The Sleepy Little Alphabet

 

Title: The Sleepy Little Alphabet
Author: Judy Sierra
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Published: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009

There’s something to be said about a book that allows kiddos to drift right off to dream land as soon as it’s finished.

Specifically, “OMG, I love that kind of book. Let’s buy all the books that do this. Hooray for soporific books!”

There are a few stories I’ve discovered throughout the years that my kids love to hear before hitting the hay. They include:
1. Blueberry Girl
2. Goodnight, Gorilla
3. The Sleepy Little Alphabet

Tonight’s review is about #3: The Sleepy Little Alphabet. I really like this book. I picked it up on a whim from Chapters one day. I am glad I did.

This delightful story tells the tale of the lowercase alphabet members dilly-dallying while they’re supposed to be getting ready for bed (this sounds extremely familiar). The story is done in rhyme and the art is adorable.

My girls love the fact that each letter has its own personality. They like looking for their letters and finding out how they’re behaving (L doesn’t want to turn out the light…V is very, very snoozy.)

My personal favourite? Obviously, “q is quiet as a bunny.” She’s the best. She’s so…quiet.

As a bonus, this book has helped Lily get more familiar with her letters.

If you’re looking for an alphabet book that isn’t JUST an alphabet book, I highly recommend this one.

Mama’s review: 26/26 letters
Vivi’s review: That chubby C is adorable!
Lily’s review: A!

Du Iz Tak?

Title: Du Iz Tak?
Author/Illustrator: Carson Ellis
Published: Candlewick Press, 2016

Today’s book was a toughie to review at our house. We had two clear teams:
Lily & Mama: Team “That was fun!”
Vivi & Daddy: Team “That made no sense and I really didn’t care for it at all.”

So, if you haven’t heard of Carson Ellis’ groundbreaking book, Du Iz Tak? let me fill you in. It’s all about bugs who speak their own buggy language that, according to my husband, sounds vaguely German. The ‘language’ is entirely made up, but contextually makes perfect sense. For instance, a ‘gladdenboot’ is a flower and we know this because the word is introduced when the flower first blooms.

The story itself is pretty simple: the bugs encounter a tiny shoot, it grows into a plant, the bugs decide to build a fort in it. They borrow a ladder from my favourite pill-bug and yours, Icky. A spider moves in, but is promptly eaten by a passing bird. The plant blooms into a flower. The weather begins to change and Icky and his equally delightful wife (Ooky) leave. The other bugs follow suit. A beautiful moth hatches and flies in an enchanting dance. Spring comes again and a new shoot appears, with a new bug wondering, Du Iz Tak?

I liked this book. I liked the creativity of it, the language creation and use, and most of all, the art. I loved the art.

Lily  thought the book was hilarious and also pored over the pages, examining each picture.

Vivi found it frustrating to enjoy the nonsensical language without LITERALLY STOPPING ME AT EVERY WORD AND QUESTIONING ITS MEANING.

Ahem.

Karl thought the story was too simplistic. He also found the art repetitive, in that it was basically the same picture/camera angle/etc. with the addition and subtraction of artistic elements throughout the story. He also had trouble accepting the made up language. Basically, he found it hard to connect with the story on every level.

I tried to explain it as a ‘lifecycle story,’ but Karl stuck to his original assessment: not for him.

So, from team Lily and Mama, 4 Ookies out of 5.

From team Vivi and Karl, we have a rating of 2/10.

There’s no accounting for taste.

King Baby

Title: King Baby
Author/Illustrator: Kate Beaton
Published: Author A. Levine Books, 2016

 

I’ve been hitting the library pretty hard this summer, book-loving peeps. I currently have over 50 books out and they keep letting me borrow them. (Fun fact: the libraries in my area have a 150 book limit. Challenge ACCEPTED!)

One of the books we discovered in our latest bunch is the fabulous, hilarious, ridiculous King Baby by Kate Beaton. I actually analyzed one of her other books (The Princess and the Pony) for a class I was taking through Ryerson (I’m working on a publishing certificate in my spare time). I fell in love with her art/writing. I then started reading her web comic Hark! A Vagrant! (which is also now a book). I was a pretty big fan of Ms. Beaton’s before King Baby, but I am a huge fan now.

King Baby is on high rotation in our house. I think I’ve read it four or five times already. And it never loses its charm. Let’s figure out why:

  1. The baby is insanely ridiculous. From his egg-shaped body to his adorable demands (he just wants the thing, darn it!) and his outgoing personality, he’s a winner.
  2. It’s so accurate. As a parent, I completely, 100% felt like my daughters were “Queen babies” for the first year or so of their lives. (Ah, who am I kidding? They’re still the queens, really.) The fact that babies WANT stuff and NEED stuff and have literally no way other than crying to spread their message is maddening and very much like working for an insane royal.
  3. The art is phenomenal. It’s simple but so, so cute. It *sort of* reminded me of Scott Campbell’s Hug Machine, but more vibrant and less watercolor-y.
  4. It’s appealing to both kids and parents. This is something rare and wonderful to find in a picture book.
  5. You MUST read it like Plankton from SpongeBob. It doesn’t work nearly as well if you read it straight…get into it, people! Release your inner king! (But really, be inspired by Plankton. It is HILARIOUS if you read it like that. I promise!)

So we are 100% putting this on our “Books We’d Really Like for Christmas” list. I LOVE this book. A dear friend is having a baby boy in the new year and I’ll be picking up a copy of this book for her (she’s a bit of a kid lit fan herself).

Yay for Kate Beaton!

Mama’s Review: A+
Vivi’s Review: “I literally LOVE everything about that book.”
Lily’s Review: “That story is so funny. I love the baby so much!”
Daddy’s Review: “It’s pretty much perfect. The art works really well with the story.”

 

Dear Girl,

 

Title: Dear Girl,
Author: Amy Krause Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal
Illustrator: Holly Hatam
Published: Harper Collins 2017

If you know me in real life, there’s a good chance you know these three things about me:

  1. I have two little girls who are the lights of my life.
    2. I wasn’t guaranteed to have those two little girls. I worked super-hard to make them a reality and I love science for its part in my family. Yay science!
    3. I’m a gigantic mush.

I think that’s why Dear Girl, struck such a chord with me. The book is so obviously a love letter to a daughter.  It was written by the mother-daughter duo Amy Krause Rosenthal (who was an amazing writer and whose books I am still discovering) and Paris Rosenthal. The illustrations were done by the extremely talented Holly Hatam. Let’s just take a little walk through this wonderful book and see what makes it so special (and why you totally need a copy if you have a little girl in your life).

I would’ve loved a book like this when I was younger (there really weren’t any books like this back in the eighties). This book is so affirming. Reading it to my girls, I watched as they were delighted by each page. They loved the art (it is absolutely adorable and quirky and so much fun). Here are some of my favourite messages from the book:

1. It’s OK to be neat and tidy or muddy and messy.
2. You have something beautiful about you (physically). Look at it, own it, thank it.
3. It’s OK to cry.
4. You might need a friend. You might need to be alone. Either way, it’ll be OK.
5. Ask all the questions.
6. Keep your sense of wonder.
7. Dance. (I love this page. The sister has jumped up to dance during dinner. The dog has joined in. The brother has his mouth open with his fork kind of mid-bite. It’s hilarious!)
8. Find people like you and unlike you. (I reiterated this one with Vivi. Making friends at school hasn’t been easy for her.)
9. Have special inside-jokey stuff with your people. (Like, say, if your BFF is the Glinda and you’re the Elphaba.)
10. If your gut tells you no, say no. (Yes times a bazillion.)
11. If you’re bored then you’re boring. (Hells yes! Vivi now quotes this at Lily.)

Then the ending…it tells the girl listening to the story that she can always turn to the book for encouragement. Or…turn to me (the person reading the book). And that’s when mama excuses herself for a tissue or twenty.

Dear Girl, is the perfect addition to your library. If you have a daughter, a niece, a little sister, a cousin…a girl-child in your life that makes your days bright and interesting, get them this book. Write a message in it. Read it to them often. Let them know that they are just perfect the way they are. I try to get this one in rotation at least once a week. You can’t have too much of this kind of positivity.

Mama’s review: 10+
Vivi’s review: “I love the art. The girls are all so cute! A+!”
Lily’s review: “I like the rainbow page. And the little hearts at the end!”

 

XO, OX

Title: XO, OX
Author: Adam Rex
Illustrator: Scott Campbell
Published: Roaring Brook Press, 2017

 

When I’m looking for new picture books to check out, I often visit the ‘top ten’ sites, Goodreads and a whole lot of parent/librarian/kid lit fan blogs. I can’t remember where I first heard about XO, OX, but I owe the author of that post/list a giant thank you.

It’s such a wonderful book. (My alllll time fave has changed throughout the years but is currently After the Fall by Dan Santat. I will save that review for a very special day. And, can I just add that Dan Santat is amazing and totally on my ‘if I could have lunch with famous people’ list. Because he is a genius.)

Ahem.

Back to this book.  Author Adam Rex is someone I honestly hadn’t heard of until this very year. I’ve already reviewed two books of his (here and here) and I feel like I’ll end up reviewing a ton more. Because he is an extremely talented writer (and illustrator). Scott Campbell has also been featured on this blog (here) and his sweet illustrations make XO, OX absolutely perfect.

So…why is XO, OX so good? There are three reasons:

  1. The structure. The fact that Ox and Gazelle are corresponding via old-fashioned love/not-so-love letters is wonderful. The letters really give each character a strong and hilarious voice. Which means that…
  2. The characters are funny. Very funny. But they have depth. The way Ox bumbles along, pointing out the fact that near-perfect Gazelle may have a flaw or two (or several) is endearing. The way Gazelle brushes him off over and over, only to realize…
  3. She really loves him. Which is the ending and it is absolutely perfect. The sequence of pictures that depict Gazelle realizing the error of her ways and discovering the fact that she DOES love a clumsy Ox is incredibly emotional (yes, I tear up on the last page every time). The story ends with her addressing an honest, heartfelt letter to the Ox who has loved her through and through.

The letters are also a lot of fun to read aloud. I always do Ox’s voice as deep and kind of slow. He’s a sweet guy, but not a brain surgeon. Gazelle is French, sort of like Madame Gazelle from Peppa Pig. (But more stuck-up…imagine Miss Piggy and Madame Gazelle having a baby. Kind of like that.)

I read this book (again) to my ladies and they had this say:

Vivi: That book is so good. I love the ending.

Lily: I like the letters the Ox wrote. He was so nice.

Me: Was there anything you wanted to change? Anything you think could improve this story?

Vivi: Nope. A-plus.

Lily: Plus.

If you’re looking for a terrific picture book, XO, OX fits the bill nicely.

 

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?

 

Title: How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Mark Teague
Published: Blue Sky Press, 2003

 

I have three things to say about today’s selection:

  1. I’m a huge Mark Teague fan. Along with the terrific How Do Dinosaurs…? series, he also illustrated the Poppleton books, which happen to be some of my favourites for early readers. (Just as a quick aside, the Poppleton books were written by Cynthia Rylant…but Mark Teague created the image of that portly pork chop and he’s just so lovely…for a pig).
  2. I have read so many of the How Do Dinosaurs…? books and I still love them every time I read them to the kiddos.
  3. I know this is an oldie (15 years old, people!) but it’s a goodie.

As mentioned above, we have read several of the How Do Dinosaurs…? books. This one in particular was in high rotation this year and last.

Why?

Because of the kindergarten plague. It basically started in October of 2016 and continued nearly unabated until this past June. Yes. It was that bad (worse, at times). And when your little one is fighting her fifteenth cold of the season, the only thing to do is read a story about some fussy little dinosaurs also trying to recover.

Stuff I love about this book:

  1. It rhymes! I’m such a sucker for a well-written rhyming picture book. Jane Yolen does a fabulous job with all the dino books.
  2. The pictures are brilliant. They’re so expressive and colourful and funny. The little dinosaurs at the beginning of the book are extremely accurate, in terms of behaving the way actual children behave when they’re sick.
  3. The fact that each dino’s name is featured on its page. I’ve always loved me some ridiculously long, hard-to-pronounce names…and dinosaurs in general! Put them together and you’ve got a win-win.

The girls always enjoyed this one when they were sniffling and snorting and coughing. I enjoyed pointing out how well the dinosaur ended up taking his medicine and how good he was at the doctor’s office.

Hint, hint.

I am half looking forward to school starting in a couple of weeks (Vivi is heading into grade ONE! Lily still has another year at home with me…something she reminds me of on a near-daily basis).

The other not-looking-forward-to-it half is dreading the return of the plague. Seasoned parents tell me that it gets a little better year after year.

One can only hope. I’ll be keeping this book handy, just in case.

Mama’s review: A
Vivi’s review: A
Lily’s review: “Those poor dinosaurs were so sick!”

 

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