Review: Get Out of My Bath!

Get Out of My Bath!

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-5
Author and illustrator: Britta Teckentrup
Publisher: Nosy Crow (published August 2015)
Pages: 24
ISBN-10: 0316015474
ISBN-13: 978-0316015479

It’s Ellie’s bath time.
Can you help her make some waves?

Ellie the elephant is enjoying her bath, accompanied by her rubber ducky, when she is joined by an uninvited visitor: a bright green crocodile splashes in to join her. Then a flamingo turns up. And then…a tiger! At last, when it seems the bath cannot possibly fit another creature, a mouse joins the party. What’s a poor elephant to do?

Little fans of Press Here, Tap the Magic Tree, and other interactive picture books will enjoy this simple, sweet picture book with its bright collaged images and its invitation to the reader to tilt the book this way and that to make waves for Ellie to ride and (every kiddo’s favourite part — or at least my kids’) to shout, “Get out, Crocodile!” The book features lovely attention to detail, from the spot gloss on the water to give it some sheen to the droplets on the last page. Get Out of My Bath! is simple but definitely a winner. And best of all, it’s suitable for kids of different age groups — Little E (four) and Tiny J (just turned two) have been loving reading this one before bed for the past week. If you’re walking past our house around seven, you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear a very loud “Get out, Crocodile!”

 

Featured Series: Little Kids First Big Books

First Big Book of Space  First Big Book of Dinosaurs  First Big Book of Animals  Little Kids First Big Book of the Ocean

Little E turns four this summer, and suddenly we’re being peppered with questions that are not as easy to answer as they used to be. I can handle “How does a carrot grow?” and “Is Daddy a giant?” but suddenly it’s “Where does the wind come from?” and “Would this big dinosaur be able to eat that dinosaur?” We haven’t yet entered the world of “How many moons does Jupiter have?” yet, but I like to be prepared, and I really like these National Geographic Little Kids First Big Books. There are lots of them, covering everything from bugs to space to the ocean, and including The Little Kids Big Book of Why, which gives you somewhere to turn when children ask “How does dough become a cookie?” or “Why do I have a belly button?” and The Little Kids Big Book of Who, which introduces children to all kinds of people they might want to know about, from the Beatles to Malala Yousafzai.*

These books are just slightly too old for Little E, so I would recommend them more for the four-and-up crowd. They have enormous rereadability and make great references. When I was a kid, we had a junior encyclopedia that was fundamental to my school career and interests. But even in this age of ubiquitous technology, children need to know how to look things up in atlases and other reference books, how to use an index, and what a glossary is for. The Little Kids Big Books series lays a great foundation for those skills, while still being well written and packed with great photos and visuals.

Have you checked out these books? Does your family have some favourite reference books to recommend?

  • Any book of biographies is bound to be problematic for some people, because you can’t include everyone, but the Big Book of Who has made a valiant effort to include a diverse group of people and give decent coverage to women. A lot of people and groups are still left out, but as always, I think that makes for a good jumping-off point for talking about why underrepresented people are sometimes left out and how to find out about the people who don’t always make it into books.

Featured Series: Up and Down / Over and Under

I don’t know if two books can be said to constitute a series. I doubt it. But I wanted to talk about these books together and I feel like “Featured Pair” sounds weird. So here we have a featured series of two.

Over and Under the Snow  Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

All around us and under our feet, a hidden world of animals and insects buzzes and thrums with activity and is transformed with the changing of each season. Over and Under the Snow brought the wintertime version of this world vividly to life through the writing of Kate Messner and illustrations by Christopher Silas Neal. A father and daughter cross-country-ski together through the deep forest and as they glide over the snow, the book reveals all the creatures who are making their lives under the snow.

Under the snow, a chipmunk wakes for a meal. Bedroom, kitchen, hallway—his house under my feet.

Under the snow, a queen bumblebee drowses away December, all alone. She’ll rule a new colony in spring.

Under the snow, fat bullfrogs snooze. They dream of sun-warmed days, back when they had tails.

Over the snow, the skiing pair spot the deep hoof prints of a deer, the frozen reeds of a marsh, a fox. We loved this book from the first read, the cozy pictures of the hibernating and snacking creatures, the child’s gliding progress through the woods to a campfire meal and a warm bed. The book has become a bedtime favourite, since it ends with snuggling under warm covers and the beauty of the night sky.

Four years later, Messner and Neal have teamed up again for Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, featuring a girl (I like to presume it’s the same girl) and her Nana, growing a food garden. The book begins in early spring and brings us through all the stages of a vegetable patch, from planting seeds to harvesting the fruits of their labours and the taste of a sun-warmed tomato.

Down in the dirt, pill bugs chew through last year’s leaves. I give a gentle poke. They roll up tight and hide in plated suits of armor, roly-poly round.

Down in the dirt, water soaks deep. Roots drink it in, and a long-legged spider stilt-walks over the streams.

Down in the dirt, frantic ants gather what we leave behind. They’re storing food for cooler days ahead.

The carrots poke out from the earth, the dirt and deep roots drink the water the girl and her Nana provide, the sunflowers are tied into a house for reading. The book takes us into autumn, and a night that smells of snow. The girl goes in for her Grandpa’s soup, and the garden goes to sleep for another winter.

The two books follow the same format, telling parallel stories about what’s going on above in the world of humans and aboveground plants and animals while following along with all the critters living below. The intricately detailed illustrations bring both worlds to life, and the writing is lively and expressive as well as genuinely enlightening (maybe you already know that ladybugs eat aphids, but I didn’t!). An author’s note and an “About the Animals” section at the back of each book gives further information about all the animals you meet in the pages.*

These books make great reads either on their own or together, especially for an aspiring naturalist. Over and Under the Snow brings to life the magic of a trip through the forest on cross-country skis, and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt captures the wonder of a vegetable garden coming to life through the seasons…and makes me ache for the first sprouts of green to poke out of the cold earth at last (spring is late to the party here).

 

*Fun fact: pill bugs (we always called them potato bugs) are actually crustaceans.

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: 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: Perfectly Percy

percy

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-6
Author and illustrator: Paul Schmid
Publisher: HarperCollins (published January, 2013)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0061804363
ISBN-13: 978-0061804366

While we were packing up to go to a cottage with family this past weekend, Little E seemed deeply concerned about the potential presence of porcupines. I reassured here that we were very unlikely to see a porcupine at the cottage (I did not mention that there might be some porcupine remains on the highway we would traverse to get there) and that if we did see one it would be quite likely to run away as fast as its fat little legs could take it. Still, my three-year-old persisted (don’t they always?). Would there be porcupines? Would they come into the cottage? We would be celebrating Tiny J’s first birthday and my niece’s fourth at the cottage, and Little E was adamant that the porcupines would not be welcome at the birthday parties. Eventually, in response to what I do not know, she relented. They could come, but only if they brought their cereal bowls.

I had no idea what my bizarre child was on about.

When we arrived at the cottage, my mother greeted Little E with a hug and the words “There better not be any porcupines around here!” and I finally put my foot down and demanded to know WHAT exactly was going on with these bloody porcupines.

My mom handed me a copy of Perfectly Percy she had read to Little E recently and the mystery was solved. Porcupines could not attend the birthday parties because they might pop the balloons.

Percy is a little porcupine with a predictably ill-fated love of balloons. When he can’t keep his balloons from popping on his pointy quills, he doesn’t want to cry or give up, so he thinks. He thinks and he thinks and he thinks, and then he asks his big sister Pearl for ideas. When her suggestion — little marshmallows on the ends of all of Percy’s quills — doesn’t pan out, Percy goes back to thinking for himself. Over his breakfast cereal, his thoughts finally coalesce into a beautiful idea. A cereal bowl on his head provides protection for the balloons and Percy and his balloons can have all the fun they want together. Have fun, Percy!

The story and the pictures in Perfectly Percy are both sweet and simple — and the words few enough that a younger child can follow along — but both also have enough depth to maintain interest over several readings and to hold the attention of a preschooler or kindergartener. Percy is a porcupine with personality, no two ways about it, and kids will relate to the challenges he faces while he tries to come up with a solution to his problem, including a mother who’s too busy to help him and distracting thoughts of ice cream. The subtle messages about perseverance and thinking for oneself are also bonuses in my (metaphorical) book.

Be warned, however: your child is very likely to try to put her cereal bowl on her head after reading this story, so it might be an idea to have a clean one around to avoid a problem I’m going to call Milk Hair. I’m just saying.

Review: Little Peep

littlepeep

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Jack Kent
Publisher: Prentice Hall (published April 1981)
Pages: 30
ISBN-10: 0135377463
ISBN-13: 978-0135377468

Correlation does not equal causation.

This is a basic tenet of scientific inquiry. If it rains every time you wear a yellow shirt, it does not mean that your yellow shirt can make it rain. There could be some other factor that causes both the yellow shirt wearing and the rain, or it could be entirely a coincidence (a more likely answer in this example, but one must never make assumptions without evidence).

In Jack Kent’s Little Peep, a newborn chick in the farmyard meets an arrogant cock who claims he makes the sun rise with his crow.

Does the sun rise because the cock crows, or does the cock crow because the sun rises?

At its most basic level, Little Peep is a story about talking animals and two chickens who learn a valuable lesson about not pushing people around. However, if you come from a family of statisticians and economists, as my kids do*, you may find yourself using this book as a teachable moment to talk about confirmation bias, belief perseverance, and cognitive inertia. It is comical to hear Little E lisp “confirmation biath,” but the bottom line is that kids freaking love stories about talking animals, especially talking farm animals, and Jack Kent, rest his soul, knows how to write talking farm animals. Also, it’s funny. A baby chick falls into a tin cup, animals get confused about the time of day, and — Little E’s favourite part — cows and pigs try to crow like a rooster (“MOO-KA-DIDDLE-MOO!” “OINK-A-DIDDLE-OINK!”) There are loads of opportunities for the Out-Loud Reader to ham it up with elaborate voices for the horse, the cow, the pig, the cock, and Little Peep himself. Take or leave the lessons about the scientific method, this book is the height of humour for the preschooler set.

Fair warning: this book was written in 1981. Consequentially, (1) it is hard to find, though your local library may have a copy kicking around and I’ve seen it on AbeBooks and Amazon, and (2) the farmer has a gun. I mean, I guess lots of farmers have guns in real life, but I personally try to keep my kids’ books relatively light on the firearms. I’ve been thinking about cutting out a pitchfork and gluing it over the gun in the book. You may feel differently.

P.S. If you’re interested in a very funny look at how correlation does not equal causation, head over to Spurious Correlations to speculate on what the link between number people who drowned by falling into a swimming pool
and number of films Nicolas Cage appeared in or between per capita consumption of chicken (US) and total US crude oil imports.

*Tall Dude’s family. My people are language people.

Review: Hog in the Fog

hog EditorsPick (2)

EDITOR’S PICK
GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 3-8
Author: Julia Copus
Illustrator: Eunyoung Seo
Publisher: Faber Children’s Books (March 2012)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0571307213
ISBN-13: 978-0571307210

This is a long review. Sorry. Feel free to skip to the end to watch a YouTube video of a fat British psychic reading this story to you.

When an award-winning poet writes a children’s book, I’m interested.

Julia Copus’s poetry collections have won the Eric Gregory Award for young poets and been shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot prize. I didn’t know that when Little E happened to pick up her first children’s book, Hog in the Fog, at the library the other day, but I like to Google kids’ book authors and it’s right there on her Wikipedia page. “A poet!” I thought. “Perhaps she can rhyme!”

As I’ve complained about before (and likely will again), most rhyming kids’ books have weak metre, where syllables are shoehorned into lines to squeeze the words in, piles of near-rhymes (“sing” and “thin” do not rhyme), and little of the lively, dancing poetry that marks a beautiful rhyming children’s book. These are the books that teach children what rhyme is; these are their first examples of the musicality of rhythmic language. Children deserve better. So when the mouse on the cover caught Little E’s eye and she asked me to read her this poet-penned book, I was in, despite my fear of tusked pigs*.

I was not disappointed. Hog in the Fog features two unlikely friends, Candystripe Lil (a charming wee mouse in a red coat and candy-striped bonnet) and Harry (the eponymous hog, whose diminutive tusks are relatively unthreatening). Lil prepares a tea-time feast for her friend Harry — older children especially will be tickled by the gross-out spread that includes “southern-fried lizard / and earwig fudge, /  a very large bowl of barnacle sludge” — and when he doesn’t show, sets out to find him in the fog. She is joined by three new friends, each of whom has glimpsed a clue and joins the hunt for Harry. Eunyoung Seo’s enchanting illustrations accompany the musical rhymes, with each character strikingly captured (Little E loves the sheep with his blue bandana and my favourite is the deer, whose antlers are decorated with vines, leaves, flowers, and butterflies). Little E also loves the onomatopoeic sounds of the animals walking together in the growing fog: pittery pattery / tippety tappety / munch crunch / tac tac tac / qwaa-aark as Lil, the sheep, the deer, and the crow look for Harry. Together, they find a surprise: the THING they found in the fog, stuck in a bog, and worked together to pull free, is none other than the lost hog himself, tiny tusks and all. “Is there still time for tea?” Harry wonders, and they all head over to Lil’s house to enjoy the feast together.

Hog in the Fog, published this year, is clearly intended as the first in a series (at least “A Harry and Lil story” implies that there will be more), which is good because little E, who has already learned to look at the back of a book to see if there are covers of other similar books we could get, was disappointed to see no further Harry and Lil adventures currently available. So she (okay, we) wrote a letter to Ms. Julia Copus asking if there would be more, and Little E asked if the sheep, deer, and crow could please be featured in future books. So, really, you’ll have Little E to thank for future Harry and Lil stories.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, please enjoy this video to British psychic Russell Grant reading Hog in the Fog by Julia Copus and Eunyoung Seo.

*Having been tusked in the thigh by a warthog in Zimbabwe, I am wary of tusked pigs, even friendly talking British ones on their way to enjoy tea with a mouse.