Monday, January 28, 2008

Scary Monsters, Super Creeps

My daughter is beginning to worry about monsters and nightmares and dragons and other fear-inducing creatures of the night. It's the age - imagination blooms and magical thinking takes hold about three, and monsters are as much a part of that as dressup. But perhaps they might feel better with a few stories about other kids with the same troubles, and they might even get a few suggestions about how to deal. Try these:

Go Away Big Green Monster!, by Ed Emberley

This book breaks down the big green monster - literally - telling each part to go away, one at a time, until he is gone. Also a cute way to introduce colours of face parts, this gives kids a great tool for banishing the spooky things that inhabit their mind's eye. I would give this warning - apparently, it helps to warm the kid up a bit and introduce it as silly, or show a page with only a partial face and have them guess, because Pumpkinpie figured out it was a monster book as a toddler, and won't let me open it, even two years later. Yeesh.

The Nightmare In My Closet and

The Alligator Under My Bed, by Mercer Mayer

The Nightmare was a massive hit back in the day, and remains a great classic, even spawning a short movie, while the sequel, Alligator, takes on another popular fear among the Very Small. The nightmare begins with a spooky monster in the closet and a boy barracading himself in his bed, with blanket, pop gun, and helmet for protection. As it turns out when he decides to take on the monster and shoots it with his pop gun, the monster is scared, and starts crying. So the boy tucks him into his own bed, and makes friends with his own haint. This was a favourite of mine as a kid, in fact, and I introduced it to Pumpkinpie this weekend in the interests of market research. She was edging away at first, worried about the monster, but I kept reading, and as soon as she heard the monster crying, she was intrigued, and scooted back over to see what was going on. She loved it, and now we are playing mommy and baby nightmare. Crazy kid.

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, by Mo Willems

Leonardo was a terrible monster. He never scared anyone. He thought he scared Sam, specially selected for his skittishness, but it turned out he was just unhappy. So Leonardo decided that if he was a terrible monster, perhaps he could try being a great friend, instead. Cute and non-threatening, this is another winner from kidlit's current darling (well-deserved), though a lesser-known offering. Easily survived the Skittish Pumpkinipe test.

Milo Mouse and the Scary Monster, Louis Baum, ill. Sue Hellard

This boko is a gentler tale about a little mouse who night after night dreams of a horrible creature chasing him. Each night he receives another tip on how to get a good sleep, but none seem to help. Instead, he finds a "happy place" and one night, he remembers it in his dream, waking up. What he discovers is that a tiny little mouse keeps disturbing his sleep, wanting to play. It's a little cute, perhaps, but it might be a better direction for a kid ilke mine, who doesn't even want to open the green monster book above. Sigh.

Find these and other books for facing your fears at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fresh Finds

It takes a while for a book to work its way from publisher to distributor to acquisitions to processing to the branches of a large organization like the one I work for. Sometimes, by the time I'm seeing a book, it's a good 6, 8, 12 months old. But even so, even if they are really a year old, the new books are always a bit of a thrill. Usually I haven't seen them before, even if they are from, say, 2006, as most of these are. These are some I've found and enjoyed over the last 6 months, most of which have gone home to Pumpkinpie, too.

The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians, by Carla Morris, ill. Brad Sneed

Melvin practically grew up in the library, encouraged in his curiosity and helped in his homework by a trio of enthusiastic librarians. they show him how to research, how to classify, how to organize, and how to project his voice for the school play. His successes were celebrated, and he had a job there after schol. When he left for college, he kept in touch. and one year, when another boy came into the library and loved it as Melvin had, the new librarian - Melvin - helped him out. This is a cute book, well-illustrated, and a loving homage by and for a children's librarian. My only quibble is to wonder what library has the resources to have three librarians in at the same time? Still, it is fiction...

I Am Pangoo the Penguin, by Satomi Ichikawa

Danny loves Pangoo the penguin, and takes him everywhere with him. Meals, playtime, to bed, even to see the penguins in the Central Park Zoo. When Danny's birthday nets him a boatload of new animals, though, Pangoo is left alone for the first time, and decides to join the penguins in the zoo, where perhaps he belongs. As he talks with them, though, it is clear that he is not like them, and he is lost, until Danny comes looking for him, and they are reunited. So sweet, this is, and a little poignant, with lovely illustrations that straddle modern and more classic styles.

Vote for Duck, by Doreen Cronin, ill. Betsy Lewin

We met Duck a few years back in Click, Clack, Moo, which quickly spawned a spate of follow-ups, but this is by far the best. Here, Duck decides he is unhappy with the management of the farm, and takes matters into his own hands, running to be in charge of the farm. He discovers that runing a farm is hard work. Sohe decided to run for Governor, instead. Which is also hard work. As is running the country. So Duck returns to the farm, where he begins work on his autobiography. Funny, although very American, as you will note right away, with the inevitable cover-judgment.

Gingerbread Girl, by Lisa Ernst Campbell

After the disappearance of the gingerbread boy, the lonely old man and woman decide to try their luck again, this time with a girl. A girl who overhears them rehashing the story of her former brother, and decides that things will be different when she escapes. And indeed, it is, especially for the fox. I have mixed reactions to this fairy tale take-offs. Sometimes they are kind of crummy, like the author couldn't come up with their own thing, but sometimes, they are sly and smart, fresh and funny, taking up where the original left off and adding their own twist. This is a fun one, and a great story for sharing with a kid you know is familiar with the original. Try pairing it with Richard Egielski's Gingerbread Boy (my personal favourite, and one that sticks to the old story - this just doesn't work if the Boy wasn't eaten, sorry).

Around the House the Fox Chased the Mouse, by Rick Walton, ill. Jim Bradshaw

This is the simplest of stories, with a fox chasing a mouse all around the farm, but it's the pictures that make it fun in bod, cartoonish style. The book is really about teaching prepositions, but manages to avoid being teach-y. Instead, it reminds me a bit of Pat Hutchins' classic Rosie's Walk, minus the sly, unsaid humour.

Alphabetter, by Dan Bar-El and Graham Ross

"Alberto had an alligator, but he didn't have a bathing suit." And he wanted to go swimming. And each kid, from A to Z, has something, but not what they need, until they all trade one letter up, and everyone's problems are solved. Seems contrived? Actually, it's packed with funny little details, and the message of cooperation is barely a footnote. I quite liked it, but I think it would work better for a child of at least 4 or 5, as Pumpkinpie (my test subject) totally didn't get it.

The Queen's Feet, by Sarah Ellis, ill. Dusan Petricic

The queen's feet were not obeying at all. In fact, they were starting to cause real trouble, refusing to wear proper, queenly shoes, doing high kicks at royal balls, and even kicking a neighbouring king in the shin. Something had to be done, and a compromise was struck. This book is silly and irreverant and made me laugh out loud at the antics of the feet, and I appreciated that the ending is satisfactory, without breaking the spirit of the feet. I was awfully tempted to pair this with Babette Cole's Princess Smartypants for a post on When Royalty Goes Wrong, but thought I'd rather give it to you today than make you wait.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Winter Wonderful

I am not a fan of winter, overall, because I loathe being cold. But I will give it this - it's beautiful, and makes for really magical picture books. The way it fuels a child's imagination, too, makes for great stories. So while I may not adore the season, I do love the literature.

Animals in Winter

When Winter Comes, by Nancy Van Laan, ill. Susan Gaber

A repetitive chorus asks where many different animals go "when winter comes and the cold winds blow." The rhyming replies tell children about deer, who huddle for warmth, about birds, who fly away, about caterpillars in their coccoons, and more. The illustrations have a folk art feeling about them, and the whole has a quiet, meditative feeling about it. I love this one for sharing.

Sleep, Black Bear, Sleep, by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, ill. Brooke Dyer

Perhaps because I love lullabies so, I think this is sweet, and while it skirts close to too sweet, keeps just on the right side of the line. Using the old classic, "Sleep, Baby, Sleep," it sings a lullaby to many different animals, as it shows them preparing for their winter naps in nooks, nests, and dens.

Time for Bed, by Denise Fleming

This is a super-simple book, perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, which seem to be Fleming's specialty. Her bold illustrations are sublter here, using greay and browns for the bears and their cave, and the tone a little quieter, as a mother bear puts her baby bear to sleep for the winter.

I also love Karma Wilson's series of Bear books, most of which revolve around Bear's hibernation, although they are not as directly addressing it.

Fun in the... Snow, If You Can Imagine!

Stella, Queen of the Snow, by Marie-Louise Gay

The irrepressible Stella leads her reluctant brother Sam through a number of winter activities, and while her wild mane of red hair and exhuberant nature make her a star, it's the questions and repartee between the two that really makes these books. Some of her answers are pure made-up silliness, but Sam's questioning is simply brilliant. I love this whole series, really.

Boot Weather, by Judith Vigna

This is not a complicated book, a gorgeously illustrated book, or a beautifully told story. It is, instead, a nice idea, and one that I have enjoyed in other books. In it, one page shows a yonug girl playing outside in "boot weather," while the opposing page shows what she imagines herself doing. I am all for supporting and encouraging imagination, so while it isn't one that will blow you away, I like this older one anyhow.

Magic Moments

Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen, ill. John Schoenherr

This Caldecott medalist won its gold fair and square, with haunting illustrations of the woods in the moonlight bringing loads of atmosphere to Yolen's quiet, evocative text. In it, a young girl and her father go "owling," looking for owls in the woods. As they walk on, calling to owls, the shadows grow longer, she recites in her mind the lessons about being quiet and brave and hopeful, and suddenly, they see one, catching it in the circle of a flashlight. This book is just plain magic in its capturing of a shared moment of wonder between father and child.

All About Snowflakes

Snip, Snip... Snow!, by Nancy Poydar

Sophie is anxiously awaiting a big snowfall, when she hits on the idea of getting her class to create their own snowflakes by cutting paper. It's a simple story of how magical snow can be for a child eager to sled and build snowmen, and contains instructions at the back for making snowflakes yourself.

Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, ill. Mary Azarian

This early picture book biography is simple enough for a yonger child to follow, yet interesting enough to hold much older children, who may also appreciate the sidebar information. Snowflake Bentley was a self-educated man in Vermont who developed his own method of photographing snowflakes, and discovered the many intricate forms they can take. Every photograph of snowflakes you see, everything we know about snow, started with him, because he was obsessed with snow. The illustrations suit the story well, being slightly folky in feel, with the look of bold woodcuts that suit the time and place. One of my very favourites.

Poetry by the Season

Winter Poems, sel. by Barbara Rogasky, ill. Trina Schart Hyman

These poems range from teh simple to the classic, and include an incredible range of authors. Hyman's always-lovely illustrations bring the whole thing up another notch.

Snow, Snow: Winter Poems for Children

Once Upon Ice and other Frozen Poems, by Jane Yolen, photos by Jason Stemple.

Short poems by one of kidlit's most prolific authors are illustrated with simply stunning photographs in this beautiful pair of books. I love sharing these even with the very young.

Find these and more cool winter tales at your public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Hooked on Classics

You've heard of the Mozart Effect? Well, even if it was in fact a short-term effect tested only on college students, many parents like to expose their children to classical music anyhow. And who can blame them? It is beautiful, rich in history and sound, it can be exciting or soothing as parents require, and it is indeed part of a good, well-rounded cultural education. There are plenty of great CDs and DVDs introducing children to the orchestra, but I also like stories about the different instruments, about how musicians live and learn, about the history of the music and the composers, or simply about how music can move us. Here are a few worth sharing.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, by Lloyd Moss, ill. Marjorie Priceman

Introduces ten orchestra instruments one at a time, adding the terms solo, duet, trio, quartet, and so on as more join in. In the end, they have a "chamber group of ten" and a concert begins. The real magic is the description of each instrument's sound, and Priceman's usual swirling illustrations add movement and fun to the music. Pumpkinpie was loving this one when we borrowed it, and it is well worth a look.

The Fabulous Song, by Don Gillmor, ill. Marie-Louise Gay

Frederic was named after Chopin by his musical family, and had a variety of instruments shoved at him from a young age. Sadly, he was not the musical genius they hoped for, or so it seemed until the day he watched his sister perform, and noticed the conductor. That night, he tries out his wooden spoon, and draws his family's cacaphony of songs together into one fabulous song, finding his true gift. The story is funny and sweet, and the pairing of Gillmor and Gay is always a major hit. Love this.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, by Karla Kuskin, ill. Marc Simont

Anticipation builds as we watch 105 people get ready for work, from their baths and showers, through getting dressed, to taking their instruments out of cases. It's fun to watch the orchestra assemble, and differences are pointed out along the way, making the 105 people individuals. Finally, the hall fills with music. It simple, but fun. A classic I remember from my own childhood, actually.

Mole Music, by David McPhail

One night mole hears a violin played on television. He orders one of his own, and learns to play. As he grows more and more skilled, he imagines playing for audiences, changing the world with his beuatiful music. As he laughs at himself for being so silly, scenes play out aboveground, over his head, and eventually, he does indeed change the course of history, though he never know it. A wonderful story where only haf of it is told, this gorgeous book is moving and a perfect one to talk about while you read together.

Gabriella's Song, by Candace Fleming, ill. Giselle Potter

A young girl's song is passed from one citizen of Venice to another, each hearing something different in it, until it reaches the ears of a composer, who builds a new symphony on it, and gives credit where it is due. I love that the same song brings a different reaction in each person who hears it, just as music can do, according to that person's own emotions at the time. A sweet, lovely, story, illustrated in Potter's typically jaunty, folksy style.

For older kids or nice read-alouds:

Cassie Loves Beethoven, by Alan Arkin (yes, that Alan Arkin)
This chapter book, which I would put at a grade 3-5 age range, is about a cow who falls in love with classical music, specifically Beethoven. It is a lovely, sweet story about following your dreams, about learning from your mistakes, and, mostly, about the power of music to move the soul. It would make a wonderful read-aloud for a child read to sit for chapters of a longer but still gentle book, too, perhaps from age 4 or 5.

Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery, by Douglas Cowling, ill. Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson
(also on audiobook)
Mr. Bach Comes to Call (audiobook only)
Beethoven Lives Upstairs (audiobook only)

This trio of stories are historical fiction, built around the composers, and involving music touching children's lives and hearts. They are fun stories, and quite lovely in their execution. They are also a rare case when I would suggest audiobooks rather than sticking to real books with pages, too, because the music of the composers is wound through them so beautifully that it really adds to the experience. The Vivaldi story is available in book format, and the author also has a story about Handel (Hallelujah Handel), so you could both read and listen, if you like the visuals.

For somewhat older kids, because of the topic:

The Cello of Mr. O, by Jane Cutler, ill. Greg Couch

In a war-torn region (I'm guessing it's maybe Bosnia or somewhere thereabouts, but it's unclear), a handful of families remain, and the thing that brings hope and goodness to their life is the weekly aid truck, until it is bombed, never to return. In its place, Mr. O, a former concert cellist, sits outside and plays for his neighbours to bring them hope. When his cello is destroyed, he appears, undaunted, with a harmonica. This is a wonderful, uplifting story of the power of music and the human spirit, but is better left for children old enough to understand the underlying danger with your help.

Find these and other books that hit the right note at your local library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.