Monday, May 19, 2008

Mmmmm.... New Books...

Once in a while, when a busload of new stuff comes in, I take some time out of the day to read through it and see if there is new stuff to love. Sometimes, I'm not impressed by much, often there are a few new items I like, but once in a blue moon? There are a stack of new books I would gladly recommend, put out for display, or squirrel home to share with my daughter. This month was once of those times, and I am happy to be able to share a new trove of fresh finds with you. I will totally be bringing a few home to Pumpkinpie.

Previously, by Allan Ahlberg, ill. Bruce Ingman

This book draws on a host of well-known, classic fairy tales, which tends to make the story-savvy child pretty pleased with her ability to pick out the tale from the clues. The basic premise is to walk backwards through tale after tale, with characters running into each other to create the junctions between the stories, and wrapping up with all characters as babies (or tadpoles, or cubs, or trees not yet made into wood, and so on). And last of all? Once upon a time... A fun shared read with a child old enough to pick up the reference and understand the sequencing, this also plays with the narrative sequence in an interesting way that challenges them to think about the expected order of events.

I'm Big Enough Now! by Pamela Duncan Edwards, ill. Rebecca Harry

This book is one that skirts the border of cute and too-cute, mostly thanks to the softer illustrations, but I liked it nonetheless. When a young elephant decides he is big enough to go out into the world and have his own adventures, his mother doesn't try to stop him, but instead gives him enough rope to get into trouble, and then "happens" to be passing by and help him out. By the end of a few such episodes, she invites him to join her on her adventures, and the two have a great time together. At the close of the story, the young elephant decides to wait a while to go out on his own again. I do like how the message (and there is one, to be sure) is given gently, and how the mother lets him come to his own conclusion while still making sure he is safe. Sweet, but loving in tone, it's a nice storytime pick.

Ride 'em, Cowboy, by Stefan Czernecki

This is the perfect read-aloud for the young cowboy-obssessed child. The unusual art consists of photos of what appear to be hand-tooled wooden toys, and has a great simplicity to it, with a real retro child's-toy look. The text is simple, employing cowboy dialect and lots of great sound effects, and has a terrific whoop and holler feel to it. Just right, this one. It made me think immediately of Marla.

Ms. McCaw Learns to Draw, by Kaethe Zemach

Dudley's teacher is most patient, most wise, and helps him to understand things in a way no other teacher has. So when he sees her grow frustrated and give up as she tries unsuccessfully to draw a face in profile, he understands and takes over her role, patiently explaining and showing over and over, until the board is full of faces, and she is ready to try on her own. A lovely ode to good teachers, a nice way of expressing how patience can help in learning a new skill, and a very subtle message about the power of persistence. A really nice book to share with a child in grade 1-3, I would estimate, especially one who may have encountered some frustrations and appreciate seeing that s/he is not alone.

Tire Mountain, by Andrea Chung, ill. Ken Condon

Aaron's mother longs to move away from their corner, where his father's auto repair business has created a pile of tires and the lot across the way lies vacant. Aaron, though, sees beauty in the neighbourhood, and is angry at his mother's search for somewhere better, cleaner. Soon, he is inspired by the "tire mountain" that he loves to climb, his neighbour's garden, and a little girl he knows, and jumps into action. Within a short time, he has turned the vacant lot into a playground and garden for community children and created something of undeniable beauty on that corner. When I first read this, I was trying to figure out what kind of post to put it into - one about moving? About recycling or conservation or community action? It would fit all of those themes, in fact, and I quite like the inspiring message and lovely illustrations in it. Wonderful, and a nice story of community involvement for a slightly older child.

Water Boy, by David McPhail

McPhail's books frequently feature dreamy, imaginative scenarios and images, and this newest is no exception. In it, a boy is told that he is made of mostly water, and becomes fearful that he will wash or leak away into nothing, until he begins to befriend water and find that, being one with it, he is able to control it and ultimately, help to restore it from a polluted state. This book is beautiful, strange, and a lovely one to share with a child who loves water or enjoys flights of fantasy.

Cottonwool Colin, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

Colin is the smallest in his litter of mice, unlike his robust siblings, and his mother worries overly about his safety. For the longest time, she keeps him indoors, where he cannot get hurt or catch a cold, until she tries wrapping him in a bundle of cottonwoll to protect him when he leaves the nest for the first time. Rather than helping, the fluffy white layer attracts all sorts of trouble, and he survives quite nicely once it is gone. It ends with him insisting on going out without, and notes that while he did get scared and hurt at times, it was totally worth it. These longtime collaborators have created a funny little gem in this book, and yet managed to slyly tuck in a message for mothers without losing the book's amusement factor - what a great feat!

The Magic Rabbit, by Annette LeBlanc Cate

When a magician and his rabbit get separated, they are both devastated, for they are best friends as well as working companions. We follow the bunny until he picks up a trail that leads to their reunion. This book is spare in words, leaving much to wonderful, kinetic illustrations rendered in sepia-toned black-and-white with the sole exception of the magician's yellow stars. The effect is, well, magical. Not to mention that I always love a good tale of friendship.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Baby Talk

Here at Playdate, we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our editor's new bundle of joy. HBM has been working on through it, and is counting the minutes at this point, if she hasn't already delivered by the time I hit publish. She's not alone, either. There are plenty of other bloggers out there who, right this very moment are gestating siblings or settling in with their new additions, and that's just among the ones I know.

Well, I can't offer these wonderful mamas much personal help, but I can offer them the help I know how best to give - suggestions for books about new babies to share with the older siblings. Books that can help explain what's happening or about to, books that share the joy of a new baby, but also books that acknowledge the many and varied feelings a sibling is bound to have. There will no doubt be a lot of talking about these things ahead, and sometimes, a book can be a useful tool to help guide the discussion, start the discussion, or anticipate questions to come.

So in honour of all these spring babies, here are a whole flock of books, both story and informational, to help the ball roll smoothly. Best of luck, ladies!

The Answer Books

The New Baby At Your House, by Joanna Cole, ill. Margaret Miller

This book starts with an extensive note to parents about this big change in their older child's life, before it goes on to speak directly to the child. It adresses a whole host of topics from discovering that a mother is pregnant to her hospital stay, and what a newborn looks like, umbilical stump included (blech!). It talks about what a baby can do (including a breastfeeding mom - yay!), how a sibling can help out, and how it might make the sibling feel to see the baby getting so much attention. It also talks about the joys of being bigger, about how families need to teach babies, and about how someday, the baby can become a playmate. This book is thorough, speaks in language that is accessible but not patronizing, and asks occasional questions, while stressing how much parents love their big children, too. Miller's photographs are simple and plentiful, showing lots of different families, so that most children will see themselves somewhere in here. This may be one of my favourites, although it seems like it would work best once the baby arrives, or at least is pretty darn close to joining the family.

A Baby's Coming to Your House!, by Shelley Moore Thomas, ill. Eric Futran

This book talks about different ways that babies come, all the stuff that they come with, and the way the relatives and parents might act. It talks about how to hold the baby, how the baby will act, what it will eat, and how the sibling can help. Thomas acknowledges that siblings will get less attention, but stresses that parents will still have time for them, and that brothers and sisters will help teach the baby everything it will know. It ends on a note of teaching the baby about family and love, and suggests that this will make the sibling happy to have the new baby. While this isn't my very favourite, to be honest, it does cover a lot of the things a sibling needs to know, with nice photographic accompaniment, so I would still say it is a useful one and include it.

What to Expect When Mommy's Having a Baby, by Heidi Murkoff, ill. Laura Rader

Angus the answer dog gives answers to a lot of the basic questions that kids will have, in terms that even young ones will understand. Questions include where the baby is, how it gets there, how it grows and eats, what it does in there, why mommy might not feel well and visits the doctor so much, and how the baby gets out. Much as I was prepared not to love a book that starts out with a little mascot, I found it very accessible and straightforward. It uses language like "uterus," "sperm," and "vagina," while not going into graphic detail, which makes for a nice balance of proper but appropriate information. The illustrations are also fun, with a picture book feel, but not too cute. The only things I didn't love were the absence of information on c-sections for those who have them, and the fact that the book ends at birth. Luckily, there is a followup: What to Expect when the New Baby Comes Home, by the same team.

The Story Books

Mothers Are Like That, by Carol Carrick, ill. Paul Carrick

While this book ostensibly talks about what mothers are like and what they do, it also serves to show the ways in which new babies need to be cared for and will grow. The illustrations show animal mothers caring for their young - including nursing them - and ends on an image of a human mother tucking her baby into bed, making the connection between mothers of all species. It's sweet and gentle without straying into the icky or saccharine, and a nice way to start to talk with children about what it's like to have a baby.

Where Did That Baby Come From?, by Debi Gliori

A bewildered sibling ponders whence the new baby, complete with editorials about how weird it is, and about not getting another, or perhaps returning it. It's kind of funny, or at least a light way to acknowledge that a new baby might not be an immediate hit. In the end, though, the baby's cry arouses a different instinct, and the sibling wants to help. Following that, a magical baby laugh makes the sibling want to repeat whatever created it, and suddenly, the wonder of babies starts to sink in. Cute, but not sappy.

Julius, Baby of the World, by Kevin Henkes

Before Julius was born, Lilly was the best big sister in the world. But after he actually appeared, things changed. She was not pleased with the new interloper who had her parents so captivated, and she showed it in unpleasant ways. No matter how hard her parents tried to make her feel special, she behaved terribly towards the new baby, and ultimately, spent quite some time in time out. It didn't help when relatives showered him with attention at his party - until one cousin says disparaging things about him, and rouses Lilly to his defense. And she finds that when she points out all his good features, she actually means it. It goes without saying that I would love this book, because, well, Kevin Henkes, but I also love the brutal honesty about Lilly's behaviour and reactions. This is no sweet, glossing-it-over version of a child's reaction, but that is Lilly - outrageous, over the top, and totally putting it all out on the table. Ya gotta love that, even while you're horrified.

Baby Talk, by Fred Hiatt, ill. Mark Graham

The new baby's crying seems to be telling Joey's mother what the baby wants, but not Joey. His mother offers him chances to help out, but he is not interested. His family suggests that he try to talk back to the baby when it babbles, and he does, earning himself a smile. After that, he talk with the new baby often, and even ends up "translating" for his family. Helping out brings him into contact with the little one, and they form a bond by the end of this simple, sweet picture book.

It's All About Me!, by Nancy Cote

A very simple rhyming book about a young boy who is "the best," according to his parents. When he hears a baby boy is on the way, though, he is not so thrilled at losing his centre-of-the-universe status. He is not thrilled with the baby - I cry /I'm sad /I get so mad /I wish he'd go away - until the smiling baby starts to grow on him and he starts to take on his role of big brother. When a third is on the way, then, he anticipates how that little brother will feel, and what he will tell him. It is a nice one for a younger child in both its simplicity and in the way it shows how the boy grew from a baby, and then how the new baby behaves once it arrives.

Oonga Boonga, by Frieda Wishinsky, ill. see below

This book is available in two different editions, with different illustrators: Carol Thompson for one, Michael Martchenko for the other. In it, the new baby is disconsolate. The parents and relatives and neighbours have tried everything. And then the big brother comes home and say, simply, "Oonga boonga, Louise." Smiles break out, and he goes out to play until the next crisis. It's a simple story, but one aimed at making the big sibling feel invaluable and helpful, and kids love it. It's not a unique story, of course - Phyllis Root's fantastic What Baby Wants (ill. Jill Barton) uses much the same theme, but allows kids to chime in - it's a favourite of mine, in fact, but it's a less direct telling of the same sort of tale.

Other Great Baby Books

Want some more images of babies and what they do? Maybe in a nice sturdy format for a young one? Penny Gentieu has a number of books (both picture and board) of babies filled with cute photographs of babies doing baby things. Margaret Miller has a similar set of board books about babies. These are great both for siblings and for babies, who love to look at other babies. Also look for Helen Oxenbury's books (also soem in picture, some in board) about what babies do, illustrated in her cute, simple style.

Find these and a stroller-full of other great baby books at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Spring Stories

It's spring - at last! And who doesn't love spring? The snow melts away, the temperature rises, animals and plants come out the greet the new-found sun, and our moods lighten palpably after the long schlep through winter. Our kids can run freely now, and shed some layers. They have great fun splashing in puddles and testing out boots and umbrellas long tucked away. They know spring is special, but they might not twig to all the wonderful changes happening around them.

Why not celebrate the spring renewal with some great stories, and open their eyes to how truly miraculous the season is? Here's a good start:

Naomi Knows It's Springtime, by Virginia L. Kroll, ill. Jill Kastner

Naomi experiences spring as she revels in all the changes and signs of the new season - the feeling of warm air that "kisses her cheeks," the sounds of newly hatched birds, and the swooping delight of riding on her swing. It is only at the end that we discover that she is blind, when her neighbour says, "If only Naomi could see the blue in the sky!" Naomi replies that she has a rainbow in her mind. I love this book for its celebration of the many delights of my favourite season, for its lovely, impressionistic illustrations, and for pointing out subtly that people living with an impairment aren't necessarily missing out on as much as we think. Wonderful.

Spring Things, by Bob Raczka, ill. July Stead

This simple, rhyming book is brought to life by its vibrant illustrations, and shows many of the things that are going on in spring using active, -ing verbs. This would be a great one for primary teachers who want to focus on that suffix, too, but for at-home reading, it's just easy, breezy fun.

Bear Wants More, by Karma Wilson, ill. Jane Chapman

I love Wilson's bear books - the rhythm and rhyme in them is fantastic, and the illustrations hit the right note between cute and bold. In this installation, bear wakes up from his long winter nap hungry, and eats himself into a stupor, aided by his dear friends. These titles are great for sharing.

Skunk's Spring Surprise, by Leslea Newman, ill. Valeri Gorbachev

Another tale of animals coming awake in spring, this newer (2007) title features a skunk who wakes up ready to see her friends again. But where are they? When she finally finds them, they have planned a show to welcome her, and she is delighted. A sweet story of renewing friendship after a long winter's nap.

A Rainy Day, by Sandra Markle, ill. Cathy Johnson

This book, while found in the picture book section, could just as easily fit into the non-fiction books, as it discusses how different things act on a rainy day. Through the pages, we follow a young, slicker-clad child as she discovers how animals hide to stay dry, how different materials react to becoming wet, how the rain and the drops themselves behave, what makes a rainbow, and what happens after the rain. The illustrations are beautiful, and the exploring child is a nice way to convey information without ever being dry (heh heh). This is a wonderful book to share with a curious child who likes to ask, "Why?"

Find these and other great stories of spring at your local public library!

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.