Saturday, January 19, 2013

Read to Tiger

It's not always easy taking a 2-year-old to the library.  They run, they grab things, they don't understand the concept of the "library voice."  Most of the time, the Nugget's book choices consist of things she has arbitrarily snatched from the end of the shelves and thrown into the pile to be checked out as she's on her way to play with the library's toys.  Sometimes this leaves us with some clunkers, like the book about animal life cycles that was a little TOO realistic, and sometimes it works out really well.  Read to Tiger was one of those random books that the Nugget grabbed, and it ended up becoming one of our favorites. 

The story is about a little boy who just wants to sit quietly and read his book.  But he is prevented from reading by his lovable pet tiger, who is hanging around doing everything from chewing gum (chomp, chomp, chomp) to riding the little boy's toy train through the house (choo choo!).  The included sound effects and the tiger's dialogue, which is just crying out for a silly voice, make this one great fun to read aloud.  Kids of all ages will be laughing and wondering what the tiger will do next.  Of course the Nugget gets a big kick out of this book, but older kids do too--I read this to the Buddy's kindergarten class last week and it was a huge hit.  The ending is sweet and it fits the story perfectly.  

It looks like this author has written at least one more book about Tiger, which is on our list to read.  Definitely check this one out if you are looking for a fun, silly read aloud!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

One of my pet peeves about children's literature is that so much of it is so very earnest.  Half the time a book is clubbing you over the head with a message about good behavior or it's so sweet that it borders on creepy.  It bothers me that a lot of authors seem to think that kids can't or won't pick up on humor in their stories, and I'm not talking about obvious humor like Captain Underpants, I'm just talking about a lighthearted, funny tone.  Mo Willems does not have this problem.  We are big fans of Mr. Willems around here.  The Pigeon books and Knuffle Bunny have places of honor on the girls' bookshelves.  My husband and I even have a special voice for reading the Pigeon, because we are huge dorks very committed to the reading experience.  

That's why I had great expectations for Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.  Unfortunately, for me this book fell short.  I am all for writing with humor and even throwing a wink or two in there for the grownups who have to read the same book out loud every night for a month.  Here though, the author just takes that whole thing a bit too far.  The book is a sarcastic send-up of the traditional tale and it is pretty funny, but almost all of it went right over the kids' heads.  Of course I didn't expect the Nugget to get any of the jokes but I thought the Buddy would think it was funny at least.  Not so much.  I found myself reading it loudly so that my husband would hear it while he was making dinner in the kitchen--this way at least somebody else would get it.  The kids just seemed bewildered.  

In general I think Mo Willems is a great author and I love what he has done for kids' books.  I just think he got a little carried away with this one.  It's possible that he is trying to reach out to kids who are older than his usual audience.  Fourth and fifth graders would probably think this book was hilarious.  If you have never checked out a Mo Willems book I strongly encourage you to do so.  Just maybe not this one for young kids.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Chapter Book Update: Misty of Chincoteague, Part 2

We are just about finished with Misty of Chincoteague now and I'm happy to report that the Buddy has really been enjoying it.  Usually when we start a new chapter book, particularly if it's a bit of a slow starter, I will be the one suggesting that we read another chapter every night.  When she starts to pick it out herself or if she asks for "just one more chapter please" then I know she's gotten into the story.  Today we read Chapter 17--only one more until the end.  When we were done, she closed the book and said, "I will be sad to leave this book."  Cool--to me that means she really loves it.  

I read Misty as a kid but didn't remember the exact story.  It's very good...slightly improbable, but still really good.  The writing does sound a bit old-fashioned but there are beautiful passages that are timeless.  The age of the book does show itself at certain points, with a few references to how only men can do this or that, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this isn't much of an issue by the end of the book.  Maureen is just as much a part of the acquisition and training of Phantom and Misty as her brother Paul, and it's only luck that ensures that Paul rides the Phantom in the big race.  The Buddy was absolutely enthralled by certain parts of the story, particularly when Paul is in the trailer with Misty and Phantom during a big storm and tries to get them to eat from his hand, and of course Phantom's race at the end.  When she figured out that Phantom won, she shouted "YAY!"  

I'm really glad we stuck with this one.  Even if it did make the Buddy decide that she wants to get her own pony!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ladybug Girl

Oh, how we love Ladybug Girl.  She is brave, but not fearless, and she's girly, but she's no princess.  My Buddy could relate to her from the moment she saw the cover of the book.  

Lulu, the heroine of the book, is bored.  Her parents have some work to do around the house, her brother is off playing baseball with his friends, and Lulu has to entertain herself with only her dog, Bingo, for company.  The book tells the story of how she goes from "nothing to do" to having a spectacular adventure in her own backyard.

I like pretty much everything about this book.  The illustrations are great, especially the sense of movement and scale.  The font is cool.  The relationship between the brother and sister is realistic.  I even like that at the end, Lulu squints her eyes and "squeezes" her brother and his friends between her thumb and forefinger.  "'I'm not little,' she says.  'You're little.'"  Awesome.

This probably isn't news to anyone, but strong, independent female characters in books are not as easy to find as they should be, even in kids' books.  There is an awesome web site that has some great book and movie suggestions for girls of all ages and we've found a lot of new inspiration there, but still I'm always pleased to see a cool book about a little girl who doesn't need to be a pink frilly princess.  I'm talking to you, Pinkalicious.  When we went to a superhero birthday party for a friend of ours and my Buddy wanted to go as Ladybug Girl, I knew we had a winner on our hands.  I'm all about a book that makes a little girl feel like a superhero.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

If You Give A...

I have a confession to make.  I am not a fan of this series of books.  I know, I know.  They are so cute, the ending is so funny (the first time), they teach kids about story sequencing and cause and effect and...ugh.  I'm sorry, I just can't.   

In case you have somehow managed to avoid this series, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie is the story of all the wackiness that ensues when you give a mouse a cookie.  For example, he'll probably ask for some milk.  If you give him the milk, he'll want a straw, and if you give him the straw....I'll let you take it from there.  

The original book is actually pretty cute, especially for younger kids.  It's when you discover that there are something like 10 other books with the same exact premise that it starts to get a little irritating.  By the time she hits the one about the dog and the donut, it's clear that the author is totally phoning it in.  

All this being said, both of my children have gone through short phases during which they have loved these books.  It seems to happen at around age 2.  One time the Buddy had a stomach bug and one of the lesser-known If You Give A... books was caught in the crossfire.  She was broken-hearted when I said we'd have to get rid of it.  Even though I felt terrible for her, I will admit to feeling a tiny stab of glee as I threw the vomit-covered paperback in the trash, knowing I'd never again have to find out what happens when you give a pig a pancake.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

We're Going On A Bear Hunt

We are big fans of We're Going on a Bear Hunt.  It's a classic book that I've read to both kids from the time they were little babies.  The repetitive text reads like a children's song, and there are fun descriptive words for each obstacle the group encounters as they search for the bear.   Then once they find the bear, the story really picks up speed.  Everyone from babies to kindergarteners to grownups seems to get a kick out of this book.  There's just one thing I can't figure out, and it's a point of some disagreement in my house: is this a story about four kids and their dad, or is it a mom, dad, and three kids going on the bear hunt?  The dad is clearly a dad in the illustrations, but there is one female character who could be the mom, or could be just an older girl.  I would like to say that my husband and I have not sat together on the couch, after the kids were in bed mind you, and discussed this very question, but the truth is we might just be that lame.  But these are the kinds of things that you start asking yourself after you've read the same book 8000 times.  Anyway this is a favorite in our family.  Toddlers will get a kick out of reading it out loud, especially if you do it with lots of energy.  It's also a good jumping off point for some pretend play.  There are even lesson plans using the book for dramatic interpretation or story sequencing.  If you have little kids and you haven't tried this book yet, definitely check it out.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Books

It's almost Halloween!  We've had a number of Halloween books at our house but these are two of our favorites.  

Pumpkin Soup is fun for all ages.  It's not specifically a Halloween story but of course it has the pumpkin theme, and there is just the right toddler-appropriate touch of scariness toward the end.  The story starts out with the duck, the cat, and the squirrel, who live together and make pumpkin soup the same way every time, each doing their own specific job.  When the duck decides one day that he'd rather stir than put in the salt, the other two are scandalized.  Duck leaves in a huff, and then the other two figure out that having their friend around is probably more important than how they fix the soup.  I love the way this book is written.  There are lots of great descriptive words which makes it fun to read out loud.  And I'm a fan of the subtle-but-there messages about friendship and trying new things.

The Widow's Broom was a new one for us this year and was definitely more appropriate for the Buddy, who is five.  I tried reading it to the Nugget once but she didn't make it past the third page and was clearly not following the story.  Of course Chris Van Allsburg's illustrations are amazing.  The detail in the black and white pictures is absolutely incredible.  This was a great semi-scary choice for my sensitive Buddy.  It has just enough creepy factor to be fun, without giving her nightmares.  The story begins with a witch's broom that is starting to lose its power, and drops its witch off without warning in a lonely widow's garden.  The widow is clearly freaked out, but she invites the witch inside to heal up, and the witch rewards her by leaving behind her broom.  The broom can sweep by itself, but then the widow figures out that she can teach it to do other things and pretty soon it's a big help around the house.  All is fine until her narrow-minded neighbors get involved, and then the widow has to outsmart them to keep her broom.  It's a great story with a little twist at the end.  The Buddy loved it!  Younger kids might need a little help understanding what is happening in the story, but five-year-olds and up will probably enjoy it.

Happy Halloween!