Featured Series: The Bear Books by Karma Wilson

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Children’s book series can be tricky things. An author who has captured her audience with a loveable character(s) will, naturally, be inclined to write more adventures for said loveable character(s). These can be hit or miss, and before long the loveable, and beloved, character(s) might be lost in a land of listless prose, uninspired illustrations, and — worst of all — merchandising and/or heavy-handed preachiness, with CuteBunny™ being licensed as a board game, a dress-up doll, and the star of a book about hand-washing.

So far, though, Karma Wilson‘s sweet Bear books have avoided the children’s book equivalent of jumping the shark.

In the series’ first book, Bear Snores On, a hibernating bear snoozing through the winter is oblivious to the varied crew of smaller animals who take refuge in his cave, and, having found themselves all together, take the opportunity to throw a midwinter party. Bear wakes up with a snarl and a roar and the cast of forest critters trembles — before realizing that bear is just disappointed to have slept through the fun. The party resumes with bear at its epicentre and the new friends enjoy the shelter of the warm, cozy cave together.

The rhymes are not always spot on (Dear Ms. Wilson, should you be reading, the following word pairs do not, in fact, rhyme: “den” and “thin” or “grin” and “friends,” but I know I’m nitpicking here). Overall the metre is very good, the characters appealing, and the storylines well paced. Jane Chapman’s illustrations are wonderful: each woodland creature is just anthropomorphized enough to possess a distinct personality, but is still utterly realistic and recognizable. Too often animals lose all of their “animal-ness” in children’s books, but Chapman’s pictures, Badger is recognizably a badger, Mole a mole, and Bear a sweetly guileless, lumbering bruin. Preschoolers will find the situations in which Bear finds himself familiar: afraid while lost (Bear Feels Scared), losing a tooth (Bear’s Loose Tooth), feeling uncertain at a party (Bear Says Thanks), suffering from the flu (Bear Feels Sick), and will enjoy the small surprises and happy resolution contained within the covers of each story. The characters are wholesome, modelling positive behaviour such as caring for a friend, without being saccharine. Reading these stories aloud is great fun, since each creature seems to cry out for its own voice, and the words are simple enough that a beginning reader will be able to sound them out on her own. There is a sameness to the stories that means that grownups might find them fairly predictable, but older toddlers and preschoolers are likely to love having an idea of what happens next in a new story.

All in all, a highly recommended series. I suggest starting with the “prequel,” Bear Snores On, but soon you’ll find you’re reading the whole set.

Books in this series include:

  • Bear Snores On
  • Bear Wants More
  • Bear Stays Up for Christmas
  • Bear Feels Sick
  • Bear Feels Scared
  • Bear’s New Friend
  • Bear’s Loose Tooth
  • Bear Says Thanks
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Review: A House is a House for Me

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GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 3-6
Author: Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrator: Betty Fraser
Publisher: Puffin (September 2007)
Pages: 48
ISBN-10: 0142407739
ISBN-13: 978-0142407738

I live in a house, but where does an ant live? A whale? A hickory nut? This merry exploration of all kinds of houses answers these questions in spirited rhyme (“A web is a house for a spider. / A bird builds its nest in a tree. / There is nothing so snug as a bug in a rug / And a house is a house for me!”) and broadens the question farther to wonder at how “A mirror’s a house for reflections” and “A throat is a house for a hum.”

A House is a House for Me was originally published in 1978, and its age does sometimes show. Few picture books published today, for example, would contain this rhyme: “An igloo’s a house for an Eskimo. / A tepee’s a house for a Cree. / A pueblo’s a house for a Hopi. / And a wigwam may hold a Mohee.” It’s just one page, though, so you can go ahead and act the same way you do when your elderly grandma talks about “that nice coloured fellow” or your ageing father-in-law says “honolable Japanee so solly” when he steps on your toe: smile awkwardly and change the subject. Or, even better, you could use the page as the start of a discussion about stereotypes and diversity and get some books featuring First Nations and Inuit protagonists out of the library to explore together.

A House is a House for Me is a curious child’s-eye-view examination of where everyone, and everything lives, and will certainly lead you and your little one to look a little more closely at the world around you and wonder what the houses are for everything you pass. “Cartons are houses for crackers. / Castles are houses for kings. / The more that I think about houses, / The more things are houses for things.” You may find, after reading this book, that you are looking at the world just a little differently too!

The Independent ceases to review sexist books

A big hooray for Katy Guest, literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, who has decreed that the British newspaper, website, books section, and children’s book blog will no longer be reviewing any book that is explicitly marketed to just girls or boys.

In Guest’s words, “What we are doing by pigeon-holing children is badly letting them down. And books, above all things, should be available to any child who is interested in them.”

Thank you, Ms. Guest, for taking a stand against telling children of either gender what is appropriate for them to read. A good read is a good read, in the hands of whatever child is interested in it.

Happy World Book Day!

ImageA day for celebrating books! What a wonderful idea! I hope you have the afternoon off to spend wrapped up in a blanket with a mug of something hot and an excellent read, or enjoying books with your the little ones in your life, or cruising your local independent bookstore or GoodReads for some new ideas about what to read next. Here are some ideas for activities you can do with kids of any age to celebrate World Book Day.

  • Dress up like your favourite character from a book. This can be done just with what you have lying around the house. A yellow yarn wig and a blue dress and you’re Alice in Wonderland. Neil Gaiman became Badger from the Wind in the Willows with some facepaint and a bit of hairstyling. Here are some great ideas for book-themed costumes. Check out some of your favourite kids’ book authors, including Gaiman, dressing up as their favourite characters from books for an exhibition at the Oxford Story Museum
  • Head over to your local library; it’s a good bet they’ve got some fun activities in honour of the day.
  • Print out and colour a bookmark. Print it on cardstock for a bit more longevity. You could attach a tassel or pompom to the top. Make one to keep and one for a friend. You can find some printable bookmarks with quotes about reading here.
  • Treat your kiddos by letting them choose a new book from your local bookstore. Consider having them choose a book to donate to a good cause as well. You can get some ideas about where to donate books here.
  • Write a letter with your child to a favourite author. You can send letters to authors via the publisher, whose address can usually be found on their website.
  • Make a book together! There are lots of great tutorials online, but here’s a good one to start with.
  • Discuss with your child what they like and don’t like about some of their books and write a book review together. Read some book reviews to get ideas.
  • Make a list of some books your child would like to read or topics he or she would like to read about before next year’s World Book Day!

This, my friends, is my kind of holiday. How will you and your kids be celebrating World Book Day?

The truth behind Love You Forever

ImageRobert Munsch’s  is a classic baby shower gift and, as I’ve said before, is a book more for parents than for children. Some people find it charming; some people (you will be unsurprised to discover that I fall into this category) find the image of a mother climbing into her grown son’s window to rock him faintly disturbing. But I find myself changing my outlook along with this BabyCenter blogger when she posted the real story behind Munsch’s canonical story of parental love.

Review: Hippoposites

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GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book
Age: 1-4
Author and illustrator: Janik Coat
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (May 2012)
Pages: 38
ISBN-10: 1419701517
ISBN-13: 978-1419701511

Here is a book your graphic design friends will love, your word nerd friends will go bananas for, and your kids might even enjoy.

Many of us have several books about opposites in our kiddos’ libraries: Sandra Boynton’s Opposites is a classic, but you could fill an Ikea Billy bookshelf with the range of opposite books available at any big ole box bookstore. Here’s one that’s a little different. Author and illustrator Janik Coat presents us with a simple, red, boldly illustrated hippopotamus on each page, corresponding to his opposite on the facing page. The opposite pairs work well together, often with a touch of humour: the light hippopotamus is floating away in a hot air balloon, while the heavy hippopotamus sinks to the bottom of the ocean. There are innovative tactile experiences to enjoy on many of the pages — feel the difference between soft and rough with plush and burlap — and no assumptions are made about the young reader’s ability, or more precisely lack of ability, to grasp more complex words (there’s an opaque/transparent pair and an invisible/visible pair). Some of the pages will work better for the parent than for the child they might be reading to: the front/side pair shows that the one-dimensional hippopotamus is reduced to a single line when he turns sideways. But if you’re tired of reading “high and low, fast and slow,” give this book a try and you’ll find yourself reading and explaining more interesting concepts like “clear and blurry” and “positive and negative.” The design is very modern and should appeal to hipster parents everywhere.