Review: Puddle

puddle

Puddle

One rainy day, a little boy is upset because he can’t go out and play. His mom comes up with a way to keep him entertained–by drawing a picture of herself and him going outside, playing in the rain, and splashing in a giant puddle. They have so much fun drawing themselves that they decide to venture out and make the most of the rainy weather.

Oh Hyewon Yum, how I adore you and your adorable illustrations! Like the true picture book nerd that I am, I have a little list of artists who I would want to be my illustrators if I ever published picture books (hey, a girl can dream), and Hyewon Yum is absolutely on that dream list. Her illustrations are so sweet, so charming and so expressive, I adore them! Just look at this grumpy little sweetheart:

puddle1

As my blog title might suggest, I live in a pretty rainy part of the world, and many a day of adventure and fun has turned into a day spent moping around in the house glaring out the window and cursing the gloomy weather. The rainy season pretty much lasts from October through to June, and it’s a miracle that we don’t all end up covered in moss by the time summer rolls around again. Puddle is a great reminder to find the joy in every moment and make your own happiness, whatever the weather. Life is too short to get worked up over a bit of rain (or a lot of rain….).

puddle2

There’s a Scandinavian expression that essentially says “there is no bad weather, just bad clothes” – if Scandinavians were to let a little snow keep them from getting outside and enjoying life, they’d spend most of the year cocooned inside going stir crazy! Similarly, life in the Pacific Northwest sometimes means learning to laugh at the weather, let go of your worries, and just let yourself get a little wet! We can all be a little too serious sometimes, and we need to get in touch with that inner puddle-jumping child again, and find the fun in the rain.

A great pair of gumboots and a colourful umbrella certainly don’t hurt either! 🙂

Review: Excellent Ed

Excellent Ed

Everyone in the Ellis family is excellent–except Ed.

Ed wonders if this is why he isn’t allowed to eat at the table or sit on the couch with the other children. So he’s determined to find his own thing to be excellent at–only to be (inadvertently) outdone by a family member every time.

Now Ed is really nervous–what if he’s not excellent enough to belong in this family?

This funny and endearing story offers a subtle look at sibling rivalry and self esteem, and will reassure kids that everyone is excellent at something, and that your family loves you, just as you are.

What a lovely little story! Ed the dog is worried that he just isn’t excellent enough to be a member of the Ellis family. Everyone else seems to have a talent, including all five of the Ellis children. Poor old Ed isn’t allowed to do anything, and every time he tries to prove his excellence he just ends up getting into trouble. Eventually, though, Ed realizes that he is absolutely the very best at something very special, and that’s being Ed!

This is a gently reassuring story for any child who’s ever worried that they’re not as talented as their friends or siblings, or is concerned that they’ll never discover what they’re good at.

It’s lovely to see an African-American family depicted in a story in which their colour is a complete non-issue – it’s just taken for granted that an African-American family can be successful, happy, healthy and filled with love, just like every family can be. We’ll know we’ve achieved true diversity in storytelling when characters from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all shapes and sizes and abilities and colours, can star in stories for mainstream audiences and it won’t cause so much as a ripple – it will just be accepted as normal that just as children and families come in all sorts of wonderful forms, so they should be represented in our children’s books.

Also – hurray for a boy who excels at baking cupcakes – challenge that female cupcake monopoly, Ernie! Always fun to see gender stereotypes being challenged – we’ll get there eventually!

Sweet, loving and positive, Excellent Ed is a lovely story to share.

Review: Don’t Touch This Book

Don’t Touch This Book

Bill Cotter’s previous picture book, Don’t Push The Button!, became my unofficial book of the summer this year – I brought it with me to a couple of Summer Reading Club school visits, and ended up reading it aloud at least 10 times. It’s so much fun – few things in life are more tantalizing than a big red button, especially one that you’re not allowed to touch. Kids delight in watching Larry the monster wrestle with his conscience, and they love joining in with him as he finally snaps and starts pushing the button. I love doing a dramatic “1, 2, 3….BEEP” with the audience as we all push the red button together.

I was pretty excited when I heard that Cotter was coming out with a follow-up to Don’t Push the Button!, called Don’t Touch This Book! I was even more excited when I saw a bright red button featured on the front cover!

Well….I hate to say it, but I really prefer the original when it comes to this series of picture books. Don’t Touch This Book! has some really fun elements, but it lacks some of the charm that made me love its predecessor so much.

One of the things that makes Don’t Push the Button! so much fun is that the audience and the main character are always on the same side – neither side is supposed to push the button, but together they decide to break the rules, making them co-conspirators in a silly exercise.  In Don’t Touch This Book!, Larry is back, but to be honest he’s kind of a jerk this time around. As the owner of a cool new book, Larry is the one setting the rules, and he’s the one who decides who gets to touch his book. Larry tells the audience what they can or can’t do, coming across as kind of bossy in the process. We don’t get to see Larry hilarious wrestling with temptation like we did before, and we don’t feel like we’re on the same side with him against some mysterious, no-fun button-maker.

There’s a lot of interaction this time around, and it could be fun to get kids talking like a robot, roaring like a dinosaur and flapping their wings like a bird. But I miss the cheekiness of the original, which really capitalized on the thrill of breaking the rules and being just a little bit naughty. Kids’ lives are dominated by rules – they’re constantly being told what to do and when to do it, and have very little real control over their lives. There’s such a thrill in being able to break the rules, even if just in a story. In Don’t Touch This Book!, the audience spends the entire time being told what to do and following instructions, even if Larry does warm to them in the end. It’s still fun, but it’s just not quite the same. I’ll stick with the original.

Review: Moonday

Moonday

How has it taken me this long to discover Adam Rex?! I feel like a bit of a charlatan – I’ve been a children’s librarian for two years I’ve never experienced the strange wonder that is an Adam Rex picture book.

When the moon lands in a child’s backyard it sets of a chain reaction of unusual events that is only resolved by the child’s quick thinking and a scenic drive to return the moon to its rightful place. Is it real? Was it all a dream?  Either way, Moonday is a strange, surreal, darkly lit, understated, whimsical, beautifully illustrated reading experience. It’s a breath of fresh air, perfect for those days when you feel like you’ve seen so many boring, uninspired, overly-commercialized children’s books come across your desk that you think you’re going to scream….or just pass out from sheer boredom, not unlike these kids.

 I can’t wait to discover and explore more of Adam Rex’s picture books!

P.S. When I was a child, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that people in Australia don’t fall off the bottom of the world, or have all the blood rush to their heads on account of being upside down. This illustration pretty much captures exactly what I thought being in Australia must be like!

Review: Barnacle is Bored

Barnacle is Bored

Barnacle is bored.

Bored. Bored. BORED.

Every day is exactly the same.

Until the day everything changes.

Will Barnacle ever be bored again?

The grass is always greener on the other side. Except when it’s not….. Barnacle longs for a more exciting life, and dreams of being as footloose and fancy-free as the polka-dotted fish. He quickly realizes, though, that there’s something to be said for living a boring life.

Author/illustrator Jonathan Fenske gives us a perfect example of an effective, economical text. There are so few words that each one has to be perfectly chosen for maximum effect, and the illustrations are used to fill in all the gaps and expand upon the minimalist text. Just look at those facial expressions!

This is such a fun story for sharing with kids at story times – the ending is just hilarious, making this a real winner. We’re only a week or two into the summer vacation and already the library is filled with a chorus of school children chanting “I’m bored!” What better time to introduce them to bored old Barnacle?

Review: Maybe Something Beautiful

Maybe Something Beautiful

The little urban public library branch in which I’m currently working isn’t exactly beautiful. The building is old and a bit tired, and until recently a lack of eye-catching signage meant that people often walked right by us without even realizing that we were here. Like Mira’s city in F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell’s Maybe Something Beautiful, our library’s exterior was drab and dreary, and in desperate need of something beautiful.

The addition of splashes of colour in the form of a vibrant outdoor mural, together with seasonal window paintings (from the wonderful local artist and library staffer Dawn Lo), has changed the face of our little space. These happy pops of colour, which were created by library staff, local residents, local artists, and community organizations, brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to our space, and rejuvenated our tired exterior.

Maybe Something Beautiful tells the story of Mira, a little girl who lives in a city that’s grey and dreary. She is an artist, with a heart that’s filled with colour, and she spreads art and joy throughout her community. Still, she wishes there was more she could do to help revitalize her community. When a mysterious muralist appears, he unleashes a creative whirlwind and inspires the community’s residents to come together and turn their homes into something beautiful.

What the story doesn’t touch on, but which might be worth mentioning when using this book with children, is that painting on random buildings in your community might create something beautiful, but might also be against the law. Public art is wonderful, but vandalizing public or private property isn’t very nice, and probably won’t win you many friends. While the creation of community artwork appears in the story as a spontaneous act, the authors’ note does mention that the event on which the story is based involved a lot of organizing, planning, teamwork and community engagement.

As you might expect from a picture book about creating art, the illustrations in Maybe Something Beautiful are fantastic. The changing colour schemes mirror the shifts experienced by the community, as a neutral palette of greys and browns explodes into a lively palette of colour and vibrancy. The illustrator is, in fact, the real-life artist upon whom the character of the muralist is based, and who helped inspire a public art revival in San Diego, California!

While not all children might get the opportunity to paint on buildings in their neighborhood, Maybe Something Beautiful is still an inspiring celebration of the power of artistic expression and community engagement in all its forms that everyone can relate to. Even the smallest acts of connecting and creating can inspire positivity and change, and we all have the power to make the world a more beautiful, joyful place.

Review -Super Happy Magic Forest

Super Happy Magic Forest

I’ll be honest, I was a bit skeptical when I first came across this hyperactive explosion of colour in my library, but I have since been thoroughly converted.

This. Book. Is. AWESOME!

Each spread is a riot of humour, heart, colour and detail. Just look at this spread!!!

There’s just so much to see and explore – it’s like Where’s Waldo but without any specific objective beyond simply enjoying and appreciating each scene.

I love the zaniness of the story and its characters (Trevor the magic mushroom is a personal favourite), and there’s a slight message about not making assumptions or jumping to conclusions (the supposed baddies turn out to be not quite as our heroes were expecting), but really this is just a hilarious bit of crazy, rainbow-coloured fluffy fun, and I’m all for that.

It’s a pretty good laugh for adult readers, too!

There’s a sequel on the way, too – I can’t wait.

Review: Old MacDonald Had a Truck

Old MacDonald Had a Truck

If I was still doing preschool / family story times, this reworked version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm would definitely be added to my picture book rotation. Instead of farm animals, Old MacDonald and his power tool-toting lady have a farm filled with heavy duty machinery. That’s right, we’ve got bulldozers and steamrollers, front loaders and dump trucks, and much, much more. Turns out the MacDonalds are building a brand new monster truck rally track on their property, and all the farm animals are getting in on the fun.

As a children’s librarian I like to think I know a thing or two about children’s literature, but I am no snob, and I’ll happily embrace just about anything that helps support literacy development and gets kids excited about reading.  A lot of kids are going to go out of their minds with excitement when they see this picture book, and that is recommendation enough for me.

Eda Kaban’s adorable illustrations absolutely seal the deal – each spread is a riot of colour and detail, with a delightful array of sweet farm animals participating in the building project (wearing appropriate safety equipment of course – safety first, kids).

I really appreciate that Mrs. MacDonald takes a strong role in the illustrations, getting directly involved in a number of traditionally male activities like fixing an engine and detailing a car’s exterior. You go, girl!

Is Old MacDonald Had a Truck silly? Absolutely. But it’s also a lot of fun, and will likely delight young readers. Highly recommended.

Review: The Bus Ride

The Bus Ride

Clara is excited to be taking the bus by herself for the very first time. Along the way to grandmother’s house she encounters a cast of interesting fellow passengers who turn a simple bus ride into a colourful adventure.

This picture book from Quebec author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc is simply stunning. The text itself is fairly simple and doesn’t really add all that much – in fact, the book would probably work just as well as a wordless picture book.

But the illustrations! I poured over each page, savoring tiny details on each spread, turning pages back and forth to catch each change and development. Dubuc’s colours are soft and muted, and the illustrations look as though they were drawn in pencil crayon, adding to their gentle charm.

This would be another fantastic picture book for using with a class –  the illustrations lend themselves beautifully to interpretation, and it would be delightful to see the different stories that children come up with to describe the images.

It’s always great to see exciting new picture books from Canadian authors and publishers, and I’m always thrilled to share more Canlit here on the blog!

Review: Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy Cats

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

 

At Miss Hazeltine’s home for shy and fearful cats, strays and pets who have been labelled hopeless, worthless, or afraid of everything are taken in and gently, slowly rehabilitated. When disaster strikes Miss Hazeltine, will her timid, furry wards find the strength and courage to come to her rescue?

This picture book from Alicia Potter and Birgitta Sif is an absolute charmer from start to finish (even the end pages are wonderful). Certain to delight cat lovers, this gentle story will also appeal strongly to shy, fearful children (and their caregivers), who will likely see themselves represented in Miss Hazeltine’s shy and fearful cats. This lovely quote captures the story’s gentle, positive spirit.

Miss Hazeltine didn’t mind if some cats only watched. She let them be.

Like Crumb.

Miss Hazeltine told him that, sometimes, she got scared.

“I’m afraid of mushrooms and owls,” she confided. “And I’ve never like the dark.”

She praised Crumb’s love of pitch-black places.

I immediately recognized in this text elements of my own approach to working with children. It is so important that children feel accepted for who they are, and be encouraged to express themselves in their own way. Some children will immediately jump into a program or activity with abandon, while others might feel more comfortable observing before joining in. By allowing children to help guide the pace and extent of their participation, educators can help support them as they build confidence, develop independence and experience feelings of self-worth and accomplishment. Working effectively with shy or nervous children can require a bit of extra patience, love and empathy, as well as a strong belief in children and their abilities. Shy children might need a bit more time and reassurance, but with enough patience and love, all children can be supported to reach their potential.

In a society that typically encourages individuals to be outgoing, extroverted and assertive, and which often rewards boisterous behavior, it is helpful to be reminded that being shy isn’t a sign of weakness or inferiority.  Without giving away too much of the story, the cats eventually change the name of Miss Hazeltine’s establishment to the “Home for Shy and Pretty Brave If You Ask Us Cats”, in honour of the fact that while the cats are still shy, they are no longer quite as timid or fearful. As a naturally shy individual myself, I will be the first to tell you that being shy does not have to stand in the way of living life to the fullest. Being shy isn’t something to be ashamed of, and shy children everywhere can find  in this sweet and positive story encouragement and inspiration to believe in themselves and embrace themselves for the unique and wonderful individuals they are.