Monday, January 31, 2011

Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen

Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Rating: 4.5 stars

Any "So You Think You Can Dance" fans out there?  I admit that I watch a few too many reality TV shows, and this dance show strikes a chord from my show choir (insert chuckle here) past.  I'll spare you the details of jazz hands and glittering outfits.  Debbie Allen, the author of this book, is a judge on the show and is a famous dancer (so I hear from her on the show).

Even if you don't watch the show, the book is good and the illustrations are gorgeous.  But c'mon, what picture of a ballerina doesn't reach out and grab you?  Doesn't a young woman stretching her legs in an impossible position while balancing on her toes just take your breath away?  If you agree even half-heartedly, then you'll like this book.  Or the little girl in your life will love this book.

Sassy's a young dancer from California who is mercilessly teased for being so tall.  She towers above all the other dancers, and her teachers complain that they can't find her a dance partner to match her height, so she never dances in any of the recitals.  Then, her dance class finds out that there's an opportunity to dance in Washington, DC, for the summer at a prestigious school.  She's not sure she should try out, but she does--in a look-at-me yellow leotard, standing in the front row.  She gets the attention of the Russian instructor for that, but soon holds his attention with the way she moves.

I admit that the picture where she, and only she, makes the cut brought me to tears.  The expression on her face is a mix of shock and awe (in a wonderfully childish way) at herself and her potential, finally recognized by someone important.  She suddenly belives in herself.  She is SO proud of herself, as is her big brother, who is the leader of the pack who teases her about being tall.

This is a beautiful book, and definitely a great one for a little ballerina's library.

Minerva Louise (Review, Part I) by Janet Morgan Stoeke

Minerva Louise (Review, Part I) by Janet Morgan Stoeke

Rating: 5 funny stars!

You know Amelia Bedilia, right?  Well, this is the toddler/preschooler version to take-it-at-face-value literalist Amelia Bedilia.  Amelia Bedilia books require a bit of cultural literacy, or sometimes just a broader range of experience, than most 3 or 4 year olds possess.  Minerva Louise, on the other hand, takes things just as literally, but the situations are a whole lot more obvious, and therefore a whole lot funnier, to little ones like Lorelei.  And Ben, too, but I'm not sure if he laughs along just because his beloved big sister is nearly snorting her milk next to him.

Here are the ones we've checked out, read, and loved so far:
Minerva Louise (Picture Puffins)Minerva Louise.  The first, the original.  Minerva, a simple-minded hen, can't help but explore the sweet home next to her coop.  She thinks a cat is a cow and is looking for more friends to play with while absentmindedly walking past the man and woman of the house.  She finds a rubber duck and tries to convince him to play outside.  It's a good warm-up to the chicken, but the other books are better.

Minerva Louise and the Red TruckMinerva Louise and the Red Truck.  Guess who loves this one best?  That's right, Ben.  Minerva Louise goes to play in her favorite red truck.  She finds lots of "toys" (tools!) and a table and chairs (flower pots!), which she uses to have a tea party (the hammer "sitting" in the flower pot is chuckle-worthy).  Then the red truck zooms off, and she sees a lake (no, a pool!), farmers working (no, golfers playing!), and a barn with a hat (no, a church with a steeple!).  She likes the ride but is happy to be home.

Minerva Louise and the Colorful EggsMinerva Louise and the Colorful Eggs.  Pretty cute Easter book, though it's more of a Springtime book than anything religious.  Minerva Louise loves the colors of Spring (I type as there is still a thick blanket of snow outside...oh how I wish the colors of Spring were here!), and watches as the farmers play outside.  Minerva Louise starts to find strange colored eggs all around, and tries to sit on them to warm them up.  She gathers her friends to help because there are too many for her to sit on by herself, and some "are so cold they're turning blue!"

Minerva Louise at the Fair Minerva Louise at the Fair.  Minerva Louise trots down to the local fair after seeing the fireworks from afar.  She checks out the house of mirrors, wondering why the chickens she sees (her reflection) don't want to come over and play.  She thinks that the barn (the carousel) is magnificent and, when she's tired at the end of the night, she hopes that the hen house hotel is just as beautiful.  She's too sleepy to notice that that hen house is actually housed with bunnies, but she snores next to them till her little farmer finds her in the morning and takes her home.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bridges Are To Cross by Philemon Sturges

Bridges Are To Cross by Philemon Sturges, illustrated by Giles Laroche

Rating: 5 stars

I LOVE how this book turns bridges, something that one could look at as pretty ordinary, and shows how extraordinary they really can be.

The book is, obviously, about bridges; it's not exactly a story book, but does have enough words on each page that describe the pictures enough to make it better for younger audiences than, say, a DK book on dinosaurs.  Each page shows a gorgeous illustration (see below) that draws the little reader in to that particular bridge.  Struges' text, just one sentence, explains how this bridge is unique.  Some examples:
  • Tower Bridge (London, England): "This bridge lets boats float under the road."
  • Segovia Aqueduct (Segovia, Spain): "And this one brings river to the city."
  • Engetsu Bridge (Takamatsu, Japan): "This bridge was for the shogun to cross to find the quiet of his garden."
    "This bridge is very old and very new. 
    It was built long ago, but is always being repaired and rebuilt."
  • Ponte di Realto (Venice, Italy): "And this one's for ordinary people to cross, to shop, or just watch gondolas."
Under the main text, there are a few sentences that go more in-depth, providing a bit more information.  They are always fascinating, and spark some really great conversation--from "Let's find this on the globe!" or "Is that far or near us?" or "Have you or Daddy ever been to this bridge?"

Giles Laroche is pretty neat himself.  He makes this elaborate paper collages that somehow, magically, turn into the background and foreground of these cool structures.  (The Brooklyn Bridge one is the most impressive, I think.)  I can't imagine how long it takes him to do each one!  He says that he likes to create pictures of faraway places; he is often is inspired by how own artwork to then travel to that faraway place to explore.  I love that no matter where he travels or hikes, he always has a sketchbook in hand.  I am really looking forward to exploring more of his work in books like What Do Wheels Do All Day? and What's Inside?

This book is an inspirational treasure.  Check it out (or buy it) today!

Oh No, Gotta Go #2 by Susan Middletown Elya

Oh No, Gotta Go #2 by Susan Middletown Elya, illustrated by Lynn Avril

Rating: 4 stars

Yup, there's a sequel to Oh No Gotta Go, the cute story of a little girl who drinks too much juice and suddenly has to go to the bathroom NOW.  When I saw there was a second book, I was curious if it was just another situation in which she'd have to pee or if, as the book hints, this one wasn't about pee but about poop.

It's about poop!

Lorelei chuckled the whole time through this book, and while there's a lot of Spanish that Lorelei, who thinks she's already fluent, liked, it was the slang and easy innuendos that I liked teaching her through this book.  We don't say "#1" and "#2" in our house, but it's definitely a good thing to know.  Bathroom cultural literacy, if you will.  Ha!  As her stomach gurgles and churns, there's a picture of a volcano(cleverly, the street that they're walking next to is turned into a lava-gurgling, about-to-erupt volcano), so it was fun to tell Lorelei that the author and illustrator are saying that her stomach is like a volcano and she needs to sit on the potty before she explodes in a less desirable place.

This might be a little too much potty talk for your family, but we really liked it.

(By the way, in case you were worried, she makes it.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

I Like It When... by Mary Murphy

I Like It When... by Mary Murphy

Rating: 5 stars

This is one of our new go-to books for newborns or for a first birthday.  (And it really would be appropriate for a second birthday, too.)  It is heart-meltingly wonderful and I think most of us should read it every day.
I like it when you hold my hand.
I like it when you let me help.
I like it when we eat new things.
 I like it when we play peekaboo.
I like it when you tickle me.
I like it when you dance with me.
I like it when you read me stories.
I like it when you hug me tight.
I like it when we splash about.
I like it when we kiss good night.
I love you.  I love you, too!
That's the whole book.  I'm sure you can picture a cute penguin parent doing all of these things with her even cuter penguin chick, their beaks easily forming a smile on every page. 

I mean, isn't this what parenthood is all about?  Spending time with our little ones--actually playing with them.  I have a really random resume, one that's not much use for landing me a powerful job, but there's always plenty of stuff to talk about.  One of those random things I did was teach horseback riding lessons one summer at a camp tucked away in western Washington state.  My main job was to give kids an idea of how to take care of a horse and how to ride a horse, but on the first day of the week-long session a counselor and I were in charge of playing with the kids.  Just playing.  Usually that meant soccer, something I'm not particularly great at, but it was such a wonderful lesson in dropping my adult important-ness and just settling in with the silly.  I'm so grateful for that summer, if only for that one very important lesson.

So let's play with our kids an extra ten minutes today!  Save the cooking and cleaning and email answering and bill paying and phone calling and, oh yes, the blogging for after bedtime or tomorrow.  We've got to somehow jam it all in, but...sometimes, let's just be like these penguins and hold hands, dance around, splash about, and read books.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale by Ying Chang Compestine

The Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Sebastia Serra

Rating: 4.5 stars

Yesterday I was itching to get out of the house, so when I put Ben down for his nap Lorelei and I scooted out the door to go to the grocery store...and hit the bookstore on the way there.  We almost didn't make it to the grocery store--there were too many good books to read!  We'd were ready to leave but then she'd find another book and say, "This is the last one, Mommy!" and then I'd see another I wanted to read and say the same thing back to her.  When I told my mother that we were there for about 90 minutes, she asked if there was a sale or something.  No way!  We didn't buy anything.  We just went to read.

While I wonder if Lorelei is related to me when she pushes away an uneaten dessert, I know she's mine when we can spend hours at a bookstore.  Together! 

Anyway, this was one of the books that caught my eye and I just couldn't leave without reading it.  I have a special spot in my heart for anything Asian--I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand and I have a graduate degree in Southeast Asian Studies (that is gathering dust!).  The Chinese New Year is coming up (3 February 2011) so there was a small display of Chinese books. 

The Runaway Wok is a story of sharing, a Robin Hood-style tale where a rusty old wok steals from the richest family in Beijing and gives to the poorest family in the city.  Of course, the rich family never shared any of their food, toys, and money, and of course the poor family shares all of the food, toys, and money that come their way.  The illustrations are high-spirited to say the least, and the scenes were just so different than what Lorelei is used to seeing, that these alone would have kept us in the bookstore for another hour.

"What's a wok, Mommy?"  Proudly, I said: what we used to make bee bim bop last night! 

"What are those lanterns for?"  They are decorations for the new year festival, or party.

"What's that dragon?"  A big puppet-like thing that walks and dances through the street!  Cool, huh?

"Can we see one sometime?"  Ok!  You got it!  Let me figure out where we can go!

THIS is why a book like this is so wonderful--to start conversations like this, to start thinking a bit differently, to just broaden--if only ever so slightly--the horizons of a young child.

I think my only mild critique is the way the rich family gets carried off.  The wok tricks them into chasing it and falling in, and then carries them away from the city forever.  For not sharing!  But I think it's appropriate and wouldn't change it--it's a fable, after all, and if it makes Lorelei a better share-r (to fear that Mommy's wok will magically whisk her away forever), well...that's not bad!

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andreae

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Russell Ayto

Rating: 2.5 stars

Since we were on the hunt for dinosaur books for my twin nieces' upcoming birthday, and because we are fans of Giles Andreae, we couldn't not check out this book from the library.

Captain Flinn himself
Here's the plot: Flinn, a dinosaur-loving kid, goes into the supply closet at school to get more markers when he finds a sniffling Real Pirate and is magically transported to the high seas (along with some of his classmates).  The Real Pirate tells the kids that his precious pirate ship was hijacked by some pirates that were especially fearsome and tough.  The kids, now pirates themselves, help the Real Pirate find his ship and find the culprits--who aren't just any old pirates but DINOSAUR pirates!  There is a great battle, and Flinn and his buds come out on top.  They find a trap door that becomes the supply closet, so they return to school without their teacher missing them.

But, alas, it's not for us.  I can see some kids liking it more than us--I mean, the fact that it's got dinosaurs and pirates in the title will be a selling point for many.  In my opinion, I think it takes too many pages to get to the actual pirate part of the book.  I know fights are sort of part of life, but battles with swords and cannons and fierce fighting aren't my favorite for my kids right now.  I think the fact that they're dinosaurs is really random but...maybe dinosaur-obsessed kids like my nieces wouldn't care at all.  And I know that there are a few sequels to this book, so obviously some kids liked it! 

Choo Choo Clickety-Clack! by Margaret Mayo

Choo Choo Clickety-Clack! by Margaret Mayo, illustrated by Alex Ayliffe

Rating: 5 stars

This book is like an old friend to Lorelei and Ben.  Ok, I realize that "old" is quite relative because we're talking about a 3 1/2 and 2 year old here...but we check it out from the library every few months, and they are always excited to see it.  We've read all of Margaret Mayo's books (click here to read my reviews of her books); they have the same pattern in the poem, so it's familiar to them for many reasons.

This one is so great, especially for Ben, who is crazy about anything with wheels and/or makes sounds when it goes.  (So inspired is he by big trucks, he often beeps when backing up!)  In this book, trains speed, airplanes fly, cars drive, race cars race, sailboats sail, hot air balloons float, motorbikes rev, bikes whiz, cable cars climb, buses go, and ferryboats load.  The book ends with nightfall, which of course I love and appreciate, when all the vehicles rest (and we find them in their "resting spots" across the page).

Maybe some parents are careful with their books, but we are definitely not, despite the fact that it pains me to see a ripped page or a book shoved off a table thoughtlessly.  We believe that it's best to just hand over the books to our kids as much as possible, so they have the thrill of turning the page--or turning back a page--themselves.  These books written by Mayo are so great that theywill definitely be read again and again and again, so the sturdier the pages, the better! 

Dinosaurumpus! by Tony Mitton

Dinosaurumpus! by Tony Mitton, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

Rating: 5 stars

I give up.  I think I'm going to hand over my blog to my friend Beth, whose book recommendations are out of this world.  Maybe just maybe she'd like to add some of her own posts...with her critic Julia at her side...?!

This book is The Best Dinosaur Book we've read.  Hand's down!  Every time we read it one or both of the kids are bobbing their heads and tapping their feet (or fork, which I try not to encourage!) and we end up turning whatever floor is nearby in a dance floor.  This is a shake-your-bootie book with an awesome rhythm and a "chorus" that Lorelei knew by heart after a few reads:

"Shake, shake, shudder / near the sludgy old swamp. / Everybody's doing / the dinosaur romp!"

Mitton introduces a few dinosaurs--the old faithfuls, triceratops and T-rex and stegosaurus--and throws in some new ones just to make me stop and wonder how the heck to pronounce them: deinosuchus, apotosaurus, deinonychuses (not a typo--it's different from the first one on this hard-to-say list).  But really the best thing about the book is the beat, not the main characters (though dancing like dinosaurs is pretty fun, so Mitton was pretty smart...I mean, sometimes we like to dance gracefully like flamingos, but stomping around like crazy is the best!).

Oh--and the book is illustrated by the same guy who illustrated Giraffes Can't Dance, which is one of our family's favorite books ever.  The dinosaurs all have huge grins on their faces and are really bustin' a move on their dusty dance floor.

My favorite part about this book, though, is the end.  I'm just a sucker for sleepy beasts, and this book ends with all the dinosaurs getting tuckered out and falling asleep in one big reptile heap.  I love my kids like crazy, but I really like them asleep, too.

I know my nieces are going to LOVE this one.  I'm so excited to read it with them!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Clip-Clop by Nicola Smee

Clip-Clop by Nicola Smee

Rating: 5 galloping stars

Talk about a book that hooks little ones onto books!

"Who wants a ride?" asks Mr. Horse.  One by one, Cat, Dog, Pig and Duck hop aboard, and go for a ride.  Of course they ask if Mr. Horse can go faster, so faster they go...until... "Whoa, stop, we're falling off!"  Mr. Horse skids to a halt and the animals fly through they air and land in a haystack.  Mr. Horse is worried; the animals all shout, "Again!!"

"Whoa! Stop! We're falling off!"
 This is such a fun book to read, and one of the best 0-12 month books that exist out there in my oh-so-humble opinion.  The pictures are big and clear and cute, the words are simple, and it's great fun to put your little baby on your lap and go for a "ride," making your lap bouncier and bouncier as Mr. Horse goes faster and faster in the book. 

This was one of the first books we bought Lorelei after she was born, and we bought it for our nieces around the same time.  Both my sister and I have had to purchase and re-purchase replacements for our girls and the boys that followed them because it was such a favorite.  Ben is still happy with it...I think it's in his bed (or behind his bed, as his habit is now to slide all his books behind his bed before he falls asleep) right now. 

You can't go wrong with this book!  I've not read the sequal, the holiday version Jingle-Jingle.  Have you?

Tea for Ruby by Sarah Furgeson

Tea for Ruby by Sarah The Duchess of York Furgeson, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Rating: 3.5 stars

Whenever I see a book at Pottery Barn Kids, I always wonder if it's a good one.  I mean, I am a total sucker for most of the stuff they sell (especially the bedding) so I always suspect that they have some inside scoop on what books are good, too.

But, it turns out, I'll buy more quilts from them than books.

This is a good book on manners, and if you daughter likes the Fancy Nancy series, she'll undoubtedly enjoy this one.  Ruby, the main character, gets a fancy invitation in the mail to have tea with the Queen.  She's so excited she breaks every rule that most little kids struggle with: interrupting others, dressing appropriately, talking with her mouth full, things like that.  She does her best to remember as she strolls into the "palace" gates, only to find, to her delight, that the Queen is actually her grandmother.

There's not much to this book, but the pictures alone hold Lorelei's interest for a few minutes at a time, mostly because of the fancy dresses that Ruby imagines herself wearing when she has tea with the Queen.  I can relate--I remember drawing fancy dresses on my mother's blackboard after school when I was in grade school.  And I was a horseback-riding tomboy! 

This is a sweet book if you're a grandma, and I love the idea of Lorelei having tea with one of her grandmothers a few years from now--at her house or at a fancy place.  Maybe at a house, learning manners, knowing what to expect at tea, is a good warm-up.  This book helps a bit, but it's not our list of books to buy others or ourselves.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bless Me: A Child's Good Night Prayer by Grace Maccarone

Bless Me: A Child's Good Night Prayer by Grace Maccarone, illustrated by Sam Williams

Rating: 5 stars

I recently gave rave reviews to the book Miss Lina's Ballerinas, and every time I read that book to Lorelei I kept thinking, "Man, I know Grace Maccarone wrote something else I like."  Tonight I realized this book is it! 

I really love this book.  There are a handful of books that are wonderful good night books, but this one is near the top of the list...maybe the very top?  I'd have to think hard about that...but I keep meaning to post some "list" posts of some's on my to-do list...

Anyway, this book is a little religious, which is perfect in our family.  It's a soft, quiet rhyme blessing a handful of things in a child's life: cars, chairs, bears, mouse, dollhouse, toes, head, and finally "Bless the water, earth, and air / Bless the children everywhere."  The illustrations are perfect--some stuff to look at, but not too many things to distract a child at the all important time in a parent's life: bedtime.

This is an off-the-beaten-path book, which I think make it a great gift for the birth of a baby or a 1 to 2 year old.  That's when Grammy gave it to Ben!  And I just read it to him (and his pink pajama-ed big sister, who gave him a priceless hug and kiss before leaving the room with me) an hour ago.

Pinkalicious (series) by Victoria Kann

Pinkalicious (series) by Victoria Kann

Overall rating: 2 stars

My husband was giving me a hard time the other day about the fact that I don't have many books that are rated 2 or 3 stars.  I explained to him that it pains me to use my few writing minutes to write about a bad book when there are so many good books out there...  But since Lorelei insisted we check almost every single one of these books out from the library, I feel compelled to blog about these silly books.

In short, they are the equivalent of cheap plastic toys that get played with a few times and then left in the playroom to take up space and gather dust. 

The only one with any redeeming qualities is the original Pinkalicious, because it has the saying: "You get what you get, and you don't get upset."  Of course, the little girl does get upset, so it's not much of a learning moment for her.  But the gist of the story is that Pinkalicious (what is her real name?!) eats too many pink cupcakes even after her parents tell her to stop, and she turns pink.  She even eats more after that; only when she turns red does she heed her doctor's advice and eat everything green in her family's refrigerator. 

In Pink Around the Rink Pinkalicious' mom surprises her with a brand new pair of ice skates, which Pinkalicious promptly colors--with a marker!--pink.  Her parents are only mildly annoyed (and her father has a hint of a smile/smirk).  Though she thinks she'll be graceful, she's not, and her pink skates leave tracks of her non-graceful-ness.  And the pink rubs off.  Her mom comforts her: "Now they're unique, like you."  What?!  That's how you take care of personal property?!  Not in our house.

Goldalicious is pretty hard to read.  Ok, so Pinkalicious has an active imagination and imagines that she has a unicorn named Goldicious--thankfully a less atrocious "Goldie" for short--who follows her around.  She even lets her little brother "play" with Goldie.  I don't know what else to say but this book might never get checked out again unless it's while Grammy is visiting and I'm not around to read it.

In another paperback book, Tickled Pink, Pinkalicous is sharing a joke book with all her friends.  While everyone is laughing around her, the class bully (dressed in black, of course) challenges her to come up with a joke of her own.  She thinks of one in the middle of the night and, though she thinks she'll flop, she comes out on top by tickling everyone pink.  I guess this one isn't horrible, but it isn't that great, either.

I don't even want to waste your time by describing the rest of them.  Lazy?  Maybe, get the idea.  While I'm glad Lorelei is interested in books, and almost any book is better than no book at all, I would probably return these if someone gave her them as a gift.  There are too many other wonderful ones, and these are just plain silly.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tremendous Tractors by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker

Tremendous Tractors by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker

Rating: 5 stars

Once again, thanks to my friend Beth and her avid little readers, we've stumbled across another great author, especially (but not exclusively) for boys. Mitton is right along with Andrea Zimmerman/David Clemensha and Philemen Sturges and Byron Barton for books that Ben in particular loves.

Thanks to Tony Mitton, Ben lasted a record-setting 25 minutes in the library (Lorelei was in preschool).  He sat on my lap as we read Mitton book after Mitton book, happy to look at the machine pictures, hear the great rhyming story, and sit in my lap without having to share it (at least I hope that that was part of the reason he was content to stay so long).

Thanks to Tony Mitton, I've already got my nephew's birthday present picked out.  Along with this great book, which is surprisingly informative without being over-the-top education-y, there are a total of ten of these books, including Terrific Trains and Flashing Fire Engines.  Could you ask for a better set?  I'm not sure!  This author and these books are great finds for our family and they will be read over and over again here and probably bought over and over again for other people.

How to Raise a Dinosaur by Natasha Wing

How to Raise a Dinosaur by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Pablo Bernasconi

Rating: 3.5 stars

I am pretty confident that my nieces will like this one!  This new book is funny and unique, with slightly messy illustrations to match a slightly silly idea: a dinosaur as a pet?!  The idea so preposterous and crazy and fun that, for imaginative little kids, they are sure to be taking care of their (hopefully) imaginary dinosaurs within an hour of reading this book.

What makes the book just a little extra fun and extra different is the lift-the-flaps pages.  Not just ordinary lifting of flaps, but a tiny book within a book and other little surprises that Lorelei loved finding and opening when reading this (carefully, because it's a birthday book) with Grammy the day it arrived in the mail.

I'm not sure if this is a book that is fun to read after two or three dozen reads...would the flaps maybe get old or, like in our house, ripped off and um, eaten?  There's not a huge point to the story--not that all great books require one--and once the idea of having a dinosaur as a pet wears thin, it might gather a bit of dust. We'll experiment on my nieces and see how long this book engages them!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Stomp, Dinosaurs, Stomp! by Margaret Mayo

Stomp, Dinosaurs, Stomp! by Margaret Mayo

Rating: 3 stars

We love Margaret Mayo's books--we check out one or more every other time we go to the library.  I just realized that I have only reviewed one-- Roar! --so I'll get on the ball and tell you about the others we've enjoyed soon.  In honor of my twin nieces' birthday month, the dinosaur book reviews Mayo's latest book.  This one isn't her best; the rhymes just seem to be a little more forced, to trip a bit instead of roll right along.

That said, Alex Ayliffe's illustrations are so toddler-friendly that the text could be an English teacher's nightmare and the book would still be worth checking out.  I like how the dinosaurs are torn-paper-versions of realistic dinosaurs.  The brightly colored dinosaurs and their prey (never other dinosaurs, though they do fight/wrestle with each other) just jump out at you, which is great for this read-aloud stage.

This is a good vocabulary book, too.  Words Lorelei learned include: gulp, whack (good as long as it's not your little brother getting whacked...and not in a Sopranos sense!), charge (not in the credit card sense), head-but, chomp, mash (helpful when we made mashed potatoes last night), guard, trap.  Not bad, and a nice change from Lorelei's favorite-of-the-moment books, the Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious series.  It's good to have a brother, I think!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Night Becomes Day by Richard McGuire

Night Becomes Day by Richard McGuire
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is a random and unique and neat journey that takes the reader from day to night with one long poem and 1940s-style drawings that illustrate the journey (and help explain that the book actually is a journey to young readers).  Plus, it's a good way to teach the basic concept of environmentalism--oh and life, too: everything comes from somewhere or things are connected. 

Here's a sample of the first four pages:

"Night becomes day / And day becomes bright / Bright becomes sun / And sun becomes shine / Shine becomes sparkle / And sparkle becomes stream / Stream becomes river / And river becomes ocean."

And building becomes cloud
The book continues on in calm, lilting pattern until "Good becomes night" (at which Lorelei said the other day, "Hey!  He's saying good night!").  Ben loves the illustrations, Lorelei likes how one thing leads to another, and I like how the book shows and tells how everything is interconnected. 

There's even an overtly environmental part, about recycling, where "Trees become paper / And paper becomes news / News becomes trash / And trash becomes new."  With this book we've really had some good conversation about where things come from, especially paper and water.  We're not over-the-top green (we shamelessly but with a few tiny good reasons drive two SUVs, so we'd have to make some major changes in our life to drastically reduce our giant-sized carbon foot print!) but we try to do our part.  Little messages like this help me teach our kids.

We've checked out a few books from McGuire, and we've liked the random-ness and neat-ness of all of them, but need to look at some more.  Hope you enjoy checking his books out, too!

Miss Lina's Ballerinas by Grace Maccarone

Miss Lina's Ballerinas by Grace Maccarone, illustrated by Christine Davenier

Rating: 4.5 stars

Confession time: I bought this book for a little birthday girl in Ben's class but, once I read it again at home, I couldn't not give it to Lorelei.  So she got it from Santa and we have read it about twice a day for the past week or so.  It is a really fun read--I had no idea how many words and girls' names rhyme with "ballerina!"

Miss Lina teaches a bunch of cute little girls--all dressed in pink, all with names ending with "ina."  Well, not just a bunch.  To be precise, eight.  They danced in four rows of two every minute of the day.  The beautiful illustrations that give Lorelei something to look at more closely when she "reads" this by herself show these ballerinas joyfully leaping at the market, through the zoo, at bedtime, and everywhere in between. 

Enter the bit of adversity: a new ballerina joins the class (luckily, her name--Regina--ends with "ina" too)!  But, wait!  Now there will be nine!  Three rows of three?!  In the beginning, the girls all bump into each other and cause even the super graceful Miss Lina to tumble down.  They just can't get the hang of it.  Miss Lina smiles, and tells them they'll soon realize how delightful three rows of three will be, as soon as they adjust to the addition.  Of course, within a few pages, they do, and they repeat all the things they do in a different line up.  Check out the book trailer (it's about 50% of the text):

This is such a good example of perspective, and how different things can look from the lens of a child than that of an adult.  The girls are "befuddled" at the thought of having to dance in a different lineup, but Miss Lina nods wisely, letting the girls figure out for themselves how to adjust to this change.  What seems like a minor nothing to an adult is a major catastrophe for the child.

Lorelei is of the age where it's helpful to have a book or story to which I can relate a current situation in her life.  We've asked her to move from one room to another in our house, and while we dressed up the new, bigger room with a "big girl bed," a new quilt from beloved Grammy, a dollhouse from Santa (yup, we caved), and we will soon paint it pink...she is still sleeping in her old room.  I don't want to make a big deal out of it and I don't care if the situation stays this way for a few more months because to her, it's a Huge Change to move ten steps down the hall and into a bigger bed.  For us, it's a funny little thing that is actually a gift.  Anyway, it's all about perspective, and it's hard to require a 3 year-old to have one!

This is a really sweet book, a must for any ballet-crazed child!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dinosaurs Galore by Giles Andreae

Dinosaurs Galore by Giles Andreae, illustrated by David Wojtowycz

Rating: 3.5 stars

Our twin nieces are, as Lorelei puts it, "crazy about dinosaurs" right now.  I mean, completely obsessed.  We've lent them all the books we have on dinosaurs and we bought them new dinosaur books for Christmas.  And for their birthday in two weeks?  You guessed it: dinosaur books.  This is one of them.  I like it, though I don't love it.  (I already got the ones I love for them: Danny and the Dinosaur and When Dinosaurs Came with Everything).

We really like Giles Andreae--he seems to produce solid B books, with an occasional knock-out like Giraffes Can't Dance, which is one of our favorite books to give as a gift.  This dinosaur book has an opening and closing, and in between each dinosaur gets to say his own little rhyme to describe himself to the reader.  It's got a pretty good rhythm and, in case your little one is like our nieces, it's not too annoying to read twice a day.  (I hope my sister agrees!)  The pictures are bright and just scary enough (which is to say, not too scary), and there's a little pink dinosaur to find on every page.

A good addition for the dinosaur obsessed kiddo!

The Birthday Fish by Dan Yaccarino

The Birthday Fish by Dan Yaccarino

Rating: 5 stars

Simple tale, simple illustrations, simple winner.  I know Sheryl Crow wasn't the one to coin this phrase, but the line from her song sticks out: "It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got."  What a good lesson...and not one that I've mastered, as I'm a dream customer for any of Anthropologie's weekly emails that enter my inbox.  I try...

This story is about a little girl who wants a pony.  That's all she wants.  She asks for a pony every Christmas, every birthday, every time she goes to sleep at night.  She's sure that today, her fourth birthday, the box she's about to open is very small pony.  But it's not.  It's a goldfish.  She's about to flush it down the drain (yikes!) when the goldfish magically speaks up and tells her that if she sets him free, he can grant her any wish.  So she wishes for TWO ponies and sets off for the nearest lake.

On the way there, she realizes she needs to walk carefully so as to not upset his water.  She shades the fish from the sun.  She stops at a pet store to buy the fish a snack.  When they reach the lake, the fish and girl sit together and watch the sunrise.  Instead of setting him free, she takes him home--she no longer wants the pony.  She's content with her fish.

It was a good book to read around Christmas, though we were pretty good at keeping gifts to a reasonable limit.  But it's a good book to know about if this lesson needs to be taught again, like I need it taught to me again.  And again.  And again.