Friday, December 31, 2010

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

Rating: 5 stars

It's official--we love this Dan Yaccarino guy.  We've only read a fraction of his books, but we are totally hooked.  And if I didn't love him because of his books, I read this neat little interview with him on a cool book blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Yup, we're in love (thanks, Beth, for the recommendation!).

This book is one of my favorites of his, of the 6 books of his we've read so far.  It's a simple, short tale with simple, gorgeous illustrations of a boy and his father's Friday ritual: going to the diner.  The book starts with the father kissing the mother good-bye (it's the best of many great pictures; there's so much going on in the picture that Lorelei and Ben and I take a few minutes to look at it) and follows the boy and his father through three city blocks.  They pass shops, wave to familiar faces, and walk slowly amidst everyone else who is hurrying.  They arrive at their destination: the diner!  Clearly regulars, the waitress asks: "Pancakes?" and gets a nod.  She waves farewell to them and adds, "See you next Friday!"  "Already, I can't wait," the book ends.

The story was inspired by Dan Yaccarino's Friday ritual with his son; the book starts with a nice suggestion to start rituals like this in your family.  So, we took his encouragement and the kids and I "took Daddy to the diner!"  We had a great time, and Lorelei and Ben were amazed at the music at our table and the busy-ness of the joint.  The bacon was the biggest hit (of course!) but the blueberry pancakes were a close second.  But the best part was doing something a little different, and how wonderful that the something a little different didn't involve any cleaning up on my part!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O'Connor

Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glassner

Rating: 3.5 stars

A friend of mine whose daughter is into anything and everything princess asked me what I thought about Fancy Nancy recently.  She and her daughter had read all of the Ladybug Girl books (read my review of Ladybug Girl at the Beach here) but my friend didn't like Lulu the Ladybug Girl very much--"she's kind of a brat," she said.  I agree, though the books are still pretty good.

I was hesitant about Fancy Nancy (here's my review of a bunch of Fancy Nancy books all in one post), but now I like her.  Love?  Not quite yet.  But I appreciate her a little more now, maybe because Lorelei's a tiny bit older than when we first read the books.  Her outfits are definitely outrageous and her insistence on looking her fanciest every moment of the day makes me want to roll my eyes while Lorelei isn't looking.  But, and here's the good part: Nancy always does the right thing.  Sometimes she pouts on her way to doing that right thing, and while I don't even want Lorelei knowing what pouting is--let alone doing it!--at least Nancy arrives at a good ending.

In this book, Nancy and her family go get a Christmas tree and wait for her grandfather to arrive to decorate it.  While waiting for him, Nancy pleads with her parents to let her put up the new tree-topper, a super annoying angel thing that rotates and shines and might do flips, too.  They let her, of course, so the tree is bare except for the enormous tree topper.  Then she and her dog are playing tug-of-war and she knocks the tree over, breaking her beloved tree topper.  Her grandfather arrives and tells her "if you break eggs, make eggnog!" or to improvise.  The whole family gathers around to make a new tree topper with all the glitter, pom-poms and other fancy stuff they can find.

That's the other thing I like about this series: they really do teach new vocabulary words.  Many times the words are great--improvise is probably one of my favorites.  We use it every day when we have something that Lorelei thinks we should (I forget a lot of stuff at the grocery store).  So, we improvise! 

Another thing Fancy Nancy helped us with was our field trip "uniform" the other day.  Lorelei's teachers told her to wear her green school T-shirt, something Lorelei didn't want to do.  I asked her, "What would Fancy Nancy do?"  We didn't wear every necklace and bracelet she owned like I suggested, but we did wear it with polka-dotted leggings, a tutu-like skirt, and big green bows in her hair.  My husband gave me a look, but luckily didn't question the outfit out loud.  It was hilarious, but she was happy and the T-shirt stayed on (until they got back from the field trip, when she asked her teacher to help her take it off). 

So we'll keep reading them--but not buying.  Not sure if I want them just lying around the house for her to get inspiration for her outfits everyday!  Boas and feathers are just not my thing...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Geez Louise! by Susan Middleton Elya

Geez Louise! by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Eric Brace
Rating: 4 stars

Had any stink bugs around your house in the past few months?  We had, like a bunch of people in the mid-Atlantic, hundreds of these little bugs clinging to our house for a few weeks in early Fall.  They were only a little stinky, but very gross. 

Why am I writing about stink bugs in this blog entry about this book?  Because Louise, of Geez Louise! is a stink bug!  I laughed as I read that for the first time, and kept chuckling throughout this book.  Another funny thing: explaining to Lorelei why the illustrator, Eric Brace, put wafting green squiggly lines behind Louise in every page.  To show the reader that Louise was stinky!  That alone made this book worth a checkout!

But the story is great, and a better reason to go find this non-stinky stinkbug book.  Basically, it's about a bully who gets put in her place (in a good sorta way). 

No one likes Louise the stinkbug because, well, she stinks, except her one faithful friend (Termite Tara).  Louise is a talented ice-skater; it's the one thing she really enjoys.  When there's an ice-skating contest, Louise is excited to finally show people that she's more than just a stinky bug.  But the mean bully Kiki the Cockroach (Boo! Hiss!) is competing, too.  Kiki intimidates everyone into not competing against her, but Louise is brave--and a little nervous, too, of course.  Louise skates first, and does really well.  Kiki skates second, and does okay until she skates past Louise, whose stinkiness affects Kiki's concentration!  Louise wins and Kiki never bullies her--or any other bug--again.

A stinkbug who takes on a bully and, with some talent (the hard-earned kind of ice-skating and the natural kind of flatulence-esque smell), gracefully wins in the end.  Hooray!

Away We Go! by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Away We Go! by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Rating: 5 stars!

A friend of mine suggested we read more Dan Yaccarino books, so we checked out eight of them at the library.  Overkill?  Nah!  This one isn't written by him; like our first book with his name on the cover (Trashy Town), he illustrated this one.

I LOVE IT!  I am going to buy it for a few Christmas gifts.  Wait, after some Googling I just realized that I can't find it new anywhere except here, used (and a new one that would put me back $140!  It's good, but not that good).  That's a bummer. 

But it should be available at your local library, and it's really worth checking out for your little one.  Lorelei likes it, but it is really better for Ben's age (2) or even younger.  It has wonderfully bright, unambiguous pictures that we've looked at a dozen times already.  It's just your basic transportation book, with a little guide on the back on how to use it to teach your child a few things in addition to the idea that you can go places by bike, horse, hot air balloon, etc.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates
Rating: 5 stars

There seems to be a few books out recently where dogs love to read!  This book is just as wonderful as How Rocket Learned to Read, though a little different.  Dog Loves Books is a simply wonderful book.  I mean, it is one of the books that I always hope Lorelei chooses for me to read to her because it makes me smile inside, realizing why I love books.  Dog and I have a lot in common...  I'll explain.

Dog loves books so much he opens a bookstore.  But no one comes (right away) to buy any books.  So he makes himself some tea and waits.  Then he can't wait any longer; with a room full of books he decides to start reading while he waits. 

I can't help but stop and say: Such a good habit!  You know the saying "always bring a book:, right?  In Peace Corps we'd say "Always bring two" because there's a whole lot of waiting, especially when waiting for transportation in developing countries!  And on that transportation, too... 

Simple drawings illustrate a simple story of dog's love of books.
 Ok, back to the book.  So Dog reads a few books and is instantly transported into the books.  His bookstore gives way to a dinosaur-filled jungle, and when he's done with that adventure he opens another and hangs out with a kangaroo and her joey.  When his first customer comes in, he's more than ready, because he knows what books to recommend to her. 

This, of course, totally takes me back to my days in India and Thailand, where I'd spend hours and hours reading, completely getting swept away by whatever story I was reading.  This skill was such a gift, especially when I could really feel the hundreds of miles between me and my family.  I'm doing my best to build this skill with Lorelei and Ben, mostly by having books available to them at all times, especially when they are falling asleep or waking up, and when we're in the car (are you surprised I don't have a video player in my car?).  Habits start young... 

The story ends: "Dog loves books, but most of all...he loves to share them!"  I'm right there with you, Dog.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha

Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Rating: 5 stars

When my husband read this book to the kids, he first asked me: "Is Christina Aguilara in this book?"  In case you're wondering, no.  I always love exchanging some grown up quips about books such as keeps me chuckling on the inside.  (Like the time in Thailand a coworker asked me how to say beetle in English after she showed me one she had stashed in her refrigerator for breakfast the next day.  "Inedible," I said.)


Zimmerman and Clemesha ROCK at books for little boys (and Lorelei likes their books, too, especially this one).  This has a very similar feel to it as Dig! which is another of our all-time favorites of theirs.  In this book, Mr. Gilly drives around "trashy town" to pick up trash.  He goes to the school, the fire station, the park, etc, and loads it up.  After he empties the cans into his truck, you get to read the catchy refrain: "Dump it in, smash it down, drive around the Trashy Town!  Is the trash truck full yet?  NO!  Mr. Gilly drives on."  He collects trash until his truck is full, then dumps it out and heads home.  When he gets home, he takes off his gloves and realizes there's only one more thing to clean up--himself!  He goes to take a bath.

This is a super cute book (not too dirty!) with fantastic, unique illustrations by Dan Yaccarino, someone we'll be checking out in the next few weeks thanks to a suggestion to my friend Beth, whose kids are a few years older than our kids.  I hear we'll be pleased with what we read!

Five Little Monkeys... by Eileen Christelow

Five Little Monkeys...  by Eileen Christelow

Rating: Overall, about 4.5 stars

These books are fantastic go-to books for reading aloud.  While they aren't super special treasures or books with priceless lessons sewn with rich words and creative characters, they are fun, engaging, and reliable.  Those are all good things!  I've put the "treasury" of books on the left; this is a great gift for a 3- or 4-year old, boy or girl.  We've really enjoyed these books, and they are always standbys if I need to check out a few more books from the library. 

One thing is curious about the books: where's Dad?  Apparently, he's out of the picture; there's no mention of him in any book, so only Mama is left to tend to her five offsprings.  Gulp!

Here are a few sentences on each book:

Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake  The five monkeys decide to bake Mama a birthday cake; they wake early and make the cake, but they are so excited to follow the recipe that several add in the required baking soda, eggs, oil, etc.  While it bakes they go upstairs to make mama a present (with every tool imaginable...this is a good example of GroupThink!), only to return when they smell something burning.  Firemen arrive, but instead of putting out a fire they help ice the cake, which they eat together even though Mama's birthday is actually tomorrow.  This makes Lorelei and Ben giggle everytime.

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed  We all know how this one goes, and when I got this book as a gift when Lorelei was a baby it gathered dust on the shelf.  But when Ben was around 18 months we read it almost daily...the kids realized what was going to happen, so predicting it was fun and easy, and they could quickly fill in the words in the text.  But it does encourage bed-jumping, something I don't frown upon unless it's right at bedtime.

Five Little Monkeys Play Hide and Go Seek  This might be Lorelei's favorite.  It is a poem--I wish all these books were--and the monkeys play hide and go seek with Lulu, their sitter, while Mama goes out dancing (good for her!).  They hide inside, and then outside, and then in their beds.  This is a counting book--Lulu counts first to ten, then 25, and then to 100.  Lorelei likes to count along with her, so this is a good book to encourage counting to those high numbers (we like to do that in the car, too).

Five Little Monkeys Wash the Car  This is another I-hope-my-kids-don't-do-that book, but it's pretty safe anyway.  Unless you have paint handy and your kids want to paint your car.  Anyway, Mama wants to sell their old car, but it doesn't have any takers.  While she takes a nap, the monkeys wash it, paint it, then push it down the hill...into the swamp!  There, they convince the alligators to push it back up to the house, and buy the car, too.  Mama and the monkeys go buy a fancy red convertible.  Good ending!  We bought this as a board book at the airport, which was silly--it has way too many words in it for a less-than-2-year-old to sit through.

Five Little Monkeys With Nothing to Do  "Boring" was a bad word when I was growing up, and we don't say it in our house.  So this one isn't my favorite, but it's still a good standby.  The monkeys complain about not having anything to do, so Mama suggests they clean up their very messy room, get washed up, pick flowers for their grandmother's visit.  They get muddy during the last activity, so they go and change, which a) gets everything messy again and b) gives them more things to do!

Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping  Another math book.  This one is actual addition and subtraction, done in a funny way.  Mama goes shopping, but keeps gaining and losing monkeys, depending on if her monkeys wander off with a friend or if a friend wanders off to be with her brood. 

Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree  We've not read this one!  Have you?

The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni

The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni

Rating: 4.5 stars

We need to read more Leo Lionni books.  Swimmy was one of my favorite books growing up, and he has so many different books that there are plenty to explore.  Because I feel a little guilty for knowing so little about his books, we grabbed this one the last time we were at the library.  It's so great, and hits us at an especially good time as Lorelei is interested in and curious about reading and writing and spelling.

So here's what happens in the book:  There's this tree, the alphabet tree, and all the letters cling separately onto leaves on the tree.  A big gust of wind blows through the tree, blowing some of them away.  The remaining letters are scared, and huddle together in a big clump at the base of the tree.  The "word bug" flies in and suggests they group themselves into words so that they're stronger.  This they do, spelling "cat" and "dog" and "wind;" now they are able to sun themselves on the top branches without fear of getting blown away. 

Then a fuzzy caterpillar creeps up and suggests they get together and "mean something."  He helps them make sentences, which they happily do, but he's still not satisfied.  "You've got to say something important," he explains.  So they spell out: "Peace on earth and goodwill to all men."  All critters and letters are pleased, but the caterpillar tells them to hop on his back, so he can take them to the President.

The book was written in 1968, during the Vietnam War.  I'm not a huge advocate of political messages in books, but...this one made me smile, mostly out of respect for the crazy time period that came before my birth and for the fact that a lot of people would agree with this book and gift this book today if they knew about it.

So we'll keep exploring Leo Lionni; rgardless of his political views, we like his style.  Got any favorites to recommend?

Oh No, Gotta Go! by Susan Middleton Elya

Oh No, Gotta Go! by Susan Middle ton Elya, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Rating: 4 stars

Is my daughter the only preschooler who thinks s/he can speak Spanish (or another language)?  We watch Handy Manny once-ish a day, and we've read a handful of bilingual books over the year.  I avoid Dora like the plague (sorry if you're a fan--Lorelei loves her but her little voice drives me crazy.  I try to focus on the positive like maps, adventure, and helping,'s just not my favorite) so...where does this interest come from?!  I wonder if it's a natural part of language learning; there are other languages out there being spoken other than your own.  As a culturally-minded mom (and a former Peace Corps Volunteer) I don't mind this at all.

So this book fell in our laps.  Not literally, of course.  It is mostly English with a smattering of Spanish words thrown in.  The text rhymes, making it even easier for Lorelei to remember big chunks of the book.  That's a good thing, because the first few times we read it together she only remembered, "Where is un bano?  Donde esta?"  I was about ready to slip the book in the night return box in the library after tucking her in...  But, after a few weeks, she remembered a whole lot more.

The story is funny and cute; a little family of three get in the car to go somewhere and the little girl suddenly has to go to the bathroom.  I find it really amusing that it's the father who is responsible for forgetting to remind her (we moms never would!) but of course they promise to find one quickly.  They drive around the city until the find a restaurant, at which they quickly park, run in smack into a long line!  They beg forgiveness to skip to the front, and the little girl "comes out with a smile."  They eat at the restaurant, but the little girl focuses more of her time and attention on the limonada, so we all have a big laugh when, after getting back into the car, she asks: "Where is un banoDonde esta?"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rose's Dollhouse by Roger Priddy

Let's Pretend Rose's Dollhouse by Roger Priddy

Rating: 4.5 stars

So this one really isn't a book.  Just wanted to let you know that I wasn't pulling a fast one on you or anything.  Awhile ago I wrote about how Grammy attended Lorelei and Ben's preschool's book fair, and she let them each choose a book.  Ben chose Katy and the Big Snow while Lorelei chose this non-book book.

I should preface this entry by saying that my husband and I are waffling about whether or not to get Lorelei a dollhouse for Christmas or for her 4th birthday in May.  I wasn't allowed such a girly-girl thing when I was young, so it's hard for me to just give to the pink and princesses and dollhouses.  But I recognize that the imagination that is required and gets developed is a super positive thing...  So, we waffle. 

Lorelei in full play.
 This book came as a surprise to us, because it is a fold-out dollhouse.  That means there was some interactive fun for me and Lorelei while we set it up--punched out the furniture and glued it together--and figured out how you play with it.  Soon after we got all the members of the family standing on their own two feet (well, and their triangular little stand), Lorelei was totally engaged in walking the little girl around the room, putting the (removable) stickers in places she thought appropriate, and making the dog and cat go where she believed they should go.

It was fun to watch, and it was a nice do-it-on-our-own activity, something she and Ben do really well anyway, but something that needs to be nurtured and developed, so...I encourage that play-by-yourself thing in segments throughout our days.  I really see how much Lorelei likes to play with this dollhouse, that niftily and swiftly folds back down into a book as soon as Ben wakes up from his nap.  He's a little rougher than Lorelei still (might take awhile for that to change!) so we protect this book-dollhouse from him.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure we'll delay the dollhouse purchase until her birthday in May.  I'm good at procrastinating on such things, but I also think that with a little more time, the creative and imaginative play that she applies now will be totally in full swing.  But, really, this book-dollhouse definitely helps as a warm-up to a real dollhouse, and is a deal at $10.  We'll see how long I can hold out on the purchase!

Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley

Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends by Carol Buckley

Rating: 4 stars

If you're the type who cries at Hallmark commercials, make sure you have a tissue handy when you read this.  It is the true, sweet story of Tarra the elephant (that used to be on Little House in the Prairie) who retired to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee.  Tarra was the first of five elephants, but the only one without a best friend.  Until a stray dog, Bella, came into the picture.  They become inseparable, and manage to find each other even after Bella has a strange and life-threatening injury (from which she recovers--whew!). 

Tarra gentle pats Bella with her trunk.
 Lorelei's in the elephant class in her school; we're all about elephants these days.  So I couldn't pass this book up when I found out about it.  The story is told in simple words and there are a ton of photographs to accompany each sentence, especially the heart-warming page when they are reunited after Bella's injury.  It left me wanting a little more story, but the pictures are really what Lorelei and Ben love.  There are a few pages in the back that tell you/your child more about the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, and a portion of the book's profits go towards the sanctuary.

In all, a good book for a good cause.  Worth checking out, if not buying!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Firefighter Ted by Andrea Beaty and Pascal Lemaitre

Firefighter Ted by Andrea Beaty and Pascal Lemaitre
Rating: 3.5 stars

Anything with a firefighter or fire truck on it generates mass excitement in our house from "the Little Guy," as we often call Ben.  He still doesn't have many words in his vocabulary, but "WEE AHH WEE AHH WEE AHH!" means (obviously!) firefighter.  Or fire truck.  Even Lorelei easily comprehends this; this morning I asked Ben what shirt he wanted to wear.  He responded with: "WEE AHH WEE AHH WEE AHH!"  Lorelei interpreted: "He wants to wear his fireman shirt."  I just hope that pretty soon he's able to say "fireman shirt" so the rest of the world doesn't have to become fluent in Ben-speak.

So we like Firefighter Ted.  Ted is a little bear who smells smoke after waking up, and since he can't find a firefighter to fight what is (obviously!) a fire, he becomes one.  He finds a truck and fire extinguisher and puts out the fire (his toast).  He goes to school and solves various dangerous, usually hot problems in funny ways.  For example, a kitten and two puppies and two tricycles are on super hot asphalt, with their toes steaming.  So he puts them in a tree.  "No need to thank me!" Ted says to the curious onlookers as he skips his way to school.

I don't love the book because of Ted's run-in with the principal, Mr. Bigham (he's a warthog, chuckle chuckle).  Mr. Bigham tells him he's late for class while standing in front of the fire alarm, so Ted ties up Mr. Bigham with caution tape and squirts his fire extinguisher at him.  I don't think this is funny, and I really don't think it's funny when Lorelei and Ben laugh at it.  I'm from the old school line of thinking, where disrespect for those in authority (or any adult at all) was met with punishment, usually just a glaring I'm-disappointed-in-you look. 

But we'll check out Doctor Ted because it's not THAT bad, and Ted does mean well.  And he does rescue Mr. Bigham in the end when the principal's pants catch on fire.  "Only you prevent pants fires," Lorelei now reminds me.  Good to know!

Henry the Steinway: A Star is Born by Ally Coveleskie and Peter Goodrich

Henry the Steinway: A Star is Born by Ally Coveleskie and Peter Goodrich, illustrated by Laura Friedman

Rating: 3 stars

And now, from left field, a children's book about pianos, read by a family without any members who play a piano.

But Lorelei insisted that it looked like a good book the last time we were in the library, so we checked it out and read it a few times.  It's a little odd...the pianoes' faces are a bit quirky, a bit creepy if you asked me.  But there's a point to them: each piano is unique (I never knew that), even ones that were made at the same factory on the same day in the same style.  So, at concert halls, there's a whole brigade of pianos from which visiting pianists choose when they perform.  That's kind of neat.

The story is how Henry arrived at the family whose house is now his home, and also a story about how pianos are made.  I won't be checking out the sequel, but for those of you out there with budding pianists in the house, it might be worth reading.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed

Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed

Rating: 4.5 stars

I think this is the most touching children's book I've ever read.  I mean, I had tears in my eyes at the end.  While I do love it personally, it was almost too serious for Lorelei.  I am hoping that someone who has read the book is also reading this, and has a moment to share their opinion.  Was it too serious for the kid in your life? 

Here's the gist of the story: Pete was a "perfectly predictable pig," whose life was quiet and dull, and revolved around missing his late wife, Paprika (she's never mentioned in the text; we see Pete vacuuming her grave and looking wistfully at old pictures of her).  He was lonely, but didn't know it.  Until one night, as he was having a nightmare that he was drowning (that's the only thing pigs do well in water).  An elephant tries to escape her dull life in the circus, but Pete sends the elephant away with the clown who comes looking for her.  After the elephant leaves dandelions and a smile, Pete is curious and ends up helping her escape.

Their life together is anything but quiet and dull.  Pete is no longer predictable, and Pickles easily wiggles her big self into Pete's heart by taking him high-diving, sliding down a hill of leaves, and rowing in an elephant gondola.  Pickles also plants dandelions on Paprika's grave.  But Pickles goes too far when she tries on Paprika's clothes and has the chimney painted with blue skies and clouds, and Pete yells at her: "It's time you probably left!"

This yell causes Pickles to fall into the tub, which she breaks with her heft, which bursts a pipe that quickly floods the whole house.  Pete is frantic--remember what pigs do best in water?--and the two animals climb to the highest part of the house, but only Pete can reach the highest window by standing tall on Pickles' extended trunk.  Poor Pickles is left underwater, but still smiles at Pete.

So then there's a page of darkness, when Lorelei and I were left wondering what happened, hoping someone saved them, or they found a way to save each other.  "When the fireman finally climbed to the window the next morning, he could not believe what he found."

Breathed's daughter's original illustration, and his own.

Pete takes a gulp of air and swims to Pickles to give her air, snout to trunk.  Again and again.  "All night.  Every hour.  Every minute.  Every breath shared."  The two collapse, entwined and exhausted, with the firemen scratching their heads above them.  And when they finally awoke?  They had the first of many new adventures together.
 SUCH a touching story of friendship!  I am in awe of Berkeley Breathed, his imagination, his amazing artwork, and the gift he's given readers through this book.  In the back flap of the book is another great story.  Breathed explains that some years ago, his daughter drew a picture of an elephant holding a small pig in a "nose hug and putting flowers on his head" at a restaurant.  Why?  He asked her.  "Because he's lonely, Dad."  Then she leaned in and whispered  "...But he doesn't know it." 

As if the story could get better, but it does!  Breathed fleshed out her sketch later that day and finished the story two years later.  Even with the serious tone--and that won't flaw it for all readers--this is a remarkable book.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
Rating: 5 stars!

I love this book!  I love this book!  I love this book!

Just had to get that out. 

While we're huge fans of all Anna Dewdney's books, I often shy away from them when I give them as gifts because they are situation-specific.  I mean, do I really want to give Llama Llama Red Pajama to a little 2 year old who might not have issues with the dark?  If my gift develops into a fear, I'm definitely off the guest list for next year's party.  And Llama Llama Misses Mama is a wonderful book about separation anxiety when school starts,'s November and the kids we know are mostly from school.  So...

...enter this book!  It's for anyone who celebrates the holidays, especially those who want to focus on the less-fluffy and commercial, more substantial and meaningful reason for Christmas.  It doesn't touch on the Holy Family--so if you're looking for The Christmas Story, this is definitely not it. 

Our little llama hero is having difficulty waiting for Christmas (as a person with little patience, I really empathize) and constantly counts down the days.  He sees fluffy snow, funny elves, and tons of cheap-o gifts during a trip to the mall with his mother.  He bakes and bakes zillions of cookies, does almost as many Christmas-related crafts at school, decorates his house with equal amounts of holiday stuff.  As any little kid--I mean llama--would, he gets overwhelmed and has "HOLIDRAMA!"  Hey, I know that concept!  I've been there! 

In the end, it's a great, gentle reminder, told (as always) in a wonderful way with catchy, rhyming text and super cute illustrations that:
"Sometimes we should take a rest / and hold the ones we love the best. Wishing, waiting, wanting things... / we forget what this time brings. / Gifts are nice, but there's another-- / the true gift is we have each other."
This is one that you should just order 4 or 5 of, just to keep on hand for your holiday giving list. 

Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition by Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda Bell

Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition by Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda Bell, illustrated by Coƫ Steinwart

Rating: 3 stars

Holy mass-marketing, Batman.

I tell you what, this mother-daughter author team is making a bundle this holiday season.  It seems that I can't turn around any store or look through any catalog without seeing this book advertised, pumped up, shouted about.  So, when our family stopped off at a bookstore last weekend, I snuck away from the pack (of course, I prearranged the sneaking off...there are few unilateral decisions I make in my life anymore) to read this book.  The kids are only vaguely aware of Santa and all that jazz, can't be too careful these days.

In case you've not read the book yourself, it's about an elf that sits up on a shelf (duh) and watches over the kids in the house to make sure they're being good and therefore deserving of Christmas gifts.  There are all these rules attached to the elf--You can't touch it!  You can't talk to it!  Its magic might be tainted if that happens.  The book comes with your own little elf--I think his name is Fisbee but you can give him another name if you like (without any tainted magic). 

Honestly, I find the mass-marketing a bit annoying.  (Their website is so high-fallutin'...maybe I should be impressed but MAN they have put a lot of money into this!)  The fact that the sub-title is "A Christmas Tradition" rubs me the wrong way--here is a company telling ME what traditions MY family should have?!  And, as I stated above, we haven't once said to Lorelei and Ben that they need to be nice or else they won't get any gifts this Christmas.  I am sure that day will come,'s not here yet.

But then I went to said high-fallutin' website and read the story of the authors.  Aebersold explains that she grew up with this tradition, with an elf on her family's shelf, and soon other members of the family had elves on their shelf, and it really helped set the tone for Christmas--a quiet, subtle reminder rather than an angry, threatening one (probably said in a tired tone of voice from an over tired parent).  It definitely helped me become less annoyed with this book because the person shoving the tradition towards my family seemed pretty sweet and innocent...but not completely sold.

Still, this book might find its way onto your shelf.  Along with that Fisbee guy.  Am curious if it works, so let me know your feedback, especially if your kids dig it.  I might have to change my tune and buy one on discount after the holidays for next year!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Race You to Bed by Bob Shea

Race You to Bed by Bob Shea

Rating: 3 stars

Lorelei and Ben would be more generous with their stars...they like this book a bit more than I do.  I think it's the image that I have a problem with: Race you to bed!  Ready, set, go!  Faster, faster!  I mean, I've tried for over three years to create a pretty successful, mostly calm (splashing not included) bedtime routine that actually does not involve a race.

But this book is catchy with its nonsensical rhyme "Sneeze to bed! / Grilled cheese to bed! / Angry, angry bees to bed!"  It is so random in a way that makes me wonder but makes my kids giggle.  On the "Clang to bed... / bang to bed... / bring a BRING-BRANG-BRUNG to bed!" the bunny plays the nosiest instruments known to mankind...on the way to...bed?  I always ask, "Would Mommy let you take these things to bed?"  Both kids: "Nooooo!"  I'm a party pooper like that.

But I do like the ending.  The bunny gets to bed: "Looks like I beat you! / Beat you to bed!" and then with a startled look: "Oh, you're already in bed? / You were way up ahead? ? Okay then, race you to sleep!"

I like that kind of race.  Can I get in on that?

The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller

The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller

Rating: 4.5 wordless stars

We've stumbled into the world of Polo, an adventurous French pup whose imagination takes him to some pretty neat places.  I'm not a huge fan of wordless books...I once checked out a bunch because I read an article saying that it was The Thing To Do with 3-ish-year-olds, but I just wasn't into them.  Neither was Lorelei, so it was an easy genre of books to not check out again.

But we ordered this book, not realizing it was a wordless book until we got it home.  I'm so glad we made this mistake!  Lorelei sat and "read" it for ten to fifteen minutes when we first got home from the library.  She could easily follow along little canine Polo's adventures: laughing when he slid down a line and plopped onto a cloud, gasping in surprise as Polo sees what he thinks is a giant fish from inside a submarine, and wondering out loud what Polo was going to do on the next page.  The illustrations are charming and funny, full of slap-stick type humor that toddlers totally get.

The only negative thing is Polo's run-in with a polar bear.  He and his new friend of the feline variety find an igloo on top an iceberg with a scary polar bear inside.  The polar bear frightens them with his silent roar (this part is actually one of Lorelei's favorites) and the cat and Polo look scared.  But then the polar bear slips and falls off his iceberg and splashes into the cold water below.  That's not so bad, but Regis Faller adds a little picture of Polo and the cat laughing.  Boo.

But I can't end on a bad note.  I overlooked that not-so-great part and added my own words (the beauty of a wordless book): "Glad that he was ok after that fall!"  There are lots of things to love about this book: I love how Polo meets all different types of animals along his not-so-straight path from his tree house and back again.  He had a little imaginative adventure with each, waves good-bye, and sets off on his way, alone, until he pops into someone new.  I actually think it's a sweet message about friendship--how some friends stay a long time in your life and other friends just come for a short while and disappear into the woodwork. 

I also wonder if this book is a little gift to parents--it's a book children can "read" to themselves, after all, so maybe I'll check out a few more of the Polo books so I can get through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest a little bit faster...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, illustrated by R.W. Alley

Rating: 3.5 stars

Little (dog) Nate sees a ballet with his class at the end of his kindergarten year, and decides that he wants to learn how to dance ballet, too.  His mother finds him a class, but it doesn't start until Fall.  All Summer long Nate dances happily everywhere and anywhere; all Summer long Nate's big brother Ben teases him that only girls dance ballet.  His parents shush Ben every time, simply saying: "That's not true, Ben," to whatever falsehood falls from his mouth that moment.

"Ballerinas all have to wear pink shoes and a dress."
 Finally little Nate goes to his first class.  He loves it!  But he realizes that Ben is right--he's the only boy in the class.  So his mother takes him to a "real" ballet--not just a little school performance by students, but one danced by professionals.  He looks on in awe...the illustration of this is my favorite.  From the stage you see the dancers, but more important you see the whole audience, colored in dim grey, except for Nate and his mother, who are colored in brightly.  Nate is about to explode out of his seat in excitement!  Nate is thrilled to see that nearly half of the dancers are men, and that their roles are integral to the performance.  He even talks to one backstage, who explains that "ballerina" is for the top female dancers, while "ballerino" is the term for the best male dancers.

This is a lovely book that challenges the only-girls-do-this and only-boys-do-that stereotype.  It's a great one to read a few times just to put into your kids' heads, maybe to let them think a little outside of the box, or maybe to provide information that will prevent teasing/bullying later on.  I really like this book, but of course wish that the language was a little softer.  I wish that Ben didn't say "yuck" or "stupid" and that Nate didn't say he "hated" dresses and shoes.  I'm being harsh, I think, because I can't imagine boys saying much else at 5 or 6.  I'm still living in la-la land because my boy isn't saying much at this point!

Truck Duck by Michael Rex

Truck Duck by Michael Rex

Rating: 4.5 stars

There aren't many words in this book, and that makes it one of my personal favorites when it comes time for Ben's choice of two books at bedtime.  By then I'm pretty much counting down the seconds till I kiss him good-night and close the door.  I love the little guy, but man does he wear me out some days!

It's just a simple, rhyming text: "Truck duck / Chimp blimp / Plow cow / Cab crab..."  The pictures are very realistic and clear, with the right animal sitting in the driver's seat chug-chug-chugging along.  Ben likes the pictures of the trucks and animals while Lorelei likes the rhyming. 

The only one that makes Lorelei, when she's with us at nap time for a reading of this book, get a wrinkled-up expression on her little face is "Hog frog."  "Why are motorcycles called hogs, Mommy?"  I sure don't know.  I keep meaning to ask my Moto Guzzi-riding stepfather, the kids' GrandBill (husband to beloved Grammy), but I keep forgetting.  What he doesn't know off the top of his head he knows at the tip of his fingers (what a Googler that guy is!), so...I'll let him weigh in on this heavy question.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Want to Be An Astronaut by Byron Barton

I Want to Be An Astronaut by Byron Barton

Rating: 5 stars

Byron Barton should definitely be required reading for little boys.  His Machines at Work and Building a House are some of our favorites, and we've read all his other books a number of times. 

A few weeks ago my husband encouraged me to get Ben out and do some more fun stuff with him like I did with both kids all summer long.  I love some gentle prodding like that to push me out of my comfort zone, so Ben and I dropped off Lorelei and went to the Air and Space Museum out by us, called the Udvar Hazy Center.  We had a great time, and Ben was totally amazed by all the airplanes, helicopters, and space shuttles.  Of course he's about a decade away from really having the attention span and desire to read all about each and every aircraft, and he's way too young to do the way-cool simulation rides that they have there.  But my husband was really right--it was a cool new thing that got Ben to really look around him and see something new. 

We had a great time walking through everything.  I loved the helicopters the best, and Ben loved the look out tower at the top where you can see planes take off and land from Dulles.  (It would have been my favorite had an airplane actually flown by us, but we were whisked away from it before we could see one because some fancy-schmancy diplomat needed the room cleared for his/her visit.  Humph.)

I let Ben choose two books at the gift shop--one for him and one for Lorelei.  This was his choice for himself, and it didn't surprise me at all.  We've checked it out from the library two or three times, and both kids love it.  The text is very simple and the pictures are bright and glossy and uncomplicated.  "I want to be an astronaut, / a member of the crew, / and fly on the shuttle / into outer space."

Who wouldn't want to do that?  And I wonder: what will be our kids' options for space exploration? 

Oh, Daddy! by Bob Shea

Oh, Daddy! by Bob Shea
Rating: 5 funny stars

Among the library books we brought home last week, this is definitely in Lorelei and Ben's top three.  Maybe the best of the bag! 

It's a simple little story of a father hippo trying to get his son to do something.  Using the classic trick of doing the desired thing wrong, the son laughs and shows his father how to do it correctly...and therefore does what his father actually wants him to do. 

For example, Dad Hippo comes in, "dressed" with a bucket on one foot, a boot on another, oven mitts on his hands, underwear on his head, and a flower pot on his head.  "Is this how you get dressed?" he asks his son.  "Oh, Daddy!" his son says, and shows him how to do it the right way.  The little hippo shows his dad how to get in the car, eat his lunch, water the flowers, and give a hug the right way. 

If you don't employ this tactic with your kid--and how could you not?!  It's the oldest trick in the book!--you should start now.  This book would probably help an obstinate kid for at least a few weeks...  The only drawback, and it's not a very big one, is that the little hippo says, "Easy peasy, mac and cheesy!" after showing his dad how to correctly get in the car.  Your child will, without a doubt, pick that up.  It doesn't bother me too much, though Lorelei has only repeated it six or seven times a day, not 50 or 100 times.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Katy and the Big Snow by Virgina Lee Burton

Katy and the Big Snow by Virgina Lee Burton

Rating: 5 valuable stars

Lorelei's preschool just had their annual book fair.  The only reason I didn't spend my husband's entire paycheck there: Grammy was in town, so I made her spend her entire paycheck there.  Thoughtful, don't you think? 

We actually didn't spend that much money, but generous Grammy did let each child pick out a book--though I think my twin nieces got to choose two to say something about that favoritism thing...unless it goes in my kids' direction...  Anyway, I'll write about Lorelei's choice, but this was Ben's choice--heavily assisted by me.  While I don't read through books from the library first, I always want to make sure we're buying good ones.  I don't want to waste Grammy's money!  I don't think you can go wrong with Virginia Lee Burton, a classic writer that you probably associate with her most famous book, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, a great book that has been in Ben's bed for the past two weeks.  I had never seen this book before and really liked what I read when I skimmed it.

Grammy wonderfully planted the book on Ben's car seat for the drive home and we read it later that night together.  It is wonderful in that classic, old-school values sort of way.  Ben was hooked from the first line: "Katy was a beautiful red crawler tractor."  I loved the next line: "She was very big and very strong and she could do a lot of things."  How wise of Burton to make a big, powerful tractor female--makes both little girls and boys curious about her.  Lorelei and Ben listened carefully to the story after the first few lines, curious to hear how Katy would use her strength.  Burton explains how Katy did a lot of different jobs throughout the year; "the harder and tougher the job the better she liked it." 

When winter came, Katy was so big and strong that she stayed put when there was only a light dusting on the ground.  But one day that dusting turned into a huge blizzard, and Katy was the only plow who could cut through the snow.  Everyone and everything in the town came to a stand still, unable to do their regular duties.  Then Katy came to the rescue, slowly but surely plowing everyone out, enabling the police to protect the city, the Postmaster to get the mail through, the Telephone Company to repair downed lines.  By the end of the day she was tired but still she chugged on until the roads were all clear.  Then and only then did Katy stop and rest.

What a great story about taking on a challenge, finishing what you start (see the sweet Ella Takes the Cake for another one), working hard, and helping those in need.  Those are such valuable lessons that Burton manages to pack in a classic book with sweet drawings.  This is a wonderful holiday book; I can't say how grateful I am to have it on our shelf.  I'm going to order up all of Virginia Lee Burton's other books from the library right now...any favorites I should read first when they come home with us for a visit?

P.S.  I might extra-like this book because of my name.  I just wanted to point that out before one of you guys did.

Police Officers on Patrol by Kersten Hamilton

Police Officers on Patrol by Kersten Hamilton, illustrated by R.W. Alley

Rating: 5 stars

We had some high excitement at our house a few Sundays ago.  Our doorbell rang--something that doesn't happen in our not-so-populated neck of the woods--and who should be standing at our door but...a policeman!  While Lorelei rushed to introduce herself and explain how we've been reading a book on policemen ("I'll go get it and show you!" she exclaimed, then darted off to find this book and show it to the officer, who was appropriately impressed and sweet.), Ben just stood and stared in awe at the police cars.

Us parents were not so excited as he was looking for a burglar who has been prowling around our county for a few months.  He is getting closer and closer to our house.  I'd be more worried if we didn't have two big ol' dogs who'd be happy to take a bite out of crime.  Literally.

Anyway, since we were just reading this book, the visit was a super positive one--a "teachable moment" as teachers and parents like to say.  The police officer explained how he was looking for a bad guy and wanted to keep us safe.  In the book, there are three different problems (broken traffic light, lost child, and burglar) that three different officers (two male, one female) help to solve.  The pictures make the situations just serious enough to make it a problem, but light enough that the child isn't worried or frightened.  The refrain is: "Uniform! Badge! Radio!  When you need help, we rock and roll!" so we checked out the uniform, badge, and radio on the officer on our doorstep.  He was a good sport; we (mentally) gave him two gold stars.

I'd say this is a must-read, just to introduce the police to your kids.  Hopefully your neighborhood will be burglar-free for the next few decades, but...better to teach your kids all about community safety before they really need the lessons.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alpha Oops! H is for Halloween by Althea Kontis

Alpha Oops!  H is for Halloween by Althea Kontis, illustrated by Bob Kolar

Rating: 3.5 stars

So we're finally getting into the Halloween groove, and it's really only because Lorelei is in preschool and all her friends are into it.  Last year I was impressed we even got a costume, and we even went trick-or-treating in the local way (which involved a little strip-mall-like place because the houses around here require a hike and a half to get through one neighborhood).  This year Lorelei's spook-o-meter is a little higher, so she's not at all frightened by pictures like those in this book, of monsters and goblins, werewolves and vampires.

The book is a follow up to Alpha Oops!  The Day Z Went First, which we checked out at the same time.  Like that book, it's a classic "A is for..." book with a twist: the letters are all jumbled up in fairly random order.  The only plot is they all have to find a Halloween-themed item that starts with their letter.  One in particular, B, shows up again and again, and is uncertain of his choice, but then ends up as the last letter as B for BOO!  And he scares all the letters off stage.  It's a cute ending.

It's a little confusing, and definitely better for kids who are completely comfortable with their ABCs in order, and therefore see the humor in getting them all mixed up.  It's only sorta fun to read out loud, because the only text apart from the "A is for..." lines is the dialogue between the letters.  And Lorelei and Ben don't find that too easy to follow.  Still, it's Halloween-y and it's Halloween week, so we've been reading it every day!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett

Rating: 4 stars

I am all for simplicity, but sometimes there are too few words in books for my personal taste.  This one definitely falls in that category, but it's too clever to dislike and it holds a special place in my heart because Lorelei read it all by herself.  Well, she can't read yet, but she's great at realizing which words are which once she has a general idea of what the words are.  Wait, is that what reading is?  I mean, I can officially read Thai but a) only at an embarrassingly slow pace, b) only words I know already, and c) a whopping sentence at a time.  So maybe Lorelei can read...well, we'll just keep an eye on that and let her keep reading/listening as much as she wants...

There are just four words in this book (well, a fifth appears at the end), but they are rearranged as many times as possible in cute little ways, and have illustrations that support the new arrangement.  The bear is cuddly and adorable and seems to dance around with the fruit on his head or rump or hand.  At the end he gobbles them all up and, funnily, what remains of the fruit are just cores and peels.

I don't know how many times you could read this--it might get old after a dozen times--but we appreciated it for the two weeks we had it from the library.  And because it was a great confidence booster for Lorelei, there's a good chance we'll check it out again.

Higher! Higher! by Leslie Patricelli

Higher!  Higher!  by Leslie Patricelli
Rating: 4.5 stars

There isn't a whole lot to this book, but I think that--plus some wonderfully clear and bright illustrations--is what make Ben and Lorelei request it again and again and again.  Our kids are both swing-lovers (they got it in their DNA from beloved Grammy, I think); just this morning Ben was giggling himself silly at the playground when I was pushing him, and then stopping him suddenly, then starting him up again in full swing.  Whiplash?  Oooh...hadn't thought of that.  As Lorelei would say, "Next time, I'll be more careful."

Anyway, this book is adorable.  A little girl and her father walk to the playground and she requests, "Higher!  Higher!"  ("Add a please, please!" I want to add.)  Despite the lack of a "please," he pushes her higher, and she soars as high as a giraffe, then as high as a rooftop, then as high as the Himalayas, past an airplane, into space.  Then she meets a martian, who is on a swing, shouting "Higher!  Higher!" just like she is...from Mars!  How fun!  They greet each other, share a high five, say good-bye, and she wordlessly floats back to real-swinging-range, back to the playground.

A very cute book.  I can't imagine any kid not loving it!  If it had a please or two, I'd have given it a 5.  I'm feeling stingy with my stars today.

How Kind! by Mary Murphy

How Kind! by Mary Murphy

Rating: 5 stars

If ever there was a book for my mother, this is it.  My mom grew up telling us to "be charitable" (my best friend still tells me that in her best mom-voice because she heard it almost as much as me); here is a book that has the same message without that parental you-know-better-than-that tone of voice! 

This book is wonderfully simple: Hen does something kind for Pig, who replies "How kind!" and then Pig wants to do something kind for someone else, and he decides to give Rabbit a carrot.  Rabbit replies "How kind!" and then Rabbit wants to do something kind for someone else, and he...  It's just a chain reaction to kindness that ends up with Pig returning the egg (now turned chick) back to Hen.  See?  What goes around comes around, especially kindness.  (My mother would so agree.)

Lorelei has begun to have some, um, loquacious moments when her mouth doesn't seem to stop moving.  She likes to repeat the same thing over and over again, something that requires more patience than a deep breath or a full night's sleep can provide.  But when she repeats "How kind!" or "I want to do something kind!" I really don't mind at all.

Just a few things that I wonder about, though: How does Cow milk herself to give milk to Cat?  And did Mary Murphy decide that the first kind gesture would be giving away one of Hen's unhatched children?  I find that a little funny, but I think it's a detail that few, if any, 3- or 4-year olds would actually pick up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

L M N O Peas by Keith Baker

L M N O Peas by Keith Baker

Rating: 5 stars

I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but how about by its jacket flap?  Here's a snippet from Keith Baker's bio, found on the back flap:
"Keith Baker has ten letters in his name, all of which can be found in the alphabet.  If he could be any vegetable, he would be a pea--green, round, quick, smart, easy to draw, and always surrounded by friends... He's sometimes grumpea, sometimes sleepea, but usually happea, and he hopes that someday there will be peas everywhere on Earth."

"We're dancers--and drivers round town."
 That excerpt is an example of the cleverness that can be found in the pages of the book.  What a funny genius Keith Baker is!  It is clear that he had fun with this book, and our family has had a great time with it, too.  I'm not sure why we passed it up so many different times at the bookstore and the library; we really should have checked it out earlier.  (It was published earlier this year.) 

Many alphabet books tell too much a story, and you lose the actual letters and words that go with them.  Other books don't tell any story at all, so kids whose interest in "just" the alphabet will be, most likely, less than enthused to read them.  But this is a perfect balance: Baker introduces us to the peas, and tells them of all the vocations they can be.  Some of my favorite new vocabulary words for Lorelei include: investigator, officer, parachutist ('cause the GRAND-Dad is...ok,!), unique, voter, volunteer. 

The story is great.  The pictures are SUPERB!  They are just fun--the peas are doing all sorts of things, illustrating the words.  As a bonus, there's a little ladybug on each page that the kids love to find, especially the first time we read through it.  (In fact, I had to wipe down the pages because we were eating pasta while we looked, so some marinara sauce from Ben's always-sticky fingers got on the pages when he excitedly pointed to the ladybug...but I cleaned them.  Promise!) 

This is a fantastic book--one that is tempting to buy...let's see if I can sit on my hands and resist the temptation.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Beach Ball by Peter Sis

Beach Ball by Peter Sis

Rating: 4.5 stars

We went to the library last week to get some books for our fall beach trip and happened upon this one.  Since we liked Fire Truck by Peter Sis, I went to see if there were any other books by him that we might like.  How perfect to find this one!  What wasn't perfect was not realizing how great a car book it really was...until we got down to the beach.  Lorelei could have easily studied this book for an hour in the car, which would have given me only four other hours to fill with something else.

The book is a look-and-find, but not of the usual variety.  The story line which hardly exists at all is just that a little girl's beach ball gets swept up by the wind and she chases it across the beach, through all of the pages of the book.  On each page is a different theme of things you need to find.  On one page are shapes, so you can see how many triangles you can find or just how many different shapes exist.  On another page are numbers, and you count all the different things--that was Lorelei's favorite page.  On another is a too-easy maze and on the trickiest page is the alphabet.  The reader is challenged to find something that starts with each letter of the alphabet.  It's tricky and fun.  It definitely kept my interest for awhile!

This is an old-ish book, printed in 1990, and it definitely could be more than what it is--the book could be bigger and hold more, the illustrations could be more charming and/or funnier, the setting could be different in each book.  I can hardly imagine the awesome result if another illustrator got his or her hands on the idea and ran with it!  I really wish Robert Nuebecker or Rotraut Susanne Berner would do something like this...

Berenstain Bears Vacation by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Berenstain Bears Vacation by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Rating: 5 stars

We LOVE these books.  We check them out about every other time we go to the library, especially if I didn't pre-order a bunch of good books for Lorelei.  They are such great go-to books, and she'll happily read them a few times a day.  Because the words are limited and they rhyme, Ben sits through them just as happily.  The whole collection is just great--though, as I've said before, poor Papa Bear looks like a bumbling fool, though a lovable one.

Story time by Lorelei.

But I really wanted to write about this book because of the picture below.  Now that Lorelei has started preschool, she now has "story time" with her animals and dolls and brother.  (Ben is such a good sport!)  She perches herself on one of the cubes in our playroom and holds the book up just like her teacher and/or the librarian at her school.  I can't get over how cute she looks, but am more amazed at the emulation that's going on.  Obviously she likes what she sees at school, or else she wouldn't be doing stuff like this at home!  Lucky her.  Lucky us!

The Very Fairy Princess by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton

The Very Fairy Princess by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton, illustrated by Christine Davenier

Rating: 4 stars

Shocking!  A princess book!  But, you know, I'm trying to relax a little about the whole princess thing.  I don't love it (or maybe I just wish there were more princess books about princesses who get dirty, hike up mountains, care less about their attire) but I realize that it is the first interest--of many!--that my daughter will have that I will not wholeheartedly share.  But, because she's my daughter and it's really not that unhealthy, I should and do support it.  I just hope that princes isn't replaced by goth in a few years...

Our own very fairy princess.
My sister's twin girls have this book and love it, so we checked it out from the library.  It's definitely one of the better princess books.  Geraldine tells us right away that's she's a fairy princess because she FEELS it inside, a "sparkly feeling of just KNOWING in my heart."  Cute!  She puts fairy dust on her pancakes, has a wardrobe of pink and pink-ish dresses, dances ballet, and wears wings whenever possible.  Throughout the book and with a little princess twist to each, "Gerry" teaches little axioms, such as: Fairy princesses have very refined taste.  Fairy princesses are very practical.  Fairy princesses are very supportive.

The supportive bit is my favorite part.  Gerry's best friend Delilah doesn't believe in the fairy princess stuff, but Gerry points out that she can "be whatever you want to be.  You just have to let your SPARKLE out!"  Gerry points out that Delilah sparkles while playing the trombone, and Gerry is still friends with her despite the fact that Delilah wears a lot of blue. 

I don't like how the whole princess thing is so obnoxiously predictable.  You like princesses, dancing ballet, wearing pink, things that sparkle, and stuff like that.  But...princesses can do great things too, right?  I hope so...because guess what Lorelei wants to be for Halloween...?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion by Mo Willems

Rating: 5 wonderful stars

Let me just assume you've read the first two of these wonderful books (if you've not, just know that little Trixie has a beloved bunny she's lost but recovered before) and tell you about the third book.  Trixie goes to visit her Oma and Opa in Sweden, taking a taxi, airplane, and train to get there.  She is drinking a glass of chocolate milk in their garden when she suddenly realizes something: She left Knuffle Bunny on the plane!  She's pretty sad, but when her father finds out her bunny is on its way to China, she tries to grin and bear it--she's "older now," though she doesn't really want to be.  But then she has a dream of Knuffle Bunny traveling to all these different places, making all these different children happy.  And she wakes up happy, ok with the fact that she no longer has her beloved bunny.

The trip ends and they head home.  They get on the plane, right in front of a screaming baby, and Trixie notices something: Knuffle Bunny is in the seat pocket in front of her!  She is ecstatic.  And then she turns to the baby behind her and asks her parents, "Would your baby like my Knuffle Bunny?"  All the parents are shocked, and Trixie is sure of her decision.  (Even my husband said, "Awwww" when I explained the book to him.)  She gives her bunny to the child, who is now gloriously happy and, even better, gloriously quiet.  And Trixie gets a letter in the mail to say thanks.

What a wonderful book about being kind and thoughtful!  This book was released just last week, and before our trip to the beach I scooted out to the bookstore to buy it for Lorelei.  My mom, a middle school teacher, and I were just talking about the horrible cyberbullying/suicide at Rutgers University... (And here I am trying to make a segueway from a great children's book to a horrible situation.  But bear with me.)  I was almost in tears asking her: What can I do?  How can I prevent this in my own community, with my own kids?  What lessons are important for me to teach our kids? 

I got to thinking, and I think there are two things: First, to teach my children--today, tomorrow, and every single day until I die--how to stop and think of other people.  They need to be thoughtful, and not just the card-on-your-birthday thoughtful.  To be compassionate and caring, even though they'll not replace Mother Teresa.  Second, to teach my children how to be strong and confident when they face the inevitable criticism their peers will throw their way.  They need to know that not everyone will adore them like their parents certainly do, and they need to have a larger perspective than the one child/group/day that is really, really bad.

This book is a tiny step in that.  How wonderful to see one of Lorelei's favorite little characters, Trixie, give her most favorite stuffed animal to a stranger when she realizes Knuffle Bunny will comfort the crying baby more than it would comfort herself.  This is a book for your shelf, not to check out at the library (though that is certainly better than passing up this gem).

To end on a light note, I mentioned to Lorelei how, one day, she'll decide she's old enough to stop sleeping with all of her guys (as of this post, she has about eight that get tucked in beside her at night).  Normally smiley Lorelei immediately frowned, with tears forming in her eyes.  I back pedaled like there was no tomorrow:  "Not tonight!  When you're ready!  Maybe when you're in college!"

Friday, October 1, 2010

Fire Engine Man by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha

Fire Engine Man by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha

Rating: 5 stars

We are loving these Zimmerman and Clemesha books.  The husband-wife team has three sons, so all of their books (that we've read so far) are SO perfect for little boys, including our little boy. 

Fire Engine Man, and their other book that's on our shelf Digger Man, are great simple books with the tried and true boy subjects of firetrucks and diggers.  You can't go wrong with these images on the pages of a children's book!  The stories are both told through the voice of a young boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, and tell how he's going to be a "Fire Engine Man."  He's going to drive his own big fire engine, hook up his hose, and help the other firefighters fight the fire. 

But what makes this book (and Digger Man, too) special is the fact that the little boy has a younger brother, maybe 12 or 18 months, whom he actively adores.  He drives by his family in his big fire engine, so his brother can see him, and then invites his little brother to the fire station to visit, "because it would be safe."  There's a great picture of the big brother driving the fire truck, and the little brother in the passenger seat, in a car seat, with a bottle.  Lorelei and Ben and I always wonder if a real fire truck could have a carseat in it...I'm guessing not, but it's fun to pretend it's possible.  The end of the book shows the two brothers playing happily together, with the big brother declaring, "When my brother gets bigger, he can help."

How wonderful to see a positive sibling book!  I can't get the ones where one sibling is trying to sell off the other one out of my hands fast enough.  I don't want to give Lorelei any ideas...  Really, though, I don't think it's too much to expect that my kids are going to love each other.  Most days, at least. 

This book, and Digger Man too, are GREAT books for boys who have a new little brother in their life. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dig! by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha

Dig! by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

Rating: 5 stars

I don't need to say who loves this book.  Yup, that's right, our construction-worker-wanna-be, Ben.  And we found this book while Ben and I were at the library last week.  Ben was spending some quality time jumping into the bean bag chairs, which are located right next to the very end of the alphabet of children's book authors.  But what a great discovery we made with Andrea Zimmerman, and her husband David Clemesha!  They have three sons, so their books are pretty wonderful for boys.

This book is so great.  It has all the different Ben components that, together, make it perfect for him, at 22-ish months:
  1. It has a backhoe on every single page! Oh happy day!
  2. He has a cute dog, Lightning, who also likes to dig.
  3. The main character, Mr. Rally, wears a construction hat just like Ben wears!
  4. Mr. Rally does five different jobs, and at the end of each job, the text asks, "Is the digging done?" And Ben gets to shake his head as violently as possible and say, "NOOO!"  Except for the last one, when he gets to say, "Yesh!" in that very-Ben way.
  5. The last job Mr. Rally does is at the zoo, which we just went to yesterday.  That made the evening's reading of this book all the more exciting.
I will add that, from Ben's mother's point of view, it has two more great things.  Though it does rhyme completely, there are two lines that appear in each job: "Dig up rock and dig up clay! / Dig up dirt and dig all day!"  I think that the rhyme and repetition are helpful at this stage of development.  Also, when his five jobs are finished, Mr. Rally goes home, but does not take off his overalls and work boots.  Instead, he goes to dig in the garden--turns out Mr. Rally digs for work and for play!  How nice to show someone who loves his job so much, he happily does it at home, too.

Pigsty by Mark Teague

Pigsty by Mark Teague

Rating: 4 stars

Lorelei and Ben are good helpers when it's clean up time, but I can't wait to just say, "Ok, go clean up your room!"  My job will be to simply inspect it.  (I'm sure no nagging will be involved.)  This book is a funny look at a boy who refuses to clean his room.  It literally turns into a pigsty!

When his mother just throws up her hands and says Wendell can choose the level of cleanliness in his own room, he is ecstatic.  Even though one pig has already moved in.  Then another joins in, and Wendell still thinks it's great--they play monopoly and other games together.  But then two more join the mix, and suddenly he finds his basketball flat after it was used as a stool and his comic books with hoof prints all over them.  He decides for himself that enough is enough, organizes a swine cleaning crew, and cleans up.  The pigs, of course, move out because it's too clean, and only return for the occasional game night.

We like Mark Teague's words and love his artwork--his pictures seem big and in-your-face in a great way.  There are clever little things hidden in some pages, like one of the last pages where the pick-up truck that takes the pigs home has a license plate that reads: EIEIO.  I liked that, when I pointed out and explained it to Lorelei, she got the joke.  I'm pretty sure she got the joke (either way, I appreciate that she giggled a bit...just the right thing to do when Mommy makes a joke or points out a joke!)  I like the play-on-words lesson in this book--Lorelei understood that, literally, a pigsty is a place where pigs live.  And figuratively, it's a really messy, dirty place.  I don't know how amused I'll be when the day comes that she calls my car a pigsty, because it most certainly is most days of the month!