Review: Thank You and Good Night

ThankYouAndGoodnight EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-6
Author and illustrator: Patrick McDonnell
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (published October 2015)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 031633801X
ISBN-13: 978-0316338011

The sun set, the moon rose…
and Maggie helped Clement button his favorite pajamas — the ones with the blue and white stripes.

The doorbell rings as Maggie is helping her bunny friend Clement get ready for bed. Surprise! It’s Clement’s friends Jean and Alan Alexander, clad in nightwear and ready for some pyjama party fun.

surprisethankyou

When we first read Thank You and Good Night, I recognized the style of the illustrations, but it took me a while to connect the book to the comic strip Mutts because the sweet simplicity of the words and illustrations in this bedtime tale seem about as far from a the funny pages as you can get.

The adventures of Clement, Jean, and Alan Alexander are not in themselves remarkable:

Alan taught the chicken dance.

Clement won the funny-face contest.

The three friends played hide-and-seek, again and again.

But the uncomplicated joy they take from their time together and in the care of Maggie adds to the charm and comfort of a bedtime story that hits all the right notes. After Maggie reads them their favourite bedtime stories (stories about a majestic elephant, / a brave bear, / and a quiet bunny) they list what they are thankful for, ending with

Bedtime stories,
old and new,
read with love,
to me,
by you.
A long, long list of that and this,
ending with 
a good-night kiss.

The final image shows Maggie, sweetly sleeping with her three stuffie friends.

Thank you Patrick McDonnell, and good night.

 

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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: 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.

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: 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: I Love You, Little One

tafuri

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 3/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book (also available as a picture book)
Age: Newborn to 18 months
Author and illustrator: Nancy Tafuri
Publisher: Scholastic Press (published March 2000)
Pages: 15
ISBN-10: 0439137462
ISBN-13: 978-0439137461

There are certain books that are more beloved by parents than their children. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch is a great example; while this perennial baby shower gift is guaranteed to reduce any new parent — especially any new mother in the throes of postnatal hormones — to a puddle of weepy sobs, it’s a book that parents are frequently more enthusiastic to read than their children are. I Love You, Little One falls into the same category. The sentiment is a lovely one: seven animals each ask, “Do you love me, Mama?” and receive reassuring, lyrical, and ecosystem-appropriate responses (Mama Duck says, “Yes, little one, I love you as the pond loves you, giving you food and places to swim. I love you as the pond loves you, forever and ever and always.”) The illustrations are fairly nice (though the animals are far better drawn than the people) and as the book progresses, the sun travels through the sky and the book ends with a mother putting her child to bed as night falls over a log cabin in the forest. I Love You, Little One is a soothing book that will inspire snuggly feelings at least as much in parents as in their children.

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: A Book of Sleep

515jvzmvz9L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_ EditorsPick (2)

EDITOR’S PICK
GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book (also available as a picture book)
Author and illustrator: Il Sung Na
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (January 2011)
Pages: 24
ISBN-10: 0375866183
ISBN-13: 978-0375866180

Sometimes when I’m trying to put my toddler to bed, she has other ideas.

Okay, she frequently has other ideas.

The pacing of the stories we read before bed can help lead her from a state of literally bouncing off the walls (I do mean literally — one of her current favourite activities is running up to a wall or door and yelling “BOING!” as she bounces off) to a state of calm. All of this, of course, in the hopes that she will actually go to sleep. As we near the dreading Dropping of the Nap, this winding down has become increasingly imperative. Books with a slow, soothing pace help take our wee one from tearing through the hallways shouting “LOOK AT ME! I’M AN ELEPHANT!” to snuggling under her blankets. And since her snuggling under the blankets gets me to the next episode of Downton Abbey faster, I treasure books like Il Sung Na’s A Book of Sleep.

“When the sky grows dark and the moon glows bright, everyone goes to sleep…except for the watchful owl.” A Book of Sleep takes the reader, through the eyes of the owl and via graceful drawings, from animal to animal to learn how they like to sleep. The pacing of the words is rhythmic and sleepy and each delicately illustrated creature is gently slumbering. At last, all the animals awaken…except for the tired owl.

My only regret is that we own the board book version; I wish it was the picture book edition so that we could enjoy the beautiful illustrations more. I have recently discovered that Il Sung Na has other books, which I will be looking into as soon as I can. Really, this is the literary equivalent of a dart gun tranquilizer for children. Highly recommended.

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.