Book roundup: The Moon

As I have previously mentioned, Tiny J (2 years) is crazy about the moon. Like, she won’t sleep in the car anymore if we drive at night because she’s too busy updating us about whether or not she can see the moon. The exchange below was on loop for 2.5 hours on a recent drive home from my sister’s house.

“I see the moon, Daddy!”

[pause] 

“Mama, the moon is in my window! I can see it!”

[pause, wail] 

“I CAN’T SEE THE MOON!”

It has been a lot of fun finding moon books to enjoy together. There must be other moon-crazy children out there, so for them, and their parents, here is a roundup of our favourites.

goodnight-moon-cover
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (board book). Let’s just get straight to the elephant in the room.  Regardless of any issues you may have with the child’s bedroom in this book (and there are many), there is still a little bit of magic lining the quiet that hangs in the air every time someone reads “Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere” and closes this book. Even if it’s the seventh time that night.

Moongame
Moongame by Frank Asch (picture book). The illustrations may be simple and the palette may seem a little muted to modern audiences, but this story of a bear playing hide-and-seek with the moon is still a very appealing read.

MoonIsSad
Moon is Sad by Guido van Genechten (board book). It’s simple, it’s sweet, it has a unique structure, and it ends with a wee mouse giving the moon a kiss. Now my kids kiss the moon goodnight. So, a keeper.

TookTheMoon
I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay (board book). I’ve talked about this book before, but with its poetic writing and sense of wonder, it deserves a further mention. I keep waiting for my sister to ask for this loaner back, but hoping she doesn’t.

papa-please-get-the-moon-for-me-9781481431811_hr
Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle (board book). Eric Carle, famed for his famished larva, brings his striking collaged artwork to a lovely story of a dedicated father who wants to bring the moon down for his daughter to play with. An excellent Father’s Day gift if you’re thinking (way) ahead.

SeeYouInthemorning.jpg
I’ll See You in the Morning
by Mike Jolley and Mique Moriuchi (board book).
 Full disclosure: this book isn’t strictly about the moon, but it makes the cut for two reasons: (1) there are enough pictures of the moon to meet Tiny J’s stringent bedtime moon-image quota and (2) it’s such a sweet book that I would shoehorn it onto just about any best-of list. Tiny J likes to say the lines over and over to herself, so sometimes after she’s supposed to be sleeping I’ll hear the refrain drift out from behind her closed door: Dream your dreams of moonbeams. Let the night become your friend. The twinkling stars will keep you safe till morning comes again. One of our all-time favourites.

So, here’s what I need to know: are other kids crazy about the moon or is it just mine?

Review: Hannah’s Night

HannahsNightCover

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-5
Author and illustrator: Komako Sakai
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group (published March 2014)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1877579548
ISBN-13: 978-1877579547

One day
when Hannah woke up,
she was surprised to find
that it was still dark.

I often wonder if my kids realize that the world doesn’t disappear while they’re sleeping. I wonder if they know that once they’re asleep Tall Dude and I have whole other experiences without them (granted, those experiences are frequently limited to Netflix, some wine, and this crack-popcorn my friend Lindsay introduced to us, but I feel like my kids would want in on that if they knew it was happening).

In Hannah’s Night, a little girl wakes up even later than Netflix-and-wine-o’clock, in the wee hours when her parents and her sister are still sleeping and Hannah and her cat Shiro are the only ones awake. Their discovery of the thrilling, silent nighttime world is told through Sakai’s gentle, understated text and textured acrylic-and-oil-pencil illustrations in a palette of deep blues and dark greys.

With no one to tell her what to do, Hannah gives Shiro some milk, helps herself to some cherries without asking, and through a window looks at the moon and discovers “the prettiest dove she’d ever seen.” She also helps herself to some of her sister’s toys, but as the sun rises, Hannah begins to yawn, snuggles up on the edge of her sister’s bed, and falls fast asleep. Sakai brings the sweet wonder of Hannah’s view and the simple magic of the night to life in this lovely bedtime tale.

[You can also enjoy an interview with Komako Sakai over at the wonderful Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.]

Review: I Took the Moon for a Walk

TookTheMoon EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book (also available as a picture book)
Ages: 2-5
Author: Carolyn Curtis
llustrator: Alison Jay
Publisher: Barefoot Books (published September 2008)
Pages: 36
ISBN-10: 1846862000
ISBN-13: 978-1846862007

I took the moon for a walk last night.

Children’s book publishing is a kind of vast ocean, filled with an enormous variety of books: some wonderful, some terrible, and a huge number just kind of meh.

This makes finding outstanding books for your kids a challenging process (which is where we come in), but it also means that every once in a while you stumble on an absolutely lovely gem of a book by serendipity.

Tiny J (now two years old) loves the moon. As soon as the sun sets, she’s craning her little neck at the sky, searching for that glowing orb, and the whole street will hear her joy if she finds it (or her sadness if the moon is hiding behind the clouds — this kid really feels her emotions). She loves the moon so much that for her second birthday party, we had a moon theme. Which turned out to be really easy because all you have to do is cut out moons and stars from Bristol board and stick them to the walls. (We went all out and made moon-shaped cookies, too.)

While we were visiting my sister’s family over the holidays, my sister, familiar with Tiny J’s passion for the moon, pulled out a moon-themed book from their shelves to read, and both Tiny J and I were just entranced by it.

I took the moon for a walk last night.
It followed behind like a still summer kite, 
Though there wasn’t a string or a tail in sight,
when I took the moon for a walk.

We tiptoed through grass where the night crawlers creep,
when the rust-bellied robins have all gone to sleep,

And the Moon called the dew so the grass seemed to weep,
when I took the Moon for a walk.

Lyrical and enchanting, this is just the loveliest bedtime book. It has become a staple in Tiny J’s bedtime rotation, so I hope my sister isn’t hoping to get her copy back anytime soon.

[If you’d like an easy art activity to go along with this book, there’s one over at I Heart Crafty Things.]

 

Review: You are not small

youarenotsmall

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-5
Author: Anna Kang
Illustrators: Christopher Weyant
Publisher: Two Lions (published August 2014)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1477847723
ISBN-13: 978-1477847725

You are small.

This begins You Are Not Small, with a very big furry creature telling a much smaller furry creature exactly what he (she? it?) thinks about her size. “I am not small,” replies the little guy (gal?). “You are big.” The big critter introduces the little critter to its friends (“They are just like me. You are small.”) and the little critter brings its friends into the mix (“They are just like me. You are big.”) and they duke it out for a while  with much shouting (“Big!” “Small!”) until a giant creature stomps into their midst with a BOOM and tiny creatures parachute in from the sky, and everyone peacefully resolves that size is relative after all and the creatures all wander off to grab something to eat, ending with one of the teeny-tinies telling the giant, “You are hairy.”

Tiny J has recently been saying “I can’t, I’m too little” a lot, which tells me that we — Tall Dude, her big sister, and I —are saying that to her too much. I got this book for Tiny J as a Christmas present to try to convince her that size is relative — you know, though she be but small, she is mighty (and she is mighty).

I don’t know whether the message is getting across, but I do know that when the giant creature BOOMS into the middle of the scene, it sets both of my kids off into peals of giggles, and that’s good enough for me. Tiny J hasn’t said “I can’t, I’m too little” in a few weeks, so maybe we’re getting there.

You are Not Small

 

All the World

Review: All the World

All the World EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book (also available as a board book)
Ages: 1-6
Author: Liz Garton Scanlon
Illustrators: Marla Frazee
Publisher: Beach Lane Books (published September 2009)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 1416985808
ISBN-13: 978-1416985808

Rock, stone, pebble, sand.

Marla Frazee’s illustrations always catch my eye when I see them. I’ve already talked about The Seven Silly Eaters and Everywhere Babies, two of my favourite Frazee-illustrated books, so perhaps I should move on to other artists, but she chooses the best books to illustrate. And also, she has the best name. Frankly, I wish my name was Marla Frazee. And not only because that would make me a two-time Caldecott medalist.

All the World is another book-that’s-really-a-poem. And, not unlike When I Was Born, it’s about life. But this book takes a broader perspective.

Body, shoulder, arm, hand
A moat to dig, a shell to keep
All the world is wide and deep.

Simple but profound ideas are brought to life in Scanlon’s tidy rhyming couplets and Frazee’s exuberant illustrations: a day at the seashore is rained out (Slip, trip, stumble, fall / Tip the bucket, spill it all / Better luck another day / All the world goes round this way) and we are reminded that some days are good, and some days are not so good.  Three children clamber into the branches of a massive tree, a young sapling in their red wagon ready to plant: All the world is old and new. Characters recur throughout the pages, widening the focus from one family all families, all people, all part of the world.

Everything you hear, smell, see
All the world is everything
Everything is you and me.
Hope and peace and love and trust
All the world is all of us.

A poem for everyone to enjoy. Is it weird that I want to buy children’s books and give them to grown-ups too? This is one I would love to share with my older friends as well as the younger crowd.

 

 

Review: I am a Bunny

iamabunny EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book (also available as a picture book)
Ages: 0-4
Author: Ole Risom
Illustrator: Richard Scarry
Publisher: Golden Books (originally published in 1963, rereleased January 2004)
Pages: 26
ISBN-10: 0375827781
ISBN-13: 978-0375827785

Kids’ books are amazing these days. There is an astonishing variety available, covering every topic and idea anyone can imagine, and they all seem to do something different — there’s The Book with no Pictures, which has (you guessed it) no pictures; there are books like Press Here! that invite the reader to push and press and tilt them; and stay tuned next week for a review of a book that’s entirely black and helps sighted children get an idea of what the world might look like to a blind person. I love it. As an avowed lover of children’s books, I revel in this wealth and abundance. I love to find books that do things differently and even test our idea of what a children’s book is.

But sometimes, I just want to read my kids a sweet little story about a bunny in overalls.

I am a Bunny is utterly lacking in gimmicks and pretension. A 1963 collaboration between influential children’s book publisher Ole Risom and beloved illustrator Richard Scarry, the book is a gentle exploration of the life of a little rabbit through the four seasons.

I am a bunny.
My name is Nicholas.
I live in a hollow tree.

Scarry’s illustration capture every leaf, every daffodil, and every butterfly in loving detail. Babies and young toddlers love examining all the different creatures and plants, and older children can look up the different birds and insects in field guides. And every child (and most adults) I have witnessed reading this book is captivated by the double-page spread of Nicholas blowing the dandelion seeds into the air.

This book captures the wonder of the natural world at the level of a bunny, or of a child. It’s  not a book you should race through, although it doesn’t have a lot of words and I will admit to pushing it as a bedtime story on rushed nights. This is the kind of book you should savour, delighting in every season as Nicholas enjoys spring, summer, fall, and finally winter.

And, when winter comes,
I watch the snow falling from the sky.
Then I curl up in my hollow tree and dream about spring.

Today’s kids always seem to expect more from toys and books: they want them to beep and boop and sing and dance and pop because so many of their toys and books do. But for more than fifty years now, babies and children have loved snuggling up with a favourite grown-up to enjoy the simple, natural magic of I am a Bunny. This book is the perfect baby shower gift (I got mine from our good friend and occasional nanny — thanks Sarah!) and a classic that belongs on every child’s shelf.

Review: Life is like the Wind

9781760060558

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Shona Innes
Illustrator: Írisz Agócs
Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series (published August 2014)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0764167472
ISBN-13: 978-0764167478

Little E has been all about death in the past few weeks. We’ve been hearing a lot about how “pirates cut you til you’re dead” and how “dead means you’re not around anymore.” That last one is a direct quote from me, because when she asked me what it meant when someone was dead, I was caught completely flat-footed. Those are the words that came out of my mouth, but afterward I wish I had come up with something a little better. Someday I know this question (and the answer we give her) will mean more to her, but fortunately at the moment it’s a relatively trivial matter in her mind. But I was reminded that on the day the question “What does it mean when someone dies?” actually matters to her and her sister, we’d better have something to say.

This book is a great introduction for children to the idea of death and what it means when someone dies. Author Shona Innes, a clinical and forensic psychiatrist with experience working with children experiencing trauma and death, compares life to the wind: “We can’t see the wind, but we know when the wind is there. / The wind makes leaves flutter, / and fur fly, and kites soar high in the sky. / When the wind goes, things are very still. / They don’t flutter or blow or fly or soar anymore.”

“Where does the wind go when we can’t see it moving things?”

“Where does life go when it leaves the body?”

The book leaves plenty of room for discussion and thought, offering simple explanations about different people’s ideas about what happens after death. “Some believe the life enters another body, to give life to a new creature. / Others believe the life goes to a happy place called heaven, / where the life can enjoy its favorite things.”

“And some believe that a little bit of the life stays behind. / Even when the body is gone, / people remember and feel the life, still loving the life deep inside their hearts.”

[Tear.]

Actually, I was okay reading this book until I got to the page “But, like the wind, the life must leave.” Last week was the anniversary of the day my amazing aunt Beth was taken from us by uterine cancer and I will readily admit that this book gave me the ugly cries. I think it was the picture of the rabbit letting go of the red balloon and watching it float up to the sky.

The friendly, calming illustrations do a great job of bringing the words to life without distracting from the admittedly challenging topic. The book is part of a series called Big Hug Books that came out of Innes’s work with families facing challenges; I’m intrigued to read Friendship is like a Seesaw and The Internet is like a Puddle as well.

I haven’t read Life is like the Wind to Little E yet but, when we’re both ready, we can read it together so that maybe she’ll be better prepared for the losses that will come in her life. Or at least, I hope, I’ll be better prepared to talk about them with her.

Review: The Something

something

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Rebecca Cobb
Publisher: PAN Macmillan Childrens Books (published October 2014)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0230764827
ISBN-13: 978-0230764828

You could summarize this book like so: “A girl saw a hole in the ground. The end.” But then again, you could also summarize Goodnight Moon like this: “Goodnight to all the things.”

I was already a fan of Rebecca Cobb’s illustration in Julia Donaldson’s The Paper Dolls when I stumbled across this book at our local bookstore. I occasionally buy books to add to our “gift stash” to bring to birthday parties and whatnot, but this one somehow made it out of the box and onto our shelves because I knew Little E would love it. Cobb’s illustrations are sweetly childlike without being saccharine, and the story is also a child’s-eye-view tale.

So. A girl finds a hole in the ground and wonders what is down there. She’s sure it’s…something. Her mum speculates that the hole might be a doorway into a little mouse’s house; her sister says the something is most likely a scary troll; her best friend is sure it’s a dragon. The split-level illustrations explore the possibilities of the world below the ground, taking us through all the different prospects of what could be down there. Is it a snake? A squirrel? A fox listening to a record player? A mole knitting? We never do find out, but the little narrator is watching…and waiting…just in case.

In the modern age of smart phones and smart toys and smart everything, I think books about the power of the imagination are more important than ever. And this one is simple, lovely, and just the thing to lead readers to go looking for holes in the ground and trees in their neighbourhoods and wonder what somethings might be inside.

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.)

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.