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.