Review: Sleep Like a Tiger

Sleep Like a Tiger EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-8
Author: Mary Logue
Illustrator: Pamela Zagarenski
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (October 2012)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0547641028
ISBN-13: 978-0547641027

Once there was a little girl who didn’t want to go to sleep even though the sun had gone away.

Sound familiar?

“Does everything in the world go to sleep?” she asked.

Her parents say yes, everything in the world goes to sleep. Even their dog, “curled up in a ball on the couch, where he’s not supposed to be.” Caldecott Honor winner Pamela Zagarenski’s exquisitely surreal dreamscapes bring to life the dozing animals, from the majestic whales who “swim slowly around and around in a large circle in the ocean and sleep” to tiny snails: “They curl up like a cinnamon roll inside their shell.”

Sleep Like a Tiger

The little girl, who is of course still not at all sleepy, lies in her bed “warm and cozy, a cocoon of sheets, a nest of blankets. Unlike the dog on the couch, she was right where she was supposed to be.”

She wriggled down under the covers until she found the warmes spot, like the cat in front of the fire.
She folded her arms like the wings of a bat.

She circled around like the whale . . .
and the curled-up snail. 
Then she snuggled deep as a bear, the deep-sleeping bear,
and like the strong tiger, fell fast . . . asleep.

The words are reassuring, rhythmic, and gentle. The illustrations, made through a combination of digital artwork and mixed media paintings on wood, are luminous, beautiful enough to be hung in a gallery. There are details to enjoy on every page, from the crowns the family wears to the bunting in the girl’s bedroom that reappears throughout the dreamy animal scenes to the daytime and nighttime scenes of enchanting dream trains on the endpapers. Reading Sleep Like a Tiger may resolve even stressed-out parents’ insomnia troubles. Hands down, our favourite new bedtime book.


How to curate baby’s first library: the ultimate guide

My friends and I recently threw a baby shower for our lovely pregnant friends (well, only one of them is pregnant. It was a co-ed shower.). They wanted a book shower, which is amazing, so everyone brought a book for the baby and wrote a note in it with their best wishes. I had a serious problem, though. I was paralyzed with indecision. She’s a PhD in cognitive studies and linguistics and he’s a letterpress artist and graphic designer. They’re well-read and inordinately, unintentionally cool. Choosing exactly the right book for them was hella intimidating. I eventually on Lenore Klein’s Henri Walks to Paris because it is beautifully designed, boldly illustrated, and delightfully written with a great message about adventures, journeys, and happiness (and also because the couple loves Paris).

But this process got me thinking. This couple doesn’t have any children’s books yet. I do not remember what that feels like, though I know that was once me. I felt like going to Winners and filling up a shopping cart for them. How do you get from No Kids’ Books At All in the house to our situation, which I like to call Overrun by Kids’ Books, wherein you’re constantly trying to corral the piles of books in the shelves and baskets all over the house?

So. If you’re building a baby library from the ground up, what books do you need? How do you cover all your board book basics? Here, then, for all the future babies in your lives and their parents, I present the Aardvark’s Apprentice Ultimate Guide to Curating Baby’s First Library.

Curating baby's first library: the ultimate guide | The Aardvark's Apprentice | Find the best books for kids

All you have to do is pick a book or two from each category to take comfort in knowing that all the literary needs of your future offspring are totally covered.

High-contrast books. Babies aren’t born with the ability to see colours, and high-contrast books appeal to them. As they look at the pictures (why is there always a picture of a fish in these books?), they are learning how we read books (the pages are turned from left to right) and they are associating reading with lovely snuggles, so you are using classical conditioning to make your baby love reading, which is awesome. (You could ring a bell every time you feed her too, and see if she starts to salivate when you ring the bell. That would be neat.) Here are some good high-contrast picks.

(1) blackwhite    (2)look-look1

(3) download (8)      (4) questionmark

(1) White on Black by Tana Hoban. (also available: Black on White! And the thrilling sequel, Black & White!), (2) Look Look! and many subsequent titles by Peter Linenthal, (3) Art for Baby — this one is for very fancy people who are looking for “a perfect way to bring contemporary art to your baby.” (4) Make your own. Seriously. You can just cut some shapes out of black paper and stick them to white paper. Then you can become Pinterest-famous!

The classics. 

goodnightmoon  SnowyDayKeats  Pat_the_Bunny_image  HungryCaterpillar

You just can’t have a baby without one or more copies of

  • Goodnight Moon (though please note that this book is not without issues)
  • The Snowy Day
  • Pat the Bunny
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Good Night Gorilla
  • Ten Little Fingers
  • A selection of Sandra Boynton books (start with Moo, Baa, La La La and But Not the Hippopotamus, perhaps.)
  • A few of the younger Dr. Seuss books.

I know it’s blasphemy to say this, but some of these books aren’t even that awesome. But that’s okay because you probably won’t have to buy them. People will give you these books. You are likely to receive multiple copies. That’s not a bad thing; you can either regift your third copy of Pat the Bunny and it can become someone else’s third copy of Pat the Bunny or you can hold onto it in case your baby turns out to love Pat the Bunny so much that you need copies in every room. (Totally possible.)

Lift the flap books. Start with just a few, but know that your child will rip all the flaps off. Keep tape handy. If you lose the flaps, your baby will probably be just as impressed by a vague shape cut out of construction paper that she can lift.

(1) 71QmQucSriL  (2) wheresspot  

(3) dearzoo (4) isayyousay

(1) Although I wish I could avoid them, I can’t help but recommend the pablum of Karen Katz in this category (see my post about these blandly addictive baby books here). (2) All the Spot books are adored by babies. Even though I feel like I could probably have drawn the pictures as well as Eric Hill, I probably wouldn’t have thought to put a snake in the grandfather clock. Oddly, children don’t seem to find the snake in the clock scary. (3) Dear Zoo is probably my favourite lift-the-flap. But, again, keep that tape handy. (4) I Say, You Say Colors accomplishes the secondary task of being a colour book, a category I am leaving off this list because whether you drill them on their colours or not, they will learn them. Unless they’re colourblind, in which case I guess having a colour book is a good litmus test to find that out.

Books with baby faces. Why do babies like to look at other babies? I have no idea. But they really, really do. We like Global Babies because it’s one of the few books Tiny J (16 months) and Little E (3.5 years) can enjoy together — Tiny J looks at the babies and Little E and I talk about the different places the babies come from (India, Peru, Afghanistan…). Margaret Miller has a series of baby face books that may not qualify as memorable literature, but are certainly guaranteed to captivate your baby.

globalbabies  babyfaces  babyfood  babyfacessmile

Touch and feel books. The quality of these varies tremendously. Some “touch and feel” books have about as much texture as my shower tile. I don’t think you can beat the Usborne That’s Not My… series for variety of textures (I get a kick out That’s Not My Meerkat for reasons I can’t quite explain), but keep an eye out for books like Have You Ever Tickled a Tiger? that have things that are soft and hard and prickly and tickly and feathery and funny to touch. If there’s one things babies love almost as much as baby faces, it’s touching and feeling things.

notmyfrog  tiger  fuzzy

Word books. These are the Most Boring to read, but babies of a certain age (somewhere between ten and fifteen months) adore them, and for good reason: their little brains are soaking up words like my new “waterproof” jacket from Old Navy soaks up the rain. These books are pretty interchangeable in terms of narrative structure (picture of item with name of item) so it doesn’t much matter which ones you get.

first100   firstwords

Bedtime books. Bedtime is the nicest storytime (unless you have a grumpy baby and you really just need to make that kid be asleep — in which case, skip the damn stories and just put that baby to bed. I guarantee you her cognitive development will not suffer from the occasional skipped storytime, but you’ll all suffer if you’re trying to make an exhausted baby listen to your funny Cat in the Hat voices). The sleepier the bedtime book, the better. Chances are pretty good that you’ll be tired enough that you’ll both fall asleep. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

bigredbarn  timeforbed  dreamanimals  bookofsleep

(1) Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown. (2) Time for Bed by Mem Fox. (3) Dream Animals by Emily Winfred Martin. (4) A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na. (One of our favourites; read why here.) Sweet dreams!

Nursery rhymes. Finish this sentence: “The king was in his counting-house…” Can’t do it? You’re going to need a copy of Humpty Who: A Crash Course in 80 Nursery Rhymes. It’s targeted at people who find themselves putting their kids to bed with the Love Boat theme song because they can’t remember more than a few words of the nursery rhymes of their long-ago childhood. The CD is great too. We have a few different treasuries of nursery rhymes — find one you like that has a lot of different rhymes and some lovely illustrations and you’ll be golden. Oh, and make sure it has a section of bouncing rhymes. That was how Tiny J learned how to sign “Again!”

humptywho  treasury

Books to make new parents cry. It’s a mean trick, but every new parent should be given a few books that will make them ugly cry. The best books for this seem to be Love You Forever (though if I’m climbing in through my kids’ windows in the middle of the night someday, someone please have a serious talk with me), Someday (the boy-oriented Little Boy follow-up is a little lacking — sorry, weepy parents of boys), and I Wish You More.

loveyouforever  someday  wishyoumore  OnTheDayYouWereBorn

A book of your family. This takes about ten minutes of work, and it’s very hard to find ten minutes when you have a new baby, so I suggest doing this before the baby is born or tasking a relative with this. Print out photos of your family — you can stick to your immediate family but it’s nice to include grandparents, aunts, and uncles, though you can probably safely leave out Great-Aunt Selma from Albuquerque — and put them in an album. Leave space for a photo of the baby if she’s not born yet. Add a bit of tape to make sure your little mischief-maker can’t get the pictures out. You can buy special soft albums to do this, but the albums from the dollar store work just as well (especially with the tape!). We have hundreds of books in our house, and the kids’ favourite remains the album of photos of all the people who love them.

And that’s how you put together the best library a baby could have! What do you think? Are there any categories of books you think are mandatory? Did I miss any of your baby’s favourites?

Happy reading!
The Aardvark

Review: And Then It’s Spring

And Then It's Spring EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author: Julie Fogliano
Illustrator: Erin E. Stead
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (published February 2012)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1596436247
ISBN-13: 978-1596436244

You guys, sometimes after a long winter, I just cannot remember what spring feels like.

I remember that plants grow, but I can’t quite recall the smell of earth and buds they bring with them or exactly how the tulips look right before they open up (or, in my case, right before the squirrels and rabbits eat them).

We stumbled on this book at the library and I feel like it has reminded me, not only of that smell or the bright green of the first few brave stems pushing their way up toward the sun, but also of that lengthy period of anticipation, when the snow has melted but everything is still brown.

First you have brown, all around you have brown
then there are seeds
and a wish for rain,
and then it rains
and it is still brown,
but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown,
is that a little green? no, it’s just brown sort of brown

A little boy plants his seeds and cares for them — accompanied by his friends (a dog, a rabbit, and a turtle) — and, when they do not grow, wonders “if maybe it was the birds / or maybe it was the bears and all that stomping, because bears can’t read signs that say things like please do not stomp here — there are seeds and they are trying” until one day, of course, he walks out of the house “and now you have green, all around you have green.”

Julie Fogliano’s sparse, expressive, and poetic text accompanies lovely, captivating illustrations by Caldecott medalist Erin E. Stead, who creates her images with a combination of woodblock printing and coloured pencils.

I fell in love with this bespectacled boy and his friends, pressing their ears to the ground to listen for “greenish hum that you can only hear if you put your ear to the ground and close your eyes” and Little E fell in love with the little dirt piles, each carefully labelled with the seeds inside, the seeds that are trying.

A story of hope, and waiting, and perseverance, and green.

Oh, green, you can’t come soon enough around these parts.


Review: The Black Book of Colours

blackbookofcolours EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Menena Cottin
Illustrator: Rosana Faría
Publisher: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press (published June 2008)
Pages: 24
ISBN-10: 0888998732
ISBN-13: 978-0888998736

If we could all understand each other just a little better, see the world from other people’s perspectives, we could change the world.

So why don’t we teach our children about other people’s points of view?

This ingenious, innovative book brings to life the world of a blind child named Thomas through his descriptions of colour to his sighted friend, the book’s narrator. Braille letters accompany the text so that the book can be read in two different ways. Each page is black, and the pictures, also in black, are embossed to give the reader the opportunity to experience “feeling” images and to perceive the world through a sense other than sight. The writing is vivid, opening a window into a world where “yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick’s feathers” and “red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon.”

Can you feel the difference between a brown fall leaf and fresh-cut green grass? Could you tell them apart if you couldn’t see them?

Having recently listened to a fascinating podcast about how some blind people can learn to “see” (really see, not just locate things) through echolocation, I’ve had blindness and perception on the mind lately. In The Black Book of Colors, Venezuelan author/illustrator team Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría bring to life a world most people avoid thinking about — a world without sight — and invite readers to think about perception differently.

I want my kids to grow up able to imagine and think about the world from other people’s perspectives and not to think of people as being less worthy because they lack a sense like sight or hearing, or the capacity to walk, or some other thing that marks them out as being “different.” Everyone is “different,” and books like this help plant the seeds of understanding that we so badly need in the world right now.