I Need a Hug

 

Title: I Need a Hug
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Blabey
Published: Scholastic, 2015

 

Have I mentioned how much I love the Scholastic book order? Like, my kids enjoy it, but I kind of love it on a different level. When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money, so I was *sometimes* allowed to get a book or two. (Side note: the top three best purchases I ever made from the Scholastic book order were: a novel about Helen Keller; the behind-the-scenes pictorial review of Full House, as written by DJ Tanner herself; and a scratch-and-sniff sticker book – which my mother threw out, but I’m totally over it and don’t think about it on a daily basis or anything.)

Ahem.

Anyway, my kids are allowed to get a few books with each order. (Alright, alright…more than a few. But, to be fair, some of them are for me. Wait, that doesn’t sound better. Never mind.)

So. The most recent order included this book by Aaron Blabey. Both of my girls were able to recognize his art style, and immediately said, “That’s the guy who wrote Thelma the Unicorn!” Yes, indeed. We love Thelma in this house, and we were hoping to feel the same way about this book.

Here’s what we liked:

  1. The art is, as usual, hilarious. The characters are adorable and I love the porcupine. His wide-eyed, slightly panicky look speaks to me on many levels.
  2.  The rhyming text. I think the fact that the text rhymes and is humorous helps this story along because without it, it would feel like just another “porcupine isn’t getting any love” story (See: No Hugs for Porcupine, How Do You Hug a Porcupine, related: Hedgehog Needs a Hug). The concept isn’t unique, but the execution is good.
  3.  The girls liked the ending, where the snake and porcupine were hugging. The porcupine found love. Aw.

I thought the book was sweet, but definitely for a younger crowd. My two are almost *too* old for it. Especially V (who is fully obsessed with the BSC graphic novels). This book would be nice for a preschool or kindergarten, though.

So did we love the porcupine as much as Thelma? Well, no. But will we read I Need a Hug again? Definitely.

Mama’s review: B+
Vivi’s review: I really liked the art. Especially Ken the moose!
Lily’s review: That porcupine finally found a friend. That was the best part.

Thank You, Mr. Panda

 

Title: Thank You, Mr. Panda
Author/Illustrator: Steve Antony
Published: Scholastic, 2018

Mr. Panda, Mr. Panda, Mr. Panda. We have to talk. First, let me just say that I was 100% on your side in Please, Mr. Panda. I, like you, am a bit of a stickler for manners. I couldn’t believe those animals, just demanding donuts like that’s how we do things around here.  I think giving the donuts to the lemur was totally the right idea and I applaud your judgement. What an upstanding panda, said I to myself.

And then I read this book.

Mr. Panda, what the heck, dude?  Have your lost your furry mind?

For those of you who haven’t read this instalment in the Mr. Panda series, here’s a quick overview:

  1. Mr. Panda is back! He’s accompanied by his buddy, Lemur. They are walking around giving out presents. So far, so good.
  2. The presents are as follows (see if you can see the problem here):
    Mouse: overly large sweater
    Octopus: six socks
    Elephant: says she’ll open it later, appears to be donuts based on end picture.
    Mountain goat: extremely long scarf
    Lemur: extra-large undies
  3. After each animal receives their less-than-well-thought-out gift, Lemur reminds them “It’s the thought that counts.”

OK, so here’s my issue: the gifts didn’t appear to be thought out at ALL. Why would you get a mouse a very large sweater, Mr. Panda? Don’t you know the size and/or preferences of your friends?  As someone who prides herself on giving gifts people will like, it irks me to have to be all enthusiastic about a gift that was clearly last-minute/not purchased with the receiver’s enjoyment in mind.

I mean, I get it. We want kids to be grateful for what they get, even if that thing is disappointing/not what they wanted/not what they hoped for/kind of lame. But…c’mon. The octopus has TWO missing socks, peeps. Two. Did Mr. Panda not even remember the number of arms his friend has?

Anyway, I have two related anecdotes.

  1. When my little brother was five, my nana gave him an RC car. He LOVED it. He wanted nothing more than that gift. It was the first gift he opened, and my poor aunt had to follow up with…a turtleneck. My brother, being the polite little fellow he was, opened the turtleneck, gave it the most cursory glance possible and flung it over his shoulder while saying “Thanks, it’s just what I always wanted!” and continued playing with the car. Thankfully, my aunt has an excellent sense of humour and laughed it off. So, points to Ravenclaw for good manners…but…his heart really wasn’t in it.
  2. A few years ago, an individual (who shall not be named) gave out random ornaments to our family at Christmas. They were all EXACTLY the same and purchased from the dollar store, but this person made a really big deal about having to give each person a ‘special’ one and awaiting our gushing thanks. (This was not a child handing these out, mind you.) We all said, “OH, THANK YOU!” because, manners. But really? It was a last-minute gift that was clearly given no thought whatsoever.

So I get the point. We’ve all got to be grateful for any gift. But by the same token, we need to think about those that we’re giving to and really consider what they might like. I honestly thought the end of the story was going to involve the animals swapping the gifts and then everyone thanking each other. Maybe Mr. Panda just confused the gifts! Maybe it was all a big mix-up! Label the packages, Mr. P!

Alas, no.

Lily was surprised the book ended when it did. She asked if there were pages missing, so I don’t think she felt the issues were adequately resolved. I kind of have to agree.

Mr. Panda, we WANTED to love this book as much as we love Please, Mr. Panda (which is a lot), but…there was just something missing in this one. Mr. Panda doesn’t seem to get the idea of joyful giving, and generally seems to be giving a big, furry middle finger to the critters he’s purchased presents for.

And that’s not good manners at all, Mr. Panda.

Mama’s Review: 3/5 pandas  (most of those pandas are for the art, which is fantastic)

Lily’s Review: “So that’s just how the story ends? Huh.”

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

Title: Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs
Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems
Published: Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins), 2012

 

When I was three, my grandma bought me a book called “Goldilocks.” It was the classic tale, but with TOTALLY late-seventies-early-eighties-style art. It was the art that won my little heart (it was so chunky and cute), but the story was exceptionally lacklustre. Like, picture your uncle who doesn’t really like children telling you a story just to get it over with. Like that. No pizzazz! No flowery language. Just the facts.

In short, it was boring.

Thankfully, my kiddos have Mo Willems’ Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs to entertain them. Now, you’re all well aware of my incredible admiration/fandom when it comes to Mr. Willems. I think he’s brilliant. His work is exceptional and he understands what kids find funny in a way very few others do.

This book does not disappoint.

The art is, as per usual, hilarious. The thing Mo Willems does best, IMHO, is expressions. His characters aren’t overly complicated, in terms of “could I draw something that looks approximately like that dinosaur? Yes!” but the expressiveness is off the charts. In no universe can I make a dinosaur look that devious.

Aside from the fabulous pictures, the story is laugh-out-loud funny. It starts when you first open the book. On the inside back of the cover and first page (and on the back of the last page and inside back cover), there are other ‘possible’ titles for the book, all crossed out. Personal favourites include: Goldilocks and the Three Rocket Scientists, Goldilocks and the Three Foot-Long Hoagies and Goldilocks and the Three Major Networks.

Not gonna lie, I’d read those.

Anyway, the story is based on the original, of course, but it’s also a bit different. First, instead of bears, there are dinosaurs. Next, instead of porridge, there’s chocolate pudding. And instead of breaking Baby Bear’s chair, Goldilocks just refuses to climb up the insanely high dino chairs.

The funniest bits:

  • The dinosaurs purposely went for a walk and left their pudding in the kitchen with a handily-placed ladder, so any small wandering children might climb up and help themselves. Why? Because dinos love delicious chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbons.
  • The dinosaur from Norway is awesome.
  • The whole sequence with the chairs is really well written.
  • The ending is super. More about that in a sec.
  • Throughout the story, there are hilarious side notes about the dinosaurs’ exclamations as they’re supposed to be hidden. Like when Mama Dino yells loudly and then Mo suggests “But that could have been a rock falling. Or a squirrel.”

As in the original, Goldilocks ends up in the bedroom. Unlike the original, in this book she realizes something: the furniture in the house is gigantic. And the sign on the wall suggests that perhaps the home does not belong to bears.

Goldilocks puts the pieces together at the last possible moment and escapes.

The dinosaurs return from their walk and they find that Goldilocks has dashed out the back door. Which was accidentally left unlocked.

Whoops.

The moral of the story for Goldilocks is: If you find yourself in the wrong story, leave.

And for the dinosaurs? Lock the back door! (I love the disapproving look Mama Dinosaur is giving the two others. She’s holding the key like, “Seriously. You guys had ONE JOB.”)

Mama’s Review: 10/10
Lily’s Review: “I like the part where they are in the forest, trying to hide. I could totally see them.”

Please, Mr. Panda

 

Title: Please, Mr. Panda
Author/Illustrator: Steve Antony
Published: Scholastic, 2014

 

Have you ever picked up a book and been totally surprised by a wonderful plot twist that you just DID NOT see coming? That was Please, Mr. Panda for me. We chose it in December’s Scholastic book order because the art was super-cute. And, full disclosure, it came with a squishy donut. And OMG, squishy everything is the best around here.

Ahem. Anyway, the book was delightfully surprising because of…wait for it…a lemur!

If you’ve been following along, you know that lemurs are kinda THE animal here at Chez Borst (OK, lemurs AND cats). Vivi has been obsessed with these adorable little primates since she was an adorable tiny primate herself.

The book Please, Mr. Panda tells the tale of the very polite Mr. Panda offering donuts to various black-and-white animals. (I really liked this choice, art-wise. It’s clever and neat to look at.) The animals he offers donuts to are not exactly…nice.

The penguin is all “Yeah, gimme some!”

The ostrich is all “OMG, go away!”

The skunk is all “Yeah, I’ll eat some donuts!”

The whale is all “I want all of them!”

(I’m seriously precising here.)

And Mr. Panda, being the polite fellow he is, decides that none of them asks kindly enough. So he keeps his donuts…until…

a lemur shows up!

The lemur is exceedingly polite! Mr. Panda realizes he’s found the recipient of his dozen donuts. The lemur happily chows down and Mr. Panda happily walks away. Turns out, he doesn’t like donuts anyway.

The book is so simple, but so sweet. We all FREAKED out when the lemur turned up. (And got a kick out of the fact that he was upside-down…hey, we don’t get out much. What can I say?)

If you’re looking for a great book about manners, kindness and…well…lemurs…then this is the one for you! Also: A++ for the art.

Vivi’s rating: I really liked the part where the lemur got everything. Will there be more lemurs in the future books? I certainly hope so. (We ordered some more Mr. Panda books from Scholastic. They are probably coming in sometime near the end of this month. Along with a *few* other books. Vivi’s poor teacher is getting some serious biceps from carrying our book orders out to us. We love, you, Ms. R!) 

Lily’s rating: Well, I just loved it. That’s all I have to say.

Yup. It’s a winner.

 

 

 

Welcome to…Strange Street?

 

Title: Strange St.
Author/Illustrator: Ann Powell
Published: Kids Can Press, 1975

Know what I love? A good picture book. I love a picture book that you start to read and then you THINK you know the ending, but you really have no idea. I love a picture book with a strong story and a clever hook. I really do enjoy MOST picture books that publishers are publishing these days.

But there was a time, back in the dark ages called the ‘seventies’ that picture books weren’t as…er…let’s say ‘vetted by the publisher’ as they are now. (Read: a lot of questionable/crappy stuff was published.)

One thing I’ve mentioned in passing is that I have two collections of kid lit: my big, huge collection of awesomeness and my smaller (but perhaps more entertaining in some ways) collection of crappiness. Today, we shall delve into collection 2!
This book is called Strange St. and the premise is very simple: Sam lives on a weird street. No, really. Everyone on the street isn’t ‘normal’ in some way.

This premise bugs me for three reasons:

1. IRL, no one is normal. Nothing is normal. Every street is a bit strange. Seriously.

2. I HATE stories that force the whole “OMG, you’re so WEEEEIRD” thing. It’s painful to read about and it makes no sense to me. Who cares if you’re weird? Embrace that, yo! It’s what makes you special.

3. The ‘OMG, so WEEEIRD’ thing feels like it’s being used in place of, you know, telling a story. This is a series of sentences put together in book form. It’s not a cohesive whole. No one learns anything except that “Strange St. isn’t so strange after all!” Blargh. No.

So. Let’s list the ‘strange’ things in this book, according to the author:

1. Sam’s mom is a lady wrestler. His dad is a part-time chef, part-time dad. I guess that’s a bit risqué, seeing as this WAS published in 1975. In the illustration, they’re depicted as reading books about Greek wrestling and Welsh cooking. OMG, mind-blowing.

2. Aged Mr. Grumby has 9 cats. Aside from that being a health code violation, I guess it’s OK? Also, his million-year-old girlfriend resides with him. And…they’re not married, I suppose? Scandalous?

3. Camille and Joseph run the corner store and they have a baby girl named Charlotte. Literally nothing here is weird at all. These people are just living their best life, Sam.

4. This kid, Stephen, lives across from Sam’s house. He thinks there are tigers under his bed. Whatever helps you sleep at night, bud.

5. Mrs. Lawrence is 65 (but looks 95 in the picture) and likes to ski. Elizabeth is teaching Sam how to knit. Are Mrs. Lawrence and Elizabeth somehow related? Unclear. And, once more, nothing about them is weird.

6. Mark and Sarah grow basement mushrooms. OK, so they’re drug dealers. Janet has a ‘jungle’ growing in her house, so probably weed. Sam, it’s the seventies. Get with the times, kiddo.

7. Sam has a girl BFF called Patti. She likes hockey and cars but lives on Bright street which is a place that is 100% not for girls having those interests, so Patti chills on Sam’s street. Patti is a total sport-o and I have absolutely no interest in her storyline. You do you, Patti.

8. Sam is a BOY and plays with dolls. Was this even news in 1975?

9. Sam heads over to see Patti on Bright Street. It’s a total misnomer, because NO ONE IS NICE THERE. There’s even a creepy old neighbour who peers out behind his curtains. But who is he? Patti doesn’t know. She doesn’t know ANYONE on her street.

10. Sam goes into Patti’s house and then her mom is all “Oh, I’ve heard a lot about you, Sam.” Which…what? They’re BFFs. Patti has played numerous times at Sam’s house. Wouldn’t you know him by now? I mean, I get that the seventies involved moms basically saying “Get outta my house and come back by dinner and don’t get hurt or anything. Mama’s having her 10 AM cocktail.” But still.

11. Sam is all “I can help make lunch” and Patti’s mom is all “OMG, NO! Boys don’t cook!” They also don’t do dishes. Or play with dolls. Or cry. This book is killing me, you guys.

12. Sam was all judgmental about lunch. It was Kraft Dinner, Coke and a chocolate pudding cup. He didn’t like it. Look, where I’m from that’s called ‘gourmet.’ Stop being such a stuck up jerk, Sam. Manners, man.

13. Anyhoots, after Sam falls off Patti’s bike and is told not to cry, (by Patti’s mom, the original helicopter parent) he busts a move back to Strange St. He heads over to see his pals, Mark and Sarah, the drug dealers. They’re all “Sam, is your knee OK? Boys totally CAN cry if they’re hurt!” (Also, side note: Sarah and Mark literally look like twins in this story. I cannot decipher which is which.)

14. Then Sam sees Stephen, who is disembowelling his dolls to feed to his fake tiger. And Sam’s all “Boys don’t play with dolls!” and Stephen is all “Yeah they do! When it’s feeding time!” And Stephen is gonna be that kid you sort of avoid in high school.

15. Sam pops into Mrs. Lawrence’s on the way home. She’s making cookies and enlists Sam’s help, after reassuring him that boys CAN cook. (DUH…his dad is a part-time chef. Doesn’t he know this already?!)

16. Sam abruptly heads home (where is dad is vacuuming and his mother is presumably at work, pile driving an opponent) and tells his father that “Strange Street isn’t strange at all!”

Jesus.

I have literally been muttering “It was the seventies, Jess. A product of its time.” under my breath for the past ten minutes.

So…there’s a taste of my ‘not-so-awesome’ kid lit collection. What did you think, dear readers? More, more, more?!
Oh, I have more.
So much more.
Until next time!

Board Book Memories

We had a birthday party for Lily on the weekend. It was lovely and we had so many of our nearest and dearest over to celebrate. At one point, my dear friend’s husband said, “Your kids definitely have a literary advantage.” He’s so polite. What dear Joseph MEANT by that was, “Holy crap, you have way too many books.”
But again, he’s far too kind to say that.
But he’s right.
We do have a LOT of books. You know how some families are into sports, and they have all kinds of sporty paraphernalia around? Well, we’re like that, but with books. We have a bookshelf in every single room (except the bathrooms) and we are constantly borrowing books/using gift cards for books/books, books, books.
One thing we went a *little* crazy with when Vivi was born was board books. We have a LOT of them. They were taking up a ton of shelf space on Lily’s bookshelf and she’s really past them at this point…so we did the big clear off. We put them into a giant Rubbermaid and kissed them goodbye. Not to give away! Let’s not be unreasonable, peeps. They’re going to live in our basement storage room (among a billion other Rubbermaid containers) until my kiddos have kiddos of their own.
It was weird. It was weird putting away such a big part of their little libraries for the past six years. It was weird knowing I likely wouldn’t see those books again for X number of years (where X equals the amount of time it will take for my girls to have kids). And knowing that maybe they would never go to a grand baby. Overall, unsettling.
But it was nice taking a stroll down memory lane. And so, because I want to share my wonderful board-book love with you, here are my top 20 board books, in no particular order:

1. Perfect Piggies – Sandra Boynton (she’s on this list a lot)
2. Oh No, George! – Chris Haughton
3. Goodnight, Gorilla – Peggy Rathmann
4. But Not the Hippopotamus – Sandra Boynton
5. Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell
6. A Color of His Own – Leo Lionni (this is also a picture book, but the board book version is sweet)
7. The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson
8. Hippos Go Berserk – Sandra Boynton (told ya)
9. Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown
10. Doggies – Sandra Boynton
11. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – Bill Martin Jr.
12. Where is Green Sheep? – Mem Fox
13. Grumpy Bird – Jeremy Tankard
14. AlphaBlock – Christopher Franceschelli
15. That’s Not My…series – Fiona Watt
16. Pat the Bunny – Dorothy Kunhardt
17. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes – Mem Fox
18. Huggy Kissy – Leslie Patricelli
19. Hey! Wake Up!- Sandra Boynton
20. You Are My Cupcake – Joyce Wan

Shall I go on? No? Please stop? OK. I will. For now. But for real, pick up one or all of those books. You will not be sorry!

The Truth About Stacey? You can’t HANDLE The Truth About Stacey!

Title: The Truth About Stacey
Author: Ann M. Martin
Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Published: Scholastic (Graphix), 2015

 

You guys might’ve heard that I’m a wee bit of a BSC fan (BSC, yeah you know me). Karl heard that too and ended up getting me the first four graphic novelizations of the original series. Initially, I was apprehensive. Would the graphic novels live up to my memories? Would having the girls right there in front of me, in living colour, take away from my the pictures of them that live(d) in my mind?

The answers are: yes to the first question and no to the second! The books are fantastic. I love them. Here’s why:

    1. Raina Telgemeier is a genius. I said to Karl the other day that she’s the Kate DiCamillo of graphic novels. After remembering who Kate DiCamillo was, he readily agreed. I just finished reading Ghosts (written and illustrated by the talented Raina) and I LOVED it. Anything this artist/writer touches turns to gold. I already have (and adore) Smile and Sisters. And Drama is on its way, thanks to a Chapters gift card! I’m a Raina fan, is what I’m saying. Her art style is just PERFECT for the BSC. I love all the character designs, but I especially enjoyed Claudia. I love the purple hair. It’s just something she totally would’ve done. The girls look the way you’d imagine them (although, TBH, Claudia’s room is far less messy than I envisioned, and her clothes are waaaay tamer than I figured they’d be).
    2. The BSC series has some terrific books (looking at you, Kristy’s Big Day) and some real duds (looking at you, Claudia and The Phantom Phone Calls – book two in the original series, but not at all used in the graphic novels. Why not? Well, because now everyone has call display. So…you know…if the phantom phone caller phoned, Claudia could just check the number, block it and…er…story over. Things were potentially scarier in the eighties, kids.) The first four books they made into graphic novels are really solid. That’s why Claudia and Mean Janine is in there, although it was book 7 in the original series. It’s a really good book with a lot of drama and an interesting, emotionally charged story. And although I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison (yet), I found the graphic novel versions lacked any of the draggy bits that the originals tend to have. And also? No long chapter two intro to the club members in EVERY SINGLE BOOK. OMG, we know MaryAnne is the shy one with the boyfriend! Kristy is mouthy and short! Stacey has diabetes and is from New York! Claudia can’t spell for beans and wears clothes she found on an abandoned scarecrow! Dawn loves the environment and would totes marry it if she could! Jessi is a ballet star and reads horse books! So does Mallory (who has braces and glasses and her life is SOOO hard)! Gotcha, loud and clear!
    3. Vivi adores the books. Anything that my six-year-old enjoys and reads on her own makes me happy. She is reading a couple of grade levels ahead, so finding books that appeal to her, are age-appropriate but not boring, and that she can read independently is a bit of a challenge. These fit the bill perfectly. She devoured Kristy’s Great Idea in literally two hours. I thought she might’ve skimmed it/skipped bits of it, but after a thorough grilling to make sure she understood what she had read, I had to admit: her comprehension was 100%. She read the whole thing. And she has re-read them. Vivi is also presently into Phoebe and her Unicorn, but those are a bit over her head, joke-wise. She gets about 70% of the book, but enough of it is above her that we end up answering a lot of questions.

 

Anyway, this post is supposed to be all about Stacey. So, the review: The Truth About Stacey is terrific. It’s enjoyable. It’s…well…let’s hear from Vivi:

“It’s one of my favourite BSC books. I just love the art and the story is really good. My favourite part is when Stacey and Laine meet up and eventually become friends again. It’s just so sweet. By the way, the truth about Stacey is that she has diabetes. Diabetes is when you can’t eat too much sugar or you’ll get sick. Stacey doesn’t always handle it well, but she learns to deal with it more by the end of the book.”

Vivi: A+
Mama: A+