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.

 

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.]

 

The Insomniacs

Review: The Insomniacs

The Insomniacs EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 4-8
Author: Karina Wolf
Illustrators: The Brothers Hilts
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (published August 2012)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0399256652
ISBN-13: 978-0399256653

The Insomniacs weren’t always a night family.

After moving twelve time zones away for Mother’s new job, the Insomniac family finds themselves with a problem: they are up all night and can’t stay awake during the day. With some inspiration from their nocturnal animal neighbours, they decide to embrace the night themselves.

With a story that could have come from Neil Gaiman and illustrations reminiscent of Tim Burton’s, The Insomniacs is not your typical picture book. An utterly unique cast of characters, including a little girl with an unusual menagerie of nighttime pets, is complemented by surprising and wondrous illustrations in a palette of deep blues, indigo, and black. There is something oddly comforting in the nighttime world of the Insomniac family, and certainly something magical. Highly recommended.

 

The Story Blanket

Review: The Story Blanket

The Story Blanket EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Authors: Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz
Illustrator: Elena Odriozola
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (published July 2009)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1561454664
ISBN-13: 978-1561454662

Deep in the snow-covered mountains was the tiny village where Babba Zarrah lived. The children loved to settle down on Babba Zarra’s big old blanket to listen to her stories.

Babba Zarrah, noticing a hole in little Nikolai’s shoe, decides to knit him some nice warm socks. But the village is snowbound and there is no way to buy new wool. So she unravels a little bit of the story blanket to knit the socks.

Then she notices that the postman is looking chilly.

Once socks have been knit for Nikolai and a scarf for the postman, Babba Zarrah moves on to warm mittens for the schoolmaster  and a shawl for the grocer, leaving her gifts anonymously. No one knows who is knitting the wonderful presents. The story blanket is growing smaller and smaller by the day, and the children must sit closer and closer together to hear Babba Zarrah’s stories. Eventually, the whole village, down to the tailor’s scraggly cat, is warm and snug, and the story blanket is gone! The people of the village come together to find out what is going on and to give a memorable gift to Babba Zarrah to thank her for her generosity.

This charming story knits together (see what I did there?) themes of generosity, the gift of the handmade, and the importance of community, all with the enduring sense of timelessness of a classic folk tale. The illustrations of rosy-cheeked children and warm woolly blankets and the simple but graceful writing are a rare match, and the book’s attention to detail goes right down to the endpapers that feature the pattern of Babba Zarrah’s pink floral dress. The Story Blanket is a great conversation starter for talks about giving to others, about storytelling, and about supporting one another, but at the end of the day, it is an absolutely lovely picture book.

 

Review: The New Small Person

The New Small Person EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-6
Author and illustrator: Lauren Child
Publisher: Puffin (published October 2014)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0141384913
ISBN-13: 978-0141384917

Elmore Green had things pretty much the way he liked them. He could watch his favourite shows on his own TV, no one moved any of his belongings when he had them all lined up on the floor, and he never had to share his jellybeans, not even the orange ones.

Elmore Green’s parents thought he was simply the funniest, cleverest, most adorable person they had ever seen. And Elmore Green liked that because it is nice to be the funniest, cleverest, most adorable person someone has ever seen.

But then one day everything changed.

The New Small Person is a refreshing and funny look at becoming a big brother for the first time from the perspective of Elmore Green…who doesn’t particularly want to be a big brother. Sometimes the small person would come into Elmore’s room and knock things over and sit on things that didn’t want to be sat on. Once it actually licked Elmore’s jelly bean collection, including the orange ones. As anyone knows, jelly beans that have been licked are NOT nearly so nice.

Lauren Child’s light-hearted text and impish mixed-media collages show the world from the perspective of a child, where grown-ups are seen primarily as knees, and little people like Elmore Green are not always at the top of everyone’s priority list. Elmore Green continues to refuse to acknowledge the presence of “the new small person,” even when the small person moves its bed into Elmore Green’s room. Only when the new small person helps Elmore Green through a scary dream and begins to appreciate the importance of lining up possessions in a long straight line does Elmore Green begin to think that the new small person might have something to offer.  Eventually, Elmore calls his brother Albert by name and offers to share his jelly beans with him.

But not the orange ones.

Elmore Green is a likeable and highly relateable character for young kiddos; quite frankly, I like and relate to Elmore Green. A great book for a new big brother or sister. Also, how lovely, in a world where talking animals are more common than main characters who are people of colour, to be seeing more picture books with main characters who are not white!

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: And Then It’s Spring

And Then It's Spring EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author: Julie Fogliano
Illustrator: Erin E. Stead
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (published February 2012)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1596436247
ISBN-13: 978-1596436244

You guys, sometimes after a long winter, I just cannot remember what spring feels like.

I remember that plants grow, but I can’t quite recall the smell of earth and buds they bring with them or exactly how the tulips look right before they open up (or, in my case, right before the squirrels and rabbits eat them).

We stumbled on this book at the library and I feel like it has reminded me, not only of that smell or the bright green of the first few brave stems pushing their way up toward the sun, but also of that lengthy period of anticipation, when the snow has melted but everything is still brown.

First you have brown, all around you have brown
then there are seeds
and a wish for rain,
and then it rains
and it is still brown,
but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown,
an
is that a little green? no, it’s just brown sort of brown

A little boy plants his seeds and cares for them — accompanied by his friends (a dog, a rabbit, and a turtle) — and, when they do not grow, wonders “if maybe it was the birds / or maybe it was the bears and all that stomping, because bears can’t read signs that say things like please do not stomp here — there are seeds and they are trying” until one day, of course, he walks out of the house “and now you have green, all around you have green.”

Julie Fogliano’s sparse, expressive, and poetic text accompanies lovely, captivating illustrations by Caldecott medalist Erin E. Stead, who creates her images with a combination of woodblock printing and coloured pencils.

I fell in love with this bespectacled boy and his friends, pressing their ears to the ground to listen for “greenish hum that you can only hear if you put your ear to the ground and close your eyes” and Little E fell in love with the little dirt piles, each carefully labelled with the seeds inside, the seeds that are trying.

A story of hope, and waiting, and perseverance, and green.

Oh, green, you can’t come soon enough around these parts.

 

Review: The Black Book of Colours

blackbookofcolours EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Menena Cottin
Illustrator: Rosana Faría
Publisher: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press (published June 2008)
Pages: 24
ISBN-10: 0888998732
ISBN-13: 978-0888998736

If we could all understand each other just a little better, see the world from other people’s perspectives, we could change the world.

So why don’t we teach our children about other people’s points of view?

This ingenious, innovative book brings to life the world of a blind child named Thomas through his descriptions of colour to his sighted friend, the book’s narrator. Braille letters accompany the text so that the book can be read in two different ways. Each page is black, and the pictures, also in black, are embossed to give the reader the opportunity to experience “feeling” images and to perceive the world through a sense other than sight. The writing is vivid, opening a window into a world where “yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick’s feathers” and “red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon.”

Can you feel the difference between a brown fall leaf and fresh-cut green grass? Could you tell them apart if you couldn’t see them?

Having recently listened to a fascinating podcast about how some blind people can learn to “see” (really see, not just locate things) through echolocation, I’ve had blindness and perception on the mind lately. In The Black Book of Colors, Venezuelan author/illustrator team Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría bring to life a world most people avoid thinking about — a world without sight — and invite readers to think about perception differently.

I want my kids to grow up able to imagine and think about the world from other people’s perspectives and not to think of people as being less worthy because they lack a sense like sight or hearing, or the capacity to walk, or some other thing that marks them out as being “different.” Everyone is “different,” and books like this help plant the seeds of understanding that we so badly need in the world right now.

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.)