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!

Sally's Snow Adventure by Stephen Huneck

Sally's Snow Adventure by Stephen Huneck

Rating: 5 stars

I'm not really counting down the days till winter, but I'm trying to keep that un-excitement a secret from Lorelei and Ben.  Part of the problem of our last winter--apart from several storms with many feet of snow each, the fact that Ben was barely walking on solid ground, let alone ice and snow, and losing power on a 9 degree night--was my attitude.  I'm trying to improve it a bit before the snow starts following.

This book does help!  A little.  (I know, I know, it's still barely fleece-wearing temperature outside now in mid-September, but...I'm trying to be optimistic.)  Sally and her family (whom we never see) go on to a dog-friendly lodge in the snow-covered mountains.  Sally meets lots of new canine friends, including two rescue dogs who tell her to stay on the trails so she doesn't get lost.  One afternoon she tries all the fun winter sports: skiing, sledding, and saucering.  By dinnertime she's at the top of the mountain and wants to take a shortcut home.  She gets lost but then gets rescued--a great little, early lesson for Lorelei and Ben about the importance of staying on established trails.  The lesson helps in a large, woodsy poison-ivy-filled backyard with one marked trail.

Fall is barely here, but that means winter is just around the corner.  Lorelei seems excited to try the sports Sally does in the book, which is a nice change from last year when she lasted about five minutes in the snow.   I'll be grateful if it means this winter is better than last!

Monday, September 27, 2010

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills
Rating: 5 S-T-A-R-S

This is one of the sweetest books I've ever read.  And it's about one of my favorite subjects of all time: reading! 

Grammy visited this weekend, and she joined us on our fairly regular Girls Outing.  Instead of going to the library we went to the bookstore--she offered to buy us a few new books.  I had spotted this one a week prior while Ben and I were hanging out at the train table at a different book store, and I totally fell in love with it.  I knew both Lorelei and Ben would love it, and, even better, appreciate it more when they learned to read.  So I chose this for Lorelei, and she chose a Richard Scary book.  (Thanks, Grammy!)

Rocket the dog happens across a little bird, who declares Rocket her new student.  Rocket just wants to take a nap.  But the wise little bird starts reading a story...first Rocket is just annoyed by the unwanted sound, but then he becomes caught up in the story.  The wise and crafty bird stops reading at a really good part, but the bird is already gone when Rocket looks up to find out what happens next.  The next day Rocket is there, bright and early, to learn to read.  They begin with the ending, of the story.

Rocket spells out winter things.
 The little bird then teaches him all the letters "of the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet."  I love that Tad Hills wrote that!  I love thinking that Lorelei will look at awe at the alphabet, a little like some look at the Mona Lisa or Mount Everest.  It IS wondrous!  It IS mighty!  It IS gorgeous!  I try to contain myself when I read the book out loud to them.

When fall turns to winter, the bird flies south and leaves Rocket to study on his own.  Which he does.  He practices writing the letters by marching big "A" and "B" and "C" paths in the snow.  He practices spelling all the things around him: D-I-G (in the snow), W-I-N-D (in his face), C-O-L-D (during winter), M-E-L-T (as Spring finally comes). 

He waits, tail wagging, for the bird to arrive, and, thanks to a good teacher and his own doggedness, he learns to read.  It just makes me so hopeful that Lorelei and Ben will always have wise and crafty teachers who are able to uncover in our children their own Rocket curiosity and doggedness.

This is SUCH a great book.  I haven't read a single one of the Duck & Goose books that Tad Hills has written, but now I want to after reading this book.  I love that when he did his book tour for this book, he brought the real Rocket, his shaggy dog.  I'm definitely a new fan of his!  If you're not yet a fan, read what he wrote on his "about me" section on his website: 

"I especially enjoy the responses I get from children when I ask if they have any questions or comments. 'Where do you get your ideas?  What's the difference between a book and a story?  My birthday is June 12th.  How do you make the cover shiny?  My Dad has socks like yours.  Do you have an agent?  Do you write the story first or draw the pictures?  How do you make a book?'  But what I love most is when a lower school kid smiles and says proudly, 'I'm writing a book.' "

Ok, this post is long enough.  But really--go get this book.

Thunder-Boomer by Shutta Crum

Thunder-Boomer by Shutta Crum, illustrated by Carol Thompson

Rating: 3.5 stars

A few days ago an early fall storm passed over our house.  It was a classic: skies got dark in the early afternoon, thunder clapping like crazy, lightning zig-zagging across the sky.  The kids and I decided to go out on our covered porch and watch the storm happen.  We played around for about 15 minutes of the opening of the storm; Lorelei jumped and cheered every time it thundered, and Ben looked around him curiously, with a little alarm.  After it started pouring, we tried to drink some of the rain on our tongues from the top step and held out our hands to catch the raindrops.  We were channeling my husband, at work, who likes to do this exact thing when he's home during a storm.

Contrast that to three months ago, when Lorelei was shuddering in fear at thunder, and I'm pretty impressed at the growth.  Or knowledge?  Or maturity?  I'm not sure what, but three months ago, during the summer storms that come through our area, she was not so bold in the face of Mother Nature.  After one storm that worsened right during dinner, I had to drag her to the tiny spot on our first floor where she couldn't see out the windows.  She settled down to eat, but only after a few minutes of truly fearful crying. 

We started reading books about storms, including this most recent one.  Thunder-Boomer isn't my favorite storm book (I don't have one yet) and it doesn't even show the kids being particularly bold and excited by the storm.  In fact, they all run for cover as soon as the storm hits; the family huddles together and worries, especially when the rain turns to hail.  But, as Lorelei learned over the summer, the storm didn't last long, and the world was fresh and bright and misty afterward.  In the book, they find a tiny kitten that barely made it through the storm.  He's a gift from the storm, they say, and of course they name him "Thunder-Boomer."

I'm glad that Lorelei didn't want a cat after the last storm--she was content just to watch the rain fall and the trees of our woods swirl and whirl above.  Storms are pretty awesome things, and I love that Lorelei and Ben aren't afraid of getting a fairly close-up view of that.  I'm also glad that Lorelei is definitely learning from books--it's such a great habit, and I'm thrilled to help her start

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My Mother is So Smart! by Tomie DePaola

My Mother is So Smart! by Tomie DePaola

Rating: 3 stars

This is the best book ever!  All kids should read it and believe it!  Because we moms ARE the smartest!

Actually, though we adore Tomie DePaola in this house, this is not one of my favorite books of his.  It is a very cute ode to his own mother (it's written in the first person; like so many of his books, the little boy in the picture is like a little Tomie), and I trust it will sell pretty well because a) it's a Tomie DePaola book and b) there are lots of moms who need gifts at least three times a year.

DePaola points out why his mother is so smart, starting at the time he was a baby: "She always knew when to change my diaper" and "she always knew I was hungry before I cried."  And then when he was older: "My mother is so smart that when it's cold out, she gives us breakfast that makes us warm" and "she can dance the polka." 

No doubt this is a cute book, but I just wonder if I'd like it more if DePaola used "wonderful" instead of "smart?"  Smart makes me think of business meetings and math problems, creative ideas and genius solutions.  But maybe I'm the one who needs to redefine smart.  That would definitely help me during the days when I think "This is it?"  Not that I don't love being a stay-at-home mom, everyone out there, sometimes I wonder what it'd be like if I had a different job.  But then I glance over at Lorelei and Ben and realize any other job just isn't worth it.  There's time for Other.  Right now I have Them.

If I do my job right, maybe they'll buy this book for me in 20 or 30 years!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague

The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague

Rating: 4.5 stars

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far walked to school.  Remember that?

A few months ago I read an article in the New York Times which explained that in several school districts a child is not allowed to walk to school if they live a certain distance from school.  And in those same districts and many others, parents who do let their children walk to school are harangued by other parents for such dangerous negligence.

Ok, I admit we don't exactly live in a neighborhood where Lorelei and Ben can ever walk to school.  But if we did live in more of a city, you better believe I'd buy them bikes and send them on their merry way!

Oh--the book!  It's a fun one, even if you plan on driving your child to school every day of their schooling (hopefully not college).  Two 8-ish-year old boys just can't get to school on time.  First it's the space creatures making them late, then it's the pirates (arrrgh...hate it when they get in my way), and finally a plague of frogs.  Their teacher is fed up with their excuses, and they know she means business, so they find "the secretest shortcut" and vow to get to school on time.  Of course, this secretest shortcut somehow leads them past sleeping alligators and other jungle creatures.  They begin to wonder if they'll be late again when they fall in a mud puddle, hear the school bell ring, and make a run for it.  They make it on time--with stiff, muddy hair and all.  The illustrations are vibrant and funny--Mark Teague is great for some captivating illustrations.

This is a great parent-free adventure of two little boys.  Definitely a classic type of tale and one that I wish could happen in real life a little bit more--maybe we can't let our children walk to school, but at least we can lengthen the leash a bit and let them have some parent-free time to create, alone or with their friends, their own tales of their own.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Get to Work, Trucks! by Don Carter

Get to Work, Trucks! by Don Carter

Rating: 5 hard-working stars

Today is Lorelei's fourth day of school.  And she's home sick.  I'm not completely surprised because she looked extra tired yesterday and, as a first-time-school-goer, she's going to catch everything this year that her classmates have.  Woo hoo!  I'm going to stock up at Kleenex and Tylenol and chicken soup now...

I was planning on taking Ben to the park and library, which are placed wonderfully close to each other in our town.  But with a sick Lorelei, could I still go?  What a dilemma: spreading germs vs. staying in the house all day...getting some fresh air vs. staying in the house all day...getting new books for a quiet afternoon vs. staying in the house all day.  I guess you know what we chose.  (In my defense I washed their hands with soap and water before going into the library!  We only stayed 5 minutes!)

Lorelei was pretty cheery after a missed breakfast, and she insisted that the park was a good idea.  We stayed about 20 minutes and did our civic duty by taking along a towel and drying all the slides and tunnels from last night's rain.  We went to the library to return our old books and pick up those on hold for us, plus a few more that I knew Lorelei would look at again and again, and then headed home.  The moment we got home Lorelei said she wanted to go upstairs, so I took her now-de-germed sheets out of the dryer, made her bed and tucked her in.  Ben didn't even want to go upstairs with us--a bag full of new library books is heaven for him, so he stayed downstairs pulling each book out and, one by one, "reading" them.  
Ben takes out all the new library books.

Three paragraphs in, and I'll get to this book: we've had it in our possession for about 3 hours and I've already read it 4 times.  I think that's a good sign.  It's really not a whole lot more than your basic truck book, with two twists that I like:

First, Don Carter uses foam board, dry wall, and acrylics to make his illustrations, so they look really different and bulky and strong, something that is just perfect for a little boy's book.  (The background also looks like frosting, so many I'm just hankering for some cake right now.)

Second, after the trucks get into a line and proceed in caravan to the work site, they all stop for a turtle that is trying to cross the road.  That strikes a chord for us, as we live in a fairly rural area where turtle crossings occur.  When my husband or I stop to help the turtle along, we always put the turtle's now-hidden head up to the kids' windows so they can see.  I'm sure the turtle is not thrilled at this ("Just put me down on the other side of the road, you fool!" he's probably muttering) but Lorelei and Ben like it.

A great little book for Ben, whose vehicle-related interests already have broadened my mind.

Fire Truck by Peter Sis

Fire Truck by Peter Sis

Rating: 4 stars

Since it's basically Ben Week this week as Lorelei started preschool and he finally has the undivided attention of his mother, I made it a point to order books mostly for him--books that were age-appropriate and topic-appropriate.  The end result: holy smokes I'm going to read a lot about trucks this week!

Now this is a strange little book.  Ben loves fire trucks and firefighters and hopefully all things related to fire except fire itself, so when I saw this on a recommended reading list somewhere, I ordered it right up.  When we picked it up today, Ben was just as eager and curious as me to read it.  So we dug right in.

The text is simple--a little boy loves fire trucks; "fire truck" are the first words out of his mouth in the morning, and the last words out of his mouth at night.  The pictures are simple black and white except for the very red fire trucks--both Ben and I give that two thumb's up, so that's four thumb's up from our family.  But then the boy becomes a fire truck.  I found that a bit odd, but I guess there are little boys out there who probably aren't satisfied to just ride a fire truck.  That's so last week.  BEING a fire truck is way cooler.  Well, this book is for them. 

As the little boy-truck--a fire truck with a chest and head sticking out the back end--drives around, he seems to be having a great time.  There's a great double pull out page that shows the number and an image, getting the little reader to find 3 hoses, 4 blinking lights, etc.  I know Lorelei will love that page when she sees it.  The boy-truck rolls around saving toys and stuffed animals until he smells something good for breakfast: pancakes!  So he parks his truck, morphs into a little boy again, and eats some of those pancakes for breakfast.

This is a good book for a fire truck/firefighter collection, mostly because it's different than most of the books out there on the subject.  If Ben decides to be a fire truck for Halloween, I'll be sure to come back to this post and add a picture...that would be interesting!  As long as he doesn't insist on requiring a Dalmatian for the ensemble.  We've already got two high-strung dogs.  I can't handle a third!

My Abuelita by Tony Johnston

My Abuelita by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Rating: 2.5 stars

Confession: I don't really like clowns.  Or dolls.  So this book definitely freaks me out. 

I'll try and explain the story first, which is pretty good, though not stellar.  This little boy lives with his abuelita, who is an odd character to put it mildly.  Colorful is probably more polite.  But he, of course, loves her and thinks she's the best thing since sliced bread.  The book is mostly the little boy just describing her routine in the morning, as she gets ready for work.  And that's the big mystery Johnston really wants us to wonder about, because he mentions it on almost every single page, making me think to myself in my most inappropriately sarcastic voice:  OK!  WE GET IT!  WE'RE CURIOUS ABOUT HER WORK!  In the end, we find out she is a storyteller, and the little boy wants to grow up to be one, too.

And now, the illustrations.  I had to find out the background on these strange things, and I found this neat You Tube clip of Yuyi Morales describing how she made it.  The video is a wonderful illustration of how illustrations come to be--how painstakingly time consuming and detailed, and how much talent and time are both involved. 

It's pretty neat (and I'm not even a fan of the end result), but if you don't have 3 minutes and 42 seconds to watch it, here's the short version: She made the abuelita, the little boy, and the cat, then gathered together all the other stuff you see on the pages and took photographs of them, over a three year period.  For me, the illustrations in the book are a bit creepy, voo-doo-like and just not my thing.  That said, they are very different and it's great to show kids different styles so they can find one or more that they like.  That's what art is all about, right?

Lorelei likes this book because there is Spanish sprinkled in with the text.  And she thinks she can speak Spanish, just like my cousin did when he was a preschooler (he's now in high school--oh my!).  She'll say some jibberish and then, kindly, translate it for me.  It makes me laugh everytime. 

For me, a strange book, might be someone else's favorite.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser

Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser
Rating: 5 surprisingly wonderful and funny stars

This is one of my favorites.  Do I say that so much that it doesn't mean anything?  Maybe, but REALLY, this time, I mean it!  I can't believe that I've not seen this book before, one that makes Lorelei belly-laugh (and Ben pretend belly-laugh, just to assure her that he gets the joke, too, even though he doesn't totally get it) every time we read it.  One that stands outs with its unique artwork and quirky, human-like animal characters.  One that really has fewer words than I thought was good, but Sebastian Meschenmoser does all kinds of right in this book. 

I'm going to spend awhile on it.  By the end, you'll probably bypass the library and go right to the bookstore, which I think is a wise decision.

 So squirrel is waiting for winter--waiting, specifically, to see snow, which he usually sleeps through.  There are a dozen pictures (no words) of him waiting, waiting, waiting.  Then he almost falls asleep waiting and decides that exercise will help him stay awake.  More pictures (no words) of frantic squirrel scurrying up and down and around and through a tree.  That wakes up hedgehog, who decides that since he's awake, he, too will wait for the first snowflake.  They wait and wait and wait and begin to fall asleep (few words).  They decide that, to stay awake, they should sing sea shanties.  (This is my favorite part because Meschenmoser doesn't provide any words, so I fill in with a hearty, pirate-sounding "What do you do with a scurvy pirate?" that makes Lorelei and Ben smile.)  Not surprisingly, they wake up someone else: bear.

Squirrel and Hedgehog's sea shantys wake up Bear.

Bear emerges looking like most of us do after a night that started too late and ended too early.  His barely-open eyes are pained by the fact that they are not closed.  C'mon, I know you know that feeling.  Or maybe you forgot about it since your children now sleep through the night? 

Anyway, they decide to wait together but then realize they might have missed the first snowflake. So they go hunting for it.  Each finds something white and wet and cold and soft and is convinced that it is, without a doubt, the first snowflake.  Squirrel finds a toothbrush; Hedgehog finds a can.  Two full pages are dedicated to what a snowfall would look like with these "snowflakes."  Squirrel, surrounded by toothbrushes with toothbrushes falling down around him.  And Hedgehog, surrounded by cans with cans falling down around him.  (Ouch!)  And then there's Bear, with a sock.  Meschenmoser writes: "But the snow will be a little smelly."  Giggle, giggle. 

The first snowflake falls on Bear's nose.

This is where Lorelei really gets into it.  She knows what snow looks like, so she thinks it's really funny that she knows something these two animals don't.  Another note to aspiring children's book writers: Make your young listeners think they are smarter than your characters!

So the animals sit around thinking about which one is right when a snowflake--a real one--lands on Bear.  And then more fall, and soon they are surrounded by it.  The last few pages are wordless and show the animals walking and playing in the snow.  They build a snowman--with a tin can hat, a toothbrush pipe, and a sock nose--that make two men trudging through the tracks stop in curious wonder.

Making a snowman before going to sleep.
This is a delightful, delightful book that is super fun to read aloud.  I can't wait to read it again when winter gets closer (though I am certainly not waiting for it...more like dreading...I'm a warm weather person, myself) and when Ben can understand more and produce a true belly laugh for himself.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Firefighters: Speeding! Spraying! Saving! by Patricia Hubbell

Firefighters: Speeding! Spraying! Saving! by Patricia Hubbell, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli

Rating: 5 speeding, life-saving stars

Who doesn't love a fireman?  We are fans of all first responders in this house, but firefighters hold a special place in our hearts.  Especially Ben's big little heart.  I am sure that 99.8% of little boys go crazy when a fire truck speeds by, with sirens blazing, forcing cars to get out of the way.  This is Ben--in fact, he starts crying and moaning when they pass, wanting to see them again.  Ben really would love it if, one day, I put my blinkers on and go on the chase, following that fire truck in an exciting, traffic-dodging race to the emergency.  He might pee his pants (which would happen anyway, of course, since he's still in diapers).

Fireman Ben to the rescue!

Lorelei and I went to the library last Saturday and I spotted this book on the little shelf of board books.  I'm so glad it jumped right out at me, because it's a great one.  Firefighters are a pretty easy subject for a well selling book (along with trucks and princesses)--but there are definitely some duds out there.  This one is great!  It's a sturdy board book, which is essential in Ben's oops-did-I-rip-that hands, and is a poem, which is always nicer to read, especially to kids under 2 or 3.  And it actually teaches small but important facts about firefighting; my two favorites: that saving lives is their most important jobs (many firefighter books shy away from this--their firemen rescue cats from trees or check the fire alarms in pizza parlors); and that cars need to get out of the way when a fire truck races past (all DC residents need to read this and re-learn that basic driving fact).

Ben has slept with this book since we checked it out from the library.  I try and keep library books downstairs (after one got ripped up during a particularly destructive naptime) but this board book was an exception.  It's way too cool a book to not read over and over and over and over again.  I've not memorized it YET, but...give me another few days with it.
Ben is still too young to do crafts like this (or am I just too lazy?), but I found this neat activity on the fantastic No Time For Flashcards website.  Super crafty moms can do this (build a fire station with some empty milk cartons) with their fire-fighter-obsessed kids.  Maybe next year!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Posy by Linda Newbery

Posy by Linda Newbery, illustrated by Catherine Rayner

Rating: 2.5 stars

In an effort to not throw my own biases on my kids, I got Posy from the library last week.  I am trying to like it, to be enthusiastic when Lorelei or Ben want to read it.  But...I'm just a dog person pretending to think that cats are a good choice for a pet, too.  (Deep inside, horrible, dog-loving me is thinking: My dogs would give you a run for your money, Posy!)

Ok, I don't really want my weims to terrorize Posy.  She is cute and cuddly.  But she's just an alien creature for Ben and Lorelei.  And there is little to this story: "Posy!  She is...a whisker wiper, crayon swiper, playful wrangler, knitting tangler."  It just describes the cute things that this kitten does.  As a dog family, we need a little more convincing that we should really love this Posy creature.  Whatever your preference--cats or dogs, horses or snakes--it's hard to argue that the illustrations by Catherine Rayner are not pretty adorable.

If you're a cat person, feel free to rant in the comment section below.  (And check out this book, plus Linda Newbery's other cat-related books.)  If you're a dog person, feel free to give me a cyber-high five below.  (And click here to find all my reviews on dog books.  And note that I don't even have a special label for cat books!  My tastes and preferences are obvious...sorry, cat-loving book-readers out there...) 

Turk and Runt: A Thanksgiving Comedy by Lisa Wheeler

Turk and Runt: A Thanksgiving Comedy by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Frank Ansley

Rating: 4.5 stars

This is one of the funniest children's books I have ever read!  I found myself chuckling out loud at the line ahead of the one I was reading to Lorelei and Ben.  The thing is, I think this might be a 4-year old minimum, because you have to at least understand that the turkey you eat on Thanksgiving is the same turkey that says gobble, gobble at the zoo.  I'm not sure Lorelei gets that, and I know Ben doesn't, and I'm fine with not pointing that out today.  Maybe tomorrow. 

But if your kids DO know that turkeys are animals and we gobble them up (unless you're a vegetarian, which this book might make your kids), then they would find this book hilarious!  Turk and Runt are two brothers in a turkey family.  Turk is the prized brother--big, muscly, fast, gorgeous, and ignorant of the fact that he might become some one's dinner.  Runt is the forgotten brother--little, scrawny, ugly, and aware of the fact that his brother is in high demand.  Turk is determined to be selected by each family who drives up to the farm, and his parents naively parade him around and show him off.  Runt pulls of stunts to make Turk look undesirable and inedible, successfully saving him from becoming some one's meal.  But at the end a scrawny old lady looks for a scrawny little chicken--Runt!  Turk finally clues in to the dangers of Thanksgiving and saves his little brother.  The book ends with Christmas season--people pulling into the farm looking for turkeys for that holiday meal find four snow-turkeys, safe under their cold disguise.

I'm not doing this book justice.  Check it out and see for yourself--and tell me what age of kids laughs the loudest!

Read It, Don't Eat It! by Ian Schoenherr

Read It, Don't Eat It! by Ian Schoenherr

Rating: 4 stars

Recently one of our friends found out that I had a children's book blog.  A father of a 14-month old, he said: "Great!  Now I know which books are the most delicious!"  When I saw the title of this book, recommended on our library's home page, I had to get it, if only to send it to the little book-eater.  (Ben still gnaws on some, though he's not actually eaten any in months.  Progress!)

This is a fine book to read, but a great book to use to teach how to use the library, and specifically how to treat the books that you check out from the library.  It'd be essential in any preschool or elementary school, but a great one for parents when we first start going to the library.  And from time to time after that because--well, maybe it's different in your home--we need to reinforce things again and again and again and again and... 
Don't censor, delete, or deface.

Here is the entire book, right here:
Read it, don't eat it.
No dog ears, please.
Find someplace else to sneeze.
Borrow, don't steal.
TRY not to squeal.
Rips and tears won't magically heal.
Don't overdue it, just renew it.  (Really, now, there's nothing to it.)
Leave no trace (or at least erase).
Don't censor, delete, or deface.
It's not a platter, or a stool.
Be careful with it at the pool.
Don't leave it in the rain or sun.
Please return it when you're done.
Share it with a friend, a sister, a brother.
Now go out and get another.

Each line has a corresponding picture to illustrate the point, which is helpful to those little ones who, thankfully, don't know what stealing or censoring is quite yet.

Lorelei and Ben love this book, probably more than I do.  It's a quick read but a great example of a book that really teaches--and, in this case, teaches them something about a place that they love, about a thing they love: the library and books!  Hopefully this love affair lasts for many decades.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll

I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll, illustrated by Howard McWilliam

Rating: 4 stars

I can't believe Lorelei likes this book.  I actually checked it out from the library because I was curious about a book that would encourage the idea that monsters are under the bed.  I hid it from the kids for a week or two, but they found it on the dining room table.  I need a better hiding spot.

Here's the gist of the story: The little boy you see peeking under his bed is looking for his monster, but instead he finds a note: "Gone fishing.  Back in a week.  Gabe."  A week!  Without a monster!?  The little boy can't sleep without a monster for a whole week!  So he calls on (the monster world?!) and five monsters appear, one at a time, to "interview" for the position.  The little boy finds fault with each of them: The first doesn't have scary claws, the second paints his fingernails, the third is a girl (Lorelei's favorite line: "Boy monsters are for boys and girl monsters are for girls!"), and the fourth is too funny to be scary.  Finally, Gabe reappears and, after some threats to eat his toes if he lets them fall to the floor, the little boy drifts off into a contented sleep.

Lorelei thinks the book is hilarious!  I can't believe it.  But I don't think I'd ever read this to her as a bedtime story, though I bet a lot of parents do...

The author got the idea for the book when her fourth child was born.  Her third child just wouldn't go to bed, and, during what she called "not her finest parenting moment," she wished that she could put a monster under her third child's bed so that she'd stay put.  I love that the author is from Spanaway, Washington, a little town sorta near Tacoma, on the way to my beloved Mount Rainier.  We have dear friends in Spanaway.  I wonder if they have ever run into Amanda Noll?  I'll have to ask!

Wow! School! by Robert Nuebecker

Wow! School! by Robert Nuebecker

Rating: 5 stars

Well, the count down to the start of preschool is on.  I'm not sure who is more excited--me or Lorelei.  Ben, if he realized what is about to happen, would definitely NOT be excited.  Even though Lorelei's favorite past time is to boss him around, he will miss her for every minute of the three and a half hours she'll be out of my hands.  Mostly, I'm curious: How will she react?  How will she behave?  What will she love? Will she make friends easily?  How long will it be till the school calls to tell me she's sick or has broken her arm on the playground?!  (I'm sure that phone call will come from Ben.)

This is one of the best starting school books out there.  It's simple--with minimal words, Nuebecker just produces these huge sheets of art, filled with all the little things that you'd find in a classroom.  Check out some of the pages:

I love the fact that Nuebecker sat in the back of his daughter's preschool class and sketched the pictures.  We are big fans of Nuebecker's--dorky me follows his blog and is impatiently awaiting his next WOW! book, which is Wow!  Ocean!  We'll probably have to trek up to the Baltimore Aquarium to fully appreciate that book.

For now, though, we'll just focus on the start of school.  Keep your fingers crossed for all of us!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna

Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna, illustrated by the one and only Loren Long

Rating: 3.5 stars

I searched high and low for a picture of Madonna with this book of hers, just because I thought it'd be funny--but somehow appropriate--to have a picture of her on a blog about children's books.  Of course, I only have so many minutes in the day to devote to blogging to my imaginary friends about books they might never read, so I only went through the first dozen pages from my not-so-exhaustive Google search. This is the only one I can find, and it's definitely not of this book, but...I couldn't resist! 

Let me get to the book, because it is surprisingly good--though surprisingly serious.  I'll say it's for 4-year olds, but only if they are mature and ready to really learn lessons from books, and not just lessons like "share your toys" and "poop in the potty." 

Mr Peabody wonders where everyone is.
Mr. Peabody is a beloved teacher and baseball coach of a Little League team that always has a good time losing.  After a game, he walks home and passes a fruit stand, where he takes an apple.  Without, it seems to one of his players from across the street, paying.  The little lookout tells everyone that Mr. Peabody is a thief, and soon no one shows up for a game.  Mr. Peabody shows that he has an arrangement with Mr. Funkadeli, the grocer; he takes an apple after the game but pays for it on Saturday, when he picks up his milk.  The little lookout boy feels pretty badly, as he should, and asks what he can do to make it all better.  Mr. Peabody tells him to meet him at the baseball field in an hour, and bring a feather pillow.

Once there, Mr. Peabody instructs the boy to cut open the pillow and let the feathers fly.  The boy is confused but eager to win back his coach/teacher's respect, so he does it.  Thousands of feathers fly everywhere.  "Now pick them up," Mr. Peabody says.  The boy is surprised and confused and states that that is impossible.  Mr. Peabody says quietly: "It would be just as impossible to undo the damage that you have done by spreading the rumor that I am a thief."  The last picture, shown here, is the pillow, restuffed, all sewn up.

Loren Long shines, of course.  Any book he's touched is worth reading a few times, or at the very least looking at and talking about the pictures.  This isn't my favorite of his book, but I love his drawings.  I love how the cover states "art by Loren Long" rather than illustrated by Loren Long.  So fitting.

A book by a pop star.  Not a home-run or chart buster, but a good one, and I think it's a good one with which to introduce the word "rumor."  Hopefully all our kids will understand the word and the damage done by them by middle school...before they get caught in one themselves.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sally Goes to the Vet by Steve Huneck

Sally Goes to the Vet by Steve Huneck

Rating: 4.5 stars

I'm so glad we had this book on our (borrowed from the library) shelf, because we had to take Lulu, our black dog, to the vet yesterday.  In the book, Sally the black lab "plays the chasing game" with her friend Bingo the cat.  She is running too fast to see a root in front of her, and she trips and falls and hurts herself.  She's carried to the car and the vet examines her--looks at her eyes, her mouth, x-rays her, and then gives her a shot.  Sally wonders if the shot will hurt; the vet says if she thinks of a happy thought she won't feel a thing.  We get a cute shot of lovable Sally with a thought bubble of an ice-cream cone.  After she gets home, she tells Bingo about her trip to the vet, including how she learned how to think of happy thoughts.  The last page shows the two friends cuddling together, with a thought bubble coming from Bingo, with Sally in it.  Cute!

Here at our house, Lulu just needed a bordatella shot.  Lorelei was really interested in going in with her (if it's just a shot, a vet technician can just take the dog back alone, without us, or we can go back with Lulu) to tell Lulu to have a happy thought.  We had a lot of fun wondering what that happy thought might be for our own black dog: a treat, some leftover meat, popcorn, Guidry (our other weimaraner), or maybe Lorelei and Ben!  As soon as we got to the vet's office, though, Lorelei and Ben both became way too interested in the tiny kids' play area and forgot why we were there.  Good ol' Lulu shuffled back with the vet technician and emerged back so quickly that Lorelei and Ben insisted they needed five more minutes of playing time.

Maybe next time they'll want to hold her paw during her shot.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse by Meghan McCarthy

Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse by Meghan McCarthy

Rating: 4 stars

I'm trying my best to create a horse-crazy daughter...because I want to ride horses again myself!  I am not completely self-motivated here.  Horses saved me from those middle school years where a lot of girls crumble in the face of mean girls, changes in their body, hormone swings, and their first "boyfriends."  I poured myself into whatever horse I was leasing at the moment, practicing my braids and Dressage tests and making sure their stall was spic-and-span (though my room sure never was).

This book is a surprisingly exciting children's book, one based on the wonderful little wonder horse, Seabiscuit.  (If you've not read Laura Hillenbrand's book Seabiscuit: An American Legend you really should!)  She sets the pace quickly by explaining, in wonderfully simple and appropriate words, how the country was at a depressed spot.  "In the 1930s, times were tough.  There were long lines to get food.  People didn't have much and needed an escape."  In comes horse racing in general, and Seabiscuit in particular.  Seabiscuit was a big, ungraceful horse that was pretty unsuccessful until the right team assembled around him.  Then, as Seabiscuit gained confidence, calmness, and speed, he gained a huge following of fans who had "Seabiscuit-itis." 

"A hush fell over the crowd.  The horses twitched. 
The riders sat perfectly still."
Of course, no good story exists without a good villain.  In this book, it's the graceful, well-bred, and gorgeous War Admiral, whose success came easily.  Seabiscuit's owner challenged War Admiral to a race, and the two horses met.  Thousands came by train, by car, by boat.  "They were squished--crammed in like sardines--but that didn't matter."  The two horses walked out on the track and...then...they're off!  The horses race side-by-side briefly, and then Seabiscuit takes off and never looks back, leaving War Admiral four lengths behind him as he gallops across the finish line.

It's a great American story, and it is super fun to read aloud, especially if you don't have any adults listening to you and you pour yourself into the excitement of the words and the feelings.  Which you definitely should do, because then your kids will enjoy it all the more.  Lorelei and Ben now have races (around the dining room table, accompanied by our crazy weimaraner Guidry) where they pretend to be jockeys on Seabiscuit and War Admiral.  Of course, as the big sister, Lorelei is always the winner on Seabiscuit. 

I don't love the illustrations.  I think they are a bit goofy, and the plate-like eyes on the horses and people throw me off a bit.  But the story is what counts--and that is a winner.

A Know-Nothing Halloween by Michele Sobel Spirn

A Know-Nothing Halloween by Michele Sobel Spirn, illustrated by R.W. Alley

Rating: 2 stars

I walked into the house today from my weekly morning out without kids to hear our sitter reading this book to Lorelei.  I told Miss Chloe, "I just rescued you from finishing that book!"  She gave me a thankful look and told me it was giving her a headache--I knew she wasn't exaggerating much.  Here's a little example of what is in the loooooooong (three little chapters!) book:
"We could trick-or-treat."
"How do we do that?" asked Morris.
"We go to people's houses and do tricks for them," said Norris.
"Then they give us treats."
"I don't know any tricks," said Boris.
"Maybe Floris knows some tricks," said Norris.
"Sit, Floris."
"I don't think Floris knows that trick," said Morris.
"Roll over, Floris," said Norris.
"Floris does not know that trick either," said Morris.
"Stand on four legs, Floris," said Norris.
"What a great trick," said Morris.
"Floris is such a clever dog," said Boris.
Good grief.  I hope that your children will not find these in the library.  If the do, consider hiding it immediately after you come home, in a place even the sitter can't find.

Elephants Can Paint, Too! by Katya Arnold

Elephants Can Paint, Too! by Katya Arnold

Rating: 5 stars

I bought this book without checking it out from the library first.  I knew I would love it.  I knew Lorelei would love it, and I knew Ben would love it.  And, amazingly, I was right about it all! 

Who knew that elephants could paint flowers?!
Why do I love it?  As a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand I've traveled to the Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Thailand, to see the elephants perform, show off what work they can do, to watch them paint, and to ride them.  It was one of my most memorable tourist activities of my life--riding an elephant made me feel like I was 5--it was so exciting and fun and different!  Plus I was there with my best bud Caitlin, who makes everything hilarious and memorable.  Anyway, I was so excited that a children's book had been written/created to highlight a really neat animal that almost all children think is cool.  I'm always on the prowl for nonfiction books, and this one was a well-timed find.

Why does Lorelei love it?  Lorelei starts preschool in just about a week.  She's ready.  I'm ready (mostly).  Last week she received a letter from her teacher, who introduced herself and told her a little bit about herself and what Lorelei should expect in the upcoming school year.  The letter was so thoughtful and unnecessary--and it was written in such an appropriate tone--I just felt like it assumed Lorelei was an intelligent, thoughtful little girl capable of great things.  I know, I read into it a bit.  Well, it turns out that Lorelei is in the elephant class at school!  So I just had to buy this book.  Lorelei loves it and is excited to show it to her teacher when she first meets her.

Ben loves this picture of the author.
Why does Ben love it?  The book is written so well--it is a simple little story for kids Ben's age, with parallel lines for Katya Arnold's two different lives: in one she teaches little humans in Brooklyn, in the other she teaches big elephants in Thailand.  Some eat grass, some eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but they all love cookies.  And all of her students love art class.  She shows how each student holds a paintbrush (some with fingers, some with their trunk).  In addition to this simple story, there are inserts with tons of interesting facts about elephants, which are great for older kids like Lorelei.

I'm so happy this book will stay on our shelves and not have to be returned to the library next week!