Review: Ella Kazoo Will NOT Brush Her Hair

Ella Kazoo Will Not Brush Her Hair

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author: Lee Fox
Illustrator: Jennifer Plecas
Publisher: Bloomsbury Press (Published December 2009)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 080278836X
ISBN-13: 978-0802788368

I think we’ve all hit upon certain things that our kids will NOT do. One kid will NOT wear a red shirt, another will NOT try the broccoli, and another will NOT get into his carseat.

Obviously, some “will NOT”s are more manageable than others. I’m all for picking your battles, but someday that kid is going to have to get into that carseat. We’ve all been there, and where do you choose to draw the line?

Well, Ella Kazoo will NOT brush her hair.

She hides in the cupboard and under the stairs
She roars at her mom like a big growly bear.
She whines and she moans and she howls in despair,
but Ella Kazoo will not brush her hair
.

Her mother tries various tricks, but to no avail. Ella Kazoo’s hair grows longer, and wilder, as gleefully illustrated by Jennifer Plecas’s playful drawings, until at last the hair begins to take on a life of its own.

Ella Kazoo will not brush her tresses.
One morning they slip into some of her dresses.
They creep round a chair and slink over the table.

They climb down the stairs and they swing on the cable.

“My goodness!” cries Ella.
“This hair must be chopped . . .
or scissored or shortened or layered or lopped.
But most of all, Mother, this hair must be stopped!”

A crack team of hairdressers is brought in, but Ella is unimpressed with their proposals. At least an accord is reached and they trim! snip! and chop! until Ella Kazoo has just one lovely, manageable curl tied up in a bow.

All due to a haircut, quite simple and snappy,
both mother and daughter are blissfully happy.

And of course, now, Ella brushes her hair.

This book is a favourite for kids (certainly for mine) because the power is in the hands of little Ella Kazoo. Any book that puts power in kids’ hands is going to be a hit. Every kid is regularly subjected to doing things or having things done to her that she doesn’t like: having her hair washed, brushing her teeth, having her nose wiped. And yes, brushing her hair. A kid making a stand against a parent is a winning plot device, and in this case, both find happiness in the solution so even the parents who never want to read about disobedient children have little to complain about (though they always seem to find something, don’t they?).

Some readers of this book have complained that Ella Kazoo has to cut off all her hair to be happy, but I like the ending. Her hair wasn’t working for her anymore, so she changed it — not because someone else wanted her to. Everyone gets to change themselves up when what they’re doing isn’t working. I do take great issue with one line in the book, though: “She puts on a dress with some earrings and pearls, / and lipstick and perfume like most other girls.” Blech! I change that line whenever we come to it. I don’t like any text in children’s books that puts people in boxes, gender or otherwise, and this book definitely puts Ella and all little girls in a box.

Quibbles aside, however, the rhymes and illustration are a delight and this book has made it easier to get Little E to let me wash and brush her hair by adding an element of silliness. “If we don’t brush your hair, it will get so big it will sneak into the freezer and steal all the Popsicles! It will take up the whole house and there will be no room for the dog! We must brush your hair!“Any book that gets the kids giggling while we’re trying to get something done is a winner in my book. And in theirs.

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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: The Pout-Pout Fish

poutpout

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 3/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book (also available as a board book)
Ages: 2-5
Author: Deborah Diesen
Illustrator: Dan Hanna
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Published March 2008)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0374360960
ISBN-13: 978-0374360962

We can’t always control what happens. In fact, we rarely can. But we can always control how we choose to react.

The Pout-Pout Fish is kind of a dopey book about a silly fish with a frowny face who mopes all over the ocean. “I’m a pout-pout fish / With a pout-pout face, / So I spread the dreary-wearies / All over the place. / BLUB / BLUUUB / BLUUUUUUUB.” His friends in the sea try to convince him to cheer up: first a clam, then a jellyfish, then a squid. But nobody can cheer up the “glum gloomy swimmer” — the pout-pout fish tells everyone that his frowny face and miserable demeanour are out of his control as he flops all over the place. Even the straight-talking octopus can’t get him to turn his frown upside down.

Then along comes a beautiful purple fish whom no one has seen before. This vision of loveliness plants a big kiss on the pout-pout fish’s pout…and then swims away.

“Mr. Fish is most astounded. / Mr. Fish is just aghast. / He is stone-faced like a statue. / Then he blinks, and speaks at last.” He announces to everyone that he has been wrong all along: “I’m a kiss-kiss fish / With a kiss-kiss face / For spreading cheery-cheeries / All over the place! / So I’ll SMOOCH / SMOOCH/ SMOOCH / SMOOCH!”

Okay, so this book is not going to win any great prizes in western literature. But I bring it to your attention for three reasons: (1) Little E loves to say the BLUB BLUUUUB BLUUUUUBS and the smooches, and she gets a huge kick out of my pouty voice, so it’s a terrific book to read aloud, (2) the illustrations are lively and tons of fun, and (3) This book is a great jumping-off point for talking about how we are all in control of our reactions. I won’t get too deep into the subject because Tiny J is about five minutes away from waking up from her nap very hungry, but I really do believe that we can protect our children from depression by teaching them to be optimistic and by talking about feelings and how we react to them.

I think every parent and teacher should read Martin Seligman’s The Optimistic Child, which teaches parents how to teach their children to take charge of how they see the world: not to see everything through rose-coloured glasses, but to realize that bad news and unfortunate events are just events, that sadness is not forever, and that we are not our moods or our feelings. This is the principle behind the silly pout-pout fish: he realizes that he doesn’t have to be miserable or bring everyone around him down. He can choose to spread cheery-cheeries rather than dreary-wearies.

I see the book as a metaphor: the pout-pout fish, who suffers from major depressive disorder, receives cognitive behavioural therapy in the form of a kiss from the purple fish, and learns to take charge of his moods and change his maladaptive behaviours and cognitive processes, ending his depression and inspiring him to help others. How lovely.

Gotta go get that baby. How’s your day going? I hope you have more cheery-cheeries than dreary-wearies.

Review: Rosie Revere, Engineer

rosie EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Andrea Beaty
Illustrator: David Roberts
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (published September 2013)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1419708457
ISBN-13: 978-1419708459

Babies are born to fail, and they’re totally cool with it. Think about how many times they have to try to roll over before succeeding, how much flailing is required before crawling is achieved, and how many bumps on the bum take place before a toddler successfully toddles.

Somewhere along the way, though, that little baby will learn to fear failure. Somehow, trying mightily and failing has become a negative to us, something to be ashamed of.

And so it is for Rosie Revere, who once spent her days creating zany inventions for her uncles and aunts, including “a hot dog dispenser and helium pants” (wonderfully, and hilariously, illustrated by David Roberts). But after her uncle Zookeeper Fred laughed at the hat she invented to keep snakes off his head (“from parts of a fan and some cheddar cheese spray — / which everyone knows keeps the pythons away”), her embarrassment and shame makes her keep her dreams to herself, hiding her machines under the bed and feeling too shy to speak up in class. When Rosie’s great-great-aunt Rose (sharp-eyed readers will recognized an aged Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and tells Rosie of her dreams of flying, Rosie sets out to make a cheese-powered helicopter to make her auntie’s dream come true.

In a moment of genuine suspense, the heli-o-cheese-copter hovers briefly, then crashes — and with it, Rosie’s dreams take another nosedive. She’s done. She’ll never try again (and who among us has not had a moment or two like this?). Great-great-aunt Rose comes to the rescue, though, cheering her for her “perfect first try”: “‘Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! / Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!’ / She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere, / who smiled at her aunt as it all became clear. / Life might have its failures, but this was not it. / The only true failure can come if you quit.”

It may not be the most subtle message, but I think that’s a good thing. I think this is a message that needs to be hung in a frame on every child’s wall and written on the blackboard (or smartboard) at the start of every school day and handed out to every teenager upon graduation. Because, frankly, without the beautiful failures of children, there will be no magnificent achievements in the future. So grab a copy of Rosie Revere for the little girl, or boy, in your life who might be a future astrophysicist, bionanotechnician, or harpsichord and double-necked ukulele virtuoso. Because whatever else our kiddos need to do before they succeed, they’re going to need to do some failing first.

Review: The Seven Silly Eaters

download (7) EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Reprint edition (reprinted August 2000)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 0152024409
ISBN-13: 978-0152024406

[Update: Little E’s magical fairyland daycare turned out not to be a magical fairyland after all. We have parted ways, and not amicably. They sure did make nice bowls there, though.]

Little E goes to a magical fairyland daycare. Seriously. I sometimes can’t even believe it’s a real place. They do yoga. They paint watercolours by the lake. They make dancing ribbons to twirl with during their daily music session. They play with wooden toys from Denmark. No macaroni noodles glued to construction paper here — E and her friends rolled out clay with lace and over weeks of glazing, created these artful bowls. F’reals — this was made by my three-year-old.

bowlsm

Some days, when Little E is kicking up a fuss about leaving the house, I want to say, “Fine, kiddo. You stay here and care for the grumpy baby” — it’s molar time for Tiny J — “and I will go to daycare for you.” Spend a day playing dress-up, romping outside with the bunnies and the chickens (I’m not even kidding), and napping? Sign me up.

At Magical Fairyland Daycare, they also eat beautiful, homemade meals made with local, organic ingredients, and the kids eat everything that is put in front of them. So when the lovely caregiver who runs Little E’s daycare recommends a kids’ book about picky eaters, I’m all ears. She’s been working with kids for a long times, and she knows what she’s talking about, and I could use some of her magic.

Mrs. Peters, the beleaguered mother in The Seven Silly Eaters, has a new baby boy named Peter (yes, Peter Peters). Peter “did not like his milk served cold. / He did not like his milk served hot. He liked it warm… / And he would not / Drink it if he was not sure / It was the proper temperature.” Mrs. Peter is one patient lady, and she’s okay with this. Then along comes baby Lucy, who will only drink pink lemonade. Little Jack is next, who will eat nothing but applesauce. You see where this is going: seven children has Mrs. Peters, and not a one will eat the same thing as the others. Between all the demands, the poor mother can hardly cope: “Creamy oatmeal, pots of it! / Homemade bread and lots of it! / Peeling apples by the peck, / Mrs. Peters was a wreck.”

The day before Mrs. Peters’ birthday, she goes wearily up to bed, to gird her loins for another day of drudgery, but the children concoct a plan to make her breakfast in bed. Unfortunately, not a one of the kids can cook, and all their favourite foods get mixed up together and thrown in the oven. When Mrs. Peters awakens, the whole family is floored to find that they have made “a pink and plump and perfect cake!” Everyone is overjoyed and the Peters Cake becomes their everyday meal — ” A single simple meal — just one — / A meal that’s good for everyone.” And best of all, “they all take turns in mixing it. / They all take turns in fixing it. It’s thick to beat and quick to bake — ” / It’s fine to eat and fun to make / It’s Mrs. Peters’ birthday cake!”

The sprightly rhymes of Mary Ann Hoberman bounce right along and Marla Frizee’s rich illustrations are worth looking at carefully: watch the seasons change, notice Mrs. Peters’ descent into frazzle-dom as more and more children are added to her life, and enjoy the realistic depiction of family life: a runaway baby during a diaper change, the constant need for more groceries, a little boy sitting on the toilet in his winter coat with the bathroom door open as his brother merrily brings an armload of snowballs into the house. Little E enjoys pointing out what all the characters are up to in the different scenes (her favourite is when baby Mac dumps a spoonful of oatmeal on the cat while the dog is eating out of his bowl) and the mess in the Peters household somehow made me feel a tiny bit better about the current state of my own home.

The best part of the book? The take-home message is that everyone needs to be involved in making food for the family, and that being a pickypants is not helpful. It’s also been a reminder to me to involve Little E more in meal planning — though my attempts to do so have met with limited success: we leafed through the wonderful Weelicious cookbook together and she conceded that she might be willing to try one new recipe as long as it is in nugget form. At Magical Fairyland Daycare, though, I am told that she eats everything that is put in front of her. Maybe if we read this book a few more times, that attitude will (magically) take hold here too. Although I suspect we would meet with more success if we ate cake at every meal too.

 

 

Review: My Many Colored Days

manycolored

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book (also available as a board book)
Ages: 2-7
Author: Dr. Seuss
Illustrator: Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (published August 1996)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0679875972
ISBN-13: 978-0679875970

Every parent is familiar with the core books of the Seuss canon: The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I hope your shelves also contain the lesser-known Seuss gems such as I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew and The Butter Battle Book. But even dedicated Seussians might have passed this one by, or fail to recognize its author, since it lacks the familiar and fabulous Seuss illustrations and it was published after the good doctor’s death.

The book is a first-person child’s account of feelings and how they change from day to day. “On Bright Red Days / how good it feels / to be a horse / and kick my heels! / On other days I’m other things. / On Bright Blue Days / I flap my wings.” Brown days are “slow and low. low down” and pink days are happy days, for jumping more than thinking. Some days are mixed-up, of course, “and wham! / I don’t know who / or what I am!” Expressive painted spreads by husband and wife illustration team Johnson and Fancher maintain some of the sense of whimsy that can’t seem to be separated from Dr. Seuss’s work, but in a new way, with monodimensional gingerbread-man-style painted cutouts changing colour and morphing into busy bees and howling wolves and lonely dinosaurs.

The book’s writing lacks the rollicking, boisterous rhymes and silly but captivating nonsense of the more famous Seuss stories. But the simple pairing of moods with colours and descriptions of feelings work very well and the book performs a crucial role on a child’s shelf: illustrating and naming feelings and teaching children about emotions. All kids struggle with their feelings; their brains are still working out how to process and express emotions. Frankly, this is something that many an adult struggles with too, so consider picking up a copy of My Many Colored Days for your emotionally stunted adult friends next time you’re wondering the bookstore aisles.

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.

Review: A Second is a Hiccup

second-is-a-hiccup EditorsPick (2)

EDITOR’S PICK
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.

Featured Series: The Bear Books by Karma Wilson

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Children’s book series can be tricky things. An author who has captured her audience with a loveable character(s) will, naturally, be inclined to write more adventures for said loveable character(s). These can be hit or miss, and before long the loveable, and beloved, character(s) might be lost in a land of listless prose, uninspired illustrations, and — worst of all — merchandising and/or heavy-handed preachiness, with CuteBunny™ being licensed as a board game, a dress-up doll, and the star of a book about hand-washing.

So far, though, Karma Wilson‘s sweet Bear books have avoided the children’s book equivalent of jumping the shark.

In the series’ first book, Bear Snores On, a hibernating bear snoozing through the winter is oblivious to the varied crew of smaller animals who take refuge in his cave, and, having found themselves all together, take the opportunity to throw a midwinter party. Bear wakes up with a snarl and a roar and the cast of forest critters trembles — before realizing that bear is just disappointed to have slept through the fun. The party resumes with bear at its epicentre and the new friends enjoy the shelter of the warm, cozy cave together.

The rhymes are not always spot on (Dear Ms. Wilson, should you be reading, the following word pairs do not, in fact, rhyme: “den” and “thin” or “grin” and “friends,” but I know I’m nitpicking here). Overall the metre is very good, the characters appealing, and the storylines well paced. Jane Chapman’s illustrations are wonderful: each woodland creature is just anthropomorphized enough to possess a distinct personality, but is still utterly realistic and recognizable. Too often animals lose all of their “animal-ness” in children’s books, but Chapman’s pictures, Badger is recognizably a badger, Mole a mole, and Bear a sweetly guileless, lumbering bruin. Preschoolers will find the situations in which Bear finds himself familiar: afraid while lost (Bear Feels Scared), losing a tooth (Bear’s Loose Tooth), feeling uncertain at a party (Bear Says Thanks), suffering from the flu (Bear Feels Sick), and will enjoy the small surprises and happy resolution contained within the covers of each story. The characters are wholesome, modelling positive behaviour such as caring for a friend, without being saccharine. Reading these stories aloud is great fun, since each creature seems to cry out for its own voice, and the words are simple enough that a beginning reader will be able to sound them out on her own. There is a sameness to the stories that means that grownups might find them fairly predictable, but older toddlers and preschoolers are likely to love having an idea of what happens next in a new story.

All in all, a highly recommended series. I suggest starting with the “prequel,” Bear Snores On, but soon you’ll find you’re reading the whole set.

Books in this series include:

  • Bear Snores On
  • Bear Wants More
  • Bear Stays Up for Christmas
  • Bear Feels Sick
  • Bear Feels Scared
  • Bear’s New Friend
  • Bear’s Loose Tooth
  • Bear Says Thanks

Review: A House is a House for Me

51189

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!