Review: Life is like the Wind


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.”


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 Paper Dolls

paper-dolls-jkt-fc1-383x480 EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author: Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Rebecca Cobb
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Children’s Books (published June 2013)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0230741088
ISBN-13: 978-0230741089

And now for something completely different from the author of The Gruffalo and Gruffalo’s Child: Julia Donaldson has applied her gift for rhythmic language to an extraordinary story about imagination, loss, and memory.

“There once was a girl who had tiger slippers…” begins The Paper Dolls, and the reader follows the little girl through the creation of a chain of paper dolls with her mother (“They were Ticky and Tacky / and Jackie the Backie / and Jim with two noses / and Jo with the bow”) and her adventures with the dolls. The sweetly whimsical illustrations and simple, evocative writing carry us into the girl’s imagination, where the the paper dolls narrowly escape the claws and teeth of tiger slippers and a crocodile puppet and explore the world of a honey pot and a plate of toast at the breakfast table. Paper dolls are fleeting visitors, however, and when the little girl’s friends are left in a field and then snipped to pieces by a callous little boy, they are gone — but not really. The beauty of memory and the passage of time are vividly captured in just 32 spare pages that will be treasured for years to come. And of course, there’s a built-in follow-up activity; Big E and I had a great time making paper dolls and taking them on adventures after our first reading of this book.

Warning: may leave a lump in the grown-up reader’s throat, even after five readings. Not that I speak from experience.

Review: A Visitor for Bear

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

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: A Second is a Hiccup

second-is-a-hiccup EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 3-8
Author: Hazel Hutchins
Illustrator: Kady MacDonald Denton
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (March, 2007)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0439831067
ISBN-13: 978-0439831062

I don’t know about you, but I’m forever saying things like “Five minutes to bedtime,” “I’ll be off the phone in thirty seconds; please be patient,” and “Grammie is coming to visit us in two weeks!” But anyone who has tried to get a preschooler out the door in a timely fashion knows that children are not born with an innate sense of time. So how does a child come to learn the difference between a second, a minute, and a week? How do they unravel the mystery of how we track time? If they’re lucky, they’ll learn these secrets, or at least begin to learn them, through Hazel Hutchins’ wonderful book A Second is a Hiccup.

How long is a second? “A second / is a hiccup — / The time it takes / To kiss your mom / Or jump a rope / Or turn around.” With bouncy rhymes and lively watercolour illustrations, the author and illustrator take the reader from seconds to minutes to days to weeks to months to years…and finally to the measure of a childhood: “Changes come and changes go / Round and round the years you’ll grow / Till you’re bigger, till you’re bolder / Till you’re ever so much older / And through all the hours and days / As time unfolds in all its ways / You will be loved — / As surely as / A second /is a hiccup.”

The book introduces the beginnings of some basic math and time concepts for children who are starting school. The explanations in this book are more metaphorical than concrete, however, so children who are actually studying units of time in school may not find that the words match what they are learning. I hope very much that it will give them a different perspective on time and its passage, though, so that perhaps they will learn that a minute is not just sixty seconds but “A happy, hoppy little song / Chorus, verses, not too long / Just enough to fill / A minute.”

Parents will enjoy this book as much as their kids. Every time I read it I am made even more keenly aware of how quickly the seconds and minutes with my young children are slipping by. “Sunshine, snow and rain and squall / Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall / Twigs on trees grow leaves and peaches / See how far a whole year reaches.” And how quickly it zips by.

Review: A House is a House for Me


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Age: 3-6
Author: Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrator: Betty Fraser
Publisher: Puffin (September 2007)
Pages: 48
ISBN-10: 0142407739
ISBN-13: 978-0142407738

I live in a house, but where does an ant live? A whale? A hickory nut? This merry exploration of all kinds of houses answers these questions in spirited rhyme (“A web is a house for a spider. / A bird builds its nest in a tree. / There is nothing so snug as a bug in a rug / And a house is a house for me!”) and broadens the question farther to wonder at how “A mirror’s a house for reflections” and “A throat is a house for a hum.”

A House is a House for Me was originally published in 1978, and its age does sometimes show. Few picture books published today, for example, would contain this rhyme: “An igloo’s a house for an Eskimo. / A tepee’s a house for a Cree. / A pueblo’s a house for a Hopi. / And a wigwam may hold a Mohee.” It’s just one page, though, so you can go ahead and act the same way you do when your elderly grandma talks about “that nice coloured fellow” or your ageing father-in-law says “honolable Japanee so solly” when he steps on your toe: smile awkwardly and change the subject. Or, even better, you could use the page as the start of a discussion about stereotypes and diversity and get some books featuring First Nations and Inuit protagonists out of the library to explore together.

A House is a House for Me is a curious child’s-eye-view examination of where everyone, and everything lives, and will certainly lead you and your little one to look a little more closely at the world around you and wonder what the houses are for everything you pass. “Cartons are houses for crackers. / Castles are houses for kings. / The more that I think about houses, / The more things are houses for things.” You may find, after reading this book, that you are looking at the world just a little differently too!