Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lion vs. Rabbit by Alex Latimer

Lion vs. Rabbit by Alex Latimer

Rating: 5 stars

I like this book.

My kids looooooove this book.

I've read it to them a dozen times already this week.  They are hooked from the very first page--on which sit Lion and Rabbit's "cards" (think baseball cards, with stats and figures, showing their speed, weight, height, and how mean and smart they are).

They just LOVE that Rabbit outsmarts Lion.  The big, mean, bully of a Lion.  Who doesn't love little-guy-outwits-the-big-guy stories? (Well, big guys probably don't.  But my house is full of little guys so…)

Lion is a mean bully.  Do you know what he does?  In a single afternoon, he gives Buffalo a wedgie, sticks a silly note on Zebra's back ("I am a horse"), and he steals Hyena's lunch monkey. (Much to my kids' delight, I say "money" Every. Single. Time.)

Finally, the animals get tired of all the bullying.  But none are brave enough to stand up to Lion.  So they advertise for the position in the Help-Wanted section.  The reward is 100 bucks.  Mostly gazelle.

The animals have some funny excuses...
(C'mon…these puns!  Such wit!  You're chuckling, right?!)

Three animals come to face off with Lion.  Three animals go back where they come from, without the reward.  The bullied animals are disappointed.  Will anyone be able to help?

Enter Rabbit.  Lion scoffs at his size, so he lets Rabbit choose the contest. In four separate contests, Rabbit comes up on top.  Lion comes up with excuses.  So Rabbit lets Lion choose the last contest--racing to the top of the mountain.  Lion cheats a little, giving himself a head start, but…it doesn't matter.  Rabbit seems to be ahead of Lion at every turn, even when Lion feels like he just passes Rabbit.

And then, Rabbit makes it to the top!  Yards before Lion!  Ta-da!  When Lion finally reaches the top, huffing and puffing, fully exhausted from the climb, he admits defeat.  "You win. I'll stop bullying the animals."

And Lion was nice after that.

As the animals help Rabbit board the ship on which he arrived, sending the 100 bucks with him, they see a bunch of ears pop up.  That's when they realize that Rabbit had a little help.

And that's why my kids love it so--we read it again and again, looking for more than one set of rabbit ears on each page, seeking to see the help that Lion did not see.

Once again, a truism of picture books: Kids love to see what one (or more!) characters in the book cannot see.  Alex Latimer knew this.  He produced one awesome book that I will surely and happily read a dozen more times before we return it to the library.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Little Green Peas: A Big Book of Colors by Keith Baker

Little Green Peas: A Big Book of Colors by Keith Baker

Rating: 5 stars

I think that Keith Baker's (wonderful) mission is to increase our children's attention span, one book at a time.  Or one book-sitting at a time.  I've been a fan of his peas book since LMNO Peas came out over four years ago. In that book, huge illustrations with a million peas doing a million different, funny things completely won me and my kids over.

This book is different only because there is one more kid around me to win over, and…well, Kiefer loves Little Green Peas: A Big Book of Colors just as much as the first one, which we check out every other month, easily.  Only Kiefer wishes that the whole book would be in orange.  (I am trying to explain to him how that would defeat the purpose of having a book on colors…)

Much to Kiefer's chagrin, each color gets two giant double-page spreads dedicated to it.  On the first page is the color, spelled out in enormous letters, with peas all around it, doing neat things.  Turn the page and you get a scene with that color as the main focus, with even more peas doing even more neat things.  There is so much to absorb…that's where the increased attention span comes in.

Wait until you see what Green grows into...
If you're familiar with his two previous books involving a whole lot of peas, you won't be surprised that the text is perfectly sparse, rhymes nicely, and is really just the lead-in to his bright, colorful, and incredibly detailed illustrations of peas doing…well, a little bit of everything.   Kiefer is learning the alphabet, so the huge letters that spell out each color are wonderful additions for his age group (he's three).  My kids could spend five minutes on each page, sitting together to point out the obvious (they're good at that), what each pea is doing, but also to choose which pea they'd be if they could jump into the book.

(I'll be the sun-bathing pea, please…)
This is a wonderful, wonderful book.  My only question that I have: is there a ladybug on each scene, hidden, for kids to find?  We looked at this book at a bookstore, and I am annoyed I didn't remember to look.  And, I'm curious… I'm hoping the answer is yes, because that little addition of a ladybug hunt was such a delightful addition to the last two books…!

Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos

Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang

Rating: 5 stars

Confession: I have mixed feelings about facial hair trending towards  picture books.  I'm fine with it when dads and pop-pops are concerned, but…babies?! As a woman who carried three babies (separately, thank God), I'm a little grossed out at the thought of one of those babies popping out with a mustache.

But when Mustache Baby showed up on the Children's Choices list, I knew I had to get over my bad self and check it out.

I'm so glad I did.

Mustache Baby gave me and my kids fits of giggles, and I know I appreciated it the most; much of wit and humor requires hours of crummy movies to amass the cultural knowledge to appreciate how mustaches show up in this world. Thanks, Dad, for making sure I was exposed to all those crummy movies!

(And the illustrations by Joy Ang are spot-on--funny without a touch of creepiness. That is no small feat!)

Ok, here's the story:

Baby Billy was born with a mustache.  This was a little alarming to his parents and siblings, but what they began to worry about was whether it'd be a good-guy mustache or a bad-guy mustache.  At first, it was a good-guy mustache. Billy was a noble cowboy who protected his cattle (stuffed animals) and cared for injured animals (replaced stuffing in said stuffed animals).

His good-guy mustache also enabled him to be a ringleader in a circus, a Spanish painter, a sword fighter, and a pilot.  He also spent some weeks as a motorcycle cop, complete with mirror shades, thick 'stache, and inflated sense of cool.

But then…

Billy's mustache grew long, and curled up at the ends. He had a bad-guy mustache.  (Enter shriek here.)

He became: "A cat burglar, a cereal criminal, a train robber so heartless he even stole the tracks."  He terrorized his siblings and the whole neighborhood, with glee.

Sadly for him, his getaway car bumped into his mom after he robbed a bank (his sister's piggy bank).  He was thrown in jail (don't worry folks, just his crib).  He kept time on an etch-a-sketch, and vowed to change his ways.  His mom busted him out of jail just in time for Billy to meet the neighbor's baby,…

who had a full beard.

There is no better book for a facial-hair sporting father who is having a baby, so buy this for him today. Or check it out with your kids and giggle like I did at the story, and marvel at the creativity and humor Heos and Ang poured into this book.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Satch & Me (A Baseball Card Adventure) by Dan Gutman

Satch & Me (A Baseball Card Adventure) by Dan Gutman

Rating: 4.5 stars

Ben is a sports nut.  This is not news for those who know him.  He knows right where the nonfiction sports section is in the library, and he spends most of his library time there, in his happy place.  He happily checks out the same books on baseball, soccer, football, and rugby again and again and again.

In the juvenile fiction section, he goes right to the CHR section, where he chooses a few Matt Christopher books to "read" by himself.  (We've read one together, The Lucky Bat.  Read that review here.)  But when I came across this Baseball Card Adventure series, I couldn't help but share it with him.  He quickly chose one to read together with me at night; I was thrilled he chose Satch & Me.  After reading Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs the Rookie Joe DiMaggio I wanted to know more about Satch.

The Baseball Card Adventure books all have the same premise: Joe Stoshack, or "Stosh," can travel through time by holding baseball cards from the year to which he wants to travel. In each book, Stosh has a unique reason to want to travel to meet that particular ball player.  In Satch's case, he and his Little League coach want to track the speed of Satch's famous pitch: Just how fast can this guy throw?

Though Scholastic suggests this book for kids in grades three through five, I thought it was completely appropriate for Ben, who enters kindergarten in a little over a month.  There were many things I loved about the book:

  • The story started strong at the first page, and Ben was hooked quickly.  He learned the word "cliffhanger" because many of the chapters really did leaving him begging for me to read just one more chapter…that's always a good sign!
  • Stosh tells the story in the first person.  He's a normal kid and a likable character as he makes mistakes and weighs decisions and sometimes gets in a bit of trouble.
  • As always, I'm awed and grateful by how much I can teach Ben through baseball.  Stosh goes back in time and witnesses segregation and prejudice and bigotry first-hand, and Gutman doesn't shy away from pointing out injustices through Stosh's eyes.  I never once had to change the wording to explain something. I did, however, stop to explain things and answer Ben's many questions...
  • Gutman does an excellent job of having his older characters--in this case, Satch and Flip--instill some wisdom in young Stosh.  And, in some instances, Satch teaches Flip a thing or two (mostly about women "The things you do for women you wouldn't do for anything else.  Same with money").  And Stosh has some advice for readers, too, even though he's still mighty young himself.  My favorite line of his: "Sometimes you just have to take a chance and hope you made the smart decision."
  • Satchel Paige was an interesting character both in the book and in real life--and an important one.  In the back of the book, Gutman spends a few pages spreading the facts out for the reader.  Paige was the first player from the Negro League to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and most players who played with him believe him to be the best pitcher in the history of baseball.
  • I loved sharing Ben's passion a little every night.  I hear about it all day, yes, but learning about one of the great ball players with him was my kind of fun, and after a phone call with my ball playing grandfather, Ben and I were equally floored to hear that Grandpa played against Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson (another player who pops up in the book).  Neither of us can wait to get the rest of the story from Grandpa!

Things you might want to know before reading this with your child:

  • Stosh's parents are divorced.  This fact surfaces a little in each book that we've read (we're reading Jackie & Me now).  They have a good co-parenting relationship, but are not overly chummy.
  • In this book, Stosh takes his 70-something, single Little League coach, Flip, back in time with him, and Flip meets a girl and they fall in love. She runs away from her father to catch up with Flip and Stosh, and Stosh considers leaving Flip in the past so he can be with her.  This little romance is appropriate for older kids, but I edited out a few sentences for Ben. (I couldn't do this with Lorelei, who corrects me when I'm reading!
Yesterday I took the kids to the bookstore and let them choose two books or games (or, in Kiefer's case, a mean-looking Lego policeman alarm clock…something that this smiley child who wakes up around 5:30 most mornings definitely does NOT need…).  Ben went right to the "G" area of "Middle Grade Fiction" to see which books from the Baseball Card Adventure series were there.  Only one: Babe & Me.  "That's the one I wanted!" Ben exclaimed with Willy-Wonka gold ticket excitement.

So, looks like I'll soon be reporting back about Babe, too…!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Camp Rex by Molly Idle

Camp Rex by Molly Idle

Rating: 4 stars

Hurry, check out this book to get in the mood for your summer camping trip!

If you close your eyes and just listen to the words of the book, you'll hear an old time-y, 1950s guide to camping. I just can hear the enthusiastic, wholesome male voice ring loud and clear:
Searching for an outing to enjoy with your friends?  Consider camping! The fresh air and exercise are invigorating!
Remember to stay together as a group…and stick to the trail. When you reach the campsite, find the perfect place to pitch your tent.
The words in this picture book are straightforward.  The illustrations?  Funny, quirky, endearing, and downright beautiful.  I just can't get enough of them!

Set to the wholesome, no-nonsense voiceover, a girl, her brother, and their pre-historic pals head out on a camping trip. Their time starts innocently enough as they march smilingly through the woods to a campsite. Their tents go up--with a few mishaps--and wave cheerily to a crabby owl as they move out to explore the area.

This is where the story picks up.
A traditional sing-along and marshmallow roast
always bring campers closer together.

They nearly step into poison ivy, and as the narrator urges them not to disturb the natural landscape, T-Rex (with a teensy-tiny boy scout hat perched atop his gigantic noggin), he picks up a beehive. Hilarious panic ensues as they run and jump into a lake.  They head back to camp to start a fire, cook dinner, and roast marshmallows.  T-Rex tries to be helpful by ripping up an entire tree to add to the fire, but instead he uses it to roast marshmallows: the entire root system of the tree has a marshmallow balanced on it.

This is a very cute book with incredibly sweet and warm illustrations.  Really, I'd like the pages of this book to be prints that I could frame and hang around my kids' rooms. I guess I shouldn't expect less from Molly Idle, the author and illustrator of Caldecott honor book Flora and the Flamingo last year.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou by Rhonda Gowler Greene

No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou by Rhonda Gowler Greene, illustrated by Brian Ajhar

Rating: 5 stars

Here's another book to add to the massive pile of children's books that teach children that brains can overpower brawn any day of the week.  Children love stories like this--probably because their muscles are, honestly, pretty wimpy at this point.

But what makes No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou particularly fantastic--and it is particularly fantastic--is the way that Rhonda Gowler Greene has taken that dusty theme, blown some seriously creative breath on it, and done a thing of her own.  (Brian Ajhar helps out with his larger-than-life illustrations of the characters!)

Here's the story:

Big Pirate Pete stomps into quiet, clean, serene Seabreezy Library one day.  With his stink and his squawking parrot, he's an easy target of sideway glances and frowny faces.  The library-goers are all afraid of him (or at least his smell), and they cower in the biography section.  All except Library Lou, who boldly strolls up, taps Big Pirate Pete on the shoulder, and asks if she can help.
"ARRGH!" Big Pete thundered. "Don't waste me day!
Walk the plank, saucy lass, or show me the way!
(Okay, I know I would be irate if Ben called me a "saucy lass"--though I shouldn't get too mad because I know that I am--I did chuckle when I read it out loud.)

Library Lou tells him that there is treasure in the library.  But he has to go home and shower first.  Big Pirate Pete's eyes get big at the fact that this landlubber is telling him what to do.  But treasure is involved.  So he goes home and scrubs himself silly.

When a squeaky-clean (and dashingly handsome) Big Pirate Pete strolls through the library doors the next day, Library Lou tells him there's another thing he has to do: learn the alphabet.  Big Pirate Pete is shocked that there are more than Xs he needs to know about!  Library Lou teaches him every day, and sends home a stack of books with him every night.  Big Pirate Pete reads them on his pirate ship--on the poop deck, to be exact.  Library Lou entices him to read more and more by saying there is a clue in a book…and Big Pirate Pete gets dizzy looking at the stacks and stacks of books in the library.

But he starts searching for the "clue" Library Lou references…
Maybe, just maybe, the code be in rhyme.
He loved Mother Goose.  Dr. Seuss--how sublime!
They tickled his fancy, but--no secret code.
Avast! Easy readers! He snatched Frog and Toad. 
Day after day after day he went back.
And night after night, he piled high a new stack.
He found books called classics, great tales of the sea.
"Blimey!" cried Big Pete. "Thar's whar the clue be! 
Treasure Island…Me like it!" But--no clue to be found.
Stumped, Big Pete scoured each shelf, up and down.
In the end, after reading dozens of books with fun references for kids and grown ups a la Wild About Books, Big Pirate Pete goes back to the library.  He's found the treasure.  And he wants to thank sweet Library Lou for helping him find it: "it" being reading for fun, of course!

This is a wonderful, fun read--again, I triple dog dare any kid who is NOT wild about books to let it sit on their night stand for more than a few minutes…!

P.S. This is another book chosen by kids for kids through the Children's Choices Project.  Click here to access pdf of all the great 2014 award-winning books and recommendations.

Alphabet Trucks by Samantha R. Vamos

Alphabet Trucks by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke

Rating: 4 stars

So far we've had heaps of luck with the 2014 Children's Choices Award-Winning Books.  The books on this list we've printed out guided our book lending last week.  These books were selected by kids and for kids--with the goal of encouraging kids to read more for pleasure.  These kids were spot-on.  There are some really great books on the list!

Including Alphabet Trucks, a compact little read that I've read half a dozen times to Kiefer already, and we've only had it a few days.  At three, the alphabet--recognizing the letters and learning the sounds they make--is exactly where he needs to be.  Nothing makes him happier than riding in his dad's old Chevy pick-up truck (if only it were orange!), but a book about trucks--with a pick-up truck on the cover--comes pretty close.

The rhymes (the fact that it rhymes at this age is a wonderful thing!) are a solid good:
E is for elevator truck,
Raise the forklift--up it goes!
A is for apple truck, carting produce to the store.

F is for fuel truck,
with a meter, pump, and hose.
G is for grapple truck,
And its grabby, massive claw.
H is for horse truck,
Full of water, feed, and straw.

As you can see, there's not a lot of information on each truck, just a brief introduction and a great illustration by Ryan O'Rourke.  In each picture, he's sprinkled in a bunch of those letters--Kiefer particularly likes how the Ms are sliding down the chute of the Mixing Truck. I like how the Junk Truck is hauling off a whole lot of Js to the dump.

But my favorite is the zipper truck.  Because I know what that is!  And I knew it when we first read it, promise.  I am NOT the know-it-all in the house, so I am rarely the one who has The Answer.  But this time I did!  (Enter triumphant ha-HA! here)  Years ago I saw a zipper truck, also known as a Barrier-Transfer Machine, do its thing as I drove into Washington, D.C.  I thought it was cool back then, and I didn't yet have boys who would verify its coolness for me. I told the kids about it.  I did my best to explain how it moved barriers to accommodate the different rush hour traffic needs on a single road, but this video helped them truly understand:

There you go!  One good book and one cool video to explain the car that exemplifies Z!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Rating: 4.5 stars

This is a book for kids who are completely SURE, absolutely POSITIVE, completely CONFIDENT that they hate books.  Because I dare--triple dog dare!--those kids to keep their arms folded in disgust and resist picking up this book.  It is just too big an invitation to partake in serious silliness.

You know the story: President Taft was a hefty fellow who allegedly got stuck in his own bathtub.  Poor guy, his most embarrassing moment is what parents and educators use to lure our kids into learning more about Presidents of the past...

Mac Barnett has taken that simple allegation and transformed a wild and silly romp of a story about Taft's time in the tub and how he gets out.  "Is this true?!" Lorelei and Ben asked, over and over, as we read the book.  They were reacting less to the story than the fantastic, colorful, hilarious illustrations created by one of our favorite illustrators, Chris Van Dusen.

According to this story, which I explained to my kids was "inspired by a true story," President Taft calls in different people to help him out, and they all have solutions to match their expertise.  The Secretary of Agriculture churns butter to help grease him out (Taft quips: "As soon as I'm out of the bath, I'll need a bath!"). The Secretary of State suggests a diet.  ("Blast it! I need something fast!") In each of these meetings, President Taft is naked in a surely cold bubble bath, his chubbiness exposed to those in the room and those reading the book.

Finally, with a big heave-ho, seven people pull him out and he catapults through the window, finally free but still very naked.  Bubbles help protect the innocent readers…  As everyone congregates and congratulates on the White House lawn, Taft meekly requests his bathrobe.

A wild and funny book, for sure!

(Confession:  To be honest, I really dislike watching embarrassing things.  There was a touch of that in the book for me, and I also felt a little badly hearing my kids laugh at a man's obesity.  I know, I know…way to bring a party down, Kate…!)

The Tiny King by Taro Miura

The Tiny King by Taro Miura

Rating: 4 stars

This book, selected because of the big ole "K" on its cover, was not at all what I expected, but I really appreciate the message, which is more for me than my kids.

Here's the story:

Once upon a time there lived a tiny king.  He lived alone in his huge castle, which was filled with marching soldiers, dazzling fountains, prancing horses, delicious foods, and one enormous bed.  But he was all alone.  He couldn't enjoy any of these things.  He had no one to share them with.

Then one day, the tiny king met a big princess.  They fell in love and got married. They had children--ten of them! The marching soldiers were sent away; the pitter-patter of little feet filled the old castle.  The dazzling fountains became a fun bathtub for the kids.  The prancing horses pulled the family to picnics. The delicious foods were a huge feast to share together.  And they slept together in the enormous bed, with the king and his queen smiling at each other and the ten little, royal kids in between them.
The Tiny King and his family gathered round
the big table every day.

Taro Miura explains the book in this way: "This simple story is about a lonely king whose life is completely changed by having a family.  If this story reminds the fathers, mothers, and children who read it about the joy of having a family, it will make me very happy."

What a wise soul.  He's produced such a gentle reminder--in book form--to focus on the big joys of family rather than the little, nagging day-to-day challenges of family.  It's a choice, he suggests.  And I agree.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Digger and Tom by Sebastien Braun

Digger and Tom by Sebastien Braun

Rating: 5 stars

Separately, I tell Lorelei, Ben and Kiefer that they have a special superpower with each other: the power of encouragement.  While a "You can do it!" from Mommy or Daddy is great and sometimes can't be beat, a "You can do it!" from your sibling (especially, in Lorelei and Ben's case, an older sibling), is pretty awesome in its own way.  What grown younger sibling doesn't still crave an encouraging "You can do it!" from their older brother or sister?!

Oh, wait.  Shoot.  Am I the only one?  Hmm...

Anyway, Digger and Tom by Sebastien Braun provides just the right context for helping your child understand how wonderful it is to say "You can do it!" to somebody else.  We've all got to be so darn self-motivated in the world; it's nice for some help some days.

Digger is a little digger, the littlest construction vehicle on the lot.  He and Tom, a dump truck, work together to move dirt and rubble and other stuff.  While clearing the construction site at the end of the day, Tom notices one stubborn rock sticking out from the ground.  Tom leaves it in Digger's small but capable bucket.

Digger hops to it, but the rock is just too big.  It is just too stuck.  The other bigger vehicles move in and push Digger aside, maneuvering their bigger and more capable bodies in front.  They each have a turn with the rock, but no one can get it unstuck.  Those big vehicles decide to take a break.

While they're catching their breath, Tom whispers to Digger: "Why don't you have another try? You're a digger.  Digging's what you do best!"

So he gives it another try.  And he gets it unstuck! He is tired but proud, and thanks Tom: "Thank you for believing in me."

I LOVE this sweet book.  There are two other books by the prolific children's book author Sebastien Braun that emphasize team work and encouragement towards smaller-than-most vehicles (older Toot and Pop and newer Whoosh and Tug), but this one is our favorite.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Rating: 5 stars

Katherine Olivia Sessions lived in Northern California in the 1860s.  In a time when girls were supposed to be prim and proper, clean and courteous, Kate roamed the redwoods, collected pine needles, and got dirty.

(Don't you like her already?)

She was one of few girls interested in science, and she left home to study plants and soil and water at the University of California.  In 1881, she and a handful of other women held a degree in science.

(Hooray for Kate!)

She moved to Southern California, to San Diego, for a job after graduation.  Unlike her childhood in the north, she was now surrounded by desert and a landscape without trees.  She was a teacher at a local school for a few years, but missed science.  She missed trees, too.  She became determined to find trees to grow in her new home. Few believed this was possible.

(Kate had determination and faith and smarts…enough to solve any problem.)

Her friends worried Kate wouldn't find trees to live in dry
soil with lots and lots of sunshine.
But she did.
It took years of tree hunting to find trees that would grow, but found trees, planted trees, and then opened a nursery to sell trees. All of the trees grew, enriched the landscape, and made city leaders believe that Balboa Park needed trees to become a better setting for a fair that would soon be held there. They turned to Kate, and Kate turned to the community for volunteers to help.  Together, they planted trees and created a lush backdrop for the fair.

I admit that I got this book and a few others like it at the start of Lorelei's nature science camp as further inspiration for her curiosity and interest in the camp.  I read a while back that around the age of seven, girls have a significant decline in their interest of science and math.  Something happens, and I'm not expert enough to understand the nuances of how girls act in school in these subjects in most schools, or what happens psychologically as girls develop and approach things that are Typically Boy and Typically Girl.


I do know that I have a daughter who gasped at the cover of this book and said, "That could be me!" before even opening it.  She identified with Kate Sessions; both girls find solace and wonder among nature and trees.  Both are curious and capable, and care enough about things besides themselves to make a difference in others' lives.  So yes, I want this book lying around to quietly and beautifully remind Lorelei: Individuals matter.  And girls can do great things.

(I believe that Lorelei can.  And will!)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Case of the Missing Donut by Alison McGhee

The Case of the Missing Donut by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Isabel Roxas

Rating: 5 stars

Sheriff had a mission.  A simple mission, really: Bring home a dozen donuts. The sheriff and his deputy dog took this mission very seriously, trying to keep the box flat so not one donut would be squished or squashed, flipped or flopped.

On the walk home, the sheriff felt obligated to check out the safety of the donuts.  So he peeked at them.  One--it just happened to be the powdered sugared one, the one he most wanted to taste in his sheriff-mouth--seemed to be a little bit squished.  So he took a little bite, to even it out.  But when he takes one bite, stopping is impossible. Soon, that powdered sugar wonderful-ness was gone.  Gone!

It was such a mystery!  (Or, at least that's what the sheriff told the deputy, to keep from looking guilty.)

Yet, as the sheriff continued to walk home, on a walk that was obviously familiar because everyone knew him, it seemed that everyone knew the true whereabouts of the donut.  Somehow, they just KNEW!

But wait a minute.
Was that one smushed?
Yes, it certainly was.
The barber, Mrs. Flaherty, his friend Kareem…they all asked how much he liked the donut.  And then, when he got home, his mom and dad were looking at him sorta funny.  DID THEY KNOW TOO?!

When they opened the box and saw only eleven donuts, his mom and dad asked: "Sheriff, would you happen to have any information about this case?"

The sheriff gulped nervously, then told the truth.  Curious, he asked how his parents knew.  The answer involved one mirror and, in case you hadn't guessed, one very powdered face.

All three of my kids got into this witty, well-told little mystery.  Once again, when they know something that the character in the book doesn't realize or see for himself, hilarity is sure to kick in, and some silly sort of uproarious laughter is sure to be heard.

And now--get this--they all want to go to Grand-Dad's house, because that is pretty much the only place they get donuts. See you soon, Grand-Dad!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Build, Dogs, Build: A Tall Tail by James Horvath

Build, Dogs, Build: A Tall Tail by James Horvath

Rating: 4 stars

As I stated in my last post, it's not good when I read a book the day it's due.  But it is a great sign when I read a book to one of my kids before we even check it out at the library.  That is a sign that I'll be reading the book at least twice a day for the next week straight. And that means I've got a book that really appeals to kids.  Hooray!

With Build, Dogs, Build in the house, I know what I'll be reading when I ask Kiefer to go choose a book.  He is crazy about construction right now, so the very fact that one of the dogs on the cover is holding a wrench makes him go ga-ga (even though, at three, he's really past saying "ga-ga"). Horvath wrote a story and created illustrations with kids like Kiefer in mind: the story is cute and about building a tall structure, it rhymes in a pleasing sort of way, the illustrations are bright and colorful and inviting, and he's got silly stuff mixed in with true facts.

It's like he's Duke the foreman, one of the characters in his book, double-checking the plan on How to Create a Successful Children's Book!

The beams go up fast, / building room upon room.
As the pumper pumps / liquid cement through its boom.
My kids were swept into the book in the first few pages, when they chose which dog they wanted to be, and on each subsequent page they found "themselves" and tried to figure out what they were doing.  Meanwhile, I read stanzas like:
Here's the tall building,
all crumbled and cracked.
We'll knock it down quickly
with a couple of whacks. 
The crane is in place.
The angle's correct.
Get the ball swinging now.
Wreck, dogs, wreck!
We loved it, and later today we'll check out the book Horvath wrote before Build, Dogs, Build, its prequel: Dig, Dogs, Dig: A Construction Tail.  You now know what I'll be reading twice a day for the next few weeks!

Wait a second…this just in!...there's another due out at the beginning of fall 2014?!  Work, Dogs, Work: A Highway Tail?!  Kiefer is now counting down the days for it to be published...

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

Rating: 2 stars

It's never a good sign when you wait until the day a book is due to read it.

For a bunch of small reasons, this new book about a President I respect a whole lot sure didn't work for me.  I know why it didn't get much attention from Lorelei (who, besides me, is the main reader of this type of nonfiction picture book in our house): there is no story. I know that she read it, but there is no tale or rise and fall and resolution pattern that is what is usually needed to grab a child's interest.

I know this next reason I didn't like it is a random quibble, but the font is also a very strange choice: it's a mix between Times New Roman and a casual, handwritten-like font that includes a whole lot of cursive.  In schools around us, cursive is taught in third grade.  But this is a book allegedly aimed for 5 to 8 year olds.  Hmm.

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything is, basically, a long list of the things in which Thomas Jefferson was interested.  Though Kalman never uses this term, it is an explanation of how he was a renaissance man.  He read on many subjects, spoke half a dozen languages, cared for his farm, designed his own house, practiced the violin three hours a day, wound the clock in his kitchen daily.

Monticello, which means "Little Mountain" in Italian
Kalman also boldly includes how Jefferson, who wrote how horrid slavery was, also owned slaves.  She even--this surprised me very much--talks about how, after his beloved wife died, he allegedly "had children with the beautiful Sally Hemings," one of his slaves.

Kalman includes her own parenthetical musings every few sentences.  After she paraphrases one of Thomas Jefferson's long-winded quotations as "Don't be lazy," she includes "(It is boring to be lazy.)" After she reports that Thomas Jefferson's favorite vegetable was peas, she includes "Peas are really wonderful and fun to count." After explaining how Thomas Jefferson had fierce tribal shields on his walls that could give you nightmares she writes "(Ugh. Nightmares. Why do we have them?)"

I'm baffled by this book.