Sunday, January 20, 2013

Building Our Home by Jonathan Bean

Building Our Home by Jonathan Bean

Rating: 5 stars

Everyone in our house likes this book, but Ben is the most smitten.  Here is a book that has the potential to stay in his head and work its magic through childhood and into adulthood.  Can one children's book do that?  I sure do think so.

Or maybe he's just trying to shove the pictures in his brain through osmosis; he fell asleep with his head on the last page of this book.  I think there's a little pile of Ben drool still there...

Anyway, this book is a gem.  Based on the true story of his parents moving out to the country and building their own home with the help of all kids big enough to wield a hammer, Jonathan Bean writes a simple tale of building his family's home.  His core family--at the beginning of the book, four people, but by the end there's an additional baby--is the work crew.  Each page shows them working hard, together.  "Dad lays the rocks one on top another while we fill the loud mixing machine."  Later, Grandpa visits with his backhoe (Ben: "Does Grand-Dad have a backhoe, Mommy?"  Me, thinking of how my father doesn't even have a tool box: "I don't think so, Ben, but we can call and ask. You never know.")

But this year the first frost arrives early.
But more people are needed to build this house, of course, and they throw a frame-raising party where extended family comes to help as well as workers from the quarry and sawmill.  Everyone pitches in then, and for the moving in party at the end of the book.

The last pages of the book, after the story is complete, is the wonderful Author's Note.  Bean shares six pictures of his family constructing "the Bean Homestead" that he helped build and then grew up in.  He lauds the "wise love of two parents, the companionship of three sisters, and a practically lived faith."  He also says that in real life the house didn't take just 18 months like in the book.  It took five years.  I'm glad he admits to fictionalizing his childhood a bit, lest we dreamers get any crazy ideas to build our own homes in a year or two.

But we who are lucky only remembers the good times from childhood.  A house--a home--was built, and that's what the author remembers.  The New York Times rightly praised this book last week, read it here, (I should be reading this week's paper instead of typing this...).  I love that the Times fit Building Our Home in among two other books about America.  It doesn't scream out patriotism, but it does imbibe the pioneer spirit that is oh-so-wonderfully American.

I really do wonder if, for Ben, this is one of those books that really captures his imagination in a great, great way.  Time will tell, as it always does.

(As if this post isn't long enough.  So I found out on his blog that the author lives in Harrisburg, PA, and had an open house at THE house from the book.  Man!  I might have driven the two hours to attend with my book in hand.  Dorky confession, I realize...  Hmmm, do you think the author might do it again sometime?)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Oink, Moo, Meow by Sterling Publishing Co.

Oink, Moo, Meow by Sterling Publishing Co.

Rating: 4 stars

Here's a little book for little guys and girls.  Kiefer is nearly 20 months old and doing his best to talk.  He can say "blue" and "uh-oh" and "da-da" and a handful of other words.  The rest of his emotions, opinions, and desires he grunts.  "Ugh.  Ugh.  Ugh!!"  (Lorelei often translates: "Mommy, that means yes."  Um, thanks.)

I'm not going to lie: This is not my favorite phase.

To shorten it as much as I can, to do as much as I can to encourage the word-building to happen in a matter of months rather than years, I am providing books like Oink, Moo, Meow.  There's not much to this book.  Just a picture of an animal and the sound it makes.  "The donkey says 'hee-haw!'" and "The bear says 'Grrr!'"  But hopefully Kiefer will pick up on the sounds and think it's fun to practice them, so to get us all to the talking phase as soon as possible.

Because at some point, someone else will be in the car when I'm trying to get him to talk.  And I know they are going to go jump out of the car and choose to walk after listening to me: "KEEE.  KEEEE.  KEEEEEEE-Fer!  Say it, Kiefer!  KEEE.  KEEEE. KEEEEEEEE-fer!"  (times infinity).

Monday, January 7, 2013

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Rating: 2.5 stars

What?!  There is another book like I Want My Hat Back, where the bear eats the rabbit because the rabbit took his hat?!  Of course there is.  If the first is popular, there will definitely be a sequel.

This time a tiny fish steals a hat from a big fish.  He admits that he stole it.  He's proud of it.  He thinks he can get away with it (literally).  Nope.  The big fish wakes up from his nap and is hot on the trail of the little thief. He finds the little fish in some reeds and GULP...  He swims out of the reeds with his hat back on his own head.


I see how some kids think this is funny, but...I can't help but act my age and...not laugh.

The Milkman by Carol Foskett Cordsen

The Milkman by Carol Foskett Cordsen, illustrated by Douglas B. Jones

Rating: 5 stars

I am smart enough to know that the 1950s weren't exactly the best time to be a woman, especially a stay-at-home mother like I am now.  But that doesn't keep me from love, love, loving this book we came across at the library a few weeks ago.  The the sweet story, unique rhyme, the nostalgic illustrations, leave me with my fingers crossed that one of the kids will choose THIS book for bedtime every night while we are lucky to have it home with us.  The Milkman is Carol Foskett Cordsen's first children's book; I sure hope there are a whole lot more comin'.

First, the sweet story: With the moon and stars still overhead, the milkman, Mr. Plimpton, and his sleepy cat load up the milk truck, hop in, and head into town to deliver fresh milk to his customers.  He whistles merrily (didn't everyone whistle merrily back then?) as he goes from house to house.  Mr. Plimpton makes mental comments on each one--he knows them all by name (didn't everyone know everyone by name then?).  The same home-made sign keeps popping up "Lost my dog! Love, Caroline" in the text and illustrations until, at the end, he finds the pup and returns him to Caroline.  When he's done being the hero, he goes home to the best part of his day: breakfast with his own family (didn't all dads eat all meals with their families back then?).

Second, the unique rhyme:  I do love a good rhyme, but this one is the first I've seen that rarely involves full sentences.  The quick beat make it a fantastic read-aloud book (for older kids like Lorelei, it was fun to point out how this poem was different).  Check it out for yourself:
Past the schoolhouse.  Past the park.
Straight down Main Street.  Quiet.  Dark.
Red light.  Stopping.  Green light.  Creeping.
Milkman humming.  Milk cat sleeping. 
Finally stopping.  Orders ready.
Cat still sleeping.  Snoring steady.
Double milk for Morgan twins.
Red house full of Kansas kin. 
Next house empty.  New folks soon.
Bensons left in early June.
Hope the Bensons like the Bay.
Hope the new folks want to stay.
Third, the nostalgic illustrations by Douglas B. Jones are just wonderful.  They are clear and crisp and cool.  The milkman strides long across the sidewalks of the sleepy town.  There is an easy smile set on his face.  As soon as he sees the first missing dog sign, that same dog begins to appear in each illustration, usually lit up a little to help readers find him.  Any smart author and illustrator know that a little look-and-find aspect to any book bumps it up a notch!

Definitely, this is one of the sweetest books we've read in a long time.  A fantastic find!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Santa from Cincinnati by Judi Barrett

 Santa from Cincinnati by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Rating: 5 joyful stars

(I know Christmas is over, but...our lights are still

One day, I'd like to write children's books.  You'd think I've read enough to know exactly what it takes, right?  On the one hand, yes.  On the other hand, books like Santa from Cincinnati just completely and totally humble me into a non-writing status.  This book is that creative, that impressive, that good.

Judi Barrett, of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs fame, has created a past for Santa Claus in this gem of a book.  Born in Cincinnati to a less famous Mr. and Mrs. Claus, his parents found his unusual name in an unusual way; "S, A, N, T, A" floated around together in their alphabet soup.  He was "jolly and roly-poly and had rosy cheeks from day one."  His toddler years included all the normal things: first steps (while wearing big, black boots), first words (ho, ho, ho), favorite song ("Jingle Bells") and favorite toys (stuffed reindeer).  To look more like his dad, young Santa started wearing a fake (white) beard and mustache.

My favorite [toy] was a stuffed reindeer.
In fact, since I liked it so much. my mother got me several more.
Young Santa and his father spent hours in their basement building toys together, adding to Santa's already big collection.  The toys were soon the subject of much awe and desire; the children of Cincinnati pressed their faces against the little basement windows to watch the man and boy make these toys.  The kids asked if they could have one, and soon Santa had a list that grew longer and longer every day.  One day before his birthday (December 25th) he realized he had way too many toys, so Santa decided to give them away--one to each child on his list.

He put on his red coat and hat, pulled some toys on his sled, and shoved more toys in a giant pillowcase he carried on his back.  Not surprisingly, the night was a huge success!  Santa decided to make it an annual thing.

After college, meeting and marrying the next Mrs. Claus, enlisting a bunch of people to help, and relocating to a bigger and better facility (with central heating), Santa became more efficient by shortening his list by finding out who was naughty and who was nice.  And his reindeer benefit from modern technology--his sleigh is now jet-propelled and thanks to his GPS, they never get lost.

The story would be great on its own, but Kevin Hawkes' illustrations bump it from awesome to incredible.  Each illustration just adds so much!  This is just a book full of joy--that sounds pretty hokey as I type it out, but there is so much joy in the faces of each picture and so much joy in the story that you can't help but feel a little bit of it as you read it to your little ones.

Even the week after the holidays.

I think the only drawback to this great book is that it explains Christmas without any religion--I can't really add much to that because I'm trying to figure out how and what to teach my trio.  But even with that drawback (because you've probably done a better job than me at explaining Christmas), this is truly one of the best holiday books I've ever read.  Thank you once again to Julia, my friend's daughter, for pointing it out to us.