when’s my birthday?

 

Title: when’s my birthday?
Author: Julie Fogliano
Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 201

As I have mentioned a bazillion times before, I have two (delightful) daughters. One has a very-end-of November birthday and one has a mid-January birthday.

Vivi, my November baby, loves her birthday. It’s the perfect preamble to Christmas. Close enough to be a good lead-in holiday,  yet far enough away to not get eclipsed by the festivities.

Lily, on the other hand, is starting to see a downside to having her birthday take place less than a month after Christmas. First of all, the weather in January is consistently terrible. Second, everyone is pretty partied-out by that point in the year. Third, your birthday is over right at the beginning of the year, with no birthday in sight for twelve long months.

Which is why we’re having Lily Appreciation Day this coming Sunday. As you might imagine, Lily is extremely happy about this. Vivi had a little graduation-from-kindergarten day in June, so she had her mid-year celebration. Lily hasn’t really graduated from anything/accomplished anything major other than being generally awesome, so we decided to appreciate her for who she is.

Having this  Appreciation Day on the calendar does not stop her from discussing her eventual fourth birthday, however. Which is why, when I got when’s my birthday? from the library, Lily was on board for several (dozen) readings.

First, the art. The book is adorable. I love the format (it’s tall and kind of skinny) and the art is phenomenal. I love books that beg you to stare at the pages and really appreciate the texture/techniques/skills involved in making the picture. Christian Robinson has done a phenomenal job using paint and collage to create a fun and interesting book to look at. We unanimously loved the art.

The story is cute. It follows a little girl throughout the year as she anticipates her birthday finally arriving. She asks when her birthday will take place throughout the seasons. She discusses the types of gifts she might like. The kind of cake she would enjoy. The types of guests she might like (note: I would also like to invite a sloth to my birthday). Basically, Julie Fogliano knows kids. She knows what kids think of before their big day.  The book captures the excitement and the build up that occurs days, weeks and, yes, months ahead of a birthday. It’s a great way to discuss all the different aspects of a birthday, and to get your kid’s input on what they’d like at their party.

Even if that happens to be a mid-summer appreciation day because of a January birthday.

Mama’s review: 9/10
Lily’s review: “I would have a cat-themed party with cat cake and cat guests.”

Questionable Monday: Let’s Talk Tiggy…

Title: Tiggy goes to the Hospital
Author: Jane Carruth
Illustrator: Tony Hutchings
Publisher: Victoria House Publishing, 1982

Do you remember the Honey Bear “A Happy Ending” books? I had a bunch of them when I was a kid, and quite honestly, I liked them. I read them all the time when I was 5-ish, and I thought the art was cute and the stories were nice. (There’s that word again…beware of ‘nice’ stories!) And this is what I continued to think, up until I had kids of my own and dug Tiggy and her various furry friends out of storage. It was then that I realized:

1. Five-year-olds don’t know from good books.
2. The art wasn’t bad, but the printing quality was quite iffy.
3. The stories were…well, not great. And in some places, really bad.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Tiggy et al., let me take you through a typical Tiggy book. In this case, Tiggy goes to the Hospital (inspired by my weekend run to emergency, whereupon my appendix was yanked out and the day was saved):

The plot: Tiggy has a new doll’s buggy. She is pushing it down the garden path, she lets go of it, it rolls into the street. Tiggy dashes after it and is promptly hit by Mr. Weasel. (Not full-on, mind you. More of a clipping.) Mr. Weasel apparently feels terrible as Tiggy is taken by ambulance to the hospital. An x-ray later and we find out that Tiggy will live to push a buggy again. She is uncooperative and salty with the nursing staff and goes home the next day. Mr. Weasel buys her a new carriage, the end.

My issues:

1. I hated how they stressed how badly Mr. Weasel was feeling, like he was the victim. “Poor Mr. Weasel was very upset.” Um, I think Tiggy and her parents might’ve been a tad more upset. He wasn’t the ‘poor’ one in this case.
2. The ambulance man telling Tiggy not to cry. Dude, now is a perfect time to cry. When you get hit by any kind of vehicle, you’re allowed to cry buckets! That’s a law!
3. Tiggy’s mom telling her not to cry. Seriously, guys. Do you want Tiggy to be happy she was hit by a truck? SHE IS ALLOWED TO FEEL FEELINGS!
4. The nurse saying how they’d miss Tiggy as she was leaving the hospital. First, you don’t know her well enough to miss her. Tiggy was only there one night. Second, she was a nightmare and wouldn’t let you do your work. So unless you’re being sarcast- wait, you’re being sarcastic. Never mind. I get it now.
5. Tiggy’s dress literally changes from pink to yellow to pink in the matter of three pages. And there is no reason for that, except shoddy print quality. For serious.

My husband hates Tiggy. He hates Hoppity and Chippy and all their adorable forest friends.
I don’t hate them because I have fond childhood memories of reading these books. But, objectively, they’re not great. Really not great. Like, these books would NOT be published now. Karl calls Hoppity Gets LostGet Lost, Hoppity,‘ and we all have a good laugh. But, really, I will review that book at some point because it is the worst of the bunch.

My girls love Tiggy and Hoppity and Chippy and all their adorable forest friends.

Which brings me back to point 1, list 1: Five-year-olds don’t know from good books.

Have any questionable kid lit suggestions for me to review? Send ’em my way! I love bad books almost as much as good ones (and I have a collection to prove it!) Back tomorrow with more awesome (and recent) books!

I Wrote You A Note

 

Title: I Wrote You A Note
Author/Illustrator: Lizi Boyd
Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2017

 

Here’s a question: do you have a favourite picture book that your kids just don’t ‘get’? For me, it’s Flotsam by David Wiesner. Vivi appreciates it more now that she’s older, but Lily just isn’t interested. It’s a very complex looking pictures-only book, so without a story to read aloud, she’s not terribly into it. Sometimes it goes the other way, too. The kids are really enthusiastic about a book that I would happily consign to a box in our overcrowded storage room (I’m looking at you, Rainbow Brite Saves Christmas).

Today’s book falls under the ‘kids like it, grownups are meh-to-indifferent’ category.

I think I know why.

The story is very, very simple. It follows the life of a note a little girl wrote a note to a friend. The note makes its way to various animals who use it in different fashions. (The snail thinks it’s a house. The rabbit uses it as a basket to gather carrots. The squirrel makes it into a book, etc., etc.) The art is good. It’s a sort of  block-print style. The kiddos liked the look of it, I liked it, my husband thought it was also too simple (he had a point: each scene is very similar to the last. There’s really no major variation in camera POV, or size of characters).

But then again, he’s a tough customer sometimes.

Apart from the art, where the girls found the story ‘cute’ and ‘nice,’ I found it quite repetitive. It was just a series of events happening, and none of them very interesting, to be honest.

Now, that’s not to say that all picture books have to follow the standard three-act format. They definitely don’t. (I can think of about twenty off the top of my head that don’t follow any specific format at all, but they work so well because they’re written really, really well.) And books about notes can be fantastic (case in point:  XO, OX).

But this one wasn’t. I think the biggest issues were:

1. The writing was fairly boring. There was nothing about it that made it stand out as having a ‘style.’ (For instance, you’d read an Anna Dewdney book or a Mo Willems book and you’d know immediately that it was theirs. Their books have a distinctive voice.)

2. The plot was extremely predictable. None of the animals used the note in a radical way. There was no conflict about it. (Like, maybe the squirrel wanted his book bad. Maybe the spider wanted her bridge to stay put. Maybe the goat just wanted to eat the note, darn it.)

3. The ending/payoff was lacking. This is a big problem for me. When I read a picture book, I want the payoff to be worth it. One of the BEST examples of payoff (in my humble opinion) is Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. I burst out laughing the first time I read that story. The ending just works SO well. When an ending works, you feel it. You want to read the book again just to make sure it’s as awesome as you think it is. It either ties things up nicely, or it’s really funny or it’s sweet and touching. But there’s a payoff. This book was so…uninspiring. The note was just asking a friend to meet up. That’s kind of what I figured it said, since the kid kept saying, “I wrote you a note. Did you get it?”

But…all that said, my kids liked the story. They didn’t want to read it again, mind you. So I think they liked the simplicity of it, enjoyed being read to…but I don’t think it’s one they’ll ever go out of their way to ask for.

Mama’s Review: C
Vivi’s Review: “I liked the part where she wrote the note.”
Lily’s Review: “There’s a goat in there!”
Karl’s Review: “This isn’t a great book. It’s very meh.”

 

The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do

TItle: The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do
Author/Illustrator: Ashley Spires
Published: Kids Can Press, 2017

I’m a huge fan of The Most Magnificent Thing. We have a copy of it on our shelves, and my girls ask for it all the time. Vivi in particular relates strongly to the little girl trying to make the most perfect invention. (Vivi loves inventing things. This summer, she’s built a fabulous…something…that apparently has over 20 uses! Among them: distracting children, preventing children from jumping on beds, and cleaning the carpet.)

Anyway. We’re Ashley Spires fans, is what I’m saying.

(Fun fact: she’s Canadian! Woot!)

When I saw The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, I immediately added it to my hold list. We picked it up yesterday and I brought it out during snack time this afternoon (the girls eat, I read to them). I held it up and said, “Where have you seen this art before?” Vivi immediately said, “It’s the author/illustrator of The Most Magnificent Thing! Also, we read that book at school already. But it’s really good, so feel free to read it now.”

So I did.

The story follows the adventurous Lou and her band of equally adventurous friends. On this particular day, they decide to be pirates and climb a tree (their boat). The thing is, Lou isn’t really all that comfortable with tree climbing.

Check that, she’s actually super uncomfortable.

After coming up with a few (not-so-believable) excuses as to why she can’t possibly climb the tree, she decides to just give it a shot.

She huffs and puffs and…ends up about two feet off the ground. She promptly falls off the trunk.

Her friends make sure she’s OK. Lou decides that she just can’t climb the tree. Yet.

Instead, they all head over to the park and play there.

Lou isn’t a quitter, though, and she’s sure she’ll be back to try tree-climbing again soon (maybe tomorrow).

Let me just say two things:

  1. Lou, I feel you. I totally understand your reluctance to climb trees. As an extremely non-athletic, left-handed klutz, I am on your side. Trees are tall. And falling out of them hurts.
  2. That said, I respect your tenacity. You do you, girl. Keep at it.

I love this about Ashley Spires’ characters. They don’t just give up (even if they REALLY want to). In The Most Magnificent Thing, the girl just kept building and building until she ended up with something kind of close to what she wanted. In this book, Lou knows she’ll give tree-climbing another shot. And that’s the other thing: Ms. Spires’ characters are realistic. Kids don’t always build things perfectly. They ARE frustrated when the thing in their head doesn’t look like the thing in front of them. Kids ARE annoyed by their inability to climb the tree, when all their friends can.

And the stories end with hope, but again, with realism. Everything ISN’T perfect or solved. It’s a work-in-progress.

As for the art, it’s great. Lou and her friends are adorable, and my daughter seriously wanted a cat that looks like the one in the book.

We will definitely be getting a copy of this one for our shelves!

Mama’s review: A
Vivi’s review: “I like Ashley Spires’ work. What else has she done? Also, A+.”
Lily’s review: “I like that she (Lou) is a girl!”

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors
Author: Drew Daywalt
Illustrated by: Adam Rex
Published: Balzer & Bray, 2017

If you know me personally, you’ve probably tried to pay for coffee at some point in our relationship. And since I can’t let things be easy, I’ve probably turned your kind gesture into a niceness war.

The script goes something like this:
Me: No, let me get it.
You: No, I’d be happy to.
Me: My treat this time, for real.
You: No, no, it’s mine.

And so forth.

And if this has happened, you know that the only way to end a niceness war is by starting another conflict: I’m talking rock, paper, scissors. To the death (actually, best 2/3).

Today’s story is all about the origins of rock, paper, scissors. It starts with a warrior named Rock. He lives in the Backyard Kingdom and he is undefeated in battle. My favourite line of the book happens in this part of the story. (Rock encounters an apricot and says “You, sir, look like a fuzzy little butt.”) Rock defeats the apricot (of course) and then leaves the kingdom in search of a more worthy adversary.

Next, we join the adorable (and somewhat reminiscent of Spongebob SquarePants) Paper. Paper lives in the Mom’s Home Office Empire. And, like Rock, Paper is undefeatable. Paper decides, after slaying a printer (with a paper jam) and a half-eaten bag of trail mix (by blocking out the sun) to move on and find an opponent who really puts up a fight.

Finally, we meet Scissors. Scissors lives in the kitchen and she battles all kinds of interesting characters (tape, dinosaur-shaped-frozen-nuggets). After vanquishing her enemies, she decides to leave the kitchen and find someone who is strong enough to fight her.

Everyone ends up meeting in the garage. And then Scissors takes on Rock. Rock wins (again). But wait…Paper shows up and BEATS ROCK! And then Scissors takes on Paper and she wins! So everyone feels the joy of winning and of finally being beaten by someone who is a superior warrior.

And this is why we now play Rock, Paper, Scissors – to honour the great warriors.

There are five things I love about this book:

  1. The art. Adam Rex, you’re fast becoming one of my favourite illustrators. I loved Nothing Rhymes With Orange, and I love this one too. My favourite character is Rock. I want a doorstop that looks like him.
  2. The personality of the characters. The dialogue is really funny and the situations the characters find themselves in are excellent.
  3. The premise: everyone knows Rock, Paper, Scissors! Creating a story around their conflict is such a clever idea. One I wish I had thought of first!
  4. The story is not short, but it doesn’t feel overly long. It’s really well-written. (Fun note: Drew Daywalt wrote The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home. Those books are also really fun to read/excellent.)
  5. The pacing is right-on. It’s fast-paced and exciting. My kiddos loved it.

The art is superb. The story is hilarious. We are definitely getting a copy for our bookshelf.

Mama’s Review: A+
Vivi’s Review: “Scissors was my favourite.”
Lily’s Review: “Fuzzy little butt! Haha!”

 

Not Quite Narwhal

Title: Not Quite Narwhal
Author/Illustrator: Jessie Sima
Published: Simon and Schuster, 2017

Know what’s awesome? Unicorns. Also, narwhals. So that would make a unicorn/narwhal mash-up the most awesome creature in the universe, right?
Right!
Jessie Sima’s Not Quite Narwhal is absolutely adorable, from start to finish. The front cover is so cute, it’s impossible NOT to pick the book up and have a read.

The story follows the sweetly named Kelp. He was born in the ocean and raised by a pod of narwhals. It’s immediately apparent (to both the reader and the narwhals) that Kelp is a bit different – he has a shorter tusk, likes different food than the others and doesn’t actually swim very well. No one really minds, though, so neither does he.

One day, Kelp happens to surface and, in the distance, sees a creature that looks just like him…a land narwhal, if you will. After taking the time to learn how to walk, Kelp searches for and finds a whole group of unicorns.

The unicorns teach Kelp all about being a land narwhal. Kelp has a lot of fun and LOVES being a unicorn, but he misses his underwater friends. So he goes back.

His friends are glad to see him and confirm that yes, they know he’s a unicorn. Kelp is torn. He wants to be part of both worlds, but how can he possibly choose?

It turns out, in classic picture-book-happy-ending-fashion that he doesn’t have to! (There’s a land/water volley-ball game that illustrates this point perfectly.)

The three things I liked the most about this book are:

  1. The art is absolutely adorable. There really isn’t a better word for it. The pastel palette is so sweet and the character design is lovely.
    2. The message of ‘you can belong in two places’ is extremely comforting (and true).
    3. Kelp’s determination to learn how to walk/to find the land narwhals/to continue swimming although he’s not fast is commendable. He’s strong. He’ll get there. Kids need to see this more; you can’t just expect to do something the first time. Learning a new skill takes practice!

The only criticism my girls had was (sigh…wait for it): Kelp would’ve been better had he been a girl. Of course, they literally say this for every single book we have, but in this case I think they were genuinely confused as to why a cute little unicorn would be a boy. We did have the discussion about “boys can like cute and can actually be cute,” but they were hell-bent on calling Kelp a ‘she’.

But that’s just them.

That minor detail aside, they loved Not Quite Narwhal and we have read it probably ten times since we borrowed it from the library. I think we’ll have to add this one to our own collection pretty soon!

Mama’s review: A
Vivi’s review: 10 (girl) unicorns
Lily’s review: “I like narwhals!”

The One Day House

Title: The One Day House
Author: Julia Durango
Illustrator: Bianca Diaz
Published: Charlesbridge Publishing, 2017

 

Today’s book is, at its core, about love. If we are lucky, we have supportive, caring people in our lives. People who make us better than we usually are. I am super-lucky and have a whole bunch of wonderful individuals like that. I just got back from an amazing cottage weekend with a ‘pretend’ aunt of mine. (Pretend in that we’re not blood-related…not pretend as in imaginary. Just wanted to clear that up.) The One Day House seemed to be the perfect book to review upon returning home. The grandmother character, Gigi, reminds me of my pretend aunt. She is welcoming and kind and caring.

The story centres around a little boy, Wilson, who just wants to make his Gigi happy. He promises her that he’s going to do all sorts of wonderful things to make her house better: he’s going to paint her house orange and yellow.  He’s going to build a fence around her house so she can have a dog for company. He’s going to fix Gigi’s windows.   He’s going to fix her piano. And each time he makes a promise, Gigi is appreciative, but tells Wilson that he’s more than enough company/warmth/and song for her.

Wilson’s promises seem rather big for such a small kid. But he tells other people about his ideas. He spreads the word…so that ‘one day’ becomes a fantastic reality.

The book ends with all sorts of neighbours and friends showing up to help make Gigi’s house just perfect.

I read this story to the family after dinner tonight. And everyone had a different opinion about the book. As is the norm around this house, actually.

Jess: So, what did we all think of The One Day House?
Karl: Well, I thought-
Vivi: I should go first, otherwise I might copy what he says.
Karl: True.
Vivi: OK, so I liked it. I really enjoyed the part where everyone came together and helped and really made the house a reality. That was so kind.
Jess: What did you think, Lily?
Lily: I loved it!
Jess: Karl?
Karl: I really like the message of the story. It’s great. Like, you can have these big ideas but they really mean nothing unless you act on them. It encourages kids to follow through with their ideas. But the art…I didn’t like it.
Jess: Why not?
Karl: Some of the perspective is really weird. Some of it is good, but now and then it goes all wonky. And the people characters aren’t great.
Jess: I liked it! I thought it was really stylized. I enjoyed the art.
Vivi: I’m with Daddy.
Jess: The only thing I wasn’t sure about was why Abraham Lincoln was cleaning the chimney.
Karl: What?
Jess: Look (points at character dressed in stovepipe hat)
Karl: Do chimney sweeps dress like that?
Jess: I don’t know.  (Googles it) It doesn’t seem like it. Maybe in the past?
Vivi: I give it an 8/10.
Jess: Lily, your thoughts?
Lily: 11 out of 10!

So, overall, we enjoyed The One Day House. I suspect you will too!