Friday, November 30, 2012

Pete the Cat Saves Christmas by Eric Litwin

Pete the Cat Saves Christmas by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean

Rating: 4 stars

I love Pete the Cat.  I don't know what it is about him--his slinky coolness, his quiet head bob (not that he bobs his head in this book or the other books, but I just imagine him walking down the street, with lanky shoulders moving slowly and head bobbing to his own beat).  There is just something about him that I love, and his catchy songs that bring a grin--not just a smile--to all of our faces makes me appreciate him all the more.  I am thrilled that he's back!  (And there are two more books that are soon to be out, easy reader books.  Yay!)

Pete the Cat Saves Christmas is a twist on the traditional 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.  Santa is sick and considers canceling Christmas (gasp!) but they call Pete the Cat, and he comes to the rescue.  He has to do it in his usual cool way, so he hitches the reindeer to his hippy minibus, all filled with toys for all the good girls and boys (or, as my dad would say: none for the girls and all for the boys).  Pete thinks flying through the sky is "pretty groovy," but, like our old Golden Retriever, his expression doesn't change.

This book's refrain: "Give it your all, give it your all.  At Christmas we give, so give it your all."  It is less snappy and catchy than his other books, but appropriate for the season.

Pete is lauded a hero in the North Pole when he returns with his empty minibus, and he is proud of himself for accomplishing his mission.  "'I did it!' said Pete. 'And although I am small, / in the spirit of Christmas I gave it my all.'"

This is a great book for fans of Pete (that'd be our family) but probably won't attract heaps more followers on its own.  Those first three books are fantastic; if you've not read them just buy them all, like I did, so you always have a smile-raiser of a book on your shelf when you need one.

We are getting into the holiday spirit in our about you?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Food For Thought by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers

Food For Thought: The Complete Book of Concepts for Growing Minds by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers

Rating: 5 stars

Before telling you how cool this book is, I just have to point out the name of the authors: Saxton and Joost.  Um, why were we not aware of those two cool names when naming our children?!  Joost.  Pretty fun.  Let me practice it:  "Joooooost!  Time for dinner!"  Ok, maybe it would raise an eyebrow or two in this non-Dutch neighborhood...

Now, about the book.

Here is a book that combines two of my favorite things: great books and great food.  These two author-artists cut out fruits and veggies to make all sorts of cute and hilarious images--mostly but not only animals.  The expressions on some of the "faces" are amazing!  Really laugh-out-loud funny.

There are five little chapters: shapes, colors, numbers, letters, and opposites.  But really, this is more about fun than learning.  Oh wait...the two can be combined!  Check it out.  And giggle a little with your little one.

I do apologize if your children want their next fruity snack to resemble the this creative, edible art.

Where's Walrus? by Stephen Savage

Where's Walrus? by Stephen Savage

Rating: 4.5 stars

Here is a fun book--not much to it, though it's a great one to get kids laughing which, in my book, is always a wonderful sound.

Stephen Savage has drawn for us a series of illustrations of what a walrus does to fade into the background after escaping from the zoo.  As the zookeeper chases him from city place to city scene, the walrus tries to camouflage himself.  See for yourself in the images I have grabbed thanks to my buddy Google...

There is nothing funnier to Ben than me pretending not to see something that he sees so very clearly.  So when I say "I don't see a walrus!" he erupts in giggles and yells in his loudest inside voice (therefore making it a questionable inside voice):  "THERE MOMMY!  THERE!  THERE!!!"  I'm tempted to use size 38 font so you truly understand how loud and excited the response is!

Because there are no words, you can make up your own or just play dumb like me, which is always a hit at our house.

Sometimes the point of a book--or an activity, or a whole day--should be pure fun.  Not educational, not anything but f-u-n fun.  That is what this book is.  Oftentimes mom friends ask me for hints or suggestions to get their kids into reading. I often suggest books like these--ones that are pure fun, where the images are captivating and silly and make you want to turn the page to read the next one.  Maybe this one will be the "gateway book" that helps your child really get excited about books...or maybe it's just one in a long line of great ones they are already talking about in offensively loud decibels while your youngest child naps...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chloe by Peter McCarty

Chloe by Peter McCarty

Rating: 4 stars

Here's a little satire for your little one...

Chloe is a bunny who is smack in the middle of all her siblings--ten older, ten younger.  Her favorite time of day is in the evening, when all of her family plays together.  But one day her father brings home a present: a television set.  Most of her bunny siblings are excited, and they crowd around the television during the next evening playtime.  All except for Chloe and the youngest bunny, who sulk behind the oh-so-packed sofa.

"This is the worst family playtime ever!" she declares.

Soon, she grabs the box in which the television arrived and is pretending to be ON a television set.  And then she finds the bubble wrap that came with the box (oh, yeah, and the television).  Pop!  Pop!  Pop!  Pop!  One by one she grabs the attention of her siblings, and the box is soon more crowded than the sofa, because playing in a box with bubble wrap is--as we with imaginative kids know--waaaaaaay more fun that watching TV.  Soon the 21 bunnies are all laughing and playing so loudly they get the predictable Shhhhhhhhh! from their father, who wants to watch his show.

Moral of the story: Turn off the television and grab some bubble wrap!

The Tale of Jack Frost by David Melling

 The Tale of Jack Frost by David Melling

Rating: 4 frost-filled stars

I got a sneak peak at how Lorelei and Ben will react to fantasy stories like the Hobbit series and Redwall books with this tale of Jack Frost.  I hadn't realized how scary some of the scenes might be until we were mid-book, but I plunged ahead with my usual oh-I'm-sure-it'll-be-fine attitude.  I'm glad I did; they loved the story and the magic of Jack Frost got under their skin a bit.  Melling's beautiful illustrations are a perfect amount of scary for children--the goblins aren't friendly, but the befuddled looks they have gives them a humorous slant, so hopefully no child will lose sleep over them.

I grabbed this book at the library because the mornings have been downright chilly here in Virginia.  I don't love the cold, but I do appreciate how frost decorates our deck and leaves swirls on my Suburban.  Here is the fairy tale that accompanies those images:

Jack is a little boy ("a real boy!") who wakes up in an enchanted forest, barely clothed and alone.  The animals--from hedgehogs and beetles to unicorns and "skitlets"--all circle around him, curious and afraid.  When the little boy wakes, he remembered nothing, not even his name.  The animals take him in, teach him all the know--both magical and mundane tasks.  But his skin is snow white and always ice cold.  Whatever he touches turns to frost."  So he was named Jack Frost.

Funny looking creatures peered around each other, and even the trees
shuffled forward for a better look.
One day, goblins enter the forest, wanting to steal the magic from the animals.  They kidnap Jack Frost, thinking he can give them the magic.  Instead, he gives them a trick: Jack promises to help them catch the sun.  "Every night the sun goes to sleep in a lake by the forest.  It is full of magic and easy to catch."  The goblins and Jack then circle a lake and see the reflection of the moon, which Jack explains is actually the reflection of the sun.  He dips his finger into the lake and it quickly turns to ice.  They pick up the frozen "sun" and carry it off as Jack returns to his friends before the "sun" melts.

But melt it does, and the goblins are, of course, upset.  As they run after Jack, they step into magical puddles that makes them freeze in their tracks.  (Hmm...can I get some of that stuff?)  Jack laughss but gives them magical sunflowers to hold that will eventually melt them, so the goblins stare with stiff grins and chattering teeth, unable to chase him further.

And the frost you see in mornings like this morning in Virginia is proof that Jack Frost left the enchanted forest to leave little spells of magic, just for your kids to wake up to and smile at.

The story helps make winter mornings a little warmer, and...shouldn't we all believe in a bit of magic?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Toot and Puddle You Are My Sunshine by Holly Hobbie

Toot and Puddle You Are My Sunshine by Holly Hobbie

Rating: 4.5 stars

I love these books--mostly for the gorgeous watercolor illustrations that I'd like to cut out and frame and put on the walls in each child's bedroom (but they are library books so of course I wouldn't!).  But I also love the characters, two pigs with different personalities who somehow mesh together incredibly well.  Toot is my favorite--he's the adventure seeker, always looking for some new place to go or fantastic experience to have.  Toot is bright and cheerful, optimistic and playful.  His little piggy face has a big piggy smile on at all times.

But in this book, Toot is moping.  In a poopy mood.  His friend Puddle is confused--Toot is never in the doldrums.  Toot walks around in a storm cloud.  So, his buddy Puddle makes it his mission to cheer him up.  He makes Puddle his favorite five-berry cobbler, provides an adventure by floating own a river, and has a party with all of Toot's friends.

Still, Toot mopes.  Poor guy.

Then, there is a real storm--not just the figurative one over Toot.  It rains and rains.  Lightening crackles, thunder rumbles, all the animals are scared.

And in the morning, Toot skips through the puddles.  The old Toot is back!

"Sometimes you need a whopping thunderstorm to clear the air."  The two pigs agree that thunderstorms and friends are absolutely necessary.

I am not great at letting my kids stay in a poopy mood, but it's good for me to remember: Everyone mopes.  Everyone has their down minutes, down days, sometimes down weeks.  Hopefully they have a friend nearby who takes their mope-itude on and makes them smile and laugh, if only a little at a time, until their doldrums are over.

The other great thing about this book is that I get "You Are My Sunshine" stuck in my head, and that's not a bad thing at all.  Love that song.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Boxer and the Princess by Helme Heine

The Boxer and the Princess by Helme Heine

Rating: 4 stars

Unlike most rhinoceroses, Max is gentle and sensitive; unlike most rhinoceroses, his skin is thin and delicate.  His father tells him to toughen up; life is hard, after all.

And so, he does.

He dons boxing gloves to beat back the mosquitoes, army boots to protect his feet, an iron suit so the contents of his stomach cannot be seen, and an iron helmet so the weight of a butterfly will not make his horn droop.  Finally, he feels strong and grown-up.  He is a tough nut to crack, and shielded by everything.  We can't even see Max, just the suit he wears.  "Only cold and loneliness found a way through his armor...Max and all his feelings were locked up tight, and there was no key to open him."

My heart goes out to him.

His parents send him away, though assuring him that they'd be around whenever he needed them.  He defeats dragons and has many adventures until...  One. Day.  He meets a princess.  He asks him to marry her, but she refuses to marry a boxer.

And so...  He wants to pick her flowers, so he takes off his boxing gloves.  He wants to walk on tightropes like she does, so he takes off his army boots.  He wants to swim with her, so he unlocks his armor--and the princess can see his heart.  Her kisses make him stronger than ten suits of armor.  They marry and live happily ever after.

I'm still sorting out this book in my head.  It's an odd children's book--definitely more suited for adults--and I don't like to have books around that talk of marriage while our kids are still encouraged to treat both genders as friends.  But.  This is a rare gem of a book that really makes me think of what suit of armor I'm conditioning our kids to wear, of the armor I wear (and why?), and how to take it all off.

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

Rating: 5 floaty, bouncy stars

I was going to write about  Balloons Over Broadway last night, after returning from my sister's house for a grand Thanksgiving meal.  With apple pie in my belly and wine in my brain, I figured I'd wax poetic about this book, about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, on the very day of the parade.  Perfect, right?

Life stepped in a very funny it has a tendency to do.

We left my sister's house around 8, and the blue-eyed kids (that'd be Kiefer and Lorelei) stayed awake during the ride home.  My fellow hazel-eyed kid (Ben!) had that oh-my-god-his-neck-is-going-to-hurt! stance and was completely zonked.  Hmmm.  It's a good holiday when the kids fall asleep in the back on the way home, I think.  But then there are those details: How can I get him to get inside, go to the bathroom, change into pajamas without waking up?

I succeeded (with the help of my husband, thank you to him), and my night ended with the chance to gaze at one of our sleeping children, cute when awake but angelic when asleep.  A very appropriate end to a day for giving thanks.

Lorelei and I read this book as her brothers slept in their rooms.  I promised to find a movie "on the computer" in the morning to show her what we'd read about.

This is a great nonfiction account of Tony Sarg, the inventor of those huge balloons that float and bob down Broadway during Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The book starts with his childhood--I love when books do this as my kids (hopefully) realize that great men and women start out as creative little tykes--and quickly takes a turn to New York City, where Sarg makes old-school marionettes for children.  Macy's soon invites him to make one of their still-fantastic window holiday displays.  And then, Macy's decides to hold a parade for their mostly-immigrant workforce, to recreate the music and dancing--a street carnival--that they missed in the countries they had left.  They employed Sarg, and the first parade was a huge success in 1924.
After the balloons were eased under the El, they ended in front of Macy's,
at Tony's Wondertown windows.  It was a parade New Yorkers would never forget!

And, in pure American tradition, they had to make each year bigger and better, right?

At first, animals from the zoo were used in the parade.  But then--here's a shocker--kids started to get a little scared by the lions and tigers and bears (oh my).  To replace the animals, Sarg starts to work on his idea of enormous puppets.  At first he was inspired by an Indonesian rod puppet in his toy collection and created heavy creatures, but they didn't satisfy him.  He had to figure out a way to create something like a marionette but with the controls below and the puppet high, something that would rise up high enough so that lots of people could see them--not just the lucky few in the first row.

Helium was the answer!

And so--you guessed it--after a bunch of thinking and creating and trials and errors, he was finally satisfied with a huge balloon-like puppet that bobbed and nodded its way through the super-crowded streets of the city.  Like those we still see today, like in yesterday's 82nd parade.

In all honesty, this morning I forgot my promise to show Lorelei a video of the parade in New York City.  But as our family headed over to Reston for lunch, we saw--GASP!--big balloons like those in the book!  With our very own eyes!  Bobbing and floating, held up by strings!  The kids were SO excited and, as you can tell by the sudden burst of exclamation marks, I was as well.  How exciting to have something we read about right in front of us.  It was really cool.  I did get a picture of one of the big ol' balloons, but I assure you this clip from youtube is better (I love how Spiderman seems to crawl up from the street), and fun to share with your child when you check this book out.

And I highly recommend that you do check out this book.  The illustrations are top-notch and the story is really interesting and inspirational.  A smile to Tony Sarg, who had a dream in his head and worked on it until it became a reality.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dirty Joe the Pirate: A True Story by Bill Harley

Dirty Joe the Pirate: A True Story by Bill Harley, illustrated by Jack E. Davis

Rating: 5 stars

Rarely am I really surprised by a book.  This one got me.  In a great, great, much-needed way.

Lorelei and Ben were sitting in my lap, Lorelei's wet-from-the-bath hair was soaking my shirt, but I was happy she chose this book, unknown to me.  I started it with my best pirate accent...

Bill Harley whittles witty rhymes out of an already humorous story: Dirty Joe is a pirate captain who likes to steal his enemy's socks.
The socks he took from other ships, you'll be surprised to learn,
He tied upon his rigging lines that stretched from bow to stern.
They flapped and fluttered in the breeze, five hundred little flags--
And the smell that those old socks gave off was enough to make you gag.
They soon see another pirate ship, to which they set their sights, eager to gain even more stinky socks for their ship.  They look at it and notice that this pirate ship also has a whole lot of flags flapping along, but they don't think much of it...yet.  As they approach, they realize that this pirate ship has a female captain, and an entirely female crew.
"It's Stinky Annie," someone said, "and her band of smelly varmints.
She captures every boat she can and takes their undergarments."
"Then all is lost," another said.  "We haven't got a chance.
You can't be a pirate if you don't have underpants."
I love this!  A band of women pirates who are just as stinky and brazen and full of arrrrghs like the boys!  As the two ships come together and the fight started (there are some pirates with swords and knives, but most have creative weapons: a fly-swatter, a broom, a toaster, a tennis racket).  Soon, Dirty Joe and his boys realize they are fighting in vain: the girls don't have any socks on!

They continue the fight anyway until the two captains give each other the one-eye (literally; they each wear an eye patch).
Stinky Annie lowered her sword.  They peered at one another.
"Wait," she said, "I see it now--you're Joe, my little brother."
"That's right," said Joe.  "You're sister Ann, you bounced me on your knee.
Put down your sword, give up this fight.  Please don't do this to me!"
I thought this was the ending--one of an amicable handshake full of sibling love, an image I'd like my kids to have.  (Well, I hope their handshakes involve hands rather than hooks.)  But Annie throws a curve ball.  Nope, she still wants their underwear!  Hand 'em over!

The illustration by Jack Davis, by the way, is great: chuckling, victorious, sockless female pirates and humiliated, frowning male pirates all wearing barrels to protect their modesty.  And the last stanza, which left me cracking up then in the hallway with my trio, because I knew it to be true more than those two little brothers Ben and Kiefer:
That's the finish of this tale.  It's silly and it's done.
But there's a lesson here that I'd impart to everyone:
If you've got an older sister, then I feel bad for you,
'Cause just as long as she's alive, she'll tell you what to do.
So, so, SO true!  I am cracking up again--because my purse at this very moment is a list my big sister wrote for me today of the things I need to have done by the time I see her again on Thanksgiving.  Ha!

Wind-up Plane Book by Usborne

Wind-up Plane Book by Usborne

Rating: 4 stars

Has anyone seen these Usborne books?  They are new to us!  (Check them all out here.)  And they are new to newly four-year-old Ben, who had a very exciting birthday today.  I don't think he stopped grinning all day long.  Four!  Him!  Birthday!  Wow!  Everything had an exclamation mark on it today for Ben!

My sister got this book for him. Right away, we realized it was unique.  As you can see from the picture, it comes with a little airplane.  After Ben gleefully tore off the wrapping paper, we turned the thick board pages--I think there are just six double-spread pages in all--and saw tracks on two of the pages.  I took the airplane out and we pushed it along.  And then--enter another exclamation mark moment here!--we realized that it was a wind-up plane!  Wow!

(Yes, I should have realized it was a wind-up toy by the title, but...if you had one very excited birthday boy and his big sister and little brother doing their best to throw in their own exclamation mark-filled sounds whenever possible, you might have missed that, too.)

And so we tried it out (sorry for the odd angle):

Later, we actually read the book.  The book is Richard Scarry-esque (but with fewer factoids on each page) with an additional story.  This story is about Ben.  Ben!  "Just like me!  Ben!"  Ben takes a plane ride for the first time with his family, and he encounters all the sights and sounds that we grown-ups so quickly dismiss as commonplace.  It's a good book for kids like Ben who have been on an airplane once or twice and therefore still see it as a novel, exciting, almost magical thing.

Plus it's cool!  It has a wind-up airplane that comes with it!  Hopefully we won't lose it, like, tomorrow!

P.S.  Happy Birthday to one smiley, now snoozey Ben.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson

 Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

Rating: 3.5 stars

I have a soft spot in my heart for these Bear books by Karma Wilson.  Bear Snores On  is the book that created this book-crazy mindset that we're all still in; I memorized the whole book after reading it to Lorelei every night when she was a newborn.  Amazingly, that same copy of the book is still in tact and sits in Kiefer's book basket in his room.

I am always eager to check out a new book in the Bear series--there are eight in all--and grabbed this book on the "New Books" shelf in our library about a month ago.

I was disappointed when the first page had Bear's words: "I am bored, bored, bored."  What?!  Bored?  That's a bad word in our house.  If you say it twice, you have the opportunity to clean something...because if you can't find something to do (or read!), then I'll help you find something to do.

But besides the fact that Karma Wilson uses the dreaded B-word, it's a cute book.  Bear is bored so he decides to make a feast for his friends.  But his cupboards are empty.  Luckily the usual suspects appear at his cave and all have food to share.  To each one, Bear says "Thanks!"  The group ends up sharing a big meal together, smiling and chewing and laughing, just as I hope you are doing this Thursday.

(Though if a bear is at your table...I think you're in trouble.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Choo Choo by Petr Horacek

Choo Choo by Petr Horacek

Rating: 4.5 stars

Poor Kiefer doesn't get many new books.  But thanks to the library, he now reads some books new to him!  In the "monkey see, monkey do" vein as my friend Felicity says, Kiefer has picked up on Ben's modus operendi in the library: Grab some books and put them in the library bag.  Repeat every ten seconds until the bag is almost too heavy for Mommy to carry.  (Meanwhile, sweet Lorelei has chosen one single book, plunked her little body in a big bean bag, and is reading that one book until we tell her it's time to check out.)

So Kiefer chose this book and I LOVE it!

It's a simple book with cut outs within the sturdy pages--the tops of the pages are shaped like mountains (my heart is happy at the thought of any mountains) and there is even a cut out when the train goes through a tunnel.  The words are simple, the images great, and the tunnels are fun to peek through--Kiefer's an easy laugh like that (shouldn't we all be?).

The Georgetown Loop Railroad.  Sigh.  Gorgeous, ain't it?
I love the book because it reminds me of Colorado, when our young family flew to one of my favorite places on earth to see the mountains last summer.  This trip, taken when Kiefer was just 4 months old, still holds Lorelei and Ben's imaginations.  They talk about it, draw pictures about it, and ask when we're going back.  Not soon enough!

There were many great parts of it, but everyone loved the historic train ride along the Georgetown Loop in Colorado.  Check it out here.  Kiefer slept most of the way on my chest, and my husband snapped pictures of Lorelei and Ben's awe-struck faces as they soaked in the sights and smells as the train chugged along the tracks.

I might have to buy this book for Kiefer...really, for myself...because it brings back such good memories each time I read it.  But the book ends when the train arrives at the beach!  Why?!  It should end somewhere in the mountains, where it begins!

Lorelei reads  Choo Choo to Kiefer.

Splat Says Thank You! by Rob Scotton

Splat Says Thank You! by Rob Scotton

Rating: 5 stars

This book is so up my alley.

Splat wants to cheer up his buddy, Seymour, because Seymour is sick.  So he decides to make a Thank You Book, to thank Seymour for the many things he's done for Splat over the years of their friendship.  His aim is to make Seymour smile.  That's it, that's all.

The examples are cute and specific: Thanks for encouraging me to try out for the school play when I was scared.  Thanks for rescuing me when I got stuck in a tree.  Thanks for sneaking in a flashlight to my room so I could read my book under the covers.

In the end, of course, Seymour is smiling.

We've done a few Get Well Books in our house, for friends who are sick.  Lorelei and Ben will think of things that cheer them up--sometimes just pictures of the sun and rainbows, other times photos of them laughing.  And just today was Ben's teacher's birthday, so I encouraged all the parents to send in home-made, heart-warming notes and messages to her as a little surprise.  There is nothing like the rambling thoughts of a 4 year old: "I love her because she plays with me and also helps me clean up the toys in the classroom and gives me snack when Mrs Cameron isn't there and lets me have more juice."  Praise the days before run-on sentences exist in these little minds!

A thank you book is definitely a great idea for this time of year, to challenge kids to think of those things for which they are thankful.  And, with this thinking, to keep "being thankful" in the forefront of their little minds.  I'd love to see the books Lorelei and Ben would create for each other...

Anyway, we say thanks and make people smile a bunch but we could and should do it even more.  Because what's life all about besides making sure the people you love feel appreciated and loved, and seeing their big smiles?

This is our first book with Splat the Cat, but we already want more of him!  It was definitely a good introduction, sweet and silly, cute and meaningful.  That makes a great book, according to us.

One is a Feast for a Mouse: A Thanksgiving Tale by Judy Cox

One is a Feast for a Mouse: A Thanksgiving Tale by Judy Cox, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler

Rating: 4 stars

After his people eat a gigantic Thanksgiving feast and roll themselves to the sofa before cleaning up, Mouse decides to take a chance and get himself a Thanksgiving feast.  There is so much to eat!

Mouse starts to grab things... but just ONE of everything, since he's so small.  After each item he takes, he says, "One is a feast for me."  As you can see from the cover, he gathers a bunch of things--way too many--and his initial decision to balance everything on the initial pea is a (funny to watch but) pretty bad idea.  He's doing okay until...


Cat spots him!

Of course everything goes flying and Mouse decides his life is worth more than his feast.  He makes a run for it, back to his hidey-hole in the family's clock.  He gets there safely, and ends up being satisfied with the single pea that he brings back home.

"Give thanks!  One is a feast for me!" he says.

And there, at the table's edge, he met Cat!
I have to tell you:  I appreciate Mouse being so gracious and not thinking at all about that which he left behind.  I laud his ability to focus on the positive: a pea, rather than nothing.  My kids didn't bat an eye; it's me reading into this reading more than those in my lap.  But I know there are kids out there who have to walk away from toys and feasts and situations that, once they get a taste of, are hard to let go.  Maybe it's the quiet-ness of Mouse that is most surprising--I think that most of these departures are filled with a bit o' whining and maybe, if I'm lucky, a small tantrum.

And Mouse is here to teach us (yup, us grown-ups, too) that very important lesson of appreciating what we have, rather than looking around and being sad about what we have NOT.  One of those lessons that we have to learn and relearn.  And then learn again.  Oh--and then once more!

But 'tis the season for this lesson: give thanks for what we have, joyfully.  Even if it is just one pea--make a feast out of it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Love You, Good Night by Jon Buller & Susan Schade

I Love You, Good Night by Jon Buller & Susan Schade, illustrated by Bernadette Pons

Rating: 5 stars

This book goes way back.  I mean waaaaay back.  It is from my very best friend, "Auntie Stacey" to our kids.  She and I go waaaaay back, to Mrs. Rose's first grade class at Sacred Heart Elementary School in West Point, New York.  Catholic school uniforms, ribbon barrettes, and Brownies gave way to clandestine trips to take Cover Girl photo shots, manhunt games in the streets, and embarrassingly bad hairstyles when our fathers were stationed together again in Hawaii when we were in middle school.

Stacey has a theory that no two people read a children's book the same, and had me read this out loud to her when she gave it to me/Lorelei, and then she read it to us.  It's true!  We all focus on different words, emphasize different is pretty interesting.
Kiefer cozying up with a bunch of books...


Stacey gave Lorelei this book when she was a baby, and now Kiefer enjoys it today.  I like it because it's simple and short and has a nice rhyme to it.  It's a nice, quiet bedtime book.  I also really like it because I can easily make it silly--on the page with "I love you like I love blueberry pancakes," Kiefer and I pretend to scoop the pancakes off the page and into our mouths.  On the page "I love you like strawberry milkshakes," we pull the book to our mouths and pretend to sip from the straw on the page.  We chuckle and then read, chuckle some more and then read some more.

Kiefer is definitely beginning to love books.  Last week he started to pull books into a chair and read them, one by one, and then going to the shelf to get more.  He's 18 months old now, around the age when Lorelei began to become book obsessed (crazy! so young!).  His attention span has grown drastically in the past month or two, and he can easily sit through many lengthy board books.  Today when he woke (too early, and unhappily) from his nap, he was quickly mollified when I pulled him on my lap and read eight books to him.  Then--no joke!--he pushed me off the chair in his room and kept reading on his own.

This is a cute book, and Kiefer is a cute kid.  Not that I'm biased.  Thank you again, Auntie Stacey!

Monday, November 5, 2012

New Books for Victims of Hurricane Sandy

I was writing last night about doing good, giving back, and contributing to something bigger than oneself and what should arrive in my inbox this morning?  The opportunity to do all that!  And it's book-related, so I couldn't help but share the information here.

The organization First Book, whose mission it is to provide books to kids in need, is raising money to provide books for victims of Hurricane Sandy.  $2.50 will buy a new book for a child affected by the storm. (That's less than the price of an overpriced latte.)

Please click on the logo if you'd like to help:

The First Thanksgiving: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Kathryn Lynn Davis

The First Thanksgiving: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Kathryn Lynn Davis

Rating: 5 cooperative stars

My blog entries have been a bit long lately, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet, just like this book for the littlest of little readers.

This is the best Thanksgiving book I've found that explains the holiday in simple, understandable (and rhyming!) words.  The story focuses on the arrival of the Pilgrims, and the cooperation between them and the Native Americans who welcomed them--how the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to survive in the New World.  And then, to celebrate their new friendship, they had a big feast together.

These are the people who showed them how
To fish and hunt and sow and plow.
That's it, not much more to it, except for the ever-popular lifting of flaps that kids (even 5- or 6-year olds) love.  This silly little addition actually serves a purpose: to pull little kids into books, to get them interested, to get them to sit and listen a little while longer.  And the images hiding under these flaps are pretty darn cute--my favorite is when the empty fishing lines turn into a line with a nice-sized catch.

This is a very cute for all those out there looking for a book for their grandchild or child's first or second Thanksgiving...

P.S.  I realize that on the cover of the book the author is "Nancy Davis" and I've written Kathryn Lynn Davis, as I have found it many times online.  I'm confused, too...!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

 Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

Rating: 4 stars

We all know--possibly by heart--the wonderful Snowy Day.  One of the best winter books of all time.  But Ezra Jack Keats wrote a bunch of other books, too, that are worth checking out.  One of my favorite things about his books is the different perspective he offers to kids who live in communities like ours.  We live in a sweet house with a gigantic yard and woods surrounding us, where we can see our neighbors well only in the winter, when the leaves are off the trees.  It is quite idyllic; I am quite fortunate.

Therefore, the idea of apartments and apartment living is, literally, a foreign concept to them.  I love Keats' books because he incorporates apartment living in all of his books--a shared hallway, walking up the stairs to the door, playing on the sidewalk, sitting on the stoop.  There is so much to city living that is really a different culture than that which they are experiencing now.  I want our trio to understand that apartments exist and what they are like--and how fortunate we are to have all the space that we have.

Today we added a little to Keats' words and walked all around our old neighborhood in Arlington.  We lived in a single family home there, but along our walk today we saw several apartment complexes, so I had the opportunity to add a visual to the words in this book and others.  Lorelei and I noted how tall the buildings were (was it better to live on the top, middle or bottom? we mused) and how small the outdoor spaces were (what sort of garden could you have?).  It was interesting, one of those moments you can see your child's mind stretched, if only just a little.

Anyway, Whistle for Willie is one of my favorite Keats books, aside from the wonderful Snowy Day.  It's the next in line, a sequel to the classic, and Peter really really really wants to learn how to whistle so he can call his dog, Willie.  In a day that is quite ordinary for him, Peter focuses on whistling with all his might.  And for those of you out there with children who are trying to whistle, you've got to crack a smile at the image and sound of their plight!  Peter is a likable little fellow, and every reader, big and small, will applaud his efforts and the real whistle that finally comes from his mouth at the end.

On a slightly different note, I'm happy to say that none of my kids can whistle.  Yet.  One of my nieces learned how to whistle about a year ago and MAN was there a lot of whistling at their house!  She wanted to practice that new talent of hers at the breakfast table, while playing, during a show, after reading, at the dinner name it, she was was whistling while doing it.  I had to laugh, even at my exasperated sister's face.  So we only check this book out only every now and then, because whistling isn't a skill that I encourage, for my own sanity's sake!

Woodrow for President by Cheryl Shaw Barnes and Peter W. Barnes

Woodrow for President by Cheryl Shaw Barnes and Peter W. Barnes

Rating: 4.5 stars

In the background as I type is the third election commercial in a row.  Ugh.  While I'm tired of hearing these ads and commercials, getting kids interested in citizenship is so important--I hope you are able to choke down your distaste for certain parts of the election (at least in front of them) in order to sow a seed or two of pride in their country.  It's hard, but worth it.

The Barnes couple is local--for me, anyway, in Northern Virginia.  They have found a way to put aside the unsavory side of politics and teach the basics of government to young children through a good-sized collection of books.  I recently reviewed three of their books for a local magazine (click here to read them); I gave those books--about Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court--two thumbs' up.  In all of them, they do an exceptional job of taking a complex subject and breaking it down into an understandable explanation for kids.  In Woodrow for President, the Barnes duo manage to include anything and everything about the campaign EXCEPT the aforementioned ads and commercials to which we're all listening.

Seriously, the book starts at the birth of Woodrow the mouse!

That is the only downside of the book--it really is dense for a children's book.  The rhymes make the book more inviting for kids, and the pictures provide enough to check out while their favorite adult reads.   There are so many facts in this book that you've got to take the time to read it slowly, answering questions as they come.

But the fact that it starts with Woodrow's birth makes this book different from the other election books we've read.  I really appreciate how the authors make a point of telling about the young life of the mouse who will one day become President.  In the first bunch of pages, kids see and hear Woodrow be a good citizen by working hard, studying well, registering to vote, and starting a family and nice little life.  And then my favorite lines of the book, when he decides to go into politics:
For you see, Woodrow felt he'd been blessed from the start--
Given such a good life, that he felt in his heart
That someone like him should give back, with good grace--
To help make his town--and the world--a good place.
I love that.  LOVE it!  The idea of "giving back" is something I'd like to inject not only in my own kids but also their classmates and every other kid I've ever run across.  It's what inspired me to go to Calcutta (before it became Kolkata) and Thailand to help others.  Because isn't that what it's all about?  Helping others!  Giving back!  Contributing to something larger than you!

I'll stop off my soapbox,'s so hard when I could talk about that for a looooong time....!

This is my favorite election book, though it really is for 5- or 6-year olds or even older readers.  There's so much information jam-packed into the pages that you really need to take the time to stop reading and talk about what you've just read with your children or students before going on.  (If Grammy was in charge of this one, it'd take two hours to read.  Loquacious is her middle name.)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier

If I Ran for President by Catherine Stier, illustrated by Lynne Avril

Rating: 3 stars

This morning I had the lovely and fun opportunity to catch up with my dear old dad.  (He's actually not that old, and has been wise for several decades.)  Just the two of us--our spouses stayed home, no grandkid interrupted us, I didn't have to share him with any Army pal.  It wasn't a total break from adulthood as our topics of conversation ranged from parenting to partnering, life after my stay-at-home stint to life after general-ship.  I can't tell you how lucky I feel for having the dad I have; my eyes are filled with tears and my heart is full of sadness for those who are, for whatever reason, without a dad.

Dad and I decided to spend the morning "hiking" around the Capitol.  It was an excuse to hang out together while taking in the sights and have a blessedly long time to talk.  Included in the many things we have in common: hiking at ridiculously fast paces, running stupidly long distances, and reading a crazy number of books.  Dad puts me to shame on this last one, but I have three little ones, and his two are grown.  So...maybe I'll catch up in a few decades!

Kate for President!
As we rounded the curve into the FDR Memorial, we saw a little bookstore for book-loving tourists.  Our conversation had already turned to books several times; I was worried we might stay in this warm little store looking at books for the rest of the morning instead of huffing around the mall in the chilly morning.  The children's section was pretty good, and I couldn't help but buy a few election books for our trio.

And this one--check out the cover--how could I NOT buy a book with Ben's name on it...literally?!  While a fine book to teach older kids about the Presidential election, Catherine Stier doesn't do a great job of making the many facts involved digestible for tykes, or at least served in small bites between an age-appropriate, engaging story line.

My other problem with this book is sort of silly: Every third or fourth page, the young Presidential candidate changes.  It is as if Stier couldn't decide whether the kid candidate should be black or white, a girl or boy, so she doesn't decide and throws them all in.  Ben and Lorelei were both confused.  But they listened happily anyway, and checked out the illustrations of debates, campaign signs, Capitol building, and Air Force One.  There is a  LOT of information on these pages!

I admit that finding this book and the others was not the highlight of my day.  You probably already figured that...
Having a beer with my Dad.
Spending the morning walking all around the monuments with my dad, chatting and laughing with him, crying a little and philosophizing about things much, much bigger than ourselves...  I am a very lucky daughter.  It was fun, too, to tell Lorelei and Ben (and Kiefer too) that I was hanging out with my dad for the day--that even as an adult I valued our relationship so much I was investing time away from my own family to strengthen that bond.  I sure hope one day, 30 years from now, they'll want to walk around the mall with me, listening and talking and questioning and laughing about all the wonderful and tough things in life.

My fingers are crossed (please, please, please let this wish come true!)...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Madam President by Lane Smith

Madam President by Lane Smith

Rating: 3.5 stars

I'm a stay-at-home mom with three young kids, so...keeping current with the news is not my first priority.  I must (sheepishly) admit that there have been a few times when I've heard a big piece of news and had to pretend that I already knew about it.  For example, troops being pulled out of Iraq.  This is particularly embarrassing when your dad is a retired general and your brother-in-law is active duty.  I'm pretty ashamed about that one.

But even I know that next week is the Presidential Election!

See, I ain't no dummy.  Just a tiny bit ignorant as I'm wrapped up in the immediacy of the needs within my own little existence on this planet of ours.

Why, the President is the most important person in the whole wide world!
(And the most humble.)
My choice aside, it's been fun to listen to Lorelei have a small opinion on the matter.  "I'm voting for our President, of course!" she tells me every time I bring it up.  Of course I tried to find a few books on the subject so to provide Lorelei and Ben some background into the election.  I had high hopes for this one, but don't love it as much as I expected to.

The words in the book outline the President's job.  If you close your eyes and just listen, you'll get an accurate description, complete with kissing babies and taking photo-ops, creating a good Cabinet and brokering treaties.  If you open your eyes, you see that each picture illustrates the grade school-version of that job.  Well, kissing babies is still kissing babies...  But brokering treaties involves fighting classmates, and attending a state funeral involves the death of a frog, nothing more.
A President needs protection at all times.

I do appreciate Lane Smith (click here for reviews of his books on my blog).  And I think I'll appreciate this book in another year or two, but right now the jokes are a little too old for Lorelei.  The little girl who is Madam President has her nose in the air in the vast majority of pictures, and I just don't like that image.

This is a good book for elementary students, I think...  I'll keep it in mind in four years, as long as I'm aware of the election that will take place then.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

 Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

Rating: 4.5 stars

It's rare that a book makes me tear up and also chuckle a bit.  So Bone Dog deserves a few minutes in the spotlight, not just for the absolutely fabulous illustrations, but for the story itself.

The story starts off with a little boy riding a big dog within a pack of running dogs.  "Ella and Gus had been friends for a long, long time."  The dog promises--under a full moon so his promise can't be broken--to always be with Gus.

On the next page, we see Gus without Ella, forcing himself to go about his days when Ella is gone.

Sniff, sniff.

Part of the going-about-his-day includes going trick or treating, and Gus dresses as a skeleton and heads home through a cemetery.  He soon finds himself surrounded by real skeletons who, when they realize he's a "real, live boy," they move to grab him.

(Kinda spooky...was surprised Lorelei and Ben didn't balk at it.)

But then, "the wind calmed and the moon broke shimmering from the clouds."  A bone dog--old Ella, now just bones--flies in with a smile (she must have been a Golden Retriever).  The skeletons laugh when Gus wants to fight them with a bone dog, but they quickly stop laughing when Gus and Ella whistle and howl for that large pack of dogs from the first page.

And then I chuckled, realizing that the dogs were going to chase the skeletons.  For their bones!  Three huge, wordless illustrations follow.  First, this one to the right, and then the pack of dogs, and then a small Dauchsund proudly trotting off with a single bone.

"Will I see you again?" asks Gus.  Ella wags her tail to respond under the full moon.

The pictures in here are some of the best.  Rohmann has won a Caldecott for his My Friend Rabbit, but I think this one is better than that one.  This is a very beautiful, slightly spooky, slightly funny, super touching book--wrapped in a simple tale of a boy and his dog.

Five Little Pumpkins by Dan Yaccarino

Five Little Pumpkins by Dan Yaccarino

Rating: 4 stars

I'm only reviewing this cute little baby book so that I can tell you a Halloween story and share a few pictures from our evening that are too cute to keep to myself.
Lorelei's inventory

First, a story:  So just before I send Lorelei, whose school is closed today, and Ben off to quiet time and raid their Halloween stash of candy (a whopping total of 18 items for Lorelei, 19 for Ben), Lorelei "does math" with her candy.  Really, the clever little girl is creating an inventory.

Drat!  She'll totally know what I took!

Wait, Ben didn't create an inventory...  I'll be right back...he won't miss a Snickers.  Or three.

Second, the book: One of our favorite author/illustrators, Dan Yaccarino, creates simple, bold pictures to the preschool song: "Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate / The first one said, "Oh my, it's getting late!" etc.  Very simple, very cute, great little song for your great little one.

Third, some pictures: How cute are these trick or treaters?!
Lorelei the flamingo
Twin witches!
Little bee


Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kahara

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara

Rating: 5 spooky stars

We live in too rural an area to go trick or treating ("C'mon, kids, just five more minutes until we get to the next house!  You can make it for one more piece of candy!") so we drive over to my sister's house.  Our three plus their four make an instant pack, the kind of pack of kids that makes Halloween Halloween.  Last night they zoomed from house to house, excited for a piece of candy, running and laughing wildly at each other and with each other.

Lorelei and Ben, and of course Kiefer, are still happy with the lower range on the spook-o-meter.  It's a funny balance, finding books and stories and shows that are just spooky enough for them.  I'm happy that I didn't go overboard, because my sleep is interrupted enough.

This book, from the kids' beloved Grammy, is a perfect example of a barely spooky, but very cute book.

Here's a little story of a girl who moves into a new house.  But the girl wasn't a normal girl--she was a witch! And the house wasn't a normal house--it was haunted!  She isn't worried about cohabiting with ghosts because she knew how to catch them, which she promptly does.  And then washes them!

Who knew ghosts were dirty, and that you could pop them into a front-loader to rectify the situation?!

She makes curtains--smiley ones--with most of the ghosts, and a tablecloth and blanket with others.  She uses the last two to tuck her cat and herself in at night.

She knew how to catch ghosts.  "How lovely," she said.  "I hope there are some more!"  And there were.
The artwork in the book is one of the reasons I love the book.  One blogger was inspired to do her own cut-out activity with her kids...check it out here.  (I think I'll have to wait a few years until I bust out the X-acto knife with my trio.)  This book is a great one--for next year, as I'm a little late to inform  you of its wonderful-ness for this Halloween.  But, c'mon, we both know that you have extra candy sitting around that you'll be munching on after bedtime, so you might has well have this book around to join you.