October 26, 2011

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October 20, 2014

a serious dog in A GOOD HOME FOR MAX

by Wendy Lawrence

The illustrations in this book are stunning. Junzo Terada is the celebrated artist behind them. They are full of retro-gorgeous colors like real red, a soft blue, yellows, and greens and browns. The images are slightly splotched (that’s a terrible description from someone who is obviously NOT an artist) with patches of white and gold, making them even appear old.

maxTitle: A Good Home for Max
Author/Illustrator: Junzo Terada
Genre: Picture Book
0 – 6

The story is a little bit retro, too. It’s a toy store story. And a forgotten toy, kind of like Corduroy. Tabi the mouse cleans the store at night and loves Max more than anything, but tried to make the very serious dog with a somewhat unhappy face more likable so he will get taken home, too. The story is simple and predictable with a happy ending, which is pleasantly old-fashioned. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the new things going on in picture books these days, but sometimes you don’t feel like a zombie robot or a creepy carrot or using all your energy mixing pretend paints.

Sometimes you just want a nice story. With nice characters. And undescribably nice–beautiful, too, and poignant–illustrations.

October 15, 2014

robot smartypants burp the alphabet

I think the title of this book Robot Burb Head Smartypants, pretty much says all you need to know. Our favorite robots from the totally awesome Robot Zombie Frankenstein book by Annette Simon are back. Only this time they are trying to teach you things. Like counting. And saying the alphabet. But, inevitably, burping gets in the way. So as you can see, there is NOTHING NOT to like about this book! It’s phenomenally awesome.

robotTitle: Robot Burp Head Smartypants
Author/Illustrator: Annette Simon
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 0 – 7 (This is one of those picture books older kids will appreciate just as much.)

Here’s a sample page:


Seriously. If you need more than that, I can’t help you. Well, okay, I can give you one more reason to get this book. The illustrations–digital images made of geometric shapes mixed with real photographic images–are as awesome as the text. So there. And check out Robot Zombie Frankenstein too!

October 13, 2014

for kids who love colors. or those that don’t, but will soon. Mix it up!

by Wendy Lawrence

I was super excited when this book landed on my doorstep. Its predecessor, Press Here is one of our longtime family favorites. (If you don’t know that one, and unexpectedly interactive book of colors, definitely check out the link above.)

Mix it Up! uses the same principles of Press Here, but adds a whole dimension of colors and how they are made. Kids mix their fingers on the paint illustrations and make their own colors as if they were mixing paints themselves. What happens when you rub your finger on the blue then dip it in the yellow? Turn the pages to find out! What about if one page has a red dot and the opposite page has a yellow dot and you close them together? Turn the page again! What about if you mix a bunch of colors with white? Or with black?

mixitupTitle: Mix it Up!
Author/Illustrator: Hervé Tullet
: Picture Book, Art
Ages: 0 – 6

Kids will love playing with this book. And when you are done, they will love playing with paint! You could even really easily let your kids recreate this whole book with a simple supply of finger paints. How much fun would that be?

October 9, 2014

remember when you played TELEPHONE?

by Wendy Lawrence

It starts with a mother bird who says “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner.” But the youngest only remembers “Tell Peter: Hit pop flies and homers.” That changes to “Tell Peter: Prop planes are for fliers.”

telephoneTitle: Telephone
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jen Corace
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 0 – 7

The game of telephone, played by birds on a telephone wire, appropriately enough, gets out of hand at one point:

Tell Peter: There’s a giant monster lobster named Homer! He smells like socks and he breathes red fire! His eyes blaze like stars and he rides a crocodile that flies and he’s coming to this wire! Tell Peter to fly! Fly far far away! He’s too young to be somebody’s dinner!

Then there is one of those beautifully brilliant pages with no words. Where an older owl gives this latest message the kind of look that parents sometimes give the younger set. And he turns and says “Hey, Peter.” Which is another of my favorite pages. I love that it slows down a little. Then he straightens his glasses and says “You mom says fly home for dinner.”

:) Which made me love the book. Because really, as parents, doesn’t that just sum up the whole job? Yes, it’s nice to have fun with the kids, but sometimes, when dinner is on the table and the craziness is out of hand, it’s up to us to cut out the monsters and the crocodiles and boil everything down to the main point.

That and the illustrations. Which are gorgeous.

October 4, 2014

Halloween Adventure

By Angela Verges

When my boys were younger, they were always ready for an adventure. It didn’t take much to stir a little excitement in them. They especially liked preparing for Halloween, which meant pumpkin picking, pumpkin carving, reading books about Halloween and of course trick or treating.

Before you head out pumpkin picking, start your adventure by reading a couple of Halloween related stories. If your toddler enjoys rhyming silly stories, she will enjoy Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin by Mary Serfozo and Valeria Petrone.

Title: Plumply, Dumply, Pumpkin Author: Mary Serfozo Illustrator: Valerie Petrone Genre: Picture Book Ages:3-6

Title: Plumply, Dumply, Pumpkin
Author: Mary Serfozo
Illustrator: Valerie Petrone
Genre: Picture Book

Peter the cat is heads to the pumpkin patch in search of a pumpkin that is not lumpy, bumpy or stumpy. Why does Peter want a pumpkin? You’ll have to read the story to find out.

Peter the cat isn’t the only animal who appears in Halloween stories. Did you know that sheep trick or treat? In Nancy Shaw’s book Sheep Trick or Treat, that’s exactly what happens. The sheep prepare for trick or treating by making disguises. What disguise could they possibly wear?

Title: Sheep Trick or Treat Author: Nancy Shaw Illustrator: Margot Apple Genre: Picture Book Ages: 4-8

Title: Sheep Trick or Treat
Author: Nancy Shaw
Illustrator: Margot Apple
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 4-8

As you read either of the above mentioned books, your child is sure to discover an adventure in the making. Add to your adventure by creating a sheep craft and a marshmallow snack. Click here for details and directions.

What will your Halloween adventure consist of this year?

October 2, 2014

don’t forget your FLASHLIGHT

by Wendy Lawrence

This book made me wish it was nighttime and I was camping. Well, actually, I usually wish I was camping. But just flip through a couple of pages of this wordless, black-yet-bright, night-inspired picture book and see if you don’t find yourself waiting for the sun to go down.

My kids are going to love this book. And as soon as it’s done they are going to look for their flashlights. The nighttime images are gorgeous, and the beam of light that finds bats, owls, sticks, and apples, is perfect. Even without words, the book manages to be funny. The boy trips at one point and finds the beam illuminating him–with a raccoon on the other end!

flashlightTitle: Flashlight
Author/Illustrator: Lizi Boyd (or do I only write “illustrator” since there are no words??)
Genre: Picture Book
Ages: 2 – 7

September 15, 2014

dancing, dazzling Josephine Baker

by Wendy Lawrence

I love a book that you can’t easily categorize, and this is one of them. At first glance, you think it’s a picture book, bright and boldly covered. But it’s also thick, almost like a middle grade book, and is 104 pages. When you look at the words, you realize it’s a kind of poem, the whole book written in beautiful language that mimics the dancing of its protagonist, Josephine Baker.

josephineTitle: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
: Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrator: Christian Robinson (who has worked for Pixar and Sesame Workshop)
Genre: Nonfiction, Poetry, Art, Dance, African-American
Ages: 7 – 10, but younger children could be read a few pages and older children could use as a research text

This book tells of the life of an amazing woman who ran away from the slums of St. Louis with a dance troupe and made her way to Carnegie Hall and theatres in Paris. She fought tremendous racism, performing at clubs where she wasn’t even allowed to walk through the front door, places she wouldn’t have been allowed to eat. Josephine Baker ended up leaving for Europe where she felt better received and found tremendous success. The book doesn’t dance around any issues: it talks about the Ku Klux Klan, World War II. It talks about how she bleached her skin with lemon juice and how, even after beings so well received in France, she was called a “savage” and a “devil” in Austria. Always wanting to please, she dressed the next night in all white and sang a gorgeous lullaby, a Negro Spiritual called “Pretty Little Baby”. It worked. They called her an “angel”.

Josephine Baker adopted twelve children throughout her life, her famous “Rainbow Tribe”. They came from eleven countries and Josephine brought each of them up celebrating their own religion–Buddhist, Shinto, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and animist. She had a gorgeous and interesting life. She was still performing in her seventies when she died in her sleep after a long night of dancing.

The press release that comes with the book dutifully mentions how it is perfect for February (African-American history month) and April (Poetry month), but seriously, let’s hope it’s read all year long. I love that you can use this book to introduce some very heavy topics to your child, but in a very colorful, happy, positive way, not only because of the colors in the book, but because of the colorful, energetic character who titles it.

September 12, 2014

play with your books in Photoplay!

by Wendy Lawrence

When I saw this book, I immediately wanted to buy a copy for every kid I knew. I settled for only one and gave it to an artistic niece as I thought its subtleties might be lost on my younger boys, whose art tends to be a bit more on the abstract side. But I love everything about this book and think you will too. It would make a really nice–and unique–gift for your next birthday party or (dare I mention it yet) the holiday season.

photoplayTitle: Photoplay!
Author: M.J. Bronstein
Genre: Picture Book with a twist–you draw some of the pictures!
Ages: 5 and up

This is an interactive picture book with photographic pages that have pieces missing, just asking for your young artist to fill in the spaces. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the book trailer:

I love the way this book allows kids to interact with their reading and make their art a conversation between the author and themselves. Maybe if you ask nicely, they’ll let you play too, and you can talk to your own kid through the pictures you each add! And after you do, you can check out what others have done in the gallery, or even email in your own work!



September 9, 2014

Around the world in 24 time zones

by Wendy Lawrence

It takes awhile for kids to understand the whole notion of “time”. My three-year-old, for example, will ask for a “3-minute” snuggle and to time it, he will do one of two things: he will either count to 3 (this at least makes some sort of sense) or he will count down to 3, starting from some arbitrary number like 10 or 20 (and if it’s 20, the counting down isn’t often that linear). Either way, when he gets to the predetermined number, he decides that his predetermined time is up.

Another thing he does is talk about the past with all sorts of incorrect descriptors. “Remember last year when we ate oatmeal?” he says about that morning’s breakfast. Or “remember yesterday when we went to Seattle?” he says about last year’s trip. You get the picture. It will all fall into place at some point, of course, but in the meantime, I enjoy the vocabulary lapses immensely.

atthesamemomentTitle: At the Same Moment Around the World
Author: Clotilde Perrin
Genre: Picture Book, History, Culture, Science

This book won’t teach him any of that. BUT, it is related to time. When we go on trips, we often try to talk to our kids about the time zones. This has little effect, as you can imagine, given my previous description of what we are working with. But this book might help us out.

At the same moment around the world, by Clotilde Perrin is a beautifully conceptualized, written, and illustrated book about the time zones. It’s a long and skinny book with only 24 scenes. It starts with an illustration of a beach and a ship and says

It is six 0’clock in the morning in Dakar, Senegal. Keita wakes up early to help his father count the fish caught during the night.

The book moves through the world, stopping next in Paris where Benedict drinks hot chocolate before school, then to Bulgaria, Baghdad, and Dubai. It travels through China on the New Year and Japan and Russia before crossing the Americas, where a girl in Arizona watches a night train pass through the desert. It stops in one place in each time zone before returning to the original picture again. Keita and his dad are counting fish but on the first and opposite page, our focus is now on the boat we had seen earlier.

At the same moment, on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it is five o’clock in the morning when Chloé finds herself tired from dancing all night.

I love everything about this book–the prose, the illustrations, the very idea of it. I love the way each page’s illustration continues to the facing page’s illustration, even though each is a different story in a different place. I love the diverse set of characters, places, and actions, and the way it makes a very abstract idea incredibly tangible.

This would be a wonderful book to read to kids before a vacation that crosses time zones. It would be great to compare this book to a world map and find all the places mentioned. Kids could then find other places that share a time zone with the place in the book and could ponder what kids in those cities might be doing at those times of the day. It would be a fun activity for a wide variety of ages, a good thing to do on an airplane ride or a rainy day. And anything that helps kids see that the world is both big and small is a good activity.

September 5, 2014

If you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to summer…

A little while ago, I wrote about A Warm Winter Tail, by Carrie A. Pearson. It will be time to read that soon, but wait. Not. Quite. Yet. My tomatoes still aren’t yet red. My grass is still green (and I guess at this point it will remain that way). And the kids just got dropped off at school a few hours ago. So there’s time. And what is there time for? How about Person’s latest book, A Cool Summer Tail.

Like the first one, it starts with the voice of a child:

How do humans stay cool in the summer, Mama?
Do they hang out their tongues,

like a spring that’s been sprung,
breathing fast in and out like this?

Kids will learn how other animals adapt to the warm summer months through the illustrations and the words which tells us what humans don’t do, but what animals clearly do.

coolsummertailTitle: A Cool Summer Tail
Author: Carrie A Pearson
Illustrator: Christina Wald
Genre: Picture Book, Science
Ages: 2 – 6

Check out this book and use it as a great reference for talking about the changing seasons–very apt right now–and how animals adapt differently than humans. I also think it would be fun to talk about which of the adaptations humans CAN do (lay on the cool dirt like a bear, for example, even if we don’t often), and which we definitely CAN’T (spread our wings for shade like a butterfly).


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