More Bears!

 

Title: More Bears!
Author: Kenn Nesbitt
Illustrator: Troy Cummings
Published: Sourcebooks – jabberwocky, 2010

 

Lily and I were at the library today. We were supposed to pick up three books I’d put on hold. Simple, quick in-and-out kinda visit.

Long story short, we left with seventeen books.

Fourteen more than we had intended. But whatever! The extras were all from the children’s section and they’re all pretty darn terrific (okay, some more than others…but we’ll get to them all in good time). Today’s review is of a book I chose based purely on two things:

  1. The cover art.
  2. The fact that it’s about bears.

Yes, I literally judged this book’s worthiness by its cover. But I was right! It’s a good one!

If you’ve done any kind of reading of children’s stories, you know that bears are *pretty* popular characters. They’re funny and goofy and lumbering and just kind of fun to draw.

In this specific story, the author is just trying to write a book that includes exactly zero bears. None. Nada. Zilch. No bears required, thankyouverymuch.

And that seems to be a solid plan, except…some kids keep yelling “MORE BEARS!” over and over and, well, eventually the author caves and adds just one bear (give the audience what they want, right?).

But…the kids STILL want “MORE BEARS!” so the author adds one more. And then another…and another…and…well, a lot of bears, really.

The thing is, the bears get grumpy because the book is over-crowded. And that makes the author rather displeased. And what do authors do when they’re upset? Rewrite, peeps. Rewrite all night.

So, away go the bears! Ah, everything is perfect.

Until, of course, the kids decide that maybe the story just needs more chickens.

I read this book aloud to the entire family, so I have reviews from all four of us! Here’s what we thought:

Vivi: I really like the art. It’s colourful and fun to look at. Also, the story is hilarious. All books are better with the addition of bears!

Lily: I like the part where the kids yell “MORE CHICKENS!” at the end. Maybe that will be the next book the author writes!

Daddy: It’s kind of a one-joke book, but it’s done really well.

Mama: I like the fact that the author is a character in the book. The rewrite part was accurate. Also, bears. So many bears. Have I mentioned that I have a soft spot for bear books? This book is also a lot of fun to read aloud. Bonus points for that!

Read this book – it’s un-bear-ably funny! (Sorry, I had to.)

 

Overall grade: 5/5 bears…plus a couple of chickens for good luck.

 

September was…insanely busy.

Hello, blog readers! I have been a bit absent lately…but I have three good reasons.

  1. The kids went back to school. You’d think that would mean MORE time to write, but not exactly. It’s a bit dicey at the beginning of the year, what with all the forms and books and stuff to keep track of.

Oh, and the constant, non-stop sickness. That too.

  1. Lily was just diagnosed with celiac disease. We were worried about her tummy earlier this summer, and I had a VERY strong suspicion as to what was going on, but a blood test confirmed it. Trying to completely revamp the way we eat/eliminate AP flour (my beloved baking flour) and learning a totally new diet has been…challenging. One of the hardest things is the fact that I have a ton of allergies myself, most of which are fatal (we’re talking nuts, seeds, seafood…honey…stuff like that). So finding substitutions for Lily that are also not deadly for me has been a bit of work.
  2. I’m working on a few new stories/writing some scripts (those ones are for actual money!) and trying to figure out how the heck I’m going to write a graphic novel, seeing as I can’t draw half-decently.

BUT!

All that said, I’m going to get back to reviewing amazing kidlit ASAP. I’m dedicating two days a week to kid lit blogging, so please stay tuned. I have an extensive list of books I’m going to borrow from the library and they look pretty darn awesome.

Soooo…I shall see you very soon, dear reader. 🙂

Guts

 

Title: Guts
Author/Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Published: Scholastic (Graphix), 2019

 

You guys, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before (like, 1000 times), but I’m a huge Raina fan. I have allll of her books and I think she’s a genius. Like, straight-up, no fooling.

In related news, I am going to see her speak later this month in Milton (a town about 30 minutes west of Toronto, for those not familiar with Southern Ontario geography). I am suuuper stoked about that. So I knew I had to read Guts before I saw Raina in person.

When the book arrived, I sat down and read it in one sitting. I’m sure the kids were asking me for things and the dinner was probably a *bit* overcooked that night, but…well…sometimes mama needs to read.

I read it straight through once. Then I had to take some time and think about it.

And I read it again the next day, and I’m reading it again now.

It’s a wonderful book. Just to get that out of the way. I really like it. It’s honest and sometimes hard to read, but it’s excellent.

It just hits really, really close to home for me. Why? Well, because it’s all about stomach problems and emetophobia. Two things I can strongly relate to!

In this (true) story from her childhood, Raina is coping with stomach issues. She is eventually diagnosed with IBS. She also has some pretty severe anxiety in the form of emetophobia (that’s fear of vomiting, for the uninitiated). She goes to therapy and it helps – although, in the end notes, she says that she’s had to learn to accept the IBS and anxiety as part of who she is. Those things never go away…but you can learn how to better cope with them.

I was never diagnosed with IBS. BUT I had stomach issues from the time I was 10 until I was about 27. (When I ended up taking a crazy-strong antibiotic for an unrelated issue…and after the antibiotic was done, I felt fine. I have no idea what to make of this, but it’s completely true). I was on pretty much EVERY single stomach med available from about 1993-2007. My doctor (who I now know was a complete crackpot) would sometimes switch my medications week-to-week. I suffered terribly with stomach pain. I was never hungry. I lost weight. I generally felt pretty crappy. Also, I was later diagnosed with severe endometriosis, so I wonder how much of that was related.

I was also an anxious kid….and my fear of vomiting persists to this day. (Although I have to say: having kids has made me deal with it in a way nothing else ever did. Kind of immersion therapy, I guess? I am better at handling it as it pertains to my kids. I will make Karl deal with vomit if he is around when it happens. But if it’s only me, I do what I have to do.) I am (and always have been) a huge germ-o-phobe. I don’t do sickness well. That’s never gonna change.

Since I related so strongly to this story,  it took me a while to process it. I could really feel for young Raina as she suffered with her stomach pain. I understood the fear in her eyes when she saw that kids at her school had the stomach flu. I understand the powerlessness that a person feels when they have a legitimate phobia about something. Especially when it’s something like emetophobia…it seems odd, and people don’t really ‘get’ it. Everyone hates to see vomit, right? Everyone thinks it’s gross. But the phobia part is different. It’s MORE than just ‘yuck.’ It’s panic. It’s fear. It’s AWFUL.

But Guts? Guts is fantastic. It handles IBS sensitively. It deals with anxiety and therapy in an honest way. The art is superb. Every kid should read it because even if they’re not experiencing what young Raina did, they probably know someone who is.

5/5 stars (obviously).

 

 

 

Pine & Boof

 

Title: Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf
Author/Illustrator: Ross Burach
Published: Scholastic, 2017

 

You guys, how is summer almost over? Like, what happened? To be TOTALLY honest, in some ways this summer has seemed quite long. (See: days when my children feel like whining and complaining and requesting snacks NON stop. How do kids that age eat so much? Also, if I hear the CATS soundtrack one more time, I might lose my dang mind. Lily is obsessed with it. I fall asleep hearing “I have a gumbie cat in mind…her name is Jenny Anydots…playing round and round in my head…but I digress.) In other ways, however, the summer has flown by.

And it has been fillllled with this book. Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf. Lily LOVES this story. What’s it about? I’m so glad you asked!

It’s about Boof, a bear (who happens to be afraid of bears…a fact which Lily finds endlessly amusing). Boof likes to find things and draw faces on them. In this case, a lucky red leaf. Unfortunately, it blows away. Enter Pine (the porcupine). Pine tries to help Boof find the leaf…but…it blows farther and farther away and then is totally, 100% gone.

But, surprisingly, Boof isn’t super-sad about that. Why? Because he’s had such a wonderful adventure with Pine, trying to get his leaf back. And he’s made a REAL friend. Someone who will adventure with him forever.

All together now: awww!

This book is one of my go-to stories for bedtime. Why? There are four reasons!

  1. It’s funny. I like funny, what can I say? Lily really likes the part where Pine is searching for the leaf and looks “under a Boof.” Hilarious!
  2. The art works perfectly with the text. I really dig Ross Burach’s cartoon-y style. The text is hilarious and the pictures are excellent. Lily’s favourite page is when Boof is supposed to be explaining something “calmly” according to the text, but the picture shows him sobbing hysterically. Brilliant.
  3. It’s a great length. I am always leery of overly-wordy books at bedtime (looking at you AGAIN, Berenstain Bears). This one hits the mark perfectly.
  4. It has a great denouement. The end is fun and happy, but the adventure is officially over for the night, so let’s hit the hay and dream of new adventures tomorrow. (Hint, hint, Lily.)I’m going to be honest: I hadn’t heard of Ross Burach until he appeared in our Scholastic book order last year. We got a bundle of his books and I’m so glad we did! They’re all fantastic (Truck Full of Ducks is a personal favourite), and Lily LOVES them. We were at the library today and she specifically looked for him on the shelves. If you haven’t read any of his stuff, you’re missing out! Pick up absolutely anything he’s written, and I guarantee your little one will enjoy it. And so will you!

Mama’s rating: 5 happy leaves/5

Lily’s rating: “This book is hilarious! I really like the part where they look under Boof. Ha!”

 

I’m Sad

Title: I’m Sad
Author: Michael Ian Black
Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018

 

When I was a kid, my parents had, like, two parenting books to read. One of them was Dr. Spock. The other was a book of parenting jokes that someone had given to them when I was born. So they didn’t have a whole lot to go on other than well-meaning advice, gut feelings and very sparse expert guidance. These days, it’s a whole different story. There are eighty-billion parenting books, all telling you the many ways you might permanently psychologically damage your offspring.

And man, it’s stressful. That’s why I eat chocolate, people. That’s why.

What does any of this have to do with today’s book? Well, one of the things many of the parenting books (and websites and Twitter feeds and blogs…) talk about is how to deal with your children’s emotions. And sadness? That’s a biggie. Don’t mess that one up or you’re in trouble.

I TRY my very best to be okay with my kiddos not being happy all the time. Actually, if they’re mad or tired or curious or any number of other emotions, I’m absolutely fine with it. But sadness? I think it’s the default reaction of most people to want to just whisk it away. Just…don’t BE sad! It’s a message we get all the time: happy is good. Sad is bad. But is it? No, of course not. It’s normal and natural and sometimes totally, completely, 100% warranted (note to my children: not getting the Shopkins you wanted doesn’t fall into this category…at least not for more than five minutes).

That’s why I really, really liked I’m Sad by the wonderfully talented Michael Ian Black and artiste extraordinaire, Debbie Ridpath Ohi. This book follows characters we met in I’m Bored – the little girl, the flamingo and (my favourite) the potato. In I’m Sad, the flamingo is feeling blue. She* doesn’t really explain why, but she just IS. And you know what? The little girl and the potato are absolutely fine with that. Sure, they try to cheer her up, but when it becomes obvious that whatever’s on the flamingo’s mind isn’t going to go away easily, they’re fine with her mood.  They reassure her that they still like her (well, except the potato…who makes a joke that DOES get the flamingo giggling and makes her feel a bit better). They accept her for whatever she is feeling.

Which is such a tremendously powerful message for kids to hear. It’s fine to feel what you’re feeling. And maybe it’ll go away quickly, and maybe not. But your friends are there for you, regardless.

And the art. Can we talk about it for a second? It’s great. I love Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s style. It feels a bit reminiscent of Mo Willems’ art, in its simplicity and how well it conveys the characters’ emotions. The colour palette is lovely and the pictures are just a lot of fun to look at. I also like the different font styles used for each characters’ dialogue.

My kids had the following thoughts (this is after the fifth reading, mind you. Our library books get a good workout.):

Lily: “The best part was when the potato made the flamingo laugh. That was so friendly.”

Vivi: “The whole book is great. Sadness is something kids should talk about.”

And, of course, not to be left out, Karl: “The ending was really strong. And I really liked the art.”

As for me, I think I’m Sad is a gentle, kind, reassuring read. It’s the type of book all kids need to read. We will definitely be getting a copy to add to our collection!

Lily’s Rating: All the flamingos
Vivi’s Rating: A+
Mama’s Rating: Five potatoes out of five

 

*Note: we don’t really know the gender of the flamingo, but in this house…everything is a girl. Sorry, Karl.

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.