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!