In a world of "Frozen" dolls and Lego Minecraft, how can a mere book -- one without a movie tie-in -- compete for a young child's attention?
Those who hope to best the lure of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle merchandise would do well to select a title with beautiful illustrations, one that offers the chance of a whimsical experience.
“The Extraordinary Mr. Qwerty” might qualify. Mr. Qwerty is a man of very few words with a seemingly endless supply of enchanting ideas for inventions. He daydreams of flying spoons and sprockets, of one-legged light bulbs and robotic birds. He worries that people will find him strange and feels “completely alone.” But his ideas are simply too big to contain; they “escape” and the next thing you know, our eccentric genius is constructing “the most extraordinary thing that anyone had ever seen” -- a huge contraption that builds upon the playfulness of his other ideas. His Rube-Goldberg-like invention alters the landscape and puts an end to all that loneliness.
Australian author/illustrator Karla Strambini's work will remind adult readers of that time in a child's life when words don't matter as much as illustrations; they may recall their own childhoods, sitting on a parent's lap and identifying the various elements of a complex illustration, over and over again. The book is listed for children ages 5 to 8, but its lessons -- be true to yourself, follow your dreams -- might appeal to an even younger child.
"The Lonely Typewriter" also revels in nostalgia. The title of the book, written by Peter Ackerman, a co-writer of "Ice Age" and a sequel, and illustrated by Max Dalton (they first collaborated on 2010's "The Lonely Phone Booth"), follows a boy named Pablo with a homework deadline and a computer on the blink. He is introduced to his grandmother's typewriter, a machine with a storied history that involves the Civil Rights movement but is currently covered in cobwebs.
Pablo is bemused by the contraption, accepts the challenge of mastering its use and bangs out a paper. When he turns it in, his teacher can't help but notice that it was typed. Pablo is quite proud of his new skill: "It doesn't need a screen or electricity or anything! … We had it stuck up in the attic, but now I'm going to keep it in my room with me."
"The Lonely Typewriter" is directed at children ages 6 to 9, but it's quite possible their parents -- or grandparents -- will be the ones to linger over its pages. The first illustration in the book is a beautiful diagram of a manual typewriter. It might prompt memories of a pre-digital high school typing class, an era of term papers that actually required a bit of forethought because it was so time-consuming to correct them.
A computer allows the words to flow, almost spontaneously. Fixing, changing, revising … over and over … is a given. A typewriter, on the other hand, is a symbol of a more thoughtful -- and often more frustrating -- way of life.
Is there a moral here? Is there any circumstance in which we would willingly use a typewriter, other than a power outage? Is the end result so much more interesting that we would willingly return to the pre-computer age?
You already know the answer to that. A ride in a horse-and-buggy is charming, but it's unlikely to inspire many of us to ditch the Prius and build a stable. And that's kind of a pity.
The Extraordinary Mr. Qwerty
Candlewick: 32 pp., $16.99, ages 5-8
The Lonely Typewriter
Peter Ackerman, illustrator Max Dalton
David R. Godine: 38 pp., $16.95, ages 6-9