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.

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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: 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: 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: Oh, No!

ohno EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-6
Author: Candace Fleming
Illustrator: Eric Rohmann
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (published September 2012)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0375842713
ISBN-13: 978-0375842719

One of the hallmarks of richly rhythmic language in a children’s book is if it gets stuck in your head like a catchy song.

For me, anyway. Maybe you lot don’t hear voices the way I do.

What? Stop looking at me that way.

Oh, No! is set in the Asian jungle, inexplicably a less attractive setting for writers and illustrators than the African jungle. For parents who have tired of reading books about lions and giraffes, the location offers a refreshing change of pace as well as several creatures children may not have encountered before, such as a loris and a sun bear. There is a deep, deep hole in the jungle floor, and one by one, the animals fall in and become trapped: a frog, a mouse, a loris, sun bear, and a monkey. Lurking nearby is a hungry tiger who is pleased to find a generous meal conveniently trapped for him. But before he can get to any of the terrified animals “[… the ground bumble-rumbled and began to shake. / BA-BOOM! / BA-BOOM! / … The ground bumbled-rumbled and quake-shake-quaked.” The heroic elephant arrives just in time to help his friends out of their predicament — and the tiger finds himself at the bottom of the deep, deep hole. “Oh, no!”

Children will love chiming in with the repeated refrain — “Oh, no!” — as the animals tumble into the hole, and small details such as the loris’s allergy to cats (including tigers) and the fate of the careless monkey will delight readers of all ages. Eric Rohmann’s striking illustrations make an absolutely perfect accompaniment to the text: Rohmann plays with perspective so that much of the book looks up from the bottom of the deep, deep hole, plunging the young reader right in there with the trapped animals (is that the tip of the tiger’s tail we see?). Refreshingly, the writing is musical without rhyming, and the animal sounds are vividly captured ( though the monkey’s cry of “Wheee-haaa!” was offensive to Little E, who insists that monkeys can only say “ooh ooh ah ah.”). And if you’re like me, you might find yourselves washing dishes while mumbling “Loris inched down from his banyan tree. Soo-slooow! Soo-slooow!….” But I’m starting to think that might just be me. Well, it’s better than the six-month period I spent with “99 Luftballons” ricocheting around my head, or listening to Tall Dude whistling his perennial earworm, the theme song to Super Mario Brothers 2.*

Incidentally, if you or your wee one find yourselves unhappy with the ending, in which the animals head off together and leave the tiger trapped in the deep, deep hole, look carefully at the last illustration: the tiger escapes to live another day.

*It’s been stuck in his head since we started dating. Twelve years ago.

Review: A Visitor for Bear

A-Visitor-for-Bear-by-Bonny-BeckerEditorsPick (2)

EDITOR’S PICK
GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 2-5
Author: Bonny Becker
Illustrator: Kady MacDonald Denton
Publisher: Candlewick (August 2012)
Pages: 56
ISBN-10: 0763646113
ISBN-13: 978-0763646110

We’re all about bears over here. Little E (2.5) is forever telling me there’s a scary bear in her room, or a friendly bear sitting at the table, or a friendly scary bear standing in our backyard. We spend a lot of time pretending to hide from scary bears, and friendly bears — I’m not sure Little E is precisely sure about the difference. Fortunately, we live downtown, so she is unlikely to have to judge the intentions of an approaching ursine. This is especially good since I’ve told her that she can get rid of a scary bear by clapping her hands and yelling “Go away, scary bear!”  This is not part of the Ministry of Environment’s recommended Bear Safety Plan.

Anyway, she usually picks out books about bears from the library these days. I’m cool with it; bears are neat. Some of the bear books are better than others. I’ve already told you how much we’ve enjoyed Karma Wilson’s bear series, and now we’ve found a new bear book that turns out to be the first in a series as well. A Visitor for Bear features a misanthropic bear who protects his solitude with a No Visitors Allowed Sign and a plucky mouse, whom I always imagine speaking in a high-pitched upper-crust English accent (my read-alouds of this book are a bit flawed as I don’t do a very good English accent), who is determined to visit for at the very least a cup of tea. The bear only wants to make his breakfast, but when he finds he can’t keep his visitor out — he finds him in the bread drawer, the fridge, and the teakettle — he discovers that perhaps company is not so very bad after all. The combination of Becker’s characters’ personalities and absolutely winning prose with Denton’s spot-on watercolour illustrations works together to bring Bear and Mouse to life believably, humorously, and unforgettably. Little E has been asking for A Visitor for Bear several times a day. We can’t wait to read more in this series.

Review: Wind Says Goodnight

windsaysgoodnight EditorsPick (2)

EDITOR’S PICK
GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 3-6 years
Author: Katy Rydell
Illustrator: David Jorgensen
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (published March 1994)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0395604745
ISBN-13: 978-0395604748

Fair warning: this book appears to be out of print. This is a travesty, because Wind Says Goodnight is among the loveliest, gentlest stories I have found to read at bedtime. I discovered the book was out of print when I tried to bulk-order a bunch of copies to give to pretty much everyone I know who has either a kid or a sleep disorder. Currently topping my to-do list is “Email HMH Books for Young Readers to demand they do a reprint of WSG.” If that doesn’t work, I may start an online petition, or a picket, or perhaps a campaign of veiled threats of violence. Which would sort of go against the spirit of this soothing, lyrical lullaby-in-a-book.

Wind Says Goodnight tells the tale of a child who can’t fall asleep because Mockingbird is singing outside, on the branch of a tree. The night wind asks Mockingbird to stop singing, but Mockingbird can’t stop singing until Cricket stops playing, and Cricket can’t stop playing until Frog stops strumming, and Frog can’t stop strumming until Moth stops dancing…well, you get the idea. What really stands out in this story, along with the graceful, repetitive storyline, is the vibrantly descriptive language. When at last the night wind scoops up Cloud to cover the earth so Moon will stop shining so Moth will stop dancing, the gentle rain “began to fall, tumbling down through the dark, splashing on the flat bay waters, skipping on the warm green earth.” Author Katy Rydell’s lyrical prose brings the scents of the damp earth and the sounds of the creatures’ music to life, and the story’s sweet, cadenced rhythm work together with Jorgensen’s distinctive pencil crayon illustrations to put this book squarely in my favourite category: Xanax for Children, or books that will bring down even the most hyper toddler or preschooler and put him or her into a sleepin’ state of mind. Never have I read through the book without finishing in a low, near-reverent whisper.

So cruise your used bookstores, watch on eBay, check out the used books on Amazon and AbeBooks, or send bomb threats to the publisher, but one way or another, find yourself a copy of Wind Says Goodnight. Your bedtime routine will thank you.

Review: Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?

9780547752679_p0_v1_s260x420


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 3/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 1-3 years
Author: Eve Bunting
Illustrator: Sergio Ruzzier
Publisher: Clarion Books (published March 2013)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0547752679
ISBN-13: 978-0547752679

A small green duck has lost his socks. (“They are such a pretty blue! I just got them. They are new.”) Every child can relate to the loss of an everyday but treasured item. Toddlers, especially those between two and three, will find the duck forlornly searching for his new blue socks a sympathetic hero and will enjoy both the simple, rhyming story (fans of Dr. Seuss classics such as Fox in Socks will see the inspiration of the master of rhyme here) of his quest and the surprise of the ending. Older children might lose interest after one or two re-readings, but for a toddler with limited vocabulary, this story is sure to be a hit.

Review: Big Red Barn

51r6oTXgSaL._SL500_AA300_EditorsPick (2)

EDITOR’S PICK
GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book or picture book
Author: Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrator: Felicia Bond
Publisher:  HarperFestival (published January 1995)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0694006246
ISBN-13: 978-0694006243

“By the big red barn / In the great green field, / There was a pink pig /Who was learning to squeal.” Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952), the canonical author behind Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, brings her evocative prose to the barnyard and the entrancing animals that inhabit it. Sweetly illustrated by Felicia Bond, this book follows the animals of the barn as the day passes and evening falls. “And there they were all night long / Sound asleep / In the big red barn. / Only the mice were left to play, / Rustling and squeaking in the hay, / While the moon sailed high / In the dark night sky.” Children and parents alike will be comforted and warmed by this simple, cozy story: the perfect book to read at bedtime.

Review: Potty Animals

Potty Animals: What to Know When You'e Gotta Go!

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 3/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 2-5
Author: Hope Vestergaard
Illustrator: Valeria Petrone
Publisher: Sterling (published March 2010)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1402759967
ISBN-13: 978-1402759963

There’s a lot to learn for a young child attempting to master the toilet. Getting up there is a hard enough job, never mind remembering how to pull down all the clothes that need to be pulled down, whether the door is supposed to be open or closed, and that we must use soap to wash our hands. Potty Animals uses an engaging cast of characters — an eclectically named group of animals attending preschool together — to teach some of the finer points of toilet usage: knock before entering the bathroom, use the toilet before you go to sleep, and don’t forget to flush.

While the premise of the book is solid, and whimsical creatures like Helga the duck and Benji the lemur play their parts perfectly, the book comes off as preachy rather than reassuring to new toilet users. When a young rabbit is plagued by a common fear (“Freddie is afraid to flush. / He doesn’t like the sound. / He worries that he’ll get sucked in, and tossed and sloshed around”), the book simply exhorts “Don’t forget to flush, Freddie!” without any comfort or explanation. Similarly, Wilbur the hedgehog is told, “Wilbur, always wash with soap!” when he doesn’t want to, but no reason is given. The story might serve as a reminder for children who already know the rules, but doesn’t give much help to toddlers fresh out of diapers who don’t yet know the whys and wherefores of bathroom use.