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.”

Dinotrux

img_5525Book: Dinotrux by Chris Gall

For this month’s children’s book, I decided to stray a little from my typical choices in this area. Generally speaking, I like to feature some of the fun picture books in my school library, as well as some of the books on my own shelves that I consider to be children’s “classics.” This month is a tribute to my cool nephew Clint, with the book that I picked out for his birthday: Dinotrux. What an amazing combination, isn’t it? I know my nephew is not alone in his love for dinosaurs. With my brother’s job in trucking and frequent renovation projects, he is certainly no stranger to trucks and other large equipment. While I did choose this book with a specific kid in mind, I think there is a pretty wide appeal among children for a dinosaur and truck crossover book.

Millions of years ago, prehistoric trucks roamed the earth… Unlike trucks today, these trucks were mostly troublemakers. We are given a tour of prehistoric earth with introductions to all of the truck-dino combinations, such as the hungry Craneosaurus with his head in the trees and the Dozeratops pushing trees and boulders around. The illustrations give us some extra ideas about all the trouble these trucks caused for prehistoric man. I think my favorite were the sleepy Deliveradons, reminiscent of the brown UPS delivery trucks.

Both kids and adults can get a good laugh from this fun book. I am not quite going to predict that this will end up on anyone’s list of classic children’s literature, but I am pretty confident that my nephew is going to love it. He is four, after all, and when you’re four, what more do you need than dinosaurs and trucks?

Minka’s Thoughts: “I think… I would like to be one of these when I grow up. 3 paws.”

Where The Wild Things Are

img_5145Book: Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

When it comes to sharing children’s books, I often browse the shelves of the school library which is obviously much more extensive than my personal collection. However, with the abrupt end to in-person school this spring, I am forced to turn to my own shelves for the time being. Many of the picture books that I have in my collection are those that I consider classics—this one included.

I cannot say for sure when I first encountered this particular book, but it was definitely one of my favorites in childhood. Long before I was able to read any of the words, I would page through the book to look at the pictures of the wild things, especially the scenes of the wild rumpus! Even as an adult, I am fascinated by Sendak’s use of pictures and words to tell the story. The sparse, carefully chosen words combined with the vibrant pictures are uniquely engaging. This is a fun read aloud, and perfect to inspire a love a books.

While I certainly remember the basic stories of many of my childhood favorites, it’s always interesting to me to revisit these from a new perspective. Of course Max’s story of sailing away on a private boat to where the wild things are is enthralling for children. Who would not want to rule over the wild things and declare a wild rumpus? Digging a little deeper into the story, it’s possible to pull out a tale that is just as relatable for children: Everyone is wild sometimes. That is okay, but sometimes comes with consequences. When our wildness has run its course, we will be homesick for things familiar. Even though Max’s mother needed to punish him for his mischief, she is still there to take care of him.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Are you trying to imply something with this book choice? Only one of us is wild. 1 paw.”

Minka’s Thoughts: “It’s me! I’m the wild thing! 4 paws!”

Gift Horse

img_4872Book: Gift Horse: A Lakota Story by S. D. Nelson

If you have been following along with me for a while, you may remember that I have been making a habit of picking up books during my travels as souvenirs. I am working on collections for each state and country that I have visited. While I usually select novels, I could not pass up including a picture book this time as well. The newest addition to my picture book collection is a book that I picked up at the Wall Drug Store on a recent trip to South Dakota.

Gift Horse tells the story of a young Lakota boy’s journey to manhood, beginning with a horse that is given to him by his father. This coming of age story centers on Flying Cloud, a name given to the boy because of the cloud of dust kicked up behind his horse as he ran across the prairies. Flying Cloud tells about the rites of passage along the way to becoming a Lakota warrior, including many of the traditions and rituals that are important in the culture of the Lakota people.

Although a bit text heavy for young children, the pictures are striking and the story interesting. It provides a view into Lakota culture and explains the tribe’s relationship with nature in a way that is understandable for children. For example, he talks of hunting and thanking the buffalo for providing food and warm clothes, but also includes a tale devising a clever plan to collect the quills from a porcupine because he does not need to kill the animal to get what he needs. At the end of the book, the author includes some additional learning information to go along with the story.

Boris’s Thoughts: “Nice pictures, lots of animals. I approve. 4 paws.”

Extra Yarn

img_4077Book: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

A few years ago, a group came to my school to read a book to all of the First Grade students. They really hyped up the guest coming to read to them, and then when the story was over, each student received a copy of the book to take home with them. This was that book, and such a lovely choice for a project like that!

Annabelle is walking outside one day in her cold, grey town, when she finds a box of brightly colored yarn. She makes herself a sweater, but finds that she still has extra yarn. So she makes a sweater for her dog. And then she makes one for her friend. And eventually there are sweaters for the whole town. She seems to always have some extra yarn to make something for someone. That is, until the evil archduke comes to town demanding that she sell him her box of yarn. When she refuses, he steals the box and runs away. Unfortunately for him, when he returns to his castle he finds that there is no yarn in the box for him!

This is a great book for a younger age group. The text is fairly easy without a ton of words on each page, and the story is easy to follow. The pictures are simple, yet interesting: most illustrations are a watercolor mixture of blacks and browns on a white background, with some bright contrast for the rainbow of colors in Annabelle’s yarn. This is a cute, simple story is pretty straightforward story about kindness. There is a clear “good guy vs. bad guy” dynamic, with a victory for good without a ton of conflict. Annabelle is able to continuously give to others from her magic box of yarn, but there is no yarn left for the selfish archduke who wants it all for himself. I’m sure if he had asked nicely for a sweater, she would have made him one. But I suppose that was not likely to happen—who makes a better villain than an archduke anyway?

Minka’s Thoughts: “Do you think she would make me a sweater to play with? 3 paws.”