Penguin Problems

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To kick off September, I have one more book to add to my collection of children’s books featuring penguins. There is something undeniably delightful about these silly little black and white waddling creatures. Of course, even penguins have problems—it’s always cold, they can’t fly, and everyone looks so much alike! Our lead penguin is having a rough day, and there is no end to his list of complaints about the world. However, he gets some advice from a wise walrus who reminds him that if you are looking for something to complain about, you will always find it. Life not always perfect, but that does not mean that you cannot find joy in what you have.

While this does not top my list for children’s literature, the book is cute, short, and easy to follow. There is not much of a story, but just enough to carry things through the pages. I can see this being popular with younger kids, which makes sense with this particular edition as a board book. The story has a touch of cynicism, which is good for at least a chuckle from adult readers, but likely would not be picked up by kids. This would be good as a read aloud story one-on-one with a younger child, who perhaps does not have the stamina to sit and attend to longer picture books.

Boris’s thoughts: “Interesting to learn about the problems of other species, but penguins couldn’t possibly have more problems than cats. Did you know I only had time for 5 naps today? 2 paws.”

Bridge to Terabitha

img_0492Date Read: May 28 to June 1, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Bridge to Terabithia is one of those classic children’s novels that I somehow never read when I was a kid. Even as an adult reading it, I was quickly drawn in to the story. Jess is a boy that feels himself on the fringes of society. He does not quite fit in with his family, and does not quite fit in with the kids at school either. What seems to start off rocky with a new girl at school develops into the most meaningful friendship of his life. Jess finds a refuge in his friendship with Leslie, and their made up world of Terabithia.

While I was able to avoid direct spoilers for this one, I had been forewarned that it was sad and dealt with loss. Even knowing that, this one hit me harder than I was expecting. This is not merely a sad story, it is the kind of sad that I want to tell everyone I know that they need to read this book—but I also do not want to pass this profound sadness on to others. I usually try to avoid major spoilers when writing, but I do not know how I can give this book justice without them. Stop here if you do not want to know. Leslie dies, unexpectedly and tragically. Jess is away, having a “perfect day,” when this happens. The later chapters, as Jess begins to process and accept what has happened, are full of so many things that are difficult but so important.

Stepping away from the book for a moment, I need to talk about Samantha. Samantha was one of my closest friends in high school. She was fun, she was sweet, and she was one of those people that you knew you could always count on to be on your side when you needed her. We created cartoon characters to draw in each other’s notebooks, and talked about all of the things that we would do after high school. I was a few years older, and we started to see less of each other after I graduated. Despite ending up at the same college a few years later, we only saw each other occasionally. Although we were no longer every day friends, each time we saw each other, it was as if no time had passed. She was still my friend that would always be there—until she wasn’t. Samantha died unexpectedly at 22.

I don’t know if it’s fair to generalize the loss of a friend as a young adult to the loss of a friend as a child—but I do know that many of the actions, thoughts, and feelings of Jess after losing Leslie reflected my own experience. Paterson perfectly captures the essence of a great loss, and Jess’s reaction to his loss is so genuine that I grieved for him as well as Leslie. Every new piece hit home for me, starting from the initial shock and unreality, the sorrow of the loss itself, and then adding on secondary pain caused by the reactions of others, or even your own thoughts.

In the end, Jess does begin to see hope in a future without Leslie—while he misses her terribly, he recognizes the impact that she made on him, and uses that to move forward. I still think about Samantha often. I cannot say what path our friendship would have taken if she were still here, but I can say with certainty that I am fortunate to have known her. There are bits of her in many of the things that I do and think every day. I remember a gift she gave me for my birthday one year—a necklace and a pair of flashy earrings that I had admired at the store, but decided not to buy. She told me she knew I thought they were impractical, but that I needed them: it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks if I like them, and there’s never a good excuse not to wear hot pink. What an attitude to have.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think I would have liked her. 4 paws.”

Not Quite Narwhal

img_0255This is a silly, but fun story about friendship and belonging. Kelp lives at the bottom of the sea, but feels that he does not quite fit in with the other narwhals. One day he finds himself further away from home than expected, and sees something unusual on the distant land—a land narwhal! Kelp ventures onto land and realizes that he, too, is a land narwhal: a unicorn. He learns a bit about what that means, but inevitably becomes homesick and returns to the sea. When he gets back to his home under the sea, he is afraid to tell his narwhal friends about what he learned. Naturally, they knew this all along, and still loved him just the same. Kelp is sad that he would have to choose between two lives: in the sea with the narwhals, or on land with the other unicorns. The solution? A narwhal-unicorn beach party, of course!

I am a bit of a sucker for books that can be silly, but still give a good message for kids. You don’t have to give up you who are to fit in, and there are ways to have the best of both worlds if you think creatively! Who better to teach a lesson of acceptance than a unicorn? The illustrations are cute, and just “sparkly” enough to grab attention but not overdo it. I like this book as a read aloud. The story is fairly short and straightforward, and there are plenty of good places to pause for questions or predictions.

Unicorns seem to be particularly trendy right now, which I suppose works in favor for this book. I do get a personal giggle when it comes to unicorns, and this book hit that a little extra for me. A friend has admitted that she was an adult before she learned that unicorns were not real—“I didn’t think they were magic or anything, I just thought they were an animal that lives in another part of the world. There are other animals that have one horn, rhinos and those whales, why couldn’t there be unicorns?” Thanks for being a Unicorn Believer!

Boris’s thoughts: “Are we invited to the beach party? Do you think they have snacks? 3 paws.”

Dragons Love Tacos

img_0228-1Did you know that dragons love tacos? This was a new edition to our school library this year, and the librarian suggested that I should bring it home for Boris to read before it went out into circulation.

This book is light on plot, but high in silliness. The first part of the book provides some various evidence about how much dragons love tacos. We get a bit of a story going in the second part of the book, when we are introduced to the one thing that dragons love more than tacos: taco parties. BUT, of course, dragons cannot have hot sauce on their tacos. It makes them too fiery. When the boy in the story plans the best taco party ever, there is a mix-up with his totally mild salsa, and chaos ensues. Don’t worry though, even though it was an accident to burn down the whole house, the dragons will help rebuild. Because dragons have building skills, and they are nice, in addition to loving tacos.

It was a pretty easy read, and pages are dominated by illustrations rather than text. It would be a non-intimidating book for early readers, although there are some more difficult words. I can see this as a good read aloud. It’s silly enough to keep most kids interested, even without a big draw to find out what happens in the end.

Boris thoughts: “I am a dragon. I never knew. 4 paws.”

Penguin and the Cupcake

img_9324At the risk of seeming unfairly biased toward books about penguins, I present to you this lovely new discovery of mine. Penguin has grown tired of his regular penguin diet. He has heard stories of a wonderful food that he must investigate for himself– cupcakes. Penguin sets off on a search for a cupcake. There are none at the South Pole where he lives, so he heads north. Perhaps a bit too far north.

In addition to a cute story, there are quite a few “extras” woven into the book that I very much enjoyed. Most of these start as informational asides, but also include a little laugh for adults reading along. For example, Penguin meets a walrus who is on a strict kelp diet. However, it’s noted that walruses do not generally eat kelp. This walrus has some body image issues, and is trying to meet an unrealistic physical ideal.

I see this particular book as a fun read aloud, or perhaps a good book for adults to read with children. It seems it might be more enjoyable as a joint reading, as opposed to something kids may read on their own. The side notes that I enjoyed do include some more difficult words that kids would likely struggle with independently, and there may be some explanations needed.

Boris’s thoughts: “I hope that penguin is willing to share the cupcakes. What do you mean there aren’t any real cupcakes? 1 paw!”

Cinnamon

img_8521-1Something that I could not quite put my finger on has drawn me to this book a few times when I have perused the children’s section of my local bookstore. I suppose it is most likely the beautiful cover, combined with an affinity for Neil Gaiman’s work in general. Despite picking it up a few times, I never actually read through the book until recently.

I always buy a book for each of the kids at our extended family’s Christmas party, and finally decided to pick this one up while shopping for them. I loved the simplicity of this book. It has the feeling of a folktale, although I am not sure if it has any basis in the actual mythology of India. Cinnamon is a princess who is blind and also does not speak. Her parents have offered many riches to anyone who is able to get her to speak, but all have failed. A tiger steps in to do the work that humans have failed to complete. In addition to an enjoyable story, I find Divya Srinivasan’s illustrations striking. The colors are bright and bold; the style is simplistic but full of detail.

Boris’s thoughts: “I could be a tiger. Majestic and all. Roar. Although I don’t know why the tiger would WANT more humans to talk. 3 paws.”

Dragon’s Merry Christmas

img_8672While I have written about Dragon before, I could not let the holiday season pass without a mention of my favorite Christmas book: Dragon’s Merry Christmas. (And it’s a day early!) Dragon is up to his normal mis-adventurous antics, but with a bit of a heart-warming Christmas twist.

Dragon finds the perfect Christmas tree, decorates his house, and goes out shopping for all the things that he wants for Christmas. All, of course, with that little extra Dragon twist of silliness: it would be a shame to cut down the perfect tree, and we can all guess how things might turn out when you make Christmas decorations out of chocolate! The final story really pulls it all together as a Christmas tale, where Dragon learns a lesson about the spirit of giving.

As usual, I love the extras that Pilkey adds to the story with the illustrations. Each section of the book adds something into the illustrations, that make appearances throughout the rest of the story: the lengthy extension cord to light up Dragon’s perfect tree in the forest, the devastated chocolate candy wreath. In true Dragon fashion, he improvises when he runs out of room to write out “Christmas” in lights on the front of his house.

Boris’s thoughts: “Aww, warm fuzzies. I’m warm and fuzzy too! 4 paws. Oh, and Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”