Santa Bruce

 

Title: Santa Bruce
Author/Illustrator: Ryan T. Higgins
Published: Hyperion, 2018

 

Guys, how is it that Christmas is 13 days away? Less than TWO WEEKS! We’re finally TOTALLY ready. (I thought I was ready, then I remembered other people that I was going to see before the holiday…and we had to get a few gift cards for Vivi’s awesome teachers and…long story short, we were NOT done. But we are now!)

Anyway, we’ve been continuing our ‘let’s read about Christmas!’ tradition with this fantastic book: Santa Bruce! I told you I was going to hunt out all the other Bruce books, and I wasn’t kidding. I really like this one. Bruce’s surliness, his disdain for everyone and everything, the mice trying to persuade him to be Santa…it’s all good!

Here’s the story, in a nutshell:

Bruce normally skips Christmas by hibernating, but this year his family members (the mice and geese) want him to stay up. So he does. He is not exactly into the Christmas spirit, and he finds the weather nippy. So he wears long underwear and a hat (both red) and is immediately mistaken for the big man himself: Santa. With this case of mistaken identity comes a slew of forest animals and their holiday wishes. And then the forest animals’ parents, thanking Bruce for playing the role of St. Nick.

When everyone leaves his cave, Bruce decides to head to bed…but the mice step in and convince him to be Santa. He delivers gifts (wrapped boxes of crackers, actually) to all the forest critters. They all have an excellent Christmas and then celebrate with a big feast (that Bruce is forced to attend and generally doesn’t enjoy).

I know Bruce is surly. I know Christmas is all about being jolly. But dang it, I like the cut of his jib.

My kiddos know that Santa isn’t real. That is, that Santa is a concept and anyone can be Santa. Vivi kinda figured it out when she was two. I was wrapping gifts and planning a whole surprise for a friend who was having a tough year. Out of the blue, she turned to me and said, “Mama, you Santa?” and I decided, in that split second, to ruin childhood for my kid.

Kidding! I decided to explain that Santa is an idea and a spirit and anyone (anyone!) can be ‘him.’ And that yes, I was one of the many Santas she’d meet in her life. I know people who are die-hard pushers of “you must believe in Santa, dammit!” but it just didn’t feel right to me. I didn’t want to have to eventually admit to lying to my child, even if it was just about Santa. I also wanted her to understand that it was in her power to make other people’s lives better/happier/more comfortable. It wasn’t up to a random stranger to pop down a chimney one time a year and bring gifts – it was up to her to pick up the baton and get out there and help, darn it.

Ahem.

Anyway, it’s worked out rather well. Since she was two, we’ve really encouraged the giving part of Christmas. Give to the food bank. Give to homeless people. Give to kids who are sick in the hospital. Give of your time, your talent, your money – whatever it is, just give. And the happiness my girls have felt because of that…well, it’s pretty close to magic.

Mama’s review: 5 surly bears/5
Vivi’s review: “Bruce is so grumpy! I kind of love him.”
Lily’s review: “I can’t believe he gave them all crackers.”

Bear Stays Up For Christmas

 

Title: Bear Stays Up For Christmas
Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jane Chapman
Published: Scholastic, 2004

It’s official: I can start playing carols on the radio all day long! I can leave the Christmas tree lights on from dawn till dusk! I can force my family to join me in a carol sing. A pioneer carol sing, no less! Yes, it’s finally December and I am no longer considered crazy for my love of Christmas. Hooray!

To get the girls into the spirit of the season, I’ve been reading a bunch of really great picture books. Today’s is Bear Stays Up For Christmas and it’s adorable.

Bear has starred in other books as well, but this is definitely my favourite one. The basic premise is that Bear (sometimes called “the bear” and sometimes simply “Bear”) never stays up for Christmas. He’s always busy hibernating…until this year! His friends are bound and determined to keep him up and show him what Christmas is all about. So, despite his exhaustion, Bear sticks it out for his friends. They get a tree and decorate it. They have tasty foods. They sing carols. And then, after all his friends have dozed off, Bear makes some gifts of his own (and Santa shows up, unbeknownst to Bear).

The book is all in rhyme, which you know I love, and the art is simply fantastic.

The message is very sweet: it’s worth making sacrifices/staying up (when you should be hibernating) just to be with your friends. And Bear’s friends clearly adore him and just want to have him around for the big day. It’s all about love, friendship, and the real meaning of Christmas: being together with the people we love.

Mama’s review: 5/5 Christmas trees
Vivi’s review: “I really like the rabbit!”
Lily’s review:  “This book is great!”

Hotel Bruce

 

Title: Hotel Bruce
Author/Illustrator: Ryan T. Higgins
Published: Scholastic, 2016

 

There’s something you should know about me: I’m a sucker for bear stories. I love them to an absurd degree. I’m also a sucker for grumpy animal stories. So when I found Bruce Hotel, a story about a grumpy bear, I was immediately enamored. And THEN I did a bit of research and found out that there are several more Bruce books…

Which are presently wrapped up under our Christmas tree. (Yes, I know it’s still November…but it’s ALMOST December, which means it’s high time for several Christmas trees!)

The girls loved Bruce Hotel. And why not? It’s hilarious! A quick recap? Don’t mind if I do!

The story starts with Bruce reluctantly accompanying his ‘kids’ (four Canada geese) south for the winter. The problem is, when they return they find that three mice have taken over their house and are now running a hotel! Bruce is not the type of bear to stand for a rodent invasion, so he boots the mice…but there are other animals to contend with.

Many other animals.

Suffice it to say, hilarity ensues and Bruce ends up finally losing his cool (he IS a bear, after all). He gets rid of ALL of his unwanted guests…only to have his four geese convince him to take the mice back in.

So he does. Oh, Bruce. You do have a sweet heart after all!

We purchased this at the school book fair on Friday…and we have read it about ten times since then. One thing I immediately realized is that the mice in Bruce Hotel are the same mice from Be Quiet! (Another really funny book.)

Our reviews? Here goes:

Jess: 9/10 bears
Vivi: “This book is hilarious!”
Lily: “I like the mice!”

Thelma the Unicorn

 

Title: Thelma the Unicorn
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Blabey
Published: Scholastic, 2015

 

Many times, I buy books based on their reviews.

Occasionally, I hit up Chapters and take a look around the children’s section. Then something inevitably catches my eye and I *must* have it.

And then sometimes…just SOMETIMES…I end up buying a book for a silly reason. A frivolous reason. A reason that might include “it’s about a unicorn” and “the unicorn is pink” plus “the title is SPARKLY.”

I bought Thelma the Unicorn for the third reason. Obviously. Well, that and one other thing.

A few years ago, I wrote a book called Phoebe the Unicorn. I really loved it and so did an editor at a local publishing house. The issue we ran into was the art: she couldn’t figure out how to make it work. I was *kinda* heartbroken because it was as close as I’ve ever been to having a REAL publisher publish something I’ve written. So when I saw Thelma the Unicorn I felt I should support an author (and illustrator) who was able to get their unicorn to market. Makes sense, non?

Non?

Well, anyway, Thelma is a superstar.

But what’s the story actually about? Let me break it down in five easy-to-digest points:

  1. Thelma is BFFs with a donkey named Otis, but she’s getting kind of tired of her life – she wants to be more fabulous than a regular pony. She wants to be a unicorn (Otis, for the record, thinks she’s great as she is).
  2. Thelma finds a carrot and straps it on her head like a unicorn horn. She then gets sprayed by pink paint and glitter in a freak pink-paint-and-glitter-carrying-truck accident.
  3. Thelma becomes famous! Fabulous! She is the unicorn she always dreamed she’d be.
  4. Unfortunately, with great fame comes great stress. Her fans are kind of crazy and Thelma realizes that some of them are actually jerks. She isn’t happy being super-popular and really misses Otis. She decides to change from unicorn back to pony.
  5. Thelma returns home and is super-happy to see her BFF. Her life is pretty great after all.

I like many things about this book, including:

1. The art – it’s super-cute and I love, love, love the design of Thelma. The sparkly text on the front cover is fabulous.

2. The rhyming – I’m a sucker for a rhyming book, it’s true. This one is pretty solid. There’s only one page that makes me sort of cringe…it’s this part: “And some were not her fans at all. No some were really mean. And some did just the meanest things she’d really ever seen.” I have issues with the whole “really ever seen” thing. It feels forced and a bit awkward. It reminds me of Giraffes Can’t Dance – I have a similar issue with part of that book.

3. The moral of the story. I read this to Vivi and asked her “So what did you think?” And she said (and this is a direct quote): “I think the take-home message has to be to just be true to yourself. You can’t be happy if you’re being someone else. You have to be comfortable with who you are.” Boom! Any picture book that nails that message home to my five (almost six) year old is a total winner

If you’re looking for a book that appears to be all about being sparkly and pink but is really about something much, much deeper, pick up Thelma. You’re gonna love her.

Mama’s review: 4/5 sparkly horns
Vivi’s review: “Total A+”

Crankenstein

 

Title: Crankenstein
Author: Samantha Berger
Illustrator: Dan Santat
Published: Scholastic, 2013

 

If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you’ll know that I am a *huge* Dan Santat fan. Like, massive. My favourite picture book of all (After the Fall) is 100% Dan-Santat-created, and I truly love everything else he’s done. You better believe I’m a Fantat (Fantat copyright Jess, 2018).

Anyway, Vivi brought home her Scholastic book order in October and I found a book that Mr. Santat illustrated. One I hadn’t heard of (and therefore didn’t own). Crankenstein. I promptly ordered it and waited.

I thought maybe I’d review it for Halloween. But life happened. (Read: Vivi has had pneumonia and we’ve been house-bound and away from school for TWO WEEKS.) The first afternoon back, Vivi’s (amazing) teacher had a large box of books for us. Among them: Crankenstein. I’m not gonna lie, I read it in the car in the driveway.

It’s the tale of a cranky little boy who turns into a Crankenstein (that’s a wonderful portmanteau of ‘cranky’ and ‘Frankenstein,’ of course) whenever there’s an uncomfortable/difficult situation. You know, like all kids do. When waiting in line, when having to deal with a dearth of maple syrup, when having a toy break or a popsicle melt or having to take horrible medicine (relatable!).

The story is simple but cute. But, as per usual, Dan Santat’s art is what makes this book really special. My favourite page of all is the one where the two Crankensteins meet and are glaring at each other. It is SO accurate. It’s EXACTLY what kids look like.

This book is definitely for the younger-end of the picture book age group. Vivi is “meh” on it (her words), but Lily likes it and has asked for it a few times. It would be a good one to have for a preschool/JK class for Halloween…a good way to tie in the special occasion and talk about how we can all be a bit monstrous sometimes.

And, as a hilarious side note: if you own this book, please read the legal page. Dan Santat has written a description of how the art was produced for the story. My favourite line is: “Crankenstein is the embodiment of Dan Santat’s pure rage…and he did it all for you.” Thanks, Dan!

Mama’s review: 4 cranky kids/5
Vivi: Meh.
Lily: “I like it!”

Bunny Cakes

Title: Bunny Cakes
Author/Illustrator: Rosemary Wells
Published: Puffin Books, 1997

 

I used to tutor a little boy who loved, loved, loved Max and Ruby. Whenever we’d go to the library for our weekly book haul, we’d comb the shelves for any new Rosemary Wells books. And, failing that, we’d just renew the ones we were bringing back. We did this for about 3 years.

I read a LOT of Max and Ruby, is what I’m saying.

I also ended up sewing my little charge Max and Ruby dolls. But that’s another story.

I figured, when I had kids, that they might also like Max and Ruby. And they do. Kinda.

My 5 year old, Vivi, informed me that Bunny Cakes is now “too babyish” for her (she loved it when she was 2-3 and we read it almost daily, but now that she’s nearly 6, it’s just not her speed anymore). 3 year old Lily is still a fan, however, so I’m only posting her review at the end.

Basically, Bunny Cakes is about brother-and-sister rabbits Max and Ruby preparing a birthday dessert for their grandma. (AKA: the only grownup who ever appeared in any of their books/TV shows until recently when the writers realized that it’s SUPER WEIRD not to have adults in a TV show. Looking at you too, Ryder and Paw Patrol.)

So Grandma has taken another trip around the sun. Max wants to get some Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters to decorate her cake with. Ruby just needs to replenish all the ingredients Max constantly spills/wrecks. Max takes Ruby’s written requests for eggs/milk/flour to the grocery store and tries to add his own “Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters” addendum each time. Only on his last visit to get Ruby some cake decorations does he DRAW (as opposed to illegibly scribble) Red-Hot Marshmallow Squirters on the list and voila – he gets his candy!

Max and Ruby then present Grandma with two cakes and Gran can’t figure out which one to eat first (pro tip: eat the one without the caterpillar guts for frosting).

So I like this book. It’s funny, it’s cute, the art is always good when it comes from Rosemary Wells. And it’s about cake. If you know me, you know that’s a selling feature.

Mama’s Review: 4/5 buttercream roses
Lily’s Review: “I like it so much, you should read it again!”

 

The Thank You Book

Title: The Thank You Book
Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems
Published: Hyperion Books for Children, 2016

I don’t know about you, but I have a list of people I would totally LOVE to have lunch with. They include (but are not limited to) Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel, Tina Fey, Dan Santat and, of course, the fabulous Mo Willems. You might say I’m a *bit* of a Mo Willems fan. And by *bit*, I mean *I literally have every single Elephant & Piggie book he’s ever written (all 25), along with about 90% of the rest of his work.*

We read a LOT of Mo in my house, is what I’m saying.

I first discovered Elephant & Piggie at Chapters when Vivi was under a year old. I was looking for a series of books because, well, grandparents and aunts and uncles are generous and it’s easy to say “just pick up the latest blah-blah-blah book.” Which is what we did. (Which is why we have the complete collection.)

The last book Mr. Willems wrote for Elephant & Piggie is The Thank You Book. (Note that this is not including the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading books, which are books not written/illustrated by Mr. Willems that feature the beloved pig and elephant as sort of book reviewers/recommenders.)

It’s also probably number 2 or 3 in my “list of favourite E&P books.” (I have a lot of lists. I’m one of THOSE people.)

Why is The Thank You Book so good?

1. Because it’s funny. In fact, that’s usually part of the reason Mo Willems’ books are so good. At some level, there’s humour in almost all of them. (City Dog, Country Frog kind of bucks this trend, but you should totally buy that book because it’s amazing and will make you feel all the feelings.)

2. ALL of the characters from the past books are featured. It’s like one of those TV shows that has a ton of guest stars on one episode. You’re all like, “OMG, is that Shirley from season 2? WHOA! What’s Doug from season 1 doing here? Man, I love that actor.” (Full disclosure: I don’t watch much TV.)

3. I love the Ice Cream Penguin. And Whale. And Brian Bat. And, well, all of them really. I have specific voices I do for each one when I read them, which makes the entire process far more entertaining. (Pro-tip: Dr. Cat sounds like an actor from a Spanish soap opera. Brian Bat sounds like a high-pitched version of Snake. Piggie kind of sounds like a mellow Miss Piggy and Gerald just has a deep, slightly melancholy voice. But, you know, you do you.)

4. There’s also a genuine sweetness to the book. The last page is *perfect* when Piggie restates that she is, indeed, one lucky pig. I love the idea of thanking your friends for just being the people they are. I also love the fact that Piggie initially forgets Gerald (don’t we always forget to thank those we’re closest to?) and then realizes she also forgot to thank the reader!

5. Mo Willems’ art is gold, period. Elephant & Piggie are deceptively simple characters, but the emotion/motion/little details that Mr. Willems adds just prove what a talented illustrator he is.

If you’ve got a little one, pick up Elephant & Piggie. I promise they will get a LOT of mileage. I promise your kids will memorize them. I promise they will be the type of books that you can read over and over and not lose your dang mind.

And, in case I forgot to mention, thank you for being my reader!

Mama’s review: A+ for the whole darn series.