Mr. Wolf’s Class

 

When I was a kid, graphic novels weren’t really a big thing. I was into Archie comics in a huge way (don’t judge), so I think I would’ve enjoyed an actual graphic novel-type story.

Vivi LOVES them. We’ve read the Narwhal and Jelly series so far, and after an impromptu trip to Chapters the other day, we stumbled upon an adorable new series by Aron Nels Steinke: Mr. Wolf’s Class.

I was immediately drawn to the cartoon-y style of the characters. The cover is adorable, with a visibly nervous Mr. Wolf waving to his new charges (who are in all states of disarray, as in a real classroom). I just knew we had to add this book to our library and it a read.

And I’m so glad we did!

Vivi  and I have read the book twice (each) so far. Here are my top three favourite things about it, followed by Vivi’s top three favourite things.

My favourite things:

1. I really love the art. It’s adorable. The characters are sweet and funny and expressive. I enjoyed the beginning of the book, where we sort of ‘meet’ each kid by seeing them the night before the first day of school. I immediately related to both Aziza and Penny.

2. I like the fact that some of the characters are gender-neutral. I had no idea the bunny was a girl until I learned her name (Margot). It’s nice to not see the typical “bow in the hair” or “obvious eyelashes” to indicate “girl.” (Side note: in my former work life, when I was a writer for a children’s website, this was something to consider. How do you show that a hippo is a girl hippo? With her clothes, yes. But do you add makeup? Do you add extra-long eyelashes? My favourite debate from that job, though, was whether or not fish can wear belts. The answer? Only if they’re wearing pants first. Obviously.)

3. The story was sweet and funny. There were no major issues to overcome, no major strife, no huge conflicts. It just seemed like a teacher’s first day of school. The kids were authentic. The situations were humorous, and yeah, maybe Penny falling asleep in a discarded book box was a tad far-fetched, but it all felt real. It felt like school.

Vivi’s favourite things:

1. The art is great! Penny is so cute.

2. It was hilarious that Penny was so tired. I liked it when she introduced herself as ‘Sleepy.’

3. Penny and Aziza were my favourites. Aziza reminds me of me because she’s a hard worker. I liked the ending when Margot and Sampson made friends. I also really like the fact that there’s another book coming out. It said so on the last page. Really! It’s called “Mystery Club.” I’m guessing it’s about a club that solves mysteries.

This book is absolutely spot-on perfect for someone Vivi’s age/reading level. Some of the books she’s able to read independently are either:

  1. Uninteresting to her (she’s only 5).
  2. Over her head in terms of content (they require too much explanation from me to make them enjoyable).

She loves this book because she can read it independently and because she fully understands all of it and GETS the jokes.

If you’ve got a good little reader, get them this story ASAP. They will love it and so will you!

Mama’s rating: 10/10
Vivi’s rating: A++

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day

Title: On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
Author/Illustrator: Beatrice Alemagna
Published: Harper Collins 2016

 

Sometimes you have days where you’re not really planning on doing anything particular. Days where you’re just wandering around and it seems like everything is just…right. Just perfect. These days usually take place in nature…a field, a forest…outside. Personally, I have had several days like this. (Most notably the time when I was 16 and ended up stranded on a mountain with friends…we sang the entire score of The Sound of Music as we descended. And did I mention there were reindeer? And that we were in Germany. Ah, wild and crazy adventures with the concert band. Good times, good times.)

Anyway, today’s story, On  a  Magical Do-Nothing Day, follows a child (could be male or female, not really relevant to the story) as they go to a cabin with their writer mom. Their mom is interested in…writing. And, as any writer knows, children aren’t conducive to getting stuff done (as I write this, my two are downstairs playing a loud board game with their father). So the mom does what every mom wants to do: she sends the kid outside.

It is raining. The kid just wants to play on their Game Boy-like device. They do not want to have anything to do with this ‘nature’ business.

But then, the kid drops their game into a pond. Poof. Gone.

There is a brief moment of panic.

Fortunately, the kid manages to meet some friendly snails, dig in lovely dirt, find a mushroom patch and fall down a hill. The kid climbs a tree, drinks rain, watches bugs, talks to a bird…generally has a fabulous time in nature. The child is totally soaked to the skin when they arrive back at the cabin, but mom is waiting with a towel and hot chocolate.

There are three things that make this story really wonderful:

1. The simplicity of it all. It’s so relatable. Reading this story is like taking a walk in the fall. It’s chilly out, but not freezing. The air is fresh and clean. The water is cold. It’s so lovely to come inside after a walk like this one.

2. The art. I LOVE the art. Especially the fact that it looks like a neon orange crayon was used to create the kid’s jacket. There’s so much movement in each page, so much expression in the child’s face.

3. The way the story is written. It’s almost poetic in nature. It’s wonderful to read.

So here’s what the family said:

Vivi: Well, I loved it. I loved the part where she (Vivi thinks all characters are girls these days) goes outside and really experiences nature. I liked everything about the story. The art is great. A+!
Lily: I liked the part where she collected stones like glass. Those must have been beautiful. And the snails were cute!
Karl: I really enjoyed the book. The writing was good, not too much. The art was fantastic.
Jess: Yup, I liked it a lot as well. I really like the way that you could feel the cold of the outside during the story, and then the warmth of going inside at the end. A!

If you’re looking for a lovely book to read before bed (or, in our case, after dinner), this is the one for you!

Wordy Birdy

 

Title: Wordy Birdy
Author: Tammi Sauer
Illustrator: Dave Mottram
Published: Doubleday, 2018

 

Have you ever noticed how much kids can talk? I have two relatively shy kids in public. Most people wonder if my youngest says more than three words at a time.
I can assure you, she does.
At home.
At home, the floodgates are open and the chatter begins at early-o-clock and continues until bedtime. (Well, until asleep time. They still talk during bedtime, and sometimes even as they’re falling asleep.)

I can relate to today’s story, is what I’m saying. It’s all about Wordy Birdy, a bird who enjoys hearing the sound of her own voice, but not really stopping to listen to other people (or, in this case, critters).

Wordy Birdy shares her thoughts on literally everything, from her preferences (spaghetti, unicorns) to her dislikes (tall grass, turtlenecks), to things she wonders about (zebras, Big Foot). Her friends confirm that yes, she’s a terrible listener.

And that’s how she finds herself in trouble as she enters a rather forbidding looking forest.

Her friends are trying to tell her not to go in, but does Wordy Birdy listen? Nope!

And that’s how she finds herself being chased by an angry bear. Fortunately, her friends do not abandon her in her time of need and Wordy Birdy is saved.

In the end, Wordy Birdy learns that while talking is fine (and she still really does love the sound of her own voice), listening is pretty great as well.

Here’s what I liked about the book:
1. The art. It’s really cute and feels almost like a Disney movie in book form. The characters are expressive and animated and I kept feeling like Wordy Birdy’s house was something out of Winnie-the-Pooh.
2. The speech bubbles. The animals were constantly giving their thoughts/opinions and the text was very funny. I like Raccoon’s withering “What do you think?”
3. The story is relatable. It’s so relatable. If you have a child under the age of 10, it’s exceptionally relatable. Kids talk a lot.

The ending was kind of obvious, but I’m not sure how else the story could’ve gone. I mean, Wordy Birdy kind of had to learn that ‘listening is a pretty good idea’ after almost being a bear’s lunch. So even though it was predictable, it worked.

The girls liked Wordy Birdy. The enjoyed the myriad voices I did for all the different characters. This really is a ‘performance piece’ kind of book. Get into it, parents! Bust out with your best squirrel voice. Don’t hold back on your squeaky-but-charming rabbit voice! Maybe the raccoon is British? Probably! Go with that!

Ahem.

You get the idea.

Mama’s Review: 8/10
Vivi’s Review: A
Lily’s Review: “So did the bird learn to listen or what? Did she keep talking? I wonder if she kept talking or if she decided to listen to her friends…”

when’s my birthday?

 

Title: when’s my birthday?
Author: Julie Fogliano
Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 201

As I have mentioned a bazillion times before, I have two (delightful) daughters. One has a very-end-of November birthday and one has a mid-January birthday.

Vivi, my November baby, loves her birthday. It’s the perfect preamble to Christmas. Close enough to be a good lead-in holiday,  yet far enough away to not get eclipsed by the festivities.

Lily, on the other hand, is starting to see a downside to having her birthday take place less than a month after Christmas. First of all, the weather in January is consistently terrible. Second, everyone is pretty partied-out by that point in the year. Third, your birthday is over right at the beginning of the year, with no birthday in sight for twelve long months.

Which is why we’re having Lily Appreciation Day this coming Sunday. As you might imagine, Lily is extremely happy about this. Vivi had a little graduation-from-kindergarten day in June, so she had her mid-year celebration. Lily hasn’t really graduated from anything/accomplished anything major other than being generally awesome, so we decided to appreciate her for who she is.

Having this  Appreciation Day on the calendar does not stop her from discussing her eventual fourth birthday, however. Which is why, when I got when’s my birthday? from the library, Lily was on board for several (dozen) readings.

First, the art. The book is adorable. I love the format (it’s tall and kind of skinny) and the art is phenomenal. I love books that beg you to stare at the pages and really appreciate the texture/techniques/skills involved in making the picture. Christian Robinson has done a phenomenal job using paint and collage to create a fun and interesting book to look at. We unanimously loved the art.

The story is cute. It follows a little girl throughout the year as she anticipates her birthday finally arriving. She asks when her birthday will take place throughout the seasons. She discusses the types of gifts she might like. The kind of cake she would enjoy. The types of guests she might like (note: I would also like to invite a sloth to my birthday). Basically, Julie Fogliano knows kids. She knows what kids think of before their big day.  The book captures the excitement and the build up that occurs days, weeks and, yes, months ahead of a birthday. It’s a great way to discuss all the different aspects of a birthday, and to get your kid’s input on what they’d like at their party.

Even if that happens to be a mid-summer appreciation day because of a January birthday.

Mama’s review: 9/10
Lily’s review: “I would have a cat-themed party with cat cake and cat guests.”

Questionable Monday: Let’s Talk Tiggy…

Title: Tiggy goes to the Hospital
Author: Jane Carruth
Illustrator: Tony Hutchings
Publisher: Victoria House Publishing, 1982

Do you remember the Honey Bear “A Happy Ending” books? I had a bunch of them when I was a kid, and quite honestly, I liked them. I read them all the time when I was 5-ish, and I thought the art was cute and the stories were nice. (There’s that word again…beware of ‘nice’ stories!) And this is what I continued to think, up until I had kids of my own and dug Tiggy and her various furry friends out of storage. It was then that I realized:

1. Five-year-olds don’t know from good books.
2. The art wasn’t bad, but the printing quality was quite iffy.
3. The stories were…well, not great. And in some places, really bad.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Tiggy et al., let me take you through a typical Tiggy book. In this case, Tiggy goes to the Hospital (inspired by my weekend run to emergency, whereupon my appendix was yanked out and the day was saved):

The plot: Tiggy has a new doll’s buggy. She is pushing it down the garden path, she lets go of it, it rolls into the street. Tiggy dashes after it and is promptly hit by Mr. Weasel. (Not full-on, mind you. More of a clipping.) Mr. Weasel apparently feels terrible as Tiggy is taken by ambulance to the hospital. An x-ray later and we find out that Tiggy will live to push a buggy again. She is uncooperative and salty with the nursing staff and goes home the next day. Mr. Weasel buys her a new carriage, the end.

My issues:

1. I hated how they stressed how badly Mr. Weasel was feeling, like he was the victim. “Poor Mr. Weasel was very upset.” Um, I think Tiggy and her parents might’ve been a tad more upset. He wasn’t the ‘poor’ one in this case.
2. The ambulance man telling Tiggy not to cry. Dude, now is a perfect time to cry. When you get hit by any kind of vehicle, you’re allowed to cry buckets! That’s a law!
3. Tiggy’s mom telling her not to cry. Seriously, guys. Do you want Tiggy to be happy she was hit by a truck? SHE IS ALLOWED TO FEEL FEELINGS!
4. The nurse saying how they’d miss Tiggy as she was leaving the hospital. First, you don’t know her well enough to miss her. Tiggy was only there one night. Second, she was a nightmare and wouldn’t let you do your work. So unless you’re being sarcast- wait, you’re being sarcastic. Never mind. I get it now.
5. Tiggy’s dress literally changes from pink to yellow to pink in the matter of three pages. And there is no reason for that, except shoddy print quality. For serious.

My husband hates Tiggy. He hates Hoppity and Chippy and all their adorable forest friends.
I don’t hate them because I have fond childhood memories of reading these books. But, objectively, they’re not great. Really not great. Like, these books would NOT be published now. Karl calls Hoppity Gets LostGet Lost, Hoppity,‘ and we all have a good laugh. But, really, I will review that book at some point because it is the worst of the bunch.

My girls love Tiggy and Hoppity and Chippy and all their adorable forest friends.

Which brings me back to point 1, list 1: Five-year-olds don’t know from good books.

Have any questionable kid lit suggestions for me to review? Send ’em my way! I love bad books almost as much as good ones (and I have a collection to prove it!) Back tomorrow with more awesome (and recent) books!

I Wrote You A Note

 

Title: I Wrote You A Note
Author/Illustrator: Lizi Boyd
Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2017

 

Here’s a question: do you have a favourite picture book that your kids just don’t ‘get’? For me, it’s Flotsam by David Wiesner. Vivi appreciates it more now that she’s older, but Lily just isn’t interested. It’s a very complex looking pictures-only book, so without a story to read aloud, she’s not terribly into it. Sometimes it goes the other way, too. The kids are really enthusiastic about a book that I would happily consign to a box in our overcrowded storage room (I’m looking at you, Rainbow Brite Saves Christmas).

Today’s book falls under the ‘kids like it, grownups are meh-to-indifferent’ category.

I think I know why.

The story is very, very simple. It follows the life of a note a little girl wrote a note to a friend. The note makes its way to various animals who use it in different fashions. (The snail thinks it’s a house. The rabbit uses it as a basket to gather carrots. The squirrel makes it into a book, etc., etc.) The art is good. It’s a sort of  block-print style. The kiddos liked the look of it, I liked it, my husband thought it was also too simple (he had a point: each scene is very similar to the last. There’s really no major variation in camera POV, or size of characters).

But then again, he’s a tough customer sometimes.

Apart from the art, where the girls found the story ‘cute’ and ‘nice,’ I found it quite repetitive. It was just a series of events happening, and none of them very interesting, to be honest.

Now, that’s not to say that all picture books have to follow the standard three-act format. They definitely don’t. (I can think of about twenty off the top of my head that don’t follow any specific format at all, but they work so well because they’re written really, really well.) And books about notes can be fantastic (case in point:  XO, OX).

But this one wasn’t. I think the biggest issues were:

1. The writing was fairly boring. There was nothing about it that made it stand out as having a ‘style.’ (For instance, you’d read an Anna Dewdney book or a Mo Willems book and you’d know immediately that it was theirs. Their books have a distinctive voice.)

2. The plot was extremely predictable. None of the animals used the note in a radical way. There was no conflict about it. (Like, maybe the squirrel wanted his book bad. Maybe the spider wanted her bridge to stay put. Maybe the goat just wanted to eat the note, darn it.)

3. The ending/payoff was lacking. This is a big problem for me. When I read a picture book, I want the payoff to be worth it. One of the BEST examples of payoff (in my humble opinion) is Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. I burst out laughing the first time I read that story. The ending just works SO well. When an ending works, you feel it. You want to read the book again just to make sure it’s as awesome as you think it is. It either ties things up nicely, or it’s really funny or it’s sweet and touching. But there’s a payoff. This book was so…uninspiring. The note was just asking a friend to meet up. That’s kind of what I figured it said, since the kid kept saying, “I wrote you a note. Did you get it?”

But…all that said, my kids liked the story. They didn’t want to read it again, mind you. So I think they liked the simplicity of it, enjoyed being read to…but I don’t think it’s one they’ll ever go out of their way to ask for.

Mama’s Review: C
Vivi’s Review: “I liked the part where she wrote the note.”
Lily’s Review: “There’s a goat in there!”
Karl’s Review: “This isn’t a great book. It’s very meh.”

 

The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do

TItle: The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do
Author/Illustrator: Ashley Spires
Published: Kids Can Press, 2017

I’m a huge fan of The Most Magnificent Thing. We have a copy of it on our shelves, and my girls ask for it all the time. Vivi in particular relates strongly to the little girl trying to make the most perfect invention. (Vivi loves inventing things. This summer, she’s built a fabulous…something…that apparently has over 20 uses! Among them: distracting children, preventing children from jumping on beds, and cleaning the carpet.)

Anyway. We’re Ashley Spires fans, is what I’m saying.

(Fun fact: she’s Canadian! Woot!)

When I saw The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, I immediately added it to my hold list. We picked it up yesterday and I brought it out during snack time this afternoon (the girls eat, I read to them). I held it up and said, “Where have you seen this art before?” Vivi immediately said, “It’s the author/illustrator of The Most Magnificent Thing! Also, we read that book at school already. But it’s really good, so feel free to read it now.”

So I did.

The story follows the adventurous Lou and her band of equally adventurous friends. On this particular day, they decide to be pirates and climb a tree (their boat). The thing is, Lou isn’t really all that comfortable with tree climbing.

Check that, she’s actually super uncomfortable.

After coming up with a few (not-so-believable) excuses as to why she can’t possibly climb the tree, she decides to just give it a shot.

She huffs and puffs and…ends up about two feet off the ground. She promptly falls off the trunk.

Her friends make sure she’s OK. Lou decides that she just can’t climb the tree. Yet.

Instead, they all head over to the park and play there.

Lou isn’t a quitter, though, and she’s sure she’ll be back to try tree-climbing again soon (maybe tomorrow).

Let me just say two things:

  1. Lou, I feel you. I totally understand your reluctance to climb trees. As an extremely non-athletic, left-handed klutz, I am on your side. Trees are tall. And falling out of them hurts.
  2. That said, I respect your tenacity. You do you, girl. Keep at it.

I love this about Ashley Spires’ characters. They don’t just give up (even if they REALLY want to). In The Most Magnificent Thing, the girl just kept building and building until she ended up with something kind of close to what she wanted. In this book, Lou knows she’ll give tree-climbing another shot. And that’s the other thing: Ms. Spires’ characters are realistic. Kids don’t always build things perfectly. They ARE frustrated when the thing in their head doesn’t look like the thing in front of them. Kids ARE annoyed by their inability to climb the tree, when all their friends can.

And the stories end with hope, but again, with realism. Everything ISN’T perfect or solved. It’s a work-in-progress.

As for the art, it’s great. Lou and her friends are adorable, and my daughter seriously wanted a cat that looks like the one in the book.

We will definitely be getting a copy of this one for our shelves!

Mama’s review: A
Vivi’s review: “I like Ashley Spires’ work. What else has she done? Also, A+.”
Lily’s review: “I like that she (Lou) is a girl!”