RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Summer vacation is nearly upon us, the perfect time for kids of all ages to fall under the spell of a good book. Mara Alpert is a children's librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library. She joins me with a stack of some of her favorite new books. Good morning.
MARA ALPERT: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Let's begin with a book for very young children. This book involves portraits by very well known artists like Pablo Picasso and Chuck Close. It's called "Faces For Baby: Twelve More Works by Famous Artists to Explore with Your Child."
ALPERT: Well, it's pretty well-known that young children like to look at faces. And it's also pretty well known that a lot of parents would love their children to start becoming interested in art just as soon as possible. So this is a book that speaks to both of those things. Because the baby can look at the beautiful pictures of faces, the beautiful artwork, and then the parents can take the kid to the museum and say let's look for paintings that have faces.
Let's look for sculptures. And then in the very back, of course, there is a mirror so that the baby can look at their own face.
MONTAGNE: Oh, I just opened up and there's a shiny big mirror.
ALPERT: And you could actually use this with older children too because a lot of these pictures are very kid friendly. A child would look at it and say, I could do that. You could then pull out the crayons and say great, let's make our own portrait, our own self-portraits.
MONTAGNE: From human faces to a book focused on the animal world. The book is called "My First Day: What Animals Do On Day One."
ALPERT: This one is particularly interesting because we can't remember what our first day on Earth was like. Our mom might be able to tell us but we don't remember that. And different animals in the animal kingdom, they have very different experiences. Some are born and they are moving. And some need a lot of care the way that human babies do.
And it's just really interesting, all the different experiences.
MONTAGNE: Pick one. There's so many.
ALPERT: This is the kiwi, which is not a fruit but a bird. On my first day, I spent hours kicking my way out of my egg. As soon as I hatched, I was ready to take care of myself. And then we look at the Siberian tiger: But I was helpless. I couldn't even open my eyes. My mother cleaned me, fed me, and kept me safe.
MONTAGNE: And then a completely different way of coming out is the Emperor penguin. On my first day it was cold. I climbed out of my egg, stood on my father's feet, and snuggled into his feathers to stay warm.
ALPERT: And it's such a sweet picture.
MONTAGNE: One that involves a father, not a mother.
ALPERT: Right. And there's actually another father one, which is Darwin's frog. On my first day I hopped out of my father's mouth. When I was a tadpole he kept me safe in a special pouch in his throat. But once I became a frog it, was time to be on my own. Ewww.
MONTAGNE: But it's the most surreal picture. You're looking straight at a big frog and a little frog is coming out of his mouth.
MONTAGNE: Now, you brought in a book that is a book of poems based on very well known fairytales, but it is a most unusual way of telling those tales. It's called "Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems."
ALPERT: And it was written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Masse. It tells the story from two different viewpoints. So for instance, the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes," if you read the verse from beginning to end, it is the emperor talking. And the exact same words read in the other direction, it is the little boy talking.
MONTAGNE: Let's read the one about the emperor's new clothes. It's called "Birthday Suit." And illustrated by an emperor looking at himself in the mirror, seeing himself dressed up very beautifully in a fancy new suit, and a little boy peering around the mirror, seeing him, well, not quite naked. In his underwear.
ALPERT: And it starts with His Majesty. Behold his glorious majesty, me. Who dares say he drained the treasury on nothing? Ha. This emperor has sublime taste in finery only a fool could fail to see.
MONTAGNE: Here I go, the little boy. Only a fool could fail to see sublime taste in finery. This emperor has, ha, nothing on. Who dares say he drained the treasury? Me. Behold his glorious majesty. What's amazing about this is it's not just a story told in reverse; the same lines are read in reverse.
ALPERT: Yes. And it tells the story from two completely opposite viewpoints.
MONTAGNE: This is so interactive, I would think to send somebody off to a pencil and paper or the computer and try and do their own version.
ALPERT: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And also to send them to their bedroom to find the collection of fairytales and folklore, or to the library or to the bookstore.
MONTAGNE: What else have you brought?
ALPERT: Well, the story of Elizabeth Blackwell. "Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?" by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, who - I love her illustrations. They are so quirky. And the story of Elizabeth Blackwell is very interesting because she didn't actually set out to do anything special.
She decided to try to become a doctor. And so...
MONTAGNE: But you say she didn't set out to do anything special, except that it was the early 1800s.
ALPERT: Yes. And everyone said women aren't smart enough. And people laughed at her. And so she applied to many, many medical schools and they all sent back the same answer: no. And then one day she got a yes. And the reason she got a yes was that the students thought it was a joke.
MONTAGNE: And figured she'd fail.
ALPERT: And they figured she'd fail. And she ended up being top in her class when she graduated in 1849.
MONTAGNE: Well, I think it's important to maybe describe a little bit how this is illustrated. It's done in a way that's quite jolly.
ALPERT: It's almost comic and very fun. For instance, the picture where Elizabeth is proving she is smart as any boy and so the other male students are sort of hanging around with her, and then there's a picture of a very sour-faced woman hiding the eyes of her impressionable daughter because she shouldn't be seeing, you know, a woman like that, oh, who's doing something so outrageous.
MONTAGNE: Mara Alpert, thank you very much for joining us.
ALPERT: Thank you so much for having me.
MONTAGNE: Mara Alpert is a children's librarian for the L.A. public library and her recommendations are at npr.org.