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!).