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.”

Truck Full of Ducks

 

Title: Truck Full of Ducks
Author/Illustrator: Ross Burach
Published: Scholastic, 2018

Here’s something you probably don’t know about me: I love ducks. Like, probably to an absurd degree. For instance, last week I went to High Park with Lily and my bestie. We happened to see a whole flock of ducks hanging out by a pond. I honestly, truly, wholeheartedly thought that if I just got down on their level and encouraged them in a friendly way, they’d come over and…I don’t know…hang out with me? Tell me duck stuff? Show me where to find the best nesting sites? Introduce me to a nice drake? Truthfully, any of those scenarios would’ve been fine. Realistically, I would’ve settled for just patting their feathery little heads. Sadly, they took one look at me, realized my promises of cut-up grapes were nothing but lies and quacked away angrily.

Ahem.

So, it makes sense that I also enjoy duck-related kid-lit. And I definitely enjoyed Truck Full of Ducks. Here’s why:

  1. The art is great. Ross Burach is a terrific illustrator. His characters are consistently cute and funny. I love the details he adds (in this story, for instance, the ducks were sharing a large ‘Bladder Buster’ drink and this resulted in an unplanned bathroom stop). I also like the “Don’t worry, be quacky” bumper sticker. I’d stick that on my car. I’m not too good for a duck bumper sticker.
  2. The story is simple, but the ending is good. Sometimes stories are simple the whole way through (see: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Whistle for Willie), and sometimes they are simple and then have a great payoff (see: I Want My Hat Back, After the Fall). This falls into the latter category. We, as adult readers, know that the truck full of ducks isn’t going to meet with an untimely demise…but little readers (like Lily) were actually concerned about some of the choices they were making near the end of the book. (Direct quote: “That’s not a smart place to go! Get back in the truck and leave, ducks!”)
  3. I like doing voices when I read stories. There are multiple characters that lend themselves well to setting your inner voice-actor free. (Fun fact: I actually have done voice acting in the past. It’s lots of fun and I really do like it, despite being a hardcore introvert. It’s kind of the perfect mix of acting and hiding. You get to let loose while not having anyone see your face. Win-win!) If you’re reading this story, dig deep and get silly.

The only other thing I’d say is this: this story is definitely for the younger (<5 year old) crowd. Vivi was 100% not interested. She’s really into The Princess in Black, the BSC graphic novels, and the Owl Diaries right now, though. So…picture books aren’t really her thing anymore. (Sob!)

If you’re looking for a funny, simple, enjoyable read, check out Truck Full of Ducks. And if you know where to get a REAL truck full of ducks, hook a sister up.

Mama’s review: 5 ducks/5

Lily’s review: “Those ducks are adorable!”

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.