Monday, February 7, 2011

The Story of Noodles by Ying Chang Compestine

The Story of Noodles by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Yong Sheng Xuan

Rating: 4 stars

Confession: The only reason I checked this book out was to continue my current campaign for Lorelei to love noodles.

Sadly, she still just tolerates them, eating the exact number, and no more, to get past my dinner requirements.  Grrr.  At least she tries them.  This week we've tired yet ANOTHER type of pasta, selected by her at the grocery store yesterday.  That means that in our pantry we've got: spaghetti, shell-like orecchiette, bow-tie farfalle, spinach penne, colorful corkscrew fusilli, and now some colorful tubular variety.  This quest has involved several books including Strega Nona, but hasn't given me the result I want.


At least I found a really interesting book in the process.  This book is about the origin of noodles, which is China, not Lorelei's (and beloved Grammy's) beloved Italy.  A family in Beijing is going to make the same old delicious dumpling dish for a cooking contest until the mother leaves the boys in charge of the kitchen.  (My grandmother, who also had three boys, would have known better.)  Of course, they make a mess of things and end up making long sheets of rice, which they cut into long strips.  They enter the contest and, because the emperor had never tasted anything like that before, they win.

What I love most about the book is related to my quest.  The three boys have three different ways of eating noodles, something that I think is great because I'm always saying that there's rarely only one way to do anything.  (Sometimes Lorelei wants Ben to do something EXACTLY as she wants.)  First, there's "eating a drumstick," which involves rolling some of the noodles around the tip of his chopsticks and stuffing it into your mouth.  second, there's "sucking a worm," which means you put one end of the noodle in your mouth and suck/slurp like crazy until the whole thing is in your mouth.  Third, there's "cutting the grass," which allows you to stuff noodles in your mouth and bite off all the strands hanging out of your mouth with your teeth.  So fun!  As the messiest eaters in the family, Ben and I would definitely be happy to try all of these.

(By the way, if you've not gotten cheater chopsticks for your kid, they are so fun!  We have these.  Lorelei is a pro, though they frustrate Ben a bit.)

So this is a good book for a bunch of different reasons.  There's a whole other culture to explore (and the illustrations are definitely Asian in the best way), the origin of the best carbohydrate known to man, and techniques to eat those wonderful carbs.  We look forward to reading Compestine's other books--after checking out this book, I realized she wrote The Runaway Wok, a recent book that we really like.

Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman

Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman
Rating: 4.5 stars

Barbara Lehman has churned out a bunch of books with super interesting drawings, and without words.  If you're looking for another wordless picture book to add to your collection or check out from the library, definitely take a look at her collection.  We've looked at most of her books, and this is our favorite.  Her others are good, especially the award-winning The Red Book.  But they are better for a slightly older crowd, I think; I think Lorelei will start appreciating them in another 6-8 months or so.

Why read wordless picture books?  Here are a few reasons; a child can:
  • "Read" a book all by herself, without any help from a grown-up
  • Create a new and unique story each time they "read" it
  • Adds her own words to the story, thereby practicing vocabulary and sentence structure
  • "Read" the book TO you (I like to pretend that Lorelei has to read a book to me before I go to sleep, so she covers me up with a blanket and chooses a book to read to me.  Win-win situation!)
  • Practice if-when and sequencing concepts
This book is a really good one, and shows the tale of a little boy who seems lonely on a rainy day in a big ol' mansion without any siblings or playmates.  He finds a key and realizes it unlocks a treasure chest which has only a ladder inside.  He climbs down and walks through a long tunnel, then surfaces on a little island where the sun is shining a group of smiling children are smiling, as if waiting for him.  They play together until the sun goes down, and the boy returns to his own cold house for dinner.  The next day he returns to the treasure chest and ladder, and meets the group of children in the tunnel--they were en route to find him.  He's overjoyed to bring them to his house, where they play together happily.

Super cute!  Unless your child is an only child and you live in a mansion when it rains all day, of course.  Then it might hit a little too close to home, and your child might be sad that there is no key, no treasure chest, and no group of kids waiting on the other side of a secret tunnel for him.  Then it might be a little sad. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Polo: The Runaway Book by Regis Faller

Polo: The Runaway Book by Regis Faller

Rating: 5 (is 6 possible?) stars

All right, regarding me wanting to add a sixth star, there are definitely some better children's books out there--this is not our for-all-time, no-joke-about-it favorite book ever.  BUT the creativity in this book just knocks my socks off!  I'm really, really impressed and just am thankful that my kids and their budding imaginations can be inspired by this Regis Faller guy.

In case you're reading this from some warm place, it's been cold here in the US.  Really cold.  Northern Virginia usually has mild winters with 2 or 3 snowstorms that provide 3-8 inches with each storm.  And you can almost always count on a few random warm "relief" days during each winter month.

This year?  Not so much.  Today was the second day we reached 50 degrees since early December.  It has been C-O-L-D.  And then, last week, we got 8 inches of snow dumped on us.  School closed for three days, then we had a weekend, followed by two teacher workdays. That's SEVEN days home, in a row.  With temps so low it was tough to go out for longer than 15 minutes.  Add to that a case of pink eye (Lorelei) and strep butt (Ben).  Yes, you read that right.  Who knew it could appear in a place other than your throat?  Well, now you know.

Polo reads his book, before it gets snatched away!
 But we survived.  Thanks to the 47 books we checked out from the library the night before the snow fell!  We almost hit our 50 book limit!

What books do you want in your house, on your shelf, when you're snowed in?  This is actually a fun and useful question to me these days, in a nerdy sort of way of course.  And, getting back to the book I'm supposed to be writing about, this book is THE BOOK you want.  Actually, next time you see your local weather people ringing the alarm bells on a storm, just order up all of Regis Faller's books so you have them.  They are all wordless and so interesting--sometimes touching on Alice in Wonderland bizarre--and kids can "read" them by themselves.  About once a day, Lorelei would spend 5-10 minutes with this big book on her lap, following Polo with her finger, sometimes telling the story out loud to herself, or to one of the big sleeping weimaraners next to her.

Here's the thing about all the Polo books--they are all great, but this one and The Adventures of Polo are the longest by far--maybe three times the length of the others--so they make the best purchases if you're going to buy one for yourself or as a gift.

Beth's Post: Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies

Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies

Rating: 4 stars

Have you ever wondered where bats go on vacation? They go to the beach, of course, just like you and I! Only when they go it is dark, so they need “moon-tan lotion” and raid the snack bar for insect snacks. It sounds much cuter when you read it with rhyming couplets.

They still participate in all of the regular beach activities, like surfing and digging in the sand, and it is a really creative and fun to read book. The pictures are fun but a little dark and younger readers might have trouble paying attention to the darkly portrayed bat fun.

We received this book as a grandparent present, after visiting the “beaches” of Tacoma, Washington with them at their home. They quickly learned from our Florida- and Hawaii-spoiled children that the cloudy, cold, clam filled murky shore was “NOT A BEACH” in no uncertain terms. They had fun finding and sending us Bats at the Beach, which portrayed the beach a little differently but with just as much fun. It only took a few minutes to convince the kids to roll up their jeans, put back on a hat, and wade out into the water to crab little crabs and spitting clams like all the other kids.

Beth's Post: Inch By Inch by Leo Lionni

Inch By Inch by Leo Lionni

Rating: 4 stars

Out of the library of Leo Lionni books we own, my daughter chose Inch By Inch to read tonight. Always happy to read a book with beautiful illustrations and a happy ending, I cheerfully agreed. This Caldecott Honor Book was published in 1960 and still is just thrilling enough for a two or three year old inch worm loving child.

The inchworm is able to convince a hungry robin that he is useful in measuring all of the birds. He is able to measure long enough to measure the song of the nightingale inch by inch until he inches himself out of sight. It’s the perfect length and subject matter for “one more book” before bed.

Beth's Post: The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

Rating: 5 stars

Eric Carle is a master at combining beautiful illustrations with thoughtful stories and subtlety engaging children in life science subjects.

Our copy of The Tiny Seed is worn with years of reading, the binding taped in several spots and a bold, “JULIA” written in the first page to mark that we are never, ever getting rid of this book. My kids loved looking at the pictures and were mesmerized by the story as toddlers, pages were used with tracing paper to copy the trees and flowers, and now that they are great readers they still love picking it up and reading it to me.

A tiny seed, smaller than any of the others blows with the strong Autumn wind and flies by the sun, over icy mountains, the ocean, the desert and drops down to a perfect grassy spot only to narrowly avoid being eaten by a bird. It rests in the soil through the long winter nights, and grows to astounding heights in the spring. In the end, autumn again, it releases its tiny seeds in the wind.

I hope that you will get to experience this beautiful book, but you can’t have our copy, we’re still reading it.

Welcome, Beth!

I have to introduce Beth, someone to whom I often refer because she and her two kids are even bigger readers than we are.  Because her two kids are a few years older than Lorelei and Ben, she always has The Best books to suggest to us.  I've asked her to add some of her own reviews directly rather than what's happening now:

Me:  Beth, have any good books to suggest?

Beth:  Oh yes!  (Enter 10-15 titles here.)

Me:  Thanks!  (Now I go off and read them and write little reviews of the books and the tales of us reading them.)

Now you'll get them from Beth, herself!  And her illustrious daughter Julia, and her sweet son Ryan.  I'm sure pictures will follow sooner or later...but if I wait for them, this post might not actually be posted till August.  Of 2012!

The other big reason why I truly do need Beth's expert help is (drum roll, please), there'll be another baby in our house in a few months.  Ben and Lorelei (and me and Jonathan, too) are expecting a baby brother in early May.  Hooray!  I'm just going to go out on a limb and predict that I'll be a bit busier than I even expect as of this moment.  The fuzzy late nights of newborn-hood are fuzzy to me now...I think the reason we decided to try for a third child is because my brain forgets the bad and remembers the good.  I think I'm lucky for this...we'll see!

So, welcome Beth (and Julia and Ryan, her small but big helpers)!


My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz

My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz
Rating: 5 stars

Bottom line up front: this is the best explanation of Chinese New Year that we've found.  I'm curious if there are other books people have found to explain the holiday, one that is mostly foreign to us but one that we're very curious about.

Ever since we read The Runaway Wok a few weeks ago, Lorelei has been very curious about Chinese New Year.  I'm super excited about her interest in anything cultural--as a former Peace Corps Volunteer I'm all about introducing cultures other than our family's American, Polish, Cajun cultures.  I've found a place to take her on 12 February, so I'm hoping she doesn't get freaked out by the loud drums and fireworks.  But you never know until you try! 

Gung Hay Fat Choy!
 Anyway, back to the book, which is one of the Chinese New Year books on our shelf to help prepare us for our little field trip.  Karen Katz's books are simple; every time I read them I wonder why I didn't think of that.  But they're also sweet, and the drawings are just the same--simple and sweet. 

But this one is a more than simple and sweet--it's actually a really great introduction to Chinese New Year because it outlines all the different customs within the holiday--customs like sweeping your house (to get the bad spirits out), decorating the walls with red paper (for good luck), purchasing plum and quince blossoms (to remind us new things can grow), and getting your hair cut (to start the year all fresh and new).  There's lots more packed in there, too, and each custom has an illustration to match that helps explain the custom, visually, to the little readers.

If you're a teacher, My First Chinese New Year is a great educational tool.  Karen Katz also has written My First Ramadan and My First Kwanzaa, too, in case you're looking for a complete, introductory set to lesser known holidays!

ABC's by Charley Harper

ABC's by Charley Harper
Rating: 4.5 stars

I only know a little about artist Charley Harper and his very neat, very fun illustrations.  I've seen the match-up game version of this simple ABC book in Anthropologie, my favorite clothing store ever, so I give him posthumous props for finding his way into their stylish doors.

Ben especially loves this book, and it's inspired him to say a few new words--just basic stuff like "bird" and "dog."  Hey, I'll take that!  I don't know what happened to X, though...instead of a cool bug or animal like the rest of the letters, there are a bunch of water bugs and you're supposed to find all the Xs.  This confuses Lorelei and Ben a bit.  Anyway, we can get over that minor foible.  We also trace the letters with our fingers, and we love the front and back flaps with all of the smaller images clustered in tightly together. 

We got ours from the library, but this is a great birthday book for a first birthday--what library is complete without at least one ABC book?  Our other favorites, which include more text than this one, include Dr Suess' ABC and LMNO Peas by Keith Baker.  Love those!