Review: Breathe

breathe EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-6
Author and illustrator: Scott Magoon
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (published April 2014)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 1442412585
ISBN-13: 978-1442412583

Mindfulness is the big buzzword all over the place these days. Everyone’s working on being more mindful, parenting more mindfully, eating and exercising more mindfully, and, I don’t know, visiting the toilet more mindfully. It’s a little unfair of me to poke fun, though, since I’ve been practicing mindfulness meditation for five months now and it has kind of completely changed my sleep, eating habits, parenting, thought processes — okay, well, my life. I’m not gonna lie.

If you want to start practicing mindfulness meditation, I can’t recommend this book enough, but if you just want the occasional reminder to slow down and breathe with your children, or if you or your kids like whales (and who doesn’t like whales?), you might want to crack a copy of Scott Magoon’s Breathe.

A young whale starts his day riding on the back of his mama, and with her encouragement starts explore his captivating underwater surroundings a little more independently, a bit at a time, before returning to his mother’s side once more.

“Breathe,” she teaches him; “Dive down deep. / Explore. / Make new friends. / Swim. / Listen to the sea. / Sing. Breathe.”

Magoon’s illustrations are absolutely lovely, beautifully capturing the expanse of the little whale’s world, as well as its ever-changing light and its enormous variety of inhabitants.

You can read this book as a lesson in mindfulness, reminding us to slow down and enjoy all the fleeting moments in our lives, or you can read it as a charming illustration of parenthood, of parents learning to let go as babies and children grow more and more independent, or you can read it as a story about a whale having a lovely day. However you choose to read it, be prepared to spend some time looking up details on all of the Arctic undersea creatures the whale encounters (bioluminescent phytoplankton are currently a hot topic of conversation around here) and be prepared, too, to close the book quietly and sit there for a moment listening to the quiet. Breathe a wonderful choice for a calming bedtime story.

There are very few words in this book, and they’re best read very…slowly.

And don’t…forget…to…

Breathe.

(Take a moment to read about Scott Magoon’s process in creating the artwork for this book over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Apparently this story was once going to be about a narwhal. I kind of wish that had happened.)

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Review: Courage of the Blue Boy

courage

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author and illustrator: Robert Neubecker
Publisher: Tricycle Press (published October 2006)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1582461821
ISBN-13: 978-1582461823

There’s a lot of talk among parents and parenting “experts”* about the idea of grit. Grit is that elusive combination of resiliency and stick-to-it-iveness that is currently being regarded as being more important to achieving success in life than even your choice of preschool or your child’s consumption of kale. Some people say grit can be taught; some people think it’s a product of a child’s experience with adversity; and some people think it’s just a kind of lottery, like which kid will sleep through the night at six months or which kid will have a weird fear of butterflies.

I don’t know how to teach my daughters to have grit (to be gritty?). I don’t know how to give them the courage to keep trying when things get hard, or to believe in their own voice when others don’t agree, or to bounce back when the world is scary.

I only know that books are great teachers, so they’re a good place to start.

Courage of the Blue Boy is about a (blue) boy named Blue and his (blue) calf Polly, who leave their blue world behind in search of a more colourful experience. They explore all kinds of new places — red worlds, green worlds, orange worlds — and then at last they discover a beautiful city rich in the whole spectrum of colour…

…except for blue.

Blue is afraid. In the big city he can find nothing and no one that is blue like him.

So he has to summon the courage to put forth his blue ideas and his blue talents in the big colourful city, bit by bit, until at last the city feels his influence and bits of blue are everywhere among the other colours. “Blue began to breathe in all of the colors of the city, one by one. / They grew inside of him, pink and red and violet, green and purple and orange, white and black and yellow. / He wasn’t just blue anymore. / He was every color of the world.”

I’m not much for picture books whose sole vehicle is a moral message, but author/illustrator Robert Neubecker uses his bold drawings to move the story along smoothly, and the blend of simple story, rich illustration (I love how he brought the colourful city on the green ocean to life), and profound message means that the book can be enjoyed by a broad age range and be a jumping-off point for discussions about diversity and tolerance, courage, and, yes, grit. It certainly isn’t subtle, but if it’s hitting you on the head with a message hammer, the hammer is at least pleasant and brightly coloured.**

Will this book make your children more accepting of diversity or, er, grittier? I can’t tell you that, any more than I can tell you that if they eat kale they’ll live to be four hundred. But you’ve got to begin the conversation somewhere. And sitting down with a big colourful picture book featuring a boy and his calf, and talking with your kids about the beauty of different ideas and the importance of determination, sounds like a pretty good place to start.

Public service announcement: if you were born in the right era, you might just find that reading this book will firmly lodge the song “Blue” by Eiffel 65 into your head, possibly forever. Consider yourselves warned.

*I use quotes because I just don’t think that anyone can be an expert at parenting — that would be like being an expert at living, or an expert on the universe, or an expert on circumstances.

** Courage of the Blue Boy is certainly a far cry from the moral instruction in early children’s books, one of my favourites of which is the exceptionally macabre tale of moral purity A Token for Children: Being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children, in which spiritually strong but physically weak children meet their demises in a variety of ways.

 

Review: Hooray for Hat!

hoorayforhat

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Brian Won
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (published June 2014)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0544159039
ISBN-13: 978-0544159037

If we could all teach our children how powerful kindness can be, do you think we could change the world?

Or maybe what is required to change the world is…funny hats.

Hooray for Hat! opens with an elephant who wakes up in a seriously bad mood. When he hears the doorbell ring, he stomps down the stairs.

“GO AWAY! I’M GRUMPY!”

Only to discover someone has left him a present.

A tall stack of silly hats.

It is decidedly difficult to stay grumpy when you’re wearing a cowboy hat, a crown, a hat with a cup holder, a hat with a cuckoo coming out of it, and a hat with a striped awning. Cheered, Elephant goes to show Zebra, but Zebra doesn’t want to know about his hats because he too is in a bad mood. “GO AWAY! I’M GRUMPY!” Elephant gives Zebra a party hat, which brightens his day, and they go off to show Turtle. The pattern repeats itself, as grumpy animals all over the (minimally but boldly illustrated) forest lose their cantankerousness in the face of preposterously silly hats. “HOORAY FOR HAT!” each friend shouts as frowns are turned upside down, until they meet Lion, who is too worried about his friend Giraffe’s state of mind to be cheered by his hat. So the friends parade over to Giraffe’s and offer him the box of hats. “HOORAY FOR FRIENDS!”

This debut picture book by author and illustrator Brian Won is utterly simple and utterly lovely. Kids and adults will love shouting “HOORAY FOR HAT!” (I found myself shouting it today while we were bundling up to head outside into the snow, and suddenly Little E was less resistant to pulling her fleece hat on) — try it if you don’t believe me. It’s fun to shout. But be warned that you may be met with the occasional shout of “GO AWAY! I’M GRUMPY!”

Simple though it may be, the book communicates its important message unequivocally: small acts of kindness spread happiness wherever you go, even in the face of great grumpiness.

In the words of Brian Won, HOORAY FOR HAT! In the words of Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire, be excellent to each other.

 

Review: Open This Little Book

OpenThisLittleBook

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Jesse Klausmeier
Illustrator: Suzy Lee
Publisher: Chronicle Books (published December 2012)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0811867838
ISBN-13: 978-0811867832

Welcome back! I hope everyone got to have a wonderful holiday and that the holiday hangover has come to an end for all you parents out there. I don’t mean a headache from all that bourbon you snuck into your eggnog, but rather the brutal whininess that seems to come on the heels of any period of relaxed rules, of which the period between about November twenty-fifth and January tenth seems to be, at least around these parts. Candy, toys, gifts, cake, too much excitement and not enough sleep — it’s a perfect storm for meltdowns. We’ve gone into simplicity boot camp around here as part of our recovery from the madness of Christmastime: we’re doing less, taking things a bit more slowly, and simplifying our activities as we try to get back into routine. (If you haven’t read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, it’s a great read about how doing less and simplifying your life can make a huge impact on you and your kids.)

Anyway, as we return to simplicity, I wanted to share a book with everyone that celebrates something quite simple: the magic of the simple, physical existence of a book. Open This Little Book turns traditional book construction upside down…to celebrate the wonder of books themselves. The book begins with a purple book-inside-the-book, which invites the reader to “Open this…Little Red Book,” another book-inside-the-book. The nested books get smaller and smaller as we read a story about a ladybug, who reads a story about a frog, who reads a story about a rabbit, who reads a story about a bear, who reads a story about a giant, whose friends read her a story about…” Well, you’ll have to pick up the book to find out. Little E loves “reading” this book on her own, utterly tickled by the pages that shrink and grow and by the joke about the giant whose hands are too big to read her Little Rainbow Book. She is also captivated by the endpapers, which are a little bit unusual. The whole book, which could easily be a gimmicky throwaway, has been thoughtfully put together and charmingly illustrated to capture the attention of big and little readers and to celebrate all the wonder of reading in one little book — well, several, one inside the other.