Review: Hog in the Fog

hog EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 3-8
Author: Julia Copus
Illustrator: Eunyoung Seo
Publisher: Faber Children’s Books (March 2012)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0571307213
ISBN-13: 978-0571307210

This is a long review. Sorry. Feel free to skip to the end to watch a YouTube video of a fat British psychic reading this story to you.

When an award-winning poet writes a children’s book, I’m interested.

Julia Copus’s poetry collections have won the Eric Gregory Award for young poets and been shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot prize. I didn’t know that when Little E happened to pick up her first children’s book, Hog in the Fog, at the library the other day, but I like to Google kids’ book authors and it’s right there on her Wikipedia page. “A poet!” I thought. “Perhaps she can rhyme!”

As I’ve complained about before (and likely will again), most rhyming kids’ books have weak metre, where syllables are shoehorned into lines to squeeze the words in, piles of near-rhymes (“sing” and “thin” do not rhyme), and little of the lively, dancing poetry that marks a beautiful rhyming children’s book. These are the books that teach children what rhyme is; these are their first examples of the musicality of rhythmic language. Children deserve better. So when the mouse on the cover caught Little E’s eye and she asked me to read her this poet-penned book, I was in, despite my fear of tusked pigs*.

I was not disappointed. Hog in the Fog features two unlikely friends, Candystripe Lil (a charming wee mouse in a red coat and candy-striped bonnet) and Harry (the eponymous hog, whose diminutive tusks are relatively unthreatening). Lil prepares a tea-time feast for her friend Harry — older children especially will be tickled by the gross-out spread that includes “southern-fried lizard / and earwig fudge, /  a very large bowl of barnacle sludge” — and when he doesn’t show, sets out to find him in the fog. She is joined by three new friends, each of whom has glimpsed a clue and joins the hunt for Harry. Eunyoung Seo’s enchanting illustrations accompany the musical rhymes, with each character strikingly captured (Little E loves the sheep with his blue bandana and my favourite is the deer, whose antlers are decorated with vines, leaves, flowers, and butterflies). Little E also loves the onomatopoeic sounds of the animals walking together in the growing fog: pittery pattery / tippety tappety / munch crunch / tac tac tac / qwaa-aark as Lil, the sheep, the deer, and the crow look for Harry. Together, they find a surprise: the THING they found in the fog, stuck in a bog, and worked together to pull free, is none other than the lost hog himself, tiny tusks and all. “Is there still time for tea?” Harry wonders, and they all head over to Lil’s house to enjoy the feast together.

Hog in the Fog, published this year, is clearly intended as the first in a series (at least “A Harry and Lil story” implies that there will be more), which is good because little E, who has already learned to look at the back of a book to see if there are covers of other similar books we could get, was disappointed to see no further Harry and Lil adventures currently available. So she (okay, we) wrote a letter to Ms. Julia Copus asking if there would be more, and Little E asked if the sheep, deer, and crow could please be featured in future books. So, really, you’ll have Little E to thank for future Harry and Lil stories.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, please enjoy this video to British psychic Russell Grant reading Hog in the Fog by Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo.

*Having been tusked in the thigh by a warthog in Zimbabwe, I am wary of tusked pigs, even friendly talking British ones on their way to enjoy tea with a mouse.


Featured Author: Karen Katz

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I’m not going to lie here. I don’t like these books. I find them boring and repetitive and lacking in any regard for parents or older children who might be forced to sit through a reading. I feel like they underestimate babies’ ability to appreciate even a wee bit of depth.

It doesn’t really matter what I think on this subject, though.

Because babies freaking love Karen Katz books.

These books are like baby crack. Karen Katz books are to babies like Hallowe’en candy is to preschoolers. Every time I whip one of these puppies out for my ten-month-old, and we have at least four of them despite never having purchased one or receiving one as a gift that I can remember — I swear they breed like cockroaches when our backs are turned — her face lights up as though I finally agreed to let her put the put that ball of dog hair in her mouth. She delights in the babies’ weirdly large heads; she loves the patterns on their shirts; she chortles with glee at every surprise under every flap (spoiler alert: it’s a baby).

Katz appears to be generating these books at approximately the same rate as my preschooler makes messes (I imagine her rolling around on piles of baby profit cash), so the selection can be a little overwhelming. That’s okay. They’re all exactly the same. You can just choose one at random; every baby in the world seems to be attracted to all Karen Katz books equally.

The books are bland and silly, but do not let that stop you. Buy some for your baby. Because we’re still not going to let them put the dog hair in their mouths, but at least they can look behind the beach ball and find out what’s behind it*.

*It’s still a baby.

Review: Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Chris Rachka
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (published April 2013)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0375870075
ISBN-13: 978-0375870071

Little E, my three-year-old, is many things. She is perceptive, intelligent, creative, kind, and intuitive.

She is not, however, the most co-ordinated child.

She comes by this honestly. Her father and I are not exactly graceful ballerinas. Tall Guy played football under duress in high school because he was big, until he broke his collarbone. I never found a sport I could play well until I hit upon roller derby — a sport, I am grateful to add, at which you can excel with relatively little grace. I’m not the best roller derby player, but I do have some skill, mostly in the field of brute force.

Anyway, I digress. The situation is that Little E can’t ride her balance bike. All her little friends can zip around on their little bikes and E just walks around, her bike between her knees and her pink helmet perched on her head, her mood alternating between fierce concentration and consuming despair. “It’s not gonna stop wobbling!” she wails, letting her bike fall to the ground. When I suggest we take a break, though, she refuses. What can I say? My family might not be gazelles, but we’re nothing if not determined. But she’s very frustrated with the process. So I defaulted to my usual strategy: I reserved all of the library’s picture books about bicycles, hoping to find one that would help Little E understand that someday the bike will stop wobbling, as long as she doesn’t give up.

Having run through five or six books about bicycles (PS never read Froggy Rides a Bike), I was delighted to come across Chris Raschka’s Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle. The pace is gentle and the watercolour illustrations bold and expressive. The tone is pitch-perfect; without talking down to his young readers, Raschka perfectly captures the frustrations involved in the (sometimes gruelling) process of learning how to ride a bicycle. The young protagonist struggles to pedal on grass, falls when she attempts a small hill, and needs plenty of hugs and encouragement. “Find the courage,” we read, “to try it again, and again, again, and again, and again, until” — we see a series of illustrations of the young bicyclist taking tumble after tumble — “by luck, grace, and determination, you are riding / a bicycle!”

After we read the story a few times over the course of several days, we attempted the bike again. When Little E felt frustrated, we said together “try again, and again, and again, and again!” She’s not there yet, but for the first time, the bike ride attempt involved zero tears. We’ll try again tomorrow. And again. And again. And again.

Review: The Paper Dolls

paper-dolls-jkt-fc1-383x480 EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author: Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Rebecca Cobb
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Children’s Books (published June 2013)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0230741088
ISBN-13: 978-0230741089

And now for something completely different from the author of The Gruffalo and Gruffalo’s Child: Julia Donaldson has applied her gift for rhythmic language to an extraordinary story about imagination, loss, and memory.

“There once was a girl who had tiger slippers…” begins The Paper Dolls, and the reader follows the little girl through the creation of a chain of paper dolls with her mother (“They were Ticky and Tacky / and Jackie the Backie / and Jim with two noses / and Jo with the bow”) and her adventures with the dolls. The sweetly whimsical illustrations and simple, evocative writing carry us into the girl’s imagination, where the the paper dolls narrowly escape the claws and teeth of tiger slippers and a crocodile puppet and explore the world of a honey pot and a plate of toast at the breakfast table. Paper dolls are fleeting visitors, however, and when the little girl’s friends are left in a field and then snipped to pieces by a callous little boy, they are gone — but not really. The beauty of memory and the passage of time are vividly captured in just 32 spare pages that will be treasured for years to come. And of course, there’s a built-in follow-up activity; Big E and I had a great time making paper dolls and taking them on adventures after our first reading of this book.

Warning: may leave a lump in the grown-up reader’s throat, even after five readings. Not that I speak from experience.