Archie Snufflekins Oliver Cupcake Tiberius Cat

 

Title: Arthur Snufflekins Oliver Cupcake Tiberius Cat
Author/Illustrator: Katie Harnett
Published: Flying Eye Books, 2016

As you might’ve noticed, we have a lot of books about cats. I blame one family member for that: Lily. My little three (almost four) year old LOVES cats. Anything with cats. Cat jammies. Cat jewelry. Cat dresses. Cat tights. Cat books. And, most of all, real, live cats.

So she REALLY likes this book.

And so do the rest of us. Arthur Snufflekins Oliver Cupcake Tiberius Cat is a simple but sweet story of a neighbourhood cat who visits each house on Blossom street…except one. Number eleven is inhabited by Mrs. Murray and, unlike the people on the rest of her busy street, her days are spent mostly in quiet solitude. Mrs. Murray knits and drinks tea and watches TV, but that’s about it.

Until her shipment of yarn is delivered to her front porch, with Cat sitting atop it.

After a few days of not seeing the cat, the neighbours become worried and begin to look for him. Since everyone on the street calls him something different, the neighbours don’t initially realize they’re all searching for the same feline. When it’s pointed out (by a little girl) that Archie, Snufflekins, Oliver, Cupcake, Tiberius and Cat are all exactly the same kitty, the neighbours figure out where he must be: at the one house no one goes to. Number eleven.

When the neighbours show up on Mrs. Murray’s doorstep, she explains that yes, Cat is living there. And he doesn’t really want to leave. He likes the peace and quiet. So, the neighbours realize that Cat must stay where he’s happiest…but they definitely want to visit him. And, in visiting Cat, Mrs. Murray suddenly has friends and a social life. What a great ending!

The art is really well done and its sweet style suits the story well.

If you’re looking for a lovely book about neighbours, remembering each other, friendship and, yes, cats, you cannot go wrong with this one.

Mama’s review: 9/10 cans of tuna

Vivi’s review: “I really just enjoyed the entire book. It’s lovely.”

Lily’s review: “I liked it so much because it’s about a cat.”

Sir Simon: Super Scarer

 

Title: Sir Simon: Super Scarer
Author/Illustrator: Cale Atkinson
Published: Tundra Books, 2018

 

Halloween is just over a month away and it finally feels like fall this weekend, so I figured it was high time I reviewed a spooky picture book. In this case, Cale Atkinson’s book, Sir Simon: Super Scarer.

I found the delightful Simon at a brand new Toronto-based bookstore in The Junction (Moonbeam Books). If you happen to be out that way, definitely stop in. The owner was super-friendly and very, very knowledgeable about kid lit. I totally geeked out about picture books and she completely understood my obsession with kid lit. It was so nice to find a like-minded person! ūüėÄ

Anyway, the book! I recognized Cale Atkinson’s name, but I couldn’t place where from…until I read his little bio at the back of the book and realized¬† I’d read Where Oliver Fits earlier this summer (I liked it, but not nearly as much as I like Simon.)

Yes, I really like Sir Simon Spookington.¬† The premise of the book is funny. In a nutshell, it’s all about a ghost who has been transferred to his first haunted house. He is kind of bummed because he has a lot of hobbies (writing a thrilling novel, learning French, cross stitch, painting) and his ‘ghost chores’ are going to get in the way of his leisure time (ghost chores include creaking stairs, hiding stuff, standing creepily at windows). He is hopeful because the occupant of the house appears to be a cookie-baking granny. Old people are tops on the haunting pyramid because they sleep a lot. (Kids are bottom – they have no pros, only cons.) So Simon is looking forward to an easy assignment. Unfortunately, he gets a grandma WITH a kid. A curious kid who really wants to pretend to be a ghost. Simon decides to let Chester (the kid) help him out with ALL the ghost chores. Simon gets to do his hobbies, Chester gets to be a ghost, everyone’s happy. Right? Wrong! Chester can’t do ghost chores to save his life. Simon feels kind of bad for making Chester do his work, he helps Chester do human chores the next day. After hanging out, they realize they have some stuff in common, and become best friends. Aw.

The best parts of the book:

1. When Chester has to make scary animal sounds and decides on “Mooooo!” The girls both laughed out loud.
2. The art. I really liked the cross-section of the house, and being able to see Chester and Simon bop from room to room.
3. The subtle suggestion that Chester was in foster care and ended up with his granny. The one line about Chester getting transferred a lot too was understated, yet very powerful (helped along by the art, depicting pictures of the many different people who have been in Chester’s life).
4. Simon’s awesome ‘thrilling novel’ excerpts. The kids didn’t find them as funny as I did, but whatever. They’re not struggling writers, right?
5. The character design of Simon, Chester and the granny. They’re all just adorable. I love the last page, depicting the granny sitting on her chair, looking slightly perturbed.

Overall, this is a wonderful book. I always worry a bit about reading the girls stories with monsters/ghosts in them (that kind of make the monster/ghost seem real), but this one is a winner. Simon is the sweetest little ghost and couldn’t scare a fly (although he once had to scare a bear). If you’re looking for a terrific read for the Halloween season, pick this one up. And get it at Moonbeam Books, Toronto readers! Support your local bookstore!

Mama’s Review: 10 ghosts/10
Vivi’s Review: “I like the part where they met each other for the first time. It’s a great story.”
Lily’s Review: “I love it when he moos through the vent! That was so funny!”

The Sleepy Little Alphabet

 

Title: The Sleepy Little Alphabet
Author: Judy Sierra
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Published: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009

There’s something to be said about a book that allows kiddos to drift right off to dream land as soon as it’s finished.

Specifically, “OMG, I love that kind of book. Let’s buy all the books that do this. Hooray for soporific books!”

There are a few stories I’ve discovered throughout the years that my kids love to hear before hitting the hay. They include:
1. Blueberry Girl
2. Goodnight, Gorilla
3. The Sleepy Little Alphabet

Tonight’s review is about #3: The Sleepy Little Alphabet. I really like this book. I picked it up on a whim from Chapters one day. I am glad I did.

This delightful story tells the tale of the lowercase alphabet members dilly-dallying while they’re supposed to be getting ready for bed (this sounds extremely familiar). The story is done in rhyme and the art is adorable.

My girls love the fact that each letter has its own personality. They like looking for their letters and finding out how they’re behaving (L doesn’t want to turn out the light…V is very, very snoozy.)

My personal favourite? Obviously, “q is quiet as a bunny.” She’s the best. She’s so…quiet.

As a bonus, this book has helped Lily get more familiar with her letters.

If you’re looking for an alphabet book that isn’t JUST an alphabet book, I highly recommend this one.

Mama’s review: 26/26 letters
Vivi’s review: That chubby C is adorable!
Lily’s review: A!

Du Iz Tak?

Title: Du Iz Tak?
Author/Illustrator: Carson Ellis
Published: Candlewick Press, 2016

Today’s book was a toughie to review at our house. We had two clear teams:
Lily & Mama: Team “That was fun!”
Vivi & Daddy: Team “That made no sense and I really didn’t care for it at all.”

So, if you haven’t heard of Carson Ellis’ groundbreaking book, Du Iz Tak? let me fill you in. It’s all about bugs who speak their own buggy language that, according to my husband, sounds vaguely German. The ‘language’ is entirely made up, but contextually makes perfect sense. For instance, a ‘gladdenboot’ is a flower and we know this because the word is introduced when the flower first blooms.

The story itself is pretty simple: the bugs encounter a tiny shoot, it grows into a plant, the bugs decide to build a fort in it. They borrow a ladder from my favourite pill-bug and yours, Icky. A spider moves in, but is promptly eaten by a passing bird. The plant blooms into a flower. The weather begins to change and Icky and his equally delightful wife (Ooky) leave. The other bugs follow suit. A beautiful moth hatches and flies in an enchanting dance. Spring comes again and a new shoot appears, with a new bug wondering, Du Iz Tak?

I liked this book. I liked the creativity of it, the language creation and use, and most of all, the art. I loved the art.

Lily  thought the book was hilarious and also pored over the pages, examining each picture.

Vivi found it frustrating to enjoy the nonsensical language without LITERALLY STOPPING ME AT EVERY WORD AND QUESTIONING ITS MEANING.

Ahem.

Karl thought the story was too simplistic. He also found the art repetitive, in that it was basically the same picture/camera angle/etc. with the addition and subtraction of artistic elements throughout the story. He also had trouble accepting the made up language. Basically, he found it hard to connect with the story on every level.

I tried to explain it as a ‘lifecycle story,’ but Karl stuck to his original assessment: not for him.

So, from team Lily and Mama, 4 Ookies out of 5.

From team Vivi and Karl, we have a rating of 2/10.

There’s no accounting for taste.

King Baby

Title: King Baby
Author/Illustrator: Kate Beaton
Published: Author A. Levine Books, 2016

 

I’ve been hitting the library pretty hard this summer, book-loving peeps. I currently have over 50 books out and they keep letting me borrow them. (Fun fact: the libraries in my area have a 150 book limit. Challenge ACCEPTED!)

One of the books we discovered in our latest bunch is the fabulous, hilarious, ridiculous King Baby by Kate Beaton. I actually analyzed one of her other books (The Princess and the Pony) for a class I was taking through Ryerson (I’m working on a publishing certificate in my spare time). I fell in love with her art/writing. I then started reading her web comic Hark! A Vagrant! (which is also now a book). I was a pretty big fan of Ms. Beaton’s before King Baby, but I am a huge fan now.

King Baby is on high rotation in our house. I think I’ve read it four or five times already. And it never loses its charm. Let’s figure out why:

  1. The baby is insanely ridiculous. From his egg-shaped body to his adorable demands (he just wants the thing, darn it!) and his outgoing personality, he’s a winner.
  2. It’s so accurate. As a parent, I completely, 100% felt like my daughters were “Queen babies” for the first year or so of their lives. (Ah, who am I kidding? They’re still the queens, really.) The fact that babies WANT stuff and NEED stuff and have literally no way other than crying to spread their message is maddening and very much like working for an insane royal.
  3. The art is phenomenal. It’s simple but so, so cute. It *sort of* reminded me of Scott Campbell’s Hug Machine, but more vibrant and less watercolor-y.
  4. It’s appealing to both kids and parents. This is something rare and wonderful to find in a picture book.
  5. You MUST read it like Plankton from SpongeBob. It doesn’t work nearly as well if you read it straight…get into it, people! Release your inner king! (But really, be inspired by Plankton. It is HILARIOUS if you read it like that. I promise!)

So we are 100% putting this on our “Books We’d Really Like for Christmas” list. I LOVE this book. A dear friend is having a baby boy in the new year and I’ll be picking up a copy of this book for her (she’s a bit of a kid lit fan herself).

Yay for Kate Beaton!

Mama’s Review: A+
Vivi’s Review: “I literally LOVE everything about that book.”
Lily’s Review: “That story is so funny. I love the baby so much!”
Daddy’s Review: “It’s pretty much perfect. The art works really well with the story.”

 

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.