Women Scientists Getting Credit Might Seem Like a Miracle

The Miracle Seed – written and illustrated by Martin Lemelman
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2023

Given the popularity of books for young readers about under-recognized women scientists, finding one with a distinctive premise is always welcome.  Martin Lemelman’s graphic work of non-fiction celebrates two scientists working in Israel to revive an extinct date palm. He integrates several themes, including Jewish history, the science of botany, and the under-representation of women in the sciences.  The collaborative work of Dr. Elaine Solowey and Dr. Sarah Sallon succeeded in pollinating ancient plant material and producing a date that had not exited for a thousand years.  Lemelman carefully contextualizes their “miraculous” project as part of the Jewish people’s roots, and also paints a vivid picture of the women’s friendship, predicated on mutual respect and shared goals. 

Science is not a miracle and Lemelman does not attribute the project’s success to the supernatural.  Instead, he establishes how the improbability of locating the date palm seed, preserving it, and finding two brilliant and dedicated women to engineer its rebirth evokes a sense of awe sometimes reserved for miracles.  Divided into sections, the book unfurls its story step-by-step, at first inviting readers to travel back to the time of the First Jewish War against Rome (66-73 C.E.), when the Emperor Titus destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and left devastation in the aftermath.  Lemelman draws each scene cinematically, including ones at Masada, where artifacts of the rebellion lie in ruins. In 1963, archeologist Yigael Yadin and his team locate these items; his discovery appears in striking images and poetic text: “They unearthed broken baskets and bronze arrows…They unearthed beautiful mosaics and ragged clothing.” They also found a clay jar containing date palm seeds. 

The story moves forward smoothly, emphasizing both innovation and continuity with the past.  As Solowey and Sallon employ the scientific method to achieve their goal, they refer, casually and affectionately, to Jewish religion and culture.  A seed is planted on the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, commemorating the New Year of the Trees, and soon sprouts. They assign biblical names to the male and female plants produced by their work, and they recite the Shehechiyanu prayer marking a new experience.  There is no contradiction between religion and science, because they operate in different spheres.  The two scientists respond to the results of their experiments from the personal identities, which are proudly Jewish.

In addition to photographs and an informative timeline, Lemelman includes an “Author’s Note” which is truly inventive, chronicling the story of how he came to write this book.  Honest, humorous, and unpretentious, it constitutes a brief book within the larger one, describing his formation as an artist and writer, conversations with his wife about the challenges of his work, and his excitement at find historical sources and artistic inspiration.  The section may be an appendix, but, in retrospect, it enhances the experience of reading by conveying excitement in the full process of writing a book.  Children, and adults sharing the book with them, may find that a bit miraculous, too.

It’s Time to Go Outside and Play

What Does Little Crocodile Say at the Park? – written and illustrated by Eva Montanari
Tundra Books, 2022
What Does Little Crocodile Say at the Beach? – written and illustrated by Eva Montanari
Tundra Books, 2023

Pictures books use a combination of words and images to tell a story. (There are wordless picture books, in which the pictures tell the stories by themselves.)  In Eva Montanari’s Little Crocodile series, the text is composed of simple vocabulary that would be familiar to a toddler or preschooler, and the pictures are her signature-colored pencil and chalk pastel scenes that seem almost tangible, and so bright that you imagine she has just laid down her art implements and finished the pictures.  It’s challenging to create believable, non-generic, characters with this proportion of words and images, but Montanari succeeds. Her crocodile child, friends, and family are lively individuals, interacting with one another in a way that will immediately evoke recognition from young readers.

The books ask what Little Crocodile will say, because he is just beginning to use language.  The events in his life are told from his perspective, as he experiences them, but also how he articulates them in few words.  At the beginning of What Does Little Crocodile Say at the Park, he is busily engaged building with blocks when his grandparents arrive.  Grandma calls him “Sweet Pea,” while Grandpa, communicating like a toddler himself, lifts him up with the “words” “Muah! Muah!” 

They do a lot of different activities at the park, each one a moment of joyous concentration. With Grandma’s help, Little Crocodile blows a dandelion’s seeds into the air, has a snack, and imitates the flight of a pigeon.  He feels independent enough to make friends with other animals, and is able to adjust when the inevitable conflicts arise over sharing.  A ride down the slide, following an owl, is a memorable moment, viewed in anticipation, as Little Crocodile is just about to begin his descent.

A satisfying conclusion to the book involves his farewell to friends, and a sleepy ride home in his stroller. Grandma, glasses perched on her face and pocketbook slung over her arm, happily pushes him.  Grandpa, also wearing glasses, walks while reading his newspaper.  Taking care of his grandchild has been rewarding, but he also wants to return to the adult world.

In What Does Little Crocodile Say at the Beach, the weather has turned warmer.  This time, a parent accompanies him, gently introducing him to the ocean’s waves and holding him as he practices swimming. Crocodile is comfortable and pleased, identifying himself with the fish and jellyfish around him. After a day of building sandcastles and swinging through the air he doesn’t want to leave, but the distraction of watching seagulls approaching a big ship is enough to calm him. Montanari’s adult characters relate to children’s needs, showing the practical sense of how to manage transitions. In fact, the parent crocodile, turning his head to look backward as he bicycles with his child, seems equally fascinated by the ocean liner.  He is an adult who clearly remembers what it felt like to be a child.

A barbecue ends the perfect day.  Little Crocodile, lying on a hammock, seems to be dancing on his back to the music as “The radio goes la la.” His parent, comfortably dressed in a post-beach running suit, cooking something on skewers that looks delicious. It’s no surprise that he is the more tired of the pair, falling asleep in the tent while his child, still awake, holds on to a flashlight.  Learning something new, enjoying unencumbered play, eating outdoors, made for a wonderful day, with the supportive companionship of a parent the best part of all.

Even a Talented Bear Can’t Perform All the Time

Bear Is Never Alone – written by Marc Veerkamp, illustrated by Jeska Verstegen, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2023

Bear is a gifted pianist, drawing crowds of animal friends to his concerts.  His music is so entrancing that the natural world is completely quiet when he plays.  His back to the reader, and his long arms stretched across the keyboard, Bear has a captive audience in the forest. No one tires of his music; only Bear himself becomes exhausted.  Marc Veerkamp and Jeska Verstegen (whose earlier work I reviewed for Jewish Book Council) gently present a problem to young readers. What happens when an artist’s work brings joy to everyone but reduces him to a virtual prison? More broadly, what should one do when his own needs are in conflict with those of others?

The books pictures are rendered in black and white, composed against a white background. A dramatic touch of red draws the reader’s eye to select images: the sun, flowers, a bird, and a book. The book plays a key role, since it belongs to a zebra, the only one of Bear’s fans who understands the musicians need to sometimes be alone.  The bear and zebra meet on facing pages, and begin to communicate with one another. For once, Bear is an individual.  The zebra’s special attribute is language. In fact, his stripes are lines of printed words, and the red book balances on his back. 

Music is performative, at least some of the time, while reading is not, at least most of the time.  When well-intentioned Zebra offers to read aloud to his new friend, Bear becomes frustrated, and even rude: “If you really want to do something nice for me, why don’t you leave me alone?” While a child would be more likely to feel comfortable uttering that challenge, adults reading the book will definitely relate to its honesty.   Zebra gets the message, and if he is offended, he chooses not to show it.  Bear stands, holding the book, and realizes that flexibility might be the answer to his conflict.  Each picture advances the story like a scene in a play, while the minimalist text deliberately leaves much unsaid.  Being alone together is a novel idea and it might work.

The book quiet acknowledges and affirms children’s need for friendship, empathy, and a simple rest from the demands of their busy lives. Veerkamp and Verstegen also raise subtle questions in a way which children will understand.  The difference between language and music, the complementary nature of solitude and friendship, and the need to establish boundaries are all implicit in the story. Even the imaginative contrast between the endpapers opening and closing the book gives a hint.  A crowd of animals outdoors precedes the story, while the back endpapers feature a teapot and cups sitting on a hill in the same outdoors.  The domesticity of Bear and Zebra’s new friendship and shared love of reading does not compete with their natural surroundings. Maybe Bear will return to the stage refreshed and renewed.

Keeping Misogyny in the Family

Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny off a Bus: Favourite Scottish Rhyme – illustrated by Kathryn Selbert
Floris Books, 2018

Actually, you can. That is, you can throw her off the bus if she is your paternal grandmother, but not if she is your maternal one.  That’s the message of this brightly illustrated board book, which includes “lift and slide” and “lift the flap” elements.  While Scottish culture is not the only one to mock mothers-in-law or make a distinction between your two grandmothers, this book is a specifically Scottish production; the back cover encourages us to “PUSH granny…SING ALONG to the much-loved Scottish rhyme, in this brilliantly bonkers board book.”

Aside from the clever alliteration, the message seems to be that the book is all in good fun. No one really expects children to internalize its message and take action based on its silly recommendation. That’s why it’s “bonkers!” In fact, one might assume that the book is really for adults; I would certainly not read this to my grandchildren, although I’m not Scottish.  Again, I want to reiterate that the book’s message is broadly encountered in many other cultures across the globe. This book, however, packages it in an appealing and funny way, if you’re willing to overlook its repugnant misogyny. 

The bus in question has plaid seats, a recurring Scottish motif in the book. The children on board are multicultural, which, in an insidious way, implies that the message is up to date.  We see a young mom with glasses and red boots, tending to her child in a spiffy stroller.  Then we see Granny, the nice maternal one whom we’ve been warned not to eject from the vehicle. She is wearing a red tartan, and the same glasses as her daughter, emphasizing her lineage to the grandchild sitting on her lap.

Then the paternal granny appears. She also has grey hair, but no glasses.  She is not wearing a tartan plaid, but rather blue jeans and a lilac-colored cardigan, making her indistinguishable from any ordinary person. She may be old, but is not particularly grandmotherly, in the supposedly maternal way. Then, some ambivalence on the part of the illustrator surfaces. Father and daughter happily wave and smile (the girl is actually laughing) as they watch the father’s mother all from the bus. Don’t worry. When we lift the flap we watch her magically spring up into the air on bouncy coils. She is unharmed. 

The next scene shows what might happen if the child ignored the book’s recommendation, and actually pushed the wrong grandmother off the bus.  Granny’s arms is twisted around the pole on the bus door, in what looks like a painful way, but she is smiling.  There seems to be a double message.  Don’t do this, but, since the book is “bonkers,” no actual grandmothers have been harmed in its creation.

In the final pages, the family is seated together on the bus, with the maternal granny standing. Again, everyone’s face is happy. Lifting the flap, we see her arms become magically elongated. With one arm she is embracing her granddaughter, and with her other she is able to reach her toddler grandson in his stroller at the other end of the seated group.  Granny is giving him a tiny book on a keychain; it represents “Ally Bally Bee” another book in the publisher’s series based on Scottish nursery rhymes.

Why am I calling this harmless board book misogynist? Maybe it’s just a humorous acknowledgement of a broad prejudice against paternal grandmothers, a phenomenon which has been noted and analyzed by anthropologists and psychologists. (If you google the topic, you will find many examples, such as this article.) Of course, individual families don’t necessarily subscribe to these expectations. There may well be maternal grandmothers who are tossed from the bus and don’t smile at the insult.  Some paternal grandmothers are privileged to have close relationships with their grandchildren, even when they don’t wear plaid.

What about grandfathers? Do they share the privileges and the stigma based on their lineage? Historically, since they were generally less involved in providing childcare, perhaps the difference seemed less important.  Yet their control of financial resources was generally greater than that of grandmothers.  Maybe the beloved nursery rhyme just reflects deep seated suspicion and hatred of women.  If your child is older than the book’s intended audience, it might be interesting to share it with her and generate a productive discussion. 

Girl Reporter

Cathy Leonard Calling – written by Catherine Woolley, illustrated by Elizabeth Dauber
William Morrow & Company, 1961

Cathy Leonard, from A Room for Cathy, is back. This time she has a job. In the era before “Intern Nation” she actually gets paid.  Even grownup writers often don’t today.  Her salary may not be much, but it’s enough to take her family out for a day of entertainment in New York City.  Cathy is only in fifth grade.  This is a big step up from her excitement at having her room painted, or making a new friend whose mother is a children’s book writer.

Cathy had been inadvertently networking. When the society reporter for the local paper decides to take a trip to Florida, she needs a temporary placement, and she thinks of the girl who seemed to be in the know when the editor, Miss Hobway, would call local residents looking for stories.  She explains the rudiments of the job to Cathy, along with some fun journalism lingo, like the meaning of sending in a “string” of articles.  There is a warning from Cathy’s mother. She can’t let the job interfere with schoolwork. There’s also a crusty editor named Mr. Stark, whose off-putting last name communicates how he feels about child reporters.

Here is the best part about Cathy’s ambitions. She’s a mid-twentieth century-child growing up in a small town, straitjacketed by the gender norms of her time. She wants to be a journalist and she wants to get paid for her work, although she feels hesitant to even admit that: “To her the money part of the job was unimportant.”

          Writing was a thrilling, wonderful thing to do, Cathy thought, and it opened doors
          of the whole world to you.  She could not get over the miracle of having this opportunity
          to write fall into her lap.

The “money part” may be trivial, but when that paycheck arrives, Cathy is pretty excited. The accompanying picture shows her racing down the stairs in her pleated skirt, holding the letter in one hand and its envelope in the other.

          There was only a thin pink slip inside.  Slowly she drew it out, gazing at it with a puzzled
          frown.  Then suddenly Cathy gave a shrill squeal, headed for the door, and flew
          downstairs, waving the paper…
          ‘This is my pay!…’
          ‘It’s a check!’
          ‘I’m going straight upstairs and telephone some people and earn lost more money!’

The lots more money won’t happen for a while. Eventually, even as she saves an old woman’s life and becomes herself the subject of newspaper articles, Cathy concedes that her job is interfering with getting good “marks” in school. She voluntarily resigns.  I couldn’t help but wonder if, as an adult, maybe with a husband and family, she would indeed be allowed to pursue her dream. Might she start a job, only to be told that her duties were interfering with housework and childcare?  By then, the second wave feminist movement would be underway. Maybe she would be able to be a journalist, and maybe even earn “lots more money.” (unlikely)

Cathy Leonard has ambitions, as did her creator, Catherine Woolley.

The Past, Distant and Less So

The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story – by Lois Lowry
Clarion Books, 2023

There are contemporary children’s books that, instead of following trends, challenge them. It’s hardly a surprise that Lois Lowry, the author of so many works that ask young readers to think about difficult issues, has once again made a memorable contribution to literature. The Windeby Puzzle suggests different possibilities about the life of a young person that ended during the Iron Age, in the first century C.E. Rather than writing a straightforward historical fiction, Lowry imagines who the adolescent, whose body was found in a peat bog in Germany in 1952, could have been. She frames stories about the events of their life, as well as suggesting their motives presented through narration of their interior lives, as well.  In alternating chapters, Lowry herself steps forward and describes the process through which she tries to recreate the past, acknowledging that she would never be able to accurately do so in the pre-modern setting of the book.  Most important, she encourages readers to think about both the limits and the potential rewards of reconstructing a distant past.

Lowry is specific in admitting that her construction of a feminist character, based on the time when the Windeby body was believed to have been female, is thoroughly anachronistic. We cannot impose the standards of justice and equality which people have come to expect today on a time when people’s lives were completely constrained by gender, glass, geographic setting, and other unchangeable factors.  But on the other hand, the fertile exercise of thinking about how a particular individual might have responded to those limitations is legitimate, as long as we understand the difference between literally, or just figuratively, rewriting the past. The dialogue, description, and poetry of her writing is, as usual, engaging and also beautiful, even when she addresses tragedy.

Everyone approaches a book in a different way.  This is in no way a criticism of Lowry’s achievement, but I could not avoid one disturbing connection that struck me from the beginning of the novel/meditation on history. It is 1952 in Germany. Workers cutting peat come across a body. They are disturbed. The bone they have come upon is not from an animal, but a human being. Perhaps it is evidence of a crime. They call the police.  This scene takes place a mere seven years after the end of World War II, and of the Holocaust.  The remains of thousands of Jews, sometimes their bones but sometimes only ashes, lie beneath the earth.  While some of the death camps were located in Eastern Europe, others, such as Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, were in Germany.  The people living in the vicinity of the camps were well aware of what was happening inside them. (This perspective even seems validated by an anecdote, on the website of the Penn Museum, about a World War II era bog find which was confused with a murder by the SS.

To me the contradiction of finding Windeby girl/boy, the zeal with which archeologists sought to determine how his or her life had ended, has an ironic shadow.  So many stories of lives cut short, as young or younger than the person’s at Windeby, deserve to be recovered and remembered, and many authors and historians have devoted their careers to that goal.  Sometimes the distant past seems less threatening to explore than the much more recent one, which, in 1952, was less the subject of inquiry than of deliberate denial.

A Force of Nature

Zap! Clap! Boom! The Story of a Thunderstorm – written by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Elly MacKay
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2023

The thunderstorm in Zap! Clap! Boom! is a little bit threatening and also exciting. The preamble to the storm is quiet and the aftermath is peaceful. Laura Purdie Salas and Elly MacKay capture the contradictory parts of this weather experience for children in a poetic narrative with fanciful pictures, leaving the scientific explanation for an accessible afterword.  The book is unusual in its presentation of both the beauty and the menace of a summer storm, immersing children in its representation of their feelings without qualifiers.

The text is economically presented, with each word having maximum impact.  The beginnings of the storm are only “a rising cloud,/a towering plume.” Then the sky explodes and the world feels its impact: “The world groans slowly,/shivers,/creaks.”  “A crackling, grumbling/sound of doom” precedes the sound effects capture in the title, and then the storm has passed. The combination of words and pictures gives the story a theatrical presentation, with layered paper and digital elements that emphasize the drama of this ordinary event.

Every page is carefully composed. Three children play against a pale blue sky, their game of kicking a ball continuing on to the next page, and the bright red ball reappearing in subsequent scenes.  A family of goats prances across the sky, evoking a Chagall painting.  They return to earth, finding shelter in a shed, but later take flight again.  The scale of people to their environment also changes, with the children sometimes rendered quite small in relation to nature, and on other pages taking center stage.  Deep colors are the setting when the storm is intense, as when the children, viewed from a brown-framed window, hover together against the dark blue of the sky and the forest green of branches unsettled by the storm.

After the storm ends, the children, the goats, and the bright red ball return to unencumbered enjoyment of the sunny day.  A parable of recovery and peace is set within a realistic depiction of a storm and its aftermath. There is even the sense of a lasting benefit, as “Diamond drops/dress trees and vines./Storm is over.”  At least for the moment, that’s true.  The explanatory afterword, “The Science Behind Storms,” offers further information and resources, as well as the message that access to knowledge complements the poetic lens of the book. 

A Room of One’s Own

A Room for Cathy – written by Catherine Woolley, with illustrations by Veronica Reed
William Morrow & Company, 1956

Catherine Woolley (1904-2005) was a prolific mid-twentieth century author of middle grade novels marketed to girls.  She sometimes published under the name Jane Thayer, and also wrote and illustrated numerous picture books. While you might choose to dismiss her works as formulaic, or view them with condescending affection, there is a lot to like in her work.   A Room for Cathy, the first in a series of novels about Cathy Leonard and the normal, if sometimes exciting, difficulties she faces coming of age.  Woolley also had a career in public relations at a time when women encountered intense discrimination in those fields.

A Room for Cathy is a look at the American postwar dream gone awry, in a lighthearted way with a happy ending.  Cathy’s father is a businessman who has been awarded “a Promotion” which is lucrative enough to enable their family to buy a big home in a rural area.  Cathy is full of dreams about a yellow decorating scheme for her room, which at last will give her privacy and freedom from her younger sister.  She makes the mistake of telling all her new classmates about their upgraded housing, and has big plans for entertaining everyone, including one proto-mean girl named Bernice.  But even with the economic boom enjoyed by the American middle class, disappointments happen. Her father’s company is moving its headquarters to Pittsburgh, and he can only get his big raise and new job if he is willing to move there.  No one in the family wants to move to Pittsburgh, so at least there is no conflict about the letdown.

The solution is to adopt the downscale measure of taking in boarders, or, as Cathy prefers to call it, renting apartments in parts of the house. Goodbye private room and bath, fireplace and soon to be-acquired piano.  Soon a young man , Mr. Tracy, moves into Cathy’s former suite. Downstairs, Mrs. Hughes and her daughter, Naomi, take over much of the family’s living quarters.  But Cathy adapts. The young tenant plays the guitar and loves kids.  Better yet, Mrs. Hughes is an author who needs space to write her books, and her daughter is, as Anne of Green Gables might have called her, a kindred spirit to Cathy. I was disappointed not to learn more about Mrs. Hughes. All we know is that “She writes girls’ books…for older girls.”  Is she based on Woolley herself, or just a reminder to readers that women can be authors? She is the widow of a United Nations employee and the family had lived in Paris.  Cathy is impressed!  A sophisticated element has entered her life of Brownie meetings, baked beans, and gardening. 

As luck would have it in the world of Catherine Woolley, that big “Promotion” comes through, but owning large properties isn’t the most important goal to Cathy or her parents.  Mr. Tracy will move on, although no one is rushing him out.  But Mrs. Hughes and Naomi matter more than access to a t.v. room or even a fireplace.      

Someone Who’s There When You Need Her

The Care and Keeping of Grandmas – written by Jennifer Mook-Sang, illustrated by Yong Ling Kang
Tundra Books, 2023

Both the words and images of the Care and Keeping of Grandmas, by Jennifer Mook-Sang and Yong Ling Kang, invoke gardening metaphors, although gardening is far from the only activity of the grandma in this book. The endpapers open with ferns and other leaves, and there are scenes of Grandma tending plants.  But tending and growing aren’t limited to this one aspect of the relationship between a girl and her grandmother. Each one responds to the other’s needs, and they communicate those needs to one another with deep respect and love. 

Without giving a name to either character, the grandmother and granddaughter develop organically through the story.  The old woman shows up, alone, to live with her extended family.  The author does not specify that she is a widow, although she probably is.  We see a mom, dad, and sibling in the kitchen, providing a context, but most of the narrative and pictures focus on the central relationship of girl and grandma.  There is no idealization or sentimentality. This grandma looks old, in a beautiful way.  She is strong and determined, as she sets up her living quarters and involves herself in purposeful activities.

The grandma’s vulnerability sometimes surfaces, and the girl always seems to intuit how she can help. Grandma reads the newspaper with close attention, while the girl gently styles the old woman’s hair. In a scene that is poignant, but not tragic, the grandma is “wilted.” Even the most carefully cultivated plants do not always survive.  Her face is deeply furrowed. There is a picture of family members on the wall and the grandma, sitting up in bed, is reading, maybe texting, on her phone.  Gray tones predominate, contrasting with other pictures that feature pastels and brighter colors.  When the girl puts her arms around her grandmother’s neck and they look into one another’s eyes, the text makes her sensitivity clear: “In those moments, I knew just what to do.”

Happiness and implied grief alternate in this moving depiction of the unique relationship of elderly grandparents to their youngest family members.  The minimalist text demonstrates how sometimes words are barely necessary. The pictures of old age, with its contradictions of energetic actions and wearied sadness, are complemented by the portraits of a child who intuitively understands what it means to be old. The girl ensures that joy is still a daily part of her grandmother’s life.

Words and Pictures Inimitably Presented by Beth and Joe Krush

The Courtis-Watters Illustrated Golden Dictionary for Young Readers – by Stuart A. Courtis and Garnette Watters, illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush
Golden Press, 1961, revised version of 1951 edition

Yes, Beth and Joe Krush illustrated a children’s dictionary! If you collect the nearly obsolete genre of children’s print dictionaries, or if you are Beth and Joe Krush fan, you will want to acquire this out-of-print book.  If you are interested in midcentury education, or modern American history, or any other subject that appears within the pages of a dictionary, you might also want to see this book.

If you read my blog, you know about my enthusiasm for every book graced with pictures by the wonderful Krushes.  In addition to the fact that they rarely worked in color, this book is unique since it falls outside all their other categories: fiction, non-fiction, anthologies.  (Joe Krush also illustrated record album covers.) Opening to the endpapers, you are first immersed in a visual tribute to written language.  A cave man paints a bison, a Chinese scribe creates a manuscript, an ancient Jew holds a Torah scroll, and Benjamin Franklin, or someone who looks just like him, stands in front of a printing press.  Inside, the pictures become smaller and more detailed, accompanying and expanding on so many useful definitions.

Let’s look at the entry for “Inventions.” Admittedly, some of them may not seem useful today, but they are.  A rotary phone, record player with amplifier, boxy television set, mechanical pencil sharpener and a bulky radio still appear in books, films, and other media.  The zipper,  and the delicate nylon stockings tucked behind a parachute of the same material, were once new, as was the Bessemer converter used in manufacturing steel. The smaller entries are just as valuable and revealing.  We see an adorable set of quintuplets in pink playsuits, bookended by one holding a toy kitten and the other a dog. “Race” depicts two different definitions. Three boys and one equally fast girl compete for speed. A closer look shows an interesting artistic choice, with one guy in a suit and tie, another in a V-neck sweater and tie, a third in shorts and a tee shirt. The girl wears a pink dress with a slip showing under the hem.  All four competitors seem happily engaged in running, regardless of how appropriate, or inappropriate, their attire is for the task.  The second image illustrates “race” as “a large group of people who have the same skin color and kind of hair, and other common traits.”

Obviously, there are some potential challenges there, but the Krushes’ picture shows a Black, white, Asian, and American Indian example.  The skin color on the face of the Chinese boy would no longer be depicted in that shade, which is almost fluorescent, but the other skin colors are also somewhat exaggerated.  Aside from the fact that the point of the picture is comparison, the process used to produce color in the book emphasizes a certain range of bright tones, like a mid-twentieth century illuminated manuscript.  The picture accompanying “blue” is square that matches the cobalt background of “skyrocket,” and the pink of a “melon” is nearly identical to that of a “reel” of film.  Obviously, the illustrators did not control these limitations.

The joy of seeing the Krushes’ incredible eye for detail is one of best features of the dictionary.  A fireman’s raincoat against a cloud of billowing black smoke, an oven range rendered in blue and white with a miniature red saucepan cooking, and a display of different clocks, from grandfather to mantel to cuckoo, all optimize their gift for capturing an object with both accuracy and imagination.  (They are the illustrators of The Borrowers, the creators of the Clock family!)

There’s lots more to love in this book, including the introductory “Getting Acquainted with Your Dictionary,” as if it were a new friend.  It includes helpful and openminded questions and advice, such as “Are both of these words spelled correctly: theater, theatre?” and “Pictures can help us understand what words mean… .  “Find the word accordion…Notice the many full-page pictures and maps in this book.” That especially applies when the pictures are by Beth and Joe Krush.