Archive for October, 2008

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Amy reminded me of one of my favorite monster books — Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems.

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster

There are a number of lovely books for children about monsters. Generally, monster books are great for helping children talk about fears since generally it turns out that monsters aren’t nearly as scary as they initally seem to be. So, that’s the standard monster book. Then there are books like Shrek and Leonardo that turn this model on their heads.

Leonardo you see, is a Terrible Monster. Not terrible as in very, very frightening but terrible in that he is very bad at being a monster. He’s not scary or disgusting or creepy, even though he wants to be. He desperately wants to scare someone, but he just can’t seem to be scary enough. Until he meets Sam. Until he makes Sam cry in fact. But it turns out, Sam isn’t scared, he’s just lonely and then Leonard has a big choice to make: continue being a terrible monster or focus instead on being a wonderful friend.

Leonardo doll

Leonardo doll

It’s such a lovely book — oversized with interesting type and fun for adults and children. And it’s sweet. And silly. And apparently, you can get a Leonardo doll as well. Again, who knew?

I think I have to add Mo Willems to my author crushes. Thanks Amy!

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Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson

So, I have very mixed feelings about Hallowe’en. On the one hand, it was probably the most important day each year next to my birthday when I was growing up. I thought about it and obsessed about what I would magically transform myself into for months. I was really into Hallowe’en. As a parent though, I have to say that it’s really annoying.

First and foremost, it’s all about candy. And my kids would eat candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner and have room for candy snacks if they had the option. And even the costumes are a pain. I like to think of myself as pretty crafty but I really don’t want to be making Luke Skywalker costumes all night. I’ve been lucky for the past few years on Purim because my kids were still fine wearing Superman PJs and calling that a costume. It’s all changing.

Room on the Broom

Room on the Broom

All my baggage aside, one of my favorite Halloween books is Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson. The witch in this story is quite a lovely woman who keeps losing things (her wand, her hat, her ribbon) as she’s flying along. Every time she loses something, an animal helps her find it and asks if there is room on the broom for him/her. And each time, our lovely little witch says yes. Well, after a while, there are too many creatures on the broom and the broom breaks and that’s when trouble beings. But, it turns out, when you help others, they quickly come to your aid as well. Even when there’s a monster that thinks that “witch with french fries tastes delicious to me”!

Room on the Broom Activity Book

Room on the Broom Activity Book

Donaldson, who also wrote the marvelous The Gruffalo, is definitely an author to look for when you are looking for something new. This book is so much fun to read out loud that I actually used it for the read-aloud for my son’s 4th birthday party. In January.

According to Amazon, you can even get a Room on the Broom Activity Book or CD. Huh, who knew?

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As Good as Anybody by Richard Michelson

Some books just sweep you away. Richard Michelson’s latest illustrated book (because I don’t think that many 8+ year olds would be attracted to the picture book label), As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom, does just that.

As Good As Anybody

As Good As Anybody

The memorable snapshot of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel marching together in Selma, Alabama, serves as the jumping off point for the book.  Tracing the childhood events and inspirations for both men’s activism in sparse text, Michelson, aided by Raul Colon’s stunning illustrations, mentions but doesn’t dwell in the prejudice that they both faced, but rather demonstrates the inspiration that both received to stand tall and believe that they were “as good as anybody.”

Picture book biographies can sometimes feel bogged down by the facts, but this one truly doesn’t. By the end, when the two leaders join together for the famous march and “[t]here were not enough police in the state to hold the marchers back. There were not enough mayors and governors and judges to stop them,” you and your children will be hard pressed not to feel inspired as well.

Warning: there are some Holocaust moments in this book but they are not graphic.

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Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant

I heart Mr. Putter and Tabby.

My author crush on Cynthia Rylant continues. Thank God, my local library updated its collection of The High-Rise Private Eyes stories on CD because I could not cope with my carpool kids without something that engrosses them for the entire ride. But I’ve written about these silly and blessed mysteries for kids. So, here are my thoughts about another Cynthia Rylant series: Mr. Putter and Tabby.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Spin the Yarn

Mr. Putter and Tabby Spin the Yarn

Sigh. If I love High-Rise because it keeps the kids entertained I adore Mr. Putter and Tabby on its own merits. Educators like to say that stories need child protagonists to entertain children but this is a perfect example of a series that breaks all the rules. It’s an easy reader series about an older man, Mr. Putter, and his cat, Tabby, who live next to elderly Mrs. Teaberry and her dog, Zeke. Each book contains a very calm little adventure which contains no light-sabers or pink cupcakes — it’s always a decidedly old-fashioned story. Last night, the 5 year old munchkin and I read Mr. Putter and Tabby Spin the Yarn in which Mrs. Teaberry decides to have a knitting party and Mr. Putter, feeling like Mrs. Teaberry is always cooking him food and all he does is eats it, wants to serve tea at the party for Mrs. Teaberry’s guests. You might think that Mr. Putter would create a huge mess but in fact, it’s Zeke, Mrs. Teaberry’s wild dog, and Tabby, the cat who shouldn’t be near so much yarn, that create all the problems and Mr. Putter does a lovely job of keeping everyone calm and cleaning up.

One thing I will say is that they are stories filled with people doing kind things. Whether Mr. Putter is worrying that he doesn’t do as much for Mrs. Teaberry as she does for him, or Mr. Putter is offering to walk Mrs. Teaberry’s crazy dog Zeke when she hurts her foot in Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog, it’s nice to read about people who take care of neighbors and are just plain nice.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book

Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book

Last week, we read about the time that Mr. Putter decided to write a novel, which took a lot of thinking and a lot of naps and snacks, in Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book. Truly, nothing happens but it’s such a nice change from all these stories out there where there’s much too much that does happen.

I think I’m becoming a fuddy duddy, but I do love Mr. Putter and Tabby. Luckily, there are many books in the series so I won’t be stuck without a good Mr. Putter and Tabby to curl up with.

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Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers

Board books are not my favorite kind of book. They either seem to be too much text and content squished into small, relatively sturdy, pages; or they bore me from the first pages. At best, they are funny and the words make your baby laugh. But often you wonder — would my baby notice the difference if I was reading The Wall Street Journal, pointing to the pictures and making animal noises?

Everywhere Babies

Everywhere Babies

But then you have perfectly wonderful board books like Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by the fantastic Marla Frazee. it’s a delight to read and it has beautiful illustrations of babies of all shapes, sizes and colors scattered throughout. It actually reflects diversity without beating you over the head with it.

I read it to my babies, to my toddlers and now to my older kids (note: all the same kids — I only have 2). I could read it again and again and not grow bored. It’s sentimental without being saccharine which is almost unheard of in baby books. And best of all, if you look carefully, there are same sex parents all over the place in this book. Yay Marla Frazee for your illustrations! 

This is a wonderful gift for new parents and new babies and pregnant women, though it will probably make them cry. 

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Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root

I am a terrible blogger — I have not posted regularly in weeks. In my defense, I had all those Jewish holidays. But let me say, it’s won’t happen again (until next year that is).

In the meantime, I get a lot of requests for books on creation that don’t make you feel like you are lying to your child. In my mind, there is one fantastic book that I think is an excellent introduction to creation for most any child. Most importantly, it is a great book even for (and some might say especially for) those who don’t believe in the Biblical creation story.

Big Momma Makes the World

Big Momma Makes the World

Big Momma Makes the World by Phyllis Root is funny and gorgeous and irreverent and fabulous. It’s a fantastic book to read aloud (I often read it to grown-ups, not just kids) because the words are just so right. And even though traditionally, we don’t think of God as being a large-ish woman with a baby on her hip (especially Jews don’t — God with a baby gets a little scary), it’s probably the most memorable and amusing take on the creation story that you will find. And then after you have your kids laughing, you can move on to the more serious books. But at the end of the day, this is just the best one out there. I love Big Momma (potentially more than the Lord I’m afraid to admit).

And for those committed to the Big Bang, wait until you see how it comes in… Wow.

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Blog Action Day — Poverty — Lily and the Paper Man by Rebecca Upjohn

Wednesday August 15th is the official Blog Action Day– Poverty so I wanted to give a big shout out to my favorite book for children dealing with homelessness: the new, award winning Lily and the Paper Man by Rebecca Upjohn!

Lily and the Paper Man

Lily and the Paper Man

Lily and the Paper Man (winner of the ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year) is about LIly, a sweet little girl who loves jumping in puddles and saying hello to neighbors. But one day, as she and her mom are walking, Lily accidentally backs into Ray, the homeless man who sells newspapers on the street. His gruff voice and scruffy appearance scares Lily, who no longer wants to walk down the street with her mother anymore. Her mom (who does a great job modeling good behavior to Ray and listening to Lily’s fears) takes the bus with her instead until the day when the first snow comes. Then, Lily can’t help herself, she can’t wait to walk outside in the snow and eat snowflakes.

This time when they pass Ray, Lily notices: “a thin shirt through the holes in his coat and bare feet through the holes in his boots. Lily shivers.” As the weather turns colder, Lily keeps wondering about Ray (who she calls the Paper Man) and how he is managing in the cold. Finally, she decides she will help her Paper Man, and goes around to all her neighbors and friends collecting things for him. The scene of Lily giving Ray a bag full of warm clothing is lovely, especially when she adds her own special quilt for him to have as well.

I think teaching children’s about poverty and people who are homeless is a tough thing to do. As parents, we don’t want our children to really understand that other people don’t have enough money for heat in the winter or new clothing when they need it (except of course when our children are whining on and on about another toy they want and you want to scream: “Look how many toys you have! Other children don’t have this many toys..” But I digress.). But children do need to learn about poverty and learn, from an early age, to be agents of change — just like Lily in this story. Lily does something that is really so small, but that shows that she recognizes the humanity in another person, even if that person is gruff or doesn’t look nice, or smell nice. By doing the simple task of collecting a few items from her neighbors, she changes Ray’s life. When you read this story, you can talk with your children about how important it is to help even one person.

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