Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Walk on the Wild Side by Nicholas Oldland

Walk on the Wild Side by Nicholas Oldland
Kids Can Press

Rating: 5 stars

This book had me from its opening page: "There once was a bear, a moose, and a beaver who loved adventure. But sometimes their competitive natures got in the way of having fun."

Anyone who knows me understands why this might speak to me... I might be a teensy-weensy bit competitive. Just a tad. Every now and then.

Here is the story of these three wild friends:

They decide to go for a hike. During a snack break a few pages into the book--a few miles into their hike, they discuss ways to make their adventure a little more interesting. The beaver thought it'd be exciting to make the hike into a race!

So off they go. (The illustration of them running, each on two feet, is my all-time favorite.) Because of his long legs, the moose takes the lead. But a boulder suddenly drops down in front of him. To avoid getting squashed, the moose had to jump over the side of the mountain. (Oh, no!)

The beaver huffs and puffs up. He doesn't see the moose so he thinks he's fallen behind. He picks up his pace, unknowingly passing his fallen friend.

Luckily, the bear hears the moose and tries to rescue him. Unfortunately, his rescue attempt fails and moose ends up grabbing his paw and saving him. Their cries for help echo up the mountain, and the beaver turns around when he hears them. The beaver's instincts kick in and he chews down a tree, chews several notches in it, and lowers down the simple ladder. Relieved to not be dangling over the side of the mountain anymore, the beaver's friends breathe deeply.

They decide they've had enough racing for a day, and hike along together, exploring little and big things--together.

I have to admit I'm a little annoyed with myself that I've not seen these books before--this is the fourth book with this wild trio by Nicholas Oldland. I've ordered them all from our local library, but really I would love a print of these guys--I love their silly expressions, the western backdrop, their simple adventures.

(Oh, and by the way, this author also has a cool clothing store company--he started this picture book venture by first making kids' pajamas then thought, "Hmm...wouldn't it be cool to write a book for kids to read while they wore these pajamas?!" Check his company, Hatley, out HERE.)


Monday, July 27, 2015

Cat Says Meow and Other An-i-mal-o-poe-ia by Michael Arndt

Cat Says Meow and Other An-i-mal-o-poe-ia by Michael Arndt
Chronicle Books

Rating: 5 stars

This is a picture book. Of that I'm certain. But it's not a traditional story--it's just an example of how to have fun with words and pictures. Ben saw it at the library and handed it to me with, "You've got to check this out, Mom. I saw it in school."

My trio and I have paged through it several times--Kiefer can "read" it by guessing the animal sound, and we all appreciate the cleverness of artist Michael Arndt and appreciate how he used the animal sound to draw the animals.

Look at how he uses "Quack" and "Glub" and "Moo" and "Oink" to draw a duck, fish, cow, and pig:



As Ben says, you've got to check it out!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Little Miss, Big Sis by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Little Miss, Big Sis by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Harper

Rating: 5 stars

If you know of any little girls who are about to become big sisters, this is The Book to get her. It is cute, it is sweet, it is funny, and it is both realistic and optimistic about a big sister's sibling experience.

Should I just stop there?

I'll go on a little more:

This book has just 129 words and has a very simple rhyme, making it perfect for the youngest of big sisters--Lorelei became a big sister when she was just 18 months, and I know she's not alone in this experience of early-sibling-hood.

After receiving the news that she, the "little miss" is going to become a "big sis," and after she and her parents rush to the hospital to have the baby, the story goes on to talk about what the new big sis can expect"

Drool. Drool. Cry. Cry. (Lullaby?)
Do not despair--I'll help care!
From there, EVERYWHERE...
Stay near crib. Help with bib. (What a sib!)

And despite the fact that the baby "sometimes takes toys" and "sometimes annoys," Big Sis "always supports.

Really, it's just the sweetest poem, and the icing on top is Peter Reynolds' fantastic illustrations. It seems like whatever he draws it's uplifting and sweet, funny and poignant.

The. Perfect. Book. for a girl becoming a big sister!

(Amy Krouse Rosenthal is such a great author--she delivers witty and fun books. Click HERE to see the list of books of hers I've reviewed. And Peter H. Reynolds, an author/illustrator, has produced some incredible books as well--click HERE for a list of his books.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Night World by Mordicai Gerstein

The Night World by Mordicai Gerstein
Little, Brown and Company

Rating: 5 stars

I read this book just a few days after our family camped out together for the very first time. At my husband's suggestion, he and the kids slept "under the stars"--which meant on top of a tarp, on a thin camping pad, inside their sleeping bags. But under nothing else. I slept in the tent he'd already set up, thinking someone would join me during the night. But no one did.

The kids were excited, and though we have good kids who like a good adventure, I was still surprised that there was no complaining during the two hours it took for them to fall asleep. For kids who normally go inside and up to bed around 7:30, there was a whole lot to see. Night unfolded in acts: bats flew erratically over them, birds chirped loudly, fireflies flashed on and off, the sky darkened, the birds stopped singing, stars began to shine. The fell asleep sometime around 9:30, and slept solidly until they all awoke, wet with dew, the next morning.

They fell asleep at the beginning of The Night World, looking at a sky very similar to the sky at which the boy on the cover gazes. In the book, a cat, Sylvie, wakes the boy, wanting to go out. The two of them creep through the house--dark bodies in dark rooms, with only the words on the pages and their eyes bright white.

Sylvie says mysteriously, "It's coming. Hurry!" as the two creep along. The reader starts to wonder, starts to get pulled into the mystery just as the boy does. They walk outside to the deliciously wet, quiet, and dark world. The white stars glitter off the page.
The glow flares above the trees.
Clouds turn pink and orange.

They see parts of the night, but they also see animals, who are just as excited about what is about to happen. "It's almost time!" they cry out.

The animals and the boy become the audience for what happens, the same thing that happens every morning, the same miracle we witness, the same gift we're given... The sky lightens gradually, casting shadows on the animals, a glow forms, and the clouds become rich with color. As the animals begin to slip away, just the boy and Sylvie remain to absorb dawn's first, magical light.

They say good morning to each other, filled with sunshine and hope and eagerness for the day ahead.

I love how Gerstein creates an entire story around the magic of a sunrise. Having just seen my three kids' enthusiasm while watching day turn into night, I know it's no exaggeration that kids believe in the beauty of a simple, daily act of nature.

Monday, July 13, 2015

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Rating: 5 stars

Here's another great book by author/illustrator Peter Brown that teaches kids that there is sometimes more to a person than what you see at first...

Bobby gets straight to the point: "My teacher is a monster." We readers can already tell by the great illustration by the uber-talented Peter Brown. Mrs. Kirby looks all right from the neck down in a prim, old-fashioned dress. But her head...yowzah! Yup, definitely a monster with those snaggly teeth and bumpy skin and ferociously mean, unamused, constantly grumpy eyes.

"ROBERT!" Mrs. Kirby roars at him when he makes a paper airplane.

Bobby is appropriately frightened of her, so when he sees her at the park one day, he completely freaks out.

Gasp! (I love it when they first spot each other a the park.)
Yet he knows he can't be rude. So he raises his hand to being a hilariously awkward conversation pointing out how strange it is to see her out of school. Mrs. Kirby agrees, and they sit in awkward silence.

Until something happens that changes their relationship and view of each other forever.

A gust of wind blows off her hat, and she frets and worries and nearly cries as the hat is near and dear to her. They both chase it this way and that, but Bobby is the one that catches it.

"Oh, Bobby! You are my hero!" Mrs. Kirby exclaims.

They both freeze by the un-monster-like gratitude that just happened, but they can't undo what was done and said, so they begin to have a less awkward, more lovely day at the park as each shows the other what they like to do there, when alone. As they play together, Bobby sees her in a new light, sees different sides of her he's never seen before. Through the illustrations, as Bobby gets to know her, and she gets to know him, too, Mrs. Kirby transforms from a monster to a normal human.

(Except she's still monster-like when he makes paper airplanes in class, which I completely understand. We all have a finite amount of patience...or at least I do...!)

This book has been out for quite some time so you've probably already seen it before. I even listened to an interview when author/illustrator Peter Brown talked about the process of making the book, and about how he had to be careful when he went on author visits to schools because, well, he didn't want to plant the idea in kids' heads that their teachers were, in fact, monsters!

This is a fantastic book with a great lesson with illustrations both funny and spot-on. Peter Brown has done it again! (To see all of my reviews of his books, click HERE.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball by David A. Kelly

Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball by David A. Kelly, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez
Millbrook Press

Rating: 5 stars

I love books like this--well-written, true stories that answer the question: What's the story behind ___? I don't know about your kid, but my kids listen to a story like this with a nice dose of disbelief and amusement, and a light switch seems to get turned on inside them. It's the wonder or curiosity switch. And we all know that when a child wonders or gets curious, good things happen.

David A. Kelly has researched and written a fascinating book about the story of "miracle mud." He starts the story around 1900, when a guy named Lena Blackburne tried to play professional baseball, but he just couldn't cut it. Still, he loved the game and wanted to stay involved. So he became a coach.

One day, an umpire complained about the baseballs to Lena Blackburne. The balls were too soggy and soft, making them difficult to throw and even harder to hit. They were soggy because players often soaked the balls in water to make them less shiny and slick. Other players tried to reduce the shine by using shoe polish. That made the balls black. Still other players used spit or tobacco juice. That made the balls stink.
One day, an umpire complained to Lena about the baseballs.

Lena didn't know the answer until he went fishing along the Delaware River in New Jersey. He stepped in thick brown mud that was smooth and gritty. A lightning bulb went off in his head. Lena grabbed a bucket of mud and went back to his team.

He took some baseballs, wiped mud all over them, then wiped them off. They weren't soggy, black, or stinky--but they'd lost their slick shine to them. The players noticed the difference.

And so Lena became a mud farmer--who knew that was a thing--and never told anyone where he got his mud. Still today, this "Lena Blackburn's Baseball Rubbing Mud" is the only thing allowed on major-league balls. Talk about having a corner on the market!

I was pretty incredulous after reading this story. Really? Really?! Kiefer wanted to know if Lena Blackburne was still alive. There's a great Author's Note in the back of this book that helped me out. Nope--Lena died in 1968. His son Jim Bintliff owns, runs, and keeps the secrets of the business today. July is mud-harvesting season. Jim and his crew go out to a spot that's STILL a secret and scoop up the mud, then store it in barrels during the winter.

And...really? They use it today? Yup. The official rules of Major League Baseball (rule 3.01(c)) states that "before a game, an umpire should, among other things, ensure the baseballs to be used are regulation baseballs and 'that they are properly rubbed so that the gloss is removed.'" Usually one of the home team's clubhouse attendants rubs the seventy-two balls with mud before each game.

Here's a neat video about the Texas Rangers, explaining the use of mud in today's baseball games:



My kids are wondering what else they don't know about this game of baseball that our family loves. That's wonder, that's curiosity, that's also the stuff of magic.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Brimsby's Hats by Andrew Prahin

Brimsby's Hats by Andrew Prahin
Simon & Schuster

Rating: 5 stars

For years, Brimsby's best friend visited every day. His best friend made wonderful tea, and Brimsby made wonderful hats as they filled the hours with chatter about everything and anything. Then one morning his best friend said he was leaving to travel far away so he could realize his dream of becoming a sea captain. Brimsby sent him on his way with a sad, little wave and a brand-new hat.

As you can imagine, Brimsby got pretty lonely. His house was way too quiet without the lively conversations with his best friend.

So he went out looking for some new friends. Despite a heavy blanket of snow and more continuing to fall, he found some, perched up in a tree, trying to stay warm. The birds were trying to stay warm with bird-sized wood-burning stoves. Brimsby watched these busy birds, and knew he could help.

The hats kept the snow out of their nests and
stopped the cold wind from blowing out their fires.
He went back to his hat-making shop and made some modifications on his hats. Some days later, he returned to the tree, climbed up with a ladder, and handed the busy birds hats that each had a door, a window, and a hole for the stove pipe. The grateful birds now had time to return to Brimsby's home, drink some tea, and talk about anything and everything.

Brimsby wasn't lonely anymore.

(And from time to time, Brimsby and his new bird friends trekked a far distance to visit his best friend in a seaside town full of ships, and talk about how wonderful it was that they had all been lucky enough to meet one another.)

I think I'm especially primed to love this story because some dear people in my kids' lives just moved away. I love that this story, unlike Bad Bye, Good Bye and some other picture books, focuses on the one who was left behind--in this case, Brimsby. In real life, me and my kids. I love how Brimsby supports his friend but also has the gumption to do something about his loneliness--and he makes new friends by changing what he normally does and giving something of himself to help others.

This giving of yourself is risky! In a big way! But for Brimsby it works out, and I hope kids all over--those who have dear ones move away and those whose best friends still sit beside them--realize that giving of yourself is often worth the risk. And what a gem of a book this is.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books

Rating: 3.5 stars

Billy Miller finds himself at the end of summer vacation, about to start second grade when he suddenly realizes that he might not be smart enough for second grade. The worrying creeps into his mind and he just can't shake it.

He starts second grade anyway--as if he has a choice!--and throughout the book he has small, second-grade-sized challenges that he worries about then overcomes, and Billy realizes that everything turns out okay in the end, and sometimes it turns out even better than okay.

Billy finishes the book at the very end of second grade just a little more confident and a little more capable than when he started.

I solidly liked this book, but Lorelei solidly loves it. She's read it a few times and recommended it to several of her friends. She read it the summer before her second grade, which I think is the perfect time to read The Year of Billy Miller, especially if that second grader has some (normal!) frets about school. There's nothing objectionable in this book and Billy has a yesteryear quality about him--he's a rule-following kid, a sweet big brother without a bit of sarcasm or eye-roll in his body. 

My favorite aspect of the book is the fact that there is no huge problem Billy needs to overcome. His parents don't fight or go through a divorce, no family member or friend dies, he doesn't lose his favorite pet. Billy's challenges seem bite-sized to us grown-ups but seem giant-sized to a kid barely four feet tall. And I like that a lot, because those little daily problems (such as your sister ruining a school project or reciting a poem in front of the whole school) are what life is chock full of for kids. 

What I don't love about this book: I think his parents help him too much. It's his super-hip artist dad that helps him redesign his school project after his sister douses it in glitter. And it's his always-patient mother who rescues him at the climax of the story, smack dab in the biggest small problem of his whole life. I love books where the kids have the total spotlight and the parents are in the background--I love watching kids solve their own problems, even if they create some problems of their own, too. 

But despite my misgivings, I enjoyed watching Billy grow over the course of the year, and this is a great one to read this summer with your soon-to-be second grader, or a book to let that kiddo read by him/herself.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Frindle by Andrew Clements

Frindle by Andrew Clements
Atheneum Books for Young Readers 

Rating: 5 stars

After Lorelei begged me to read this for nearly half a year, I finally picked it up and read it in the crazy-busy last week of school. Much to the delight of the clutter in my kitchen, I'm never too busy to read! Lorelei is right--the book is hilarious and very worthy the praise it's received over the years.

(Frindle is a short chapter book and fine for kids to read on their own, but fun to read aloud with them.) 

Is Nick Allen a troublemaker? Not really. He just wants to make the time spent in his school a little more interesting, and when his usual pranks don't work with his new teacher, he has to get creative. Inspired by his teacher's love of words, and her very own explanation that we the English-speaking populace give credence to the definition of words, Nick invents a new word: "frindle." It means pen.

In just days the word spreads through the school, in weeks it goes beyond the school, and soon enough the word "frindle" is the next Big Thing in the country. It's hilarious to watch the debate between clever Nick and his teacher about whether he should get in trouble for this or not. I'm happy to report that relationships between the kids and grown ups in Frindle are respected though boundaries are pushed a bit...in an age-appropriate and above-average very funny way. Oh, and the ending is surprisingly tender-hearted. 

Without a doubt this is one of the best middle grade books I have read--so funny, so clever, so sweet! I continue to search for well-written books that feature great story lines and clever humor rather than cheap humor and yucky sarcasm. Some of the recent middle grade books that Lorelei and Ben have read in the past school year are just...not so awesome in my humble opinion. Yet Frindle is definitely in the category of Great Summer Read. Can't recommend this book enough for your summer reading list!

(And if you like it, Andrew Clements is known for mastering the middle school voice and has written dozens of chapter books about elementary and middle school! Click HERE for a list of his books.)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl
Puffin

Rating: 5 stars

Well, it's a fact: My childhood was a snooze-fest compared to Roald Dahl's exciting one. Then again, perhaps I should count my lucky stars that I wasn't one of a huge brood, that I didn't get shipped off to boarding school a little too young, that I didn't get beaten for tiny infractions, and that I didn't grow up in a world stricter than strict!

I've wanted to know more about Roald Dahl for a long time, and this autobiography of his youth was incredibly satisfying. It was also a riot! I loved it--laughed out loud several times while reading it, not caring if I looked like a loon while laughing in public at a beat-up library book that is probably meant for children. 


As a child I read a lot of Roald Dahl books, and I remember vividly my mother reading The Witches out loud to me--and having it be creepy and hilarious at the same time. That's quintessential Dahl for you... This would be a fun book to read out loud with kids, too, but also a fine one for them to read on their own. Either way, I think it's most appreciated after you or your child read a few Roald Dahl books. 

In Boy, Dahl writes about the part of his life where the idea for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  came from (at boarding school Cadbury would give chocolate bars to boys and ask them to test them, and Dahl realized that the chocolate creators, those inventors of all things sweet and rich and chocolatey, took their jobs very, very seriously...). Also, it's clear from the horribly funny run-ins with The Matron at his boarding school where the inspiration of the headmistress in Matilda came from! 

An early chapter reader might enjoy The Enormous Crocodile or a other short stories. Lorelei read James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Danny Champion of the World several times on her own when she was six or seven. I won't let her read The Witches--I want to read it out loud to her, like my mom did! When I was telling her about Boy: Tales of Childhood, I love that she was annoyed with me: "Mom, why did you return it without giving it to me?!" 

Yup, this book is good enough to pass around from one generation to another. Enjoy chuckling at a childhood far more entertaining than my own!