloween party a definite scream. The Halloween Book is as valuable at Halloween as Martha Stewart at a summer wedding.

Observe the trials and tribulations of your average small child: brush your teeth, do your homework, clean up your room, etc. Now transform him or her into a ghost, not the frightening transparent anomaly kind of ghost, but the good old fashioned bed sheet variety, and there you have the premise of author Ana Martin Larra–aga's Woo! The Not-So-Scary Ghost. Woo, not yet even ghost in training, decides it's time he should stop listening and start scaring, so just before the sun rises (for ghosts, that's the equivalent of dusk) Woo packs a little bag on a stick, hobo-style, and floats out of his bedroom window to begin his not too scary odyssey. Soon Woo finds himself trapped in full daylight, being treated as less than a scary ghost and more like a bed sheet by everyone he meets. In the end Woo proves the scared can be scary, especially when longing for the safety of family and home. The story of Woo is presented in cuddly primary-colored pages with endearing caricatures throughout to charm the little runaway ghost in everyone.

From beyond the grave comes a new macabre twist on the classic fairy tale of Cinderella. This love story, Cinderella Skeleton is the latest work from author Robert D. San Souci whose previous works include one of many multicultural interpretations of the original Cinderella tale called Sootface: An Ojibwa Cinderella Story. San Souci's latest version of the classic children's tale features a deceased and downtrodden girl, Cinderella Skeleton, living miserably with her evil stepsisters, Bony Jane and Gristlene, and their insufferable mother, Screech, in a well appointed mausoleum located in Boneyard Acres. The elements of the classic story are included with all the appropriate graveyard treatments: Prince Charnel invites all but Cinderella to his Halloween Ball; a spell by a good witch transforms her into an exquisitely adorned corpse. When dawn breaks, Cinderella Skeleton flees leaving behind only a slipper, plus a large part of her lower left leg. The rest of the story won't surprise you. Most impressive about Cinderella Skeleton are the brilliantly colored and detailed illustrations by syndicated political cartoonist David Catrow, which bring to "life" the skeletal world in which the story takes place.

Some of the scariest incidents on Halloween can frighten the living daylights out of you. It's all in fun, of course, and so too is the latest in incredibly creative pop-up paper engineering books by Corina Fletcher called Ghoul School. What better medium to express the whimsically ghoulish story of Ms. Vampira's Ghoul School, "where timid souls are transformed into spooky ghosts and goblins in the twinkling of a bat's eye" than with three dimensional interactive pages that beckon young readers to touch, participate in, and read all at the same time. Every page of Ghoul School is a masterfully designed system of moveable pieces and feature remarkable detail in the illustrations and in the foldouts, some of which rise to over eight inches off the page. As with any pop-up book, it will be hard to keep the little ghouls from pulling the pages apart, especially when they offer so many hidden surprises!

Books are one of the best ways to introduce very young children to Halloween customs. Mouse's First Halloween by Lauren Thompson is a gentle and beautifully illustrated portrait of the happier side of the holiday's sometimes frightening aspects Illustrator Buket Erdogan's use of nighttime shades of indigo, deep reds, and autumnal umber on textured canvas […]

The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime As a former literary editor for Outside magazine, author Miles Harvey knows a thing or two about the importance of maps when it comes to defining a subject. But in 1995 when he came across the true story in the Chicago Tribune of Gilbert Joseph Bland, Jr., a contemporary map thief whose cartographic crime spree made him the most famous such bandit in American history, Harvey was more than intrigued. So, as any adventurer is apt to do, he set off down the uncharted trail of this “Al Capone of cartography” to learn why a South Florida antiques dealer would become master map thief. What began as a lengthy feature article for Outside turned into four years of researching the methods and motives of his enigmatic subject, thus The Island Of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime became a readable chart of these unusual crimes and the man behind them.

Visualize if you will a contemporary map thief. Beyond generating an image of a tweedy, nondescript, and somewhat less gadgetry-enhanced version of James Bond, it's more of a challenge to imagine why someone would habitually pilfer hundreds of old maps from prominent research libraries across Canada and the United States. In his investigations, Harvey descends into the intriguing subculture of map collectors and experts and the peripheral eccentrics who encountered Bland as he slipped undetected through the doors of various libraries with centuries-old maps of all kinds hidden on his person. Most interesting are the many obscure side trips Harvey makes during his trail of investigations which, written in highly descriptive and well-paced prose, create the mood of a dimly lit library during a thunderstorm. As we learn with each incident involving maps Harvey encounters, behind every map is a significant story. The story behind the greatest map thief in America is an entertaining adventure in history, humanity, and the fascinating role cartography plays in it all. Jamie McAlister writes from his home in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime As a former literary editor for Outside magazine, author Miles Harvey knows a thing or two about the importance of maps when it comes to defining a subject. But in 1995 when he came across the true story in the Chicago Tribune of Gilbert […]

Laurent de Brunhoff still reigns over his royal legacy It's been seven years since we've seen a new story involving Babar, the king of the elephants. Before his untimely death in 1937, French artist Jean de Brunhoff turned a family bedtime story into an international favorite when he wrote and illustrated the original The Story of Babar in 1931 and followed it with six more Babar books. The eldest of Jean's three sons, Laurent, carried on the adventure of Babar and has since published over 30 Babar stories which have been translated into 17 languages and sold millions of copies all over the world. The stories have influenced the imaginations of generations as they turned the colorful pages and learned more about these adventurous and fashionable elephants who walk upright, wear glasses and hats, drive cars, raise children, and exist in their own world with humans as if there were no barriers. Now Babar, his family, and the wise old Cornelius are back in a new adventure from the imagination of Laurent de Brunhoff called Babar and the Succotash Bird. The new book is about Babar's son, Alexander, who meets a magician bird, a Succotash bird, who shows the young elephant tricks and captures his imagination. But unfortunately for Alexander, there are two types of Succotash birds, good and bad, and the story illustrates the consequences when one is confused for another during a family hiking trip to the mountains. Laurent's signature bright watercolors and interesting mix of elephant and human characteristics are as entertaining as ever. “You know, it may happen in conversation, but when I have an idea it is so visual sometimes,” said Laurent from his part-time home in New York City. “When I travel somewhere I want to use what I've seen, but Babar doesn't go there, it's just used in the Babar world,” he explained. “This time for the new book, I really wanted to have some magic, because in all the other Babar books there is no magic really, it's very real the life they have. That's why I wanted a magician. And since I like birds, this magician is a bird, a Succotash bird. In fact my wife (writer, Phyllis Rose) invented it. I had only some noise for him, and she said, oh, it sounds like succotash! I thought it was very funny and thought it was a very good idea.” The release of the new book will mark several important milestones in de Brunhoff's work and life. The man behind Babar turns 75 in August, and a switch in publishers will bring the reissuing of all Laurent's classic Babar stories, some of which have also been turned into an animated series for HBO. Laurent admits that going seven years without another Babar story has been unusual for him, but it has given him time to concentrate on other artistic pursuits as well as traveling and hiking, particularly in the American West. “I really wanted to put the elephant a little bit on the side and spend more time with my old painting,” he said. “I like to do abstract watercolors. I like the medium of watercolors but I like to do some large paintings, which are abstract; even if they are inspired by the sea and the sky, they are abstract. I started to learn how to paint in an academy in Paris and I switched very early to abstract painting in the '50s. I showed my paintings at that time on different occasions, but after 10 or 15 years I was so busy with the books it was too difficult to keep the two worlds together, and little by little I dropped painting. It's hardly 10 years ago I started again to paint, and I must say I'm happy with that.” At a show for his abstract paintings a few years back at the Mary Ryan Gallery on 57th Street in New York, (where the original artwork for the new book will be exhibited this fall) Laurent said it was amusing to see the reactions of people who anticipated that his works would mirror the Babar stories. “It was well received I must say; still people are expecting me to draw elephants so they are a bit surprised when they see these abstract paintings.” Laurent said the idea for the new book came to him quickly during a time when he had been hiking and camping in the High Sierras of Yosemite National Park. “Suddenly I had an idea for this book, and it was very fast, it came very strongly in my mind, very precisely. Some pictures you will see the landscape is inspired by the American West, some of the canyon lands, and some of Yosemite,” he said.

Today Laurent's family consists of a son, daughter, and grandson who live in Paris, as well as his two brothers whom he is very close to, and his beloved mother, Cecile, the original creator of the character of Babar 70 years ago. Like Laurent and his brothers, his children grew up with Babar, yet as far as his children continuing the Babar legacy, Laurent says the experience has been different for them. “You know I was 12 years old when my father died, so there was this emptiness . . . we missed Babar. But I'm still alive, and they've already started their own lives. So I don't think suddenly, when I am no longer on this world, they will take over.” Regardless, the release of Babar and the Succotash Bird, subsequent reissuing of the Babar backlist, HBO animated series, and other promotional campaigns currently in the works continue to share a family gift sure to endure for generations.

Laurent de Brunhoff still reigns over his royal legacy It's been seven years since we've seen a new story involving Babar, the king of the elephants. Before his untimely death in 1937, French artist Jean de Brunhoff turned a family bedtime story into an international favorite when he wrote and illustrated the original The Story […]

The artists and writers of the American cultural and literary movement known as the Beat Generation are popularly credited in the U.S. for having laid the groundwork for the explosion of personal freedom and expression that culminated in the 1960s. While the movement had a worldwide impact, most of the Beat artists' works had a distinctly American flavor. However, like many eccentric American exiles and expatriate artists of the early 20th century Modernist Movement, a handful of the Beat's luminaries Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and company made their homes in a small dive on the Left Bank in Paris. From 1957

The artists and writers of the American cultural and literary movement known as the Beat Generation are popularly credited in the U.S. for having laid the groundwork for the explosion of personal freedom and expression that culminated in the 1960s. While the movement had a worldwide impact, most of the Beat artists' works had a […]

For children too young to read but old enough to imitate word sounds and identify everyday objects/activities, there is something about this little girl named Lulu that makes a connection as if she is a real person. Maybe it's her smiling round face and friendly eyes; her little red shoes and wardrobe of colorful clothes; her collection of friends and family; or the way she performs the simplest of tasks that children find her so believable. Those who found Caroline Uff's previous children's book Hello Lulu to be just the right combination of simple, bright, colorful illustrations and easy-to-repeat text will find more of the same in Lulu's Busy Day (Ages 2Ð5). Perhaps it is the author's ability to beautifully illustrate each page, conveying a simple explanation of Lulu's day to day tasks (such as eating, brushing her teeth, or swinging in the park with her best friend) that makes the books so appealing to the very young. Uff is also a greeting card designer in her native Yorkshire, England, a talent clearly reflected in the concise matching of the pages' text and the vibrant pastel universe that encompasses Lulu's daily adventures. Even the choice of Lulu as the character's name is a simple, playful use of just the right amount of syllables that younger children will have fun repeating (and can request easily).

This time around, Lulu draws a picture, plays with her ball, visits the park, finds snails and other little bugs, plays with the ducks, swings on a swing, and returns home to eventually read a bedtime story and go to sleep. Children can learn valuable lessons from Lulu she cleans up her toys after playing with them, eats her dinner, takes her bath, and brushes her teeth, all while being a well-behaved and genuinely happy little person. With the creation of this second chapter of Lulu's life must also come a parental warning from me: Both books are likely requests before anyone will be willing to go to bed.

Jamie McAlister is the assistant editor for Port News and the father of two Lulu fans.

For children too young to read but old enough to imitate word sounds and identify everyday objects/activities, there is something about this little girl named Lulu that makes a connection as if she is a real person. Maybe it's her smiling round face and friendly eyes; her little red shoes and wardrobe of colorful clothes; […]

J.D. Dolan's latest autobiographical work exposes the author's journey from a young child's dream world of innocence and extreme brotherly adulation into the sobering, bitter realization and loss associated with adulthood and tragedy. Dolan was born into an all-American family, though 11 years younger than his brother. Along with his two older sisters, his brother practically raised him. As a result, the brother became for Dolan an idolized figure along the lines of John Wayne. But as American idols live large and hard, occasionally, so too do they fall. Sadly, this is the case with Dolan's brother. From the beginning, everything he sees in his brother is the definition of cool the Corvette, motorcycles, the Marlboros and Old Spice, the guns, and the girls and Dolan's infatuated recollections of him are to the point and real. In my earliest memories of my brother, writes Dolan, he'd seemed to me a gigantic figure, a grown-up, an inscrutable god. His vivid descriptions of family life and growing up in the shadow of a restless soul give readers a glimpse of this larger than life figure coming of age, being shipped out to Vietnam, and returning home more mature, quieter, older. Suddenly, the deep brotherly bond becomes an almost painfully mute relationship.

The progression from a healthy, happy family in the midst of the American dream into years of self-imposed silence and growing distance between members is told as if this fate is common to all families to a certain degree. The innocence of youth and physical health steadily decompose, and readers are left feeling the tragic loss which has been Dolan's all too real experience. Phoenix: A Brother's Life captures the love and admiration some brothers feel for each other, as well as the changes they undergo as they mature into individuals with separate lives. It would be more comforting in the end (though certainly less realistic) to see something rise out of the ashes, something other than a relief that suffering is finally over, and only a numb feeling of loss remains. Jamie McAlister writes from his home in Charleston, South Carolina.

J.D. Dolan's latest autobiographical work exposes the author's journey from a young child's dream world of innocence and extreme brotherly adulation into the sobering, bitter realization and loss associated with adulthood and tragedy. Dolan was born into an all-American family, though 11 years younger than his brother. Along with his two older sisters, his brother […]

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