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!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chapter Book: Misty of Chincoteague, Part 1

When the Buddy was about 4 years old, we started reading some simple chapter books.  I figured at this point she was old enough to follow the story, even if it took us several days to finish the book.  We started with the Magic Treehouse Series (more about that in a future post) and have branched out from there.  This is one of my favorite things to do with her--I get to introduce her to some non-picture books, including some of the books I loved best as a kid, but I'm still there to explain anything she might not understand.  I'm going to attempt to blog our progress through chapter books in sections, so I can give an idea of our thoughts as we go.  

I never really went through the "horse phase" as a little girl.  My Buddy, however, has had an off-and-on relationship with the horse phase.  Currently it's on, in a big way.  She's particularly interested in Chincoteague ponies, since we visited Assateague Island last year and got to see the ponies in their natural environment.  When her grandparents visited Chincoteague, they gave the Buddy an amazing close-up photo of a pony that now has a place of honor on her bedroom wall.  So I figured Misty of Chincoteague would be right up her alley.  So far we've read the first three chapters and her reaction has been mixed.  It is by far the highest-level chapter book we've tackled, meaning that there are a lot of words that seem to be way beyond the Buddy's vocabulary.  Heck, there were one or two words that were a bit beyond my vocabulary.  But she seems to be following the gist of the story at least.  I'm already seeing some themes that betray the age of the book and I think that's going to come out more as we go along.  Girls aren't allowed to go on the pony roundup, etc. etc.  This is something the Buddy and I are going to have to talk about as we move through the book.  

It seems like maybe this book is a bit ambitious as a read-aloud to a 5-year-old, but we're going to keep going and see how we do.  Right now I think the Buddy likes the idea of reading about a Chincoteague pony, but maybe isn't that into this book specifically.  We'll keep you posted!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Have You Seen My Potty?

I'm not going to lie to you.  This book is pretty weird.  If you are at all uncomfortable with what they call "potty humor" this is not the book for you.  However, if you are trying to introduce your toddler to the concept of toilet training in a really low-stress way, you might want to check out Have You Seen My Potty?  

There are so many potty books out there.  Pretty much every television character that's popular with the toddler set has produced a book or a DVD telling kids how awesome it is to use the toilet.  The Dora book with the button that makes the flushing noise may be one of the more annoying things ever to enter our home.  Have You Seen My Potty? is definitely a potty book, but it takes a more interesting approach.  The book tells the story of Suzy Sue, who has something very important to do.  Something important that she does every day...can you guess what it is?  Unfortunately one of the farm animals has made off with her little red potty and now all the animals are using it, vastly improving hygiene conditions on the farm but making it impossible for poor Suzy Sue to do her business.  It all works out, and by the end of the book Suzy Sue has her potty back and the farm has never smelled fresher.

Both of my kids have enjoyed this book.  The Buddy liked it when she was about two, although I don't think it made her feel the slightest bit more motivated to use the toilet.  She thought it was hilarious, and would crack up at the same point every time.  We must have hit it just right with the Nugget though because it did seem to get her to take more of an interest in the whole thing.  The rhyming text is fun to read out loud and the illustrations are perfect for the funny-and-a-little-wacky theme of the book.  I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone not actively working on potty training but if you find yourself at the point where you'll try anything to get your kid interested in the idea (and believe me, I've been there...twice) then this book just might work.  And if not, at least it's kind of funny.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Emily's Balloon

My Nugget loves this book.  I mean she LOVES IT.  We've had it three times from the library.  The last time we got it, we were walking around looking for something good to check out and she happened to spy this on the shelf.  You should have seen her face light up.  It's the first book she's ever really connected with in that way.  

Emily's Balloon is a very simple book about a little girl who gets a yellow balloon.  She becomes pretty attached to the balloon, but then a gust of wind whisks it away and lands it in a tree.  She has to go to bed without the balloon, but her mother promises to get it down for her in the morning.

There were a few things I liked about the book right away.  The text is very simple and reading it feels peaceful.  It's a great book for before bed.  The illustrations are very abstract, almost blurry, and they are mostly monochromatic so the yellow balloon really stands out.  The book captivated the Nugget from the first reading, and she is generally the type of kid who likes bright, shiny books with flaps and popups and things she can try to rip off, so there must be something good there.  I can't argue with that.  At first I was not a huge fan of this book because I just felt that there wasn't much story there.  But maybe that's what's great about it.  You might remember as a kid developing an unreasonable attachment to a random object, like a balloon or an action figure or a crappy toy from McDonalds.  Sure it was forgotten after a day or two, but for that day or two it was the most important thing in your life.  Emily's Balloon captures that feeling pretty well.  Clearly my Nugget can relate.

Bad Apple

I want to kick off this blog with a post about my favorite of the new books we've read this fall.  The start of fall weather makes me want to look for books about leaves, apples, pumpkins, and Halloween.  Bad Apple was one of the first books to come up in my searches.  Of course the Hemingway name added some interest.  Apparently Edward is Ernest's grandson, although he doesn't mention that anywhere on his web site so clearly he's not trying too hard to let people know.  

This book was a pleasant surprise for us.  It definitely has a message, but it doesn't beat you over the head with it.  Mac, the apple, wakes up one morning with a worm stuck in his head.  Turns out the worm is named Will and he's super fun, and Will and Mac have a good old time playing games and finishing each other's sentences.  All is well until they run into some of Mac's buddies on the playground.  The other apples start making fun of Mac and calling him a "bad apple."  Will takes off without Mac telling him to go away, which could be either an interesting touch or a missed opportunity for Mac to experience some conflict and resolution.  But Mac soon discovers that Will left behind a hole that can't be filled (get it?) and goes in search of his friend.  He'd rather be a bad apple with his buddy than a sad apple without him.  

Again, the message is clear, but not annoying.  The pictures are great too.  I loved the expressions on the faces of Will and Mac, and the overall tone of the illustrations helps keep the book from being cheesy.  Of course there are lots of little apple jokes included to keep the parents interested.  I asked the Buddy if she learned anything from this book.  She said "if your friend gets lost, you need to go find them."  That is probably not exactly what Mr. Hemingway was going for, but I'll take it.