Monday, December 15, 2008

National Treasure: Phoebe Gilman

First in a random series on great Canadian authors.Balloon tree

Phoebe Gilman did not start out as Canadian, nor did she start out as an author. In fact, she was born in New York, and traveled to a few different countries before settling in Toronto to teach at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD) while she tried to get her first book published. Fifteen years after she started out, she found success, and The Balloon Tree has become something of a modern Canadian classic.

Gilman nearly always illustrated her own work, the exception being The Blue Hippopotamus, and has illustrated for others as well, as in the fantastically interactive Jean Little picture book Once Upon a Golden Apple, which is made all the more magical with Gilman's work sharing the page. Her illustrations are wonderful - rich and full of fine details in her folk and fairy tales, looser, more child-like, but still with interesting details in her fluffier fare.

She said in the charming biography at her own website that she preferred the words to the pictures, even though she thought of herself as an artist rather than a writer, and also mentioned that her favourite stories were fairy tales, but that she'd cover the illustrations if they didn't match the ones in her own head. This rings perfectly true with her work, some of which is definitely fairy-tale-inspired and all of which is illustrated wonderfully.

It is a huge shame that publishers did not find her sooner, allowing her a longer career before her death at 62 from Leukemia some six years ago, because her books are wonderful. Go, find a few, and share this treasure with your wee ones.

Top Picks:

Something From Nothing

This traditional jewish tale is wonderfully told, with storyteller style touches that make it perfect for sharing and participation. It's a great story on its own, as Joseph's blanket shrinks ever smaller until it is a mere button, but Gilman has added a secondary storyline in her highly detailed illustrations that may evade notice the first read or two, but will be a favourite addition to the reading of the story once it is discovered. This is my favourite version of the story, in fact.

The Balloon Tree

A favourite of ours in the princess category, it satisfies the girly need for a pretty young princess in a gown and a castle while giving it a medieval richness that defies the frothy pink of some princesses. even better, the princess is a young girl, but rather than flounder around, when the bad guy strikes, she takes action and saves the day with a little help from her friends and her father. It's a great story, with beautifukl illustrations that even a not-so-girly girl would probably enjoy.

The Gypsy Princess

I featured this in an earlier princess post as an example of a story that undercuts the whole princess thing even while feeding the craving for princess-themed things. In it, a young gypsy girl wishes to be a princess, and given the chance, she takes it, only to discover that her fantasy is just that. In reality, the formal princess life is not all she had imagined, and she runs back home to her vibrant campfire home.

Jillian Jiggs [and sequels]

Pumpkinpie has been thrilled and obsessed with this series this past month since I brought home the five-pack. We have read two or three every night and thankfully, with Gilman's facility for rhyme and metre, as well as fun little details in the illustrations, they haven't worn out their welcome yet. Over the series, Jillian Jiggs puts on a play with a growing cast, loses everything in the snow, sews assorted little stuffed pigs, fights a monster, and gets awfully distracted while trying to clean up her room. She entirely relateable, and lots of fun in these light romps.

Look to Gilman also for girl pirate themed books Grandma and the Pirates and Pirate Pearl.

Find Gilman and other great Canadian authors at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, December 1, 2008

When Grandparents Fade

Children love their grandparents. Grandparents are, after all, a wonderful part of a child's life. Who else can spoil and love thm without having to be the disciplinarians and taskmasters? It's a wonderful thing for them to be able to have a close bond. My grandmother was one of my favourite people, just as it should be, and memories of grandparents can be some of the best ones even half a lifetime later.

But how to explain when things start to become harder? If the wonderful person that is grandma starts to fade from view a little, if grandpa becomes a little strange or forgets who his own beloved grandchild is? It is a difficult thing for an adult to understand and accept when the person they know and love starts to disappear while their physical self is still here, the disconnect heart-wrenching. For a child, it is confusing and a little scary. Helping them to appreciate what is left, to continue to show their love for the person that was, and to become more comfortable around the new reality is perhaps the best we can hope for. A little help in discussing such a difficult thing is out there, though. Here are a few titles to get you started on that tricky path.

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge, by Mem Fox

Wilfred lived next door to an old people's home, and he loved the people who lived there - most of all Miss Nancy. When he overheard that she had lost her memory, he set about finding out what a memory was so that he could help her find it. Each of the people he asks gives their own interpretation, and he finds objects that fill those niches, bringing them to her in the end. As she looks through them, they bring up a collection of memories she thought she had lost. This story is sweet and warm, and beautifully told be the incomparable Mem Fox. The illustrations are quirky and filled with warm colours that add to the feel of the book. Simply lovely, and while Miss Nancy might not be Wilfred's gandma, it's a very nice way to talk about memories and the loss of them, and shows a lovely way to help reconnect with an older person.

Mile-High Apple Pie, by Laura Langston and Lindsey Gardiner

This grandmother is a special grandmother - one who was always a bit of an eccentric, and quite wonderful for it, but is now living with the family because she is starting to forget. Margaret, her grandaughter, doesn't believe her parents when they tell her that one day, grandmother will forget everything, even who she is. She helps her remember, finding her slips and quirks even a little charming at times. One day, though, grandmother does forget, and Margaret is upset. The book relates a bit about her confused feelings, but stresses that while her grandmother might not always remember her, she does love her, and as Margaret sees that for herself, she feels better about it and goes on helping her out. Sweet and quirky, with illustrations to match, this is a nice, gentle way to talk about a grand's memory loss.

My Grandma's In A Nursing Home, by Judy Delton and Dorothy Tucker, ill. Charles Robinson

This is an older book, and feels it, being printed in black, white, and sepia only, but entirely worth getting over the bland appearance for. In it, Jason recounts what it is like to start visiting his grandma in her new home after she had moved out of his family's home (she has Alzheimer's and needs extra care, it is noted). At first, he, his grandmother, and his mother are all sad about the move, and the nursing home seems a strange, not-so-nice place filled with slightly scary old people, but as they all grow more accustomed to it, they relax and find some joy and a new friend or two. Told entirely from Jason's perspective, this book skips being too informational or teachy, and instead hits the feel of the visits right on. I do hope that they will update this one and re-release if someone notices this hidden gem.

This last book is in fact about a deceased grandparent, rather than one who is undergoing the changes of aging. It may more properly go, then, with the Books on Bereavement, but I thought it would be a good one to know about in case you are looking to prepare a child for this eventuality, as well.

The Grandad Tree, by Trish Cooke, ill. Sharon Wilson

This book is simple and lovely, using an apple tree in the yard as a starting point to remembering when they played under it with grandad, In short, nicely framed sentences, it talks about their grandad's life and the seasons and life cycle of the tree, and notes that both will last forever because they are remembered. It's a lovely sentiment, but the illustrations are the perfect touch to make the whole thing beautiful, and the overall feeling is sweet and wistful without dwelling heavily on death or falling into a lot of sentimentality. Wonderful. (On a side note, I also love that the book features a family of colour without ever making a point of that fact. I'd love to see that happen more!)

Find these and lots of great stories about happier times with grandparents at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pumpkinpie's Picks

I wasn't going to do a Pumpkinpie's Picks post for a while - I had posts ready! With themes and stuff! But I am about to overstep my parenting ethics, and I bet I'm not alone, so I'm here to share my pain, people.

You remember how in the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, Calvin always wanted to read Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooey, every. single. night? Much to his parents teeeth-gnashing horror? Yeah. Pumpkinpie has a Huey, and my head is about to explode in a gooey kablooey.

Have you hit this particular wall in storytime before? Where you can't stand the thought of reading that one book even just one more time? What I want to know is - what did you do? Because I'm about to hide a book or two around here and tell Pumpkinpie I just don't know where they could have gone! But I hate the thought of deceiving my child, and I don't know if I can bring myself to do it. So tell me - what do I do?

And meanwhile, in the interest of public service, let me advise you not to take any of these home unless you want to find yourself reciting them in your sleep.

Skippyjon Jones, by Judith Schachner

This is currently enemy #1. Hamster Huey, if you will. Not only does she want this one every night, but it requires silly accents, which grow old after being trotted out a few times running. Plus, she practically knows it by heart herself, but refuses to give me a break and read it to me, instead. I've begged her for a night off, threatened to have Skippyjon go on vacation, and told her I need some variety, but I've only succeeded in getting one night's respite. A tale about a wild, crazy little cat with a massive imagination (and ears to match), it's silly, and I always figured it wouldn't play as well here as in the states, where there is more exposure to Mexican stereotypes culture, but apparently, background doesn't matter when there is funny to be had.

Miffy. Any Miffy. Series by Dick Bruna.

I love Miffy, in fact, and we have a handful that get rotated, so I don't mind this, but I warn you - if you venture down Miffy Lane, make sure you have a few different books on hand so the rhyming cadence, the simple illustrations, and the cute bunny don't grow too worn, because they'll get asked for night after night. I remember these from when I was a kid, actually, and loved them myself. Sorry, mom.

Dora's Storytime Collection.

Woe betide the friend who bought us this one. Dora shows have to be seriously cut down to fit a short few-page format for storytime books, and they, um, lose something in the translation. Yes, the shows are better. Oy. Still, at least she keeps choosing a sweet one about making a birthday cake for her mother, which involves some of her favourite things and mine - cake, birthdays, and chocolate. And I get a hug and I love you at the end, just like Dora's mom. Payoff!

Hello Kitty, Hello World

For a kid who likes Miffy, Hello Kitty is sort of a natural progression, seeing as she is drawn in much the same bold, graphic style. In this book, Hello Kitty is off to see the world, and she shows us some of the most famous things from each country she visits, as well as telling us how to say hello. The first few times we read this, I loved it. Cute! Fun! Even sort of educational! How nice to have my daughter aware that there are other places and cultures out there! How wonderful to hear her attempt to say hello in Swahili! But really. How many nights can I play tour guide for the same items? I think I know now what it must be like to run one of those tour buses, and it ain't pretty. My rendition's getting shorter and shorter. Maybe I need to bust out an atlas and an almanac so I can add in some new fun facts to spice things up.

Olivia Forms a Band, by Ian Falconer

I don't mind this one so much because, well, it's really funny, and somehow making all the crazy noises night after night isn't as bad a crazy accents. While it kind of feels like a bunch of funny bits strung together rather than a narrative, which I usually prefer, Olivia is a howl, and Pumpkinpie cracks up as I start imitating horns and cymbals gone awry, especially after seeing a parade full of marching bands this weekend. And like the Miffy books, there are a few Olivia books, so if your kid likes them, you can switch things up a bit, which really helps. As does the talent of the author/illustrator, which I can't help but admire, even as I read this for the hundredth time.

Find these and other addictive paper at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Paleontology 101

What kid doesn't love dinosaurs? After all, they are fascinating. Gigantic, fierce, and deliciously scary, without ever being any real threat at all, thanks to the vast separation of time. Best of all, we know enough to dig up immense bones and create museum exhibits to fuel a child's imagination, enough to study them and learn about their lives and eating habits, yet they retain a sense of mystery, because there are still plenty of things we don't know and probably never will. If that doesn't get your sense of wonder stirring, I don't know what would. So it is that they are also a favourite theme in kindergarten classes, and your child may well come home telling you all about which have long necks and eat plants.

A great way to increase a child's interest in storytime is to tap into his/her other interests, and there are plenty of great dino titles to do the trick. (They are always much-requested among visits of younger classes, too.) This way, you can indulge your child's obsession, keep them focused as you read, and brush up on your own dino knowledge a bit, too. After all, if you want to be the cool parent, you'd better know your Compsognathus from your Pachycephalosaurus.

Dinosaur Roar, by Paul Stickland

This is a beginner for the milder mannered, for sure, as it is downright cute. Roly-poly, sweet-looking dinos frolick around to illustrate various opposites - not fare for the fan of the fearsome. Yet, it is a favourite of mine for using with young children because it is funny, uses adjectives you never find in any other opposite book, and I've never met a class who didn't love it.

Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs, by Byron Barton

This book is a simple one, using Barton's typically bold illustrations, but walks in general terms through some of the different types of dinosaur types. It doesn't use names in the text, but talks about how different groups of dinosaurs lived or looked, a good level for the budding dino enthusiast. The specific dinosaurs and their names are found on the endpapers, where I found that he used some more obscure dinos, as well as the usual suspects - Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and the like.

Danny and the Dinosaur, by Syd Hoff

This classic beginner reader holds its appeal well, as does the fantasy of playing with a real dinosaur - but a friendly plant-eater, please. Here, a dinosaur (an Apatosaurus, by the looks of things) comes to life on a museum visit, and her and Danny leave the museum for a day of fun. They help people on the way, too, no doubt leaving a few pacemakers working hard. Danny would love to take the dino home as a pet, but in the end, the dinosaur must go back to the museum, and promises that they can play again another day. A sweet, cute dino and simple drawings with a cartoon feel make this a hit.

My Dinosaur, by Mark Weatherby

This book is so sweet, it's a dino bedtime story. It reprises the fantasy of having a dino of one's own to play with, but here, the dinosaur appears at a young girl's window at bedtime, and takes her for a ride through the cool, dark forest. Their moonlight adventure is quite short and ends with her home asleep and, of course, possibly dreaming. The illustrations are of a softness that give the whole thing a dreamlike, foggy quality, and are really, very lovely. This one won't give anyone nightmares.

Older children may enjoy some of the more complicated dinosaur stories out there, and the hard-core dino enthusiast will no doubt follow them, too. They are, essentially, both more in-depth and detailed versions of the "and I have a dinosaur of my very own!" fantasy, Carrick's having more realistic dinosaurs, and Joyce's employing his usual fantastic retro-futuristic, ready-for-movies feel. Try:

Patrick's Dinosaurs, by Carol Carrick [and other in series]

Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures With the Family Lazardo, by William Joyce

Don't forget to also check Dewey number 567 for simpler non-fiction books by Ailiki, Bernard Most, and books in the True series. These are a must and will feed the curiosity of even the most serious dino lover, while avoiding the really graphic gore of some of the dino books for older kids. They may seem a bit heavy, but studies have shown that children will read at a dramatically higher reading level when reading about something they love, so encourage them to explore books that you might think are too much for them, anyhow. You never know just how much they might be getting out of them!


a dinosaur song! Sung to the tune of Three Blind Mice...

One, two, three, count with me
One, two, three, count with me
Triceratops had three big horns
'Cause that's the way that he was born,
One, two, three; One, two, three.

Dig up these and other great dinosaur tales at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book to Movie - The Early Years

It will come as no shock to any of you to hear someone suggest that Hollywood is looking just about anywhere for ideas these days. I know! Heck, for teens, they have in the past few years, even come out with movies based on great teen novels! Written for teens! And for the younger kids? Well, often enough we are seeing rehashes of things already done - Disney, I'm looking at you here, with your Cinderella II and you Lion King III. But we've also been getting a handful of movies based on perfectly good picture books.

Basing a movie for kids on a picture books for kids seems like a good idea, right? I mean, great literature, brought to life? What's not to like?

It's problematic, though. You've all read picture books to your kids. How long does it take, even if you add in silly voices and take time to look at the pictures and maybe even embellish a little or give them some chance to predict what's coming? Fifteen minutes, tops, maybe twenty for a heftier story or a fairy tale, is pretty much what we are talking about. If you pad it out with a musical number, you could stretch it to half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes if you really bring in the dancing clowns. But even the shortest, chintziest movie comes in at about 80 minutes plus. So if you have material that will fill at most half your movie... Yeah.

Now, some stories have enough embedded in them to make them expand fairly easily. Chris van Allsburg's books are like that, entire worlds of imagination available, lots left unsaid that can be unfolded and embroidered cinematically. They work. Others may have to rely on padding, improvising, or downright inventing new stuff to stuff it full with, which often doesn't work so well (*cough*Cat in the Hat*cough*), though in the hands of some seriously funny and talented people, a story can be warped beyond recognition, but come out pretty great anyhow, though I always feel like they may as well go all the way and retitle it and rename the characters. Shrek is a fine example of this - not that much left to do with the original work, but a fun movie that works.

If you've got a kid who loves movies, it can be a great way to tie a book back to what they've seen, or to inject something a little more literary into their viewing. It's also an interesting way to start talking about books and movies and what the differences are. Watching something you've read and seeing how Hollywood changed it is a great way to begin important discussions about things like media awareness and narrative structure with your older chid, too, making them more aware of the stories they are comsuming, both onscreen and on the page. That may sound a bit complicated to parents of younger kids, but it is something we have to start thinking of, as media is much a part of their lives. Not quite yet, though - I think these longer movies are, overall, more suited to kids of 6 or more so that they really get them, anyhow.

For younger kids, I love the Weston Woods adaptations of picture books available at your library and now also on Scholastic home dvds - they still make a great way to start talking about things like the voices used in turning the book into a movie, and are a fun way to watch favourite stories come alive. They are absolutely faithful to the originals, too, so while you won't be talking editorial choices, you also don't have to live with any bad ones! This means that their length comes in typically between six and twelve minutes, but they are often bundled onto a VHS or DVD in groups of four or more.

For those older kids, here are a handful of picture books that have been stretched into full-length features you might want to check out:

By prolific and wildly imaginative author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg (who is also notable for the sheer beauty of his books, almost all what we consider "advanced pciture books"):

  • Jumanji
  • Zathura
  • Polar Express - a newer Christmas classic, even for younger kids who are nearly certain to find the other two both scary and not so accessible

Ant Bully, original story by John Nickle - a strange story I was surprised to see translated to the screen, quite frankly, and a prime example of one that made me curious to see how they stretched it out into a feature.

Shrek, based VERY loosely on the original and little-known picture book by the fabulous William Steig, who I love.

The much-loved and newly plundered works of Dr. Seuss, apparently fertile ground for comedians to work their frenetic magic on kids:

  • Cat in the Hat - Mike Myers dons the iconic tall hat this one
  • Horton Hears a Who - so new I haven't seen it or even heard much about it, so while the voices of every working comic from Jim carrey and Steve Carrell to newcomers like Seth Rogan are employed, I think the fact that it is animated instead of "live" (but much made-up with prosthetics) action is wildly promising already, so i'm giving it a chance.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Jim Carrey on grumpy green guy
  • add Seussical to this some day when they move it from stage to screen. It's got to be coming, doesn't it?

Meet the Robinsons, based on Wm Joyce's A Day With Wilbur Robinson. Joyce tends to envision fairly complete worlds, too, and has had wonderful and successful shows based on his works, which tend also to a charming and movie-friendly retro futurism that translates well into animation like this.

Do you have a favourite kids movie based on a picture book? This is only a starting point, so leave recommendations if you have them!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Making a Spectacle of Yourself

I first wore glasses when I was a mere three years old. Having had a three-year-old now, I'm not sure how my mother ever kept them on me. In fact, I would guess that a lot of children have some difficulty adjusting to glasses. They are, let's face it, a sort of weird thing to have on. You see them and feel them on your face, and for someone accustomed to being unencumbered by them, not so great. Now, of course, there are extremely cute specs for little kids, far removed from the ugly plastic things of the 19mumblemumbles, but still, hard to get used to for some.

So we parents, we emphasize the need for them, we keep after them, and all the things that parents must do. But putting a positive spin on them is something that we can turn to authors for a little help with. Need some books to help put things in perspective or help the bespectacled future look a little brighter? Here you go. You're welcome.

Baby Duck and the Bad Eyeglasses, by Amy Hest, ill. Jill Barton

Baby Duck does NOT like her new eyeglasses. she worries that they might fall off, and that they look ugly, and begins to feel sorry for herself. Grampa, who also sports specs, tests her limits and she discovers that she can do all her favourite things with them, still, AND read clearly. All good. This installment in the cute baby duck series takes the typically reassuring tone of these books, with her always-understanding Grampa making things okay. I like how he gets her. And while these books hover on the edge of too-cute, they usually come down on the right side, and certainly sit well with young kids of toddler age.

Spectacles, by Ellen Raskin

A young girl keeps seeing strange things everywhere, until her parents are sure she needs glasses. She is not convinced, but they take her to pick some anyhow, and she gets some terrific ones from the fantastic selection available. Suddenly, things look different... at least, as long as she keeps them on. This book is great fun and features Raskin's signature quirky style. It is (so sadly!) out of print, but I mention it because if you can lay hands on it, is is well worth the search. It was a favourite of this specs-sporting child, back in the day.

Glasses: Who Needs 'Em?, by Lane Smith

This frequent Jon Scieszka collaborator takes on this topic alone in a typically offbeat picture book.It treads familiar territory - coming to grips with the need for glasses and realizing they aren't so bad - but Smith adds his own brand of humour and his angular but slightly fuzzy, dark-toned illustrations. What sets this book apart from the others here is that it has, I think, much greater boy appeal than most books on the subject.

Glasses for D.W., by Marc Brown

One of the side benefits of series books is that you can use them to tackle a number of topics, and here Marc Brown uses his phenomenally successful Arthur series to talk about glasses. D.W., it seems, wants glasses just like Arthur, and is pretending she can't see. She thinks they would be cool! This is lightweight, to be sure, but the different, more positive perspective could be a nice change from all the angst that can surround them.

Robin's New Glasses, by Christine C. Jones, ill. Ji Sun Lee

When Robin goes to get her new glasses, she is nervous, and wondered if things would change. They do, in fact - for the better! She scored some cute new rims in her favourite colour, so she loves how they look. Better still, she can see everything! This is a very simple little book, but her upbeat delght with her new specs is refreshing, and the young girl herself rendered in simple line drawings that keep this cute, but not overly so.

Bumposaurus, by Penny McKinlay, ill. Britta Teckentrup

Once a dinasaur was born so near-sighted, he was named Bumposaurus for his tendency to run into things. After a series of misadventures and mistakes culminates in his nearly getting eaten by a T. Rex he mistook for his mother, his loving family decides to take action. Enter Grandma, who lets him try on her glasses and opens up a whole new world to the little reptile. Cute and sweet (but not icky sweet), this little guy shows what a difference clear sight can make.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, September 22, 2008

There's a Potty Goin' On Around Here

Ah, potty training. Feared by parents who haven't been there yet, subject of parenting books galore, and known to drive grown men to the very brink. I was lucky in this regard - Pumpkinpie was on the case before I was really even worried about it. Even so, I employed a book or two, in my usual manner, to help explain things to her, to show her other kids in action, and to give us a talking point. Now I can't tell you how to go about potty training your child (sorry), but I can tell you about a few good titles to help put forth the suggestion.

Girls_potty_board_bkThere are a, um, boatload of board books and other small volumes on this, many split into gender-specific boy and girl books. In the library, board books are not organized in the catalogue, and therefore cannot be requested on hold, so I won't give you suggestions for those here, except to say that if you are looking to buy one, I did really quite like the Dorling Kindersley (publisher) board book entitled My Potty Book for Girls, which I took home to read with Pumpkinpie. (ISBN for easy finding online: 0789448459, cover image so you know you've found the right one if you're looking, since board books can be tougher to locate and this one doesn't really have an author to be filed under.)

No More Diapers for Ducky!, by Bernetter Ford and Sam Williams

This is a cute, newer (2006) book in the field, and features drawings that are sweet, but not saccharine - a balance that can be hard to strike. When Ducky goes to Piggy's house to play, Piggy is busy on the potty, so she amuses herself for a while as she waits. And as she waits, her diaper becomes cold and wet and not so comfy, until she wriggles out of it and decides she's going to make the bold move to potty usage with her friend. How successful thsi first trip is, we don't know, but the book is a nice one, and uses my personal favourite among potty training methods - peer pressure. If that works for you, bring this one home.

I Want My Potty, by Tony Ross

Fans of the Little Princess have a go-to book on potty use here, as she decides she is sick of diapers, but has some adjustments issues with potty use initially. Soon she got used to it, and agreed that the potty was indeed "the place." Even so, even a potty-trained princess can have an accident now and then when she is too far from the potty, it turns out, which is a nice way to address that such slip-ups are a part of the learning process, not a major flaw in the learner.

The Potty Book for Girls/Boys, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, ill. Dorothy Stott

This duo of small, rhyming, gender-specific books makes for a ncie introduction to pottying. In it, a child is comfortable with diapers, but when a box arrives and it is a potty, s/he is willing to give it a try. Accidents happen, so do times when s/he needs to sit for a spell. Still, his/her parents are encouraging, and all involved are proud of the eventual success, which is celebrated with phones calls to grandma and the purchase of new underwear.

My Big Boy / Girl Potty Book, by Joanna Cole, ill. Maxie Chambliss

This small book starts out by setting up the similarities between the main character and the reading (read-to) child, so that the child may relate to him - clever. It asks questions along the way to involve the child, encouraging them to discuss their own experiences or guess what is happening along the way as the boy gets a potty and tries it out. He doesn't have immediate success, but after a few tries, he does, to his parents' great delight. The child goes to pick out underpants, but still wears a diaper at night for a while, making for reasonable expectations. The books also show that the child has an accident when he forgets, but that it is not a big deal. It ends on a note of encouragement: "You can learn to use the potty, too. Then won't you be proud of yourself!" The boy version of this duo mentions also the boy's father teaching him to pee standing up. These are simple and straightforward, but create a nice environment of being supportive without pressure. I quite like them, in fact.

Try pairing these wtih a silly story about potty use, like Andrea Wayne-von-Konigslow's Toilet Tales to lighten things up, too.

Find these and more great resources at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Name Game

kitten kitten bo bitten, fee fi fo fitten, mee my mo mitten, kitten...

By now, my own bundle, so far known as The Bun, should have arrived. And hopefully, been named. I say hopefully because, well, around our house, the naming of babies is a long, arduous process. And other bloggers I know say it was tough for them, too. So how do you explain this to the sibling-to-be who may, as Pumpkinpie did, have her own ideas about being involved in the naming? How do you explain why a name is so important? Well, if you're me... you rely on someone else. Someone more articulate. Someone published.

Here are a few good stories about how we get and adapt to the names our parents choose for use.

Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum's parents chose what they were certain was the perfect name, and until she started school, she loved it, too. When she becomes the target of mean girls and it turns into a source of teasing, though, she dreams of other, less flowery names (like Jane). Her parents try to reassure her, being as loving as they can, but what really turns things around is the introduction of the music teacher, Miss Delphinium Twinkle, whose name is everything Chrysanthemum's is and who is considering that very name for her soon-to-be-born babe. Turns out, the mean girls would love the name Chrysanthemum after all. Need I even elaborate about Henkes' usual genius with handling social situations for young children and showing loving, supportive environments for the exploration of such things? I thought not.

The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi

Unhei has just moved from Korea, and is unsure about her name. She gets teased on the school bus, and resolves to choose an American name. Yet her Korean family and the community see her name as beautiful. She tries a few new names in the mirror, but none feel right. At school, she finds a jar full of name ideas on her desk from her classmates - names of family members and story characters and more. As she becomes more comfortable, and with the help of one classmate's interest, she chooses to keep her name and teach the others to say it properly. This is a lovely tale of fitting in and coming to appreciate your own name, something that any child with an unusual name (like Chrysanthemum, above) might appreciate.

A Perfect Name, by Charlene Costanzo, ill. LeUyen Pham

Mama and Papa Hippo are struggling to name their baby daughter - and her naming ceremony is tomorrow. The problem is, there are so many beautiful names, and they all mean lovely, appropriate things. How to pick just two? They try them out on her, with no result. They try considering her personality, with too many results. In the end, it is her splashing in the water at the ceremony itself that inspires her perfect name. A cute take on the trials and tribulations of choosing a name, this easy tale is illustrated with wonderful illustrations full of joy.

How I Named The Baby, by Linda Shute

For my money, this is the one that best explains all the ins and outs of baby naming. In this family, they are working together to find a perfect name for either a boy or a girl (they don't know which it will be), and the older boy (future sibling) is part of the process. All the same things that most parents take into consideration are here - they are looking for a name that is not too old, but not too new, has a meaning they can live with, is not too fancy, but not too short. They find inspiration in many places along the way - the name might have a family connection, could be biblical, could come from a naming book or the name of a hero, could be a floral name... They find that they like different names, as we tend to do in my house (ahem, Misterpie!), but in the end, they find names that they feel are just right. It's a great explanation of how complicated it can be, yet very endearing and child-friendly.

You may also want to check out the baby naming books in your library's adult non-fiction section at 929.4!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, September 1, 2008

God Is In the Picture Books

421pxblake_ancient_of_days_2 Misterpie and I really haven't discussed how we will approach the topic of faith with Pumpkinpie. I was raised with no religious education at all, while his family were church-goers, but he did not continue on his own steam, so it is not something that we make part of our daily life, by any stretch.

Still, it is an important part of the lives of many, a major force in the world today and in the past, and something that I think speaks to a child's wonder about the world around them. It's not something I want to ignore or dismiss, however awkward I find my own unplumbed feelings. Being without a real denomination of my own, though, I am interested in talking in broader terms about the aspects of religion that I think are common across a number of major faiths, and that seek to make us better people. This is about the depth that I am comfortable with myself, and I think it leaves the topic open for further exploration as she grows older.

It also means that, in looking for picture books that address god in these sort of broad strokes, I can be inclusive of a multitude of diverse beliefs, and that these titles can be of use or appeal to people from a wide range of backgrounds. That being the case, and it being harder to find things that are not specifically "Christian" or "Jewish," for example, I thought I would share some of the books I've found that can serve as nice openings to discussing religion gently through picture books at a child's level.

A note: If you are looking for books that explain a particular faith or ritual, please do go to the children's section of your local library and ask for help or browse in the 200-299 section, for we do carry books on topics particular to a variety of religions and beliefs.

Bagels From Benny, by Aubrey Davis, ill. Dusan Petricic

Benny's grandfather makes the best bagels anywhere, but he won't accept thanks for them. Why not?, Benny asks one day, to be told that bagels are made from wheat, and wheat comes from the world, which was made by God, and so God deserved the thanks. Benny thinks about it, and decides to do that by offering Him some of the bagels. He asks his grandfather for some each week, sneaks into the synagogue, and puts them in the holiest of places, where God must live. When it is time for temple, they are gone - God must have eaten them! After a few weeks, it is discovered that a poor man has been coming to the synagogue and believes that God is giving him the bagels to feed him. He promises now that he has found a job, he will help others in turn, and Benny's grandfather, initially upset at what looks like sacrilege, tells Benny that he has indeed thanked God, for he has made the world a little better by this result to his actions. This is on the face of it, a quintessentially jewish tale, but the appreciation for God's work and the helping of others are aspect of many religions, making this lovely story highly transferable in terms of the lessons of generosity, gratitude, and faith that it imparts.

Big Momma Makes the World, by Phyllis Root, ill. Helen Oxenbury

Essentially a retelling of the week of creation, Big Momma, baby one her hip, creates light and dark, water and sky, and so on. As the week goes on, she adds the flora and the fauna, and as she is just about ready to be done and return to the chores of keeping her own house, "she figured she better finish things off in one big bang" that creates all the other little details except for one important one - some people to keep her company. By the end of the week, she is ready for a rest, so she turns over the care of this new earth to the people, but she keeps an eye on things as she goes about her business ever after. A cute retelling, this one will irk literalists, but might appeal to those who want to share the story of creation with a newer, feminine twist. It does have a certain cute, warm, motherly appeal, and I can see how a mother creating things would make sense to a young child, too.

Giant, or Waiting For The Thursday Boat, by Robert Munsch, ill. Gilles Tibo

McKeon, a giant, is angry that St. Patrick chased the snakes, elves, and other giants out of Ireland at god's behest, and wants to pick a fight with god. At last, he is told that god is coming on the Thursday boat. A small girl arrives, and watches as a parade of boats arrive, carrying a rich man, an important man, and a soldier, all of which turn out not to be god. The girl mollifies McKeon out of his anger, until the next day, when she tells him that St. Patrick has gone to continue his work in heaven. McKeon joins him, and the two seek out god to sort out their differences. They find there the little girl, who tells them that they are each doing their jobs, and that they must find a way to get along. There is, after all, plenty of room heaven. This book was very controversial when it came out, for its portrayal of god as a young girl, and is a definite departure for Munsch, though it features some of his hallmark storytelling chops. I can't say I found it a terrific book, but I do like the point it makes about living with people's differences.

What a Truly Cool World, by Julius Lester, ill. Joe Cepeda

Not for those who take their religion and creation myths too seriously, this vibrant picture book featuring an African-American cast of characters (god, his wife, his secretary, and an angel) strays quite a ways off, to humourous results. The fact is, the angel Shaniqua thinks earth looks a little boring, and has no trouble sharing this with god, who reluctantly agrees to make some changes to the drab green, brown, and blue world he has created. Together, he and Shaniqua add flowers and butterflies through the power of singing down colours onto the earth, and bring beauty to the world. A fun bit of fluff, this one.

Hot Hippo, by Mwenye Hadithi, ill. Adrienne Kennaway

There are dozens of stories in our folk and fairy tale collections about how chipmunks got their stripes, elephants got their trunks, and so on. But rarely do these actually involve a deity. When Hippo is hot and wishes to swim in the river, however, he goes straight to the god Ngai, who told the fishes to swim in the sea and the animals to walk on land, and makes a request. Ngai is protective of his fishes, so hippo promises to show him that he is not eating them, and from this is born many of the hippo's characteristic behaviours. I like this one for the care Ngai takes of his creatures and for the way he interacts with hippo, considering his promises until they can come to an agreement. Also lovely are the soft yet vibrant illustrations filled with warm tones that perfectly suit the hot setting.

Whaddyamean? by John Burningham

As much about the environment as religion, this book begins with the premise that god made the world, and upon coming back to check up on it, is disappointed with what he sees. The two people he finds awake (as he'd put everyone into a deep sleep so they wouldn't see him) are little children, and he tells them to go forth and remedy the ills of the world, invoking his name. They do so, and when they encounter resistance, tell the people that god told them to spread this message, and people comply. By the time god comes back to see the changes, the world is a better place. This one is mostly, I must say, a commentary on the state of the world and why it is messed up, but gives a nice message, too, that god cares about the world that he is said to have made.

Find these and other amazing tales about the world at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, August 11, 2008

School Starters

8My daughter is starting school. In just a couple of weeks. She's a pretty adaptable kid, if she knows what's coming and what to expect, so I've been doing some preparing with her. In the spring, our school, as most do, had an introduction session where she saw the classroom and met the teacher. She saw the coatroom, the bathroom, the class pets, the puppet stage, and so on. That helped. So did the table of snacks. (Hey, she's four...) We looked around the school. I talked about how the teachers knew that those really big kids could seem a bit intimidating for the first couple of years, so the kindergarten kids would have their own door and playground just for them, and we took a look at them. I talked about how she would still go to daycare and play with her familiar friends, but that she would get to make some new friends here, too. I told her I thought we would be able to take the classroom pet home some weekend when the teacher noted that they would be looking for weekend stays for her. We remind her of these things now and then, when it comes up. So we've talked a lot. She seems ready-ish.

But kids assimilate information in lots of different ways, and I have, as I often note, found that reading a story that illustrates a situation can be especially helpful, as it shows another child in the same situation doing just fine, even if they are worried at first. It validates a child's concerns and feelings in a way that my preparatory speeches can only do to some extent. So besides walking by the school now and then to remind and reinforce what we have learned so far, we are bringing some school home to the story chair in our current picture book selections. Cmp_bts

Heck, I may even spring for some new school supplies to help ramp up the excitement - especially if I can find some of the great selections from the new Back To School Guide over at Playdate friends Cool Mom Picks! C is for check it out ...

Wemberley Worried, by Kevin Henkes

Wemberley is a worrier. She worries about everything, even though her parents and grandmother try to cajole her out of it. But her biggest worry was coming - she was starting school. Her list of concerns hits right on the money as far as little kid worries, but when she arrives, her perceptive teacher introduces her to another girl, with whom it is apparent she has much in common. Though shy, the two become fast friends over the morning, and she has such a good time, she forgets her major stressors of the morning. A nice relatable tale for an anxious child from the master of sweet but not sickly sweet or over-simple.

Jessica, by Kevin Henkes

Another Kevin Henkes book (yes, I know, I love him, but these really are apropos), this one tells the story of Ruthie, who has an imaginary friend. The two are inseparable, so when her parents think "Jessica" should stay at home when she goes to kindergarten, Ruthie is worried about how she will fare. Jessica, in fact, comes with her and helps her through the first part of the day, until another girl asks to be her partner in line, and Ruthie doesn't know what to do. Turns out, though, that this girl is also named Jessica, and soon enough, Ruthie has a real best friend, which is even better.

Off to School, Baby Duck, by Amy Hest, ill. Jill Barton

Baby Duck is nervous before her first day of school, dragging her feet through getting ready to go and along the walk to there. Her parents' encouragement is not helping her much, nor is her unbuckled, flapping shoe. When she gets to school, though, her beloved grampa is waiting. Grampa is a staple in these stories as the adult who understands where she's at and helps her feel better, and this book is no exception. Grampa suggests she sing a song, buckles her shoe for her, points out some of her strengths, and introduces her to another child and the teacher, asking some of the important questions about school on Baby Duck's behalf. By the end, Baby Duck is not feeling so afraid or alone, and skips in happily. (A mother can dream...)

Ramona the Pest, by Beverly Cleary

Pumkinpie and I started reading this old favourite this summer, as I've been easing her into chapter books this year, and it has been quite a hit. I remember Ramona being a favourite of mine as a child, too - she was not the kind of obnoxious brat you find in some early readers, but was just cheeky enough to be doing all the things you kind of wished you could... Cleary really gets young kids, and hits the right notes of feeling both brash and scared, making Ramona is compellingly relatable. The short episodes also make for nice shared reading, and we often break a chapter into two or three nights, depending on the length of each small event in Ramona's life as a kindergartner. My only complaint is that our newer edition has a new illustrator, too, and I loved the old Alan Tiegreen illustrations. Apparently, even classics are not immune from so-called "progress."

Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, by Joseph Slate, ill. Ashley Wolff

This book sees 26 children getting ready for school in the morning, interspersed with their teacher's preparations. What she's up to is not described, exactly, but shows a lot of the kinds of activities that the children will see in the room, so it's a good one for explaining what to expect, as well as showing other children getting exited. Although this series is not my favourite, it also shows a lot of the other big events of kindergarten, so as your child gets into the swing of things, you can use the same teacher to introduce field trips and 100-day celebrations, too.

Kindergarten Countdown, by Anna Jane Hays, ill. Linda Davick

This book is a one-week countdown by a very excited little girl. She thinks about what she will do in kindergarten and how she will behave, and she gets her gear ready to go (some of which won't apply to half-day kids, but still, exciting!). The computer-drawn illustrations seem a bit flat to me, but then that is rarely a style I love. Luckily, the jaunty rhymes and girl's raw giddiness is contagious and saves this book. I think I'll be bringing it home for that last week myself.

A Place Called Kindergarten, by Jessica Harper, ill. G. Brian Karas

The animals anticipate Tommy's arrival with snacks and neck scratches as usual on a day when he does not arrive... The dog tells them he's gone to "kindergarten," wherever that is. The animals worry throughout the day, thought they try to act calm. When Tommy returns at the end of the day on the same big yellow bus that took him, he rushes in to the animals, dispensing the customary snacks and pats, as well as letter knowledge and new songs! He is excited and happy, and the animals join in his delight, wondering as they later go to sleep what he will learn the next day. This book is obviously aimed at a rural child, but the care of the animals and the boy's joy are so lovely, I would take it home anyhow, just for the warm and positive feel of it.

Kindergarten ROCKS!, by Katie Davis

A young boy is about to start kindergarten, and is a bit nervous - or rather, he claims, his stuffed dog is nervous. His older sister helps him think about the things that he, er, his dog is nervous about, answers his questions, and gives him coping suggestions (for his dog). When he gets there, he discovers some good surprises, like a nice teacher, an old friend, and lots of fun activities. At the end of the book, his dog is lost - he's had so much fun, he's left him somewhere, and then panics - but once his sister helps him find good old Rufus, he returns to a positive opinion of his day, exclaiming, "Kindergarten Rocks!" I like that this book pictures a boy (it seems that fewer do), and that the boy's voice is pretty believable - his projecting onto his dog to appear fearless himself is something that kids do, for example. I also like that his sister helps him out. My only quibble is the inclusion of lunch, as few kindergartens are full-day. Still, for those who are, it could be a nice touch.

Look Out, Kindergarten, Here I Come!, by Nancy Carlson

A young mouse is super-excited to be starting his first day, and his mother has to remind him of each step of getting ready. On the way there, he and his mother talk about the things he will do when he is there, givng a good summary of what to expect. When he arrives, however, he falters momentarily, wanting to go home, before his kindly teacher offers to let him look around and he decides he'll be okay after all. This mouse doesn't express any concerns about his experience beyond this one moment of doubt, making the book seem a bit overly simplistic, but the overview of what will go on in kindergarten is a good one for people with children sturdy enough in nature for the excitement to ring true.

Look for these and other great school-themed stories at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pumpkinpie's Picks

Some months, I am loving everything we are reading, other months, the requests are not what I would pick. Still, I believe in letting Pumpkinpie choose her own bedtime material. Reading time, after all, should be fun and enjoyable for children - it's not really teaching time or good-for-you time, though it is indeed good for them. In fact, it's best for them if they do enjoy it, and by the time you are into toddler and preschool territory, enjoying it goes hand in hand with having some say in it, as we all know only too well. The thing of it is, it's worth enduring a few clunkers and letting them steer a bit, since their enjoyment is a key part of the preliteracy skill we refer to as "print motivation," or simply put, the desire to pick up a book.

So yes, even professional story ladies sometimes put up with some books that feed into their children's interests rather than our own sense of quality literature. This month was like that. I've only been loving about half of her picks. Perhaps next month will be better...

Here's what she's asking for lately, like it or not:

Baby BeeBee Bird, by Diane Redfield Massie, ill. Steven Kellogg

A favourite of mine from long ago, I had a copy on my shelf a good five years before I had a child of my own - it's an occupational hazard. So when I noticed it sitting on the shelf one day when I was cobbling together some stories for a daycare, I was reminded that I should share it at home, too. I've never really met a preschooler who didn't enjoy the story, especially as I encourage them to join in the beebee bird's song, which carries throughout the book on nearly every page. (A tip - I count off three repetitions on my fingers to keep them from running away with it!) It is a bit raucous for a bedtime story, perhaps, but ends on a quiet note, and is a great one for sharing and reading aloud together at the beginning of storytime.

I Am Snow, by Jean Marzollo, ill. Judith Moffatt

This is a super-simple book for beginning readers, so not really a great one for sharing in terms of good stories, but has a strong repetitious rhythm good for reading and for early readers. Pumpkinpie seems to like that about it, and has memorized it, so this is one that she reads to me. The bold collage illustrations add a nice touch.

Angelina Ballerina series, by Katharine Holabird, ill. Helen Craig

As Pumpkinpie becomes consumed with all things girly, I am looking for things that hook into that without making me cringe. Angelina on TV is a bit saccharine, but I find it mostly the voices that do it. In book form, I don't mind them. The illustrations have a ncie level of detail, and the stories teach small life lessons in the way so many series of books for young children do, some set in the dance world, and some not. I pciked up a few of these a while back on a closeout table, and so far, both of the ones I've introduced have been hits with Pumpkinpie, and acceptable to me, which for girly fare, is pretty win-win.

Dahlia, by Barbara McClintock

Charlotte is something of a tomboy, so when she receives a perfect, frilly china doll from her aunt, she is totally unimpressed, but decides the doll will have to get used to her way of doing things, so she takes her along to make mud pies, race soapbox cars, and climb trees. By the time her aunt comes by for dinner and asks to see the doll, she has been thoroughly transformed by her day of mud and sunshine. I love the contrast of the very old-fashioned, Victorian illustrations with the actual sentiments of the book, for the very proper-looking aunt, it turns out, wishes she could have joined in the puddle-jumping herself. It is just terrific how this book is at once sweet and traditional and yet subverts that very thing. What a great example of how kids can have great fun and break the mold without having to be the kind of horrible precocious brats some books model!

Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss

When Hroton the big-hearted elephant hears a small voice drifting by, he is certain that there must be a tiny person of some sort of the speck of dust he spies. Others are not convinced. They don't stop at teasing him or ignoring him, however, but these uniquely mean-spirited meighbours decide they must STOP HIM from taking care of this dust-mote world. It's tough to explain why that is to a child, but they have probably seen a bit of that in action among other kids, and Pumpkinpie seems to just get that it is mean, without worryign the why to heavily. In any case, Horton is one devoted caregiver, and hunts up the flower among a field of them until her finds it and encourages the Who's on the speck to make enough noise that those others can hear them, too. Panic ensues, but eventually, with every tiny one working together, they make themselves heard, and Horton is vindicated, the Whoville residents saved. Next up, I will have to lay hands on Horton Hatches the Egg.

Lauren, the Puppy Fairy

This early chapter book is one of a massive series of fairy books. Colour fairies, gem fairies, weather fairies, pet fairies... anything a fairy-fascinated young thing could want. They are pure fluff, as many series are, simple for the early reader and too sweet for my taste, but they are a huge hit, particularly among young girls. Pumpkinpie is puppy-mad, and newly interested in fairies, and I am trying to move her into chapter books among her bedtime reading. Some chapters have been hits, others not, but this one was a great success, having the right ingredients to tap into her obsessions du jour. It's a prime example of how sometimes you have to go with what works for them, and trust that it's a gateway drug to better stuff, like some Beverly Cleary, which we will start next.

Swing by your local public library to find books of all stripes for your shared reading times!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Re-Visiting Picks Past

After quite some time writing Pick of the Litter columns, first for MommyBlogsToronto, and now for the awesome new Playdate, I have covered a fair bit of territory, topic-wise. Every once in a while, now, I run into a book that makes me think, Oh! I wish I has seen that one when I wrote about... Well, there are always new things to write about, so I hate to reprint the whole column with the new additions, but I thought I'd refer back and offer up a few of the things that would make good add-ons to some picks of the past.


This is the Sunflower, by Lola M. Schaefer, ill. Donald Crews

This cumulative, rhyming story about a sunflower that feeds the birds, who then spill some seeds, which in turn grow into a patch of sunflowers in the same garden that grew the first flower. A note at the back identifies a host of songbirds, as well as giving some sunflower facts, while Crews' trademark bold illustrations make the whole thing a great book for sharing with kids of a wide range of ages.

The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss, ill. Crockett Johnson

A little boy planted a carrot seed. His mother said, "I'm afraid it won't come up." His father and brother doubt it, too, but he has a quiet faith in his seed, and waters and weeds it anyhow until one day, his patience is rewarded. This book is simple as simple can be, featuring drawings by the fabulous illustrator of Harold and the Purple Crayon, and is a great way to remind kids that patience may be tough, but it is worth it, and is especially necessary in gardens.

See more great gardening books in the original post, here.


Hello, Twins!, by Charlotte Voake

Voake, herself a twin, writes a simple and cute book about herself and her brother as children, though it is not told quite that way. Instead, she introduces us to Charlotte and Simon, who are not alike at all. Despite their very different ways of doing things (which read almost like a book of opposites), the twins love each other as they are. I have been a fan of Voake's for some time, and while this book is even sparser than most of hers, it has the same breezy, slightly sweet style that I love in her work.

Find other titles for two in this post.

All That Jazz

This Jazz Man, by Karen Ehrhardt, ill. R. G. Roth

Set to the tune of This Old Man, this fun and funky counting book highlights the sounds of jazz, and many ways that music can be made, from the snapping of fingers, through numerous instruments, and right up to the conductor. By the time we have met all ten, "these jazz men make one great band!" Notes at the end introduce the jazz legend associated with each of the players, for those who want to tie this to real-life musicians.

Find other swinging titles in this post, from deep in the archives.


I Wished for a Unicorn and

A Sea-Wishing Day, by Robert Heidbreder, ill. Kady McDonald Denton

I love a good example of children playing games of the imagination, losing themselves in a world of their own making, rather than surrendering to manufactured realms of television of being entertained by electronic toys. It's a great thing for a child to build that creativity! This pair of books features of child of ambiguous gender who goes on adventures in her (?) own backyard with her dog - exploring fairy tale worlds in one, and going to sea (running into pirates, even!) in the other. It's a bit like Backyardigans without the commercialness, in fact, in the fact that the backyard disappears, and other surroundings take shape, only to melt away at the end, as the child returns. Wonderfully fun romps, these books are given great shape with Denton's typically jaunty illustrations.

Find more great flights of fancy in this post from last summer, here.


The Purple Balloon, by Chris Raschka

This simple, lovely book is specifically written for terminally ill children and the friends and family who love them. It is based on an observation by psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross that across many cultures and faiths, children who draw their feelings about their impending death often draw a free-floating purple or blue balloon. Working from this point, Raschka has illustrated the ill child as the purple balloon, and the others around him or her as balloons of other colours. The extremely simple text addresses how difficult it is to talk about dying, the many people who try to make dying easier, the support to be found among family and friends. Good help can make it easier. There are also some short notes for children about how they can help a friend who is dying in simple ways by continuing to be a friend, for those children who are reading this book to understand another's illness better. I love the simplicity of this book, a little gem that addresses a tough topic with sympathy, but without overexplaining.

Find more books on this topic in this post, from deep in the archives - my very first Pick.

There are always new titles to find, even for us pros!

Check your local library often for treasures new and newly discovered.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fresh Picks!

New goodies!

I've been setting aside the new picture books as they've come in for the last month until I had a morning where I could sit down for an hour and read through them. There's wonderful new stuff in there! A nice mix of some silly, some good-for-early-literacy stuff to read to your babes and toddlers, and some terrific stories for slightly older kids.

I do love this part of my job... And sharing them with you! Hurry in and snap up a few of these - I promise you'll thank me later.

Quiet! There's a Canary in the Library, by Don Freeman

Freeman, you will likely know from Corduroy fame, but he has written several other charmers, some of which are being brought back around, including this really cute tale of a young girl in the library. She begins to daydream as she reads a book about animals, and imagines that if she were the librarian, she would have an animal day at the library. She envisions various animals coming in nad how she would greet them, making sure that they knew the rules (gently) and making them comfortable. It's all going swimmingly until a little bunch of mice come in and turn things upside down. Then she enlists the help of the canary to calm everyone down and herd them out of the library. Returning to reality, she takes home a book about a canary. Cute, simple, and introducing library behaviour gently, I will be reading to some classes, to be sure!

Nothing, by Jon Agee

When an antique-store proprietor has nothing left to sell, a rich lady exclaims that she'll take it! Um, okay. so he sells her nothing, and the next day, a few other merchants follow suit. Soon she is mad for nothing, and the trend spreads. Everyone starts getting rid of their things in favour of nothings, and soon, then shops are restocked with abandoned possessions. it doesn't take long for the lady to realize that she does need a few things - like a towel - and out she goes to buy "everything." A funny book in and of itself, this is also a great absurdist look at the cycles of consumerism and trends. What a terrific way to start that discussion!

City Lullaby, by Marilyn Singer, ill. Carll Cneut

A counting book, a book that concentrates on the sounds of the city, a rhyming book, and a book filled with signage. From a literacy perspective, it's rich with material for vocabulary, for phonological awareness, and for print awareness. From a read-aloud point of view, it's fun, bright, and filled with great sounds to roll around in the mouth and try out loud together. It has nice bold illustrations, amusement in the way the urban baby can sleep through all the noise, and the slowly building image of the baby's features come together at the end for an adorable last page. I like this one!

Where The Giant Sleeps, by Mem Fox, ill. Vladimir Radunsky

The author of my very favourite bedtime book (Time To Sleep) brings us a new soft nighttime story, this time filled with magical and mythical creatures and illustrated sweetly but quirkily. In it, she lists off where the giant sleeps, the fairy dozes, and the pirate lays his head. Wizards, goblins, and pixies follow in the soft rhyme about their slumber, but the elves? They are "wide awake- / sewing with all their might, / to make a quilt of moon and stars / to wrap you in... tonight." It's got a lovely rhythm, as I would expect from her, and depending on your child, could become a bedtime favourite.

The Wish, by Elle van lieshout & Erik van Os, ill. Paula Gerritsen

This is one of those books that you can tell at a glance is an import - and it was indeed first published in the Netherlands. In it, we meet Lila, who lives far away from civilisation, tending her own fields and crops. In the springs, sunflowers, in summer, beans, apples for sauce in the fall, and in the winter, she becomes hungry as her applesauce runs out. Wishing on a star, she happily takes the bag of flour she receives and bakes enough bread for a week, and continues to do so through the winter. She was not, the book notes, the type to wish for fancy things or great decadence, though the night before her birthday, she indulges in asking for a little more... but nothing too fancy. A wonderful little story on its own, it also provides a nice example of the idea of enough.

Shoe Shakes, by Loris Lesynski, ill. Michael Martchenko

One of Canada's premiere newer silly poets, Lesynski is perhaps best know for Dirty Dog Boogie, but also brings her storytelling skills to picture book favourites like Boy Soup. (If you haven't heard of her, but enjoy Dennis Lee, you really ought to check her out!) This new book teams her with Robert Munsch's frequent illustrative collaborator, for a book sure to grab the attention of any kid who loves to bring the goofy. This slim picture-book-format book is filled with mostly poems, though one expands into a story within it, mixing the two styles ably. This means that it is found in non-fiction, though, so if you happen to go looking for it and other works of hers, head for the 819's, where she sits alongside other notable poetic nuts from up north, including Dennis Lee and Sheree Fitch.

Pop by your local public library to see what else is new!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Princesses With Less Pink

My girl has become a princess freak. Me, not so much. I never really was that kind of girly girl, and often, I find the original takes on fairy tales a bit gruesome or scary for her to need just yet, while the modern takes on them frequently make my skin crawl a little. So I tend to tell her my own version, somewhere up the middle, for many of the classic stories, or work hard to find a version that works for both of us.

Still, I like the subvert it a little, partly for my own amusement and partly so she sees you don't have to take this stuff at face value. Not everyone has the same dreams, sometimes those dreams turn out to be less terrific in reality, and sometimes, you just have to be able to laugh. Some of these books are about that sort of approach. Some of them just show a princess with more going on than average - a princess who saves the day is not your standard pink-spangled fare, but it certainly makes me way more willing to let princesses be the fantasy of choice, when princess does not necessarily equal passive.

For all the other moms who hate the princesses who primp and wait for their prince, here are a few you can turn to to show there are different models out there.

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, ill. Michael Martchenko

This is, of course, the best known alternative princess, and an early one. She's still great, though, and a lot of fun. Kids love this story of a princess who has a bad day, in which she loses everything, including her prince. Donning the only thing she can find - a most unfoufy paper bag - she sets out to save him, outsmarting a dragon in the process. But is he grateful? Oh, heck no. And she sees right through him and his finery, and leaves him where she found him. Good girl.

Princess Smartypants, by Babette Cole

Smartypants just wants to be left alone to live with her animals - a vile collection of monsters if ever there was one - but because she was smart and pretty, all sorts of annoying princes keep turning up to try to marry her. Eventually, she sees she will have to do something, sets some tasks that scare most of them off, and thinks she is done with the hassle. Not so - Prince Swashbuckle is pretty smart himself, and manages to keep up. Until she turns him into a toad, that is, and gets to live happily ever after - with just her pets for company. Fans of Cole's typically quirky but hilarious style will not be disappointed by this one.

The Balloon Tree, by Phoebe Gilman

The princess in this Canadian favourite is a young girl whose father (the king) goes away for a while and leaves her nasty uncle to run the kingdom, despite Leora's trepidation. Sure enough, the evil archduke plots of takeover as soon as the king is gone, and it is up to Leora to save the day, with the help of her wizard friend's spell. With persistence, smarts, and will (as well as that helpful magic), she alerts her father to the danger in time for him to return home and set things to rights. Pumpkinpie loves this one, and the illuminated style makes it a beauty.

The Gypsy Princess, by Phoebe Gilman

In another, lesser-known tale by Gilman, a young gypsy girl dreams of becoming a princess, quite in love with all the trappings. When she enchants a real princess and is taken to the court, she finds that the excitement wears off quickly, and she begins to chafe under the weight heavy gown and tight slippers and the lack of anticipated magic. Indeed, her old life seems magic now, and one morning, she slips out, sheds her newly acquired princess-y ways along the road, and finds her way back home, where she belongs. It is something of a country mouse, city mouse scenario, but works nicely to show that even the most glittery and appealing things are not always what they seem.

Atalanta's Race

This myth is one of many parts, and far too dense for a preschooler if you look at the versions found in the mythology section. Indeed, in those more complete versions, she also allows herself to be tricked by her suitor with help from Aphrodite), and loses the race by one step. This surprised me a bit, raised as I was on the Free To Be, You and Me version, but I do still like that she insists on choosing her suitor by her own method, and then opts to lose to him when she finds that she wants him to win. Still, in suggesting this one, I am pointing you towards the young-child-friendly Free To Be version, which can be found in the big book of that title, along with tons of other great stereotype-busting skits, poems, and songs. There is plenty of time for the lnoger, meatier version as they grow older.

Princess Stinky-Toes and the Brave Frog Robert, by Leslie Elizabeth Watts

Lunetta is doomed from birth to be eaten by a dragon when she turns ten - a deal with a witch, as you might have guessed. At age nine, she begins to despair, but meets a knight-turned-frog who promises to help her, since he can only break his own spell by saving a life. He instructs her not to bathe. Not ever. So that by the time she turns ten, the princess now known as Stinky-toes is a pretty foul little creature - so foul, the dragon won't touch her, and eats the witch, instead. And Robert? He turns back into a knight, and proves himself worthy by telling Lunetta he likes her even more for her ability to choose the unpopular option. In the end, she takes a bath, to everyone's delight. No, no marriage. She's only ten, after all, and this isn't actually the middle ages. Funny, with a few little nods to fairy tale classics, this is a great tale of turning the princess thing on its head and a new Pumpkinpie favourite. The only problem? If you have a reluctant bather, this might give her the perfect reason to avoid the tub. Just in the spirit of fair warning and all.

Princesses Are Not Quitters!, by Kate Lum, ill. Sue Hellard

A trio of princesses are bored, and decide to trade places with the palace servants one day. By early afternoon, they are worn ragged by their chores, but do not want to be quitters, so they keep going through the many afternoon chores and just as many evening chores. By midnight, they fall into bed exhausted, and sleep late the next day. Seeing the servants at work, then, they know how their backs and hands and feet must ache from working hard ay in and day out, and decide to change the work conditions in the kingdom. To pick up the slack that this would leave, they take part in the work themselves - they are, after all, no quitters. This group of most un-princess-y princesses is a delight, with cute illustrations of gorgeous old-style princess gowns, generous spirits, and a lesson in persistence given with a fun twist. I love it.

Willa the Wonderful, by Susan Milord

When she is researching a class paper on her occupation of choice, Willa, a young pig, decides to try out first-hand what it would be like to be a fairy princess, her dream job. She dresses the part, and tries all day to make good things happen, but it's harder than she expects, and the results are less than satisfying. It's not until the end, when she rescues a classmate's younger brother, that she manages to both accomplish a good task and earn some recognition for her attempts. Turns out it's not so easy to be a proper fairy princess, but helping other people is worth it. Which, when told in a cute story like this, is a moral I can swallow, being both sugar coated and not hammered down my throat.

Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude, by Kevin Hawkes with additional illustrations by Carol Heyer and Scott Goto

When a boy and girl are assigned to write a fairy tale together, they have very different ideas of how things should go, and as they take turns telling it, it takes a few twists along the path. As the two start to become competitive, the results get pretty funny, and in the end, they have cobbled together something they (mostly) agree upon by teaming up their heroes. So what happens? Well, once the princess's ponies are getting stolen by an evil giant and several princes are defeated by him, a cool motorcycle dude takes over security at the castle and is beating the giant, but meanwhile, the princess buffs up and joins the fight, and the two scare him off together before they fall in love and get married. This illustrations in this are part fairy-tale pink, part awesome-action-hero dark, and part cartoon-style renderings of the arguing kids superimposed over the illustrated action. It's hilarious, and has great appeal for an older kid - I'd say most kids would be at least 6 years old before they'd really get it, maybe even older, but when they do? They'll love it. In fact, I may have broken the quiet of a late afternoon at the library lately by cackling madly as I read it. Maybe.

Princess Backwards, by Jane Gray, ill. Liz Milkau

This is a short and simple stroy about a princess who lives in a crazy land where everyone does everything backwards, but because she does them the opposite, they think she is backwards. Got that? But one day, her "weirdness" comes in handy, because while the others are running around backwards, tripping, and trying to shoot arrows over their shoulders, she strides right up to the dragon and throws a bucket of water in his face to put out his fire before he can burn up the drawbridge. And the dragon? Is thrilled. His mouth has been burning, you see, and he couldn't do anything about it! So the dragon is no longer a threat, the princess has saved the day wtih her strange ways, the two become friends, and she teaches the archers to shoot frontwards, making them far more efective. All in all, turns out that different is good. Not the most shining example of storytelling, but definitely short and simple enough for the younger princess enthusiast to enjoy, and containing just enough silliness for the older ones.

Princess Furball, by Charlotte Huck, ill. Anita Lobel

A young princess is lonely, having lost her mother and being largely ignored by her father. Her nurse, however, taught her well in both the more practical arts of the servants and the finer ways of a lady, such that she grew up to be both clever and resourceful, as well as beautiful. This all came in handy when her father wished to marry her off to an ogre -she demanded bridal gifts that she thought he could not produce. He did, however, and at that, she ran off. She soon found herself a servant to the servants in another king's house, but cleverly endeavoured to reveal herself slowly over time to the king until he fell in love with her, and was happy to "catch" her at her game. This ends more conventionally, wtih a marriage, as it is indeed related to a few traditional folk tales, including Cinderella, Catskin, and Many Furs, but Furball's willingness to work hard and her resourcefulness make her stand out in a crowd of standard princess tales.

Find these and other fantastic fairy tales at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Dog is a Kid's Best Friend

We are a cat family around the 'Pie household, but this has not stopped Pumpkinpie from being a serious dog lover. She drags around a kennel-worth of stuffed puppies, calling them her babies, gets the giggles around real dogs, pretends to be a dog, is learning about different breeds, and loves to hear a good doggy tale.

As much as I am not a dog lover and won't be getting a dog just to please her, I understand because I love cats the same way - I was aching for one as a young hcild, and delighted when my family broke down and took one in. Pumpkinpie, on the flip side, has been told to her apparent delight that she can have her own dog when she is grown. So meanwhile, those great dog stories will just have to suffice...

Here are a few for those who love dogs, whether or not they may even consider choosing one of their own as a pet.

Aggie and Ben, by Lori Ries, ill. Frank W. Dormer

Ben's dad had a surprise - Ben was going to get to choose a pet! he considers carefully the relative merits of various animals, and selects a dog her names Aggie. The second chapter of this sweet Beginning Reader shows him learning about being a dog from Aggie, and the last chapter has them fighting monsters at bedtime. It's sweet, but simple, perfect for the new reader or a shared read-aloud story.

"Let's Get a Pup!", said Kate, by Bob Graham

Kate wakes her parents one morning with this exclamation, and they skip breakfast in their hurry to get to the pound. They see lots of dogs there, but none are quite right until they see Dave. He's just what they are looking for. And then, on their way out, they see Rosie - Rosie, who is not young, or cute, or energetic, but gets to her feet stiffly, politely, and wins their hearts. They can't take all the dogs, they rationalize, and go home, where they sleep fitfully, until the next morning, when they skip breakfast again in their hurry to bring Rosie home with them and make their house feel complete. This book is simply great - cute, heartwarming, slightly undertold, and full of details that make the family real, like dad's stubble, mom's nose-ring, and the way they watch TV together with their feet on the dog.

The follow-up to this book, "The Trouble With Dogs..." Said Dad shows the family struggling to get hold of puppy Dave's wild behaviour until they run into a hard-core trainer who nearly breaks the pup's spirit - until Dave wins him over and they all agree to let him be as he is.

The Stray Dog, by Marc Simont

Told in few words and terrific, easy illustrations, this tale follows a family on picnic who encounter a stray. The two children play with and even name the stray dog they find in the park and want to take him home. They don't, but he is on the family's minds all week. While picknicking again the next Saturday, they see Willy, the stray, being chased by a dogcatcher. The children run after them and with some quick thinking, rescue him from the pound by claiming him for their own.

DogKu, by Andrew Clements, ill. Tim Bowers

Told in haiku and illustrations, this is the tale of a dog in search of a home. When a mother spies him outside of the door and lets him in, he immediately seems to become part of the family. He is given a name, meets the neighbouring dogs, runs errands and, of course, gets into trouble. But that evening, there is a family meeting, and a tense wait - ending in dad's return with all the essentials of doghood. Mooch is home at last.

Clifford, The Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell

This old classic was a favourite of mine as a kid, and the animated series has only served to make it more popular. It is, of course, about Emily Elizabeth's enormous canine companion and the joys of having him as a pet. The prequel, Clifford, the Small Red Puppy is also a hit with Pumpkinpie, explaining how he ended up so big and the family ended up on Birdwell Island. Though the TV show could make some people less open to these books and though they are in some ways dated, they are still a cute pair for sharing.

Pigeon Wants a Puppy, by Mo Willems

Poor pigeon. He didn't get the drive the bus, didn't get to stay up late, and had to share his hot dog. Will he manage to get his latest wish, a puppy? After all, he's wanted one forever, or at least since last Tuesday. He promises to take care of it, play tennis with it, give it plenty of water and sunshine... But when faced with an actual puppy? He's not so enamoured. Perhaps a walrus? Not quite as bratty or tantrum-y as his previous books, but just as fun for sharing with kids, this newest pigeon book is a sure-fire hit. I just bought it to take home for Pumpkinpie, actually. It's only fair - she's not getting a puppy, after all.

MacDuff Moves In, by Rosemary Wells, ill Susan Jeffers

In this first of the MacDuff series, the little white terrier arrives in the home of Fred and Lucy by pure happenstance, having fallen out of the back of a dogcatcher's truck late one miserable, rainy night. For the first time, he was welcomed rather than chased away, and he was fed and washed. The pair worry that they can't keep him, though, and are all set to return him to the pound, when they find themselves avoiding actually going there. Instead, they bring him home and settle in with him, taking his name from a tin of biscuits. In the books to follow, McDuff has various adventures, and the family even grows to include a new baby. (Perhaps McDuff could use one of these books for that occasion!) I love Jeffers' retro illustrations for these books, as well as Fred and Lucy's loving care.

Find these and other great animal tales at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Pumpkinpie's Picks

You know how it's recommended that you read to your child at least 20 minutes a day, or four stories? I bet you all do that already - if not, you really should get going. Not just because I tell you it's good for your child, but also because it makes for a wonderful, cuddly, close moment to share good stories and laugh together and bond for a bit at the close of the day. It's my favourite time with Pumpkinpie, although I have to allow for the very slim possibility that the tucking-in cuddles might edge it out. At any rate, it's a perfect way to erase the crummier aspects of a bad day, to reconnect after a busy day, or to cement the perfect ending to a great day.

And lately? These are some of Pumpkinpie's favourite choices for our shared reading time.

Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman, ill. Marla Frazee

This author-illustrator pairing is genius, and the result is hilarious. In it, Mrs. Peters' seven children each have one and only one thing that they will eat, and she is running herself ragged trying to keep up until something happens - by pure happenstance - that makes everyone happy, most of all the newly unencumbered Mrs. Peters. I am thinking I have to get this book for my friend, whose babe is showing early signs of fussy eating, but even Pumpkinpie, who will try anything, finds it rollicking good fun.

Lily's Big Day, by Kevin Henkes

I was, I must admit, pretty excited when a new Lily book came out, and a bit dismayed that Pumpkinpie was too small yet. But now? She's into it. And this is pure, classic Lily, certain she will be the centre of everything at her teacher's upcoming wedding, pretty cranky when it seems like she won't be, and then wildly jubilant when she saves the day and ends up right. Aspiring divas and flower girls, take note that preparation is everything, and sheer chutzpah will take care of the rest.

Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, ill. Jane Dyer

Life lessons? Sounds... ugh, right? Not so. Not so at all. Instead of some preachy, inspirational, or sappy tome, this book uses the theme of cookies to teach kids about those intangible words that we use so often. Respect. Patience. Proud. Greedy. Trustworthy. And lots more. In each case, the words is illustrated with an example tied to cookies, and the accompanying painting shows it in action. EXAMPLE. It's actually quite the lovely little treasure, made even more so by Dyer's stunning watercolours, and Pumpkinpie has been enjoying getting a better handle on some of these slightly more grown-up concepts.

Russell the Sheep, by Rob Scotton

Okay, I'll admit up front, I am automatically biased about books with sheep. I think sheep are inherently funny, so mostly, you don't even have to work too hard to win me over. But when the sheep also carry a whiff of Nick Park's claymation (think Wallace and Grommit)? And have long, wiggly sleeping caps? And at one point remove their fur? Okay, that is some funny shit right there. Pumpkinpie agrees, and the two of us crack up like idiots together every time we follow Russell through his varied attempts to get to sleep. Bet you'll love it, too.

Boots and the Glass Mountain, by Claire Martin, ill. Gennady Spirin

This is one of those lesser-known but classic European fairy tales, but one that I thought even my scare-able Pumpkinpie could enjoy. Boots is the youngest and least-appreciated of three brothers whose mother has now died, and is left with the dirtiest jobs, raggediest clothes, and so on. It is Boots, however, who figures out how to defeat the trolls who eat all the grain every Midsummer's Night and, unbeknownst to his brothers, earns himself three magnificent stallions and sets of armour. Which come in very handy when the king offers his daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who can ride his horse up the glass mountain that he was given by the Troll King. Predictably, no one else is succeeding, until unknown knights appear three days running and then are discovered all to be Boots, who wins the princess (also saving her from the Troll King). For a kid who is into fairy tales, this is a nice one, without gore or horrible creatures per se, and not too girly, either. In fact, I wouldn't hesitate to share it with a boy, too, who might appreciate it for different aspects.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.