Harold and Hog Pretend For Real!

 

Title: Harold and Hog Pretend For Real!
Author/Illustrator Dan Santat (with intro/extro by Mo Willems)
Published: Hyperion Books for Children, 2019

 

I have a confession to make. I know it’s not something most parents admit to, but I have my favourites. My favourite picture books, that is. Those that I like, I read to my kiddos frequently (mostly Lily these days). Those that I do not like…well…they are shuffled unceremoniously to the back of the bookshelf/shuttled quickly back to the library, never to be spoken of again. (Until one of the kids asks about the book, and I’m all like, “Berenstain Bears Save Christmas? Hm. You must’ve read that at your grandparents’ house. I’ve never heard of that ridiculously long, poorly-rhymed, annoying to read monstrosity.”)

Fortunately, today is about a book I really like. It’s by two of my all-time favourite children’s book author/illustrators, Mo Willems and Dan Santat. As you might remember from here, here, here, here, and here, I’m a bit of a Mo & Dan fan. (Again, really trying to make “Fantat” happen, but it’s just not sticking. Yet.) Today’s book is super-funny on its own, an even funnier if you happen to be familiar (or excessively familiar, as I am) with the Elephant and Piggie series (by Mo Willems).

As I’ve likely mentioned before, we own every single Elephant and Piggie book EVER written. Even after years of reading and re-reading, they are still some of Lily’s favourites (and mine too). I always keep an eye out for new Mo Willems stories because they never, ever fail to impress (stay tuned for a review of the brand-new Pigeon book next week). When I saw that Mr. Willems teamed up with Mr. Santat for an Elephant and Piggie Love Reading story, I had to order the book.

On Prime. for next day delivery. Because, OMG. I couldn’t wait.

I mean, the kids couldn’t wait.

Ahem.

Here’s the reacap! The book starts with Elephant Gerald and Piggie finding a book about an elephant and a pig (that would be Harold, the elephant, and Hog, the pig). They decide to read the book, and Harold and Hog see Elephant and Piggie from within their book. They are huge E&P fans and are all “OMG, it’s them!” Harold thinks it might be a fun idea to pretend to BE Gerald and Piggie.

Harold, being an elephant, decides he’ll play the part of Gerald. And Hog, being of the porcine persuasion, gets cast as Piggie.  And that would be all well and good, except for one thing:

In her heart, Hog is a total Gerald. And Harold is a total Piggie. Harold is fun! He’s carefree! He’s imaginative! Hog is cautious. She’s careful. She’s generally concerned.

It looks like the pretending is a total bust, until they realize something: Harold can pretend to be Piggie, and Hog can pretend to be Gerald! They have a terrific time, and the book ends with Piggie and Gerald pretending to be Harold and Hog.

Whew, that sounded way more complicated than the story actually is.

The art is, as you might expect, perfection. I think Dan Santat is probably the best illustrator out there right now. Everything he does is just wonderful. The style of Hog and Harold is hilarious, because it’s really just a more detailed version of Elephant and Piggie.

The story does ‘pretending’ really, really well. I wasn’t sure Lily would get it totally, but she completely did. She loved it. She has asked for the story at least ten times since it arrived at our house.

Also, can I just admit something? I try to act like I’m Piggie/Harold, but in my heart I’m a total Gerald/Hog. #anxious4lyfe!

And one more thing? I love Mo and Dan separately, but together they’re even better.

Mama’s review: 5/5, A+, always.

Lily’s review: “I love it! Read it again!”

Vivi’s review (she saw me reviewing the book and decided to read it herself): “I just love this the book. I think it’s really funny that Harold and Hog see Elephant and Piggie outside of their book. That’s why I like it.”

Good Morning, Grumple

Title: Good Morning, Grumple
Author: Victoria Allenby
Illustrator: Manon Gauthier
Published: Pajama Press, 2017

 

If you know Vivi personally, you are probably aware of her extreme grump-ish tendencies. In fact, Vivi’s nickname is Grumpkin (given to her on day three of life). My brother has always referred to her as “Grumples,” so when I saw this book at the library, I HAD to read it.

It’s the story of an exceptionally grumpy ‘Grumple’ and how to help the little critter wake up and face the day without TOO much hassle.

Because mornings for a Grumple? So hard. So very hard. My Grumple tends to be a night-owl. If Vivi set the work/school day, she’d start at around 10:00 AM and hit the hay around 10:00 PM. Hopefully, when she’s a well-paid animal dentist (her ideal career currently), she can set her own hours.

This was one of those “I liked a few buts of it, but won’t be buying it for our collection” books. Here’s the stuff I liked:

  1. I liked the concept of a Grumple. Most kids aren’t super-excited to wake up every morning (Lily is the exception, and I expect this will change when she starts school in the fall). Parents can relate to the tightrope act of having to wake kids up cheerfully…but not TOO cheerfully.
  2. I liked the escalation of volume that the mother uses when she’s trying to wake her Grumple up.
  3. I’m unsure about the art. I like the character of the Grumple. It’s cute. But…the rest of the art…well, let’s move on to part two.

 

Part 2: This is the stuff I had issues with:

  1. The art. I’m conflicted, because I see what the artist was doing. The book looks as if it could’ve been drawn by a child…on purpose, of course. The art appears to be made from cut paper/pencil crayon/pencil/paint. The colour palette is simple and muted. I WANT to like the art, but in my heart of hearts…I just don’t. Picture book art these days has such high standards (shout out to Mo Willems, John J. Muth, Barbara Reid, Dan Santat…the list goes on and on). I feel like you need to bring your A-game. This doesn’t feel like an A-game.
  2. The rhythm of the story. Picture books are sort of like music. Reading them has to feel natural and good text has a certain cadence to it. I had a REALLY hard time finding the right way to read this book. (And if you know me, you know I give it my all when I’m reading a picture book. I am not afraid to get into character/make a fool of myself if it makes the story more fun). I tried it three different ways and, honestly, nothing felt ‘right.’
  3. My kids didn’t find it funny. I thought that, at the very least, Vivi would get a kick out of the ‘Grumple’ thing. Nope. Any book my kiddos don’t get into is a bit of a surprise, as they love a wide variety of stories. They didn’t want to hear this one again.
  4. I know I’m being picky, but there’s an incorrect usage of ‘it’s’ in the story. It should be ‘its’ but there’s a pesky apostrophe popping in where it shouldn’t be. Yeah, it’s minor…but this is a published, printed book. It shouldn’t have typos.

So…yeah. I don’t love doing reviews of books I don’t enjoy, but there you go. I had high hopes, but this one just left me feeling…well…grumpy.

 

Mama’s Review: C-Game
Lily’s Review: Meh.

Have You Seen Birds?

Have You Seen Birds?

 

Title: Have You Seen Birds?
Author: Joanne Oppenheim
Illustrator: Barbara Reid
Published: Scholastic, 1986

 

You guys, I feel kind of silly. I called myself a HUGE picture book fan, but I wasn’t familiar with the work of the uber-talented Toronto-based artist, Barbara Reid.

Until I had kids, that is.

Barbara Reid is a phenomenal artist. The first book of hers that we received was Welcome, Baby. We had a book-themed baby shower for Vivi and one of my dear friends gave us a copy. I don’t know if it was pregnancy hormones or the fact that the book is just beautifully written and illustrated, but I totally bawled when I read it. And, I’m not ashamed to admit, I still get teary-eyed when I read it now. (Even though my kiddos are ‘too old’ for board books, there are some that still live on our shelves. And occasionally I force them to listen to them once more. I figure having a mom like me will be character-building in the long run.)

Whenever we see Ms. Reid’s books at Chapters or in the Scholastic book order, we make sure to add them to our library. One of Lily’s favourites is Have You Seen Birds? It’s not new (although it was in a recent book order), but it was new to us. What’s it about? Well, in a word: birds.

But in more words, it’s about different types of birds, where they live, what they look like, what they eat – useful information like that. And the pictures? Well, they’re excellent. Barbara Reid illustrates in plasticine. This gives the illustrations a totally different look than if they were drawn in any other medium. There’s a real 3-D quality to every picture, and the details and textures are wonderful.

The story itself is minimal, almost poetic. But it works really well with the pictures, is fun to read aloud and makes for a great pre-bedtime story. Lily can name almost every single species of bird in the book, and has only one criticism to share: “Where’s the red-winged-blackbird? He seems to be missing.”

(Back story: Lily has a special relationship with a red-winged-blackbird that frequents our bird feeder. His name is Montaboo and she loves him. She was dismayed he didn’t make the book.)

Beyond that, however, it’s a pretty well perfect picture book. Let’s hear it for the birds!

Mama’s review: 5/5 delicious worms
Lily’s review: “I still love it, even if Monty is missing.”

School’s First Day of School

Title: School’s First Day of School
Author: Adam Rex
Pictures: Christian Robinson
Published: Scholastic, 2016

 

Do you guys know how fast time flies when you’re a mom? Fast. Really, really fast.  Until now, I’d never really understood what MY mom meant when she said, “Just blink and she’ll be in school. Then she’ll be graduating grade 8. Then she’ll be graduating high school. Then university. Then getting her masters. Then her doctorate. Then having kids of her own. It’ll happen like THAT!” (She snaps her fingers at this point.)

OK, so maybe it’s not THAT fast (my mother is known for being *slightly* into hyperbole), but man. I didn’t figure Lily would be in kindergarten SO SOON.

Like, September soon. Three months, people. THREE.

We’ve been REALLY talking up the whole school thing. Lily is exceptionally shy with people she doesn’t know (and exceptionally loud and outgoing at home), so we’re trying to get her stoked about starting something new/making friends/learning all kinds of cool things. It helps that the principal at her school is really amazing and understanding and has already dealt with the challenges of Vivi.

One thing I’ve been doing (subtly) is reading more school-related books. Lily really, really likes School’s First Day of School. As do I! It’s just perfect for anyone who happens to feel slightly apprehensive about the start of a new school year. It’s written by the fabulous Adam Rex (we own so many of his books now…my favourite is still Nothing Rhymes with Orange, but the girls are giant The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors fans too) and illustrated by the uber-talented Christian Robinson. (I love Last Stop on Market Street and When’s My Birthday?)

Here’s why the book works so well:

  1. The art. Picture books need good art. There, I said it. Christian Robinson is such an amazingly talented illustrator. I wish I had, like, 1/100th of his skill. The pictures are bright and colourful and engaging. The textures and colours he uses are so playful and just suit the story perfectly. I’m a fan!
  2. The story is simple but clever. I really like “At three o’clock, the parents came to pick up the children. At three-thirty, Janitor came to pick up the school.” The story is well-written and fun. (I also like the multiple Aidens and a Caiden in the kindergarten room. #accurate)
  3. The school is so earnest and wants so much to be liked (just like every single kid on their first day).

So, in conclusion, you need this book ASAP. Especially if you have a little one starting school in the fall. Which I do.

I still can’t believe it.

Mama’s Review: 5/5 smiling schools

Lily’s Review: I love this book!

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid (Rowley Jefferson’s Journal)

Title: Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid (Rowley Jefferson’s Journal)
Author/Illustrator: Jeff Kinney
Published: Amulet Books, 2019

 

Guys, guys, guys. I’ve been putting off writing this review for two weeks. Every time I start, I stop.

This is a really tough one for me.

See, I love Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Or, I loved it. Love? Loved? I don’t know. Because Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid has changed my view of the ENTIRE series.

Let me back this review up. Pump the brakes. Give you some backstory.

Backstory

I fell in love with Diary of a Wimpy Kid when Greg Heffley existed only online. I worked for a children’s website at that point, and we kept an eye on our competitors. I found DOAWK one day and read it all in one sitting. I thought Greg was an awkward, snarky, geeky character who occasionally did kind things. He was never, ever what I’d call a bully.

I own every single DOAWK book (truth: my husband buys me the latest one for Christmas every year). And, yeah, they’re not ALL totally amazing, but they’re fun to read and book 3 (The Last Straw) has one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in an MG book. (Spoiler alert: it’s all about how Shel Silverstein looks more like a pirate than a children’s author. It’s hilariously funny. I laughed out loud when I first read the book.)

Which brings us to now.

Safe to say, I was excited to discover Rowley’s diary in the Scholastic book order.

Excited, but a bit nervous.

See, Rowley has had his moments in the series, but mostly he’s sort of the Rod/Todd Flanders to Greg’s geeky Bart. Rowley hasn’t ever shown a great deal of personality (beyond being a major goody-goody) – and definitely not enough to make up an entire book.

So, in my mind, Jeff Kinney had two choices:

  1. To give Rowley a personality.
  2. To run with the fact that Rowley doesn’t have much of a personality, but to put him into situations that are funny/interesting, and test his goody-goody nature.

Apparently there was a third choice:

3. Create a book that ignores 13 prior books and ventures into totally new territory.

The book starts with Rowley introducing Greg almost immediately. He tells the reader that although Greg is his friend, his parents don’t like Greg (I feel you, Jeffersons). It’s very clear why. On page 7, Greg ‘whaps’ Rowley upside the head with his own diary.

Wait, what?

This is just the start of Greg’s immense jackassery. Here, in no particular order of jerkiness, are some of the things Greg did in this book:

  1. Egged Mr. Jefferson’s car.
  2. Made Rowley write his (Greg’s) biography, instead of a book about himself (Rowley).
  3. Stole Rowley’s bike.
  4. Made Rowley the butt of his jokes.
  5. Ditched Rowley in the woods at night and went home to watch TV.
  6. Tricked Rowley into thinking a burglar had broken into his house, then got mad when Rowley freaked out and fought back (with a tennis racket).
  7. Chased Rowley with a slug.
  8. Created fake awards for Rowley to make him his own personal servant.
  9. Was a complete and total monster at the library when they were meant to be studying.
  10. Cheated from Rowley on a math test.
  11. Wrecked the ONE nice thing he did for Rowley by telling him that he (Rowley) owed him (Greg) a ton more favours.
  12. Lied to Rowley about random things.
  13. Locked Rowley outside at night.
  14. Laughed at Rowley’s creative ideas.
  15. Nicknamed Rowley “Stoop.”
  16. Licked Rowley’s food.
  17. Wouldn’t let Rowley use the bathroom at a sleepover.
  18. Whapped Rowley with a book again.

    All of these things paint Greg in a REALLY negative light. Like, who on earth would want to read 13 books about this kind of bully? I don’t know why, as an author, you’d throw out 13 books of canon and just…start over? Make up completely new characters? I mean, Greg has never been a saint…but…he’s never been like THAT either. Why, Jeff Kinney? Why? Where’s the funny, dry humour combined with absurd situations we’ve grown to know and love? (The one decent part of this book was the series of “Zoo-Wee Mama” strips. They felt like OG DOAWK).

    One more thing…
    I know a kid who’s been bullied this year…a LOT. I know what it’s done to him and his family. Some people will argue that the events in DOAAFK are just kids being goofy. But here’s the thing: it’s a completely unbalanced relationship. Rowley rarely, if ever, gets Greg back. It’s all one-sided and Rowley’s the victim. And formerly geeky, snarky, not-awful Greg is now a complete bully and total ass. I am SO behind the Jeffersons – they’re right: Rowley needs new friends.

    So, what next?
    Welp, if it was me writing this, I’d pretend DOAAFK never existed and go back to writing about Greg being the kid he’s always been. And, truthfully, I’d wrap up the series. Better to leave on a high note than, well, something like this.

Mama’s Review: Man. I’m so disappointed. I don’t even have a clever rating system for it.

When Stella was very, very small

 

Title: When Stella was very, very small
Author/Illustrator: Marie-Louise Gay
Published: Groundwood Books, 2009

 

I am lucky. I have many, many old friends. (That is, friends I’ve known for a long time, not elderly friends…although I do have a few of those as well!) One of those dear friends just joined the parenthood club. Alok and his lovely wife, Steph, had a brand new baby and her name is…Stella! In her honour, I thought I’d take a look at this book (which is one of a series, by the way).

First of all, Marie-Louise Gay’s illustrations are lovely. I WISH I could draw, peeps. I really do. I have enough skills to impress my four-year-old (Vivi, my six-year-old is already critical of my work), but not too much beyond that. I’m mildly better at cutting stuff out and building pictures with paper, but…you know…

Marie-Louise Gay, I ain’t.

So I am enamoured with the art. It’s so dreamy and sweet and…just perfect for the story.

The story is, unsurprisingly, all about when Stella was little. It’s simple and poetic…here are a couple of my favourite lines:

“When Stella was very, very small, words looked like ants running off the pages. Butterflies flew on the walls and cups jumped off the table, just like that!”

“Beyond the tropical jungle, there was a desert that stretched on forever. One terribly windy day, Stella nearly lost her way during a wild sandstorm.”

The story continues with Stella growing up and all the things that used to be hard/too challenging for her become easy. And she can read! Which means she can read stories to her little brother, Sam. (Aw!)

Lily loves the Stella books. We usually read them before bed because they’re quite soporific. Vivi is, as I am constantly reminded these days, too old for such things. (She actually said she “has completely outgrown” Paw Patrol. I vacillated between being dismayed and overjoyed. I mean, mad love to Paw Patrol…but it’s been years, people. Years of “Paw Patrol is on a roll!” Lily still loves those pups, though, so it’s not like we’re going to be able to NOT watch it quite yet.)

If you’ve got a little one with a gentle spirit and a sweet heart (totally Lily), you need Stella in your life.

Mama’s review: A
Lily’s review: “Stella is the CUTEST!”

A Family is a family is a family

 

Title: A Family is a Family is a Family
Author: Sara O’Leary
Illustrator: Qin Leng
Published: Groundwood Books, 2016

 

There are books that Lily likes. We read those about once a week. Then there are books she LOVES and they are on a far higher rotation. This is one of the ‘LOVE’ books. We’ve read A Family is a family is a family so many times…and yet, it doesn’t get old.

And trust me when I say that MOST books get old after being read for the fifteenth time in a single day.

This book is a bit magical – it’s super-simple (in terms of premise) but it does what it does (explaining the concept of a family/who makes up a family) beautifully and elegantly. And the art works so well in supporting the text. It’s delightful all around.

These are the things we (that would be Lily and yours truly) like best about the book:

  1. The Duggar-sized family: we like counting all the children and marvelling at why one would want to go through so many pregnancies because OMG, pregnancy is basically the most uncomfortable, nausea-filled experience a person can have. (Mostly I marvel about that part.)
  2. The kid with a ton of grandparents: we’ve tried to figure out HOW he has so many grandparents, and the closest we can come is that maybe he lives in an old person’s home with his primary set of grandparents, and has adopted many other elderly people.
  3. The one with the grandma: when the kid says that her grandma is her everything, I always choke up a bit. It’s sweet to think that you’re potentially that important to the little people in your life.
  4. The two dads page: I love the fact that two dads/two moms are featured in this book. Whenever we reach the two dads page, Lily always says “Like Uncle Jay and Uncle Shean are to Bumper, Mia, and Lara!” (Note: the latter three names belong to cats. My BFF and his hubby are cat-dads.)
  5. The final page, when you meet the little girl who started off the story. It turns out, she’s a foster kid. The response her foster mom gives a curious stranger is absolutely perfect. (“Oh, I don’t have any imaginary children. All my children are real.”)

As someone who is a big believer in ‘family is who you choose,’ I love this book. It shows that one doesn’t need to share blood to share a bond. (My girls already know this, seeing as they have about 25 non-related aunties, uncles and cousins that they adore…but it’s good to have it reinforced.)

A Family is a family is a family is one of those warm-and-fuzzy books. It’s wonderful and affirming and a terrific read before bed. It also covers pretty much every combination and permutation of families that you’re likely to encounter. And, OK, so they didn’t feature cat-dads, but aside from that, this book doesn’t miss a thing.

 

Mama’s review: 5/5

Lily’s review: “I just love this book. It’s all about what it means to be a family.”