Dear Girl,

 

Title: Dear Girl,
Author: Amy Krause Rosenthal and Paris Rosenthal
Illustrator: Holly Hatam
Published: Harper Collins 2017

If you know me in real life, there’s a good chance you know these three things about me:

  1. I have two little girls who are the lights of my life.
    2. I wasn’t guaranteed to have those two little girls. I worked super-hard to make them a reality and I love science for its part in my family. Yay science!
    3. I’m a gigantic mush.

I think that’s why Dear Girl, struck such a chord with me. The book is so obviously a love letter to a daughter.  It was written by the mother-daughter duo Amy Krause Rosenthal (who was an amazing writer and whose books I am still discovering) and Paris Rosenthal. The illustrations were done by the extremely talented Holly Hatam. Let’s just take a little walk through this wonderful book and see what makes it so special (and why you totally need a copy if you have a little girl in your life).

I would’ve loved a book like this when I was younger (there really weren’t any books like this back in the eighties). This book is so affirming. Reading it to my girls, I watched as they were delighted by each page. They loved the art (it is absolutely adorable and quirky and so much fun). Here are some of my favourite messages from the book:

1. It’s OK to be neat and tidy or muddy and messy.
2. You have something beautiful about you (physically). Look at it, own it, thank it.
3. It’s OK to cry.
4. You might need a friend. You might need to be alone. Either way, it’ll be OK.
5. Ask all the questions.
6. Keep your sense of wonder.
7. Dance. (I love this page. The sister has jumped up to dance during dinner. The dog has joined in. The brother has his mouth open with his fork kind of mid-bite. It’s hilarious!)
8. Find people like you and unlike you. (I reiterated this one with Vivi. Making friends at school hasn’t been easy for her.)
9. Have special inside-jokey stuff with your people. (Like, say, if your BFF is the Glinda and you’re the Elphaba.)
10. If your gut tells you no, say no. (Yes times a bazillion.)
11. If you’re bored then you’re boring. (Hells yes! Vivi now quotes this at Lily.)

Then the ending…it tells the girl listening to the story that she can always turn to the book for encouragement. Or…turn to me (the person reading the book). And that’s when mama excuses herself for a tissue or twenty.

Dear Girl, is the perfect addition to your library. If you have a daughter, a niece, a little sister, a cousin…a girl-child in your life that makes your days bright and interesting, get them this book. Write a message in it. Read it to them often. Let them know that they are just perfect the way they are. I try to get this one in rotation at least once a week. You can’t have too much of this kind of positivity.

Mama’s review: 10+
Vivi’s review: “I love the art. The girls are all so cute! A+!”
Lily’s review: “I like the rainbow page. And the little hearts at the end!”

 

XO, OX

Title: XO, OX
Author: Adam Rex
Illustrator: Scott Campbell
Published: Roaring Brook Press, 2017

 

When I’m looking for new picture books to check out, I often visit the ‘top ten’ sites, Goodreads and a whole lot of parent/librarian/kid lit fan blogs. I can’t remember where I first heard about XO, OX, but I owe the author of that post/list a giant thank you.

It’s such a wonderful book. (My alllll time fave has changed throughout the years but is currently After the Fall by Dan Santat. I will save that review for a very special day. And, can I just add that Dan Santat is amazing and totally on my ‘if I could have lunch with famous people’ list. Because he is a genius.)

Ahem.

Back to this book.  Author Adam Rex is someone I honestly hadn’t heard of until this very year. I’ve already reviewed two books of his (here and here) and I feel like I’ll end up reviewing a ton more. Because he is an extremely talented writer (and illustrator). Scott Campbell has also been featured on this blog (here) and his sweet illustrations make XO, OX absolutely perfect.

So…why is XO, OX so good? There are three reasons:

  1. The structure. The fact that Ox and Gazelle are corresponding via old-fashioned love/not-so-love letters is wonderful. The letters really give each character a strong and hilarious voice. Which means that…
  2. The characters are funny. Very funny. But they have depth. The way Ox bumbles along, pointing out the fact that near-perfect Gazelle may have a flaw or two (or several) is endearing. The way Gazelle brushes him off over and over, only to realize…
  3. She really loves him. Which is the ending and it is absolutely perfect. The sequence of pictures that depict Gazelle realizing the error of her ways and discovering the fact that she DOES love a clumsy Ox is incredibly emotional (yes, I tear up on the last page every time). The story ends with her addressing an honest, heartfelt letter to the Ox who has loved her through and through.

The letters are also a lot of fun to read aloud. I always do Ox’s voice as deep and kind of slow. He’s a sweet guy, but not a brain surgeon. Gazelle is French, sort of like Madame Gazelle from Peppa Pig. (But more stuck-up…imagine Miss Piggy and Madame Gazelle having a baby. Kind of like that.)

I read this book (again) to my ladies and they had this say:

Vivi: That book is so good. I love the ending.

Lily: I like the letters the Ox wrote. He was so nice.

Me: Was there anything you wanted to change? Anything you think could improve this story?

Vivi: Nope. A-plus.

Lily: Plus.

If you’re looking for a terrific picture book, XO, OX fits the bill nicely.

 

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?

 

Title: How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Mark Teague
Published: Blue Sky Press, 2003

 

I have three things to say about today’s selection:

  1. I’m a huge Mark Teague fan. Along with the terrific How Do Dinosaurs…? series, he also illustrated the Poppleton books, which happen to be some of my favourites for early readers. (Just as a quick aside, the Poppleton books were written by Cynthia Rylant…but Mark Teague created the image of that portly pork chop and he’s just so lovely…for a pig).
  2. I have read so many of the How Do Dinosaurs…? books and I still love them every time I read them to the kiddos.
  3. I know this is an oldie (15 years old, people!) but it’s a goodie.

As mentioned above, we have read several of the How Do Dinosaurs…? books. This one in particular was in high rotation this year and last.

Why?

Because of the kindergarten plague. It basically started in October of 2016 and continued nearly unabated until this past June. Yes. It was that bad (worse, at times). And when your little one is fighting her fifteenth cold of the season, the only thing to do is read a story about some fussy little dinosaurs also trying to recover.

Stuff I love about this book:

  1. It rhymes! I’m such a sucker for a well-written rhyming picture book. Jane Yolen does a fabulous job with all the dino books.
  2. The pictures are brilliant. They’re so expressive and colourful and funny. The little dinosaurs at the beginning of the book are extremely accurate, in terms of behaving the way actual children behave when they’re sick.
  3. The fact that each dino’s name is featured on its page. I’ve always loved me some ridiculously long, hard-to-pronounce names…and dinosaurs in general! Put them together and you’ve got a win-win.

The girls always enjoyed this one when they were sniffling and snorting and coughing. I enjoyed pointing out how well the dinosaur ended up taking his medicine and how good he was at the doctor’s office.

Hint, hint.

I am half looking forward to school starting in a couple of weeks (Vivi is heading into grade ONE! Lily still has another year at home with me…something she reminds me of on a near-daily basis).

The other not-looking-forward-to-it half is dreading the return of the plague. Seasoned parents tell me that it gets a little better year after year.

One can only hope. I’ll be keeping this book handy, just in case.

Mama’s review: A
Vivi’s review: A
Lily’s review: “Those poor dinosaurs were so sick!”

 

Barnacle is Bored

 

Title: Barnacle Is Bored
Author/Illustrator: Jonathan Fenske
Publisher: Scholastic, 2016

Guys, they opened a new library near my house! I am totally going to the grand opening next month and you better believe I’ve already taken out 20+ books on our inaugural visit.

The library is small, but the children’s section is good. The librarian in charge of picture books is doing a really good job featuring ones that kids will want to pick off of the clear stands. My kids pretty much cleared them off. New books! Wonderful!

One of the books I chose was Barnacle Is Bored. The cover art is what immediately attracted me to the book. Barnacle looks legit bored and kind of salty. I figured this book might be similar to I’m Bored! by Michael Ian Black (illustrated by the fabulous Debbie Ridpath Ohi). Stay tuned to find out if I was right or not!

When we got back from the library, this was the first book I chose for story time. I started reading and then realized something: this book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. My kids both gave it a pretty solid “meh” when I was done. I’ve re-read it a few times since then (because my girls are usually very generous with their praise) and I think I understand why: the story itself wasn’t interesting to them and the ending wasn’t a good enough payoff/one they haven’t seen already. Let me break it down:

1. The art is good. Really cute, really cartoon-ish. The characters are pretty darn adorable. And trust me, making a barnacle adorable is NOT easy. Those things are so creepy!

2. The language used is simple. Really simple. If you were reading this to a little one (say 3 and under), you’d be able to use it as an opportunity to explain the opposites the barnacle mentions: under, over, up, down, bored (the barnacle), not bored (the fish). You could use the alliteration to discuss the way words sound. It would be a really interesting discussion, I am sure.

3. The payoff (the excitable little fish being eaten by a large eel) has been done in Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau. I think that’s why my kids weren’t exactly shocked or surprised by the ending. (Vivi actually said “We’ve read a book like this one before.”) Now, to be fair, the stories themselves aren’t anything alike. But the ‘one fish gets eaten by a big ugly fish’ thing is the same.

4. I’m not sure what the moral is. Not that children’s books NEED morals, of course, but it felt like there should be some kind of take-away from this. Let’s unpack: Barnacle dislikes boring life. Barnacle observes little fish’s potentially exciting life and is jealous. Potentially exciting fish is eaten by big, ugly eel (and is then bored inside the eel). So I guess the story could mean “enjoy your life when it is peaceful, because the only thing that’s certain is change” or “don’t envy someone else’s life, because you don’t know their story/how things are going to go for them” or “be happy with what you have, even if you’re not really enjoying it.” (which is a terrible moral, by the way. But, really, it feels like it fits best. Note that the barnacle says he’s not bored at the end of the book, after witnessing the eel eating the little fish, he’s hiding at this point, terrified. So…maybe it’s better to be terrified than bored?)

I could be reading too much into this.

I looked this one up on Goodreads and found that, as is sometimes the case, my opinion isn’t that of most people. Most reviewers LOVED this book. Which is great! To each their own, of course. And, to be fair, although I don’t love it, I don’t dislike it. I am thoroughly neutral on this story. Will we be buying our own copy? Nope. Will I read it again to my kids? Also nope. They specifically said that the story was “just a little too boring for them.”

Take home message: read it with a younger kiddo. They’ll like it better.

Mama’s review: B

Giraffes Can’t Dance

Title: Giraffes Can’t Dance
Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees
Published: Cartwheel Books, 2012

 

Know how some books are REALLY popular and then you read the book yourself and you can kind of see where everyone is coming from, but…you don’t LOVE the book yourself?

That’s this book for me.

I ADORE so many board books. The Gruffalo is one of my all time faves…and Oh No, George! And anything by Sandra Boynton. And when we received Giraffes Can’t Dance, I was hopeful. The art is really fun and cute. That’s +5 points from me right off the bat. And the story is…well…it’s a story. I mean, I like the overall message of “you do you” and “dance to your own music even if you’re a really crappy dancer.” (I can relate, Gerald. Don’t you worry, I’m not judging you on your inability to dance. I am the last person on the planet who would do that.)

Ahem.

Anyway, I *like* the message. I just don’t love the delivery.

Specific examples? OK. Here we go.

  1. “Now every year in Africa…” Dude, that’s like saying “Every year in North America” or “Every year in Asia” – it’s a continent, not a country. Couldn’t you be a bit more specific about location? I just feel like this reinforces the ignorance of people saying “Africa” like it’s just one big country. Sorry, it’s a personal pet peeve.
  2. Why did Gerald only feel bad this specific year? Like, he was probably a bad dancer his entire life, not just this given year. I know, I know. I’m being picky.
  3. The animals say “giraffes can’t dance,” but there are no other giraffes AT the dance. How could they possibly know? (Potentially from previous years of watching Gerald crash and burn?)
  4. OK, I have an issue with this verse: “Gerald simply froze up,/He was rooted to the spot./They’re right, he thought. I’m useless./Oh, I feel like such a clot. It’s the thought/clot rhyme. Most kids have no idea what ‘clot’ means. Not that I’m against learning new words, but this feels sooooo dated. My mother used to use this phrase, and maybe it’s more popular in England (where I believe this was published first), but…my kids didn’t know what Gerald meant. There are so many good rhyming words in the ‘ot’ family…couldn’t the author have chosen another one?
  5. I hate it when authors double up a word unnecessarily to make a rhyme work. It feels SO forced. Like:
    “They shouted, “It’s a miracle!/We must be in a dream./Gerald’s the best dancer/that we’ve ever, ever seen!” It. Feels. Forced.

So…yeah, I don’t love this book. I’ve read it repeatedly to my kiddos. I’ve done the voices. We’ve talked about how the other animals were total bullies to Gerald and how people don’t get to do that to you. We’ve talked about being true to yourself.

But I don’t love the story.

But I do love the art.

So…

Mama’s review: B-

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color

Title: Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color
Author/Illustrator: Julia Denos
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

Today’s book was given to my girls a couple of years ago at Christmas by my friend Alok and his dear wife, Stephanie. Steph is a picture book aficionado like myself (also, fun fact: we share a birthday!) so I was super-excited when she said that she picked out a few books she liked for my girls.

(Spoiler alert: they were all excellent.)

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color is, in some ways, more like a poem than a story, set to amazingly expressive, colourful art.

The text is sparse on many pages (with a few denser sections here and there). The story tells the tale of Swatch, a girl who tames colours. She loves all colours and has learned to catch them in jars. In fact, she manages to catch them all…except Yellowest Yellow.

Swatch asks Yellowest Yellow if she might put him in a jar, but he politely declines. And, although Swatch could’ve ignored and caught him anyway, she respects his decision.

Swatch is rewarded with a wild yellow ride. She realizes that her colours aren’t meant to be kept in jars, so she frees them all and they create a masterpiece.

My girls love this book because:

1. They like to imagine themselves as a color tamer (Vivi, , my little artist, in particular).

2. They love the attributes given to the colours (Lily really loves the gray on the kitten).

3. The art is fantastic. It’s really the best part of the book. The pictures are so vibrant and joyful.

So, thank you for the great book, Steph! If you get a chance, definitely give this book a read. The little artists in your life will enjoy it.

Mama’s Review: A

Vivi’s Review: ROYGBIV!

Lily’s Review: “Orange is actually my favourite colour!”

 

Where is Green Sheep?

Title: Where is Green Sheep?
Author: Mem Fox
Illustrated by: Judy Horacek
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004

 

There are certain books that we read SO much when my kids were babies and toddlers that I have them memorized. Perfect Piggies by Sandra Boynton used to circle through my brain as I was trying to fall asleep. Vivi loved that book SO MUCH. Oh, man…it’s happening again (I can’t stop hearing the ‘snuffle-dee-dahs’).

Anyway, today we’re going to review a book that Lily really loved. Where is Green Sheep by Mem Fox. She still likes it now, even though she’s three and ‘not a baby’ anymore (*sob*).

Here, in a single sentence, is the premise: green sheep is lost and the reader has to find him.

Now, normally that wouldn’t be enough to carry a book. But this is a board book and it’s written by the fabulous Mem Fox, so it’s more than enough.

The reader is challenged to look on each page for the elusive green sheep. The art is absolutely adorable. The sheep are fluffy and fat and doing many different and wonderful things. The book is in rhyme and it moves along really well. It’s a great book to add to your library, and totally fun to read multiple times (trust me on that).

It’s a pleasure to read with a little one.

It was nice to revisit this story. Soon, Lily will be totally over board books and too cool for school and reading whatever the latest TwilightI-esque novel is. I’ll just be sadly sniffling in the corner, remembering when my babies were little enough for a board book and a cuddle.

Mama’s review: 10 nostalgic hearts/10

Lily’s review: “I still really like those sheep, mama. They’re so cute!”