Aliki can make kids want to learn, even about manners

Books for children

October 30, 1991|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Evening Sun Staff

SOME TITLES would never make it on most kids' most wanted lists. ''101 Tips on Cleaning Your Room,'' for instance, or ''How to Make Your Little Sister Happy Without Really Trying.''

Any book called ''Manners'' would fit into that category, right? Not quite.

Not when it's written and illustrated by Aliki, whose non-fiction books are wildly popular with kids ages 4 and up. She may be best known for her dinosaur books -- including ''Digging Up Dinosaurs'' and ''My Visit to the Dinosaurs'' -- and the fun little illustrations of folks in those books also people the cartoon-like sequences in ''Manners,'' (Greenwillow Books, $12.95, ages 5 and up).

The vignettes work without being didactic because they show plenty of kids with bad manners as well as those rare kids with good manners. There's the story about how Anthony almost ruined Diana's party. He burps. He cheats at pin the tail on the donkey. He calls one girl Fatso. By the end, even the unruliest reader would agree that Anthony is a lout no one would want to spend any time with. And that's the point.

''Manners are very simple,'' Aliki said on a stop in Baltimore during a recent promotional tour. ''They are how you make someone feel that you're with. Are you thinking about them, or just yourself?''

Six years ago Aliki wrote ''Feelings,'' (Mulberry paperback, $3.95, ages 5 and up) using the same format. Next spring Greenwillow is scheduled to publish ''Communication,'' which explains feedback and listening in the same sly way.

''If it's not fun, it's not good,'' Aliki said. ''If they don't see what bad manners are, it would be preachy. My books aren't preachy.''

The same applies to her non-fiction works for ages 7 and up, including ''Mummies Made in Egypt,'' ''The King's Day: Louis XIV of France'' and ''A Medieval Feast.'' Readers learn loads of facts about various periods in history without knowing they're getting a lesson.

''I never write for kids -- I am the kid,'' said Aliki, who won't tell her age. She's the writer/illustrator of more than 45 books, and she has illustrated between 100 and 150 books in her lifetime. Her first book was published in 1960 and her son and daughter are in their 20s, but those are the only clues she'll give about her age. ''Just say I forget,'' she said.

How does she choose the topics for her non-fiction books? ''I write about whatever I'm curious about. I wanted to find out more about mummies and dinosaurs, for example. I knew I could ask myself the questions a child might ask. Then I do research, and if I can understand it, I know kids can understand it.''

Many of her books have won awards, including four Reading Rainbow Selections and numerous Notable Books and Children's Choices. She received the 1991 Drexel Citation for her contribution to the field of children's literature.

Her husband, Franz Brandenberg, is also an acclaimed children's book author, and Aliki has illustrated dozens of his books, including ''I Wish I Was Sick, Too!'' and ''Cock-a-Doodle-Doo.''

Aliki's family stars in her latest picture book, ''Christmas Tree Memories,'' (HarperCollins, $14.95, ages 4-8). A mother, father, son and daughter are bundled up in robes, sitting on the couch in front of the tree on Christmas Eve. One by one, they share the memories that each different ornament evokes.

There's the lopsided heart of dough the little girl sculpted when she was 2, and the little spool men the kids glued and painted when they had chicken pox. Some ornaments were made at big family gatherings; others were gifts from relatives and friends who are all remembered on Christmas Eve.

''It's a very personal book,'' Aliki said. ''But I hope what people will find is that it's not about making your own decorations. It's about you. We're walking memories, and maybe people will be stimulated to think about their own family memories.''

Like most of her books, this latest one includes kids of all races. In an elementary school scene, homemade menorahs stand next to the paper Christmas trees, and a little girl walks with the aid of braces.

''I love the American mix of all races -- I'm so proud of it,'' said Aliki, whose Greek parents immigrated to Philadelphia, where she was born. ''In my books I try to include children of all backgrounds, children in wheelchairs . . . everyone.''

Now that her own children have grown up and moved away, Aliki spends 12 to 16 hours a day at home working on her books. ''It's never easy, but I'm fascinated by the challenge.''

''Also,'' she said with a smile, ''I've got a lot of ideas, and I've got to get them down before I die.''

*

Kids will be the center of attention at the Jewish Book Fair on Sunday, Nov. 10, from 1-4 p.m. at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center.

At 1:30 p.m., author and poet Bracha Goetz will read from her books, ''The Happiness Box'' and ''Nicanor Knew the Secret.'' At 2 p.m., filmmaker and author M. Lev will read from his books, ''The Magic Faucet'' and ''The Day the Sky Split.'' At 3 p.m., the Yofi Tofi Puppets will perform. And all afternoon, families can browse through hundreds of children's books on Jewish topics. For more information, call Sheila Steelman at 542-4900.

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