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.