Thursday, December 29, 2011

Picture Book: Ernest

This sweet title is very meta. Ernest the moose is too big to fit inside the pages of the book: He scrunches and squeezes, but can't get all of himself into the book at once. His little chipmunk friend has a big idea, and together they cobble together an extra-large fold out page. Finally. Moose can fit!

The "can't fit" idea isn't new (Mo Willems did it with Big Frog Can't Fit In") but it's always a winner with kids. The story is very straightforward, with none of the tongue-in-cheek humour or puns that characterize Big Frog. Still, younger preschoolers will thoroughly enjoy the gentle tension of the story, and the novelty of a giant fold out page at the end. Canadians will also appreciate the use of a native animal.

Picture Book

Ages 2-4

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Picture Book: Princess Super Kitty

Preschoolers love to pretend. They love acting like animals, superheroes, and cartoon characters. This is a good thing, because it gives kids a chance to try out many roles, practice empathy, and exercise their imaginations.

Sometimes, like Antoinette Portis' protagonist, they create a hilariously nonsensical mashup of all their favourites. Maggie starts off as an ordinary kitty, but she adds in the best parts of superhero and princess.

Superheroes help people, and save the day: princesses demand obedience, but bestow their favours on lucky subjects (aka siblings). When bathtime strikes, one more personality joins the mix: Maggie becomes Water Lily Hula Porpoise Princess Super Kitty of the Sea! Meow.

This is a fun title with attractive pictures: it's sure to spark some ridiculously cute costume parties in your house. Get your dressup box ready!

Picture Book

Ages 3-5

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Picture Book: I Want My Hat Back

Picturebooks depend on the interplay between text and images: that's what makes them a picturebook, rather than simply an illustrated story.

John Klassen's super-simple title is a perfect example of a true picturebook: obvious text and design clues reveal that somebody in the book (two somebodies, actually) are lying.

Preschoolers, with their keen sense of justice, will be thrilled when they figure out who stole bear's hat, and will be even happier when the thief gets his comeuppance.

Bear and the other forest animals are drawn with stylized watercolours. The images are so simple that Bear (and others) show no expressions: readers must infer their emotional state from the one or two lines of text on the page. This results in some hilariously deadpan scenes where readers are in the enviable position of knowing whodunnit, while Bear is calmly oblivious.

Best for ages four to six, and most highly recommended for parents!

Picture Book
Ages 4-6
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Picture Book: Wow! Said the owl

Tim Hopgood has created a lovely concept book about colours.

Little owl takes a long nap, and wakes up right at dawn. With the sun comes a rainbow of beautiful colours that she's never seen before!

Preschoolers will love the gentle story, and the repeating refrain will have them chanting along with Owl. A wonderful, simple book for younger readers, and a perfect readaloud for groups.

Concept Book

Ages 1-3

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Board Book: Where is My Baby?

This bright, die-cut board book is a very simple introduction to the most common farm animals and their babies. Using the familiar "where's my baby?" theme, each full page spread depicts a worried parent asking for their baby. Turn the half-page, and the joyful animal is reunited with their infant.

This is a successful riff on a popular toddler theme, particularly well suited for preschoolers of 9-18 months. As an added bonus, author Harriet Ziefert uses the correct terminology to describe each animal baby. The pig finds her piglet, the goat her kid, the cow her calf, and so on.

A great offering with whimsical, bright pictures.

Board book
Ages 0-3
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Book: What 's in the Witch's Kitchen?

Fans of pop up and lift-the-flap books will go bonkers for Nick Sharratt's newest holiday title. With his trademark clever rhymes, English idiom, and bright, cartoony pictures, this title is a holiday winner for storytimes and read-alouds.

There's plenty of grossness this Halloween in the witch's kitchen: open the flaps one way, and you'll find delicious treats, like tasty cheese and crunchy brown toast. Open them the other way, and it's bats with fleas, or a grumpy burnt ghost!

Parents be warned: there are some extra gross pages, with treats like the teapot full of goblin wee, and the jar of rabbit plops. Most kids will find this kind of humour hysterical, but it might send you off your tea for a few days.

Halloween Book
Ages 2-6
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Picture Book: You Will Be My Friend!

Oh dear. When Lucy decides she's going to make a new friend that day, NOTHING is going to stand in her way. Brimming with optimism, Lucy can't see how her plan to befriend one of the forest's critters could possibly go wrong.

Except... that it does. Again, and again, and again. Lucy tries to be patient and optimistic, but it's difficult when all her efforts just seem to be backfiring! She didn't mean to eat the bee's house at her tea party, and she just can't make herself enjoy chomping on trees when she hangs out with Beaver.

Lucy eventually resorts to threats (complete with hilarious one-liners, like "Come back here and have fun with me!") before she realizes that you just can't force a friendship. Fortunately, somebody who needs a friend arrives just as she's given up all hope of making a buddy. Whew!

There's a couple of messages here: first and foremost, you can't make somebody be friends with you. Despite your best intentions, there has to be willingness on both sides, or things will work out very badly indeed. Second, finding a friend is a bit like finding your prince: you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find that perfect match! Despite the hilarious presentation, the message behind this book is a good one for any child who has ever felt lonely, left out, or friendless in a crowd. There's a friend waiting out there somewhere: just stay hopeful, be yourself, keep putting yourself out there, and that perfect person will connect with you in the end.

Picture Book
Ages 3-6
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Picture Book: Goyangi Means Cat

This gorgeously illustrated book about adoption and displacement, with a deeper message about the difficulty of adjusting to new environments. Any parent or child who has encountered new situations that are not entirely within their control will find that this book resonates with authentic emotional responses.

Soo Min is adopted as a preschooler from Korea. When her parents bring her home, there is a great deal of learning to be done on both sides. Her parents only know the korean words for bed, eat, rice and house: Soo Min has to teach them what's important to her, and quickly.

She makes a special connection to the cat, goyangi, and is disraught when he is nowhere to be found one day. With his return, Soo Min begins the slow process of integrating her previous life in Korea with her new home and loving family.

This is the kind of book that unfolds with repeated readings, as much of the story is implied in the emotional reactions of the characters. The text is very minimal, and readers will need to exercise their empathetic muscles to imagine the confusion and disruption that Soo Min is feeling in her first few days. The gorgeous art creates a blend of Asian and North American by mixing patterned prints with the warm, soft-realism illustrations: the impression is of a hidden world, and a subtle sens of the exotic permeates the full page spreads. The Korean text echoes the English story, a great touch that underscores the sense of a dual but overlapping reality.

There is rich material for discussion here, and the message about adjusting to a new and unfamiliar environment is relevant to children in all kinds of new situations, not just adoptees. With plenty of opportunity for reflection and gentle discussion, most children will be able to relate to Soo Min's sense of displacement and loss, and take courage from her willingness to start anew with her loving adoptive family.

Ages 2-5
Picture Book
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Wordless Picture Book: Bee & Bird

This wordless picture book is an exercise in changing perspectives. From angles, sizes, and positions, nothing is as it seems!

Each bold, digitally created spread shows Bee and Bird from some perspective, using blocky graphic lines and stylized shapes. As the visual angle changes, readers are forced to readjust their concept of space and relationships to accommodate the new information in the illustration. Every page is a discovery, and there will be much turning of pages back and forth as readers seek to reconcile their visual assumptions with the the new perspectives.

There's little story here, and so this book is primarily useful as a visual feast, or a prompt for an art activity. An attractive book, best suited for thoughtful readers with the maturity to understand the impact of perspective and angle.

Wordless Picture Book
Ages 3-7
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Picture Book: Dear Tabby

Older presch0olers and early elementary kids will love the feisty Tabby D. Cat, author of the "Dear Tabby" advice column. All the animals in Critterville know that if they're in a pinch, Dear Tabby will help them out with advice, all for the low, low price of table scraps or cat food.

The advice column format is best suited to four through eight year olds, as it requires some background print knowledge to understand. The snarky, sardonic humour is great for kids who are ready to read between the lines, and the text and art are often in counterpoint: observant kids will notice details that add to the message contained in the written content.

Tabby gives great advice that addresses the feelings behind the letters: a bored dog is told to start his pursuit of happiness by chasing his tail, a talkative parrot is given a listening lesson, and the over-coddled Boots is encouraged to find freedom in the hills.

A quirky and hilarious book, this would be a fantastic title for early elementary classes that are ready for a prompted writing exercise.

Picture Book

Grades k-5

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