Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
Henry Holt & Company

Rating: 4 stars

Several months ago I came across a middle grade nonfiction book on a publisher's website that I just had to read. Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak is the story of a bear adopted by the 2nd Polish Corps during World War II. I was fascinated to learn how a group of soldiers fell in love with a bear, and it became a contributing, participating part of their unit. (Read my Goodreads review here.)

And still, I didn't know that Winnie-the-Pooh was inspired by the same type of unit, this time a British, not Polish unit, during World War I. This time a company that included Harry Colebourn who was stationed in Canada at the time. Harry was part of the veterinary corps and saw a little bear on a platform at a train stop. He rushed out to see her, ended up buying her from the hunter who killed the bear's mother before he saw her baby. When Harry rushed back onto the train with a bear cub in his hands, his friends and captain were dumbstruck.
Winnie's favorite game was hide-and-go-seek...

"I had to save her!" Harry protested. And he named her Winnipeg, after their company's hometown. Her name was shortened to Winnie by the time the company reached their destination.

As you'd probably expect, Winnie was a funny little member of their tribe. She played games with the men and diverted their attention from the reality of war they faced. She also got into a lot of trouble by...well, just being a bear. But all the men loved their new mascot.

Winnie traveled with Harry's company when they moved from Canada back to England. But when he received orders to care for horses injured from battle in France, Harry knew that Winnie shouldn't go along. He contacted the London Zoo, which had a brand-new place called the Mappin Terraces built exclusively for bears.

The real Harry with the real Winnie.
After a tearful good-bye, Winnie began her second life at the zoo. "We've never had a friendlier bear as Winnie," the zookeepers said. They even allowed children to ride on the bear!

One day, a man with a young boy visited Winnie at the London Zoo. The boy hugged Winnie and gave him milk. The boy's name was Christopher Robin; his father was A.A. Milne, a well-known author. That evening at bedtime, Christopher Robin wanted to hear stories about his stuffed animal bear, whose name he changed to Winnie-the-Pooh.

And the bear at the London Zoo became a little more famous.

This is one of two picture book biographies of Winnie-the-Pooh published this year--the duplication is no doubt caused by the fact that last year was the 100th anniversary of the birthday of the real bear that inspired Winnie-the-Pooh. I grabbed it off the new book shelf because I realized the bear's history when I saw a soldier hugging the little cub on the cover. And look, we all ended up learning a little more about one very famous little bear.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Adventures of Beekle The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

The Adventures of Beekle The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Little, Brown, and Company

Rating: 5 stars

The Caldecott (and Newbery) awards were announced when we were on vacation back in early February. I checked my phone like crazy to see which books (and their authors and illustrators) won... I'm not the only one who does this, right?!

In case you are more laid-back in your approach to children's literature, I'll fill you in: Here's the winner. Right here. Beekle. And it was a shocker! No one saw it coming. The experts thought Draw! or The Farmer and the Clown or Bad Bye, Good Bye or Three Bears in a Boat. But Beekle? It was a surprise win.

But it's worthy for sure. It took me some months to get my hands on it, because I often think that Caldecott winners have gorgeous art, but their appeal to kids is limited, or the story is just so-so. This year, that's not the case.

Here, they lived and played,
eagerly waiting to be imagined by a real child.
Beekle is an imaginary friend (if you see the title, he and his human believe he's unimaginary, or real) who lives in the imaginary world where imaginary friends live before their humans imagine them and unite with them. While all the other monsters and funny-looking whatevers get beamed up and zipped over to the real world, Beekle remains.

Until he decides to do something about all the waiting and waiting. He "did the unimaginable" and sailed to the real world. (You'll love how dull and drab the real world is compared to the amazingly colorful and exciting unimaginary world. I love, and my kids love, how Beekle is confused why "no kids were eating cake"--just grown-ups. Ha!)

Beekle looks and looks for his friend and climbs up a beautiful big tree to get a better view, but...still can't find the friend. Suddenly, below, a girl starts waving at him. They found each other!

The girl and imaginary friend are two peas in a pod. They laugh at the same jokes no one else gets, they made each other feel confident and comfortable. The book ends with: "Together, they did the unimaginable."
He climbed to the top of the tree and looked out,
wishing and hoping his friend would come.

Isn't the unimaginable possible with the support of one really great friend? I think so.

At the very least, add "Must check out Beekle immediately" to your long end-of-the-year to do list. Or just buy it for your kids or for the next birthday your kid attends. You might end up tucking it away because you just can't part the sweet, bold Beekle.

P.S. This book is SO similar to another recently released book, Marilyn's Monster, that I can't get over it. (Marilyn and her monster also find each other in a tree!) This is such a fun example of how two people could have the same idea, pursue it, and get it published around the same time--it has happened more than once. But if you've read both please comment so I don't feel like I'm the only one on earth chuckling at the coincidence!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
G.P. Putnam's Sons

Rating: 5 stars

Just a few minutes ago I was driving along and had to stop because two big ol' white geese were crossing the road. I stopped and watched them waddle past slowly, not caring how long it took them to get to the other side of the road. These two geese serve as some sort of proof that my kids don't know what it's like to grow up in a city, have a bus be their main (and perhaps only) form of transportation, or experience walking through a constant flow of humanity. The city life is just not my kids' experience.

But I want them to know that there are other experiences out there. I want them to step in other kids' shoes and see what other types of lives are like.

Thanks to Matt De La Peña's latest (and perhaps greatest) book Last Stop on Market Street, my kids can do just that. They can see what city life is like, and what a thoughtful, others-before-me day is like--all in one book.

A young boy named C.J. walks out onto the street, free from an hour of church, yet not yet totally free--this boy is not done with his Sunday routine. C.J. and his grandmother board a bus--Mr. Dennis' bus.  We're not sure where they're going just yet, but the ride gets off to a good start when Mr. Dennis pulls a coin from behind C.J.'s ear.

A scene you don't see often in picture books...
As all kids do, C.J. complains a bit about having to go on this errand when his friends are off playing. But, his grandmother reminds him, his friends "won't know the people he knows. And I'm sorry about that." As he looks around the bus, he sees a great sampling of our great, diverse nation. C.J. sees a tattooed man (he gets no mention, but I like that he exists, in this picture book, with all his tattoos). He talks with a blind man, who says you don't have to have eyes to see.

When C.J. envies two teenagers' iPod, his grandmother points out he's got the real, live version in a guitar-holding passenger across the aisle. She suggests he request a song, and the musician strikes up a diddy just for C.J. The performance earns the coin Mr. Dennis pulled from his ear.

Finally, they arrive to the last stop on Market Street: a soup kitchen.

"Why's it always so dirty here?" C.J. asks.

"Sometimes, when you're surrounded by dirt, C.J., you're a better witness for what is beautiful," his grandmother wisely and patiently replies.

The two greet the men and women at the soup kitchen and take their places to serve them.

I'd like my kids to walk in C.J.'s shoes in more ways than one. As a former volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity and the Peace Corps, I look forward to the days when my kids will take their places to serve others.

Friday, May 8, 2015

You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Könnecke

You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Könnecke
Gecko Press

Rating: 5 stars

"They" (those already-published, know-everything children's literature gurus) tell us yet-to-be-published writer wanna-bes to write books that have a definite beginning, middle, and satisfying ending. One that should surprise the reader. With as few words as possible (preferably no more than 500 words). Possibly with a lesson, but not a heavily delivered one. Oh--and make it funny, too.

Sigh. A tall order, for sure.

Yet Ole Könnecke delivers such a perfect, simple little story with such simple, delightful illustrations that I'm left in awe. I'm tempted to just throw in the towel right now! Or be inspired. (I choose the latter.)

Bert is a little bird whose big day is arrived. We see him at the end of a twig. He's trying to muster the courage to jump. He's well prepared, "mentally and physically." (I love that.)

Bert is well prepared, mentally and physically.
We're with him! Trying to help urge him along as he runs then screeches to a stop. He must eat a banana first. Then he'll be ready.

And he is. So he does.

We see him in mid-air. No wings flapping. Looking distressed. Saying "help" in what I'm sure is a pip-squeak of a voice.


And then... Splash! He's actually jumping in water! With three other feathered friends!

You tricked us, Ole Könnecke, in the most delightful way. Bravo!

Marilyn's Monster by Michelle Knudsen

Marilyn's Monster by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press

Rating: 5 stars

There's always a New Thing in kids' lives (and in the social parts of parenting, too, don't you think?). What's it in your child's world: An iPad? A specific brand of shoes? Certain socks? I'm willing to go out on a limb to say there is something that everyone wants, but only some people have in most schools in this country.

In Marilyn's school, that thing is monsters.

Everyone's got one. Whether it's big and scary, tiny and cuddly, toothy and happy, or stylish and snappy. Everyone's got one, that is, except Marilyn. And the thing is, you can't just go buy your monster at a store or find it in the forest. It finds you. So Marilyn's got to be patient while her monster finds her. Or so everyone tells her.
Timmy's monster chose him right in the middle of a history test.

But it's hard to be patient when Franklin's monster surprises him in the library! And Lenny's monster creeps out to scare away the bullies chasing him. Or Rebecca's monster comes along on his own bike while she rides her!

Everyone's got one or is getting one. Except Marilyn. She feels stung by what she doesn't have. Every breath has a tinge of jealousy. Everyone tells her, "Be patient!" and "It'll happen when it's supposed to!" and "Just sit tight and wait."

She does all that. And then gets tired of waiting nicely like she's supposed to. She pulls on her hiking boots, packs two sandwiches, and goes out to search for her monster. Hours into the hike, her patience gone and her anger mounting, she shouts, "WHERE ARE YOU???!"

And she hears a tiny voice: "Here."

And then, very softly, she heard a voice say, "Here."
(Enlarge the picture. Look up in the tree, on the right.)
Her monster is up high, stuck in a tree. Her monster's long, lovely wings got tangled up in the branches. She climbs up, goes out on a limb, and rescues it. They share sandwiches in the tree, then her monster flies her back home, where she reports to her family that she and her monster "found each other."

Her big brother is annoyed--it's "not supposed to work that way." She looks at him, her face softens, and she thinks "there were a lot of different ways that things could work."

I love this book. I love the realistic sting of envy in the beginning, the process of waiting she goes through, and the go-get-'em pluck that Marilyn displays by the end when she's too impatient to wait any longer. I just love it all. Michelle Knudsen has written many books over the years, but this is my favorite. By far.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Naked! by Michael Ian Black

Naked! by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Simon & Schuster

Rating: 4 stars

There's really nothing better than running through the house naked. For my kids--KIDS...not the whole family! Truly, streaking is not part of my husband's and my nightly constitution. Promise. But if you want to put a little frosting on that cake of a naked activity, it's yelling out like a crazy person "Naked!" Which you will most certainly do after reading this wonderfully silly book.

The narrator in this book is delighted to run through his house naked. And we readers were delighted to see how illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi cleverly disguised the boy bits we'd prefer not see. Like my boys, the boy in the book loves to run through the house after his bath sans clothes. Through the hall, in his room, down the stairs, with his mom running after him with a towel and the dad protecting the baby from her brother's nakedness.
Look at me, everybody! I'm caped!

Then, the boy does more things and dreams of doing more things:
Eating a cookie totally and complete NAKED!
I could go to school NAKED!
Play on the playground NAKED!
Do the hokey pokey NAKED!

Then our silly hero puts on a cape, and the illustrations get even better.

But then he gets cold. And then he becomes exhausted. And then he is...asleep.

He does put pajamas on during the post-cape, pre-sleeping moments!

Fun, fun book that is guaranteed to make your post-bathtime a little rowdier and a little gigglier.