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.