Barnacle is Bored

 

Title: Barnacle Is Bored
Author/Illustrator: Jonathan Fenske
Publisher: Scholastic, 2016

Guys, they opened a new library near my house! I am totally going to the grand opening next month and you better believe I’ve already taken out 20+ books on our inaugural visit.

The library is small, but the children’s section is good. The librarian in charge of picture books is doing a really good job featuring ones that kids will want to pick off of the clear stands. My kids pretty much cleared them off. New books! Wonderful!

One of the books I chose was Barnacle Is Bored. The cover art is what immediately attracted me to the book. Barnacle looks legit bored and kind of salty. I figured this book might be similar to I’m Bored! by Michael Ian Black (illustrated by the fabulous Debbie Ridpath Ohi). Stay tuned to find out if I was right or not!

When we got back from the library, this was the first book I chose for story time. I started reading and then realized something: this book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. My kids both gave it a pretty solid “meh” when I was done. I’ve re-read it a few times since then (because my girls are usually very generous with their praise) and I think I understand why: the story itself wasn’t interesting to them and the ending wasn’t a good enough payoff/one they haven’t seen already. Let me break it down:

1. The art is good. Really cute, really cartoon-ish. The characters are pretty darn adorable. And trust me, making a barnacle adorable is NOT easy. Those things are so creepy!

2. The language used is simple. Really simple. If you were reading this to a little one (say 3 and under), you’d be able to use it as an opportunity to explain the opposites the barnacle mentions: under, over, up, down, bored (the barnacle), not bored (the fish). You could use the alliteration to discuss the way words sound. It would be a really interesting discussion, I am sure.

3. The payoff (the excitable little fish being eaten by a large eel) has been done in Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau. I think that’s why my kids weren’t exactly shocked or surprised by the ending. (Vivi actually said “We’ve read a book like this one before.”) Now, to be fair, the stories themselves aren’t anything alike. But the ‘one fish gets eaten by a big ugly fish’ thing is the same.

4. I’m not sure what the moral is. Not that children’s books NEED morals, of course, but it felt like there should be some kind of take-away from this. Let’s unpack: Barnacle dislikes boring life. Barnacle observes little fish’s potentially exciting life and is jealous. Potentially exciting fish is eaten by big, ugly eel (and is then bored inside the eel). So I guess the story could mean “enjoy your life when it is peaceful, because the only thing that’s certain is change” or “don’t envy someone else’s life, because you don’t know their story/how things are going to go for them” or “be happy with what you have, even if you’re not really enjoying it.” (which is a terrible moral, by the way. But, really, it feels like it fits best. Note that the barnacle says he’s not bored at the end of the book, after witnessing the eel eating the little fish, he’s hiding at this point, terrified. So…maybe it’s better to be terrified than bored?)

I could be reading too much into this.

I looked this one up on Goodreads and found that, as is sometimes the case, my opinion isn’t that of most people. Most reviewers LOVED this book. Which is great! To each their own, of course. And, to be fair, although I don’t love it, I don’t dislike it. I am thoroughly neutral on this story. Will we be buying our own copy? Nope. Will I read it again to my kids? Also nope. They specifically said that the story was “just a little too boring for them.”

Take home message: read it with a younger kiddo. They’ll like it better.

Mama’s review: B

Giraffes Can’t Dance

Title: Giraffes Can’t Dance
Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees
Published: Cartwheel Books, 2012

 

Know how some books are REALLY popular and then you read the book yourself and you can kind of see where everyone is coming from, but…you don’t LOVE the book yourself?

That’s this book for me.

I ADORE so many board books. The Gruffalo is one of my all time faves…and Oh No, George! And anything by Sandra Boynton. And when we received Giraffes Can’t Dance, I was hopeful. The art is really fun and cute. That’s +5 points from me right off the bat. And the story is…well…it’s a story. I mean, I like the overall message of “you do you” and “dance to your own music even if you’re a really crappy dancer.” (I can relate, Gerald. Don’t you worry, I’m not judging you on your inability to dance. I am the last person on the planet who would do that.)

Ahem.

Anyway, I *like* the message. I just don’t love the delivery.

Specific examples? OK. Here we go.

  1. “Now every year in Africa…” Dude, that’s like saying “Every year in North America” or “Every year in Asia” – it’s a continent, not a country. Couldn’t you be a bit more specific about location? I just feel like this reinforces the ignorance of people saying “Africa” like it’s just one big country. Sorry, it’s a personal pet peeve.
  2. Why did Gerald only feel bad this specific year? Like, he was probably a bad dancer his entire life, not just this given year. I know, I know. I’m being picky.
  3. The animals say “giraffes can’t dance,” but there are no other giraffes AT the dance. How could they possibly know? (Potentially from previous years of watching Gerald crash and burn?)
  4. OK, I have an issue with this verse: “Gerald simply froze up,/He was rooted to the spot./They’re right, he thought. I’m useless./Oh, I feel like such a clot. It’s the thought/clot rhyme. Most kids have no idea what ‘clot’ means. Not that I’m against learning new words, but this feels sooooo dated. My mother used to use this phrase, and maybe it’s more popular in England (where I believe this was published first), but…my kids didn’t know what Gerald meant. There are so many good rhyming words in the ‘ot’ family…couldn’t the author have chosen another one?
  5. I hate it when authors double up a word unnecessarily to make a rhyme work. It feels SO forced. Like:
    “They shouted, “It’s a miracle!/We must be in a dream./Gerald’s the best dancer/that we’ve ever, ever seen!” It. Feels. Forced.

So…yeah, I don’t love this book. I’ve read it repeatedly to my kiddos. I’ve done the voices. We’ve talked about how the other animals were total bullies to Gerald and how people don’t get to do that to you. We’ve talked about being true to yourself.

But I don’t love the story.

But I do love the art.

So…

Mama’s review: B-

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color

Title: Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color
Author/Illustrator: Julia Denos
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

Today’s book was given to my girls a couple of years ago at Christmas by my friend Alok and his dear wife, Stephanie. Steph is a picture book aficionado like myself (also, fun fact: we share a birthday!) so I was super-excited when she said that she picked out a few books she liked for my girls.

(Spoiler alert: they were all excellent.)

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color is, in some ways, more like a poem than a story, set to amazingly expressive, colourful art.

The text is sparse on many pages (with a few denser sections here and there). The story tells the tale of Swatch, a girl who tames colours. She loves all colours and has learned to catch them in jars. In fact, she manages to catch them all…except Yellowest Yellow.

Swatch asks Yellowest Yellow if she might put him in a jar, but he politely declines. And, although Swatch could’ve ignored and caught him anyway, she respects his decision.

Swatch is rewarded with a wild yellow ride. She realizes that her colours aren’t meant to be kept in jars, so she frees them all and they create a masterpiece.

My girls love this book because:

1. They like to imagine themselves as a color tamer (Vivi, , my little artist, in particular).

2. They love the attributes given to the colours (Lily really loves the gray on the kitten).

3. The art is fantastic. It’s really the best part of the book. The pictures are so vibrant and joyful.

So, thank you for the great book, Steph! If you get a chance, definitely give this book a read. The little artists in your life will enjoy it.

Mama’s Review: A

Vivi’s Review: ROYGBIV!

Lily’s Review: “Orange is actually my favourite colour!”

 

Where is Green Sheep?

Title: Where is Green Sheep?
Author: Mem Fox
Illustrated by: Judy Horacek
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004

 

There are certain books that we read SO much when my kids were babies and toddlers that I have them memorized. Perfect Piggies by Sandra Boynton used to circle through my brain as I was trying to fall asleep. Vivi loved that book SO MUCH. Oh, man…it’s happening again (I can’t stop hearing the ‘snuffle-dee-dahs’).

Anyway, today we’re going to review a book that Lily really loved. Where is Green Sheep by Mem Fox. She still likes it now, even though she’s three and ‘not a baby’ anymore (*sob*).

Here, in a single sentence, is the premise: green sheep is lost and the reader has to find him.

Now, normally that wouldn’t be enough to carry a book. But this is a board book and it’s written by the fabulous Mem Fox, so it’s more than enough.

The reader is challenged to look on each page for the elusive green sheep. The art is absolutely adorable. The sheep are fluffy and fat and doing many different and wonderful things. The book is in rhyme and it moves along really well. It’s a great book to add to your library, and totally fun to read multiple times (trust me on that).

It’s a pleasure to read with a little one.

It was nice to revisit this story. Soon, Lily will be totally over board books and too cool for school and reading whatever the latest TwilightI-esque novel is. I’ll just be sadly sniffling in the corner, remembering when my babies were little enough for a board book and a cuddle.

Mama’s review: 10 nostalgic hearts/10

Lily’s review: “I still really like those sheep, mama. They’re so cute!”

 

Mr. Wolf’s Class

 

When I was a kid, graphic novels weren’t really a big thing. I was into Archie comics in a huge way (don’t judge), so I think I would’ve enjoyed an actual graphic novel-type story.

Vivi LOVES them. We’ve read the Narwhal and Jelly series so far, and after an impromptu trip to Chapters the other day, we stumbled upon an adorable new series by Aron Nels Steinke: Mr. Wolf’s Class.

I was immediately drawn to the cartoon-y style of the characters. The cover is adorable, with a visibly nervous Mr. Wolf waving to his new charges (who are in all states of disarray, as in a real classroom). I just knew we had to add this book to our library and it a read.

And I’m so glad we did!

Vivi  and I have read the book twice (each) so far. Here are my top three favourite things about it, followed by Vivi’s top three favourite things.

My favourite things:

1. I really love the art. It’s adorable. The characters are sweet and funny and expressive. I enjoyed the beginning of the book, where we sort of ‘meet’ each kid by seeing them the night before the first day of school. I immediately related to both Aziza and Penny.

2. I like the fact that some of the characters are gender-neutral. I had no idea the bunny was a girl until I learned her name (Margot). It’s nice to not see the typical “bow in the hair” or “obvious eyelashes” to indicate “girl.” (Side note: in my former work life, when I was a writer for a children’s website, this was something to consider. How do you show that a hippo is a girl hippo? With her clothes, yes. But do you add makeup? Do you add extra-long eyelashes? My favourite debate from that job, though, was whether or not fish can wear belts. The answer? Only if they’re wearing pants first. Obviously.)

3. The story was sweet and funny. There were no major issues to overcome, no major strife, no huge conflicts. It just seemed like a teacher’s first day of school. The kids were authentic. The situations were humorous, and yeah, maybe Penny falling asleep in a discarded book box was a tad far-fetched, but it all felt real. It felt like school.

Vivi’s favourite things:

1. The art is great! Penny is so cute.

2. It was hilarious that Penny was so tired. I liked it when she introduced herself as ‘Sleepy.’

3. Penny and Aziza were my favourites. Aziza reminds me of me because she’s a hard worker. I liked the ending when Margot and Sampson made friends. I also really like the fact that there’s another book coming out. It said so on the last page. Really! It’s called “Mystery Club.” I’m guessing it’s about a club that solves mysteries.

This book is absolutely spot-on perfect for someone Vivi’s age/reading level. Some of the books she’s able to read independently are either:

  1. Uninteresting to her (she’s only 5).
  2. Over her head in terms of content (they require too much explanation from me to make them enjoyable).

She loves this book because she can read it independently and because she fully understands all of it and GETS the jokes.

If you’ve got a good little reader, get them this story ASAP. They will love it and so will you!

Mama’s rating: 10/10
Vivi’s rating: A++

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day

Title: On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
Author/Illustrator: Beatrice Alemagna
Published: Harper Collins 2016

 

Sometimes you have days where you’re not really planning on doing anything particular. Days where you’re just wandering around and it seems like everything is just…right. Just perfect. These days usually take place in nature…a field, a forest…outside. Personally, I have had several days like this. (Most notably the time when I was 16 and ended up stranded on a mountain with friends…we sang the entire score of The Sound of Music as we descended. And did I mention there were reindeer? And that we were in Germany. Ah, wild and crazy adventures with the concert band. Good times, good times.)

Anyway, today’s story, On  a  Magical Do-Nothing Day, follows a child (could be male or female, not really relevant to the story) as they go to a cabin with their writer mom. Their mom is interested in…writing. And, as any writer knows, children aren’t conducive to getting stuff done (as I write this, my two are downstairs playing a loud board game with their father). So the mom does what every mom wants to do: she sends the kid outside.

It is raining. The kid just wants to play on their Game Boy-like device. They do not want to have anything to do with this ‘nature’ business.

But then, the kid drops their game into a pond. Poof. Gone.

There is a brief moment of panic.

Fortunately, the kid manages to meet some friendly snails, dig in lovely dirt, find a mushroom patch and fall down a hill. The kid climbs a tree, drinks rain, watches bugs, talks to a bird…generally has a fabulous time in nature. The child is totally soaked to the skin when they arrive back at the cabin, but mom is waiting with a towel and hot chocolate.

There are three things that make this story really wonderful:

1. The simplicity of it all. It’s so relatable. Reading this story is like taking a walk in the fall. It’s chilly out, but not freezing. The air is fresh and clean. The water is cold. It’s so lovely to come inside after a walk like this one.

2. The art. I LOVE the art. Especially the fact that it looks like a neon orange crayon was used to create the kid’s jacket. There’s so much movement in each page, so much expression in the child’s face.

3. The way the story is written. It’s almost poetic in nature. It’s wonderful to read.

So here’s what the family said:

Vivi: Well, I loved it. I loved the part where she (Vivi thinks all characters are girls these days) goes outside and really experiences nature. I liked everything about the story. The art is great. A+!
Lily: I liked the part where she collected stones like glass. Those must have been beautiful. And the snails were cute!
Karl: I really enjoyed the book. The writing was good, not too much. The art was fantastic.
Jess: Yup, I liked it a lot as well. I really like the way that you could feel the cold of the outside during the story, and then the warmth of going inside at the end. A!

If you’re looking for a lovely book to read before bed (or, in our case, after dinner), this is the one for you!

Wordy Birdy

 

Title: Wordy Birdy
Author: Tammi Sauer
Illustrator: Dave Mottram
Published: Doubleday, 2018

 

Have you ever noticed how much kids can talk? I have two relatively shy kids in public. Most people wonder if my youngest says more than three words at a time.
I can assure you, she does.
At home.
At home, the floodgates are open and the chatter begins at early-o-clock and continues until bedtime. (Well, until asleep time. They still talk during bedtime, and sometimes even as they’re falling asleep.)

I can relate to today’s story, is what I’m saying. It’s all about Wordy Birdy, a bird who enjoys hearing the sound of her own voice, but not really stopping to listen to other people (or, in this case, critters).

Wordy Birdy shares her thoughts on literally everything, from her preferences (spaghetti, unicorns) to her dislikes (tall grass, turtlenecks), to things she wonders about (zebras, Big Foot). Her friends confirm that yes, she’s a terrible listener.

And that’s how she finds herself in trouble as she enters a rather forbidding looking forest.

Her friends are trying to tell her not to go in, but does Wordy Birdy listen? Nope!

And that’s how she finds herself being chased by an angry bear. Fortunately, her friends do not abandon her in her time of need and Wordy Birdy is saved.

In the end, Wordy Birdy learns that while talking is fine (and she still really does love the sound of her own voice), listening is pretty great as well.

Here’s what I liked about the book:
1. The art. It’s really cute and feels almost like a Disney movie in book form. The characters are expressive and animated and I kept feeling like Wordy Birdy’s house was something out of Winnie-the-Pooh.
2. The speech bubbles. The animals were constantly giving their thoughts/opinions and the text was very funny. I like Raccoon’s withering “What do you think?”
3. The story is relatable. It’s so relatable. If you have a child under the age of 10, it’s exceptionally relatable. Kids talk a lot.

The ending was kind of obvious, but I’m not sure how else the story could’ve gone. I mean, Wordy Birdy kind of had to learn that ‘listening is a pretty good idea’ after almost being a bear’s lunch. So even though it was predictable, it worked.

The girls liked Wordy Birdy. The enjoyed the myriad voices I did for all the different characters. This really is a ‘performance piece’ kind of book. Get into it, parents! Bust out with your best squirrel voice. Don’t hold back on your squeaky-but-charming rabbit voice! Maybe the raccoon is British? Probably! Go with that!

Ahem.

You get the idea.

Mama’s Review: 8/10
Vivi’s Review: A
Lily’s Review: “So did the bird learn to listen or what? Did she keep talking? I wonder if she kept talking or if she decided to listen to her friends…”