Sunday, June 14, 2009


This past week, the decision was made to stop publishing on Better Than a Playdate - that is, all columns, not just Pick of the Litter. Because it's a project that I enjoy and the lists are ones I use for my work at times, I've decided to recreate the column here, on a site of my own. Everything posted before today was found first on either Playdate or the earlier site MommyBlogsToronto, which I think is important to say because I have so enjoyed being a part of those projects.

As far as this site is concerned, having no schedule to hold to now means my posts will be less regular, to be sure, and less frequent, but I plan to continue posting as I have ideas and time to fill them out a bit. It also means that I may be slightly less rigorous - I have always felt I needed at least 4 good titles to make an idea worth posting, but I may, here, sometimes post with less if it's something I would like to put out there or titles that I think go well together.

I hope that if you were a reader on Playdate, you will continue to enjoy the lists here, as well.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Community Helpers: Where Do We Get It?

Daily, we eat. We buy groceries - canned goods, produce, baking supplies, and more. We cook them, often keeping children busy in another room, though we occasionally involve them. the whole business is a little removed from them. We sometimes go to restaurants, where someone else cooks behind closed doors, food appearing even more mysteriously than at home. So how to lead them to understanding and appreciating all the hard work behind these meals they eat (or refuse)? How to explain the logisitics, the late-night shelf-stocking, the care and pride that goes into supplying food for us?

Here are a handful of books of community helpers that illuminate the goings-on in stores, groceries, and restaurants, a great way to show kids what it takes to get a dinner on their table. Not only will you bring them to greater understanding of the world around them, but you will expand their vocabulary and maybe - just maybe - even get a little appreciation at mealtime. Maybe.


The Candystore Man, by Jonathan London, ill. Kevin O'Malley

This book is more ode to a superpopular neighbourhood character than it is a look at how the man runs his store, but part of what makes him so special is his engagement with his community. He treats the winning football team to milkshakes and pinball, takes a blind boy to a basketball game, and shells out on Hallowe'en, not to mention being on cool cat. The story is written in a be-bop beat, as if in tribute to the candy store man's obvious love for all things jazzy, and O'Mally's illustrations would add fun to a funeral, so while a bit slight on the actual job involved, it's a winner for sharing at storytime.

A Fruit & Vegetable Man, by Roni Schotter, ill. Jeanette Winter

Ruby is a greengrocder who takes great pride in his work, choosing the best produce, stacking it artistically, and serving his customers well. New arrival Sun Ho soon becomes a young admirer of Ruby, who is much beloved in the neighbourhood, and asks Ruby to show him how he does it. Ruby takes him along on a day, teaching him how to choose, haggle, stack, and serve, all of which pays off when he for the first time becomes to sick to open the store for a few days. When he returns, he finds that Sun Ho and his family have been taking care of business for him, and decides that he can at last retire, leaving the community in good hands. This is a nice bok about taking pride in your work and serving your customers with integrity, and it really shows the dedication in some of those mainstays of the world around us.

The Storekeeper, by Tracey Campbell Pearson

This homey book follows the day of a general store proprieter who opens early, orders new stock, sorts mail, shelves product, and serves donuts while she helps out pretty much everyone in town wanting one thing or another. It is simply told, with some detail added in the cute drawings, but shows how busy it is to keep a small business running. There may not be too many small general stores left in the world, but I think it can translate to many a small business owner!


Market Day, by Lois Ehlert

This book shows a farming family loading up and going into town for market day, and is told in rhyme. The illustrations are a bit strange, but really interesting - a collage of folk art items that give the whole thing a sort of Central or South American feel. While this is not how a lot of North America has ben typically buying its food, the farmer's market is on the rise, and families who frequent them might really enjoy this relatable glimpse into their food's suppliers.

Feast For 10, by Cathryn Falwell

A family gets ready for a big family dinner in this cute counting book, starting with a trip to the grocery store, and continuing with the preparation of the meal. The paper-and-cloth collage illustrations are terrific, and I love the level of detail. It feels jut like any family outing to the grocer's, with one of the five children riding on the cart, others helping gather the ingredients for dinner. I also love it when a picture book features of family of colour without the story being about that, and this family is a good-looking one, to be sure.

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza), by Philemon Sturges, ill. Amy Walrod

This urban take on the familiar tale of the little red hen is a winner. In it, the hen decides to make a pizza, and as she discovers the many things she will need and doesn't have, she is, as expected, given no help by her friends, who are out playing in the street. Instead, she runs out to the hardware store, the supermarkt, and the delicatessen to get what she neds, cooks it up herself, and in the end, breaks with th traditional tale and shares it with her shiftless friends. They repay her kindness by helping with th dishes, showing that they are no complete do-nothings after all. The story is definitely a fun retelling, but what pushes it into fantastic trritory is the comedic details in the paper collage illustrations - the selections and labels of the food in her pantry alone make it worth taking this treat home to share.


Piggy's Pancake Parlour, by David McPhail

This is found in the picture book section, but it is sort of a picture-early chapter hybrid, as it is much more text-heavy than you average picture, and divided into chapters for easily reading it over a few nights of storytime, if you wish. In it we meet piggy, and discover how he learned to cook pancakes, how he met fox, and how the two of them went on to open a pancake restaurant together, including the story of how they experimented with having a model train deliver the pancakes to customers, but found it easier to do by hand in the end. It's a lovely book, a tale of friendship and work paying off in something wonderful, and a good story overall. McPhail's typically beautiful and finely detailed illustrations make the whole thing sing.

Big Jimmy's Kum Kau Chinese Take Out, by Ted Lewin

A young boy takes us with him as he spends the day helping out at his dad's chinese takeout restaurant. We see the ingredients delivered, the kitchen cleaned and the cooking stations prepared, the meat and vegetables chopped, and huge bowls of rice and noodles made ready. The boy folds menus while he waits for opening time, and once they do open up, the rush begins. Phones ring and woks sizzle as the boy helps stuff bags with orders, bringing them out to customers, and taking a moment to eat after the lunch rush. At the end of the day, though, he eats his favourite - pizza! Lewin's incredibly gorgeous watercolours bring this work to life, and in an artis's note at the end he notes that the restaurant is a real place in Brooklyn, and that the paintings were done from photographs he took, though the people are fictional and added in from other sources. It is, in a word, a prfect look into the running of a busy chinese restaurant.

Originally posted on Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, May 4, 2009

National Treasure: Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid is another one of Canada's great children's authors, and may be familiar to many of you, whether you know of her full range of books or not. Many of her books are favourites, but only one small and lesser-known set have gone into a series, making her somewhat less well-known than she ought to be. She is an illustrator of other people's books as well as an author/illustrator, so you may even have seen her art without ever having read what she has written herself. Either way, you should just make sure you know she has a good handful of wonderful books to be discovered.

What's so special about her, that I should call her a national treasure? I first became aware of her for her illustrations, which are phenomenal. A master of plastiscine, she shapes, blends, and texturizes with more detail than anyone I have seen in this medium, and even, sometimes, incorporates little bits of found stuff into the images, giving them an extra dimension of real life. Not only are her details incredible, but she has a gift for faces, something I always appreciate in an artist. So after enjoying her work on Jo Ellen Bogart's Gifts and Beverley Allinson's Effie, most notably, I began to notice her own work, and loved it even more. It turns out that as great as her genius for the image, her skill as a storyteller matches it. She uses lovely storytellerly details that give her stories a feel of modern fairy tales, and when she uses rhyme, she does it with skill and a nice, readable metre. Treasure, indeed. Here are some of my favourites:

Subway Mouse

This is one of her tales that is at once thoroughly modern, taking place in a subway system inhabited by a gang of tattooed mice, yet retains something of the air of a classic tale in its journey and its delightfully satisfying ending. Toronto readers will recognize a lot of details, and this work is an example of her incorporating lots of scraps of real objects that work perfectly to bring her already nicely detailed world that much closer to perfection.

The Golden Goose

I adore this twist on fairy tales and their often-spoiled princesses. Here, a pragmatic and earth-loving girl is completely misunderstood by her loving but status-conscious father, who wants to buy her some happiness and in his attempts, destroys the very things that she loves. In the end, her story fortunately intersects with that of a young man who has found a golden goose and is being tailed by a gaggle of greedy townspeople. The two hit it off perfectly, and are able to return her favourite places to the little patch of what they consider heaven. Her father may be left scratching his head, but he's happy she's happy, and all is well with a nice, modest couple. Sweet, full of great values without talking about them, and charming in its execution, I have given this as a gift more than once.

The Party

Anyone who has attended a big family party will appreciate how well she picks up on what goes on, from an aunt's big smooch to chasing around with cousins to the sleepy ride home later than usual. it's note perfect, and the rhyming works nicely, something I always watch for.

Zoe's Sunny Day / Rainy Day / Windy Day / Snowy Day

This set of simple books tells about what Zoe gets up to in different types of weather, and make a great introduction to talking about weather. Perfect for toddlers and early preschoolers, they are short and capture what it's like to be a young kid at the mercy of the outdoors and your mother's dictates.

Sing a Song of Mother Goose

She may not be an author in the truest sense of the word here, but she has put together one of my favourite collections of nursery rhymes, right up there with those illustrated by Rosemary Wells and by Kady MacDonald Denton, some illustrious (ha!) company, if ever there was.

Fox Walked Alone and Two By Two

These stories are both about Noah's Ark, but the Fox version is told from the point of view of the fox. Reid has said that she wrote it partly to try to answer some of the many questions the story had raised for her. If you are planning to introduce a child to this tale, one or both of these would be a wonderful way to do it.

Fun With Modeling Clay

In this how-to art book, Reid shares some of her tips and tricks to teach kids how to play with clay. Imagine, lessons from the master... A great way to extend her stories, to bring the concept of illustration home more fully to children, or add an extra dimension to an author study.

Originally posted on Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pumpkinpie's Picks

I haven't mentioned for a while now what my Pumpkinpie has been enjoying, which I think is a good window into what she and I like, so I think it's about time I pull back the curtain on bedtime at our house once again, especially since I've been buying new books like a mad thing lately. (That's what happens when you have time to browse bookstores while on mat leave...) She's also taken very strongly to some good stuff, surprising even me a little, given that this child has had some dubious favourites in the past. New on the playlist are:

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett, ill. Ron Barrett

This old classic was a surprise hit with Pumpkinpie! I thought it might hit her funny bone, but it is a slightly more sophisticated humour than I quite expected from a girl who still loves a good fart joke more than anything. Okay, so her favourite part is the man with a noodle stuck over his head, but still, I'm delighted to have her enjoying this amusing tall-tale of weather gone weird. Being more sophisticated also means that this would work for a child a year or two older till, too. (I'm not sure the forthcoming movie will work, though, depending on how muich they focus on the danger of the storms getting out of control. Will have to preview that one.)

Watch Me Throw The Ball! and I Will Surprise My Friend! (Elephant & Piggie books), by Mo Willems

The Elephant & Piggie series by kidlit superstar Mo Willems is fantastic, and so far all of them have been hits with her. These are the latest two we have been reading, and they crack both of us up every time. The serious and slightly stressed Gerald is balanced nicely by his light-hearted friend, Piggie, and Willems' signature cartoon style makes them quick and easy reads for parent and for emerging readers. We have on occasion taken turns reading parts, which works well with the colour-coded speech bubbles, the two characters, and the simple, short phrases. Yes, I'm fooling my child into reading to me, at least a little. What's not to love?

Pirate Pete's Talk Like a Pirate, by Kim Kennedy, ill. Doug Kennedy

Pirate Pete is looking for some rascals to crew his ship, and when he interviews a few, he finds that while they may be dirty and ready to steal and plunder, might swab the deck and fire a cannon like a pro, it is still hard to find a mate who can talk like a pirate, his prime criterion. After sending all the prospective pirates over the plank, he discovers that he had the prfect crew member on board the whole time - his parrot, who apparently has picked up his speech habits. This one is really funny, but be prepared to have a sore throat from growling in pirate speak night after night after night. (Yes, it was in heavy rotation.)

The Cow That Laid An Egg, by Andy Cutbill, ill. Russell Ayto

Marjorie the cow did not feel special, living with cows that seemed to do circus tricks, so her friends the chickens take matters into their own hands. Things get a little out of control, and it looks like the game is about to be up, when a surprise twist melts Marjorie's heart and makes the silly story sweet. The story and resolution remind me of Dr. Seuss's Horton Hatches An Egg, rendered in a simpler barnyard tale and illustrated in a style that brings to mind Lauren Child, of Charlie and Lola fame. Overall, a fun read with a cute ending that manages not to leave a sappy aftertaste.

Originally posted on Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, April 6, 2009

'Pie on Pie

As the weather grows warmer (well, okay, not today, but on the whole, we're getting there...), my thoughts turn to summer. yes, I love spring, but I dream of summer. The warm weather, the carefree feeling in the air - and the fruit. And, of course, because I have a sweet tooth, the fruit pies. Well who doesn't love pie? Since I'm not alone, there are some terrific picture books that pay tribute to the wonders of pie. You just might want to make sure you have some on hand if you are going to make these part of your reading, because you know they are going to want some...

Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson, ill. Tara Calahan King

This young boy has never had an enemy before, but now he does, and he doesn't know what to do. But his dad (who, oddly, looks a little like Richard Nixon...) does: you make enemy pie. Must be full of groos things, he decides, and offers some up, btu they aren't what his dad needs for the pie. As his dad mixes and bakes the pie, the kid tries to dream up the horrible stuff that must be in it, and is a little confused by the good smells wafting from the ktichen. (If it smelled bad, explains dad, your enemy wouldn't eat it. Sneaky!) So does it do bad things to your enemy instead? Dad keeps quiet, but tells him that the delivery is tricky - you have to spend a day with your enemy being nice to him. Of course, by the end of it, the two have become friends and the delicious pie is simply dessert. Funny and clever, I like this take on how to handle an enemy without ever teaching.

Sweet Dream Pie, by Audrey Wood, ill Mark Teague

A special pie is made on this street, but only now and then. When it seems time again, candies and all things sweet are baked into a massive mountain of gooey goodness, and everyone wants some. The smell is overwhelming, and all the neighbours partake, but when they overeat, things begin to get weird, and the dreams begin to get out of hand. By Wood, a master of silly, and Teague, whose illustrations are a marvel, this combination makes for some magic of its own in the form of a great book, though I think it works better for slightly older kids.

How To Make An Apple Pie and See The World, by Marjorie Priceman

If you want to make the perfect pie, you need the finest of ingredients, right? So in true over-the-top foodie style, you might want to travel the world to fetch the freshest, most exotic spices, for a start... This is a fun story of an around-the-globe trip, a sort of Amazing Race for pie, even if it is ludicrous. because really, isn't ludicrous one of the best ingredients for a kids' book? (See what I did there? Ingredient? Heh?) If your child is curious about voyages, why not take a fun one like this, and end on a note of dessert?

Pie in the Sky, by Lois Ehlert

This simple, wonderfully illustrated book is typical of Ehlert's, and reminds me quite a bit of her Growing Vegetable Soup. In both, a father tells a child that they are growing a foodstuff, and the child is then involved in the growing of the ingredients. They emphasize not only where food comes from and the cycles of growth, but also the patience required. As the tree goes through its growth cycle and birds and raccoons eat from the cherry crop, excitement grows, until it is time to pick cherries and make them into pie. The making of the pie is part of the story, and could serve as instructions if you wanted to try it out at home, as well. Cooking is, in fact, a great activity to share with children, not only teaching them about the reading and following of instructions, but also some rudimentary math and science skills. In the end, though? Oh come on - cherry pie, people! Yum.

The Apple Pie Tree, by Zoe Hall, ill. Shari Halpern

This book is another one about the tree in the backyard, this time an apple tree. This book is also aimed at young children, with lovely but simple collage illustrations, however this book does a pretty good job of walking quickly through the seasons and cycles of the tree and the robins it houses. In the end, though, apples are harvested and added to apple pie. A recipe at the end adds a nice element for extending the story if you are inclined towards baking with your child, and is joined by a bit of information on bees and pollination. The focus here is less on the pie, but the book is a great one for sharing with a child where fruit comes from. (Life cycles are also a kindergarten curriculum element, so it's a good way to bring some of that home.)

Original posted on Better Than a Playdate.

The Apple Pie That Papa Baked, by Lauren Thompson

This is a riff on the familiar cumulative rhyme "this is the house that Jack built," this time celebrating where the apples came from. The art in this book takes up the neo-retro trend seen in Chris Wormell's gorgeous woodcuts, in Cynthia Rylant and Nikki McClure's new All in a Day, and even to some degree in Kevin Henke's A Good Day. The ivory pages and black, red, and brown colour scheme further the older feel of the book and work well for the rural setting. A nice simple intro to apples for the young.

All for Pie, Pie for All, by David Martin, ill. Valeri Gorbachev

Five cats all eat a slice of pie, which leaves one slice sitting while they nap. Five mice all eat some of that, which leaves six crumbs sitting while they nap. The ants eat those, and then they, too, nap. When everyone wakes up hungry, the Grandma cat suggests they bake another pie, and everyone pitches in. It's cute, and makes a sort of interesting turnaround of the Little Red Hen story.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Community Helpers: Building Our Cityand Keeping It Clean

Last post, I introduced the idea of community helpers as a topic. It is, as I mentioned, a kindergarten curriculum element, and a good way to familiarize children with the world around them, allowing them to make text-to-life connections, and giving them both understanding and vocabulary for people in their neighbourhood.

Two of the loudest and most visible, and therefore fascinating from early on workers that a child will notice are construction workers and trash collectors, both of whom come with big, noisy trucks and eye-catching orange vests or coveralls. What child doesn't love these? Here are a few books that give them a bit of a closer look at what's going on with those people and machines that build our communities and help clean them up.


Machines at Work, by Byron Barton

Byron Barton turns his bold style to a construction site in this title, showing the major steps in knocking down an old building and creating a new building and road. This is not a bad really, really general overview, and the simplicity of the book and the images makes it a terrific pick for a younger kid, but for an older kid, I would recommend a book with more detail and realism. For one thing, this all seems to happen in one day, which anyone who has lived on or near a construction site can tell you is far from reality! It makes a great intro to machines and construction, though, which is why I love that it is available as a board book, the format I bought it in for my own kids.

Building With Dad, by Carol Nevius, ill. Bill Thomson

In this sweet yet cool rhyming book, a boy tags along with his dad on a construction site and even gets to help here and there throughout the summer as his dad and the crew build the new school (which is of course total fantasy - can you imagine a child allowed on a site?!). The rhyme and metre work without reaching much if at all, the premise is pure boyhood fantasy, but it's the illustrations that lift this book from good to great. Beautifully painted, they capture strong summer sunlight, facial expressions, a wonderful sense of perspective, and even the gloppiness of concrete being poured to perfection. This is sure to be a winner with any construction fan.


I Stink!, by Kate and Jim McMullan

A garbage truck introduces himself to you in this book, and tells you about what he does all night while we sleep - but be sure to read this with a growl and a sense of humour, because this garbage truck has some attitude to spare. Not to mention a loud belch right in the middle. Yes, it's not nice and tidy, but then, neither are garbage trucks. It's a crowd-pleaser, a great one to share aloud, and its star appeals to young kids on every level with his trash talkin'. Throw in an abc of the kind of stuff he eats, and it's even good for preliteracy skills, but your kid will never notice, I promise.

Trashy Town, by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, ill. Dan Yaccarino

The polar opposite of the above title, this book features the cheerful Mr. Gilly driving his pristine garbage truck around town cleaning it up before he returns home to clean himself. Instead of focusing on the dirt and noise, this truck celebrates the work that Mr. Gilly does. For each of his stops, there is a chorus made for chanting with kids:Dump it in, smash it down, drive around the trashy town! Is the trash truck full yet? NO! They will jump right in, making it an easy favourite, especially with younger kids. The drawings, again favouring design over revelling in the revolting, feature Yaccarino's signature sleek, geometric, almost cartoon-inspired style, making for a lovely book, too.

Originally posted at Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Community Helpers: An Overview

One of the big curriculum elements in kindergarten is the theme of community workers. The idea is to introduce children to the neighbourhood and the city and the many people who help make it work. Who are they? Where do they work? What do they do to help us? It's a great idea, teaching them about these important cornerstones of the community, these everyday heroes, as it were. Not only so that they can appreciate them and their contributions, but also so that they gain a greater understanding of the world around them.

It's something that we as parents are so accustomed to living with daily that we sometimes forget to really stop and explain it. If it's an idea you'd like to bring home with you, this post is a starting point, a source for some general overview books. I'll follow up in the next little while with some posts about specific professions as well, as many of them are of interest to children. I mean, fire fighters? Seems to me those are of interest to lots of people...

Stella Louella's Runaway Book, by Lisa Campbell Ernst

Stella's library book is due by 5:00, and it has disappeared. She follows the trail of people who have passed it from one to the next, and as she does, the group of people helping her look grows behind her. Along the way, she meets and gathers in lots of people in her communityand the sense of true community is on full display, as each is concerned with helping her on her mission. By the end, she has what seems like a good portion of the town's population running around with her. This book features Ernst's trademark illustration style, and is a serious delight to read aloud as it plays with fun language, works the storyteller-style repetition as the group grows, and even provides clues to a riddle at the end. This is just a terrific title for sharing.

What Do People Do All Day?, by Richard Scarry

This fantastic book is a classic for good reason. It introduces the concept of work and workers and why people work, then goes on to introduce a solid set of different workers and their work in short stories of four to eight pages each. The stories contain a stunning level of detail in the text and illustrations both, making them wonderful to explore together again and again. I had forgotten how good this was - I may go buy it for Pumpkinpie now!

This Is Me and Where I Am, by Joanne Fitzgerald

This book is great for putting the idea of neighbourhood into context. It begins looking at the worlds, and then begins to focus in closer and closer, down to one country, then one city, one neighbourhood, one street, one yard, one house, one room, one bed, containing one child. it then pulls back out again to show the child within his/her room (its ambiguous), house, yard, street, neighbourhood, city, country, and world. It's an interesting book, and helps a child understand the way those terms are related in a nice clear, simple presentation.

Career Day, by Anne Rockwell, ill. Lizzy Rockwell

On Career Day in Ms. Madoff's class, the children bring their parents, who work a wide variety of jobs - mostly in the community, though some further afield. Each has an illustration of the person in the class and in their work environment, paired with a couple of lines briefly touching on what the job title means. This is a good way to introduce a host of different vocations in one fell swoop, but does not go into detail on any one of them - you could follow up with books with a narrower focus where your child shows interest.

When We Grow Up, by Anne Rockwell

Like Career Day, this book covers a swath of differnt careers without telling much about any one of them. In this case, we are shown a great number of children and what they want to be, with one line about each paired with an illustration showing them both as a child and as an adult doing their future dream job. This being a much older book has a different feel - the illustrations are drawings, and simple ones at that, the colour palette very limited, and the overall impression pretty retro. Still, if you're looking for a book about professions for a young child, it has the right level of complexity, as Anne Rockwell does picture books about the world around very well.

In the Middle of the Night, by Kathy Henderson, ill. Jennifer Eachus

This soft book speaks of the night workers, the bakers and mail sorters, officer cleaners and hospital staff, stargazers and delivery drivers who help make the world ready for us in the morning. Framing the story is a baby's bedtime, a birth, and a mother looking at the early morning sky as she walks her wee one. The book has a soft, foggy quality to its illustrations and a lyrical text that give the book on the whole a dreamlike feeling. Quite lovely, and different from other books about occupations. It would make a wonderful bedtime tale.

Coming Soon: Building a City and Keeping It Clean.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Beast Within

A child's anger is unlike an adults. It's less of a quick snap or slow burn, and more of a wild rage. Anger can bring a child to a place where they can't hear or reason, can't stop themselves, can scarcely even catch a breath to howl anew. It's hard for adults to really understand the force of those emotions, but some authors get it and have portrayed it admirably in their work.

I'll bet your child can relate - which also makes these books a great way to talk to them about this powerful emotion at a calmer time. Your child might feel more understood, and you might even just be able to work out some strategies for communicating when your child feels this way and for how you can help him or her return to earth. And who doesn't want that?

When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry, by Molly Bang

This critically acclaimed book was one of the early entries in this category of books that look unblinkingly at how out of control a child's anger can really get. In it, bold, swirling colours illustrate Sophie's wild emotions perfectly as she works through her anger and lets it out. Bang has a real feel for how a strong emotion can carry a child to a different place, and she has chosen a powerful way to express it in this book.

That Makes Me Mad!, by Stephen Kroll, ill. Christine Davenier

Nina explains in this book the things - the many things, some of them seemingly inconsequential to a grown-up, and some familiar, frustrating things - that make her mad.Each instance is illustrated in a little vignette that owes something to comic book sequencing and perfectly capture the expressions and postures of an irritated child. A lot of the circumstances will look familiar, as they happen within the family setting, which makes this all the more approachable. And in the end? Being able to tell her mom about how angry she is, in the end, turns out to be a big help. I like this book a lot - it reminds us of our children's feelings and how even in a warm, loving home, they are bound to get trodden on, and gives a nice, reassuring way to come back together as the storm passes over.

Angry Dragon, by Thierry Robberecht, ill Philippe Goossens

This book may be of particular interest to parents of boys, as the two above both feature girls. In this book, a boy turns into a dragon, taking on an angry red colour, fiercely hurling angry words and stomping about until he can return to being a boy and reconcile with his parents. In terms of illustrating how a child often has to feel their anger all burned away and spent before they can accept a parent's comfort, this is spot on. It also shows the kind of imagination that some children have, which I always appreciate.

If You're Angry and You Know It, by Cecily Kaiser, ill. Cary Pillo

This early reader turns the familiar song If You're Happy and You Know It into a song about dealing with your anger. Illustrations set up common school situations that might make a child feel angry, while the song suggests a technique for showing your anger, ie. "you're angry and you know it, stomp your feet." The suggestions are designed to let off steam, for the most part, and while we might not be thrilled with kids going around stomping, it certainly beats some of the other responses that young children lean towards in moments of rage, so for that, I quite like it. The book wraps up with a verse that assures children that they will then be happy once again. A nice tool for showing more appropriate ways to demonstrate anger, especially for those who are frequently frustrated.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Just the Way You Are

We want our children to be confident, to find their own niche, to feel good about something they love to do. That thing is not always the expected or conventional, though. These stories each celebrate doing things your own way, in your own time. They'll have you singing along with Frank (or Syd), "I did it myyyyyyyy way!"

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

This fantastic Canadian duo have collaborated on some of my very favourites, and this is no exception. Frederic's mother names him for Chopin, and is convinced he will be a musical genius. Despite this, her many attempts at getting him playing various instruments meet with failure after failure. It isn't until Frederic notices a conductor that he finds his niche, and makes his hidden musical talent known by bringing together his extended family in perfect harmony. It's funny, it's got great art, and the message is uplifting without being hammered home. Perfect.

Omar on Ice, by Maryann Kovalski

Omar loves pictures and wants to be an artist - unfortunately, drawing is not exactly his forte. He feels terrible until he goes skating, something he loves to do, and forgets all about it. But he feels even better than okay when a classmate points out the figures he has unwittingly drawn with his skates - he is an artist after all! A rousing book celebrating the joys of doing what you love - differently.

Leo the Late Bloomer, by Robert Kraus

Leo didn't do any of the things the other kids did. His father began to worry, but his mother had faith that he would catch up on his own schedule. And one day, proving both that not all children are the same and that mother's intuition is spot-on so often, Leo did indeed "bloom," suddenly able to do everything his parents could hope for. This classic is easily overlooked, as Kraus' drawing style is not flashy, but this and his other works are wonderful, and should not be missed.

The Mixed-Up Chameleon, by Eric Carle

A chameleon who feels envious of the qualities of several other animals takes on the characteristics of each, becoming so discombobulated that when a fly flies by and he is hungry, he doesn't know how to catch it until he wishes he was himself again. This simple lesson on appreciating who you are and the things that you can do is rendered in the instantly recognizable art of Eric Carle. It has the added benefit of presenting animals and colours, and comes in a board book as well.

Also in this vein, see Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse, Frederick, and others by Leo Lionni. My beloved Kevin Henkes books also often contain a note of this - see Chrysanthemum, Chester's Way, Owen, and Jessica.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rediscovery: The Lovely Leo Lionni

FrederickLio Lionni is one of those classic children's authors that is too often overlooked, having peaked in popularity some time back. His illustrations have an older feel, which I think contributes to this underappreciated status, as newer books are often more vibrant, but his stories are wonderfully told and his characters are charming enough to overcome their subdued coluor palette.

I am certainly guilty of this myself, as I am always enjoying new books and falling back on those classic authors that I really love, and only really reading a couple of his stories on a regular basis. This year, though, I have discovered a few other books of his, and decided to introduce them to Pumpkinpie. One I read just last week surprised me by being really funny - not something I had associated with him! I just goes to show you - there are treasures right under your nose, if you only open them to find out.

Here are a few highlights:

A Color of His Own and Fish is Fish

These are stories of acceptance, as well as great friendship. The first features a chameleon in search of his own colour. It's sweet, and has the bonus of introducing colours. The second sees a fish and a frog who are friends but go separate ways as the frog gains legs and travels the world on land. When he returns and tells the fish about the world, the fish wants to see, too, and tried to leave the pond, only to be rescued by the frog and in the end, learns that 'fish is fish" and that he is in the perfect place for him right where he is.

The Alphabet Tree

This story has the feel of a legend as it tells how the letters in the alphabet tree learned to come together to form words, and finally carry a most important message to a president. It is also the perfect illustration of the concept of print awareness, or the understanding that letters and words have meaning. Add it to your reading for preliteracy benefits, as well as the peacenik message at the end.

Swimmy and Inch by Inch

In each of these two classics, a tiny creature manages to confound a would-be predator through cleverness. Swimmy mobilizes a group of fish to work together, while the inchworm outwits a bird all on his own. Both are great stories of the plucky underdog coming out on top by using their smarts. Who doesn't love that?

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse

I remember this story from when I was a child, though it used to get confused in my head with William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. It is, in fact, something like a cross between that and the Velveteen Rabbit, both wonderful stories, and is delightful in its own right, with a slightly eerie and magical atmosphere.In it, a mouse learns a lesson about seeing the benefits of his own situation, and finds a friend.


This lovely winter tale emphasizes that while we need food and drink, we also need to feed our souls in the long dark months. Using colours and words, Frederick helps his brother mice weather the cold weather. Lovely, and a great way to talk about the value of things like poetry and imagination.

The Biggest House in the World

This is another tale of accepting your lot, but stands this opposite being prideful and showy. In it, a father snail tell shis son about a snail who grew the biggest, most beautiful shell in the world, and was very proud of himself, until he discovered that it was so heavy, he could not move to a new cabbage leaf, and withered away. The small snail understood the wisdom of keepinghis shell small and easy to move, and told the tale to any who asked about his modest home.

The Extraordinary Egg

A case of mistaken identity leads to a really very funny incongruity in this short, simple book. I never realized Lionni could do funny, so I was surprised and totally delighted by this simple and cute story..

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.