Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Twin Titles

Twins - are triplets, for that matter - are on the rise. Yes, there are more of us that are having, well, more of us. And I've found a few cute books about the joys of having more (at once).

Dee and Bee, by Robin Isabel Ahrens, ill. Amanda Haley

These twin girls like to play tricks by switching identities, and fool people throughout the day in harmless ways. A fun frolic à deux.

Twin to Twin, by Margaret O'Hair, ill. Thierry Courtin

A cute rhyming romp through the twin joys and double trouble of having two at once.

Jack and Jake, by Aliki

Through the years, people are always confusing these twins, exasperating their older sister. Even when the boys try to make themselves look different, people get confused. But their sister knows their personalities, and emphasizes that "Jack does thing and says things that only Jack could" and vice versa. A nice reinforcement of the notion that although twins certainly share many things, they are each their own person.

Sweet Jasmine, Nice Jackson, by Robie H. Harris, ill. Michael Emberley

The terrific team behind such older-kid non-fiction titles as It's So Amazing (about birthing babies) and It's Perfectly Normal (about puberty and sex) turn their attention to "What It's Like To Be 2 - And To Be Twins!" This book is also definitely aimed at an older audience - it's a long story with lots of little sidebars about toddler behaviour - and walks through the highs and lows (tantrums, potties, big beds, questions, and so on) of this pair's year until they turn three. It's certainly a nice introduction to toddlers, though, either single or twin, for an older child, especially one with younger kids about.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Pumpkinpie's Picks

My daughter, Pumpkinpie, chooses her books for storytime every night. We regularly bring home an armload from the library, read those a lot for a few nights, and then return to choosing from the large piles that grace our living room. Sometimes the "new" books make the cut, sometimes they reach the bottom of the heap in a hurry. But this made me think that while I can talk a lot about books that I like, and while I bring home books that I think she will like, it's ultimately up to the kids, isn't it? So maybe my three-year-old can help you find some things that your young one would like, too. Welcome to the first installment of Pumpkinpie's Picks, a new occasional feature here at Pick of the Litter.

A Beautiful Girl, by Amy Schwartz

I have not, generally, been a huge fan of Amy Schwartz, but this newest book is a fun one. In it, a girl encounters various animals, who tell her that she is, for example, a silly robin with a silly beak. She corrects them, explaining that it is a mouth, and they compare what they use their beaks and mouths for. It's a little bit silly, a little bit sweet, and offers lots of opportunity for kids to show off their knowledge, which they always enjoy.

Jessica, by Kevin Henkes

I may have mentioned before the absurd degree to which I adore Kevin Henkes? Well, apparently my girl's taste is just as good, because she has really enjoyed Chester's Way, Wemberley Worried, and now, Jessica. Ruthie is a girl with an imaginary friend, Jessica, who goes everywhere with her, despite her parents' protests. Even to kindergarten, where, to Ruthie's great surprise and delight, she meets a new - and even better - Jessica.

various Curious George books, by H.A. Rey

Pumpkinpie is fully on the Curious George bandwagon, where books are concerned. We don't watch the TV show, though, curiously enough. But about the books... The older ones are quite lengthy, and definitely require a chid who enjoys sitting for a longer story, but they have a nice depth to them. The newer ones - the ones that say they are illustrated "in the style of" are spinoffs that I must say, are insanely formulaic. Pumpkinpie enjoys them anyhow, and it at least gives me some greater variety, so I set aside my snobbery for this and go ahead and read the one about the puppies for the thousandth time because you know, she looooves puppies. Just so you know what you're getting into! You can make your own call on which ones you are willing to put up with. But I do have a question - why all the focus on the man's yellow hat, when the yellow suit is much, much weirder?

Red Is Best, by Kathy Stinson, ill. Robin Baird Lewis

This is classic Canadian children's fare, and it has in no way lost its appeal over the years. In this book, a mom tries to convince her daughter that items of different colours are better for various practical reasons ("Your white stockings look better with that dress."), while Kelly only wants red things because "red is best." The thing that I love best about it is the way it so perfectly captures a young child. The drawings are spot on, showing that rounded, chubby, clumsiness that is a child, and posing her in just the kind of attitudes you're likely seeing at home yourself. The feelings about her favourite clothes and objects, too, are perfection. "The red paint puts singing in my head." Could you say this any better?

Effie, by Beverley Allinson, ill. Barbara Reid

Pumpkinpie was having some issues with ants at the beginning of this summer. Reassurance and gentle cajoling was not helping. What to do? Finally we thought, "What about a nice story about a nice ant?" Oh yes, books for everything, that's what I say. And you know? It helped. But this is a great story in its own right. It's about Effie, the tiny ant with the thunderclap of a voice, who scares off everyone she tries to befriend around the tiny insect world. One day, though, she saves them all by warning an elephant not to step on them. And the elephant, of course, isn't bothered at all by her voice, and soon they become great friends. Barbara Reid's lovely plasticene illustrations make this a charmer, and turn the first line into one of my favourites: "Effie came from a long line of ants." (illustrated with a column of ants on the march. Funny, dry, perfect.)

The Elves and the Shoemaker

This is one of the gentler among classic fairy tales, and bears strong resemblance to the lovely Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. In it, a shoemaker at the end of his funds suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of some help, decides to return the favour once he finds out the source, and has his fortune made. The copy we have is a simple Ladybird one, but as with any old tale, different versions abound.

Warner, Don't Forget, by Lynn Seligman and Geraldine Mabin, ill. Linda Hendry

This book is not my favourite, but she finds it pretty funny. Warner's mother is seriously afflicted with helicopteritis, and is always reminding and warning. When he goes on a class field trip, she can't take it, and finds a way to continue to hover and warn throughout the day, as we discover at the end. It is pretty silly, so she likes it. And, because I can't help myself if I can't get lost in a story, I do use it to point out the repeating words in Warner's speech bubbles, and to talk about how Warner's teacher will help him remember many of those things and how Warner is getting big enough to remember some things himself. Hey, storytime is a great springboard for discussion! Don't tell me you don't do these things, too...

Rolie Polie Olie, by William Joyce

This is an early example of computer illustration, yet retains Joyce's signature retro-futuristic feel to a tee. It is the origin of the TV show, which we do watch, and is full of wild, nonsensical fun. Just like we like it...

Find these and other great storytime treats at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Author Spotlight:: William Steig

William Steig is one of those classic names in children's literature, one that you know, but may overlook in the face of newer, splashier books. Which, let me tell you, would be a huge mistake. The man is sheer genius. Like several children's book authors and illustrators, he was a New Yorker illustrator, and was once dubbed "The King of Cartoons" by Newsweek. He has, alternately, won the Caldecott medal and Newbery honours for his children's books. And, the guy's got range. He has silly books (Pete's a Pizza is a favourite in heavy rotation at our house right now), books of alphabetical puns (CDB?), books of cartoons for adults (and a hilarious one for kids, Grownups Get To Do All The Driving), a whole host of lesser-known books (Shrek, anyone?), but best of all are his story books.

This master storyteller employs just the right mix of the magical, of dry wit, of unusual vocabulary used to perfect effect, of quick thinking and good character, and of good winning out in the end, yet without making a heavy point of it. Through it all, it's adventurous, it moves along and keeps you guessing, just as a story should, and his wonderful small-scale drawings add charm to the whole. His picture book stories were favourites of mine, but I have also just discovered the pure delight of his longer fiction novels, which are episodic in the way that makes them a nice read to share with an slightly older child, perhaps 4 or 5 years and up. This handful of titles are those of the wonderful story variety, the better-known classics, but I am finding (to my great joy) that he was incredibly prolific, so if you enjoy these, there is a great treasure awaiting you.

Brave Irene

Young Irene's mother has fashioned the most gorgeous gown to be worn at a fine ball, but she falls ill the night it is to be delivered, and gives up hope. Irene, knowing that this gown is her mother's last chance, is determined to get it there. She tucks her mother in, leaves a note, and goes out into a blizzard, arriving as the ball is beginning. This story is about bravery, love, and being rewarded for your good character and hard work, though it does not feel preachy in the least (nothing will turn me off faster!). Instead, it is a cozy tale with a feel-good ending that could be shared with any child.

The Amazing Bone

Young Pearl is on the way home, reveling in a perfect spring day, when she happens upon a talking bone. As they wander through the woods chatting, she is accosted by robbers, and the bone scares them off, but when a fox finds the pair, he is not so easily fooled and Pearl and her bone must come up with a plan for her escape. I love this, like many of Steig's stories, for the appreciation of nature, for its fairy tale quality and inclusion of some magical elements, and for the likeable characters who outwit bad guys. (Zeke Pippin, about a pig and his magic harmonica treads much the same territory, with similarly excellent results.) Steig's language, too, makes my heart sing. This wonderful tale was awarded a Caldecott honour, so it seems I'm not alone.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Sylvester loves collecting rocks and, finding a most unusual one, discovers it is magic. He accidentally turns himself into a rock, and despairs as he loses hope of someone finding him. Meanwhile, his parents search and mourn, until one day, by happy coincidence, they reverse his spell and are thrilled to have their son back in their arms. This lovely tale of magic, of loss and reunion, of love and family, has all the makings of a classic, including the illustrious Caldecott medal.

Doctor De Soto

What is a dentist mouse to do when a fox with a toothache begs for treatment? Kind-hearted Dr. De Soto decides to take him in and quickly finds that the fox is likely up to no good. The fox must return for the fitting of his false tooth, giving Dr. De Soto and his wife time to hatch a plan to save their tiny hides. This story has the perfect degree of suspense for kids, and is a great modern fairy tale, with its ingredients of good vs. bad, its clever hero, and its use of that archetypal bad guy, the fox. This Newbery honour book has a sequel, too, in Dr. De Soto Goes to Africa.


One of his few longer chapter books, along with the Newbery honouree Abel's Island, this book contains many of the same elements that make his picture books so magical, but allows for a number of episodes in Dominic the dog's adventures, making it perfect for a read-aloud with a child ready to move into longer stories with fewer illustrations. As Dominic goes into the world seeking his fortune, he takes great pleasure in the smells and semsations of the natural world around him, enjoys expressing himself by playing the piccolo, and gets into interesting situations one after another. Some of these are the makings of great friendships, while others are run-ins with the notorious Doomsday Gang, over whom he triumphs time and again. Dominic helps others along the way and is at hart a good guy, though he is not without self-interest, making him a very likable fellow. Steig claims to be influenced greatly by Pinnocchio, and here you can see that resemblance in the story's structure. This Christopher Award winner is also packed with wonderful and rich vocabulary, making the sharing of it a bit of an exercise in explanation (but a great way to do it!) as well as a true pleasure for anyone who really appreciates the use of language.

These and other fantastic tales can be found at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.