Friday, April 10, 2015

Spring Cleaning

Bunny Days
by: Tao Nyeu
Dial Books

Bunny Days will surprise you.  The cover resembles a suitable baby shower book: with bunnies, birdies, bears and child-friendly colors like powder blue and sherbet orange.  And while it is a sweet book for children, about a group of bunnies that keep getting in the way of Mr. and Mrs. Goat as they go about their chores, it also contains fresh humor - that I almost missed upon the first reading.

When my mom first started reading it, she said: "I don't think it's a good message to put bunnies in the washing machine, or for their tails to be chopped off with yard clippers."  I had a similar first reaction when I opened the book and saw bunnies hanging on a laundry line... but I've since realized that children have stuffed animals, that go through similar trials to the bunnies in the book: getting dirty and having to be washed in the washing machine or having a leg or other part that needs to be sewn back on.

We're used to stories like Corduroy or Velveteen Rabbit where the author differentiates the stuffed animals from the other characters.  Author Nyeu creates a world of stuffed animals without seams, which is perhaps how children view their favorite stuffed companions.

The events are simple for a toddler to follow, and make Anderson giggle every time- me too.  Like most stories, it's not the 'what' it's about, but 'how' the story is told.  The cheerful illustrations will put a smile on your face.

I like that even though bunnies get dirty or hurt, with a little care and attention, everything is put back to rights.  Click here to view the website and more stories from Tao Nyeu.

Small Pig
Arnold Lobel
Harper Collins

You might remember the Frog and Toad  book series?  I haven't revisited those yet with Anderson, but we did find Small Pig, which is a goodie that I somehow missed as a child.

Pig lives on a farm, and likes mud.  Nothing earth shattering here.  But one day, the farmer's wife takes to a cleaning frenzy and vacuums up his mud.  The pig sets out to find a new home, and a tale of his adventures ensues.  Anderson loves to hear about the swamp the pig comes upon, with frogs and snakes, as well as the junk yard.  Find out what happens when he plunks down in wet cement on a busy city sidewalk!

I like a good message, and there are plenty of subtle ones in this book: a dirty pig is better than no pig, sometimes compassion trumps practicality, and the grass isn't always greener.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Anderson and I do a lot of cooking and baking together.  Pouring, mixing, measuring... he never tires of these.

Baking Day at Grandma's
by Anika Denise
illustrated by Christopher Denise

Baking Day at Grandma's is the perfect winter-time read.  The artwork is warm with browns, greens, and grandma's pretty pink shawl, and matches the calm rhythm of the story.  Toddlers younger than three years would also enjoy this book because of the rhyme, repetition, and simplicity of the story.  I thought it might be too young for Anderson, but we both enjoy its coziness: Old-time music, soft and sweet.  Skippy notes and tapping feet.  Learning songs that Grandma sings- when the kitchen timer rings! 

I've noticed grandmothers in books don't resemble today's grandmothers... wearing a shawl and listening to music on the gramophone, as in this book- but I love the archetypal warmth of the big grandma bear.  Safe is the word that comes to mind for grandma's house in this book.  The snow blankets everything outside, grandma is large and encompassing, and it feels insulated from any worries of the outside world.

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Bunny Cakes
by Rosemary Wells

You are perhaps acquainted with Max and Ruby, brother and sister rabbits created by Rosemary Wells.  This book was my first encounter with the funny duo.  I quickly looked for more Max and Ruby books at our library thinking I would review two from Wells, but from what I found (there weren't nearly as many as what I see listed online), this one "takes the cake".

I have read few picture books that I find laugh out-loud-funny, so I was surprised to find myself doing just that while reading this story.  While the premise is simple, the way the story is told is what makes it fun to read.  Ruby is making a birthday cake for grandma, and Max keeps getting in the way and spilling ingredients.  Max is repeatedly sent to the store to pick up what he's spilled, and unfortunately for Max, the grocer cannot read his additions to the lists.  Max is eventually banned from the kitchen altogether, so he sets himself to making an earthworm cake with caterpillar icing.

It's fun to watch Max making a mess and annoying his sister, since sometimes its hard to laugh when it's happening in my own house.  If it's on purpose, he's surely not letting on.  Max's failed efforts to communicate with the grocer remind me of how hard toddlers work to communicate and get what they want!  Max is undeterred and smiles through it all... perhaps unlike most toddlers, but so endearing in a little bunny!

Friday, January 2, 2015


Harry is no one new to many of us.  I've recently tracked a few of the Harry books down and it is important for you to know, that they are still good!  At age 3, Anderson likes some plot, but it still can't be too wordy or complicated so as to lose his attention.  They Harry books are just right.

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Harry the Dirty Dog
by: Gene Zion
Pictures by: Margaret Bloy Graham

The illustrations by Graham are entertaining even without the story.  I'm reminded of the Flintstones - it must have been a popular style of the time.  Anderson loves a story about mischief or being silly, and Harry is a master of both.  If you don't remember, Harry refuses a bath, and becomes so dirty that "he changed from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots."  A jaunt through town gives a glimpse of life in the fifties: coal chutes and delivery trucks, pillbox hats, workers carrying metal lunch boxes - and it's liberally sprinkled with trucks, trains, construction workers, and of course, dirt, to keep a boy (or girl) interested.

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No Roses for Harry!
by: Gene Zion
Pictures by: Margaret Bloy Graham

The plot of No Roses for Harry! is as clever as or more so than any current picture books.  Harry's spunk is admirable and charming, as he continuously tries to 'lose' the sweater with roses on it that grandma gives him for Christmas.  The scene where his family is looking all over the house for it, when he knows very well that a bird picked a lose string from it and unraveled it, is still entertaining.  Again, the pictures tell the whole story, but the writing it still good.

I just read that Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham were married while they collaborated on the Harry books and others, and later divorced.  Zion never published after that.

I have to also mention:
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Harry by the Sea
by: Gene Zion
Pictures by: Margaret Bloy Graham

I'm breaking the rules by mentioning this one, because Anderson doesn't like this book nearly as much as me.  But, I think it's hysterical.  Harry's family is at the beach, and there is no room for him under the umbrella, so he is forced into the hot sun.  He tries in vain to find a cool spot, including walking in the shadow of a fat lady, who of course is displeased at this.  Finally he thinks to take a swim, and comes out of the water covered in seaweed.  Everyone at the beach thinks he's a sea monster, and the pictures are a riot.  A must read, if only for your own entertainment amongst the other tedious stories your child undoubtedly makes you read over and over!

*You can still purchase/order newly printed books in the Harry series.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


I am not always reviewing the newest books, or those that get the most attention at Barnes and Noble.  
Rather, I think it's more useful to highlight some that may have gotten missed, that aren't on the bookstore shelves, and that may have to be special ordered.

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Snow on Snow on Snow 
by: Cheryl Chapman
paintings by: Synthia Saint James

We've moved into reading winter books and this is our favorite so far.  I've always loved the poem by Christina Rossetti, "In the bleak midwinter....", from which Chapman borrows the phrase: snow on snow on snow.  Chapman plays on the thrice repetition of phrases throughout the book - which captures the magnitude of winter: lots of snow, lots of blankets, lots of layers of clothing, lots of kids on the sled hill.

The oil and acrylic paintings are reminiscent of cut-up construction paper, with the addition of fuchsia.  Why were those packs only in primary colors?  I'm sure nowadays there are packs with every Crayola color invented.  The shock of bright winter coat and hat colors against landscapes of white is nicely captured by the artist. 

If it were just describing the feel and look of winter, it would have been ho hum, but a simple plot twist wakes my emotions.  The boy's hairy dog, Clancy, goes missing.  A lost pet definitely gets Anderson and mine's attention: the searching, the tears on tears on tears...and of course it has a happy ending.  

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Who Likes Rain?
by: Wong Herbert Yee

This book is worth reading for the pencil art work - so beautiful!  It's tempting to order a copy so I can tear out the pages and frame them for seasonal artwork.

Here are the great elements of this book:

1. Use of sound words like: Pitty-plip-PLOP.  Anderson loves to make funny sounds with his mouth, and they immediately grab his attention in a story.

2. Asking questions for kids to answer: When it rains, who's the first to scat?  I know! Do you? Mew, mew...

3. Rhyme that feels like the girl in the book has grabbed our hands, and is skipping with us through the pages.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Books by Keith Baker

I am starting to see a pattern... when we find a book that we like... we like other books from that author!  Go figure.  This is my ode to Author/Illustrator, Keith Baker.

Mr. Baker wrote and illustrated, Little Green, about a hummingbird flitting among the flowers of a young man's yard.  Some books that rhyme are babyish, and lack longevity once the child is beyond babbling.  Some use words that are too plain, so they are boring.  Some have one or two lines where the rhyme is awkward, and it spoils it.

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It is a magical thing to read a rhythmical, rhyming picture book that is SWEET!  Little Green  is just such a book.  The delicate and joyful way a humming bird moves between flowers and stops to take in its viewer is perfectly captured.

At times, the action and personality of animals in picture books have nothing to do with the actual animal, but rather the animal was randomly chosen for cuteness to tell the story.  Little Green is true to hummingbirds, without being "educational".   The reader delights in following the hummingbird, just as in real life when you catch sight of one.  The hummingbird isn't personified, but rather it has plenty of 'personality' just being itself.  I think this is a must have for little ones or adults who love hummingbirds!

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Mr. Baker also wrote and illustrated Just How Long Can a Long String Be?  I thought a book about a long string would be a bit abstract for Anderson, but alas, he keeps asking to read it.

I've noticed that I often find picture book illustrations to be 'too much' - with too much action, or the art work is too abstract, or the colors are harsh.  In this book, his colors are beautiful, and there is just enough to look at so that you can shift your focus on the different readings.  Anderson enjoys finding the little ant on each page.  Again, this book rhymes, but it doesn't feel like the author is trying too hard for the rhyme.

We're working on being creative with simple toys - such as buckeyes and sticks lately.  This book is about one of the simplest objects, a string - playfully reviewing its many uses.  Again, string, bird, nor ant are personified, and the book succeeds in being sweetly entertaining.

And I just love his illustrations...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

True to Form: Trucks and the Sea

I've spent two weeks with Anderson.  Thank God for Grandma (we've met her at the sandpit a few times).  And we've rewarded her with homemade coffee-substitute cream pops.

With 10 books under our belts, we are off to an ambitious start with our picture book reading.

Although his like pile is mostly tolerable, we are only reviewing those that we both enjoy reading twice in one sitting.  I am clearly the harsher critic. 

Thankfully, we have 2 mentionables!

The Village Garage by: G. Brian Karas, 2010
This is a sweetly tolerable 'truck book'.  As we follow the village work crew through the seasons, and learn about their use of different trucks - it succeeds in being informative without being dull.  The illustrations are colorful, with plenty to observe on each read, yet digestible for a 3 year-old. It's a needed relief from the purely factual, or written purely for young-boy enjoyment, truck books.


Swimmy by: Leo Lionni, 1973
Taking place under the sea, I thought I had a shot at Anderson liking this selection, but I was still surprised it became one of the week's favorites.  The artwork is subtle, colors subdued.  The book is simply appealing and peaceful to read, with just the right amount of affection for Swimmy, tension, and relief at the end.  Nothing is exaggerated, and that makes it just enough so that you can keep reading it.  

Before buying on Amazon, find a local store to buy online from at:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Books we Both Like

Next week will be my first week taking care of my soon-to-be three year-old nephew, Anderson.

Anderson has been going to other folks' childcare since he was 9 months.  I have not been taking care of children during the day for the past 15 years, since I last babysat in College.

One day I asked my soon-to-be-principal-of-her-own-school, sister "Can I watch Anderson during the day?".  I felt nervous to meet her and go over my "proposal" for how Anderson and I would spend our time... I think she imagined us not getting around to changing out of our pajamas, Anderson handling pruners (he knows to use the safety latch), and that he wouldn't learn how to dutifully recognize colors, letters and numbers (the sign of a well-raised 6 year-old of course).  No matter.  She's on board.

One of our activities will be a blog.  (I made this decision for him).  Together, we will review picture books.  If we both like it, it must be pretty good, because our interests differ a little.

Anderson's Motivation:
He likes stories.

My Motivation:
I want to know what makes a children's book enjoyable for both children and adults, and not one or the other.

Anderson's Favorite Genres:
sea life

My Favorite Genres:

How I Know Anderson Likes a Book. He says:
"Read it Again"
"Don't Skip Any Pages"

How I Know He Doesn't Like a Book:
He doesn't pick it from the shelf, and if I happen to, he throws it on the floor.  Or, he shuts it part-way through.

Some of the books we've read that we both like:
1. Library Lion
2. Little Blue Truck
3. Little Green (board book)
4. Moo Moo Brown Cow (board book)
5. Madeline
6. No Dogs Aloud by: Linda Ashman
7. The Stars Will Still Shine by: Cynthia Rylant
8. One by: Kathryn Otoshi
9. If You Give a Moose a Muffin
10. Tickle, Tickle by: Helen Oxbury (board book)
11. Duck in a Truck
12. Snowy Day

*although we no longer read board books, I wanted to include our old favorites.