Archive for March, 2009

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder

So, I’ve been focusing recently on books for younger readers, mostly out of laziness since I read to my young readers often. However, I recently read a fantastic new early chapter book/ middle-grade novel that I couldn’t wait to share with you all. 

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains

Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains by Laurel Snyder is the kind of book that children who love good stories will fall in love with. It’s the kind of book that you get sucked into, that you wind up staying up way past your bedtime to keep reading under the covers. For those of you who have children who dive into books with that kind of passion, this is the book for them.

Best of all, if you are looking for a book that you can read to your slightly younger reader, say a seven year old, this is a great option. It’s the story of a young girl and her best friend, who just happens to be a prince. The young girl is one of those lovely plucky heroines, but there’s a sadness to her also, as her mother disappeared when she was a baby. At least she thinks she disappeared, it’s better than thinking the alternative. Now don’t get discouraged, this isn’t a heavy book. It’s a funny adventure story as the young girl goes looking for her mother on the slightly magical Scratchy Mountain, and discovers what’s really important. And the prince? Well, at first he’s out of the picture as the King wants him to start learning to be a real prince (very fun stuff here), but ultimately he realizes that being a real person is more important, and a real person both follows his best friend, and his heart.

With great characters, some nice adventures, and just enough magic to keep it enchanting, this story is a winner. It seems like Laurel Snyder has a new book coming out — I can’t wait to see it.

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Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

Sometimes I play the following game: would I be willing to live like the parents do in the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books in order to have access to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? Usually, the answer is yes. Yes, I would be willing to go back to calling people Mr. this and Mrs. that. I might even be OK staying at home with no outside job. I might even be OK with the highlight of my day being an invitation to an exclusive ladies’ group. Yes, all this in order to have access to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

For those who haven’t yet read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle: write down the information and buy the books or get them from the library. Now. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has “cures” to common children’s problems, like not wanting to brush your teeth, not turning off the TV, not bathing, etc. She has answers my friends, answers. Let me backtrack. Written by Betty MacDonald in the 1950s, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is a woman who lives alone in an upside-down house. When parents have difficulties with their children, they turn to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle who has a delightful cure that does not involve bribery, yelling or glasses of gin and tonic. There’s a bit of magic involved, but mostly a lot of natural consequences.

For instance, in the car this morning, we listened to The Radish Cure from the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The cure for a girl who refuses to bathe? Don’t bug her about it, just let her get filthier and filthier until her body is caked with topsoil. After a few weeks (ugh), go into her room while she is sleeping and plant tiny radish seeds on her arms and head and torso. When they sprout three leaves, you can pull them out. In the story at least, the girl quickly spent the day in the shower after the radishes were removed.

The stories are just funny enough for kids and spark lots of “what if” thoughts for parents. The parents in the stories are hilarious: all their kids are perfect, so it feels very much like real life (You mean your child won’t go to bed on time? My Jimmy loves to jump into bed the moments I give the word…).

There are a few different Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle titles. The ones I know best are the original, Happy Birthday Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm. You can find them all here.

And the audio version of the stories is also great — excellent narrator and something I can stand to listen to…

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Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel

I think I would be hard-pressed to find many parents who have not read Frog and Toad to their children. They are perfect little gems of stories, great for children of varying ages (always important if you have only one voice and more than one child). And, they are wonderful to listen to in the car (or anywhere your ipod or CD player takes you) — especially since they are narrated by the great Arnold Lobel, author and illustrator of the series.

Owl at Home

Owl at Home

Much less well known but equally wonderful (honestly) is Arnold Lobel’s Owl at Home. The downside of Owl at Home is that there is only Owl (no Toad to play off Frog and Frog to play off Toad). But luckily, Owl is just silly enough to make it on his own in these stories. With a similar humor found in Frog and Toad, Lobel plays with Owl’s misunderstandings (like when he becomes scared of the two bumps at the bottom of his bed).

But, again like Frog and Toad, there is also something sweet about Owl’s silliness — like when he thinks the moon is following him home. He finally believes he has convinced the moon to stay over the lake when it hides behind the clouds but then, in his bed, he feels sad to be all alone. Guess what fills his room with light? A good friend, who knows not to leave you even when you ask him to.

A great discovery for all those who wish there were more Frog and Toad stories.

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Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

My children NEED everything. Every toy. Every book. They have no concept of what things cost, no concept of moderation, no concept of the difference between want and need. In a nutshell, they are children.

I, on the other hand, am keenly aware of money, especially in this economic climate. I am keenly aware of what things cost, the need for moderation, the difference between want and need. I am a parent, it’s my job. I hate this job. I hate this job because I can’t figure out how to acknowledge that children don’t (and maybe shouldn’t?) understand money, and yet teach them to appreciate what they have, understand the difference between want and need.

Those Shoes

Those Shoes

So enter a book. I love books. I especially love Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones. Those Shoes is the story of a boy who wants a new pair of cool shoes.

I have dreams about those shoes.
Black high-tops. Two white stripes.

My children dream of $50 Star Wars Lego sets. 

“Grandma, I want them.”
“There’s no room for ‘want’ around here — just ‘need,'”
Grandma says. “And what you need are new boots for winter.”

And thus comes the story of how our young friend deals with his wanting, how his grandmother deals with his wanting. We see the humiliation when his teacher sees how his shoes are falling apart and finds some extra shoes in “a box of shoes and other stuff he has for kids who need thing.” But these have an old cartoon animal on the side and they are not cool — they are the opposite of cool. We see the elation when he finds a pair at a thrift shop (even though they are too small and he has to squish his toes to fit them in). And then we see the amazing thing he does with the shoes. I’ll give you a clue, it has to do with another boy who wants shoes just like those but can’t afford them (and has small feet).

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How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

There are some books that are so beautiful that you want to buy extra copies so you can cut them up and use the pages as art for your walls. OK, it might just be me. But, if you’ve ever thought you might be inclined to do that, this is the book you’d want to do it with.

How to Catch a Star

How to Catch a Star

How to Catch a Star, by Oliver Jeffers, is not only beautiful, but also whimsical, touching, stirring and just about as perfect as a book for a young child can be. The story of a boy who wants to catch his own star, How to Catch a Star is a great lesson in imagination, perseverance and learning to make do with something that isn’t exactly what you wanted.

Once there was a boy and the boy loved stars very much.

The text is just that simple, but his ideas on how to catch the star are anything but. (At one point he wants to use his rocket ship but he’s out of petrol… If I had a dime for the number of times I hate that problem.) I just love the way this book is focused on the point of view of a child, where anything is possible, as long as you try hard enough.

Does he finally catch his star? Yes, but to find out how, you’ll have to read the book. Suffice to say, it’s a good ending…

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Harriet You’ll Drive Me Wild by Mem Fox

Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild!

Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild!

Well, whether your kids are driving you wild because it’s Purim and they have too much sugar in their bodies or because it’s Tuesday (or Wednesday or…), this is the book to read. In fact, we have several copies of it at home because we read it that often. Sometimes we read it so often that it is no longer about what my kids want to read but what I NEED to read — I need to read Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild by Mem Fox, illustrated by the fantastic Marla Frazee. And if they want me to read their stories, I get to read my story.

Harriet Harris was a pesky child. She didn’t mean to be, she just was.

Could that describe our my children any better?

Harriet’s mother has about 10 pages more patience than I do, but still, I like to think we are the same person (if I had a daughter, a lot more patience, stayed at home and, well, OK, she’s not much like me). After each thing that goes wrong (Harriet accientally pulls the tablecloth and lunch dishes to the ground; Harriet drips paint all over the floor as she shows her mom her painting, etc.), Harriet’s mother (“who didn’t like to yell”), gets “angry” and each time, her statements get longer and longer:

Harriet, my darling child. Harriet, you’ll drive me wild..

And of course, each time, Harriet apologizes, as children are sometimes good at doing.

 Until the end, when Harriet pops a pillow and the feathers go everywhere. And then, well, Harriet’s mother starts to yell. And she yells and yells and yells. And then she apologizes.

Basically, it’s an average day at my house.

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Raisel’s Riddle by Erica Silverman

I’m late for Purim. Thanks to the encouragement of my good friend Amy Meltzer (plug: check out her blog at: http://homeshuling.wordpress.com/), I’ve been planning to return to my discarded blog. I had high hopes of getting back in time for Purim but, while today is technically still pre-Purim, my good suggestions are hardly timely enough to help you order some good reads. So apologies and I’m going to go with a classic story that takes place during Purim but can be read all year long.

Raisel's Riddle

Raisel's Riddle

Raisel’s Riddle by Erica Silverman can be thought of as the Jewish Cinderella story — complete with a poor young woman who works for a pittance, the folks around her who mistreat her, the perfect caregiver who has passed away and the stroke of luck that allows her to meet her prince charming and capture his heart. However, while Cinderella is a classic, it also provides us with some dubious morals. Not so for Raisel’s Riddle. Her kindness is what earns her the trip to the ball (here the Purim festival). it’s not Raisel’s beauty that draws the attention of the prince (here the rabbi’s son) to but her intelligence and her wit.

Don’t grow concerned that this is a heavy-handed politically correct too-Jewish for modern comfort fairytale. With lush illustrations by Susan Gaber, and wonderful wordplays from Erica Silverman, Raisel’s Riddle is simply a more upscale version of Cinderella. More importantly, it’s a story that won’t make you cringe. And unlike the original, it’s a version you will be able to stand to read over and over again.

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