The Great Santa Stakeout

 

Title: The Great Santa Stakeout
Author: Betsy Bird
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2019

 

Alright, alright…I know what you’re going to say. “You’re reviewing ANOTHER Dan Santat book? ANOTHER ONE? Girl, this blog is called ‘Jess Reviews a Book,’ not ‘Jess Just Reviews Dan Santat and Talks Incessantly About How Much Of A GIANT Fan She Is.’ Also, side note, never call it that because the URL would be insane.”

Welp FYI, I didn’t choose this book. This book chose me. Or, more accurately, this book was chosen FOR me FROM the library BY Lily.

It just happened to be illustrated by world’s greatest children’s book illustrator, Mr. Dan Santat. (Applause goes here.)

It’s written by Betsy Bird, author of another book we really like –  Giant Dance Party!

Put them both together, and you’ve got a winning recipe, right? Right?

That has to be right, doesn’t it?

Yes, of course it is.

The book is all about Freddy Melcher, Santa’s number one fan. (I thought that was my best friend’s mom, Barb. Barb’s tagline is “If you don’t believe in Santa, you don’t get any presents.”) He loves Santa in a way only a true fan can: by dressing up like him for birthdays and holidays unrelated to Christmas. And by collecting stuff – LOTS of stuff. Santa figures, Santa posters, Santa EVERYTHING. (This also describes my mother’s approach to Christmas.)

But he’s missing one key collectable: a selfie with Santa.

So, Freddy being a clever young lad, devises a surefire plan to catch Santa in the act and snap his photograph.

Everything seems to be going well. The traps have been set. Christmas Eve has arrived and Freddy has convinced his parents that everything is totally normal, nothing to see here. Freddy fall asleep. Until…a terrible crash from the roof awakens him! He jumps out of bed and sees…something fall off the roof!

Oh, no! Santa’s a goner!

Just kidding, He’s not, obviously. But I don’t want to give away the ending, so let’s just say “You can’t outwit the big elf.”

Let’s talk about what’s good about this book:

  1. Great art. Fabulous art. Wonderful art. Just…perfect. Did I mention that my wonderful husband bought me a picture from After the Fall and it hangs above my desk and I love it so? Because he did. And it does. And I do. And, if you’re wondering, it’s the picture where Humpty is shopping for cereal. It’s one of my favourite pictures in a kid’s book EVER.
  2. The story is fast-paced and the writing is crisp. One thing I find when reading Giant Dance Party is that it’s a bit on the wordy side. My kiddos love a long story, so they enjoy it a lot…but having worked with kids who haven’t got the attention span for something so long, I appreciate the brevity of The Santa Stakeout.
  3. The story is funny. Lily really enjoyed the whole thing, and thought the ending was clever.

Since we received 8000 cm (approximately) of snow yesterday, now feels like a good time to start in on Christmas celebrations.* If you’re living in a winter wonderland too, this is the perfect story to start the season.

Mama’s review: It’s Dan Santat, so obviously 5 million thumbs up.
Lily’s comment: “I really like the story! But…but…really, you’re Santa, right? And…you don’t climb on the roof, right? Because you’d fall off.” (What can I say, the girl knows her mama.)

*Karl has adamantly insisted that we are NOT to put up the Christmas tree until after Vivi’s birthday (right at the end of the month). So the girls and I have decided that probably just applies to the BIG green tree, but no to the smaller, more decorative trees. Or the hot pink one with neon pink lights. That one is going up this weekend.

Waiting

 

Title: Waiting
Author/Illustrator: Kevin Henkes
Published: HarperCollins, 2015

 

I fell like we spend a lot of our time waiting. I know that when I was a kid, it was always “wait until you’re such-and-such years old and you’ll be able to do that thing you want to do.” When I was a teenager, it was waiting to drive. Then waiting to finish school. Then, when I was an adult, waiting to have a career, to move out. Then waiting to meet someone. Then waiting to get married…have kids…fulfil your destiny and achieve your dreams and…yeah. A lot of waiting, really.

I guess the most important thing is to spend all that time with people you love, doing things you enjoy, living the best life you can while you wait. Because time is going to pass – it’s inevitable. But how we use it? Up to us.

Anyway, waiting!

That’s what the five friends (toys on a windowsill, to be specific) in Kevin Henkes’ Waiting are doing. They’re waiting for different things. The owl, for instance, is waiting for the moon. The pig is waiting for the rain (she has an umbrella, not to worry), the bear with the kite is waiting for the wind. The puppy with the sled is waiting for the snow…and the rabbit isn’t waiting for anything, really. He just enjoys gazing out the window.

As the book progresses, we see each of the friends get the thing they were waiting for – and they’re delighted.

We then follow the friends through their days. It’s a gentle journey through seasons and weather and exciting events. They even had a visitor who stayed a little while…and then sadly had to leave and never return (he seems to have shattered on the floor).

One day, a new friend comes to join them. She’s a cat who doesn’t seem to be waiting for anything at all…except…she’s a matryoshka doll! When all of the little cats inside of her burst out, the friend group is complete. The book ends with all ten friends  at the window, waiting happily together.

I love this book – I love the art in particular (so did the Caldecott Award selection committee – this one got an honour). The pictures are so simple, so sweet, so pastel-hued and relaxing. I wish I could draw 1/100th as well as Kevin Henkes, for real.

The story is more of a series of events than an actual ‘solving-a-problem’ kind of book. But it works – it all works so well together.

I wasn’t sure what Lily would think of the book. She’s a huge sucker for humour, and this one wasn’t really ‘funny,’ per say.

But…she loved it. I think the addition of the cat figure really helped to seal the deal (our Lily is a bit crazy for cats).

If you’re looking for a really calming, gentle bedtime book (and, honestly, who isn’t?), this is the story for you.

Mama’s Review: Kevin Henkes is just an honest-to-goodness genius, is all.

Lily’s Review: 5 matryoshka cats/5

 

Pig the Stinker

 

 

Title: Pig the Stinker
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Blabey
Published: Scholastic, 2019

 

Lily is a funny kid. She’s funny as in a little weird (like her mama), but she’s also got a great sense of humour for a four-year-old. One thing that totally appeals to her is gross-out humour…specifically, poop.

Yup. She’s that kid.

Vivi never was into that kind of thing/isn’t to this day. She finds gross things gross. (I completely agree. I think Lily takes after Karl.)

Lily’s love of grossness is why she’s a big fan of Pig the Pug.

We got Pig the Stinker from a Scholastic book order. I wasn’t familiar with Pig the character, but when I saw that it was written by Aaron Blabey, I knew we had to grab a copy of the book. We’re big Aaron Blabey fans in this house. (Thelma the Unicorn is our personal favourite, but Pig is a very close second.)

In this particular book, Pig the Pug’s personal hygiene is discussed in depth. He’s sorta, kinda, really disgusting. He doesn’t like taking baths/getting clean (much to the dismay of his long-suffering house-mate, Trevor the wiener dog). So Pig comes up with an ingenious plan: he avoids bath time by stopping up the bathtub with a small toy. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t exactly have the effect he was looking for and…well…the bathroom explodes.

Three things Lily loves especially about this book:

  1. Pig is a total jerk. He crows and laughs at everyone when he stops up the pipe. He’s incorrigible!
  2. The bathroom explodes. That is hilarious in every situation except real-life. Real life bathroom explosions are never, ever funny.
  3. Trevor’s facial expressions. OK, so maybe that’s me. I really love Trevor and can completely sympathize with him. I love the droopy-snout expression he has on the very last page. We’ve all felt like that, Trevor. You’re not alone, my Dachshund friend.

Lily has asked for this book every single night for the past two weeks. So…she really enjoys it. We’ve ordered several more and are waiting with bated breath for the next few to arrive via the beloved Scholastic book order.

If you’ve got a kid who enjoys a bit of off-colour humour, you’re in luck! Pig will fit the bill perfectly.

Mama’s review: 5 Trevors/5

Lily’s review: “Pig is so gross…but so funny!”

More Bears!

 

Title: More Bears!
Author: Kenn Nesbitt
Illustrator: Troy Cummings
Published: Sourcebooks – jabberwocky, 2010

 

Lily and I were at the library today. We were supposed to pick up three books I’d put on hold. Simple, quick in-and-out kinda visit.

Long story short, we left with seventeen books.

Fourteen more than we had intended. But whatever! The extras were all from the children’s section and they’re all pretty darn terrific (okay, some more than others…but we’ll get to them all in good time). Today’s review is of a book I chose based purely on two things:

  1. The cover art.
  2. The fact that it’s about bears.

Yes, I literally judged this book’s worthiness by its cover. But I was right! It’s a good one!

If you’ve done any kind of reading of children’s stories, you know that bears are *pretty* popular characters. They’re funny and goofy and lumbering and just kind of fun to draw.

In this specific story, the author is just trying to write a book that includes exactly zero bears. None. Nada. Zilch. No bears required, thankyouverymuch.

And that seems to be a solid plan, except…some kids keep yelling “MORE BEARS!” over and over and, well, eventually the author caves and adds just one bear (give the audience what they want, right?).

But…the kids STILL want “MORE BEARS!” so the author adds one more. And then another…and another…and…well, a lot of bears, really.

The thing is, the bears get grumpy because the book is over-crowded. And that makes the author rather displeased. And what do authors do when they’re upset? Rewrite, peeps. Rewrite all night.

So, away go the bears! Ah, everything is perfect.

Until, of course, the kids decide that maybe the story just needs more chickens.

I read this book aloud to the entire family, so I have reviews from all four of us! Here’s what we thought:

Vivi: I really like the art. It’s colourful and fun to look at. Also, the story is hilarious. All books are better with the addition of bears!

Lily: I like the part where the kids yell “MORE CHICKENS!” at the end. Maybe that will be the next book the author writes!

Daddy: It’s kind of a one-joke book, but it’s done really well.

Mama: I like the fact that the author is a character in the book. The rewrite part was accurate. Also, bears. So many bears. Have I mentioned that I have a soft spot for bear books? This book is also a lot of fun to read aloud. Bonus points for that!

Read this book – it’s un-bear-ably funny! (Sorry, I had to.)

 

Overall grade: 5/5 bears…plus a couple of chickens for good luck.

 

September was…insanely busy.

Hello, blog readers! I have been a bit absent lately…but I have three good reasons.

  1. The kids went back to school. You’d think that would mean MORE time to write, but not exactly. It’s a bit dicey at the beginning of the year, what with all the forms and books and stuff to keep track of.

Oh, and the constant, non-stop sickness. That too.

  1. Lily was just diagnosed with celiac disease. We were worried about her tummy earlier this summer, and I had a VERY strong suspicion as to what was going on, but a blood test confirmed it. Trying to completely revamp the way we eat/eliminate AP flour (my beloved baking flour) and learning a totally new diet has been…challenging. One of the hardest things is the fact that I have a ton of allergies myself, most of which are fatal (we’re talking nuts, seeds, seafood…honey…stuff like that). So finding substitutions for Lily that are also not deadly for me has been a bit of work.
  2. I’m working on a few new stories/writing some scripts (those ones are for actual money!) and trying to figure out how the heck I’m going to write a graphic novel, seeing as I can’t draw half-decently.

BUT!

All that said, I’m going to get back to reviewing amazing kidlit ASAP. I’m dedicating two days a week to kid lit blogging, so please stay tuned. I have an extensive list of books I’m going to borrow from the library and they look pretty darn awesome.

Soooo…I shall see you very soon, dear reader. 🙂

Guts

 

Title: Guts
Author/Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Published: Scholastic (Graphix), 2019

 

You guys, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before (like, 1000 times), but I’m a huge Raina fan. I have allll of her books and I think she’s a genius. Like, straight-up, no fooling.

In related news, I am going to see her speak later this month in Milton (a town about 30 minutes west of Toronto, for those not familiar with Southern Ontario geography). I am suuuper stoked about that. So I knew I had to read Guts before I saw Raina in person.

When the book arrived, I sat down and read it in one sitting. I’m sure the kids were asking me for things and the dinner was probably a *bit* overcooked that night, but…well…sometimes mama needs to read.

I read it straight through once. Then I had to take some time and think about it.

And I read it again the next day, and I’m reading it again now.

It’s a wonderful book. Just to get that out of the way. I really like it. It’s honest and sometimes hard to read, but it’s excellent.

It just hits really, really close to home for me. Why? Well, because it’s all about stomach problems and emetophobia. Two things I can strongly relate to!

In this (true) story from her childhood, Raina is coping with stomach issues. She is eventually diagnosed with IBS. She also has some pretty severe anxiety in the form of emetophobia (that’s fear of vomiting, for the uninitiated). She goes to therapy and it helps – although, in the end notes, she says that she’s had to learn to accept the IBS and anxiety as part of who she is. Those things never go away…but you can learn how to better cope with them.

I was never diagnosed with IBS. BUT I had stomach issues from the time I was 10 until I was about 27. (When I ended up taking a crazy-strong antibiotic for an unrelated issue…and after the antibiotic was done, I felt fine. I have no idea what to make of this, but it’s completely true). I was on pretty much EVERY single stomach med available from about 1993-2007. My doctor (who I now know was a complete crackpot) would sometimes switch my medications week-to-week. I suffered terribly with stomach pain. I was never hungry. I lost weight. I generally felt pretty crappy. Also, I was later diagnosed with severe endometriosis, so I wonder how much of that was related.

I was also an anxious kid….and my fear of vomiting persists to this day. (Although I have to say: having kids has made me deal with it in a way nothing else ever did. Kind of immersion therapy, I guess? I am better at handling it as it pertains to my kids. I will make Karl deal with vomit if he is around when it happens. But if it’s only me, I do what I have to do.) I am (and always have been) a huge germ-o-phobe. I don’t do sickness well. That’s never gonna change.

Since I related so strongly to this story,  it took me a while to process it. I could really feel for young Raina as she suffered with her stomach pain. I understood the fear in her eyes when she saw that kids at her school had the stomach flu. I understand the powerlessness that a person feels when they have a legitimate phobia about something. Especially when it’s something like emetophobia…it seems odd, and people don’t really ‘get’ it. Everyone hates to see vomit, right? Everyone thinks it’s gross. But the phobia part is different. It’s MORE than just ‘yuck.’ It’s panic. It’s fear. It’s AWFUL.

But Guts? Guts is fantastic. It handles IBS sensitively. It deals with anxiety and therapy in an honest way. The art is superb. Every kid should read it because even if they’re not experiencing what young Raina did, they probably know someone who is.

5/5 stars (obviously).

 

 

 

Pine & Boof

 

Title: Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf
Author/Illustrator: Ross Burach
Published: Scholastic, 2017

 

You guys, how is summer almost over? Like, what happened? To be TOTALLY honest, in some ways this summer has seemed quite long. (See: days when my children feel like whining and complaining and requesting snacks NON stop. How do kids that age eat so much? Also, if I hear the CATS soundtrack one more time, I might lose my dang mind. Lily is obsessed with it. I fall asleep hearing “I have a gumbie cat in mind…her name is Jenny Anydots…playing round and round in my head…but I digress.) In other ways, however, the summer has flown by.

And it has been fillllled with this book. Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf. Lily LOVES this story. What’s it about? I’m so glad you asked!

It’s about Boof, a bear (who happens to be afraid of bears…a fact which Lily finds endlessly amusing). Boof likes to find things and draw faces on them. In this case, a lucky red leaf. Unfortunately, it blows away. Enter Pine (the porcupine). Pine tries to help Boof find the leaf…but…it blows farther and farther away and then is totally, 100% gone.

But, surprisingly, Boof isn’t super-sad about that. Why? Because he’s had such a wonderful adventure with Pine, trying to get his leaf back. And he’s made a REAL friend. Someone who will adventure with him forever.

All together now: awww!

This book is one of my go-to stories for bedtime. Why? There are four reasons!

  1. It’s funny. I like funny, what can I say? Lily really likes the part where Pine is searching for the leaf and looks “under a Boof.” Hilarious!
  2. The art works perfectly with the text. I really dig Ross Burach’s cartoon-y style. The text is hilarious and the pictures are excellent. Lily’s favourite page is when Boof is supposed to be explaining something “calmly” according to the text, but the picture shows him sobbing hysterically. Brilliant.
  3. It’s a great length. I am always leery of overly-wordy books at bedtime (looking at you AGAIN, Berenstain Bears). This one hits the mark perfectly.
  4. It has a great denouement. The end is fun and happy, but the adventure is officially over for the night, so let’s hit the hay and dream of new adventures tomorrow. (Hint, hint, Lily.)I’m going to be honest: I hadn’t heard of Ross Burach until he appeared in our Scholastic book order last year. We got a bundle of his books and I’m so glad we did! They’re all fantastic (Truck Full of Ducks is a personal favourite), and Lily LOVES them. We were at the library today and she specifically looked for him on the shelves. If you haven’t read any of his stuff, you’re missing out! Pick up absolutely anything he’s written, and I guarantee your little one will enjoy it. And so will you!

Mama’s rating: 5 happy leaves/5

Lily’s rating: “This book is hilarious! I really like the part where they look under Boof. Ha!”