Crankenstein

 

Title: Crankenstein
Author: Samantha Berger
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published: Scholastic, 2013

 

If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’ll know that I am a *huge* Dan Santat fan. Like, massive. My favourite picture book of all (After the Fall) is 100% Dan-Santat-created, and I truly love everything else he’s done. You better believe I’m a Fantat (Fantat copyright Jess, 2018).

Anyway, Vivi brought home her Scholastic book order in October and I found a book that Mr. Santat illustrated. One I hadn’t heard of (and therefore didn’t own). Crankenstein. I promptly ordered it and waited.

I thought maybe I’d review it for Halloween. But life happened. (Read: Vivi has had pneumonia and we’ve been house-bound and away from school for TWO WEEKS.) The first afternoon back, Vivi’s (amazing) teacher had a large box of books for us. Among them: Crankenstein. I’m not gonna lie, I read it in the car in the driveway.

It’s the tale of a cranky little boy who turns into a Crankenstein (that’s a wonderful portmanteau of ‘cranky’ and ‘Frankenstein,’ of course) whenever there’s an uncomfortable/difficult situation. You know, like all kids do. When waiting in line, when having to deal with a dearth of maple syrup, when having a toy break or a popsicle melt or having to take horrible medicine (relatable!).

The story is simple but cute. But, as per usual, Dan Santat’s art is what makes this book really special. My favourite page of all is the one where the two Crankensteins meet and are glaring at each other. It is SO accurate. It’s EXACTLY what kids look like.

This book is definitely for the younger-end of the picture book age group. Vivi is “meh” on it (her words), but Lily likes it and has asked for it a few times. It would be a good one to have for a preschool/JK class for Halloween…a good way to tie in the special occasion and talk about how we can all be a bit monstrous sometimes.

And, as a hilarious side note: if you own this book, please read the legal page. Dan Santat has written a description of how the art was produced for the story. My favourite line is: “Crankenstein is the embodiment of Dan Santat’s pure rage…and he did it all for you.” Thanks, Dan!

Mama’s review: 4 cranky kids/5
Vivi: Meh.
Lily: “I like it!”

Bunny Cakes

Title: Bunny Cakes
Author/Illustrator: Rosemary Wells
Published: Puffin Books, 1997

 

I used to tutor a little boy who loved, loved, loved Max and Ruby. Whenever we’d go to the library for our weekly book haul, we’d comb the shelves for any new Rosemary Wells books. And, failing that, we’d just renew the ones we were bringing back. We did this for about 3 years.

I read a LOT of Max and Ruby, is what I’m saying.

I also ended up sewing my little charge Max and Ruby dolls. But that’s another story.

I figured, when I had kids, that they might also like Max and Ruby. And they do. Kinda.

My 5 year old, Vivi, informed me that Bunny Cakes is now “too babyish” for her (she loved it when she was 2-3 and we read it almost daily, but now that she’s nearly 6, it’s just not her speed anymore). 3 year old Lily is still a fan, however, so I’m only posting her review at the end.

Basically, Bunny Cakes is about brother-and-sister rabbits Max and Ruby preparing a birthday dessert for their grandma. (AKA: the only grownup who ever appeared in any of their books/TV shows until recently when the writers realized that it’s SUPER WEIRD not to have adults in a TV show. Looking at you too, Ryder and Paw Patrol.)

So Grandma has taken another trip around the sun. Max wants to get some Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters to decorate her cake with. Ruby just needs to replenish all the ingredients Max constantly spills/wrecks. Max takes Ruby’s written requests for eggs/milk/flour to the grocery store and tries to add his own “Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters” addendum each time. Only on his last visit to get Ruby some cake decorations does he DRAW (as opposed to illegibly scribble) Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters on the list and voila – he gets his candy!

Max and Ruby then present Grandma with two cakes and Gran can’t figure out which one to eat first (pro tip: eat the one without the caterpillar guts for frosting).

So I like this book. It’s funny, it’s cute, the art is always good when it comes from Rosemary Wells. And it’s about cake. If you know me, you know that’s a selling feature.

Mama’s Review: 4/5 buttercream roses
Lily’s Review: “I like it so much, you should read it again!”

 

The Thank You Book

Title: The Thank You Book
Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems
Published: Hyperion Books for Children, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I have a list of people I would totally LOVE to have lunch with. They include (but are not limited to) Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel, Tina Fey, Dan Santat and, of course, the fabulous Mo Willems. You might say I’m a *bit* of a Mo Willems fan. And by *bit*, I mean *I literally have every single Elephant & Piggie book he’s ever written (all 25), along with about 90% of the rest of his work.*

We read a LOT of Mo in my house, is what I’m saying.

I first discovered Elephant & Piggie at Chapters when Vivi was under a year old. I was looking for a series of books because, well, grandparents and aunts and uncles are generous and it’s easy to say “just pick up the latest blah-blah-blah book.” Which is what we did. (Which is why we have the complete collection.)

The last book Mr. Willems wrote for Elephant & Piggie is The Thank You Book. (Note that this is not including the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading books, which are books not written/illustrated by Mr. Willems that feature the beloved pig and elephant as sort of book reviewers/recommenders.)

It’s also probably number 2 or 3 in my “list of favourite E&P books.” (I have a lot of lists. I’m one of THOSE people.)

Why is The Thank You Book so good?

1. Because it’s funny. In fact, that’s usually part of the reason Mo Willems’ books are so good. At some level, there’s humour in almost all of them. (City Dog, Country Frog kind of bucks this trend, but you should totally buy that book because it’s amazing and will make you feel all the feelings.)

2. ALL of the characters from the past books are featured. It’s like one of those TV shows that has a ton of guest stars on one episode. You’re all like, “OMG, is that Shirley from season 2? WHOA! What’s Doug from season 1 doing here? Man, I love that actor.” (Full disclosure: I don’t watch much TV.)

3. I love the Ice Cream Penguin. And Whale. And Brian Bat. And, well, all of them really. I have specific voices I do for each one when I read them, which makes the entire process far more entertaining. (Pro-tip: Dr. Cat sounds like an actor from a Spanish soap opera. Brian Bat sounds like a high-pitched version of Snake. Piggie kind of sounds like a mellow Miss Piggy and Gerald just has a deep, slightly melancholy voice. But, you know, you do you.)

4. There’s also a genuine sweetness to the book. The last page is *perfect* when Piggie restates that she is, indeed, one lucky pig. I love the idea of thanking your friends for just being the people they are. I also love the fact that Piggie initially forgets Gerald (don’t we always forget to thank those we’re closest to?) and then realizes she also forgot to thank the reader!

5. Mo Willems’ art is gold, period. Elephant & Piggie are deceptively simple characters, but the emotion/motion/little details that Mr. Willems adds just prove what a talented illustrator he is.

If you’ve got a little one, pick up Elephant & Piggie. I promise they will get a LOT of mileage. I promise your kids will memorize them. I promise they will be the type of books that you can read over and over and not lose your dang mind.

And, in case I forgot to mention, thank you for being my reader!

Mama’s review: A+ for the whole darn series.

 

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Cupcake Tiberius Cat

 

Title: Arthur Snufflekins Oliver Cupcake Tiberius Cat
Author/Illustrator: Katie Harnett
Published: Flying Eye Books, 2016

As you might’ve noticed, we have a lot of books about cats. I blame one family member for that: Lily. My little three (almost four) year old LOVES cats. Anything with cats. Cat jammies. Cat jewelry. Cat dresses. Cat tights. Cat books. And, most of all, real, live cats.

So she REALLY likes this book.

And so do the rest of us. Arthur Snufflekins Oliver Cupcake Tiberius Cat is a simple but sweet story of a neighbourhood cat who visits each house on Blossom street…except one. Number eleven is inhabited by Mrs. Murray and, unlike the people on the rest of her busy street, her days are spent mostly in quiet solitude. Mrs. Murray knits and drinks tea and watches TV, but that’s about it.

Until her shipment of yarn is delivered to her front porch, with Cat sitting atop it.

After a few days of not seeing the cat, the neighbours become worried and begin to look for him. Since everyone on the street calls him something different, so the neighbours don’t initially realize they’re all searching for the same feline. When it’s pointed out (by a little girl) that Archie, Snufflekins, Oliver, Cupcake, Tiberius and Cat are all exactly the same kitty, the neighbours figure out where he must be: at the one house no one goes to. Number eleven.

When the neighbours show up on Mrs. Murray’s doorstep, she explains that yes, Cat is living there. And he doesn’t really want to leave. He likes the peace and quiet. So, the neighbours realize that Cat must stay where he’s happiest…but they definitely want to visit him. And, in visiting Cat, Mrs. Murray suddenly has friends and a social life. What a great ending!

The art is really well done and its sweet style suits the story well.

If you’re looking for a lovely book about neighbours, remembering each other, friendship and, yes, cats, you cannot go wrong with this one.

Mama’s review: 9/10 cans of tuna

Vivi’s review: “I really just enjoyed the entire book. It’s lovely.”

Lily’s review: “I liked it so much because it’s about a cat.”

Sir Simon: Super Scarer

 

Title: Sir Simon: Super Scarer
Author/Illustrator: Cale Atkinson
Published: Tundra Books, 2018

 

Halloween is just over a month away and it finally feels like fall this weekend, so I figured it was high time I reviewed a spooky picture book. In this case, Cale Atkinson’s book, Sir Simon: Super Scarer.

I found the delightful Simon at a brand new Toronto-based bookstore in The Junction (Moonbeam Books). If you happen to be out that way, definitely stop in. The owner was super-friendly and very, very knowledgeable about kid lit. I totally geeked out about picture books and she completely understood my obsession with kid lit. It was so nice to find a like-minded person! 😀

Anyway, the book! I recognized Cale Atkinson’s name, but I couldn’t place where from…until I read his little bio at the back of the book and realized  I’d read Where Oliver Fits earlier this summer (I liked it, but not nearly as much as I like Simon.)

Yes, I really like Sir Simon Spookington.  The premise of the book is funny. In a nutshell, it’s all about a ghost who has been transferred to his first haunted house. He is kind of bummed because he has a lot of hobbies (writing a thrilling novel, learning French, cross stitch, painting) and his ‘ghost chores’ are going to get in the way of his leisure time (ghost chores include creaking stairs, hiding stuff, standing creepily at windows). He is hopeful because the occupant of the house appears to be a cookie-baking granny. Old people are tops on the haunting pyramid because they sleep a lot. (Kids are bottom – they have no pros, only cons.) So Simon is looking forward to an easy assignment. Unfortunately, he gets a grandma WITH a kid. A curious kid who really wants to pretend to be a ghost. Simon decides to let Chester (the kid) help him out with ALL the ghost chores. Simon gets to do his hobbies, Chester gets to be a ghost, everyone’s happy. Right? Wrong! Chester can’t do ghost chores to save his life. Simon feels kind of bad for making Chester do his work, he helps Chester do human chores the next day. After hanging out, they realize they have some stuff in common, and become best friends. Aw.

The best parts of the book:

1. When Chester has to make scary animal sounds and decides on “Mooooo!” The girls both laughed out loud.
2. The art. I really liked the cross-section of the house, and being able to see Chester and Simon bop from room to room.
3. The subtle suggestion that Chester was in foster care and ended up with his granny. The one line about Chester getting transferred a lot too was understated, yet very powerful (helped along by the art, depicting pictures of the many different people who have been in Chester’s life).
4. Simon’s awesome ‘thrilling novel’ excerpts. The kids didn’t find them as funny as I did, but whatever. They’re not struggling writers, right?
5. The character design of Simon, Chester and the granny. They’re all just adorable. I love the last page, depicting the granny sitting on her chair, looking slightly perturbed.

Overall, this is a wonderful book. I always worry a bit about reading the girls stories with monsters/ghosts in them (that kind of make the monster/ghost seem real), but this one is a winner. Simon is the sweetest little ghost and couldn’t scare a fly (although he once had to scare a bear). If you’re looking for a terrific read for the Halloween season, pick this one up. And get it at Moonbeam Books, Toronto readers! Support your local bookstore!

Mama’s Review: 10 ghosts/10
Vivi’s Review: “I like the part where they met each other for the first time. It’s a great story.”
Lily’s Review: “I love it when he moos through the vent! That was so funny!”

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.