All posts by pinkjellybean11

School’s First Day of School

Title: School’s First Day of School
Author: Adam Rex
Pictures: Christian Robinson
Published: Scholastic, 2016

 

Do you guys know how fast time flies when you’re a mom? Fast. Really, really fast.  Until now, I’d never really understood what MY mom meant when she said, “Just blink and she’ll be in school. Then she’ll be graduating grade 8. Then she’ll be graduating high school. Then university. Then getting her masters. Then her doctorate. Then having kids of her own. It’ll happen like THAT!” (She snaps her fingers at this point.)

OK, so maybe it’s not THAT fast (my mother is known for being *slightly* into hyperbole), but man. I didn’t figure Lily would be in kindergarten SO SOON.

Like, September soon. Three months, people. THREE.

We’ve been REALLY talking up the whole school thing. Lily is exceptionally shy with people she doesn’t know (and exceptionally loud and outgoing at home), so we’re trying to get her stoked about starting something new/making friends/learning all kinds of cool things. It helps that the principal at her school is really amazing and understanding and has already dealt with the challenges of Vivi.

One thing I’ve been doing (subtly) is reading more school-related books. Lily really, really likes School’s First Day of School. As do I! It’s just perfect for anyone who happens to feel slightly apprehensive about the start of a new school year. It’s written by the fabulous Adam Rex (we own so many of his books now…my favourite is still Nothing Rhymes with Orange, but the girls are giant The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors fans too) and illustrated by the uber-talented Christian Robinson. (I love Last Stop on Market Street and When’s My Birthday?)

Here’s why the book works so well:

  1. The art. Picture books need good art. There, I said it. Christian Robinson is such an amazingly talented illustrator. I wish I had, like, 1/100th of his skill. The pictures are bright and colourful and engaging. The textures and colours he uses are so playful and just suit the story perfectly. I’m a fan!
  2. The story is simple but clever. I really like “At three o’clock, the parents came to pick up the children. At three-thirty, Janitor came to pick up the school.” The story is well-written and fun. (I also like the multiple Aidens and a Caiden in the kindergarten room. #accurate)
  3. The school is so earnest and wants so much to be liked (just like every single kid on their first day).

So, in conclusion, you need this book ASAP. Especially if you have a little one starting school in the fall. Which I do.

I still can’t believe it.

Mama’s Review: 5/5 smiling schools

Lily’s Review: I love this book!

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid (Rowley Jefferson’s Journal)

Title: Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid (Rowley Jefferson’s Journal)
Author/Illustrator: Jeff Kinney
Published: Amulet Books, 2019

 

Guys, guys, guys. I’ve been putting off writing this review for two weeks. Every time I start, I stop.

This is a really tough one for me.

See, I love Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Or, I loved it. Love? Loved? I don’t know. Because Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid has changed my view of the ENTIRE series.

Let me back this review up. Pump the brakes. Give you some backstory.

Backstory

I fell in love with Diary of a Wimpy Kid when Greg Heffley existed only online. I worked for a children’s website at that point, and we kept an eye on our competitors. I found DOAWK one day and read it all in one sitting. I thought Greg was an awkward, snarky, geeky character who occasionally did kind things. He was never, ever what I’d call a bully.

I own every single DOAWK book (truth: my husband buys me the latest one for Christmas every year). And, yeah, they’re not ALL totally amazing, but they’re fun to read and book 3 (The Last Straw) has one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in an MG book. (Spoiler alert: it’s all about how Shel Silverstein looks more like a pirate than a children’s author. It’s hilariously funny. I laughed out loud when I first read the book.)

Which brings us to now.

Safe to say, I was excited to discover Rowley’s diary in the Scholastic book order.

Excited, but a bit nervous.

See, Rowley has had his moments in the series, but mostly he’s sort of the Rod/Todd Flanders to Greg’s geeky Bart. Rowley hasn’t ever shown a great deal of personality (beyond being a major goody-goody) – and definitely not enough to make up an entire book.

So, in my mind, Jeff Kinney had two choices:

  1. To give Rowley a personality.
  2. To run with the fact that Rowley doesn’t have much of a personality, but to put him into situations that are funny/interesting, and test his goody-goody nature.

Apparently there was a third choice:

3. Create a book that ignores 13 prior books and ventures into totally new territory.

The book starts with Rowley introducing Greg almost immediately. He tells the reader that although Greg is his friend, his parents don’t like Greg (I feel you, Jeffersons). It’s very clear why. On page 7, Greg ‘whaps’ Rowley upside the head with his own diary.

Wait, what?

This is just the start of Greg’s immense jackassery. Here, in no particular order of jerkiness, are some of the things Greg did in this book:

  1. Egged Mr. Jefferson’s car.
  2. Made Rowley write his (Greg’s) biography, instead of a book about himself (Rowley).
  3. Stole Rowley’s bike.
  4. Made Rowley the butt of his jokes.
  5. Ditched Rowley in the woods at night and went home to watch TV.
  6. Tricked Rowley into thinking a burglar had broken into his house, then got mad when Rowley freaked out and fought back (with a tennis racket).
  7. Chased Rowley with a slug.
  8. Created fake awards for Rowley to make him his own personal servant.
  9. Was a complete and total monster at the library when they were meant to be studying.
  10. Cheated from Rowley on a math test.
  11. Wrecked the ONE nice thing he did for Rowley by telling him that he (Rowley) owed him (Greg) a ton more favours.
  12. Lied to Rowley about random things.
  13. Locked Rowley outside at night.
  14. Laughed at Rowley’s creative ideas.
  15. Nicknamed Rowley “Stoop.”
  16. Licked Rowley’s food.
  17. Wouldn’t let Rowley use the bathroom at a sleepover.
  18. Whapped Rowley with a book again.

    All of these things paint Greg in a REALLY negative light. Like, who on earth would want to read 13 books about this kind of bully? I don’t know why, as an author, you’d throw out 13 books of canon and just…start over? Make up completely new characters? I mean, Greg has never been a saint…but…he’s never been like THAT either. Why, Jeff Kinney? Why? Where’s the funny, dry humour combined with absurd situations we’ve grown to know and love? (The one decent part of this book was the series of “Zoo-Wee Mama” strips. They felt like OG DOAWK).

    One more thing…
    I know a kid who’s been bullied this year…a LOT. I know what it’s done to him and his family. Some people will argue that the events in DOAAFK are just kids being goofy. But here’s the thing: it’s a completely unbalanced relationship. Rowley rarely, if ever, gets Greg back. It’s all one-sided and Rowley’s the victim. And formerly geeky, snarky, not-awful Greg is now a complete bully and total ass. I am SO behind the Jeffersons – they’re right: Rowley needs new friends.

    So, what next?
    Welp, if it was me writing this, I’d pretend DOAAFK never existed and go back to writing about Greg being the kid he’s always been. And, truthfully, I’d wrap up the series. Better to leave on a high note than, well, something like this.

Mama’s Review: Man. I’m so disappointed. I don’t even have a clever rating system for it.

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.

 

 

 

Welcome to…Strange Street?

 

Title: Strange St.
Author/Illustrator: Ann Powell
Published: Kids Can Press, 1975

Know what I love? A good picture book. I love a picture book that you start to read and then you THINK you know the ending, but you really have no idea. I love a picture book with a strong story and a clever hook. I really do enjoy MOST picture books that publishers are publishing these days.

But there was a time, back in the dark ages called the ‘seventies’ that picture books weren’t as…er…let’s say ‘vetted by the publisher’ as they are now. (Read: a lot of questionable/crappy stuff was published.)

One thing I’ve mentioned in passing is that I have two collections of kid lit: my big, huge collection of awesomeness and my smaller (but perhaps more entertaining in some ways) collection of crappiness. Today, we shall delve into collection 2!
This book is called Strange St. and the premise is very simple: Sam lives on a weird street. No, really. Everyone on the street isn’t ‘normal’ in some way.

This premise bugs me for three reasons:

1. IRL, no one is normal. Nothing is normal. Every street is a bit strange. Seriously.

2. I HATE stories that force the whole “OMG, you’re so WEEEEIRD” thing. It’s painful to read about and it makes no sense to me. Who cares if you’re weird? Embrace that, yo! It’s what makes you special.

3. The ‘OMG, so WEEEIRD’ thing feels like it’s being used in place of, you know, telling a story. This is a series of sentences put together in book form. It’s not a cohesive whole. No one learns anything except that “Strange St. isn’t so strange after all!” Blargh. No.

So. Let’s list the ‘strange’ things in this book, according to the author:

1. Sam’s mom is a lady wrestler. His dad is a part-time chef, part-time dad. I guess that’s a bit risqué, seeing as this WAS published in 1975. In the illustration, they’re depicted as reading books about Greek wrestling and Welsh cooking. OMG, mind-blowing.

2. Aged Mr. Grumby has 9 cats. Aside from that being a health code violation, I guess it’s OK? Also, his million-year-old girlfriend resides with him. And…they’re not married, I suppose? Scandalous?

3. Camille and Joseph run the corner store and they have a baby girl named Charlotte. Literally nothing here is weird at all. These people are just living their best life, Sam.

4. This kid, Stephen, lives across from Sam’s house. He thinks there are tigers under his bed. Whatever helps you sleep at night, bud.

5. Mrs. Lawrence is 65 (but looks 95 in the picture) and likes to ski. Elizabeth is teaching Sam how to knit. Are Mrs. Lawrence and Elizabeth somehow related? Unclear. And, once more, nothing about them is weird.

6. Mark and Sarah grow basement mushrooms. OK, so they’re drug dealers. Janet has a ‘jungle’ growing in her house, so probably weed. Sam, it’s the seventies. Get with the times, kiddo.

7. Sam has a girl BFF called Patti. She likes hockey and cars but lives on Bright street which is a place that is 100% not for girls having those interests, so Patti chills on Sam’s street. Patti is a total sport-o and I have absolutely no interest in her storyline. You do you, Patti.

8. Sam is a BOY and plays with dolls. Was this even news in 1975?

9. Sam heads over to see Patti on Bright Street. It’s a total misnomer, because NO ONE IS NICE THERE. There’s even a creepy old neighbour who peers out behind his curtains. But who is he? Patti doesn’t know. She doesn’t know ANYONE on her street.

10. Sam goes into Patti’s house and then her mom is all “Oh, I’ve heard a lot about you, Sam.” Which…what? They’re BFFs. Patti has played numerous times at Sam’s house. Wouldn’t you know him by now? I mean, I get that the seventies involved moms basically saying “Get outta my house and come back by dinner and don’t get hurt or anything. Mama’s having her 10 AM cocktail.” But still.

11. Sam is all “I can help make lunch” and Patti’s mom is all “OMG, NO! Boys don’t cook!” They also don’t do dishes. Or play with dolls. Or cry. This book is killing me, you guys.

12. Sam was all judgmental about lunch. It was Kraft Dinner, Coke and a chocolate pudding cup. He didn’t like it. Look, where I’m from that’s called ‘gourmet.’ Stop being such a stuck up jerk, Sam. Manners, man.

13. Anyhoots, after Sam falls off Patti’s bike and is told not to cry, (by Patti’s mom, the original helicopter parent) he busts a move back to Strange St. He heads over to see his pals, Mark and Sarah, the drug dealers. They’re all “Sam, is your knee OK? Boys totally CAN cry if they’re hurt!” (Also, side note: Sarah and Mark literally look like twins in this story. I cannot decipher which is which.)

14. Then Sam sees Stephen, who is disembowelling his dolls to feed to his fake tiger. And Sam’s all “Boys don’t play with dolls!” and Stephen is all “Yeah they do! When it’s feeding time!” And Stephen is gonna be that kid you sort of avoid in high school.

15. Sam pops into Mrs. Lawrence’s on the way home. She’s making cookies and enlists Sam’s help, after reassuring him that boys CAN cook. (DUH…his dad is a part-time chef. Doesn’t he know this already?!)

16. Sam abruptly heads home (where is dad is vacuuming and his mother is presumably at work, pile driving an opponent) and tells his father that “Strange Street isn’t strange at all!”

Jesus.

I have literally been muttering “It was the seventies, Jess. A product of its time.” under my breath for the past ten minutes.

So…there’s a taste of my ‘not-so-awesome’ kid lit collection. What did you think, dear readers? More, more, more?!
Oh, I have more.
So much more.
Until next time!