Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Man on the Moon (A Day in the Life of Bob) by Simon Bartram

Man on the Moon (A Day in the Life of Bob) by Simon Bartram

Rating: 4.5 stars

And now for something completely different...

A Peace Corps pal of mine recommended this book to me.  She said her two boys, who a little older than Lorelei and Ben, love to find the little aliens on each page.  Their funny little alien faces--some with three eyes, some with eyes coming out of their heads, others more human except for their green skin--make this one of the best look-and-finds we've read.

Bob looks for aliens but can't find any...but we do!
And there's a story, too!  Bob is the Man on the Moon, a regular, Earth-living guy whose job it is to fly to the moon every morning (I asked Lorelei this morning while we read this, "Does Daddy take a rocket to work?" she thought that was funny) and clean it up.  It gets dirty from all the tourists from Earth, you know.  The pictures of him vacuuming the moon are pretty funny.  Then he and his two buddies, the Man on Mars and the Man on Saturn, do some funny dances for the tourists that blast by.  He then lectures them about the moon and sells moon souvenirs.  The whole time, little aliens are crawling all over the background.  Bob insists that there are no such thing as aliens, which makes Lorelei and Ben shout out to him, "Bob!  There ARE aliens!  Look!"

VERY cute book, and one that is just different in a great way.

Otis by Loren Long

Otis by Loren Long

Rating: 5 special stars

One of our most favorite illustrators has written (and, of course, illustrated) a book of his own.  And it is wonderful!  One of my favorite things about it is that it's about a tractor, thus drawing in Ben, but he's a really cute tractor that loves to rollick and play and jump all around, so this draws in Lorelei really easily, too.

It is a simple tale about friendship: Otis is an old-school tractor and loves to work on his farm.  He becomes friends with a young calf and, together, they romp through the fields and sit together under the apple tree after a day of hard work.  But then the farmer upgrades and gets a huge, snazzy, new tractor.  Otis is moved from inside the barn to outside, where weeds grow over him and he starts to rust.  One day the young calf gets stuck in Mud Pond, and no one--including the snazzy new tractor--can get him out, until a familiar puff putt puffetdy chut comes from the barn, and Otis rescues his little friend.  "The calf was a special calf, Otis was a special tractor, and the two of them were special friends."

SO sweet!

A note on Loren Long.  His talent just blows me away.  I'm so appreciative that he chose to apply his artistic talents to, among other things, children's books.  Most of his books are pretty heavy--Wind Flyers is about the first all-black fighting squadron, I Dream of Trains is about a little black boy devastated by the death of Casey Jones.  But Otis is a wonderful book with appropriate art--slightly more cartoon-like than his other projects.  And the use of color--red Otis, the yellow new tractor, the red fire truck--just pop out from the pages. 

This is one for your bookshelf.  Definitely a great gift for any 3- or 4-year old, boy or girl!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Twinnies by Eve Bunting

Twinnies by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Rating: 3.5 stars

Twins!  Double the fun!  If you know someone in your life who has them (maybe you) you would appreciate some of the images and sentences from this book.  We have twin nieces, so I have a special spot in my heart not just for twins, but for their parents.  Especially that tough first year.

The annoyed-looking big sister on the cover over there is, as you'd expect, annoyed to have not just one but two little sisters.  She is grumpy throughout the whole story and complains to anyone and everyone that "the worst thing is that there are two of them."  And they take up too much space in her bedroom, in the kitchen, and in their lives.  Her mother admits she feels "truly overwhelmed"--yup, I've seen the real-life images from the book at my sister's house, and I'm here to say that that is one accurate statement.  The annoyed big sister begrudgingly helps out, though she does switch socks on the twins just to be funny.

At the end, the neighbor complains that the twins woke her up at night with their screaming and crying.  The big sister gets her feathers ruffled: "Who does she think she is, picking on our twinnies?"  So the next night, when the babies inevitably wake and cry, the exhausted parents take them into their fluffy bed with them.  The big sister shows up, too, and whispers if there is room for her.  Her dad assures her there is, and she squeezes in between her two sisters.  They are soft on either side of her; she thinks "if there was only one, I'd feel lopsided."  She drifts to sleep holding their toes and finally wipes the annoyed look off her face and replaces it with a contented smile.

It's pretty understandable that a big sister would feel like this, so I have to forgive some of Eve Bunting's character's disgust with her baby sisters.  I wish she'd have changed some of the text to make it a bit more positive, but it ends so well and the images are so true to life that it definitely has many redeeming qualities.

The Story Blanket by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz

The Story Blanket by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz, illustrated by Elena Odriozola

Rating: 5 stars

This book is a little gift of a tale about Babba Zarrah, a wonderful old lady, giving gifts to everyone in her village.  And, in return for her generosity, they give her gifts in return.  There are so many wonderful things about it I don't know where to start. 

Babba Zarrah is a beloved story-teller, and kids come from all over to sit on her story blanket and listen to her stories.  One day she notices one of the little boys has a hole in his shoes, so she decide to knit him some socks.  But the winter snow is too deep to allow new supplies to come to the village; she can't find any new wool.  She says, wisely, "Every question has an answer.  I just have to think of it."  (What wonderful thing to say to my kids, and to have them say to themselves!)  She looks at the story blanket and finds the answer...she unravels it to make socks for the little boy.  And then a scarf for the chilly postman.  And then mittens for the headmaster.  Pretty soon everyone has mysterious, warm gifts delivered on their doorstep, and the story blanket becomes smaller and smaller, forcing all the kids to squash together.  When the villagers finally realize where they gifts are coming from--and you see the villagers wearing the warm gifts, the beautiful story blanket shared with all--they decide to return the favor to Babba Zarrah by unraveling all of their blankets and giving her their wool.

"The next time the children went to Babba Zarrah's for a story, there was a colorful new blanket to sit on and a tale about a village where everyone shared with each other."

Such a sweet, sweet story!  The images from Elena Odriozola are simple and whimsical.  They help make what could be a pretty heavy story into a light, approachable one.  It is definitely one for teachers and grandmas (our Grammy would give it ten stars and tear up while she read it), but one for parents as well.  There are so many lessons to draw from the tale, especially those of sharing and generosity and thoughtfulness.  But also of recycling and creativity and resourcefulness.  An all-round winner!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Baby Danced the Polka by Karen Beaumont

Baby Danced the Polka by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

Rating: 5 polka-dancing stars!

This is an old favorite of ours, one that beloved Grammy found some years ago.  It's the only book that we have that gives a nod to our Polish ancestry, something that lingers in my sister and I though our last names no longer have a confusing jumble of consonants that somehow sound like "check" or end in "ski."  But, to be honest, it's only a tiny nod, just a good excuse to get this book for anyone and everyone who has a little bit of polka-dancing in their past.

Karen Beaumont is at her best with this swinging poem about a baby who just won't go to bed.  His Ma and Pa keep on putting him to bed and get right to work on some chores around the house like fixing the chow, washing wigs (?!  hey, it rhymes with pig), starching long johns, hauling water and other stuff we don't do anymore but is fun to think about doing.  Except the wig thing.  Ok, and maybe the long johns, too.  But then the baby comes barreling out of his bedroom doing a different dance with a different animal, obviously not sleeping!  First, he polkas with the polka-dotted pig.  Then he boogie-woogies with the frisky little goat, then he cha-chas with the chocolate-colored cow.  You get the idea.

One of our favorite parts when we're reading aloud is opening the flap that shows the polka-ing or cha-cha-ing or boogie-woogie-ing baby and animal, with the last word (the animal) written under the flap.  Lorelei yells it out in her biggest outside voice.  And Ben says "EH!" his favorite word for most everything.  It makes me laugh, and it makes them laugh, and that makes this a great, great book. 

Lorelei ripped the last two pages of the book when she was a baby, and the words are missing.  So when the kids get Daddy to read it, he has to yell from the other room: "What's the last verse?"  And I shout out the words because they are etched in my memory.  For months we'd recite this walking to the mailbox and back, even though we left the book at home.  I am willing to bet that I'll be able to recite it in twenty years, too!

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

Rating: 5 stars

Oh my gosh such a sweet book.  Be prepared for tears!  (From you, of course, not your little one, who will mostly be oblivious to the sweetness of this book.) 

I'm certain that you've at least heard of this book before as it was written in 1993 and stayed on the NYTimes bestsellers list for a long time.  And almost every preschool that has a recommended reading list to parents during the back-to-school months must include this book on it.  It's a simple story: the little raccoon is starting school and is worried he'll miss his mama.  So she kisses his hand and tells him that if he feels lonely, just put the hand up to his face and he'll feel her love for him, even if she's not right there.  At the end, he kisses her hand (sniff, sniff!) and tells her the same thing.

Our preschool suggests that we "create a ritual of saying good-bye" like having a special handshake or a song, or a kiss on the hand like this book suggests.  For Ben it'll certainly be an explosive fist bump, something that cracks him up like nobody's business.  For sweet Lorelei, it'll be something like a kiss or song.  Ok, I've got to stop thinking about the first day of carpool and actually saying good-bye to Lorelei.  I'm so thankful that Ben will still be in the car with me; I hate crying in front of them, so I'll at least have to sob silently.

Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

Rating: 4.5 stars

I should give it a 5 but it has the word "hate" in it.  I know, isn't that so old-fashioned of me? 

Other than that, this is one of my favorite ready-for-school books.  The short, snappy rhymes that made Anna Dewdney's other books so popular and so fantastic are back, and because the text is so quick, it sticks with kids.  I hope this line sticks with Lorelei in a few weeks: "Don't be sad, new little llama! / It's okay to miss your mama, / But don't forget-- / when day is through, / She will come right back to you. / Llama llama, please don't fuss. / Have some fun and play with us!"

After another trip to a park where Lorelei ran over to ask some big kids to play tea party with her (they declined so kindly...whew!), I'm pretty sure she'll be just fine.  But a book like this one, which introduces the whole concept of Mom's-going-to-drop-you-off-at-school-and-leave-you-with-strangers thing has a perfect little dose of "missing" in it.  I am glad for it, because I explain to Lorelei that she'll probably miss me but maybe some other kids will really, really miss their moms, and she can be a good helper and a good friend and try to cheer them up by inviting them to play and stuff.

Fingers crossed.  Three more weeks till school starts, so I'm trying my best not to fret.  But I'm so GOOD at it!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Love Tools! by Philemon Sturges

I Love Tools! by Philemon Sturges, illustrated by Shari Halpern

Rating: 4 stars

Like I said, we can't stop reading these books!  They are each very simple but fun and a wonderful introduction to basic but important concepts.  Like tools.  I found myself really excited, in a super dorky way, about reading what little snippets Sturges found on each tool on the front and back cover/jackets (is there a right word for this?!) of the book.  He didn't disappoint!

Here are some of his random factoids:
 - The earliest rulers were based on the length of people's feet, hands, or fingers.
 - Because a hammer has so many uses, including making other tools, it is sometimes called the "king of tools."  (Is there a queen of tools?  I'm going to guess not.)
 - If you live in a typical American home, your house was probably built using around 200 pounds of nails!

The book introduces tools as a family of four (including both a son and daughter) build a bird house together, making this book a fantastic one as a springing board for such a project at home.  Lorelei will be ready to do this sort of project in the Spring, which means Ben will be, too.

I Am a Backhoe by Anna Grossnickle Hines

I Am a Backhoe by Anna Grossnickle Hines

Rating: 3.5 stars

The other day I had to get my car taken in for a very minor repair.  I'd already gone twice without the kids, but I was tired of all my with-the-sitter time taken up by the darn car shop.  Lorelei and Ben are really well-behaved, so this time they came with me.  Of course, it took longer than the 30 minutes my designated representative told me it would be.  So we took a walk.  Luckily for us, there was a construction site just a block away!

At 9:30 in the morning, the three of us walked along a very desolate part of the ex-burbs of Northern Virginia and watched some real backhoes do some work.  Ben could hardly contain his excitement when he saw a dump truck actually DUMP something!  And then, right next to the sidewalk, a tiny little digger (ok, I don't think the operator called it that, but I did) that was still on, just idling, waiting for its operator to come spur him into action.  I couldn't believe Ben resisted the temptation to reach out and touch it.  Next to this still-on machine was some other machine that I should know because I've read so many books like this, and leaning on it were three very filthy but very friendly construction dudes.  We of course said hello and good morning and smiled, but they were just perplexed as to what we were doing there.  Until they saw Ben jump up and down with excitement when a big backhoe came and scooped up some rocks RIGHT IN FRONT OF US!  Oh my gosh, the thrill of it!

Maybe you had to be there.

Anyway, I hope these cheap thrills last a lot longer!  The book is a good twist on the normal machine-book-for-little-boys genre that will never go out of style.  The little boy in the book acts out all the machines, which is pretty cute and actually really interests Lorelei, who chooses to read this book more often than Ben.  The other good little twist is that, at the end of the book, the little boy's father puts him on his back and acts like a flatbed truck.  His dad dumps him "into the big garage" (the sofa) and they finish the book by reading a book.  It ends: "I like trucks.  And so does Daddy."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sally Gets a Job by Stephen Huneck

Sally Gets a Job by Stephen Huneck

Rating: 4.5 stars

Today during our fairly regular "girls outing" during Ben's Saturday afternoon nap, Lorelei and I went to the library.  We love going, and we both love going while "the little guy" (as we all call Ben) is sleeping, instead of running around loudly, trying to pull books off shelves and wrestle with the stuffed alligators they have for other little guys.

Lorelei was pretty pooped from a morning at the playground, so I just wanted to sit and read with her.  Sometimes the library can be an overwhelming place, and finding the right books that are simultaneously familiar and known is tough.  I was heading over to the H section to look at Kevin Henkes books (we sure do love Lilly!) when I saw that our little local library --gasp!-- had every single one of Stephen Huneck's Sally books.  Lorelei was as excited as I was, which made me smile even bigger.  We pulled them out--all six of them--and read them all in a row. 

We liked them all, but we have our favorites.  This is one of them, that we brought home to read with Ben.  Lorelei and I were both a little intrigued by the title of this one and wondered out loud what sort of a job Sally the dog could get.  We soon found out!  The book starts out: "It's a lucky dog that has a family, and a lucky family that has a dog."  I was so hooked!  I almost teared up over it (yes, I cry at Hallmark commercials).  I'll try and continue without getting choked up... 

Sally watches her family go to work and school each day and thinks that maybe she should get a job, too.  So she envisions jobs for herself: bus driver (driving other dogs), a teacher (of obedience class), an archeologist (because she's good at digging), a paleontologist (because she likes bones), a rescue dog (saving animals from burning buildings).  Once again, the charm is in the huge pictures.  Stephen Huneck's woodcuts are simple and wonderful and different, and just plain charming.  She finally realizes that she has the best job in the world: taking care of her family.  Awww!

The final illustration is the little boy in the family playing tug-of-war with Sally; each has one end of the sock in her/his mouth.  I know that it's only a matter of time that Ben attempts this with our dogs.  I sure hope it doesn't result in a trip to the dentist!

Book Fiesta! by Pat Mora

Book Fiesta! by Pat Mora, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Rating: 4 stars

The cover of this book is like an gorgeous invitation to any book-loving kid out there.  It is bright and cheerful, and shows kids romping and reading together.  It was peeking out at me in the Bilingual section of our library this afternoon as Lorelei and I sat during our "girls outing" that often happens during Ben's Saturday afternoon nap.

The book is about Children's Day, or El dia de los ninos and also Book Day, El Dia do los libros.  It is a sweet poem that originally was a song that Pat Mora wrote.  In the pages of this wonderful book he expands on the song and celebrates children and books together--because he thinks, as I sure do, that the two go hand-in-hand.  "Hooray! Today is our day. / El dia de los ninos! / Let's have fun today reading our favorite books. / We read in English and Spanish, / in Chinese and Navajo too. / We read by ourselves, / we read with a friend."

The text is fine.  But the pictures!  Oh my gosh.  Pictures of kids just reading: their noses joyfully buried in their books, sitting side by side with a pal reading together, carefully balanced on the statue outside the library reading.  They are excitedly running to the library, acting out the story their parents are reading to them.  They read in cars, and planes, and trains, in the garden, an elephant, and even in a whale's mouth!  (Lorelei found this one pretty captivating.)  I can't say enough about how much I love the illustrations.

I really wish there was more text (which is, by the way, in both English and Spanish), a little more explaining of El dia de los ninos...  At the end of the book, in an author's note, Pat Mora encourages people to have book fiestas of their own.  It's an inspiring little section of how to bring books to life, and another reason to read this great book.

Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms by Christine Kole Maclean

Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms by Christine Kole Maclean, illustrated by Mike Reed

Rating: 5 stars

I always go on a hunt for books for birthdays and other special occasions.  I try and find a bunch of books that I think the particular child would like, and then I check them out at the library to preview them, and then we buy one or two for the child.  Well, I kind of ran out of time for my very best friend's son's 4th birthday and I had to do what most people do: buy a book without reading it first!  Gasp!

Now that you've gotten over your shock, I'm here to say that the gamble work.  This particular little boy is happily in the Firefighter Stage, which I hear is inevitable and lasts awhile.  I had tried to find other books on firefighters, but when I came across this one and decided to take the risk.  I am glad it was good.  My best friend reported back to me on his birthday that it was great and the birthday boy loved it, so I checked it out to make sure she wasn't just being polite.  (Unlikely.  We've been friends far too long for that.)

This book is about a big brother and little sister who have several imaginative scenarios while playing in their house, supervised by their mother.  They pretend to be firefighters putting out a fire, police officers capturing criminals, EMTs taking care of victims, construction workers building some pillow thingie, helicopter pilots rescuing people from "gigantic storms," and astronauts going to the moon.  And Mars.  The great illustrations show the brother and sister: a) playing together really happily (the little sister gets a special role in each situation), b) using normal household things in a super creative way, and c) the mother sometimes supervising, sometimes playing right alongside them.  What great things to see!

After each little scenario, the mom requests a hug, but the little boy is too busy fighting fires or rescuing people, to which the mom replies: "Even firefighters (or EMTs or...) hug their moms!"  She gets rebuffed every time until the end, when he finally gives her a hug (the illustration is very sweet) and explains to his little sister, "Even firefighters hug their moms!"

Very, very cute book for a bunch of different reasons!  The copy from the library is so beat up...it looks like a lot of people agree with me that this book is very much worth reading. 

So, happy birthday, G!

Sumi's First Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak

Sumi's First Day of School Ever by Soyung Pak, illustrated by Joung Un Kim

Rating: 5 stars

It's 12:27 AM and here I am, blogging.  About a back-to-school book.  It's related, trust me.  Today Lorelei had another summer playdate, where all the kids, especially the new ones, are invited to the preschool playground to run their hearts out and all the parents balance chit-chatting with running after their kids (more Ben than Lorelei for me).  It was really fun and Lorelei was a super star--she walked boldly up to little trios of already-formed friendships and introduced herself and asked their age (not their name!).  I was so proud of her--how many adults find it impossible to do the same thing?

So the transition to preschool isn't going to be bad, I suspect, but it's still on my mind.  I woke up suddenly a little while ago with the heart-pounding concern that Lorelei won't like the snack that her teacher provides and will be hungry for the last hour of school.  And Lorelei is considerably less sweet when she's hungry!  But that's not the point--the point is, the first day of school is coming, and I'm trying to be as confident in my little girl as she is in her strong little self.  I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!

This book is one of the dozen or so back-to-school type books we checked out today at the library.  It doesn't exactly fit the traditional form, but it is one that encourages empathy, so it'll be a staple read in our house.  Sumi is a little girl from South Korea whose mother teachers her two lines in English before her first day of school in the U.S.: "What is your name?" and "My name is Sumi."  Understandably, the first day starts in confusion and one child (who is quickly reprimanded by a watchful teacher) sticks his tongue out at her.  She thinks that school is lonely and mean and scary.  But then the little boy apologizes, her teacher hangs up her drawing, and a little girl befriends her.  The story is told quietly and sweetly, and I love it.

As a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand, with a mother who teaches English as a second language in middle school (mostly to Korean children), and with a daughter who is about to have her first day of school, ever, this book definitely strikes a chord with me.  (Thanks for the recommendation, Becky!)

P.S.  I found this neat organization that educates on the rich legacy of Korea.  Here's a link to the website's list of children's books, in age-appropriate categories.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff

Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff

Rating: 5 stars

Of course we love Danny and the Dinosaur!  Who can resist the charm of visiting a museum and finding a dinosaur that can wake up after 50 gazillion years to play with you and your friends?  Not us!

Here are some noteworthy things about this noteworthy book: 

1.  No parents are in the pictures; just kids.  What a great reminder that childhood should really involve time just with children, not only time supervised by adults.

2.  Danny really wants the dinosaur to come home and live with him forever, but the dinosaur simply explains that the museum needs him.  I love this little homage to one of my favorite things at playgrounds: the short little friendships that emerge just in a game of chase or follow the leader, where names aren't even bother to be exchanged. 

3.  During a game of hide-and-seek, the dinosaur can't find a place to hide where the kids can't find him (no surprise there).  So they "make believe they can't find him" and let him win.  That's Ben's favorite page by far, when the text reads, "Where oh where is that dinosaur?" and so on, and the huge dinosaur is hiding behind a tiny light post.  This is exactly how my kids play hide-and-seek!  I explained to Lorelei how the kids were making the dinosaur feel better by pretending they couldn't find him.  (Oh please let at least a few of these lessons in empathy stick!)

4.  It's actually pretty long!  But because the illustrations are so captivating and funny, even Ben can sit through this book pretty easily, and he's got plenty of ants in his pants.

This is worth buying, but only buy a great hard cover version, or maybe even the library binding, because it'll be on your shelf for a long time.  And then on your children's shelves for their kids.  Imagine that!

Sally's Great Balloon Adventure by Stephen Huneck

Sally's Great Balloon Adventure by Stephen Huneck

Rating: 5 stars

If you've got a black dog in your life--or any dog, really--this book is a must-read.  We have a "blue" weimaraner named Lulu, so we sometimes read this as "Lulu's Great Balloon Adventure" because we know Lulu would do just the same things Sally does... 

Sally is curious about a hot air balloon, but more curious about the fried chicken in one of the balloon's gondolas.  She can't resist following the scent, so she jumps up and falls into the gondola, then pulls the wrong cord and takes off, by herself!  Everyone calls her name from below, but it's no use.  People have several suggestions on how to rescue her, but it takes a smart little kid and her friends to get her down to earth.  And, miraculously, Sally hasn't touched the fried chicken.  We know our Lulu would have devoured it, even the life-threatening bones.  The kids feed Sally the chicken (sans bones, I think) and Sally is happy to be back on earth, with a fully tummy.

We can't wait to read the other books in this series.  Has anyone else read them? 

The woodcut prints are so different and interesting and simple--it would be so neat to see this process in real life.  I went to his website to see if there was a video or something and I found out this amazing story of Stephen himself.  He was discovered early as an artist and really was a hand-carver first and foremost.  After falling down a flight of stairs in 1994, he was in a coma for 3 months.  His doctors didn't expect him to have a full recovery, but his wife believed and he did.  Right before the accident, he realized he wanted to do a series of books based on his black lab, Sally (he had another black lab named Artie and a golden retriever named Molly, too).  He set to work on them right away after waking from his coma.  He died this past January, just 61; Sally's Great Balloon Adventure was his last book.

Having a glimpse at the author, his life, and his love of dogs makes me appreciate this book even more.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears retold by Jan Brett

Goldilocks and the Three Bears retold by Jan Brett

Rating: 3.5 stars

There are some books that seem to just check a block.  Take Goldilocks.  I had to run a Google search (to avoid any critical thought) to find out exactly why this tale has lasted so long, and why I feel compelled to make sure Lorelei knows the story before school.  Google never lets me down. 

Here's the deal: In the mid-19th century, the story was of three bears and an old lady who trespassed on their property.  It was a "fearsome oral tale" which probably wouldn't be appropriate for our toddlers today who are, thankfully, sheltered from gruesome anything (except when they walk in the room when my husband is watching Ultimate Fighter).  Within a few decades the old lady morphed into a beautiful young girl and three bears turned into mostly kind animals rather than scary beasts.  I guess one of the lessons to draw from "one of the most popular tales in English literature" isn't included in Jan Brett's version: after the wee, little bear wakes up Goldilocks and she runs away into the forest, she vows to be a good little girl forever after.

Shoot.  Now Lorelei won't realize that she's supposed to be a good little girl forever after.  I have failed!

Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of the story, but Jan Brett is one talented artist.  I actually think all of her books are flawed, some more than others, but they are worth reading because of the beautiful pictures.  She always draws borders around his pages, and the borders are filled with loads of little tidbits to uncover, clues as to what is on the next page, and just details upon details.  The pages of this book are just a testing ground for Lorelei and Ben's observation skills.  And they fare pretty well!

If you're interested, Jan Brett has heaps of neat (and free) activities and coloring pages on her website.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ten Apples Up On Top! by Dr. Seuss

Ten Apples Up On Top! by Dr. Seuss, illustrated by Roy McKie

Rating: 5 balanced stars

Obviously, I have two kids.  So I'm constantly juggling their needs and interests and snacks to try and keep things interesting and balanced.  Sometimes I succeed.  Books like this one help--both Lorelei and Ben love it equally.  Many of the I Can Read By Myself Books are great like that; the text is simple enough for the beginner reader (Lorelei, 3 1/2) but also silly enough with fun illustrations for the younger listener (Ben, 20 months).

I should go buy this book we've checked it out so much, but the few times I've done that the book suddenly becomes less special.  Just like when a toy at a friend's house is much more interesting than when your mother buys it for you at home.  Humph!

This is my favorite Dr. Suess book, and has been for decades.  I prefer the more tamed, more succinct Dr. Suess (I can't get over how long Happy Birthday To You and If I Ran the Zoo are!)...but that could be just a phase.

She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain by Philemen Sturges

She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain by Philemen Sturges, illustrated by Ashley Wolff

Rating: 5 singing stars

Warning: This book/song will get stuck in your head, and you will definitely be singing it to yourself after the kids are tucked in bed, while on a date night with your partner, taking the dogs out for a walk.

That's the bad news.  The good news is that it's a really good book/song to have stuck in your head!  Philomen Sturges changes the words to the old folk song that no one can remember the words to anyway (or is that just me?).  It's a pretty decent length of a book, but the text/lyrics don't get old at all, and I even pretend to play a banjo as if there's a space left to rock out on my nonexistent banjo in front of my highly amused kids.  (I'll have the only kids who play air banjo, not air guitar.  Geeks in training!)  This book is so different from all the others because it's a song, and Lorelei and Ben beg for it again and again and again.  And I'm happy to oblige!  Even when my in-laws were in town so I had a crowd of people listening to me croon, I was happy to oblige. 

The basic storyline (songline?) is this:  Some "she"--it's a mystery who--is comin' 'round the mountain to this little animal village in the middle of some southwestern state.  Everyone is getting ready for a party when she arrives, including "making ensalada" and getting "old brass beddy" ready.  Here is Lorelei's favorite part: "We'll have a fiesta grande while she's here. / Salsa, rice, and candy--hope she's near! / That table looks just dandy, the pinata will be handy. / Let's build a great big fire for good cheer."  In the background of many of the detailed pictures is a camper, the vehicle of the mysterious lady, making its way to the town.  On the last page, when the whole town cheers "Yea, she's here!" we realize that it's a mobile library called Six White Horses, and everyone is excited to check out new books.

A book about books!  I love it.

I also must admit another dorky fact about myself, other than the fact that I play a pretty rad air banjo.  I make up songs for everything.  We have a quesadilla song, a guacamole song, a whatever-needs-to-be-sung-about song.  I usually take the lyrics to a song Lorelei and Ben know, and it cracks them up to here the latest version of it.  Lorelei plays along, too, and she makes up songs about things as she plays by herself or with Ben or with whatever it is that interests her at the moment.  We've all had a great time learning the lyrics to this book/song and also authoring our own!

I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont

I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow

Rating: 4.5 stars

I am conducting an experiment.  If I read this book to Lorelei so frequently, until the message becomes embedded in her soft, pale skin, until the words roll of out of her smiley mouth, and until she can triumphantly leap as wildly as she does now in front of any group of people, will she resist the frightening abyss of middle school girlhood?

Sigh.  Lorelei's not much past 3 and I'm already concerned.  I dodged those years because I was wonderfully entrenched in horses.  I couldn't get enough of them, any my parents (wise them!) encouraged me wildly.  It was as if I put my head down to concentrate on my Dressage tests and, next thing I knew, I was in high school.

Over the weekend I read a fantastic article in the New York Times about an all girls camp that aims to readjust, if only a little, the self-esteem and pride that many girls lose during their middle school years.  What an understatement to say it's worth a read--click here to access it.  (The gal in charge is so inspirational!  I am asking for her two books on girlhood for Christmas.  That's right--barely August and I'm working on my Christmas list.)  Hopefully our little family and the larger ones in which we sit, plus our friends and neighbors and our soon-to-be chosen preschool will help Lorelei in these early formative years so that self-esteem is rarely an issue.  I think I'd be really crazy if I typed "never," though that is my wish.

This book is, as the inside flap says, "at once serious and silly" as it describes a little girl's ode to herself.  She declares her love for herself: "I like me wild. / I like me tame. / I like me different / and the same" while David Catrow's wacky illustrations impress and amuse everyone in the room.  This is a great book.  I'll be reading now, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and for every week next month, and then next year at breakfast for three months straight, and...

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer

Rating: 4 stars

This is a funny little book that makes Ben and Lorelei giggle every time.  George's mother wants him to bark, but he keeps making other animal sounds.  So she takes him to the vet, who pulls out the animals--a cat, a pig, a duck, and then...holy smokes!...a cow!  And on the way home, after walking through a sidewalk crowded with humans, George says, "hello!"

Today when I read this to Lorelei and Ben I checked their mouths for animals, and they wanted to check mine to see the reason why I was saying oink and moo.  I don't recommend doing this while anyone is eating because what is just funny turns pretty gross, and a kid like Ben will want to repeat something that's gross even more times than something that's just plain funny.

This is a great making-predictions book if you want to draw lessons out of it, or it's just a fun book to read.  Thanks for the suggestion, Beth!

The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper

The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper, illustrated by Loren Long

Rating: 5 wonderful, classic stars

If I could choose one book that every child would receive on their first birthday, this would be it.  It is such a classic--who doesn't know about this?  maybe just the girl in my English lit class in college who had never heard of Star Wars--and it is the most deserving of all the esteemed classics out there.  Every grandparent should make sure their grandchild has this book on his or her shelf.

Just think if every child grew up thinking of the little blue engine chug chug chugging merrily along, stopping to help the little broken down train despite her small size, believing in herself as she pulled them up up up the big mountain, boosting her confidence by saying again and again I think I can I think I can I think I can...  Wouldn't this world be filled with kinder, more confident little beings?  Maybe they'd even grow to be kind, confident adults, too.  It's worth a try.

We started reading this book when Lorelei started a little Mommy and me gymnastics class.  She was pretty nervous about jumping off of things and hanging by her arms like a monkey and climbing up ladders.  We read this and began chanting I think I can I think I can I think I can at those moments when she needed a little bit more courage.  There's no way to tell if this book and this line were the sole cure for her lack-of-boldness problem, but...it definitely helped.

I know this book by heart now--I hope most parents do--and I am a little bummed that we bought an older version of the book.  We have the book illustrated by George Hauman; he does a good job, but the words and the illustrations annoying don't match up.  It's as if there's a time delay...in the picture one engine is chugging off back to the roundhouse but the text says that the funny little toy clown is just greeting him.  Hardly the end of the world, but the book with illustrations by Loren Long is gorgeous and definitely the one to buy.  Look at this picture of all the toy animals feeling sad after being disappointed by the third engine--can't you just feel the disappointment?! 

And, speaking of his or her, the most curious thing about this book to me is the fact that both the little engine that breaks down and the heroic little blue engine are both female, and the three unhelpful engines are male.  A little Google research and come to find out that--shockingly--I am far from the first to have this thought.  Some versions of the book don't attribute any gender to any of the trains, thereby making problem moot.  The versions with the gender difference are hailed by many female critics for applauding the "female pioneer" and maintaining a positive myth of women helping women, though the guys definitely get the short end of the stick--they are "too busy with important, male work" to help.

I don't think Lorelei and Ben are quite ready for literary analysis.  We love the Little Engine that Could because it is fun to read aloud as I have a different voice for each engine and the toy clown, too, and there's nothing better than cheering on a kind underdog that wins in the end!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hop on Pop by Dr Seuss

Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss

Rating: 4 stars

Last week my husband's family visited us from the Midwest.  It was a delightful visit...I'm not sure who charmed who more--Lorelei and Ben charming their grandparents, or their grandparents charming them?  Either way, the days with them were just great.

Of course, the visit involved lots of books.  I think this is at the top of the list of why their grandparents appreciate them: they will sit and listen to books for hours.  Well, Lorelei more than Ben as his attention span is still developing, but that's understandable.  Lorelei would choose a book, climb up on a lap, listen to it, correct them if they mis-read a word or two, and then put it back and get another one.  Then she repeated the whole thing over and over and over again.

I was especially glad she chose this one to read with her grandfather.  Why?  Because his grandkids all call him Pop-Pop.  So Pop-Pop read Hop on Pop.  Hee, hee!

It's a fine book, and really timely as Lorelei is starting to spell words and realize that if you change the first letter in a word, it often turns into another word.  Or a funny non-word.  This book is in the "Simplest Suess for Youngest Use" category, and while I'm not a huge fan of Dr. Suess, this one is good for beginning readers and spellers. 

This book is a nonsensical, whimsical romp through Dr. Suess's zany imagination.  No more, no less!

Gumption! by Elise Broach

Gumption! by Elise Broach, illustrated by Richard Egielski

Rating: 5 adventurous stars!

As you know by now if you've read a handful of blog entries here, there are some books I read to Lorelei and Ben just for a certain vocabulary word.  Well, Ben still grunts his yes's and no's and everything in between, but Lorelei's speech is sweet and exciting and impressive and adorable.  I found this book while in the Boulder Book Store, and I LOVE it!  The best part is, Lorelei and Ben love it, too.  I don't even have to force one of my favorites on them. 

We are loving Elise Broach right now, though Richard Egielski is a new illustrator for us.  His work is fantastic!  He won the Caldecott for Hey, Al, a book we've not read.  Yet.  The illustrations are just amazing, and it's easy to think they are the only thing that make this book work.  They definitely bring the words to life, but that's because this book is about the pictures as much as it is the story.

I must say that this book is best read in a British accent, or at least when Uncle Nigel is talking.  My years joking around with my family and friends, leaving messages in different accents on their answering machines, really come in handy sometimes while reading to Lorelei and Ben.

Anyway, young Peter's favorite Uncle Nigel has invited him to the jungle to find the majestic and illusive "Zimbobo Mountain Gorilla."  They hunt through the jungle, crossing obstacle after obstacle.  At each obstacle, Peter says he can't do it.  Uncle Nigel replies: "Nonsense, my boy!  All you need is a bit of gumption!" and starts to go across the river or climb through the tall grass or climb up the mountainside by himself.  Then, you see in the picture, that an animal appears to help Peter across the obstacle--in a friendly way or by accident.  Peter arrives across the obstacle at the same time as Uncle Nigel, who doesn't see a single animal the whole time.  It is a gorgeous, clever book and really exciting in an old school, African safari, exploring the unknown sort of way.

This is such a neat book.  It's a great gift book, too!  (I'd get it for an adventuresome 3- or 4-year old.)  Lorelei and Ben both love it--thanks to the great story that Lorelei completely gets and the incredible pictures that captivate Ben.  Bravo again, Elise Broach!

I'm a Big Sister and I'm a Big Brother by Joanna Cole

I'm a Big Sister and I'm a Big Brother by Joanna Cole, both illustrated by Maxie Chambliss

Rating: 5 perfectly in-between stars

When my stepsister first asked what big sister books I had or would recommend to her, this is the only one I had on our shelf.  It was the only one I bought for Lorelei when Ben was born (she was only 18 months, so I'm pretty sure that I didn't buy it for her ahead of time, as she was mostly unaware of the reason I was getting so large).  It is really not a story book, but it's more than a book about babies and about a baby sibling.  It's the perfect in-between.

I don't think I can review any more bad sibling/new baby books right now.  I've got to take a break!  I've got Where Did That Baby Come From? and A Baby Sister for Frances and the VERY odd Perfect Friend right next to me, but they are all in the category of not really good...  (They all assume that the older sibling dislikes/hates/resents the younger sibling; in the case of Perfect Friend, the book is about a talking, thinking, feeling dog resenting a new baby in the family.  He's happy only when he realizes that the new baby is the only one in the family who won't ignore him any more).  There are too many books that we've found in the past few weeks.  Maybe I'll get back to more not-so-great ones when I'm out of great books...  That could take awhile!

So I'll end this bout of sibling books with this really good one.  It's a great starter book at the very least because it provides a 2- or 3-year old big sister or big brother with the basics: What a baby can and cannot do, what a baby can and cannot eat and other little lessons in a cute, accessible way.  It points out how a big sibling needs to ask permission from a parent before s/he can hold the baby, which is different from almost all the other books that show a toddler lugging around a 6-month old in a most frightening way.  There is also a note from the author about things you can do to help adjust your older child to the new addition.  You've most likely read the same things from your Google search and heard the same things from your pediatrician, but it'll probably comfort you to know you're already doing all the things you can do to make the adjustment a smooth one.

This is a must-buy--don't even bother checking it out at the library because you probably will read it again and again and again and again to your older child.  Maybe it'll be one of the first books your younger one will hear, too!

It worked for us, and Lorelei and Ben love each other, most of the time!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wet Dog! by Elise Broach

Wet Dog! by Elise Broach, illustrated by David Catrow

Rating: 5 wet stars

Since I berated Elise Broach's sibling/new baby book What the No-Good Baby is Good For the other day, I had to applaud this awesome book.  This book is SO fun to read that I am constantly requesting Lorelei and Ben to request it.  The rythym makes me want to be a professional story teller at our local library.  I tap my toes and slap my knee.  David Catrow's images once again make me laugh out loud; I know all too well what happens when a wet dog shakes its stinky hair and lets loose a rainshower of dog drizzle.

If your child has a dog in her life, there is no way you can pass this one up!  Especially if that dog is a hairy one like our Golden Retriever was growing up.  (We have short-haired weims now...I'll never go back to the long-haired dogs, or so I say today.)  It is such a funny book! 

The wet dog you see panting on the cover goes on a quest to get wet, and he bumps into a bunch of different people who can help him achieve this goal.  A guy washing a limousine, a lady making bouquets of flowers, some guys making music by a lake.  They all shoo him away immediately when he starts to shake and get them wet, and he goes on his way: "pat-a-pat, pat-a-pat, pat."  All the people he encounters are actually going to a wedding, which the wet dog easily crashes with his dog drizzle.  All the grown-ups are dismayed by the wetness of the wet dog, but a little baby welcomes him: "More, wet dog, more!"  Soon the baby's laughter is contagious, and the grown-ups are all getting in on the wet fun.  In the end, instead of getting yet another "Shoo!  Go on now, SHOOO!" the wet dog hears: "Hoo-ray, wet dog!  Hoo-ray!"

Lorelei and Ben love how the entire wedding party and grown-ups just jump into the lake with the giggling baby and wet dog--David Catrow is such a favorite in our house, but this might be my favorite of his books of all the ones we've read.  (Click on the tab below to see his other books I've reviewed.)  Elise Broach is also at her best here; most of her books are simple prose, but this is a sing-songy poem reminiscent of a banjo folk song, hence the aforementioned foot-tapping and knee-slapping. 

Dog lovers (especially miniature ones): you've just got to read it!

On Mother's Lap by Ann Herbert Scott

On Mother's Lap by Ann Herbert Scott, illustrated by Glo Coalson

Rating: 3.5 stars

Early on in Lorelei's big-sister-hood we read We Share Everything! by Robert Munsch (review here).  It became our motto; if Lorelei was reluctant to share something with Ben or a friend or cousin, I would ask her: "What do we share?" She would dutifully reply: "We share everything!" without any sarcasm or eye rolling.  She really has been an amazing big sister and she truly shares everything with Ben.

The exception: my lap. 

A few weeks ago she flat refused to slide to one of my legs while I sat Indian-style (or criss-cross-apple-sauce if you're politically correct) and Ben wanted to sit with us to read.  I kept pulling her over to my left leg so he could sit on my right, but she stubbornly slid back down and told Ben to sit on the floor.  This was just the most recent episode, but one of the least fun for me because Ben retaliated by forcing his way into the middle spot, too, and then pushing his head up into my lip, giving me a blow to a soft spot on my mouth, making tears come to my eyes.  I don't raise my voice often, but I did then.  Of course it didn't help and all three of us had tears in our eyes.  I took a deep breath and suggested we start over.  We did, and they shared.  And my fat lip was just fine with some wine after they were both tucked in.

ANYWAY.  This is a sweet, quiet book where an Eskimo big brother runs to his mother's lap and they rock back and forth, back and forth.  Slowly he collects things to sit with them: Dolly, Boat, his reindeer blanket, Puppy.  From his bed, the new baby (gender not specified) looks longingly at the rockers, and the mother gently suggests that they let Baby join them, too.  The big brother is clearly not excited but doesn't squabble or talk back, and soon there are two little ones--and Dolly, Boat, the reindeer blanket and Puppy--rocking back and forth, back and forth, with their eyes closed and mouths turned upwards.  "There's always room on mother's lap," the mother whispers.

I really appreciate the story and sketches and hope that Lorelei and Ben learn just a little bit more about sharing my lap.

It's All About Me! by Nancy Cote

It's All About Me! by Nancy Cote

Rating: 2 stars

I don't even want to waste much time on this one.  In our family, no one has the luxury of saying, "It's all about me!"  Except maybe on their birthday.  For a few minutes.

Because it's NOT all about one person.  We had our kids close enough together (18 months) that Lorelei never once wished her brother would "disappear" like this big brother wants his little brother to disappear.  Or maybe--just maybe, just throwing it out there--it has something to do with our high expectations of her as a big sister.  I'll never know why, but I do know we're lucky to have done something right somewhere along the way.

Here are the two stanzas that kill me about this book: "If Mommy tells me I'm the best / And Daddy tells me, too / Then why'd they want another one? / Oh, I hope that it's not true" and "When Mommy says he looks so cute / I don't know what she sees / I hope that baby disappears / And then she'll just have me."

Now, even with my harsh words, if you've found yourself in the unhappy situation where your older resents your younger, I guess this is a book you might want to read.  But hopefully we can prevent the situation by resisting the temptation to allow the first child to think "it's all about me" even when they're the only one around.  If I find some sibling non-rivalry pixie dust, I'll be sure to market it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What the No-Good Baby is Good For by Elise Broach

What the No-Good Baby is Good For by Elise Broach, illustrated by Abby Carter

Rating: 2 stars

We love Elise Broach, but...this book is not great.  We are throwing it into the sad, big pile of books-that-assume-big-siblings-hate-their-little-siblings.  It sure isn't for us, and it makes me wonder who would welcome a book like this into their house?  I hope there aren't many people out there, because it sure doesn't help promote a loving family atmosphere that we'd like to pretend we'll have for longer than the next few years. 

Please don't burst our bubble if you think this is untrue.  We are really enjoying our kids' relationship with each other right now!

In this book, the big brother resents his baby sister, says she's good for nothing, and wants to get rid of her.  "It's time for the baby to go," he says.  And then, the mother says, to his and my surprise, "I guess you're right."  Together, they help pack her belongings.  As they pack, the big brother realizes that the very things that his baby sister does to annoy him--throw Cheerios on the floor, pull the cat's tail, make noise at the library--could actually be seen as good things.  So he and his mother decide to just send the baby sister away for the day--to Grandma's eager arms--and spend the day together.

Obviously, there are some redeeming qualities here:
  • The big brother learns that attitude and perspective is everything, and if he looks at his baby sister through a more positive lens, the scene is better.  That's definitely an important lesson.
  • The mother recognizes her son's need for some time apart from the baby, and some time spent just with her.  That's another important lesson in new-sibling-hood--that while you do have to share everything (including mom) everyday and all day long, taking a break once in a while is healthy and refreshing and wonderful.
Still, we've had this book from the library for over a week and Lorelei and Ben haven't seen it.  I don't really want "no-good baby" in their vocabulary for a few seconds, let alone years.  I wish that Elise Broach had just changed the title and text to be more positive, because then the book would be better. 

But the book still rests on the premise that the big brother doesn't like the baby sister, and I just don't want to be the one responsible for putting that idea into my own children's heads.  Things are going swimmingly now, with Lorelei believing--rightly, we think--that Ben is a wonderful addition to the family.

Nobody Asked Me If I Wanted a Baby Sister by Martha Alexander

Nobody Asked Me If I Wanted a Baby Sister by Martha Alexander

Rating: 2 stars

I hid this book mostly because of the title.  Here in our house, Lorelei and Ben don't get a whole lot of opportunities to voice their opinions on matters that don't involve their toys and lunches and activities.  And even on those matters they don't always get a choice.  I'm into free will and all, but I think it is highly overrated for children, let alone toddlers. 

In this book of few words, the big brother gets tired of her new baby sister.  He gets a stool, gets her out of her crib, puts her in his wagon, then carts her down the street, trying to to give her away.  You read that right.  The little boy finally founds an older boy who, when asked if he knows of someone who might want a baby, replies: "Sure, my mom.  She loves babies."  So the little baby is taken to this random mom, who tries to make her happy when she starts fussing.  But it turns out that the little baby just wants her older brother, despite the fact that he just tried to cart her off to anyone who might want her.  He grudgingly accepts the compliment, only when he envisions his baby sister pulling him in the wagon one day.

I'm not a fan.  I sure don't want Lorelei to get any ideas of a) leaving the house without me, b) leaving the house with Ben in town, and c) thinking that it's funny or cool or smart to try and give away a family member.  It seems to me that this book perpetuates the sad myth of big siblings hating and resenting their younger siblings.  That's a myth that, personally, I'd like to stop.  Maybe that's just because I am a younger sibling!  I guess there's a chance that parents of older kids might find it amusing (the publisher says this book is appropriate for kids from 4 to 8), but...this book will not be part of my family's library.  Ever.

Hello Baby! by Lizzy Rockwell

Hello Baby! by Lizzy Rockwell

Rating: 3.5 stars

So my mother was visiting when we got all these sibling/new baby books from the library.  She was helping me with lunch one day, and I handed her a short stack of books, including this one.  Of course, I hadn't previewed the books before.  Of course, that got me in trouble once again.

She started reading.  The first page is a cute one--with a very pregnant mom sitting on the sofa with her toddler son.  He is listening to and feeling her stomach, and the text (written in the little boy's voice) explains how he's sitting very still, "I wait, and I wait--then I feel it!  Kind of like a swoosh and kind of like a thump, it's almost nothing at all.  But I know that funny feeling.  It's our baby!  Hello, baby!"  I thought that was pretty cute.

Then she turned the page.  Augh! 

There is a picture of "our new baby," in utero!  Grammy wasn't expecting that, and neither was I!  That was a whole lot more details than Lorelei expected to get with her PBJ.  And, as the book goes on, more details are shared and illustrated: the doctor listening to mother's belly during a check-up, a "how a baby grows" chart, the baby with the umbilical cord stub (gross!). 

I really don't have any problem sharing this information with my children, but there is no third baby on the way and it's not like they are asking about how a baby is made!  Once again, I really need to read books first.  The point is, of course, that this book is really good if you want to teach your child everything that is going on, not just point out that in 40 weeks --poof!-- s/he will be a big sister/brother.  The images are really cute, especially the newborn baby ones, and it does tell a child what to expect.  And, unlike the vast majority of the other sibling/new baby books, the big brother is excited about his baby sister's arrival and loves her very much. 

This is a good one IF you are looking for an informative children's book about the impending arrival of a baby.  There is a sweet story in addition to the information, which makes that information easier to digest.  Even with a PBJ.

I Used to Be the Baby by Robin Ballard

I Used to Be the Baby by Robin Ballard

Rating: 4.5 stars

Last week I checked out ten sibling/new baby books from the library.  They were horrible.  They were so bad that I hid them from Lorelei and Ben so that they wouldn't want me to read them out loud to them.  If they had found them, I would have changed the words around.  While I generally don't want to spend too much time talking about not-so good books because there are so many good books out there, I do plan on reviewing all the sibling/new baby books that I checked out so that those of you looking for some know what each teaches.

This book was the best of the bunch.  By miles!  It was the only one that didn't assume that the older sibling/s in the family either dreaded a new baby's arrival or despised the new baby.  Instead, it shows a older brother learning how his younger brother is different from him, and gently teaching him new things and/or the right way to do things.

I'm not so sure if big sisters would appreciate this book as much as big brothers--Lorelei is in a phase of wanting (for the most part) "girl books," which she defines as books with girls on the cover or mostly about girls.  Luckily there are lots of exceptions, and since about half of the books we read are about animals, they don't count, even if it's a boy animal.  But when reading a sibling/new baby book, I am guessing that you've got to be pretty gender-specific.  Would be happy to be wrong, because that would mean a whole lot more books to go around!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ten Red Apples by Pat Hutchins

Ten Red Apples by Pat Hutchins

Rating: 4.5 stars

This book reminds me that children's books don't have to be cool.  I mean, as much as Fancy Nancy now permeates our days (Lorelei: "Mommy, can I play with your fancy shoes?" or "What fancy dress will I wear today?"), my kids cheer when they find this simple book on our library stack. 

Personally, I find it a tad annoying, but just because I don't go around saying "Fiddle dee fee" when I get frustrated.  I usually spell out a word or two.

Anyway, Pat Hutchins (think Rosie's Walk or The Wind Blew always produces read-aloud classics with intricate drawings, and this is a good example of why children from all over for so long have appreciated her books.  It's a long poem that is simply counts down the apples on a tree--one by one they are picked and eaten by animals on the farm, with the farmer insisting that they leave one for him.  He gets the last one, but then his wife comes up and wants one.  Oops!  Luckily the farmer, his wife, and all their animals spot another tree and everyone ends up happy. 

It's charming in a dusty sort of way, but Lorelei and Ben just adore it, and grandparents seem to be a fan of it, too.  In the picture is beloved Grammy, who --sniff, sniff-- left us yesterday.  At first I was going to write in this review that I couldn't get the right rhythm to the book, but on the third or fourth read I figured it out.  My mom got it on the first try.  Humph.

Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

Rating: 4.5 stars

This is a simple counting and bedtime book that works really well.  Despite the fact that most countdowns are pretty exciting things, this countdown is calming and comforting and will hopefully result in a sleeping child, just like the one at the end of this book.

But you've got to know the background of the book to fully appreciate it.  When her daughter was two, the author spent a few weeks away from her--it was the first time she'd spent such a significant amount of time apart.  One night, in the middle of the night, Ms. Bang woke up and wrote this down as a poem to her daughter.  Luckily for us, her daughter thought it'd be neat if the poem her mama had written for her was published for other (less creative) parents to read to their (still deserving) children.

(So...if I'd like to write a good children's book, I need to go away for two weeks and keep a notebook by my bed.  Sweet!  I'll let my husband know I'll be going to Jamaica for two weeks in February.)

Another really interesting tidbit: The author made the father and daughter black; her publisher told her that she'd likely cut her audience, and thus her paycheck, in half.  Of course, she chose to do it anyway and, wonderfully, it has sold equally "to both white and black, and all shades in between."

Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson

Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Loren Long

Rating: overall, 3.5 (3 for the author, 5 for the illustrator)

This is another book that makes me grateful that the author and illustrator have chosen to share their talents through children's books.

This is a book about the first all-black squadron created, thanks to pressure from the NAACP and other groups, in the U.S. Air Force.  The pilots were trained on an airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama, and flew in missions in North Africa.  The 332nd fighting squadron was the only escort group that never lost a single bomber to enemy fire.  The story is told by a little boy, whose great-great-uncle was a "wind flyer" or a "Tuskegee Airmen."  The story is appropriately serious, but not too serious.  Only once does the text mention the reason why the squadron was created: " 'Air Force didn't want us at first.  Only four squadrons like us,' he says, touching his mahogany face."  I love how subtlety and quietly the author lets Lorelei and Ben know about this difference--and about war, too.  She leaves it to me, the parent, to continue the lesson at home.  I accept.

I admit I don't love the actual text--more than once, I've flipped back to see if I missed a page because the story jumps around a bit more than I'd like.  I feel like it's two or three drafts away from a really great book.

But the illustrations.  The illustrations!!  They are illustrations that make children dream of flying, dream of doing something that they think is nearly impossible.  There is something magical about the pictures; I'm not sure what sort of pixie dust Loren Long has, but I'd like him to share it with me.  But he does!  Fortunately, Mr. Long has chosen to share his talents with children by illustrating some pretty amazing books.  I came across Otis in the bookstore a few months ago and I fell in love with the illustrator.  Click here to see his early sketches from the book; roll your mouse over the image and the final sketch will appear.  They are fantastic!  The illustrations in this book are just a gift to each child who reads it, and I'm extra appreciative that the gifts include images of black American heroes serving their country even when their country didn't fully appreciate them.

P.S.  I liked the first image of great-great uncle as a little boy, seeing if he could fly by jumping out of the barn into soft hay.  On the page before this, he jumps off the chicken coop.  We don't have these things on our property, and I'm not worried about Lorelei and Ben jumping off of tall things, but...it's good to know it's in the book if you've got a dare-devil in your care.