Thursday, March 28, 2013

We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Take Two)

We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Rating: 5 stars

Almost three years ago (!) I blogged about We're Going on a Bear Hunt--and I'm sure anyone reading this is familiar with the book and loves it as much as we do.

An hour ago I was mentally counting the minutes until bedtime.  I'm sure you've never been there.  You're probably a more patient parent than I am.  It was that time of day when they are fed but tired, energetic but unfocused.  And I was ready for bedtime--theirs, that is.  We've had a full day of hiking with Grammy and a nice quiet time and good meals...I've been a good mom today. many minutes left?

I was checking my Facebook for distraction from my countdown and came across this: 100 Ways to be Kind to Your Child.  Hmm.  I clicked on it and immediately loved it.  It's a long list of little things that have a big impact (in case you're wondering, checking your Facebook is not on the list), and they are great ideas to sprinkle into your daily routine.

Like #47--Read a book and then act it out, like We're Going on a Bear Hunt.

What a fantastic idea!  I told the kids what we were going to do.  Ben quickly volunteered to be the bear.  Lorelei and I started in the playroom, and swish-swashed, squelch-squirched, stumble-tripped, tip-toed our way to him at the front door.  When we got there, to the grinning, growling Ben, we said "One shiny wet nose?" and touched his nose.  "Two big furry ears?"  And touched his ears.  "Two big goggly eyes?"  And touched his eyebrows.  "It's a bear!" and then ran screaming, and he ran after us growling and laughing.

Fun!  Lorelei took a turn being the bear, but I think everyone's favorite was when Kiefer and I were bears--we chased them for about ten minutes through the house, finding the bigger kids in every hiding place they could find, and laughing wildly.  The best thing for them: running through the house screaming, being chased by Mommy-the-bear.  The best thing for me: crazy but channeled fun, an activity long enough to sustain us until bedtime.

I had to pass along the list and the idea and the laugh...just in case you find yourself in need of a 15 minute activity during your hardest part of your day.

Now I'm wondering what other books I can do this with...  Any ideas for me?

Go, Go, Grapes! by April Pulley Sayre

Go, Go, Grapes!: A Fruit Chant by April Pulley Sayre

Rating: 5 stars

The other night the kids and I spent the night at Grammy's house in Winchester; the next morning after a not-so-good-night's-sleep (but who remembers the nights when they get enough sleep?!) we drove to the charming old town of Winchester to a cute little independent book store called Winchester Book Gallery.  Grammy had been there once before, loved it, but thought that there wasn't a children's section.  A quick review of the store on Yelp revealed she was wrong!  (It was the first time in her whole life, I'm sure.)  Not only was there a children's section, but it was in a LOFT that overlooked the rest of the store!  We had to check it out.

Kiefer looks down from the lofty children's section.
It was awesome!  Always a fan of quirky book stores, I am a fan of this one.  And glad that I'll be going back frequently when we visit Grammy (and GrandBill, too).  Plus the local mega-chain bookstore in our area just closed, so the kids and I are blown away by all the new books that have come out since the last time we were in a bookstore.  So...I was a pushover when Lorelei asked if she and Ben and Kiefer could each choose a new book.  YES!

Anyway, they each made solid selections (I MIGHT have chosen Kiefer's for him and you MIGHT be reading about it sometime soon), and though I tried to get Lorelei to choose Go, Go, Grapes!: A Fruit Chant, she chose a girly tea-party-themed book.  Sigh.

I was super excited to see the sequel to Rah Rah Radishes, a book we've checked out a dozen times and recommended to dozens of friends.  (That'd be all of them.)   The illustrations are huge, bright, inviting photographs sure to inspire a few "What sort of fruit is that?!"  Like Rah Rah Radishes, this book is a fun, rhyming chant full of familiar and exotic fruits that is sure to get your kids to try at least one new fruit.  Here's a little example:
Canteloupe. Watermelon.  Mind that rind!
Figs are fabulous.  Currants call.
Mango.  Mangosteen.
Chomp, chomp, chomp!
Grapefruit.  Dragon fruit.
What a find!
Glum?  Go plum!
Or apricot!
Try a papaya.
(Please leave a comment if you've tried a mangosteen or rambutan, two super yummy fruits that I ate way too much of in Thailand when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.  And if you know the Thai word for rambutan...I will find them and we'll split a bag of 'em!)

Anyway, fruity Thai memories aside, this is a fun food book that you should check out tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

This is San Francisco by Miroslav Sasek

This is San Francisco by Miroslav Sasek

Rating: 5 stars

I know I have said it before, but I really like to provide Lorelei, Ben and Kiefer books about places we're going to visit before we actually get there.  Whether it's a baseball game or art museum, dairy farm or Washington, D.C., they like to know what they're getting themselves into.  Or, because I prefer to deny them the luxury of opinions at this young age, they like to know what I am getting them into.  Yup, that's a bit more accurate!

So it was with our recent trip to Northern California.  My husband travels there for work from time to time, so he got for the kids this classic travel book about a year ago.  They've loved it ever since--at first, only because Daddy got it for them, but then they realized the pictures were really cool.  They quickly realized that this city called San Francisco was very different from our sleepy ex-burb town in Northern Virginia.  And finally, they loved it because they knew we were going there for Spring Break.
Steep, steep hills!

This book is vintage cool--even though your kids will have no idea what you're talking about if you tell them that, you'll know it by flipping through the pages.  Sasek was born in Czechoslovakia in 1916, and worked for Radio Free Europe in the 1950s before he began working on his "This Is..." series--his first was This is Paris.  This is San Francisco was first published in 1962, and reprinted in 2003.  Like the other books in the series, it is true to its original within the main pages, but has updated information in the back of the book.

For your child, the book is like a tour of the city without leaving your lap.  Lorelei was fascinated with the crazy angle of the streets in the pictures, and was delighted to find that the streets really are that steep (even after trudging up them to check out Lombard Street).  Ben loved the Golden Gate Bridge best, and for months he'd find it on our placemat map.  He was so thrilled to see it from afar, then actually go over it last week!
Kiefer and I on steep Lombard Street...
he got a deal, I got a workout!

There are a lot of words in this book, which makes for a long read and therefore best for kids older than 4, but the pictures are so engaging that younger kids will get wrapped up in it, too.

Sasek's "This is" series is good to know about.  We've given This is Washington, D.C., to friends of ours who, like us, live near D.C.  But there are a bunch more--London, Paris, New York, Rome, Texas, and more (click here for complete list).  They make great gifts for kids who are moving or traveling to one of these areas.

Reading plus exploring (whether that's traveling a long distance or some place right down the road) is a great combination.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Maybelle the Cable Car by Virginia Lee Burton

Maybelle the Cable Car by Virginia Lee Burton

Rating: 4.5 stars

We just returned from a big ol' family trip to Northern California.  It was the first time I'd ever really  been there (does a two day stint in San Francisco in college for a conference and a ten hour layover in Los Angeles really count?) and I was blown away by the beauty and hipness of the place.  I suddenly realized how uncool I am here on the East Coast!

But rather than go on a tangent about my lack of cool, I'll try and focus on books.   Before this and any trip, I try to find a bunch of books about our destination so to provide a context for the kids.  Since they have few or no expectations and little experience to draw upon, I really think giving them picture-filled books to show them what we'll see is helpful.  Plus sights fly by their window so quickly, I like for them to...pre-steep, if you the city as much as possible.

So, Maybelle the Cable Car.  This is one of my favorite books by Virginia Lee Burton--it is charming, interesting, and informative.  Can't beat that!  In this book, the city fathers are thinking about retiring the cable cars in favor of buses, which are "newer and faster and more economical."  Maybelle is one of those cable cars, and she and her sisters are immediately dismayed at the news.  While some of the people are glad for progress, others are just as sad as Maybelle.  "We'll miss them...what a pity...We'll be like any other city."

So they call a public meeting and put it to a vote!  Obviously the cable cars win, but only after Big Bill the bus, the not-so-horrible enemy in the book, tries to climb the hills in the middle of the night.  At first, he thinks there's nothing to it.  But on a damp and foggy night, he slips, slides, and gets turned around.  He suddenly has a  little more respect for those cable cars.  So he concedes like a gentleman and beeps his horn to congratulate the cable cars as they take a victory climb up the hills of San Francisco.

Lorelei's I'm-on-a-cable-car grin.
After reading this book a dozen times at home and on the plane, all of us were VERY excited to ride the cable car.  We bought our tickets (and lost one...and I might have told a little lie that Lorelei was 4 not 5 so she didn't need one), stood in line, climbed aboard and held on tight.  Lorelei and Ben even got to stand-- though I did draw the line at letting them hang on to the side (see?  I am SO uncool!)--as our cable car noisily climbed up, up, up to the top of the hill.  We got off--where else?--at the Cable Car Museum so we could learn even more about the cable cars.  (Fascinating stuff there...I was eager to learn that Andrew Smith Hallidie, the inventor of the cable car, created it because he was an animal-lover, and he was tired of seeing horses get whipped while struggling up the hills' wet cobblestones.)

Anyway, a really good book even if you're not heading to San Francisco, but required reading if you are!

P.S.  In a man-I-wish-I-had-seen-that! moment, I found a nice little list of children's books (click here) about San Francisco on the blog  But I did find this blog post useful about kid-friendly activities and sites around the city.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl

The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Rating: 4 stars

I'm sure everyone here knows about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.  But Roald Dahl also has a handful of shorter novels with the same wicked sense of humor, same lessons tucked into a good story, same fabulous drawings by Quentin Blake.  The length and content definitely make these books better for the 4 and over crowd, in my opinion, and I suggest reading them first or reading them with your child.

But, wait, I must issue a warning!  These books are not for every family out there!  Here's why:

  • Most of them involve words like "stupidest" and "shut up" and "ugly."
  • Many of them involve some desire to kill an animal, usually with the use of a gun.
  • Most plots have the kids--human or animal--in peril.
  • A few characters, including the crocodile, die.  (But their deaths always dramatic and funny in a dark sort of way...the crocodile gets whipped around and around by the elephant, thrown up into galaxy and crashes headfirst into the hot, hot sun.  He was "sizzled up like a sausage!")

A little funny?
Hmmm.  As I wrote my little warning, I'm wondering...  Who is going to want to read this book?!  What good stuff does it have in it?!  Why did I just give it a 4 star rating?!

So let me answer my own questions, even though I'm generally better at asking than answering things in this life of mine.

Here's why you might want to read this book:

  • The enormous crocodile aims to eat some nice, juicy little children.  But the other animals in the jungle want to save the children, so they, one at a time, stand up to the mean crocodile.  See?  Good vs Evil, and good wins!  Especially at the end, but I'll get to that.
  • Kids like funny stories.  I mean, at least mine do.  And the enormous crocodile has some good ideas on how to trick little children to come towards him so he can gobble them up.  He stands on the tip of his tail to look like a palm tree, makes himself stiff as a board and then puts his belly on a log to look like a get the idea.  That is FUNNY STUFF!
  • Funnier?
  • This book has the oh-I-know-what's-going-to-happen quality that gets kids excited to listen hard and guess what crazy trick the crocodile is going to pull next.  And when they know the crocodile is disguised and ready to gobble up a little kid, Ben likes to yell at the kids, "Look out!  It's a crocodile!!"

So you decide.  Is the book for you?  Let me know what you think...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

We Eat Dinner in the Bathtub by Angela Shelf Medearis

We Eat Dinner in the Bathtub by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

Rating: 5 stars

How do you get a Ben to read?

One silly book + one sweet and silly big sister = lots of reading fun.

(yes, I thank my lucky stars for them--and Kiefer--each and every night!)

My Senator and Me by Senator Edward M. Kennedy

My Senator and Me: A Dog's-Eye View of Washington, D.C. by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, illustrated by David Small

Rating: 5 stars

Of all the children's books about politics, this is by far my favorite.  I don't mean to judge a book by its cover, but...c'mon, check out that cover.  Aren't you in love with that friendly canine already?  Just admit it...that pup is ca-yooot!

Without a doubt, David Small's fantastic illustrations once again make a good story into a fantastic book.  But the story alone would be pretty good.  Splash, Senator Kennedy's Portuguese Water Dog, is proud to be a senator's dog.  He's happy to explain the ins and outs of politics to readers who are just a little bigger than he is.

"If you want to serve your country, Washington, D.C., is a good place to be.  Washington is the capital of the United States.  The President lives there.  The Supreme Court works there.  The Congress--made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate--meets there.  And they all try to make our country a better, fairer, safer place for people and animals."
The real Splash.
(Oh, and the real Senator Kennedy.)

That's how it starts.  I was already hooked on the cover, but add that dose of patriotism and service...?  I'm a goner.

Just as the book gets a little serious about how a senator is elected, enter a batch of puppies from which the Kennedys select Splash.  And, from that point on (after, I'm guessing, some high-quality obedience training), Splash accompanies Senator Kennedy to his office in the Russell Senate Office Building where he sits through meetings, travelings on the underground tram, attends press conferences (as still as a statue), receives pets galore, and gets the quarreling committee meeting members' attention by howling.  The only place Splash is not permitted to go is on the Senate floor, where the Senators vote on a law to improve the quality of schools.

This is a great book with a few more lessons on our government for kids.  You can even write Splash at his email address (though I wish he wasn't so high-tech...can't he have a "snail mail" address?!), which is .


Bennett Cerf's Book of Riddles

Bennett Cerf's Book of Riddles with drawings by Roy McKie

Rating: 4.5 stars

Here's a classic that I read to Lorelei and Ben this morning, "quizzing" them to see if they remembered the answers.  They did!  And I did, too, because this book is so old I remember reading it when I was in elementary school (it was published in 1960, so there might be a few politically incorrect drawings but they are all such safe, non-sarcastic jokes that the book is still great)...

Some of my favorites:

What holds up a train?
Bad men!
What is big and red and eats rocks?

A big red rock eater!

Why did the little boy throw the clock out the window?

Because he wanted to see time fly!

What gets lost every time you stand up?

Your lap!

Silly.  Funny.  Giggle-worthy.  And some logic-filled brain-teasers, too!  Any book with an illustrations of bandits holding up a train is a good book in my book!  Does anyone else remember this book?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout

 Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout

Rating: 3.5 stars

I was just talking about how Ben is the biggest little backseat driver...and then he found this book at the library!  Thanks to this book,  Ben is armed with new, helpful information to help me navigate through suburbia.

Not only can Ben remind me when to go and stop at stoplights, he can now:

  • Tell me where the D for detours are.
  • Remind me to get G for gas.
  • Yell at me to pay attention when there's a M for merge up ahead.
  • Scream at me when the O for one way is not going our way.
  • Request a T for taxi when my car doesn't cut it.

Handy, huh?

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Busy Building Book by Sue Tarsky

The Busy Building Book by Sue Tarsky, illustrated by Alex Ayliffe

Rating: 4 stars

This is one of Ben's favorite books on construction.  The book follows the steps to build an office building in a big city, from plans to excavating, scaffolding to framing rooms.  It provides just a basic outline with minimal sentences, but included on each page are dozens of labels for those curious readers who want a little more information.  There's a lot going on in each page, so there is plenty to look at...and look at, and look at...  Definitely a good one for the construction collection in anyone's house.

And, speaking of construction, our construction adventure continues!  The house on Kirby Road that we're keeping an eye on is progressing from hole in the ground to a recognizable house.  Last week we picked up Lorelei from school and checked it out with the general contractor and our friend Sidd.
Look closely.  Can you see the hole in my jeans?
Note to self: Don't wear your good jeans when hopping fences.

When we arrived, Sidd invited us to hop over the (low, chain-link) fence, walk down a steep, muddy path, jump through a window-looking opening that was actually going to be a door, stroll around the "basement" while simultaneously dodging a handful of strong men swinging big ol' axes while digging trenches for pipes.

Did I mention that, in addition to holding the hands of my adventuresome 4- and 5-year old kids, 22-month old Kiefer and 62-yearold Grammy were tagging along?  And I (stupidly) was wearing my nicest jeans.  But did I let any of these factors stop me?  NO!  I'm THAT kind of mom who trespasses and traipses while looking cute!

Writing her initials in cement...all kids should do it once!
(Preferably legally.)
And I'm glad we did--because the kids had the chance to see the basement before it became a basement.  Sidd had plans for the house ready for us to page through, and the kids saw how it resembled artwork (albeit more precise).  They get a peak at how Sidd's imagination helped make this muddy hole become a home.  We walked around, with Sidd pointing out different things to the kids while I tried to keep them fairly clear of the swinging axes that might disfigure them (that'd be bad).  There was some fresh cement, and he let them write their initials in it with an iron stick that was lying in the dirt.  The kids' eyes were big the whole time while they soaked up this totally new and cool experience.

Next time, we're wearing boots.  And maybe Kiefer should stay with Grammy in a safer location...

Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood by Mike Artell

Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood by Mike Artell, illustrated by Jim Harris

Rating: 5 stars

Some books we read to educate, some to escape, some to inspire, some to answer deep questions.  But some books we read just to laugh.  Because laughter is delicious.

My husband is from Lafayette, Louisiana, so I've tried to make sure that our overstuffed bookshelves include some books that represent his story, his upbringing.  All books by Mike Artell should probably be in our house, permanently.  Not only are they written in fantastically creative verse with Cajun lingo infused in every beat, but they are wildly witty!

In Petite Rouge, Little Red Riding Hood is a duck, sent to visit her sick grandmother by pirogue (boat), across the swamp.  Instead of a wolf threatening her success, a 'gator named Claude is determined to take her lunch sack and life.  He scares Grandma away and dresses up like her (yup, it's a pretty hilarious illustration).  Petite Rouge outwits him by throwing some hot sauce-laden boudin (sausage) into his mouth, which causes a spicy eruption in his innards and he sends himself away for good.

But how the story is told makes that it so, so great!

Here's the part when Petite Rouge eyes up "Grandma" for the first time (read it out loud, it's better, trust me):
Ol' Claude make a smile,
an' he say, "It's dat flu.
It makes me all green wit' dem bomps,
dat's fo' tru'. 
"Why don' you come closer,
'cause I wanna se
all dat good food you mama
done cook fo' po' me. 
Petite Rouge Riding Hood
an' den Tejean de cat,
dey take a step closer
from where dey was at. 
Petite Rouge, she say, "Grand-mere!
I know you been sick,
but I t'ink mah eyes
be playin' on me a trick. 
"You mout' kinda big,
an' you nose kinda long,
an' I got me a feelin'
dat somet'in' bad wrong."
Every page or two I stopped to "translate" a bit for Lorelei and Ben, to make sure they comprehended the unfamiliar sounds coming out of my mouth.  I'm sure that if my husband heard me read this book (and Artell's other good one Three Little Cajun Pigs), that he'd probably cringe at some of my pronunciation--but that's the beauty of kids, they don't know!  They don't care!  It's like tripping a little when you're dancing a solo.  Will anyone really know?  Nope.  Just proceed with confidence and you'll be just fine.

This book is just downright fun--possibly more fun for the reader and other grown ups who appreciate the witty twists Artell produces.  It begs to be read aloud, which means it is, like all great things in life, meant to be shared.  If you've got a Cajun around you like I do, this is required reading dat's fo' tru'!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas

Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas

Rating: 5 stars

I have two mom friends with whom my trio and I have weekly "dinner parties."  This tradition started last summer when my pal   Steph and her two adorable blondies, Sophie and Ryker, realized we were tired of being the only grown up at the table.  We got together every Wednesday afternoon for a long play session followed by dinner.  We switched locations/houses/dinner responsibility every week--usually we met at one of our homes, but sometimes for a treat, we went to a local park for a summertime picnic.

At first, our goal was to simply break bread (albeit gluton-free) with good friends.  But we soon realized there were a ton of other benefits for the kids, including: learning how to eat at someone else's house, trying new food, how to be a good host in your own house, how to be a good guest in someone else's house.

But mostly, it was really fun.  And the older our kids get, the more time they spend playing without us moms, and the more we get to chat by ourselves.  What a treat!

It was at Steph's house last month that we came across this book.  Steph called to cancel our dinner because she was having someone come over to spend 30 minutes going over paperwork.  I said, "No!  Let us come over and I'll watch the kids so you can focus."  (You know you've got a good friend when you can say "no" to her...)  So the plans stuck and we headed over to her house after Lorelei got home from school.

Right as we were finishing dinner, the Someone came over to chat with the grown-ups of the house, and I was left with five kids.  Yikes!  Steph had shown me this book earlier, and when the kids were done eating and starting to get antsy, I grabbed Can You Make a Scary Face?  The book is PERFECT for situations like these, when you need to get and keep kids' attention.  For those times when you need a book to read to your child's class, this is The Book to grab.

Because all it really is is a funny looking ladybug giving "orders" to the kids.  "Hey, you!  Yes, I'm talking to YOU! Stand up!  No, I changed my mind...SIT DOWN!  No, I changed my mind AGAIN.  STAND UP!"

Those are the first three pages of this simple-but-wonderful book.  You see where this is going--down a very silly, giggle-filled road.  That's always a nice road to be on.  The book ends with the ladybug asking his audience to make the scariest face in the world in order to scare away a giant, hungry frog (who wants to eat ladybug pie for lunch).

Hmmm.  Maybe I should read this book to Ben's class before any other mom in his class sees this and knows about this book and reads it first...!