Review: Hug Me

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GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 3/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 3-7
Author and illustrator: Patti Stren
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (December 2001)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0060293179
ISBN-13: 978-0060293178

Elliot Kravitz, the porcupine who just wanted a hug, was first brought into the world via the picture book Hug Me in 1977. Now, this oddly-drawn, lonely creature has been reissued with newly colourized illustrations and some foil stamping on the cover. It’s a sweet book about a porcupine who can’t get anyone to hug him, even after trying a variety of strategies such as dressing up like a birthday present and a Christmas tree — but of course, he eventually finds another porcupine to give him a hug. The original version was charming despite, or because of, its strangely dysfunctional-looking characters, but the updated colouring job looks a bit like it was done in MS Paint and takes away from the homely appeal of the porcupines and other creatures. If you’re looking for a book about hugging, this is a decent one one, but do see if you can find the 1977 original.

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Review: This New Baby

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EDITOR’S PICK
GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book (also available as a picture book)
Age: 1-3 years
Author: Teddy Jam
Illustrator: Virginia Johnson
Publisher:  Groundwood Books (published August 2011)
Pages: 22
ISBN-10: 1554980887
ISBN-13: 978-1554980888

“This new baby / lies in my arms / like summer dark / sleeping on new grass …”

I love a book that is also a poem. This little book’s expressive, rhythmic words and contemplative watercolour illustrations bring to my mind Japanese poetry and Chinese brush painting — and yet are accessible enough for a young toddler to enjoy. Certainly a very young reader will not grasp the finer points of each simile (“my new baby’s cry / chases old ghosts / back into the shadows”), but I don’t believe that’s a good reason not to enjoy poetry together. This New Baby is a book that is impossible to rush through, one where each word dances in the air for a moment after it is spoken.

Please, give this sweet book to all the pregnant women you know. Its small loveliness deserves a presence on their bookshelves.

Review: I Love You, Little One

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GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 3/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book (also available as a picture book)
Age: Newborn to 18 months
Author and illustrator: Nancy Tafuri
Publisher: Scholastic Press (published March 2000)
Pages: 15
ISBN-10: 0439137462
ISBN-13: 978-0439137461

There are certain books that are more beloved by parents than their children. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch is a great example; while this perennial baby shower gift is guaranteed to reduce any new parent — especially any new mother in the throes of postnatal hormones — to a puddle of weepy sobs, it’s a book that parents are frequently more enthusiastic to read than their children are. I Love You, Little One falls into the same category. The sentiment is a lovely one: seven animals each ask, “Do you love me, Mama?” and receive reassuring, lyrical, and ecosystem-appropriate responses (Mama Duck says, “Yes, little one, I love you as the pond loves you, giving you food and places to swim. I love you as the pond loves you, forever and ever and always.”) The illustrations are fairly nice (though the animals are far better drawn than the people) and as the book progresses, the sun travels through the sky and the book ends with a mother putting her child to bed as night falls over a log cabin in the forest. I Love You, Little One is a soothing book that will inspire snuggly feelings at least as much in parents as in their children.

Review: Wind Says Goodnight

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GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 3-6 years
Author: Katy Rydell
Illustrator: David Jorgensen
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (published March 1994)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0395604745
ISBN-13: 978-0395604748

Fair warning: this book appears to be out of print. This is a travesty, because Wind Says Goodnight is among the loveliest, gentlest stories I have found to read at bedtime. I discovered the book was out of print when I tried to bulk-order a bunch of copies to give to pretty much everyone I know who has either a kid or a sleep disorder. Currently topping my to-do list is “Email HMH Books for Young Readers to demand they do a reprint of WSG.” If that doesn’t work, I may start an online petition, or a picket, or perhaps a campaign of veiled threats of violence. Which would sort of go against the spirit of this soothing, lyrical lullaby-in-a-book.

Wind Says Goodnight tells the tale of a child who can’t fall asleep because Mockingbird is singing outside, on the branch of a tree. The night wind asks Mockingbird to stop singing, but Mockingbird can’t stop singing until Cricket stops playing, and Cricket can’t stop playing until Frog stops strumming, and Frog can’t stop strumming until Moth stops dancing…well, you get the idea. What really stands out in this story, along with the graceful, repetitive storyline, is the vibrantly descriptive language. When at last the night wind scoops up Cloud to cover the earth so Moon will stop shining so Moth will stop dancing, the gentle rain “began to fall, tumbling down through the dark, splashing on the flat bay waters, skipping on the warm green earth.” Author Katy Rydell’s lyrical prose brings the scents of the damp earth and the sounds of the creatures’ music to life, and the story’s sweet, cadenced rhythm work together with Jorgensen’s distinctive pencil crayon illustrations to put this book squarely in my favourite category: Xanax for Children, or books that will bring down even the most hyper toddler or preschooler and put him or her into a sleepin’ state of mind. Never have I read through the book without finishing in a low, near-reverent whisper.

So cruise your used bookstores, watch on eBay, check out the used books on Amazon and AbeBooks, or send bomb threats to the publisher, but one way or another, find yourself a copy of Wind Says Goodnight. Your bedtime routine will thank you.

Review: Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?

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GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 3/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 1-3 years
Author: Eve Bunting
Illustrator: Sergio Ruzzier
Publisher: Clarion Books (published March 2013)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0547752679
ISBN-13: 978-0547752679

A small green duck has lost his socks. (“They are such a pretty blue! I just got them. They are new.”) Every child can relate to the loss of an everyday but treasured item. Toddlers, especially those between two and three, will find the duck forlornly searching for his new blue socks a sympathetic hero and will enjoy both the simple, rhyming story (fans of Dr. Seuss classics such as Fox in Socks will see the inspiration of the master of rhyme here) of his quest and the surprise of the ending. Older children might lose interest after one or two re-readings, but for a toddler with limited vocabulary, this story is sure to be a hit.

International Book Giving Day

Have you heard about International Book Giving Day?

This February 14, promote the love of reading worldwide through the simple act of giving a book. Leave a book at an ATM! Hand a book to the man with the off-putting odour on the bus! Place a stack of paperbacks in your local hospital’s waiting room! Give a book to the woman who works at your local liquor store counter! And especially, give a book to a child. If you’re a reader of this blog, chances are that the kids in your life don’t really need a new book. Your house may look a bit like ours, with board books and picture books crowded into every corner. So maybe you could find a different way to celebrate with your family. You could drop off some books at a local women’s and children’s shelter, at a prison literacy program, at your local library (check to see what each organization needs first!). You can donate books or money for books locally or internationally, for example through Books for Africa, Books4Cause, or Books for Soliders. Need some inspiration? Check out what other people are planning for IBGD!

Whom will you give a book to this Book Giving Day?

Review: A Book of Sleep

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EDITOR’S PICK
GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book (also available as a picture book)
Author and illustrator: Il Sung Na
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (January 2011)
Pages: 24
ISBN-10: 0375866183
ISBN-13: 978-0375866180

Sometimes when I’m trying to put my toddler to bed, she has other ideas.

Okay, she frequently has other ideas.

The pacing of the stories we read before bed can help lead her from a state of literally bouncing off the walls (I do mean literally — one of her current favourite activities is running up to a wall or door and yelling “BOING!” as she bounces off) to a state of calm. All of this, of course, in the hopes that she will actually go to sleep. As we near the dreading Dropping of the Nap, this winding down has become increasingly imperative. Books with a slow, soothing pace help take our wee one from tearing through the hallways shouting “LOOK AT ME! I’M AN ELEPHANT!” to snuggling under her blankets. And since her snuggling under the blankets gets me to the next episode of Downton Abbey faster, I treasure books like Il Sung Na’s A Book of Sleep.

“When the sky grows dark and the moon glows bright, everyone goes to sleep…except for the watchful owl.” A Book of Sleep takes the reader, through the eyes of the owl and via graceful drawings, from animal to animal to learn how they like to sleep. The pacing of the words is rhythmic and sleepy and each delicately illustrated creature is gently slumbering. At last, all the animals awaken…except for the tired owl.

My only regret is that we own the board book version; I wish it was the picture book edition so that we could enjoy the beautiful illustrations more. I have recently discovered that Il Sung Na has other books, which I will be looking into as soon as I can. Really, this is the literary equivalent of a dart gun tranquilizer for children. Highly recommended.

Review: Are You Eating Something Red?

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GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book
Age: 1-4 years
Author and illustrator: Ryan Sias
Publisher: Blue Apple Books (April 1, 2010)
Pages: 12
ISBN-10: 1609050185
ISBN-13: 978-1609050184

A great introduction to healthy eating, Go Greenie! Are You Eating Something Red? features the appealing Greenie, who is some kind of green apple creature, choosing from a wide range of fruits and vegetables in each colour. The text is very simple — “Look at all the [red/green/orange/etc.] foods. / All are good to eat. / What [red/green/orange/etc.] food would you choose for a tasty treat?” — so as to avoid getting in the way of the main goal of the book: to show off lots of different fruits and vegetables in all their colourful goodness. Toddlers and preschoolers will love pointing out all the foods they can name, and might even pick up a few new ones (yellow summer squash? purple eggplant? green kiwi?”), and parents will love reading about the importance of eating a wide range of produce in a variety of colours…without having to watch their kids’ eyes glaze over as they discuss dietary fibre. We used this book to get our toddler involved in meal planning (well, as involved as a two-year-old can get) by asking her to point out fruits and vegetables she’d like to eat, and encouraging her to try new ones she didn’t know. Short and sweet, this book takes a straightforward goal that can be surprisingly hard to achieve — encouraging healthy eating through reading — and, in a word (okay, two), nails it.