Bad Kitty

img_7749Book: Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel

This unique take on an alphabet book is great fun for all—cat lovers and deniers alike. (I refuse to believe that anyone cat really be a cat hater, they just have not found their right cat yet!) Unlike some books that fall into the “alphabet book” category, this one has a reasonable story to go along with it, and embeds several alphabetical lists into Kitty’s story. This is definitely one of my top picks for alphabet themed books.

Anyone who has known a cat personally can understand where things began to go downhill, when Kitty’s owners ran out of food and only had an alphabetical list of healthy foods to offer her. She then took her revenge on the world in her own little romp through the alphabet. Luckily, her people came through with some more appropriate alliterative alphabetical food offerings that put Kitty back on the path to be a good girl.

This book probably works best as a read aloud, as the alphabet book concept is more appealing to a younger age group, but some of the silly things listed push the required reading level up a bit. The story, especially the alphabet lists, includes a nice combination of text and pictures to make the lettered items stand out. Personally, I love the cat reaction pictures that are included along with the alphabetical food lists—they are exactly how I imagine one of mine would react if we could hold a conversation about what was for dinner!

Minka’s Thoughts: “Is this how I am supposed to do it?”

The Cricket in Times Square

img_7901Book: The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

To follow up last week’s post on a book I am still unsure was a new or re-read, I have another book from my childhood—one that I can saw with certainty I have read before. How can I be so sure? I can tell you when I read it: in the fall of 1995 as a read aloud in Mrs. Lint’s Fourth Grade class. I was so inspired by the story of Chester Cricket that I insisted on dressing up as him for Halloween that year. My mom had to spray paint some fairy wings black, and I glued a bunch of googly eyes to a mask to make insect compound eyes. I am sure not a single person knew what the costume was supposed to be, but I was so proud of it. Oh the joys of being a weird kid.

Of course, that was many years ago. Obviously it is a book I enjoyed as a kid, but not one that I thought about often. Until recently: last year, it was in a pile of books to discard at the school library, as the cover was damaged and no students had checked it out in several years. I added in onto my bookshelf then, and shortly after discovered that it was among the free audio books I could access through my district online library. At only 134 pages and roughly 2.5 hours audio, this was a nice fit for a long walk on a winter day. My only regret is that the story would have been a better fit for an evening stroll in late summer or fall.

I am not quite going to claim that I loved this story, but I think that it speaks to its appeal for children by the fact that seeing it on a shelf triggered such a detailed and specific memory. I suspect the idea of the friendship between different animals held a high appeal for me. And as an adult, I still think the idea of a cat and mouse becoming friends in New York City is fitting. I did think the ending was a bit sad, with Chester becoming burnt out with something he loved and leaving his new friends to journey home—but the tiniest bit of research led to me the fact that this is the first book in a series! While I do not now feel the need to continue, I imagine that would have been valuable information to my Fourth Grade self.

Even with the somewhat sad ending, I think there is a good message there for kids: sometimes we get tired of the things we like, and we might need a break. Overall, I thought this was an entertaining story with a cozy feel to it, and a good fit reading difficulty and interest wise for middle grades. It is a little dated, having been written in the 60s, but I think it has aged fairly well.

Minka’s Thoughts: “I don’t know if I’m cultured enough to have friends that would be so fun to chase. 3 paws.”

What Cat Is That?

img_7622Book: What Cat Is That? By Tish Rabe

Illustrated by Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu

This fun book is from the Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library—a series of nonfiction children’s books inspired by the work of Dr. Seuss. These books are meant as an introduction to the world of nonfiction for young readers, keeping the easy reading rhymes of Seuss, but pairing it with real world information. It’s a great way to introduce the concept of “reading to learn,” while still maintaining the fun aspects of many of the books children are used to when they are learning to read. I was not familiar with the series until I was gifted this book, but cannot help thinking there is a stroke of genius here.

In this book, the Cat in the Hat returns to visit the children from his original story, taking them on an adventure in his Kitty-Cat-Copter to see as many cats as possible. Then they are off to explore a wide array of cats, from the famous big cats to the different types of house cats. It also manages to include a variety of cat facts, while maintaining the ABCB rhyming pattern throughout and even includes a visit from Thing 1 and Thing 2! The illustrations are a really interesting mix—there is enough detail to show the differences in many cat types and breeds, while still maintaining elements readers will recognize from classic Seuss works. The colors are more realistic, of course, but the overall look is very similar.

Although this is the only book I have read from the Learning Library, I think these would be a great fit for kids around Second to Third Grade. This would be around the age when school begins to focus less on the foundations of reading, to working on comprehension and using books to find information. This is a entertaining transitional book that kids can still get excited about, rather than viewing it as purely informational.

Minka’s Thoughts: “That cat is this cat! This cat is me cat! All the cats; all the paws!”

Butts Are Everywhere

img_6759Book: Butts Are Everywhere by Jonathan Stutzman

I first saw this book in an Instagram post from Penguin Publishing, and knew immediately that it was going to be a must have coming into the holiday season. It was in consideration for all the kids on my list—but I decided to mix things up some for the others, and only purchased this one for my siblings’ kids. (Honestly though, this is a gift for my brother just as much as for my nephew, right?) My nephews are 4 and 2; my niece is 3. For them, a butt is just about the funniest thing on the planet. Although none of them are old enough to read, they were delighted to see the butt illustrations on the cover of the book when they opened their gifts.

This gem is an ode to butts everywhere: the small butts, the smooth butts, the large butts, and the furry butts. There are just so many types of butts that can be discussed! Obviously, there is plenty of silliness and laughs abound with the topic of butts. There is some educational information mixed in along the way, with a list of many other names used for butts, as well as some fun facts about the many purposes of butts in both humans and animals. Of course, no book about butts would be complete without mention of toots. Just like butts, there are many different types of toots—and all of them are perfectly normal, even if they do sometimes stink.

In addition to being a book that kids can laugh along to, this could be a good start to a conversation about bodies and body positivity. The book celebrates all types of butts: every size, color, and shape that they come in. The book wraps up with a reminder that even though we sometimes laugh about them, our butts are an important part of us; and you should never forget: Your butt is awesome!

Boris’s Thoughts: “You are so immature.”

Old MacDonald Had A Truck

img_6773Book: Old MacDonald Had A Truck by Steve Goetz

My discovery of this book came out of a bad habit: I often browse the discount section for children’s books that look interesting, and if the price seems right I will buy a few without really thoroughly looking at them. I figure these are great things to have on hand for gifts, and although I would love to personally pick out a book for every occasion, there are times when it’s nice to have something on hand. Knowing that the holidays were coming up, I grabbed this one primarily based on the title and a quick glance at the illustrations.

A few days later, I took a closer look at the books I had picked up to see what might be good fits for Christmas, and gave this one a more careful look—the next day I headed back to the bookstore to pick up another copy. At first glance, this is a play on the familiar “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” song, with most of the text following the pattern of the verses. However, rather than going through a list of animals, the song goes through all the machinery owned by Old MacDonald: an excavator, bulldozer, and many others. Rather than animal noises, each piece of machinery is paired with its function, with a dig dig here or a push push there. It’s great fun for kids interested in vehicles or machines, but also has some other interesting features.

To go along with the different vehicles included, the author occasionally makes a play on the “E-I-E-I-O” part of the song, substituting an appropriate “O” rhyme that matches the equipment. I especially enjoyed the “E-I-E-I-SLOW” to go along with the steamroller. There is also a double story here for those who give more than a cursory glance at the illustrations. As each of the machines are being introduced, we can see that Old MacDonald is working on a construction project on his farm—leading up to the appearance of the truck from the title, which happens to be a racing stunt truck ready for the course that he has built!

Minka’s Thoughts: “Old MacDonald had a… cat? ME-I-ME-I-OW. I am poet!”

Christmas Cheer and Disney Cinestory Comics

My family’s Christmas gathering is a pretty big deal for us: although each family has always spent Christmas day on their own, we kick off the holiday with a Christmas Eve gathering of around 35 to 40 people spanning four generations. We have dinner, share drinks, exchange gifts, and always have a visit from Santa, who pulls out a guitar and leads a few Christmas carols. There are usually a few games of euchre, and the night often ends with a Christmas movie on as people begin to go their separate ways. As the family has grown, we have had some evolving rules around gift giving. Adults have always drawn names to exchange, and with a growing number of young kids there is a newer tradition of kids drawing names and buying for each other. Some of the adults—those without young kids of their own—still opt to buy for all the young ones. Several years ago, I started the tradition of buying books.

One of my favorite things leading up to the holidays is picking out books for each kid. When they were younger, it was easy to find fun picture books. Now, with a few getting older and becoming readers in their own right, I have tried to get a little creative. Being in schools, I do read a fair amount of children’s and young adult literature, but it’s not always easy to find the perfect match for each kid. I usually end up with a mix of new books and ones that I have read. Although I know my Christmas is going to look different this year, I still picked out books for all the kids, and decided to use the blog to share some of my finds.

img_6658Book: Cinestory Comics by Disney

Pictured: Big Hero 6, Coco, Inside Out

My first discovery of the holiday season was these Disney graphic novels. Disney has always been popular in my family, so these caught my attention right away. I found these in a box set for a pretty reasonable price considering it comes with four books. There were a few options of sets available, including princesses and blockbusters—I liked the variety in this particular set and thought it was a good fit for some of the older kids (around age 9).

Since the kids all read a fair amount, I am always trying to find the balance between something popular that will interest them, but not something so popular they will likely have already read or seen it through school. Graphic novels have been gaining popularity for some time, and I thought these were a fun addition in that format. These are especially cool because they are not simply comics telling the story of the movie—the comics are created from still shots from the movies. I am especially excited about the Big Hero 6 book, which I think is going to be perfect for my cousin’s son who can be picky about his reading, and tends to be more into video games lately.

Minka’s Thoughts: “Does being in my bed make these bedtime stories?”

They All Saw A Cat

Book: They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel

This fun cat-centric book is all about the illustrations. The author, who is primarily an illustrator, pairs simple, repetitive prose with varying and interesting illustrations to tell a story about perception. A cat goes about his day encountering others who all see him a bit differently. While the majority of the text merely states who is seeing the cat, the illustrations take the reader on a journey ranging from a child’s perspective to a bird’s eye view. Each one is bright and interesting, and all slightly different in both perspective and style.

I also love that this book can be versatile in its purpose and easy to interact with. The patterned text makes this great for early readers, but it also makes a great read aloud with the stunning illustrations to show off. It is also a great book to start some discussion around perspective taking, and helping children to see that not everyone views the world in the same way as them. The differences in style used in the illustrations could also be a good jumping off point for an art lesson: what do the colors and textures tell you about each view of the cat, and why did the author choose to portray the cat in that particular way?

Boris’s Thoughts: “I also see a cat. Oh, 4 paws, I suppose. I must appreciate an author who appreciates me!”

The Halloween Tree

Book: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Date Read: October 30 to November 4, 2020

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I found this little book while wandering past the children’s section in one of my favorite bookstores. The picture on the cover caught my eye, and upon further examination I quickly decided that it was one that I needed to have. Prior to seeing this, I had no idea that Bradbury had written for children and was intrigued. After reading, I am somewhat torn on its classification as a children’s book—the story fits the idea of a children’s book, but the style does not seem quite right for what one would expect from children’s literature.

That said, I am in love with the style of Bradbury. He captures the spirit and feeling of fall not only in his words but it how he chooses to arrange them. I have always loved the fall, and his writing has a way of capturing that—the feeling of wanting to light some candles and curl up under the blanket to contemplate the strange and unusual. Something about it soothes my soul, and I think I may need to make this particular book a part of my future fall routine.

A group of boys sets out for Halloween adventure, and find themselves chasing the soul of their friend on a journey through traditions related to Halloween and death, across cultures and the time. Though the focus is on the boys’ experience of the Halloween holiday, their excursion goes beyond that to explore Egyptian and pagan death rituals, the Druid celebration of Samhain, and the Mexican Dia de Los Muertos (among others). While it is certainly incorrect to view each of these as a different culture’s version of Halloween, there are definite parallels that can be drawn between them all. El Dia de Los Muertos is no more the “Mexican Halloween” than our Halloween celebrations are the “American Day of the Dead.” Yet, they both offer a celebration of life and death peculiar to the fall season.

Of course, our modern celebrations are a far cry from the origins of the holiday, even by comparison to our own culture’s history: when was the last time it was usual for a “trick or treater” to actually offer up a trick to those who denied them a treat? The Halloween Tree offers some insight into the blending of culture and traditional, the common threads that unite us all a little more than we realize. I cannot think of a better feeling to pair with the season.

Boris’s Thoughts: “A book about Halloween with no cats? Pah! 1 paw.”

Night of the Gargoyles

img_6412Book: Night of the Gargoyles by Eve Bunting

Just in time for Halloween, I have something a bit different from a popular children’s author. I say a bit different because most of the works I am familiar with from Bunting tend to be a little lighter. However, I may have an inaccurate impression of her, considering the vastness of her bibliography (seriously, did you know that she has written more than 250 books?). Although not specifically a Halloween themed book, this one has a definite creepy vibe that is perfect for the Halloween season.

Most books aimed for children have at least a slight element of silliness incorporated, which is noticeably lacking here. I would not call this outright scary, but it definitely has a creepy feel. The monochrome pictures add to this, but also compliment the story nicely. Continuing on the idea of silliness, I would not say it is completely absent: although not included overtly in the story, there are a few fun or amusing details included in the illustrations.

The story reads like a poem—not the typical rhyming verse often found in children’s literature, but a long form poem more reminiscent of classic poetry. This makes it a bit of a higher reading level than would be expected of a children’s book, although I think it makes it a good fit for a read aloud or an introduction to different types of poetry.

Minka’s Thoughts: “Ooh. Looks fun. Boris, can we play Gargoyles?”

Boris’s Thoughts: “You’re doing this wrong, Minka! Cut it out! 1 paw!”

A Bad Case of Stripes

img_5693Book: A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

Camilla Creams loved lima beans. Of course, she was much too afraid to admit that to any of her friends. Everyone else thinks they are gross, and she wants so much to fit in. The trouble all starts when she is picking out her clothes for the first day of school—so worried about impressing her friends. When she finally looks at herself in the mirror, she is shocked to see herself covered in stripes! First her parents called in the Doctors, then the Specialists, and eventually the Experts; but nobody could figure out what the problem was, and things only seemed to be getting worse.

I really enjoy the combination of silliness and seriousness used here. The story is presented matter-of-factly, despite the obvious absurdity of a girl suddenly coming down with stripes. It’s a perfect attention grabber for the lesson here: it is perfectly okay to be yourself. Camilla’s affliction of stripes, spots, roots, and all else is tied to what everyone else expects from her, but the cure comes when she is able to admit what she worries everyone will think makes her weird. Turns out, the real her was in there all long just waiting to come out.

The reading level on this is a little higher for a picture book, although the text length does vary a bit from page to page. This could be a good choice to practice reading switching off between an adult and child. It is a good length for a read-aloud as well, and the colorful and interesting pictures make it a good fit for kids a bit younger too. There are tons of details to point out or ask about throughout the story, adding to the fun.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Excuse me? Is there something wrong with stripes? 1 paw.”