Review: Rosie Revere, Engineer

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GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Andrea Beaty
Illustrator: David Roberts
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (published September 2013)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1419708457
ISBN-13: 978-1419708459

Babies are born to fail, and they’re totally cool with it. Think about how many times they have to try to roll over before succeeding, how much flailing is required before crawling is achieved, and how many bumps on the bum take place before a toddler successfully toddles.

Somewhere along the way, though, that little baby will learn to fear failure. Somehow, trying mightily and failing has become a negative to us, something to be ashamed of.

And so it is for Rosie Revere, who once spent her days creating zany inventions for her uncles and aunts, including “a hot dog dispenser and helium pants” (wonderfully, and hilariously, illustrated by David Roberts). But after her uncle Zookeeper Fred laughed at the hat she invented to keep snakes off his head (“from parts of a fan and some cheddar cheese spray — / which everyone knows keeps the pythons away”), her embarrassment and shame makes her keep her dreams to herself, hiding her machines under the bed and feeling too shy to speak up in class. When Rosie’s great-great-aunt Rose (sharp-eyed readers will recognized an aged Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and tells Rosie of her dreams of flying, Rosie sets out to make a cheese-powered helicopter to make her auntie’s dream come true.

In a moment of genuine suspense, the heli-o-cheese-copter hovers briefly, then crashes — and with it, Rosie’s dreams take another nosedive. She’s done. She’ll never try again (and who among us has not had a moment or two like this?). Great-great-aunt Rose comes to the rescue, though, cheering her for her “perfect first try”: “‘Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! / Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!’ / She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere, / who smiled at her aunt as it all became clear. / Life might have its failures, but this was not it. / The only true failure can come if you quit.”

It may not be the most subtle message, but I think that’s a good thing. I think this is a message that needs to be hung in a frame on every child’s wall and written on the blackboard (or smartboard) at the start of every school day and handed out to every teenager upon graduation. Because, frankly, without the beautiful failures of children, there will be no magnificent achievements in the future. So grab a copy of Rosie Revere for the little girl, or boy, in your life who might be a future astrophysicist, bionanotechnician, or harpsichord and double-necked ukulele virtuoso. Because whatever else our kiddos need to do before they succeed, they’re going to need to do some failing first.


Review: The Seven Silly Eaters

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GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Reprint edition (reprinted August 2000)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0152024409
ISBN-13: 978-0152024406

[Update: Little E’s magical fairyland daycare turned out not to be a magical fairyland after all. We have parted ways, and not amicably. They sure did make nice bowls there, though.]

Little E goes to a magical fairyland daycare. Seriously. I sometimes can’t even believe it’s a real place. They do yoga. They paint watercolours by the lake. They make dancing ribbons to twirl with during their daily music session. They play with wooden toys from Denmark. No macaroni noodles glued to construction paper here — E and her friends rolled out clay with lace and over weeks of glazing, created these artful bowls. F’reals — this was made by my three-year-old.


Some days, when Little E is kicking up a fuss about leaving the house, I want to say, “Fine, kiddo. You stay here and care for the grumpy baby” — it’s molar time for Tiny J — “and I will go to daycare for you.” Spend a day playing dress-up, romping outside with the bunnies and the chickens (I’m not even kidding), and napping? Sign me up.

At Magical Fairyland Daycare, they also eat beautiful, homemade meals made with local, organic ingredients, and the kids eat everything that is put in front of them. So when the lovely caregiver who runs Little E’s daycare recommends a kids’ book about picky eaters, I’m all ears. She’s been working with kids for a long times, and she knows what she’s talking about, and I could use some of her magic.

Mrs. Peters, the beleaguered mother in The Seven Silly Eaters, has a new baby boy named Peter (yes, Peter Peters). Peter “did not like his milk served cold. / He did not like his milk served hot. He liked it warm… / And he would not / Drink it if he was not sure / It was the proper temperature.” Mrs. Peter is one patient lady, and she’s okay with this. Then along comes baby Lucy, who will only drink pink lemonade. Little Jack is next, who will eat nothing but applesauce. You see where this is going: seven children has Mrs. Peters, and not a one will eat the same thing as the others. Between all the demands, the poor mother can hardly cope: “Creamy oatmeal, pots of it! / Homemade bread and lots of it! / Peeling apples by the peck, / Mrs. Peters was a wreck.”

The day before Mrs. Peters’ birthday, she goes wearily up to bed, to gird her loins for another day of drudgery, but the children concoct a plan to make her breakfast in bed. Unfortunately, not a one of the kids can cook, and all their favourite foods get mixed up together and thrown in the oven. When Mrs. Peters awakens, the whole family is floored to find that they have made “a pink and plump and perfect cake!” Everyone is overjoyed and the Peters Cake becomes their everyday meal — ” A single simple meal — just one — / A meal that’s good for everyone.” And best of all, “they all take turns in mixing it. / They all take turns in fixing it. It’s thick to beat and quick to bake — ” / It’s fine to eat and fun to make / It’s Mrs. Peters’ birthday cake!”

The sprightly rhymes of Mary Ann Hoberman bounce right along and Marla Frizee’s rich illustrations are worth looking at carefully: watch the seasons change, notice Mrs. Peters’ descent into frazzle-dom as more and more children are added to her life, and enjoy the realistic depiction of family life: a runaway baby during a diaper change, the constant need for more groceries, a little boy sitting on the toilet in his winter coat with the bathroom door open as his brother merrily brings an armload of snowballs into the house. Little E enjoys pointing out what all the characters are up to in the different scenes (her favourite is when baby Mac dumps a spoonful of oatmeal on the cat while the dog is eating out of his bowl) and the mess in the Peters household somehow made me feel a tiny bit better about the current state of my own home.

The best part of the book? The take-home message is that everyone needs to be involved in making food for the family, and that being a pickypants is not helpful. It’s also been a reminder to me to involve Little E more in meal planning — though my attempts to do so have met with limited success: we leafed through the wonderful Weelicious cookbook together and she conceded that she might be willing to try one new recipe as long as it is in nugget form. At Magical Fairyland Daycare, though, I am told that she eats everything that is put in front of her. Maybe if we read this book a few more times, that attitude will (magically) take hold here too. Although I suspect we would meet with more success if we ate cake at every meal too.



Review: My Many Colored Days


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book (also available as a board book)
Ages: 2-7
Author: Dr. Seuss
Illustrator: Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (published August 1996)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0679875972
ISBN-13: 978-0679875970

Every parent is familiar with the core books of the Seuss canon: The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I hope your shelves also contain the lesser-known Seuss gems such as I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew and The Butter Battle Book. But even dedicated Seussians might have passed this one by, or fail to recognize its author, since it lacks the familiar and fabulous Seuss illustrations and it was published after the good doctor’s death.

The book is a first-person child’s account of feelings and how they change from day to day. “On Bright Red Days / how good it feels / to be a horse / and kick my heels! / On other days I’m other things. / On Bright Blue Days / I flap my wings.” Brown days are “slow and low. low down” and pink days are happy days, for jumping more than thinking. Some days are mixed-up, of course, “and wham! / I don’t know who / or what I am!” Expressive painted spreads by husband and wife illustration team Johnson and Fancher maintain some of the sense of whimsy that can’t seem to be separated from Dr. Seuss’s work, but in a new way, with monodimensional gingerbread-man-style painted cutouts changing colour and morphing into busy bees and howling wolves and lonely dinosaurs.

The book’s writing lacks the rollicking, boisterous rhymes and silly but captivating nonsense of the more famous Seuss stories. But the simple pairing of moods with colours and descriptions of feelings work very well and the book performs a crucial role on a child’s shelf: illustrating and naming feelings and teaching children about emotions. All kids struggle with their feelings; their brains are still working out how to process and express emotions. Frankly, this is something that many an adult struggles with too, so consider picking up a copy of My Many Colored Days for your emotionally stunted adult friends next time you’re wondering the bookstore aisles.

Review: Circus Girl


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Clare Pernice
Publisher: Simply Read Books (published April 2014)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 1927018366
ISBN-13: 978-1927018361

One kind of book I’m always searching for is picture books with strong, independent female protagonists. Girls who are following their dreams, girls who don’t need any help from boys to vanquish the dragon, girls who know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there, girls who are learning about themselves and the road they’re on. It’s an ongoing challenge, though there are a lot more books on the shelves with female heroes than there used to be. Parents need to be constantly vigilant, as we all keep discovering: a Barbie/Tinkerbell book my friend Belinda was reading her three girls contained this gem of a line: “I knew we would be best friends after a makeover” and another friend’s father-in-law gave their three-year-old a book about how “a pretty princess is neat and sweet.” If you don’t think these books are harming little girls’ self-image, or if you’re sure they are, I highly recommend you read Redifining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween by Melissa Atkins Wardy. Actually, you should read it regardless.

Anyway, when I was shopping for books for Little E’s birthday in the summer, I came across Circus Girl and bringing it home was a no-brainer. Subtitled “A Story of Make-Believe,” Circus Girl begins simply, with colourless sketch drawings and “a leotard / socks / and a girl.” The girl sets her stuffies and toys up as an audience and “to the sound of applause / the curtain goes up.” Colour floods the pages and “Tada! It’s CIRCUS GIRL / star of the show.” Circus Girl is “daring and dazzling and Oh! so dramatic”; she’s “courageous / stupendous / and completely outrageous.” In exuberant watercolours, she flies through the air on a trapeze, balances a tower of teacups on her head, and stands atop an elephant’s trunk. On the final page, we see Circus Girl, peacefully sleeping with the stuffed animals who inspired the animals in the circus. She is still Circus Girl, star of the show.

A spirited adventure through the imagination featuring a plucky girl following her dreams, Circus Girl is a heady jaunt with a girl who’s having fun, using her body and her strength, and being exactly who she wants to be.

Of course, it depicts animals in circuses, which is a whole other pile of terrible. But I can only fight one battle at a time here.