Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Rating: 5 stars

When I tell people I have a children's book blog, they ask me: "Why don't you write a book of your own?"

Here's why:  When we talked about this book at lunch, and thought of what other kitchen utensils would make good characters for books, we came up: a microwave.  I tried to get the kids past it, but they were stuck on microwave.  It'd be a mad one, according to Ben.  And the door could be its mouth, added Lorelei.  And it could be mean to all the other kitchen appliances until it needed help, and then it'd become friendly.  Well, we at least we have characters, a conflict and resolution worked out...  But a best-seller?  Um, probably not.

But you're in luck.  We didn't write this book.  Amy Krouse Rosenthal did, and this book is GREAT!  And has an Asian twist, which always makes me happy.  

Chopsticks have been best friends for forever; they do everything together.  "They are practically joined at the hip."  But of them breaks a leg!  He is quickly whisked away (by a whisk!  I love it!) and repaired, but needs to stay off that one leg for a while.  He encourages his partner to go out and do things for himself.

What a scary thing...but, after a few deep chopstick-breaths, off trots the friend for some solo adventures.  He plays with playdoh, serves as a pole to vault, and participates in Pick Up Sticks.

When his buddy is better, they now have more things to enjoy...together.  They realize they can now stand on their own, or stick together.

Guess what they play on the piano to celebrate?  You guessed it...Chopsticks.

Lorelei, reading Chopsticks to Ben.

The Mixed-Up Chameleon by Eric Carle

The Mixed-Up Chameleon by Eric Carle

Rating: 4 stars

Another chameleon book today...  And, like the other chameleons, this one is having an identity crisis with some pretty silly results.  This chameleon's life simply involves changing colors and eating bugs.

"That was his life.  It was not very exciting."

But one day, this chameleon happened upon a zoo and added some excitement into his life.  He wished to change not just his color but also his shape...  And his wish is granted!  After he wishes for several attributes of other animals, he looks pretty funny indeed: he has deer antlers, a fox tail, fish fins, and flamingo feet.  Lorelei and Ben howl at how crazy he looks!

And then, when he's totally mixed-up, he gets hungry.  Uh-oh.  And he realizes that he no longer has the ability to catch flies.  How's a guy to eat??  So he wishes himself back to normal again, catches a fly, and is happy to be just...himself.

Makes me think...what is that line in the Sheryl Crow song?  "It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got..."

Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk

Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk

Rating: 4 stars

Well here's a little slice of heaven: Sam the mouse lives in a library.  All night long, when the library is dark and quiet, Sam reads and reads and reads.  And then he reads and reads some more.  ( how can I do that for a year or so, and get caught up on all the books I'd like to read...??)

Finally, he realizes it is time to write his own book!  "Write what you know," he remembers reading from a book on how to write.  So he writes about being a mouse.  He gets paper from the librarian's desk and poses in a little compact mirror and draws his reflection to illustrate his pint-sized (or rodent-sized) book.

When he's finished, he tucks his book in the appropriate section in the library--the biography/autobiography section.  When the book is discovered by book-lovers by day, a hunt begins for the author.  The librarian writes a note asking the mystery author to appear and teach her and the kids the secret of writing.  Sam is much too shy to come out in front of people, so he makes dozens of pint-sized books--blank this time--and puts his mirror at the bottom of a shoebox.  To the shoebox he attaches a sign: "Look here to meet the author."  When a child peers in, he sees himself.

Aha!  Point: Everyone can be an author!

This is the best book I've found to encourage kids to write their own books.  We are trying to keep a summer journal, but Lorelei gets interested about writing her own book from time to time.  Since she can only spell about a dozen words by herself, it'd be a me-filled endeavor...  And with two other kids, well, I often don't have as much time to spare as she needs.  BUT we can do picture-only books, so we try those and then add the words when I have the time to sit down with just her.  Ben is just starting to write his own name, but he has plenty of ideas and words to share, which he normally does from morning to night!

Definitely a book worth checking out, especially if your child might just need one more tiny nudge to have the courage to write her own book.  Maybe I'll reread it and muster up some courage of my own...

And here's a video of Ben reading Library Mouse...with a cameo (or spotlight-takeover) from his little brother...  (the first time I wrote this I posted a video of my kids dancing...oops!)

Also, there are three other books in this series.  We've read Library Mouse: A Friend's Tale and Library Mouse: Adventure at the Museum.  They are both fine; we like checking out all books in a series like this so Lorelei can read one after another, I can read one after another to Ben.  I like the Museum one a lot because Sam has a friend, Sarah, who is "an explorer," and rather than write books, they write in journals...about their adventure at the museum.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Just to make you smile...

It's 6:34 AM.  Let me tell you a little about my last few hours...

3:14   Ben wakes up, my husband goes to see what's going on.
3:25   Husband returns to bed.
3:45   Ben's door opens, and then closes.  His way of saying, "Ummm...I'm awake, anyone going to see       what I'm doing?"
3:46   I go see what he's doing.
4:00   I convince him to lie down.
4:20   He is mostly asleep, I tell him I'm going back to my bed.
4:35   Ben's door opens, and then closes.
4:36   I sigh.
4:37   I get up, lie down with Ben, convince him to lie back down again.
4:55   Ben is snoring softly.  WHEW!
4:56   I begin to extricate myself.  Slooowly, very slooooooooowly.
4:58   I wake up Ben.
4:59   I swear--loudly--to myself.
5:00   I try to explain to Ben that lying back down and going back to sleep will win my eternal gratitude.
5:12   I give up.  I tell Ben not to leave his room until Kiefer wakes up.
5:13   I go back to my bed.
5:15   My husband's alarm goes off.
5:18   Ben's door opens, and then it closes.
5:20   I give up, I get up, put on my running clothes.

It goes on a little longer, but...needless to say, my morning has been, um, amusing.  But Kiefer never fails to make me smile--to make all of us smile--so I thought you might smile at the video I took of him yesterday:

Have a good day...hope you got a little more sleep than me.

And if you see me today, will you please refill my coffee cup?  Thanks.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Homer by Elisha Cooper

Homer by Elisha Cooper

Rating: 4 sweet stars

WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK IF YOU HAVE JUST LOST A PET!  I don't want to make you cry...I already teared up at the end of the book, and our dogs are still young and frisky.

Okay, I'll continue now.

This is a simple book of big, gorgeous pictures and few words.  An old dog lays on a porch, his family inviting him to go with him down to the beach.  He politely declines and just watches, observing, taking it all in.  

Before he heads in, one of his People asks: "Do you need anything?"

Looking out at the beachy sunset, clearly thinking to himself of all his kids who came to play with him while he sat, immobile, and smiling like labs and Goldens do, he thinks:

"Nope, I have everything I want.  I have you."

And then, at the end of the day, he gets up and stretches his stiff body and makes his way inside.  He painfully travels from the porch to an old, comfy chair, and then falls asleep, as his People work around him.

Our two weimaraners are still crazy, despite the fact that they are almost ten years old.  Their favorite moments of the day are clearly those right after bedtime, when I come down the stairs empty-handed and breathing out for the first time all day, looking forward to the transition from mother to wife as my husband drives home from work.  It's usually just me and them walking around the woods together for a few minutes, them romping happily, and me enjoying the quiet.  They would be happy if I was a stay-at-home-dog-mom, tending to them all day long.  Maybe then they'd get a bath more than once a month!

Dogs are so great.  A big pat to your dog if you've got one, too.

Hello, Robots! by Bob Staake

Hello, Robots! by Bob Staake

Rating: 3.5 stars

Another good one by Bob Staake.  Here's a tale of four hard-working metal robots who have four different jobs around the house.  They happily do what they're programmed to do all day long.  (I'll take Zip, the cleaning robot, please.)  Halfway through their day, they are all outside when it starts to rain.  They get drenched and go haywire.

Enter a very giggle-worthy page: The baking robot is baking a birdhouse in a tree, the fix-it robot repairs an apple pie, the gardener robot rakes the window glass, and the cleaning robot shines a mound of grass.  As you can imagine, these things are pretty funny to little ones.

Blink, he bakes an apple pie. / Zinc repairs a birdhouse high.
Blip, he rakes a mound of grass. / Zip shines up the window glass.
In order to fix each other, they switch heads!  Funny images help out the funny concept...and the frowns from the metal robots turn to smiles as they go back to their normal tasks, the right way.  They end up smiling bolt to bolt, despite the miscolored, mismatched heads.

My kids are not robot-obsessed (yet?) but we like robots.  Mostly because my husband's one and only dance is the "robot dance," which you can imagine gets rave reviews.  Normally not the goofy type, he cracks up Lorelei and Ben and Kiefer with his moves.  They of course love to join in, doing their best impersonation of Daddy but also doing their own version.  They become "Lo-bot" and "Ben-bot" and "Kief-bot."

And me?  "Mom-bot," of course!

(If you're an educator or librarian or super-over-achiever parent, click here for cute storytime idea.)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say

 Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say

Rating: 4.5 stars

It isn't everyday that the books I'm reading correspond with the books my children are reading.  This one might be the first.  I just finished Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, about a World War II bombardier's incredible struggle against all odds.  It was fantastic: moving, gut-wrenching, horrifying, shocking and, in the end, uplifting and incredibly inspiring.  I loved every page.

Therefore, when I read this book to Lorelei and Ben last week, I could feel the stories behind the simple one that Say tells.  His grandfather comes to the United States from Japan and soon falls in love with the mountains, the deserts, the farm fields, and huge cities.  Everything impresses him and he stays in California to raise his family.  When his daughter is nearly grown, he misses Japan, and takes his family back to live.  His daughter meets and marries a young man, and they have a son.  The grandfather tells the boy stories of California and they plan on going there, but a war began and the old man dies before he can return.  So the boy travels alone to California...for himself, but in order to know his grandfather a little better.

The endless farm fields reminded him of the
ocean he had crossed.
It's a serious story for a children's book, especially for this house--we like the funny ones that make us giggle and smile most of the time.  But it's an important tale and I love how Say writes it.

But it's his pictures that are the best.  Huge, elegant illustrations brighten the simple prose and draw in the reader.  They really made me pause as I was reading, to appreciate each and everyone (and yes, the one of the mountains was my favorite).  They are quiet and serene pictures, serious but beautiful.  Very worthy of the Caldecott on its front.

Lorelei and Ben asked me what a war is some time ago, I can't remember when.  It was one of those shoot-I-didn't-realize-this-question-was-going-to-come-so-soon moments.  I thought about it for a minute, then asked them to go get the world map that we often look at.  It's a placemat, so it's not very intricate but they can get an idea of how much (land and people, mostly) there is in the world.

I asked how many kids they had in their classes--it was around 14.  I asked if they all got along together all of the time.  "No," was the clear answer.  "Right, I said.  Of course not.  Everyone argues about things some of the times."  Then I showed them the map and explained how many people there are in the world--billions!--and said that all of us argued about things some times, too.  Sometimes we can work it out and "meet in the middle" (what we always say for compromise) but other times they fight about it.  When countries fight, that's a war.

I give myself a B+ or so for the answer.  Not perfect, but what I came up with on the fly.  Such a big concept for little minds, but important and...I wanted to be truthful.  Books like this raise questions, of course, but, as parents, we can't be afraid of those questions.  Ready or not, they will come.

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Rating: 5 stars

Many days I think about writing a children's book.  And then I read one like Spoon, and I'm floored by the author's talent.  Rosenthal's ability to find a story to tell is so impressive!  And the wit she uses on each and every page (and Magoon's equally quirky-funny pictures) humbles me back into blog-dom.  Nope, no children's book for me today.  I'll just continue to read 'em and write about 'em.  Sniff, sniff...

Another great one by Rosenthal!  We can't get enough of her books right now.

Young Spoon is frustrated.  Everyone around him seems to have it better than he does.  Knife gets to cut and spread, Fork gets to leap into cakes and twirl spaghetti around her tines, Chopsticks have each other and are so exotic.  Sigh.

This is Spoon's family.
But just as Spoon is looking at everyone else with envy, they are looking at him the same way.  Knife wishes he could loudly bang against a pot, Fork wishes he could measure stuff, and Chopsticks wish they could be useful alone.

At bedtime, Spoon's mom helps him realize how lucky he is, how unique he is, and he feels a lot better.  Still he can't sleep.  So what do his parents do?  Invite him into their bed and they all three...well, you know...spoon.

So cute!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown

 Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown

Rating: 5 wild stars

This is, hands down, one of the best books we've stumbled upon in the past year.  It.  Is.  Awesome!  Sometimes you just get lucky, and the librarians chose to display a book that looks interesting AND fits in with the week's field trip.

Librarian Molly McGrew mistakenly drives her bookmobile into the zoo.  Oops!  Instead of kids coming to look at books, the animals start to peer  from their cages at the page-filled wonders. Molly decides to crack open one and holds her first-ever (we guess) storytime for animals.  Here's the delight-filled passage that tells the reader what happens:
By reading aloud from the good Dr. Seuss,She quickly attracted a mink and a moose,A wombat, an oryx, a lemur, a lynx,Eight elephant calves, and a family of skinks. 
Giraffes wanted tall books and crickets craved small books,
While geckos could only read stick-to-the-wall books
This causes a stampede of animals, all heading towards the bookmobile to get their own books.  Sierra works wonders with her words--she matches beast to book beautifully.  She draws in readers Lorelei and Ben's age by easily by referencing classics that they've already read--The Cat in the Hat and Goodnight Moon--but also makes their parents smile by referencing soon-to-be-known classics: Nancy Drew and Harry Potter, for example.  

Marc Brown's illustrations are the perfect compliment to her words.  Each page shows a different creature clutching a book of some sort (although the alligators are eating their book, something that Ben pointed out as "not a good choice," which is ironic because our board books still have his munch-marks in them).  They are silly and cute and totally captivating.

I'm having a hard time not buying this book right this moment!  I will resist.  I will resist.  I will try to resist...!

I don't use any technology while reading to my kids.  It sorta seems like an oxymoron.  I hear of these mysterious things called "apps" and I figure they are tools for people who have much cooler phones than my not-so-smartphone (a Droid and, for the record, I have one app I don't use).  But I came across this little clip from Random House showing the app for this book (or maybe an app for more children's books?) and I might check it out.  After bedtime, in case I decide it's not worth introducing.  Here it is:

I am skeptical.  Call me a luddite, but I like the whole pages-on-my-fingertips thing.  But I'm very curious if you use an iPad with your preschoolers.  How?  When?  At what age?  Do you sit with them, or let them do it themselves?  Do they still want to read the old-timey page books, or just want the ones on your iPod?  Or (it's hard for me to type this, but...) their own iPad?

Friday, June 22, 2012

1, 2, 3 to the Zoo by Eric Carle

1, 2, 3 to the Zoo by Eric Carle

Rating: 4 stars

We didn't leave Kiefer out of the library book-fest (this time).  He, too, got a zoo book.  This one, by the wonderful Eric Carle, is  totally right for him at 13 months.  There are no words--just huge, bright pictures of elephants and giraffe and lions and seals.

Each animal rides in his own train car, packed with others of his kind.  At the bottom of each page the train cars get added, one by one, so that I can remind Kiefer of the numbers of this animal or that when we get to a new one.  Each animal also gets his own excited yell from Kiefer, who seems to like dogs the best but...jury really is still out as communication is, well, limited.

We have had the puzzle version of this book--the first four animals--for a few years, so it was a fun surprise when Ben opened the book for the first time and realized that.  The puzzles have brought us a lot of quality play (I often take them to restaurants as they are small but there are four of them).

At the zoo yesterday we did a counting game--we wondered which animal was there the most of?  (That seems so grammatically wrong...hmmm...)  The answer?  18 turtles, seen the first 10 minutes of our time there!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Animal A-Z by Louisa Cornfield

Animal A-Z by Louisa Cornfield, designed by Bethany Side and Nicola Friggens

Rating: 5 nonfiction stars

So we're wandering around the zoo this morning, waiting for the houses to open so that we can see some animals up close and personal (and to get a break from the heat) when we come across the flamingos.  They are Lorelei's favorite animal right now--only because of their color.  (Blech.)

But they are cool in their own right.  We looked at them for a good five minutes, Kiefer screeching his hello from the stroller, and the kids and I observing them, checking them out.  We noted how they rested with their heads on their backs, as if their fluffy bodies were built-in pillows.  We saw how their necks made "Ss."  There weren't any babies this time around, but we remembered that they are born gray and turn pink.  We tried to stand on one leg like them.

As we chatted and looked and waited, Lorelei turned to me and said: "They turn pink because of something that they eat."  What?!  Nah!  Really?  I had that moment of motherhood that I knew would come but I didn't expect it so soon.  Does she already know more than me?!  Not really, but...I have to get to the bottom of this (because that sounds sorta fishy to me).

Checking out the flamingos.
We had brought this great book in the car with us, and I knew that F was for flamingos, so I looked to see if this random fact-that-might-not-be-a-fact could have come from this book.  Nope.  But it does share an interesting tidbit: No one knows why they stand on one leg.  How comforting.  I love unsolved mysteries.  Makes me feel somehow relieved to know that some things just...are.  For no reason.

Anyway, it's a great book.  We have given it as a gift a few times, and I highly recommend it as a gift for a 3- or 4- or 5-year old animal lover.  And what kid isn't an animal lover?  It helps to have a mom who is truly curious and enthusiastic about all of these species (we saw a blue frog, a yellow frog, and a red frog today.  who knew there were so many colors?!), but kids are pretty fascinated independently of nerdy parents.

One of my favorite things about this book is that on every page there is a small diagram comparing the animal to an average human male.  For not-yet-reading Ben, I ask him which is bigger, the man or the animal?  He gets to "read" something from the page, and is happy about that.

P.S.  Lorelei was right!  They are pink because they eat brine shrimp, which has a high content of beta carotene, the same thing that made each of my kids turn orange when they ate carrots as infants.  Go, Lorelei!  Click here for full answer...and a cool wildlife website.

If I Ran the Zoo by Dr Seuss

If I Ran the Zoo by Dr Seuss

Rate: 4 stars

I'm not sure if we could have had a more perfect first day of summer.  My day started at 5 (thanks, Kiefer), with the other boy (that'd be Ben) joining us shortly.  We woke Sleeping Beauty (aka sweet Lorelei).  By 7:30 we were all dressed, breakfasted, and heading to the National Zoo.  I think the sloths were still snoozing when we got there.

Heat advisory?  Bah!  We laugh at thee.  

We live about 45 minutes from the "big zoo," as we call it (not to be compared to the "little zoo," which is approximately 8 minutes or one Eric Carle book away).  The great thing about this book is it takes almost 45 minutes to read.  It's one of those books that you suggest your child request when it's your spouse's turn to read bedtime books.  And then settle yourself into the sofa, because it'll be a while.

In truth, it's not my all-time favorite Dr Seuss tale (in case you're wondering, it's a tie between "Yertle the Turtle" and "The Big Brag").  It's soooooooooooooo long.  I get a little tired of the crazy new animals and the crazy new places they come from.  And the crazy new methods that the crazy new zookeeper uses to capture them.  

However, there are some things that I DO like about this book:

Lorelei, reading book #519 of the day.
First, I spend a lot of time asking my older crazy questions, and listening to their answers.  We talk about places we would like to travel (they insist on China, and have begun to dig a hole in our backyard to get there...geez...), places we all remember traveling to (Colorado.  Sigh...), animals that we want to see (always a giraffe!).  And then there's the made-up stuff: it could just be a name or place that they come up with, but also animals like those in Dr Seuss' creative mind.  I ask them about their made-up animal, what it looks like, how big it is, what it eats, where it would live in our house, just fun stuff.  This book lends itself to creative talk like this.

This is the stuff that happens when you don't have a DVD player/TV in your car.  Just sayin'.

Second, the whole book is about a young boy saying "This a cool zoo, but I'd run it differently."  I'm always asking my kids that--how would you paint a flower?  what would you have done in that situation?  why do you think he wanted to do that?  I want them to be able to see something and figure out how they'd make it better or just do it differently.  We emphasize, in our house, that there are more than one way to do something, mostly because I hate being railroaded with "it's my way or the highway" attitudes.

Lorelei is in a huge Dr Seuss stage; we checked out The Bippolo Seed last week, and she read it three times from cover to cover that I know of.  Who knows if she's already started to read with a flashlight under the covers after I ask her to stop?  She loves the rhyming, she laughs out loud at the silliness of the words, and the pictures are equally entertaining.   She actually woke up Kiefer while reading this book, laughing at something she read.  Luckily he passed right out again.

Oh, and how did our perfect summer day end?  Well, since you didn't ask (but since I know you want to know, Mom)...  We zipped home to feed our hounds and let them out, though the kids didn't even get out of the car.  Then we went to the library because there was a Summer Reading Kick-Off party with a magician.  We couldn't miss that!  From there we came home and collapsed, still wilted from the morning's heat.

Then we played baseball in the kitchen, chased Guidry around the table a few hundred times, and clapped for Kiefer every time he took a few steps.  We ate pancakes for dinner, danced before clean-up, and bathed the sweat and sunscreen away.

Yup, I'm pooped.  In a great way.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Rating: 4.5 stars

I was practicing the art of saying no the other day to my kids, and then I said yes to myself.  Please don't tell them!  It'll be our little secret.

Yesterday was pretty hot around here, and the afternoon found all of us restless for our varied reasons, tired of being inside our house, needing Something Else.  Having called the usual suspects (aka my closest mom friends) and determined that their houses were not available for raiding and plunging, we headed to the bookstore.

"Remember!" I said to the kids in my kind-but-mean voice. "We're no going to buy ANYTHING for ourselves!  Just three books for your cousin for his birthday!"  I think I said this 200 times, knowing that nothing sinks in with them until you hit three digits.

In case you're wondering, yes, we clean up after ourselves.
So we strolled around, reading this and that, Kiefer screeching at all the animal pictures.  Each kid found a book with a million buttons on it--these books are a favorite to play with at bookstores because I sure don't let them come home...  Everyone was happy reading or looking through something, though Kiefer found my big ol' purse more interesting than any books.  Fine!  No problem!  We weren't at home, and I was happy.  We all were.  Amazing what a little change of scenery can do.

But, I lied to my kids.  I actually bought two books in addition to the birthday books.  I bought Summer, one of my all-time favorite books.  The words and pictures make me happy, and I deserve to have something in my shelf that makes me happy should I need a little pick-me-up.  And if all that is is a children's book, why not?!  And tomorrow is the first official day of summer, so...  I just couldn't resist.

My favorite page.
The second was the great Owl Babies.  Kiefer has about three brand new things in his entire room--everything else is a hand-me-down from somebody.  I bought a copy of this book for Ben, but he destroyed it (not shocking). I love it because the whole thing could take place a few feet outside our house.

Three baby owls--Sarah, Percy, Bill--wake up to find their mom missing.  They think about what to do, trying to be brave despite being afraid.  They huddle together and then their mom comes home.  "Soft and silent she swooped through the night, to Sarah and Percy and Bill.  'Mommy!'  They cried and they flapped and they danced..."  The book reminds me of how much I love coming home to my kids.  The excitement over me--just me!--is so sweet and touching.

Therefore, thanks to a hot, restless afternoon, Kiefer has one new book in his room.  Don't want to go crazy and spoil the little guy.  Just one.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Yoko Learns to Read by Rosemary Wells

Yoko Learns to Read by Rosemary Wells

Rating: 4.5 stars

I'm not a pushy type of parent.  I do my best to let my kids do things at their own speed.  Okay, I think I am lying a little.  Maybe I do push them to get dressed and put on their shoes faster...yup, I'm definitely pushy there.  But on the bigger things in their little lives, I'm not pushy.  Ben has told me, through his words and actions, that he is definitely NOT ready to participate in the moms-sit-on-the-sidelines gymnastics class, to get into another mom's car, to go to a friend's house without me, to put his head under the water.  That's okay.  He's just 3 1/2...he's got time.

But reading, I'm pushing.  Having Lorelei reading already is such a joy; that independence makes the house a little quieter, a little more peaceful.  And let me assure you: I like peace and quiet.  A lot!  Ben sees her and pretends to read all by himself all day long, and I know he's interested.  I don't think I'm annoying him with getting him to try to read, but since we read together so much, I am always playing reading-type games with him that I hope to motivate him, and build up his confidence.  Maybe he'll do more on his own or just continue to be interested while sitting in my lap.

Here are some of the games we play together:

  • Spelling out a few key words, such as "Y-O-K-O" in the book that one of these days I'll get to.
  • Looking for "B" on any page, his favorite letter.  (We talk about how letters build words like in this book; he likes anything that requires building.)
  • Talking about the sounds of letters while reading.
  • Finding books with onomatopoeias so that the words and sounds are alike.
  • Hunting for a word like "the" or "Yoko" or "book."
  • Letting him finish the rhyme in a book he's not heard before.
  • Using the picture to predict what words are in the text.

For Ben, I think the Pete the Cat books will be instrumental in helping him to learn to read.  He's memorized them already, so all he has to do is put the words in his head together with the words on the pages.  And, like Rosemary Wells explains in this sweet book, Ben needs to realize that words are like the faces of people--each one is different, each one is memorable.

In Yoko Learns to Read, little Yoko and her mom read the three books they have at home together in Japanese, but Yoko's knowledge of English words is limited.  At school her teacher creates a huge tree; students earn a leaf for the page when they can read a book by themselves.  Her friends quickly amass leaves because they can read already, and Yoko wants to get more, too.  With the help of more books from the library and her teacher's help in connecting the words she knows to words in the books, Yoko suddenly has that "a-ha!" moment and gets it.  She earns a new leaf, catches up with her friends, and starts to teach her mother how to read in English.

Sprinkled through this book are drawings that include beautiful Japanese paper that are cut to fit the cats' attire--kimonos for the mother, and more American clothes for Yoko.  A different piece of paper frames each picture on each page.  Unfortunately, it definitely is a more "girl-ish" book, not that I like to divide books into girl-ish ones and boy-ish ones...  But I think a boy is less likely to be drawn into the pictures and story.  (We still read it a few times together, though.)

One of the main reasons I like this book for Ben is that it teaches a way to read that is more realistic and the opposite of phonics.  Rather than sound out words and stumble upon a million exceptions like "PH," kids can and should memorize words just as children in Asia memorize characters.  All kids can do it, expectations are just a little different sometimes.  It's a journey, and I'm not sure how far along Ben is on his own path to reading.  Time will tell.

But I sure would love for his "a-ha!" moment to come before our long road trip to the beach in August...

Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton

Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton

Rating: 4.5 stars

5:14 AM.  Kiefer wakes, not making the happiest of sounds, but I've learned that crossing my fingers and hoping he goes back to sleep actually does not work.  One day my children will sleep in.  I can't wait until they sleep in but have to get up for practice or school or something, and the tables will be turned--I will rouse THEM from their peaceful slumber.  Heh, heh, heh...

Kiefer, and his book basket.
5:20 AM.  I go into his cozy green room, lift him out of his crib and give him a kiss, take his sleep sack off, and plop him down on the rocking chair that I've had in all three kids' rooms.  I pile up his books next to him and he pages through them in his own way.  Upside down, two pages at a time.  He babbles loudly, "reading" each one.  I get him dressed as he moves up and down the chair, from book to book, more awake than I.  We sit here for 5-10 minutes, depending on how interested in the books he is, or how quickly he goes from babbling to screeching.

5:42 AM. Kiefer is kicking back with his Kix as I type.

We are not huge Sandra Boynton fans here, not for any particular reason.  The few books we have of hers are pretty cute, so I should probably check some out for Kiefer from the library.  Barnyard Dance I like because you could easily get up and dance to it: "Hop with the bunny / Dance with the duck / Spin with the chickens now / Cluck, cluck, cluck!"  I'd twirl around with him, but he's just learning to walk.  I know it's sort of an upbeat song for naptime and bedtime, but I'd much rather put him in bed with a smile on his face.

6:03 AM.  Ben calls me from the top of the stairs.  His morning wrestling match with his pajamas isn't working well for him right now, and he's all tangled up in an impressive way.

6:37 AM.  Lorelei is woken up, but it'll take her 40 minutes more to get downstairs for breakfast, and she's not even dressed.  This does not bode well for her teenage years.

7:13 AM.  Clearly I have more things to do than blog.  Off to make French toast, with Ray LaMontagne's "You are the Best Thing" playing in the background.

(Good morning.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bumble Bugs and Elephants by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd

Bumble Bugs and Elephants by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd

Rating: 2 stars

Really, this book just makes me envious.

Oh to be a proven author, creator of dozens of wonderfully-selling children's books!  What is it like to be SO GOOD that you can write a book about not much at all?  Just a gathering of big animals and small animals?

Don't think there's more to the story.  I just hesitated to type "story" because...there really isn't one.

And please, will someone please tell me what a bumble bug is?

Here are the first pages of the book:
Once upon a time there was a great big bumble bug
and a tiny little bumble bug
And there was a great big butterfly
and a little tiny butterfly
There was a great big red bird
and a tiny little black bird
And a tiny little turtle
and a great big turtle
The book goes on like this, gathering small and big versions of a species. 

It's a book of opposites, but...neither the prose nor the illustrations engage my kiddos, who are actually pretty easy to impress.  All in all, the only reason I want you to check it out is so that we can be baffled together.

The Red Lemon by Bob Staake

The Red Lemon by Bob Staake

Rating: 4.5 stars

Farmer McPhee is a lemon farmer; he grows beautiful yellow, tangy, tasty lemons in an orchard that goes on for miles.  Staake's words are almost like a chant, and McPhee is clearly the cheerleader for his own lemons.    
Lemons for sherbert and lemons for pie!
Lemons for drinks on the Fourth of July!
Lemons for cookies and sweet birthday cakes!
Lemons for muffins and fresh fruity shakes!
Then...GASP!...a red lemon grows on a tree.  Farmer McPhee freaks out, plucks the offending fruit from his otherwise yellow lemon tree, and hurls it across the ocean to an island.  The book fades out (well, not really, get the picture) and two hundred years pass.  Turns out, in the future, there are no yellow lemon trees on the isle where Farmer McPhee once farmed.  Instead, on the new island, are red lemon trees that are even tangier and sweeter and tastier.  Who knew?

"That lemon's not yellow. / My goodness it's red!"
I love it!  I love ANY book that allows me to say: "Why don't you try it?  Might be better than what you know."  My kids are good eaters, but there are always new tastes to be had.  Usually, I whip out a taste test--it's my main tool to get them to try new things.  Which do you like better: Red or green apples?  Pasta in marinara or pesto?  Kale chips or beet chips (yup, another crazy beet recipe)?  Or, like last week, red or yellow raspberries?  Try something new--you might like it.

Staake says this book is one of his favorites.  When asked what he wanted to teach through the book, he states:  "Don't be afraid of the unusual, embrace the uncommon, evolve or die.  It's Farmer McPhee's intolerance, fearful assumptions and lack of seeing the bigger picture that literally dooms his future...  After all, when life serves you red lemons, the smart thing to do is make red lemonade."

I'm pretty sure I'll wait a few years to tell my kids that they need to "evolve or die," but I like the rest of what Staake has to say about his book, and in his book.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The First Pup: The Real Story of How Bo Got Into the White House by Bob Staake

The First Pup: The Real Story of How Bo Got Into the White House by Bob Staake

Rating: 4 stars

You know that Obama has a dog named Bo.  And you also probably know that they got him after hunting for just the right dog.  But looky here--a children's book to give you and your kids the whole story.

That story:  Obama gets elected, his family cheers, he tells everyone he's going to get a dog.  No one is more excited (about the dog part) than Sasha and Milia, who quickly turn the search into a research project.  They hunt high and low but, after many months, are still dogless.  Meanwhile, Senator Kennedy gets a Portuguese water dog from a breeder.  One of the puppies from the same litter gets returned to the breeder; the pup and first home weren't the right fit.  Quickly that same puppy finds his place in the real First Home and the First Family and Bo (named after Bo Diddley, sort of) live happily ever after.

The funniest part of this book are these lines: "The senator also knew that Malia was allergic to most dogs, but that Portuguese water dogs are hypoallergenic."  Ah, yes.  Poor Malia's allergies are now etched in a children's book!  It's definitely 2012.  My kids didn't miss a beat with the mention of allergies, thanks to peanut allergies and hay allergies and cashew allergies and egg allergies and gluten allergies and...

Bob Staake is definitely a fantastic artist, and a fine author.  His artwork and books (click here to see books of his I've reviewed) is best when cars are involved, I think.  His artwork is not my all-time favorite, personally, but my kids gravitate towards it, especially the pages that are jam-packed with interesting things to see, as if there is a look-and-find book within a story book.  But this book about Bo is a little different, a bit more mainstream, and I like it a lot.  His images of Obama--tall, smiling, proud--are spot-on.

It seems funny to have a "politics" label on my blog about children's book (even as I sit 30ish miles from the White House), but then I think: why are we reading books to our kids?  Sure, to increase vocabulary, to create a bond between kid and caregiver, to understand the rhythm of a story.  But also to expand their mind--to open their minds to possibilities that are beyond their day-to-day.  To start a conversation with them about something different, new, important.  A story about the dog at the White House is really an opportunity to talk about the President, about being a leader, about how our country is organized.

We read this book over dinner a few days ago.  Lorelei told me afterward: "You could be the first girl President, Mommy!"  I told her, "No, Lorelei, I'm sorta too old, and I've chosen a different path.  But you, YOU could be the first girl President.  You could do it."  She chewed on that while she chewed on her meatballs.  And hopefully she'll be thinking about it--and considering it--for a long time.  

So thanks, Bo and Bob, for a little tale about a big job, and for making my daughter (and sons) think about both.

Nick Plays Baseball by Rachel Isadora

Nick Plays Baseball by Rachel Isadora

Rating: 4 hey-battah-battah-hey-battah-battah stars

Some say there's a song for everything; I say there's a children's book for everything.  There must be some people who think I'm nutso for having books on hand for any and every activity we do.  Today I did not...and I was a bit disappointed in myself.  I wished that I had prepped my kids a bit for the experience.  I give myself a demerit.

We went to our first baseball game today as a family.  The Nationals have a brand-spankin' new stadium that has all the bells and whistles I guess a fan could want.  I don't even eat hot dogs, but I like to go to baseball games (though I have to admit that I like minor league games better...I went to one in Watertown, NY, that sticks out in my memory...) for more reasons than the crappy food and cold beer.  Time to kick back and relax, enjoy a nice day with friends and/or family, and clap when I'm supposed to clap.  And look cute in my own baseball hat!

Given that I have two sons, I think the odds are that I'll be attending one or two more baseball games in the next decade or two.

Lorelei and Ben and even Kiefer were pretty excited, and when we arrived at the stadium, they got quiet.  Their eyes grew as big as dinner plates when we stepped out of our car; from the top of the parking garage we could look over and into the stadium.  "Woooooooow!" they said under their breaths, trying to take in all the sights, sounds, and smells.  There really is a lot to take in, especially if you're half the size of most people there, and you've never heard a roar of a crowd before.  We sat down in our seats, which were in a make-Mom-worry pop-fly zone, and they just started asking questions.  

My husband and I did our best to explain everything to them--pitching, batting, keeping score, pop flies, home runs, the umpire's job, and a ton of other little things.  It was then that I wish I had checked out this book a week or two ago to let them get used to all these concepts before they saw them in action.

The book is a good one for 3- and 4-year-olds, and even a little older.  Nick plays baseball (guess you figured that) for a small, local team, and Isadora writes a story that includes how he practices with his team in order to prepare for a championship game.  In addition, she adds information next to some of her sketch-like illustrations so that if your kiddo wants more information, it's right there, with a good picture to boot.  But the basic story is just that--a story.  It's the best of both worlds, really.

We had a good time at our game (though I don't even know who won!), but we didn't last the whole time.  The sun was hot and everyone was a little squirmy, not just Kiefer.  Everyone had a treat--Jonathan and Lorelei chose hot dogs, Kiefer and I had treats we smuggled in, and Ben ate almost all of a popcorn dish that was the size of his head.  It was a good introduction to "going to a ball game," and a nice way to spend the better part Father's Day.

Happy Father's Day to all of you dads out there.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Yes Day! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

Yes Day! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

Rating: 4.5 stars

I'm pretty strict.  Okay, I am actually very strict.  When Lorelei was a toddler I used to say "no" to her requests just to, as I explained to others, "let her practice hearing the word and practice learning to move on without carrying on."

That seems a bit funny now, though...I might also have done it with my second kid.  Oh, and my third, too.

What can I say?  I believe in free will and all, but...not if you're under 3 1/2 feet tall.  In fact, maybe I should get one of those roller-coaster signs: "Must be this high to have an opinion."  When I saw this book by one of my new favorite authors (AND fantastically illustrated by the same guy who did Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site, which I love), I had to grab it.  But I was afraid!  What if this book and its wild ideas poisoned my children with the idea that they could (gasp!) have their way once in a while?!

I decided to take a risk.  Dare devil that I am.

It's a short book that's jam-packed with great illustrations and funny lines.  A little boy explains to the reader that it's his favorite day of the year.  He asks a question (such as "Can I have pizza for breakfast?" or "Can we have a food fight?"); you turn the page and the answer, clearly in the affirmative, is in the very fun, I-want-that-to-happen-to-me-too illustration.  The boy has a satisfied grin on every page.  I can imagine a similar grin on my kiddos...

The last question is "Does this day have to end?" and of course it does.  But only after he gets to stay up late, eat popcorn, and watch a movie with his dad.

VERY cute.

And VERY dangerous, if you'd ask me.  I'm going to sneak this one back to the library after just one or two readings with the big kids before they get any ideas.  And if they ever remember it and, in a moment of weakness, I agree, I'm going to have to start small.  Maybe we could have three yeses granted, like a genie in a bottle.  Or a yes morning.

Or maybe just a yes minute.  Yes, that would be a good start.  Baby steps, right?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Just a Note

Today, my blog reached 20,000 views.

That is pretty amazing to me.

I only know of a one or two people who check this regularly--thank you to them (I know that you know that I know who you are!) and to you others (who are you? I wonder).  I appreciate you reading my words.

Comments make my day, so add yours anytime should you feel so inclined.  :)

Thank you so much,

Piggy and Dad Go Fishing by David Martin, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

Piggy and Dad Go Fishing by David Martin, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

Rating: 3.5 stars

You would have been amused if you were a fly on the wall when I read this to Lorelei and Ben.

In the story, Piggy is thrilled to finally go fishing with his father.  So he digs up some worms and trots off behind his piggy pop.  They get lakeside and pop tells son: bait the hook.

Enter the conversation with Lorelei and Ben: "What does 'bait' mean, Mommy?"  Hmmm.  So I explain, honestly, that you stick the worm on the hook and cast him into the water in order to lure the fish over to the hook.  Then the fish has to look at the worm and say, "I want to eat him for lunch!" and go awwwgph!* and chomp on the hook. And then you can pull the fish up and say, "I want to eat him for lunch!"  I like this explanation, though a little concerned that they'll  be concerned about how worms really get the raw end of the deal.

But they are satisfied with my explanation, so I move on.

Piggy tries to drape the smiley worm over the hook.  He slides off.  Piggy tries to tie the smiley worm in a knot around the hook.  He slides off.  His father gently explains that you're going to have to "poke the hook into the worm."  Piggy looks at the smiley worm, then at his father.  "Let's use bread instead."

WHAT?!  I just explained that whole bait thing for no reason?!  Man.

So they use bread as bait and fall asleep waiting (sometimes it bothers me how stereotypes are both reflected and made in children's books...).  Then a fish bites and they reel it in.  Piggy is excited.

Enter the conversation with Lorelei and Ben: "What are they going to do with the fish, Mommy?"  Hmmm.  Well, they are going to eat him.  When we eat our salmon and our meat, it's because they've been caught for us to eat.  (Inside, I'm crossing my fingers and toes and begging them not to become vegetarians.  My menu challenges would be unbearable.)

And then Piggy looks at the smiley fish and...throws him back.

WHAT?!?  I just explained how we kill animals for meals for no reason?!  MAN!

In the end, Piggy and Dad decide to go "feed-the-fish fishing," where they ball up pieces of bread from their sandwiches, throw them in, and watch the fish chomp on them happily.  The next day they bring the fish donuts.

A slightly exasperating read for me, personally, but now that I've given you a head's up you won't have such a hard time.  You're welcome.

* What onomatopoeia is appropriate to describe the sound of a fish eating a worm off a hook?  I am stumped.  Feel free to add your own if you're so inclined.

Tyrannosaurus Dad by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Matthew Myers

Tyrannosaurus Dad by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Matthew Myers

Rating: 2.5 stars

Here's the story: A normal boy has a Tyrannosaurus Rex for a father (nope, they never explain why, and yup, I wondered, too).  The Tyrannosaurus Dad is a work-a-holic; the boy wants him to participate in his school's field day so hints a million hints about his father's attendance.  His father is seemingly oblivious but, on the actual day steps in out of nowhere to break up a fight and serve as the ump for a baseball game.  Everyone is, of course, immediately on their best behavior, the boy is excited to see his father there, and his father assures him "family first, work can wait."

Okay, fine story line, though how a kid has a dinosaur for a dad is curious to me.  Oh, and...where's the mom?  Great pictures, though there are some with some really mean looking kids in them.

But there are some lines in here that I do not want my kids to repeat.  And of course my opinion of this book went a bit downhill when I heard Lorelei repeat one of those lines to me.  "The next time I see you better be never!" she exclaimed proudly to no one in particular this morning.

"I'll ump!" thundered an unexpected voice.  The kids had to
look up to see where the voice was coming from.
Way, way up.
Hmm.  Anyone who knows sweet Lorelei will probably laugh, because this is something that is completely the opposite of who she really is.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around it (not that I like that saying, but...that's what came out of my fingers right now, so...there you go).  As a super competitive type myself, maybe I'd be okay if she said that while passing someone the final lap of a race?  Would it be okay if she said it while shaking her fist at some guy who thought he could outsmart her?  I admit that there's a glimpse of "yes" in my answers...  But as a 5 year old, I'm just not ready for to be sassy.  Or as sarcastic as me.  I've had three decades to warm up!

This is not the book I'd like to read this Father's Day.  I'd like to keep my kids in a not-sarcastic, not-mean bubble as long as I can.  Maybe in a few years I will appreciate it more.  And, ironically, we'll be going to a baseball game on Sunday...I wonder if the kids will expect a dinosaur to umpire??!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids by Gail Gibbons

Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids by Gail Gibbons

Rating: 4 stars

If you've got a pint-sized fact-lover around you, you should know about Gail Gibbons.  She is a leading author of nonfiction children's books, which are like home-drawn DK books.  There is a ton of information between the covers, usually not too much story or plot for kids needing or wanting that, but totally fascinating for budding researchers.  Check out the impressive list of books she's written here.

I've got a fact-lover in Lorelei.  She LOVES to get to the bottom of things, to know random facts about little things like butterflies or zebras or flowers.  Since she started reading she's been on her own a bit in the fact-finding mission, sometimes reading things I don't realize she's reading either at home or at school.  I know that some of it comes from National Geographic publications, of which we have many, including magazines but also children's books.  But a lot of it comes from just being curious and aware and from having an astoundingly good memory!

So Gail Gibbons is becoming increasingly popular in our house.  She's not for the youngest--Ben doesn't want anything to do with this book, especially after I read a few pages of it.  No story?  Nothing to laugh at?  He's not ready for a book of facts.  That's okay.  There will be enough of Gibbons' books lying around for him when he's ready.

So about this book.

We love trees because we live among them--we are lucky to live on about five acres of land that is mostly wooded.  So this book was really cool with its diagrams and drawings and definitions.  It is a great book to check out to compliment stories on trees, or other less serious (but still important!) books to encourage your kids to think more about nature.  I actually just paused and read about five pages now, hours after the kids' bedtime.  These books are like mini-encyclopedias (remember those?) for kids, on all their favorite subjects.

Funny thing: We set out on today's hike with a mission to collect leaves and then compare them to the leaves in our own backyard.  Would they be the same, or different?  We collected nothing!  The kids were so happy just running along and finding remnants of old houses and moss and stuff that I couldn't force them into a teachable moment.  Or maybe this--enjoying nature on a gorgeous day with each other--was their teachable moment.

A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Marc Simont

A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Marc Simont

Rating: 3.5 stars

I rarely push a book in my kids.  I'm rarely in this position.  If they see a book, they are almost always curious about it.  I put it in the book basket between the big kids in the car, I put it up for display during a meal, I put it in their rooms during quiet time.  They'll grab it eventually.

Not this book.  I finally said, "I'm going to read this!"  I was glad that they didn't groan or roll their eyes, but...  Man, hard audience today!

The pictures are gorgeous, worthy of the Caldecott award that sits on the cover.  My kids' favorite picture is one of a huge, climb-able tree with nearly a dozen kids playing on its broad limbs.  The words alongside the pictures are fine, just a simple tale of the importance of trees.  They are delivered more staccato and less rolling than I prefer, but...I love these words:
Trees make the woods.  They make everything beautiful.
Even if you have just one tree, it is nice too.
A tree is nice because it has leaves.
The leaves whisper in the breeze all summer long.
Lorelei and Ben on our hike today, among
some beautiful trees.
We're lucky to live in the woods.  There's nothing better than to open the windows and listen to the breeze in the trees.  You can ask my kids--they know it's one of my favorite sounds on Earth.  I'll make them pause and be quiet (if only for 4.5 seconds!) so I can hear it well.

But speaking of pushing things on kids, I definitely try to push a sense of stewardship of the land.  Doesn't that sound so big and grand?  And I'm talking about preschoolers here!  I have never had a problem thinking big.  Years ago I would have plans to create some group to take charge of environmental lessons in classrooms across the county.  After my Peace Corps years, where I learned how to scale back and focus instead on a few important people, my thoughts are different.

I do what I can.  With my kids.  And, slowly, their friends.  And their friends' parents.  And you know what?  I think it's working.  I think it's slow-going, but all the good stuff is.  I think it's going to run deep.  I'm optimistic and curious about how the seeds I've been planting will grow.  Time will tell.

Was I talking about a book?  Right!  It's fine.  Good for the classroom, I think, but not exactly a bedtime page-turner.

Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

Rating: 5 clean stars

If ever there was a book for me and my kids, this is it.  As a joke--the sort that holds some truth in it--we say you're only part of our family if you know how to make a mess.  (MAAAAAYBE I had a small problem with cleaning up when I was younger.  Perhaps your definition of cleaning up does not involve shoving all the crap on your floor under your bed or in your closet?  What, it's not?!?)  But we do our best to clean up before bedtime, pretending that all we've done all day is sit around, sipping tea with our fingers turned correctly...  We four know the truth: it'll happen again tomorrow.

He savored his days at school.
Just like the gem Little HootLittle Oink takes a childhood truth and turns it on its head.  In this case, a friendly little pig called Little Oink is required to make a mess before going outside to play.  His shoulders droop, his spirits sag, his snout turns downwards at the mere thought of his tidy room turning into a pigsty.  Rosenthal's witty writing shines:

"All my friends get to clean their rooms.  Why can't I?" asked Little Oink.
"If you want to grow up to be a respectable pig, you must learn how to make a proper mess," said Papa Pig.
"Mess up your room, put on some dirty clothes, and then you can go out to play," said Mama Pig.
"Do I have to?" Little Oink snorted.
"Yes, you have to," they retorted.
So off he went.
"When I grow up, I'm going to let my kids clean up their rooms as much as they want."

Such a clever little book with amazing illustrations.  I did have to hide my smile when Lorelei asked after dinner if they could have mess up time, just like Little Oink has in the book., we've been doing that all day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Will Not Read This Book by Cece Meng, illustrated by Joy Ang

I Will Not Read This Book by Cece Meng, illustrated by Joy Ang

Rating: 3 stars

Clearly this author knows kids, and she wanted a book that would sell.  She knew that if she told kids not to do something they would do it.  Has she met Ben?  Hmmm...

This book has a bunch of really cute illustrations about a boy doing anything but getting to the book-readin' time of night.  He stalls in some creative ways, using different parts of his room as fodder for his procrastination, but in the end finally realizes that he wants his mom to read the book with him.

That's it.  Not much more, really.  Cute, but no huge story to explain or think about or anything...

I think this was my most succinct review ever!

Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

Rating: 5 witty stars

Things to know about me:

1.  I really love owls.  We are lucky enough to live in the woods, and I hear owls most nights, and sometimes even see them, swooping between the trees, grabbing a snake or squirrel, or just peering down at me as I walk my dogs.  Their hoots are magical.

2.  I think humor is sometimes a tough thing to accomplish in children's books.  Slapstick stuff is fairly easy--throw the word "underpants" in and you could make my kids roar in approval--but the real wit takes talent.

3.  I am really easily amused (I crack myself up all day long, doing things like putting Kiefer in Christmas pajamas in June to make me chuckle), so maybe this book isn't as witty as I think it is.  You read it and decide.  Let me know if I'm delusional.

Okay, now the book.

Little Hoot is an owl that does things that all little kids do--play hide-n-seek, go to school, practice staring (okay, I don't practice this one, but Little Hoot's stares are pretty funny).  But one thing set him apart: bedtime.  All of his friends get to go to bed much earlier, but he is forced to stay up and play.  "It's not fair!" he complains with groggy eyes, pajamas already on, blankie in hand.  Instead of going to sleep like he wants to, his parents make him go play for one more hour.

"Can I stop playing now?" pleaded Little Hoot.
"When I grow up, I'm going to let my kids
go to bed as early as they want."
"Ten more minutes of playing, Mister.  And please don't ask me again."
"Alright," the young owl scowled.

Finally he gets to go to bed.  He hoots in delight!  He jumps into bed and tucks himself in, and before his mom can read him the nine novels (think War and Peace size) she's carrying and before he can drink the giant glass of water his father is carrying, he's fast asleep.

Lorelei and Ben and I laughed out loud at this.  It is so funny!  It's like a test of your children's humor.  Do they get it?  Do they realize how funny it is to make a little kid/owl stay up late when he wants to go to bed?

Okay, I think you have to read it to fully get it.  But it's so witty and worthwhile.  Check out all three of Rosenthal's books in this series--there is the original Little Pea (the pea is forced to eat candy for dinner but delights in spinach for dessert) and Little Oink (the pig is told to be messy when all he wants to do is be neat).  Treasures, all.  At least me and my kids think so.

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

Rating: 5-ish stars

I had a pretty luxurious day.  I left the kids with the sitter for the morning and drove to my favorite stretch of the C&O Canal and ran 10ish warm miles by myself.  It was a gorgeous day, and I didn't miss my iPod--had enough to meditate on.  And then, instead of running errands like I should have, I drove myself to a coffee shop and sat down and read for an hourish, totally immersed in my book (the unbelievable Unbroken, if you are curious--yes, I actually read adult books!).

In between these totally indulgent activities I went to the bookstore--straight to the children's section--to buy this book.  When I read it to Lorelei and Ben the other night at bedtime I almost cried at the end.  It is such a beautiful book.  I'm a big fan of Reynolds' other book, The Dot, which I'll review sometime soon.  Like The Dot, Ish is a book about a boy's relationship with art, and also his relationship with perfection.  Um, I can relate.

He filled his journals with ish drawings.
The story:

Ramon delights in drawing "Anytime.  Anything.  Anywhere."  Then one day his brother peers over his shoulder at one of his drawings and mocks: "WHAT is THAT?"  Suddenly, Ramon is self-conscious at how imperfect his art is, and he starts drawing something, then disliking it, and then crumpling it up and throwing it away.  He does this for months until he finally decides he's done, and quits.  He crumples up his last piece of artwork and tosses it away.  His little sister reaches for it and, despite his protests, runs away with it.  He chases her, and then Ramon's yell turns into a gasp when he sees her room.

Taped to her walls are Ramon's pieces of art, carefully flattened and taped up.  She says that she likes this one the best, and points to a cup with flowers in it.  "It was supposed to be a vase," explains Ramon.  "It's vase-ish," she replies (I love how the youngest is the wisest).  Ramon ponders this.  And then agrees.  "Yes, it is vase-ish."

Accepting that his art is "ish" instead of needing to be perfect, Ramon "felt light and energized.  Thinking ish-ly allowed his ideas to flow freely.  He began to draw what he felt--loose lines.  Quickly springing out.  Without worry."  He once again delights in art, and even, on the last page, decides to savor a scene and moment instead of trying to capture it in one of his ish masterpieces.

I just love this book.  I guess I can relate to someone's words getting under my skin and affecting what I was doing and thinking and feeling.  Then someone looked at what I did and thought and felt and said, "You're brilliant!" and seemingly tacked up my Kate-ness to the wall and celebrated me.  Like Ramon, there was a shift in me that was good.  Hopefully we all can relate to someone applauding our efforts at the right time, when the praise has maximum impact.

I stumbled upon a website, Teaching Children Philosophy (and bookmarked it!  must return later when I have time to poke around there), that has a wonderful lesson plan or really just conversation-starter for this book.  Definitely worth checking out.

Oh, and here's an essay by a 6th grader who believes the book Ish changed her life.  Makes me smile.  Books are so important, and you never know how important they are until much later.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pink Me Up by Charise Mericle Harper

Pink Me Up by Charise Mericle Harper

Rating: 5 stars

Just in time for Father's Day...

I was a bit worried about this book when I saw the cover.  You guessed it: a lot of pink.  And on the pages, pink, pink, pink.  This little bunny (who is one of nine bunny children, the last, and the only girl) is like almost every little girl I know: pink-obsessed.  So she's pretty stoked to be invited to a Pink Girls Pink-nic.  Of course you have to wear pink and you have to bring your mom, and of course SHE has to wear pink, too.

Holy Pink-ness, Batman!

She gets her pinkest of all pink outfits ready and hops around the room, shouting "PINK!" over and over again.  She gets her mom's outfit ready.  And she wakes up her mom who has pink...SPOTS!  Oh no!  Her mom is sick.  But her dad volunteers to go.

But that can't be!  He's a boy, and he can't wear pink.  Her dad searches in his (not-so-pink) closet and finds: One.  Pink.  Tie.  And then he does the best thing a daddy he can do--he just hands himself over to his daughter and lets her "pink him up."  Together, they draw pink polka dots on one of his shirts, they tape pink stripes on some of his pants, they wrap his shoes in pink wrapping paper, and put pink stickers all over his jacket.  They decide he should NOT wear mom's pink skirt on his head like a wig (smart choice.  There are limits, you know).  And then the pink-y dad goes out in public, unashamed, with his daughter in tow.

And they have a fantastic time.  Of course!  Now, if we could just get Lorelei's Daddy to agree to let her pink him up!  I promise only to take one picture.  Okay, maybe two.  Or three...

White is for Blueberry by George Shannon, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

White is for Blueberry by George Shannon, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

Rating: 5 stars

We all thought this book title was a little silly when we saw it.  WHITE is for BLUEberry?!  How could that be?!  my kids asked their uber-incredulous-silly voices.  So we had to check it out (of course).

Turns out it is a total gem!  And well timed, too.

This book is a tale of perspective, or perhaps of before and after, of seeing things not for what they are but what they were and what they could be...  On the first page is what something likes like in the beginning, and then you turn the page and you see what that something looks like at the end.  For example, there's a bird that starts off pink as a baby and then grows up to be black.  And the sweet potato looks brown when the skin is on, but then orange when you look into it and dig in.
Our tomatoes are yellow, green, then red.

But the blueberry example is by far my favorite, because on our own deck are garden is growing well.  Tomatoes are by far my favorite, and we have five different types of tomatoes growing at five different heights, some bursting through the tops of their cages already.

As I've said before (here), I garden for many reasons, but I love that my kids have to be patient as the vegetables grow.  They know we can pop over to the grocery store and buy tomatoes, but there is definitely something special about growing your own, taking care of the tomatoes, appreciating how the weather affects them, and how they are really pretty imperfect (but more delicious) than the ones we buy at the store.

Anyway, in the book Shannon has a picture of a white flower that soon grows to be a blueberry.  So white really is for blueberry.  Who knew?  I love how this book helps me to teach my kids to have a good perspective, to think out of the box, to look again--and then maybe once more!--and see something new and unique.