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: The Train to Timbuctoo


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 2-4
Author: Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrator: Art Seiden
Publisher: Goldencraft; Reprint edition (published July 1979)
Pages: 26
ISBN-10: 0307601188
ISBN-13: 978-0307601186

What is it with kids and trains?

Before I had fully grasped exactly how significant trains are in the minds of toddlers, I made a huge mistake. My mom had been visiting and when it was time for her to head home, we thought it would be fun for Little E, then 2.5, to come to the train station to see her off. She would get to see trains, she would get to wave goodbye; it would be great.

You’re probably smarter than I am and you see where this is going.

Little E was happy as can be to see the trains in the station and to watch Grammie board the train. But then the train started to move, and I can pinpoint the exact moment that Little E realized that (1) she was not going to get to go on the train and (2) Grammie was going away. She crumpled into a heap of wailing, flailing agony on the train platform, garnering sympathetic looks from passersby (where was the sympathy for me?), who made helpful comments like “Someone’s not happy!” (Side note: WHY do people say this to babies, children, and parents? I promise you: I am acutely aware of my child’s misery.)

Anyway, back to trains. I think in terms of toddler love, trains might rank second only to ducks.* This love seems to peak around two and a half for some children; others maintain their love of trains into adulthood, becoming part of the somewhat bizarre subculture of railfans.

If you know a kid who digs trains, and I know you do, I highly recommend checking out The Train to Timbuctoo by Margaret Wise Brown, who is of course far better known for her books Goodnight Moon (first published in 1947, if you can believe it) and Runaway Bunny. But be prepared: this is a read-aloud you can’t cop out on: the book’s main draw is the sound effects made by a big train and the very little train as they journey home from Kalamazoo to Timbuctoo. Don’t bother opening it up if you can’t give a convincing “Clackety clack,” “clickety click,” “SLAM BANG,” “pockety pocketa pocketa,” or “wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Even the very tiny minority of kids who don’t love trains will be drawn in by the music of the “puff puff puff”s and “piff piff piff”s. You might not have to do the sound effects for long, though; your young audience is fairly likely to take that role over. When you get to the end, the book suggests, you can switch the names of the towns in the front of the book and head back from Timbuctoo to Kalamazoo.

Kalamazoo to Timbuctoo,
it’s a long way down the track.
And from Timbuctoo to Kalamazoo
it’s just as far to go back.
From Timbuctoo to Kalamazoo
from Kalamazoo and back,
a long, long way,
a long, long way,
a long way down the track.

The Train to Timbuctoo is a book for which it is worth spending some time scouring your local used bookstores.

*Recently, according to the Onion, “high-ranking members of the toddler community made an impassioned appeal … for greater duck visibility, calling for more unobstructed views of the beloved waterfowl.”

Review: Little Peep


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: 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!