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!

Board Book Memories

We had a birthday party for Lily on the weekend. It was lovely and we had so many of our nearest and dearest over to celebrate. At one point, my dear friend’s husband said, “Your kids definitely have a literary advantage.” He’s so polite. What dear Joseph MEANT by that was, “Holy crap, you have way too many books.”
But again, he’s far too kind to say that.
But he’s right.
We do have a LOT of books. You know how some families are into sports, and they have all kinds of sporty paraphernalia around? Well, we’re like that, but with books. We have a bookshelf in every single room (except the bathrooms) and we are constantly borrowing books/using gift cards for books/books, books, books.
One thing we went a *little* crazy with when Vivi was born was board books. We have a LOT of them. They were taking up a ton of shelf space on Lily’s bookshelf and she’s really past them at this point…so we did the big clear off. We put them into a giant Rubbermaid and kissed them goodbye. Not to give away! Let’s not be unreasonable, peeps. They’re going to live in our basement storage room (among a billion other Rubbermaid containers) until my kiddos have kiddos of their own.
It was weird. It was weird putting away such a big part of their little libraries for the past six years. It was weird knowing I likely wouldn’t see those books again for X number of years (where X equals the amount of time it will take for my girls to have kids). And knowing that maybe they would never go to a grand baby. Overall, unsettling.
But it was nice taking a stroll down memory lane. And so, because I want to share my wonderful board-book love with you, here are my top 20 board books, in no particular order:

1. Perfect Piggies – Sandra Boynton (she’s on this list a lot)
2. Oh No, George! – Chris Haughton
3. Goodnight, Gorilla – Peggy Rathmann
4. But Not the Hippopotamus – Sandra Boynton
5. Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell
6. A Color of His Own – Leo Lionni (this is also a picture book, but the board book version is sweet)
7. The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson
8. Hippos Go Berserk – Sandra Boynton (told ya)
9. Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown
10. Doggies – Sandra Boynton
11. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – Bill Martin Jr.
12. Where is Green Sheep? – Mem Fox
13. Grumpy Bird – Jeremy Tankard
14. AlphaBlock – Christopher Franceschelli
15. That’s Not My…series – Fiona Watt
16. Pat the Bunny – Dorothy Kunhardt
17. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes – Mem Fox
18. Huggy Kissy – Leslie Patricelli
19. Hey! Wake Up!- Sandra Boynton
20. You Are My Cupcake – Joyce Wan

Shall I go on? No? Please stop? OK. I will. For now. But for real, pick up one or all of those books. You will not be sorry!

The Truth About Stacey? You can’t HANDLE The Truth About Stacey!

Title: The Truth About Stacey
Author: Ann M. Martin
Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
Published: Scholastic (Graphix), 2015

 

You guys might’ve heard that I’m a wee bit of a BSC fan (BSC, yeah you know me). Karl heard that too and ended up getting me the first four graphic novelizations of the original series. Initially, I was apprehensive. Would the graphic novels live up to my memories? Would having the girls right there in front of me, in living colour, take away from my the pictures of them that live(d) in my mind?

The answers are: yes to the first question and no to the second! The books are fantastic. I love them. Here’s why:

    1. Raina Telgemeier is a genius. I said to Karl the other day that she’s the Kate DiCamillo of graphic novels. After remembering who Kate DiCamillo was, he readily agreed. I just finished reading Ghosts (written and illustrated by the talented Raina) and I LOVED it. Anything this artist/writer touches turns to gold. I already have (and adore) Smile and Sisters. And Drama is on its way, thanks to a Chapters gift card! I’m a Raina fan, is what I’m saying. Her art style is just PERFECT for the BSC. I love all the character designs, but I especially enjoyed Claudia. I love the purple hair. It’s just something she totally would’ve done. The girls look the way you’d imagine them (although, TBH, Claudia’s room is far less messy than I envisioned, and her clothes are waaaay tamer than I figured they’d be).
    2. The BSC series has some terrific books (looking at you, Kristy’s Big Day) and some real duds (looking at you, Claudia and The Phantom Phone Calls – book two in the original series, but not at all used in the graphic novels. Why not? Well, because now everyone has call display. So…you know…if the phantom phone caller phoned, Claudia could just check the number, block it and…er…story over. Things were potentially scarier in the eighties, kids.) The first four books they made into graphic novels are really solid. That’s why Claudia and Mean Janine is in there, although it was book 7 in the original series. It’s a really good book with a lot of drama and an interesting, emotionally charged story. And although I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison (yet), I found the graphic novel versions lacked any of the draggy bits that the originals tend to have. And also? No long chapter two intro to the club members in EVERY SINGLE BOOK. OMG, we know MaryAnne is the shy one with the boyfriend! Kristy is mouthy and short! Stacey has diabetes and is from New York! Claudia can’t spell for beans and wears clothes she found on an abandoned scarecrow! Dawn loves the environment and would totes marry it if she could! Jessi is a ballet star and reads horse books! So does Mallory (who has braces and glasses and her life is SOOO hard)! Gotcha, loud and clear!
    3. Vivi adores the books. Anything that my six-year-old enjoys and reads on her own makes me happy. She is reading a couple of grade levels ahead, so finding books that appeal to her, are age-appropriate but not boring, and that she can read independently is a bit of a challenge. These fit the bill perfectly. She devoured Kristy’s Great Idea in literally two hours. I thought she might’ve skimmed it/skipped bits of it, but after a thorough grilling to make sure she understood what she had read, I had to admit: her comprehension was 100%. She read the whole thing. And she has re-read them. Vivi is also presently into Phoebe and her Unicorn, but those are a bit over her head, joke-wise. She gets about 70% of the book, but enough of it is above her that we end up answering a lot of questions.

 

Anyway, this post is supposed to be all about Stacey. So, the review: The Truth About Stacey is terrific. It’s enjoyable. It’s…well…let’s hear from Vivi:

“It’s one of my favourite BSC books. I just love the art and the story is really good. My favourite part is when Stacey and Laine meet up and eventually become friends again. It’s just so sweet. By the way, the truth about Stacey is that she has diabetes. Diabetes is when you can’t eat too much sugar or you’ll get sick. Stacey doesn’t always handle it well, but she learns to deal with it more by the end of the book.”

Vivi: A+
Mama: A+

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

 

Title: Sam and Dave Dig a Hole
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Published: Candlewick Press, 2014

 

We’ve talked here before about books that certain members of the family like and certain other family members…don’t feel as strongly about. Today’s book falls into that category: it’s OK, and I don’t DISLIKE it, but it’s not SUPER (although it IS super creepy…stay tuned for more).

Lily disagrees and really enjoys the story.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is written by the talented Mac Barnett and illustrated by the always awesome Jon Klassen. Lily immediately recognized the art style and said, “Hey! That’s the guy who did the I Want My Hat Back book!” She was enthused to read the book, especially when I reminded her that this dynamic duo penned/illustrated Triangle and Square, two books she adored this summer (as part of our ‘let’s borrow all the books from the library and see if they notice’ project).

So we read the story. It can be summarized thusly: 2 brothers (Sam and Dave) decide to dig a big hole in search of something spectacular.  Unbeknown to them, every time they dig in a new direction, they miss discovering a large jewel. They then fall asleep (due to exhaustion and lack of snacks) and their dog (who seems to be quite wise) digs a bit further. Sam and Dave fall through it and end up outside their grandfather’s house. They go in for a snack. A simple, kinda meh ending, right?

WRONG.

The house at the end (where they fall through and end up) is NOT the same as the house they started at. Want proof?

Prepare to have your mind BLOWN:


Oh, look! A nice apple tree. Grandpa must grow apples! How sweet.

 


Oh, look! A nice pear tree. Wait, Grandpa doesn’t grow pears! That’s not Mr. Whiskers! Where the hell are we, Sam?!

(Also: sorry my camera is potato-quality.)

So now I’m kinda freaked out. Where did you end up, Sam and Dave?! Will Grandpa have button eyes? Are you in the upside-down? WHERE ARE YOU?!

Ahem.

What works:

1. The illustrations are, of course, fantastic. The subtle glances the dog gives, both trying to point out the jewels and trying to point out that they ARE NOT IN THE SAME PLACE THEY STARTED are good…and creepy. Every page is lovely. Jon Klassen is a master. Although Dan Santat is my #1 art homie, Jon Klassen is top five.

2. The freaky ending. I did NOT see that coming. In fact, truth be told, I’ve owned this book for a while now and hadn’t noticed it until tonight. And now I’m so creeped out.

What isn’t my favourite:
1. The super-simple story. Lily thought it was hilarious that the boys kept missing the jewels – and this seemed to be a common kid-reaction on Goodreads (I like to see what the general populous thinks of a book before I weigh in). I found it kind of frustrating. What does that say about our personalities? Type-A, Type-B? Fun/no-fun (I’m the no-fun, naturally)? Without the super-freaky ending (which is subtle), the story just feels really basic. Kind of meh overall. When you realize that it’s actually Black Mirror-esque, it gets much stranger. I wonder how many people actually did as I did, and simply missed the subtle details because they were too busy reading the book to a kid, who like the simplicity of the story.

LIly wanted me to add that she also really liked the cat character. Because, well, it’s a cat.*

So the book is interesting. Simple, but interesting right at the end. Chilling, even. Downright freaky, if you will.

I’m sleeping with the lights on tonight.

Lily: Let’s read it again!
Mama: The apples are pears! The apples are pears!

*The cat at the end is not the cat at the beginning. The dog knew everything. Always trust the wise-looking dog.

 

 

Ode to the BSC

I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned it here, but I’m a die-hard, #1 Babysitters Club fan. Like, for real, forever.  (Team Claudia, in case you’re wondering.) I read all the books up to number 60-something when I was a kid/past the time I should’ve been reading them. (In all fairness, I was reading a lot of complicated, interesting, age-appropriate stuff too. But the BSC habit dies hard.) Then, as I’ve become a full-fledged mama, I’ve downloaded and read a whole bunch more later in the series because…uh…when my girls get old enough…I’ll be able to tell them about the characters and…something, something.

Nah, I’m still a fan.

(Side note: do you know what happened to Mallory? Her story line got a bit weird later on! She ended up participating in this ‘students-teach-students’ kind of program at Stoneybrook Middle School – what school does this?- and, in true Mallory fashion, messed it up. Her cruel-but-kinda-accurate name was Spaz-Girl! She got hella depressed about school and decided to apply at a boarding school. And she was accepted there on a scholarship. Which is good, because she has eighty-billion siblings and I can’t see Mr. & Mrs. Pike being OK with forking over a crap-ton of money for ol’ Mal’s education. Anyway, then she went off to boarding school, never to be heard from again, except on one of the seventy-four summer vacations the BSC enjoyed over their two-year friendship).

Anyway, here’s what I love about the BSC:

  1. The outfits. These are SO quintessentially eighties-early-nineties that it HURTS. Claudia dressed like it was Halloween every damn day, and no matter what kind of crazy nonsense she wore, it “would’ve looked insane on anyone else, but on Claudia the outfit just worked.” Did it, Ann M? Did it REALLY?
  2. The timelines. OK, so you went to California, Hawaii, New York, summer camp, a trip across the USA, multiple Sea City visits and a few more New York and California trips just for kicks in TWO years? Dude, when did you go to school? There are SO many summer/spring/winter vacations over the course of the series. I think they literally just gave up when it came to making any sense of what happened when.
  3. The wacky-near-impossible stories (especially the mysteries) intermixed with the super-boring, nothing really happens books.
  4. The misunderstandings that could’ve been SO EASILY RESOLVED by talking to an adult (I’m looking at you, Claudia and the Great Search. If you thought you were adopted, C-Kish, why didn’t you ask your parents?)
  5. The candy. The hiding of candy around Claudia’s room. Candy in general.
  6. The fact that almost everyone’s dad was named John. It’s kind of weird, but true! Other than Watson, I think most of the dads were John.
  7. The ghostwriters and their fairly obvious styles. They all TRIED to sound like the OG, Ann M. Martin, but their voices were quite distinct. No matter, I would’ve read the BSC written by Stephen King as long as it had a Claudia outfit description in it.

So I love the BSC. It’s in my blood, it’s in my past, it’s in my present, on my Kindle and, since Christmas, the graphic novels (illustrated by the ridiculously talented Raina Telgemeier) are on my shelf. Vivi has absconded with book 1 (Kristy’s Great Idea), but I’ve hidden The Truth About Stacey in my office for later reading.

I will read it and report back. All in the name of helping you, of course. Not because I love it dearly and am so happy to see Vivi as obsessed as I was.

Not at all. All for you.

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.”