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: 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: Circus Girl

circusgirl

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Clare Pernice
Publisher: Simply Read Books (published April 2014)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 1927018366
ISBN-13: 978-1927018361

One kind of book I’m always searching for is picture books with strong, independent female protagonists. Girls who are following their dreams, girls who don’t need any help from boys to vanquish the dragon, girls who know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there, girls who are learning about themselves and the road they’re on. It’s an ongoing challenge, though there are a lot more books on the shelves with female heroes than there used to be. Parents need to be constantly vigilant, as we all keep discovering: a Barbie/Tinkerbell book my friend Belinda was reading her three girls contained this gem of a line: “I knew we would be best friends after a makeover” and another friend’s father-in-law gave their three-year-old a book about how “a pretty princess is neat and sweet.” If you don’t think these books are harming little girls’ self-image, or if you’re sure they are, I highly recommend you read Redifining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween by Melissa Atkins Wardy. Actually, you should read it regardless.

Anyway, when I was shopping for books for Little E’s birthday in the summer, I came across Circus Girl and bringing it home was a no-brainer. Subtitled “A Story of Make-Believe,” Circus Girl begins simply, with colourless sketch drawings and “a leotard / socks / and a girl.” The girl sets her stuffies and toys up as an audience and “to the sound of applause / the curtain goes up.” Colour floods the pages and “Tada! It’s CIRCUS GIRL / star of the show.” Circus Girl is “daring and dazzling and Oh! so dramatic”; she’s “courageous / stupendous / and completely outrageous.” In exuberant watercolours, she flies through the air on a trapeze, balances a tower of teacups on her head, and stands atop an elephant’s trunk. On the final page, we see Circus Girl, peacefully sleeping with the stuffed animals who inspired the animals in the circus. She is still Circus Girl, star of the show.

A spirited adventure through the imagination featuring a plucky girl following her dreams, Circus Girl is a heady jaunt with a girl who’s having fun, using her body and her strength, and being exactly who she wants to be.

Of course, it depicts animals in circuses, which is a whole other pile of terrible. But I can only fight one battle at a time here.