Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stick to It: Stick Man

I've mentioned before how much I like the team of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. We probably own more books written and illustrated by that pair than by any other author. Donaldson is known for her amusing rhyming text and Scheffler's pictures pair so well with the writing. Scheffler is amazing at creating expression in the characters Donaldson develops.

Stick Man (Scholastic, 2009) is somewhat seasonal in that the story ends at Christmas time but I think it would be an enjoyable read at any other time of the year as well. It's not too Christmassy. It's about a stick man (who is mistaken for a ordinary stick) who goes out for a morning jog and finds himself being taken, in various different ways, further and further from home. A dog picks him up, wanting to play 'fetch'; a girl tosses him into the river hoping he'll win a stick race and he is lost at sea. His adventures continue through the seasons but his one hope is that he'll eventually be reunited with his children, his wife and returned to the family tree. In the end, his helpfulness to another is reciprocated and, against all odds, he magically finds his way home, returning to his family on Christmas Day.

Stick Man is a fun story that highlights the importance of family and helping one another. Of course it's also a sweet story that will make you smile. One thing, though. You'll have to put on your best Scottish accent (or English, at the very least) when you're reading aloud if you want 'scarf' and 'laugh' to rhyme in any way! Good luck.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Christmas Collection: Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury

We have a huge collection of Christmas themed books we've been reading over the past month or so and I thought I'd be blogging about a different one each day but December has flown by. One of the books we've been reading a lot of is Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury (Penguin Young Reader Group, Sept. 2001). It is full of great stories and illustrations, both Christmas themed and just winter themed as well.

One of my girls' favourites in the treasury is The Mitten. It's about a boy whose grandma knits him a pair of white mittens. After being warned not to lose them, he does just that when he drops one in the snow. Soon, one after another, different wild animals find the mitten and nose their way in to the warm space. Finally a tiny mouse decides there might be just enough room to squeeze himself in and he perches himself upon a bear's nose. This tickles the bear and he sneezes, sending all the animals flying out of the mitten. The boy recovers his lost item and returns home to his grandma who is left wondering what on earth happened to stretch the mitten out so much!

Two other favourites feature trolls, much to my daughters' delight. Christmas Trolls and Trouble with Trolls are stories that feature a little girl named Treva and her surprising and funny encounters with trolls. Christmas Trolls is a sweet story about the importance of sharing and being generous to others. In Trouble with Trolls Treva must figure out a way to save her dog from a persistent family of trolls who would like to have her pet for themselves. Brett is known for her use of small vignettes in addition to her stories' main illustrations and this is particularly effective here. A separate yet related story happens at the same time when underground, in the trolls' home, a hedgehog moves in and makes himself at home.

Brett also puts her own spin on two Christmas classics, The Night Before Christmas and The Twelve Days of Christmas. Her fantastical illustrations make them not only fun to read but much more appealing to the younger set than more traditional versions of the stories. All the stories in this collection make you want to snuggle up in front of a fire with a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the season.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fairy Tales: The Elves and the Shoemaker

My eldest daughter is a huge fan of fairy tales right now. My only problem is that she gets frightened easily and there are a lot of these stories that have scary elements. We recently discovered author/illustrator Jim LaMarche's retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Elves and the Shoemaker. This is a delightful story of a down-on-his-luck shoemaker and his wife who find a couple of shabbily dressed but lively young elves helping them to resurrect their business secretly during the night. Once the older couple discover the elves' identities they return the elves' generosity by surprising them with warm new outfits and shoes to replace their tattered clothing. This version of the fairy tale draws the reader in with its warmth, both in respect to its text as well as its illustrations. This is a great story for sharing the importance of giving, generosity and caring for the well-being of others, some of the most meaningful aspects of this holiday season. And the author leaves at just that. No fearsome elements needed to make this fairy tale appealing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town: McDuff's New Friend

This is probably the most frequently read book in our house at the moment. Last year at this time it was also a hit but honestly I find myself getting requests to read McDuff's New Friend (Hyperion, Sept. 2001) by Rosemary Wells daily now. And I enjoy it, too. In fact, in terms of its illustrations alone, this is one of my all-time holiday favourites. Illustrator Susan Jeffers makes this story come to life with her cozy and realistic '40s/'50s inspired paintings.

It's a snowy Christmas Eve and the anticipation is building at McDuff the dog's home. At every tiny noise outside McDuff's ears perk up into "the radar position" (my girls love that term) and he barks to alert his owners that Santa may be on his way. This results in the family getting very little sleep but Santa finally arrives with a bump in the night! A sweet story for those who still believe in Santa (as well as for those of us who still believe in the spirit of St. Nick!).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Growing Up is Hard to Do: Knuffle Bunny Free

I've blogged about one of Mo Willems' books on here before. I'd like to blog about more of them (there are so many great ones) but I'm trying to limit my book reviews to one per author at the moment. However this one is worth mentioning now. Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion (HarperCollins Publishers, Sept. 2010) is the third in a trilogy about Trixie and her favourite stuffed friend. All three books are charming and appealing to children who can identify with Trixie and her different stages of growth. In this one, Trixie begins to realise just how hard it is to grow up.

Trixie and her family travel to Holland to visit her grandparents. Somewhere along the way Knuffle Bunny is lost and Trixie doesn't know if she can manage without him. Her family tries to make her feel better. They try to comfort her with a new bunny and other distractions. The situation doesn't improve, however, until Trixie has a dream about Knuffle Bunny. She begins to realise she will be just fine without him and that perhaps Knuffle Bunny will be able to comfort other children now that she no longer needs him so much. I particularly like how Willems sensitively addresses a topic we all, as children and parents, deal with yet manages to incorporate his great sense of humour. I'd also like to mention how well we liked Willems' use of real photographs combined with superimposed character drawings. I had to explain to my daughters the picture of Knuffle Bunny passing through the x-ray machine before Trixie and her family boarded the plane. One of my girls also noted the difference in toilets in Holland while looking through the pictures.:) The realism of the photographs juxtaposed with the almost cartoonish quality of the story's characters makes for really fun and interesting art.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kindness and Compassion: Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse

Leo Lionni has been a favourite author of mine since my class and I discovered his stories and art back when I was teaching elementary school. His stories nearly always include a moral or an important life lesson but they aren't preachy. I introduced his collection of Frederick's Fables to my daughters a couple of weeks ago and they can't seem to get enough of it.

One of the best stories in the book is Caldecott Honor Book, Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse (Random House Children's Books, Sept. 1974). It's an oldie but a goodie! But not that old...don't want to date myself!! Alexander is an ordinary mouse who encounters Willy, a toy mouse, mistaking him for real. He finds himself envying the other mouse who is a favourite toy of the children in the household. Alexander wishes he was special like Willy and that he was cared for. When Alexander is offered the chance to make a wish he initially decides he'd like to become a wind-up mouse like Willy. However, when Alexander finds Willy lying in a jumble of unwanted toys in a box to be thrown away Alexander makes a different choice. Instead, he wishes Willy would find another chance at happiness. Soon Alexander finds his wish has come true and the wind-up mouse has become his real, live friend.

Monday, November 1, 2010

One of a Kind: Spork

We picked up this newly released book from the library the other day and I have to say I was thrilled to find out it's Canadian. Always trying to make sure I get a little CanCon in. :)

(Kids Can Press Limited, 2010), by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault, is a playful yet thoughtful story about a young spork who feels left out because he is different. This book is in a similar vein to the book Spoon. Both stories highlight the importance of being different. That we need to accept and celebrate differences and that the world would be a very boring place if we were all the same. However, I like how Spork imparts the idea that it is also important to recognise mixed identities. We need to embrace our cultural differences. A "multi-cutlery tale," indeed!

The artwork in this book is appealing and unique...contemporary yet retro. Instead of your typical brightly illustrated storybook filled with softly drawn images, Arsenault has used mixed media to create bold patterned pages full of interesting detail using hues of only red, black and white. A fun, thought provoking book!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Trick or Treat: On a Dark, Dark Night

The girls are getting quite excited about Hallowe'en and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the stores (around here, anyway) have been decked out for several weeks already. Both girls like the idea of Hallowe'en but only to a certain extent. That is, they like the fun aspects but need a lot of reassurance when it comes to all the scary stuff. That's why I was happy to come across the book On a Dark, Dark Night (Pleasant St. Press, 2009), written by Jean M. Cochran and illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris.

This book is about a little boy and his dog who get so spooked hearing what they think is a witch's cackle that every little thing they hear and see from then on contributes to their wild imaginations. This book is appealing because, like the text, the drawings are cute yet just frightening enough to fascinate young children and satisfy their teeny tiny desires to be scared. Add in the book's rhyming verse and a surprise ending and this makes for one fun book for all the little ghouls and goblins in your life!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Perfect Apology: It Was You, Blue Kangaroo!

Some of the best books we've encountered lately have been found randomly at our local library. It Was You, Blue Kangaroo! (Harper Collins UK, 2003) is one such book. It is one in a series written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. My youngest has fallen in love with each of the books and I don't blame her. With colourfully illustrated pictures and each book imparting an important life lesson I'm a fan, myself, and I look forward to finding ones we haven't read yet.

It Was You, Blue Kangaroo! (just like the others in the series) features Lily and her stuffed friend, Blue Kangaroo. Lily's mischievous side presents itself and when she finds herself in trouble after letting the kitchen sink overflow or trying to dress the cat in her doll's clothes Lily blames Blue Kangaroo. Finally Lily's mother decides Blue Kangaroo needs to spend some time on his own until he learns to behave. Lily realises how sorry she is but it's ultimately Blue Kangaroo who saves the day.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

There are Witches in the Air: Spells

Don't let the title of this post fool you. There aren't any witches in this book, much to my youngest daughter's delight (I keep getting the question, "Mummy, witches aren't real, right?"). Nevertheless, I thought Spells (Macmillan Children's Books 2009) by Emily Gravett might be appropriate for this time of the year. It isn't a frightening book, by any means. It's the story of Frog. After escaping a jar (he was intended for a witch's cauldron) he finds a book of spells. He tears it apart, creating a pirate's ship (wishing he was a pirate) and then a castle and some paper princesses (wishing he was a prince). In amongst the torn up spells, Frog finds part of a spell to turn himself into a prince but the rest of the page is missing! So he combines the torn spell pages in attempt to create the correct one. This is where the book becomes really exciting. Gravett has made every other page a spell page, rhyming verse and all, and every page in between is an illustration of what that spell creates. Have I confused you, yet? Well there's more. Then she has cut each spell and creation page in half so the reader can combine any half of a spell with another to create different combinations of creations. So, for example, the spell words "Bim Bam, Barebum" together with "Slither kazake" work together to form a picture of a "Prake" (half prince and half snake). Although I have to admit the real draw for my girls in this spell was the word "Barebum". Ah, yes. The sillies arrived in full force. Eventually Frog becomes the prince he always dreamt he would be but, unfortunately, he misses some of the spell's small print!

Gravett is known for using interesting elements of collage (such as postcards and maps) in her books and this one does not disappoint. She's used her imagination to make this a fun book for a variety of ages. Look out for Gravett's many other books as well. Besides Spells we also own her board book, Orange Pear Apple Bear (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2007). My youngest daughter particularly liked its simple rhymes when she was a baby. Another of Gravett's books, Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2008), won the Kate Greenaway Medal for distinguished illustration in children's literature.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Finding a Friend: Swim! Swim! and a PG Giveaway!

I love it when a book makes my eldest daughter shriek and squirm with anticipation, clamping her hand over her mouth. And when my youngest giggles uncontrollably. Those were the reactions in which the book Swim! Swim! By Lerch resulted when we read it the other day. A couple pages in and I knew it would make a great book to review here. But now that I want to review it do you think I can find the silly thing? I've looked high and low but the book seems to have disappeared so I'm going to have to recall the story as best I can, without the book.

Swim! Swim! By Lerch
, written and illustrated by James Proimos (Scholastic Press, 2010) is a story about Lerch, an animated yet lonely goldfish, who is in search of a companion. Lerch makes several unsuccessful attempts at befriending inanimate objects until he meets a rather hungry looking cat. At this point in the story my eldest daughter was practically screaming at Lerch, trying to warn him about hobnobbing with the cat. But much to her surprise, and delight, the cat turns out to be a matchmaker, looking to set Lerch up with Dinah, another lonely fish who is also looking for love. Proimos's great animation skills paired with his witty plays on words make for one funny and thrilling love story.

Completely unrelated to children's books but fun, nonetheless, check out my friend Kat's blog, Penguin's Gift. She is celebrating the first anniversary of her blog so she's giving away a pair of Molly Newborn on Etsy chandelier earrings to one lucky reader. Head on over there and enter!

Monday, September 20, 2010

From Jolly Old: A Bit More Bert

We've all been sick with the flu so that explains the lack of posts here lately. Fortunately we had a good selection of new library books to keep us occupied and we came across some really fun ones.

If you have a true English sense of humour you'll enjoy this quirky storybook from Allan Ahlberg and Raymond Briggs, two of Britain's more influential children's authors of recent times. Ahlberg is well known for Each Peach Pear Plum, among many others, while Briggs is perhaps best known for his Christmastime favourites, The Snowman and Father Christmas (and I know it's super early but can I just say how excited I am to share these last two with the girls in a couple of short months?).

We came across A Bit More Bert (Penguin Books Ltd, September 2002) at the library recently. I chose it simply because of the author and illustrator. Sometimes I do that. I don't even bother looking inside if I recognise the author and know that we've enjoyed his or her books in the past. This one is charming in its unconventional qualities. In each short chapter of the book we meet and learn about Bert and his family, including his dog who is also named "Bert." I think one of the things my daughters like most about this book (beyond the humour) is how the author invites the reader to participate in the story. My youngest, especially, enjoyed helping give Bert a haircut and searching for his lost dog.

Now we're off to find the book that precedes this one, The Adventures of Bert. How often do you read a sequel before you read the first book?? That's the nice thing about children's books...most often it doesn't really matter. :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When Opposites Attract: Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend

School started here last week. Often one of the hardest parts about beginning a new school year or starting at a new school is meeting new people and making friends. Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend (Kids Can Press, March 1 2007) is author and illustrator Mélanie Watt's first in her series of three Scaredy Squirrel books and it's our favourite.

Scaredy Squirrel is frightened by many things and making new friends can be a dangerous business. Scaredy decides to take the safe route and attempt to make friends with a goldfish since goldfish are risk-free: they don't have germs and they don't have teeth so they won't bite. So Scaredy creates the "Perfect Plan" in order to make this new friendship happen. Things, however, don't quite go as Scaredy intends and he soon finds himself being chased by a dog! Making a new friend is much harder and more dangerous than Scaredy could ever have thought.

Mélanie Watt injects her great sense of humour into all her books, making them funny for both kids and adult readers. In this one, for instance, Scaredy's wardrobe accessories, including a pine scent air freshener belt and sweaty-paw-hiding mittens, along with his obsessive-compulsive teeth brushing habits may have been lost a little on my girls but I laughed out loud. This book will definitely make a "Perfect First Impression".

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back to School: The Kissing Hand

My best friend and I always lament late summer when we're reminded of 'back to school.' As kids (and now, too, of course!) we both loved summer so much and it was always a bit sad when ads would come on TV reminding us of the impending doom...just kidding, it really wasn't that bad. Although I still switch the radio station when that horrible Staples ad played to the tune of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" comes on. So while school hasn't quite started back here yet I thought it might be a good opportunity to look at a book that suits this time of year.

The Kissing Hand (Tanglewood Press, June 2006), written by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak, is a great book for kids just starting kindergarten or even those first days of playschool. Chester Raccoon is about to start school for the first time and he's having a tough time dealing with leaving his mum, his home and his friends. His mum tells him about the exciting new things he'll get to do at school. Then she tells him a secret: the Kissing Hand. She shows him how to open his left palm out so she can kiss it. Chester immediately feels the love radiate from his hand. Mrs. Raccoon then explains that whenever Chester feels lonely all he has to do is press his palm to his cheek and remember that she loves him. Chester knows that wherever he goes his mother's love will always be with him.

With sweetly drawn illustrations, this book is bound to have you teary eyed...especially if you have a little one just starting school or about to encounter some other new experience away from Mummy or Daddy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Food for Thought: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Eric Carle has written and illustrated many great books for young children. He uses a lot of repetition in his stories and this is especially appealing for the very young ones. His simple but colourful animal drawings pair perfectly with the text.

Our favourite Carle book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar. We've had our copy so long I can't even recall where we got it. And it looks old, too. The pages are barely attached at the spine...hanging on by a thread! But I fondly remember lying with our youngest in bed reading the book when she was only a few months old. Something about the book caught her attention, either the bold colours or the repetition of the story or maybe it was just the inflection in our voices as we read the words.

This is a tale of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. An egg lays on a leaf just waiting to break open so its occupant can discover life. Soon the caterpillar emerges and begins looking for food. He is so hungry he munches on every bit of food he encounters, a different fruit for every day of the week and a whole plethora of foods on Saturday, including an ice cream cone and a sausage! Unfortunately the caterpillar soon learns the perils of binge eating: a tummy ache. Satisfied that he's had enough to eat the caterpillar builds a cocoon and after a couple of weeks emerges as a lovely, colourful butterfly.

In addition to the easy-to-remember text and the colourful pictures, this book is unique in that each page of food features small holes that follow through to the next pages. You can just imagine the tiny caterpillar burrowing his way through each of the foods on his way to the next one. Cute as can be!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kismet: How to Catch a Star

Oliver Jeffers is an Irish painter and writer whose books have won several awards. How to Catch a Star (Harper Collins UK, May 2010) is one that gets frequently pulled off the bookshelf at bedtime here. I find there is equal pull in the charming writing and in the sweet illustrations. Sometimes I'll find that a book's pictures are really great but the story just isn't there or the opposite. How to Catch a Star offers both. The writing reflects the innocence of youth while the paintings have an ethereal quality to them.

A boy wishes to catch a star and make it his friend. He spends an entire day trying to figure out how to make his wish a reality. When the stars finally appear in the evening sky he climbs to the top of the highest tree in attempt to reach out and grab a star. When that doesn't work he tries to lasso a star with a lifesaver off his dad's boat. No matter what the boy tries to do to catch a star it seems it is always just out of reach.

One of the things I really like about this book is that it is completely in synch with how a child would think, imagine and struggle to solve a problem. As an adult I found myself marveling at this story's ending. I won't say any more about the ending as I don't want to spoil it. I will say, though, I wondered whether or not I should explain it to my 3 year old or simply follow her lead and answer her questions if she had any. In the end, I left it. She'll figure it out when she's ready.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's in a Name? Chrysanthemum

Lately my daughters and I have been having a lot of conversations about teasing and bullying. There are a lot of great books out there that deal with this topic. One my girls really like is Chrysanthemum (HarperCollins Publishers, Sept 1996), written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes.

Chrysanthemum loves her name until she starts school and a group of her female classmates start teasing her about it. What is it about some girls?? The girls laugh at Chrysanthemum, making fun of her because she's named after a flower and, besides, it's a name that's much too long. This leads Chrysanthemum to start having nightmares and she soon dreads going to school. While her parents try to console her, it isn't until she meets her new music teacher that Chrysanthemum really starts to feel confident about herself once more. Mrs. Twinkle is loved by all the students. When they learn she is also named after a flower, she has an equally long name and she happens to think Chrysanthemum's name is perfect Chrysanthemum realises it doesn't matter what the other girls think.

This book is great for teaching girls about self confidence as well as feelings (both in ourselves and in empathy for others). If you like this one, Henkes has written several other books we've also enjoyed reading. Many of his books, like this one, feature mice as the main characters and all deal with important issues in childhood, such as learning to be brave and having a new sibling.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

For the Wee Ones: Baby Food

Here's a good one for babies and toddlers. My 2 year old still likes this board book a lot. The author and illustrator (sculptor/photographer) of Baby Food (Scholastic Inc, March 2006), have created baby animals from fruit and veg. Each page features a photograph of a different critter. The book, by Saxton Freymann and Joost Ellfers, doesn't offer much in the way of a story but little ones will enjoy identifying the animals and the produce used to create them. Plus, the animals are labeled - great for beginner readers. It's adorable. A spiderling sculpted from a radish, a peanut owlet and a baby whale carved from an can a toddler refuse to eat his or her veggies after reading this one??

Friday, August 6, 2010

Your Pal Mo Willems Presents: Leonardo the Terrible Monster

Mo Willems (Emmy award-winning, former writer/animator for PBS' Sesame Street) is one of our favourite author/illustrators of all time. We have many of his books in our collection and several of the ones we don't own we've signed out repeatedly from the library. He is one of those authors who incorporates and directs humour to adult audiences as well as young readers. I get a lot of enjoyment out of his books for this reason. He's really good at creating expression in his characters through his drawings. Our family enjoys Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon series as well as his Knuffle Bunny series (a new one arrives in bookstores this fall!). Although we don't own it, I would say Leonardo the Terrible Monster is one of our best-loved since it is both hilarious and a sweet story of friendship.

Some of the books from our trip to the library today. No one was willing to be my reading model/victim today.

Leonardo the Terrible Monster (Hyperion Books for Children, Sept. 2005) is the tale of Leonardo. He's not your typical terrible monster. In fact, he's downright no good. He can't scare anyone and, often, his 'victims' just laugh at him. Until one day he finds a young boy who looks like he might be an easy mark. Leonardo gives it his all in attempt to "scare the tuna salad out of him" but it turns out the boy has just been having a bad day. Leonardo realises he could continue on his path towards becoming an even more terrible monster or he could follow a different, more satisfying route and become a good friend.

And since 'viewing' is also an important element in early literacy (or that's one of my excuses anyway) we borrowed the DVD version from the library and watched it this morning. It's just as delightful as the book, making the girls laugh out loud several times. Willems narrates the story and the expression he uses in his voice is priceless. It was kind of interesting, too, to compare his reading of the story with how I've been reading it aloud.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sweet Siblings: Too Small for Honey Cake

I never grow tired of this book. In fact, I love it more each time we read it. We were given this book when my youngest was a newborn and my eldest was nearly 2. It was so appropriate (and still is) and the old friend who gave it to us knew just what we were getting ourselves into, herself the mother of two grown children.

Too Small for Honey Cake
(Strictly By-the-Book, August 2008), written by Gill Lobel and illustrated by Sebastien Braun, is a must for parents adjusting to parenting more than one child. It's a sweet story about brother foxes, one a preschooler and the other an infant. Little Fox feels as though he has been replaced by the new baby in his family. He craves his dad's attention so much that when he doesn't get it he revolts and misbehaves. Feeling unwanted and sad, he rushes off to hide. Daddy Fox soon realises that while the new baby needs him his older son needs his love and attention just as much but in a different way.

The girls love this one and I often pull it out when they've had trouble sharing or working something out on their own. It's a good lesson in kindness and being respectful of others. I really like the fact that there isn't a mother present in the story. It's just a dad and his two sons living day to day life. Mummy could be out bringing home the bacon or perhaps daddy is just a single parent. Daddy washes the laundry and bakes the honey cake and, most importantly, creates a loving home for his family.

You might have to do a little bit of searching in order to get your hands on a copy of Too Small for Honey Cake. It's sold out at Chapters but available online at as well as (where it's on sale) and, of course, your local library.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Scandinavian Influence: The Hat by Jan Brett

The title of this book isn't exactly exciting but once you open The Hat (Penguin Young Reader Group, Sept 2002) you will be drawn in to this sweet story by Jan Brett's beautiful illustrations. Like many of her other books, The Hat features unique borders on each page that give clues as to what happens next. When we first read this story we didn't notice the borders as there was already so much happening in the story. My eldest daughter discovered them the second time round and she loves pointing out all the different things happening in them beyond the main illustrations in the book.

This is a story about Hedgie the hedgehog. Hedgie discovers a sock on the ground that has blown off a nearby clothesline. He decides to investigate it but soon finds the sock stuck on his head. One by one the other animals on the farm make fun of Hedgie but secretly envy his warm woolens. Soon there are no longer any clothes left on the clothesline and each of the other animals is wearing a new 'hat'. Hedgie, who has finally managed to remove the sock from his head, laughs to himself at how silly the other farm animals look.

If you like this one, check out The Mitten, also by Jan Brett and her Christmas Treasury, one of our favourites at Christmastime. These books almost make me want to curl up in front of a fire with a mug of hot chocolate. I said, *almost*.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Skat Cat: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

It's all in the simplicity. The smooth and easy-to-remember rhymes paired with the basic illustrations in this collaborative effort written by Bill Martin Junior and John Archambault and illustrated by Lois Ehlert make Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, August 2000) a childhood favourite. The little (lowercase) letters of the alphabet decide to race each other to the top of a coconut tree. However, it's too many letters for the poor tree to handle and "chicka chicka BOOM! BOOM!" the little ones fall to the ground. Luckily their parents and guardians (uppercase) letters come to their rescue, bandaging, dusting off and soothing their small charges.

Be forewarned, however, this is another one of those stories that gets easily stuck in your head. I've had this earworm since last night!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Case of the Sillies: Ook the Book and Other Silly Rhymes

My best friend sent Ook the Book and Other Silly Rhymes (Chronicle Books, 2001), written by Lissa Rovetch and illustrated by Shannon McNeill, to my youngest for her 2nd birthday recently. It turns out this is the first book she has nearly completely memorized. She loves rhymes. In fact, her favourite character in the book is Eep the Sheep. And, for some reason, when he says the line, "Please do not let that jeep go beep!" she is sent into a fit of giggles. Both my daughters enjoy the rhyming prose in the book but I think ultimately it is the silly pictures that go along with it that makes the book so appealing. The characters are cute and quirky. This one is short and sweet and downright nutty. Perfect for a 2 year old!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

From a Land Down Under: Possum Magic

I first encountered the wonderful Australian children's author, Mem Fox, while doing my student teaching prac in Brisbane several years ago. The kids in my class loved her stories and we now own several of them. Fox has a gentle way about her writing that makes her stories sweet and endearing. Julie Vivas, an Australian artist who has collaborated with Fox on several books, uses detailed watercolour drawings to bring the text to life.

Possum Magi
c (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 1990) is the tale of two possums, Grandma Poss and her granddaughter, Hush. Grandma Poss uses her magical powers to make Hush invisible so that she will not be eaten by the local snakes. However, one day, Hush decides she wants to become visible again and Grandma Poss can't remember the spell to reverse her magic. She knows it has something to do with an authentic Australian food but can't remember which one. Hush and Grandma Poss embark upon a long trip around Australia to discover the antidote. It turns out each food she tries on each stop of the journey uncovers a different part of Hush's body and Hush is able to discover her whole self once more.

If you've ever visited Australia this story will take you back to sweet memories of Anzac biscuits, pavlova and Lamingtons. And the vegemite sandwich...well, maybe not so much.

Friday, July 16, 2010

West Coast Trip: The Wheedle on the Needle

I first read this story when my grandparents brought it back from Seattle (one of my favourite places!) for my brother and I when we were kids. I had forgotten all about it until we visited Washington state in June and my husband came across it in a bookstore.

The Wheedle on the Needle (Sasquatch Books, November 2009) is written by Stephen Cosgrove and illustrated by Robin James. This colourfully illustrated book tells the story of Wheedle, a furry, orange, nature-loving creature whose peace is disturbed when explorers discover his Puget Sound home, building what is known today as Seattle. Wheedle attempts to discourage the intruders, and their happy, yet annoying, whistling sounds, until finally he puts together a plan. He collects a big bag full of clouds and heads to the top of the Space Needle. He surrounds the needle top with the clouds making Seattle a permanent place of rain, much to the city dwellers' chagrin. In the end, though, Wheedle and the Seattleites are able to happily reach a compromise, the Seattleites making Wheedle a cozy pair of soundproof earmuffs and Wheedle agreeing to stop putting rain clouds in the sky (although after a recent visit I wonder if he did, in fact, keep his part of the agreement!). To this day we can see Wheedle's red nose happily blinking away atop the Needle.

The Wheedle on the Needle is a really good example for teaching young readers about co-operation and the importance of living peacefully. And Wheedle makes a great souvenir if you're ever in the Seattle area. I love traveling and picking up a great children's book as a memento of our trip.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rhyme Time: Sharing a Shell

My daughters and I are big fans of the author Julia Donaldson. Her whimsical, rhyming stories always share a valuable lesson. Sharing a Shell (Pan MacMillan Ltd, July 2005), illustrated by Lydia Monks, is one of my favourites. Three sea creatures become friends and 'roommates' until they outgrow their home, driving one another crazy. It's only after attempting to live on their own, alone and sad, that one is able to convince the others how important it is that they reunite. They've become interdependent and their friendship and well-beings depend on it.

Incidentally, if you enjoy Julia Donaldson's stories, you'll likely also get a kick out of her CD of songs, The Gruffalo Song and Other Songs: All Join in for a Monster Singalong (Pan MacMillan Ltd, January 2006). This is a compilation of some of Donaldson's stories sung to music as well as a few other songs. Donaldson performs the songs herself and the lyrics are quite catchy, even to an adult's ears. Be forewarned, however, these are the types of songs that are bound to get stuck in your head. One of the best is the song version of the book, A Squash and a Squeeze. I find it impossible now, after having listened to the song, to read the story without singing the words. Drives my girls crazy but so long as I am the chief reader they're going to have to deal with it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Canadian Classic: The Balloon Tree

The Balloon Tree
, written and illustrated by the late Phoebe Gilman (Scholastic Canada Ltd, September, 2004), is such a quintessential piece of children's literature that excerpts from the story have appeared in elementary-level achievement tests. We first read this book to our eldest daughter when she was not quite two. Even though the story is quite a lengthy one it held our daughter's interest and became such a favourite that she would recite one of its verses over and over. "Moon balloon, moon balloon, tickle the tree, four balloons, more balloons, blossom for me." Pretty cute coming from someone who couldn't pronounce her 'l's.

This is the story of a princess and how she saves the kingdom from the wrath of her selfish uncle. Before her father, the king, leaves on a trip he tells his daughter she may signal him, if she needs his help, by sending a balloon up into the sky. The girl's evil uncle discovers the plan and in order to overtake the kingdom he destroys every last balloon. Or so he thinks...

While Gilman has written the story based on a fairy tale land where balloons grow on trees she has injected many modern elements into the story. It teaches a good lesson to young female readers: that girls are strong and capable of achieving any goal. Very different from traditional fairy tales where boys tend to be strong and girls are the weak who need saving. Gilman has also taken a modern approach in her illustrations and one I particularly like is that of the king sporting 'dad glasses.' Did I just say, "modern"? Well 'dad glasses' were stylin when the book was originally published.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Reports and a Book Review: Spoon

I hated, hated, writing book reports as a kid. I remember being assigned a book report on 'Lassie' in Grade 6 French and not even beginning the reading portion of the assignment until the Sunday night before it was due. I never did like being told what to read or how to retell the story. I don't think I'd make a very good book club member. And now here I am essentially writing book reports.

I truly love collecting and reading children's books with my daughters, my tiny bookworms. All is well with the world, at least in our house, after a trip to the library for a stack of new books from the children's section. Mummy is guaranteed at least 40 minutes of peaceful silence while two little girls sit and carefully (well, it's 'carefully' now but it was an entirely different story a couple of months ago, but I digress) flip through the pages transporting them to new places, times and characters.

Hopefully this blog will help us to share our favourite literary finds. I'll write about favourite books we've already read and keep returning to as well as new books we encounter. Some are books we own and others are library finds.


First up, Spoon written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Scott Magoon (Hyperion Books for Children, April 2009). This book is one of my all time sentimental favourites. The illustrations are cute and sweet but simple. The text highlights the importance of being an individual and showcasing one's unique qualities without any unnecessary sappiness. I'm at the point right now where it takes very little to make me cry and I'm often not in the mood to start weeping just as we're settling down into our bedtime routine.

Spoon is a young utensil who yearns to be like his friends. He wishes he were capable of such daring feats as cutting like his friend, Knife. Or hanging out over a BBQ grill, ready to flip a burger like his friend, Fork. Or possessing the elegant, graceful movements of his friends, the Chopstick Twins. He sees the individual characteristics in his friends that make them special but he is blind to his own one-of-a-kind traits. It is not until his mom points out all his amazing and unique abilities that he realises he is special, too.

One of the qualities I particularly enjoy about this book is the author's use of humour. It functions as a way of drawing the interest of the reader, child and adult alike. That extra little bit of effort on the author's part to direct some humour to the adult reading the story is always appreciated since it happens all too infrequently in most children's stories, in my opinion. And, I have to admit, I kind of like seeing that look of bewilderment on my kid's face when I laugh out loud at something she doesn't quite get...yet.