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.”

A Friend for Dragon

img_3067Book: A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey

As a kick off to the third year of Books On My Cat, I present to you A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey. This is the first book in the Dragon series of book, which I have written about several times before. Dragon is one of my favorite children’s characters. He is always getting into some sort of misadventure—in this case, Dragon falls for a prank and mistakenly assumes that an apple that has fallen on his head is actually looking to become his friend. Despite the misunderstanding, Dragon finds the apple to be a delightful friend, who is a good listener, has common interests, and shares with his friends.

I admit that this is not my favorite addition to the Dragon collection, but I think it sets a nice tone to the series. We get a good glimpse of his personality, which is then built upon in the later books. Dragon is a little naïve, but is also willing to make the most of any situation with his positive attitude. If everyone else is too busy, why not spend your time hanging out with an apple? Of course, apples do not last forever (especially when you are tricked into thinking you have a special speaking apple, and the culprit of the trick is no longer around to fake an appley voice). Although Dragon is quite distraught at the loss of his friend, he receives a pleasant surprise the summer after laying his friend to rest in the backyard.

Of course, as you may have noticed in the photo, today is also the debut of a friend of Boris: introducing Minka, a sassy little girl that joined our family at the end of December. She was found near where my dad works as a kitten in July; she was alone despite seeming too young to have left her mother. My dad began to care for her, and she moved into the office building. After living there for a few months, and with the weather starting to turn cold, he decided that it was time for her to have a more proper home and asked if Boris needed a friend. I was reluctant, as Boris has always struck me as a lone cat personality, but we decided to give it a try. The two are still getting used to having another cat around, but are starting to warm up to each other a bit. While Boris is still my number one guy, you will start to see a bit more of Minka around here!

Book: A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey

How to Talk to Your Cat

img_2724This fun little non-fiction children’s book was brought to my attention by my school librarian—she noticed that the cat on the cover looks a bit like Boris, and thought he might be interested in reading! How to Talk to Your Cat provides a good introduction to cat behavior and some general information in interpreting what your cat is trying to say. Of course, as a book intended for children, it’s not a definitive guide. There are a few items of cat behavior included that I would consider a bit questionable, plus a few items that contradict things I have read recently. I suppose some of this is inevitable in a book that was published nearly 20 years ago.

The book starts with the history of domestic cats, referring to something I have heard a few times from other sources: humans did not domesticate cats; cats domesticated themselves. From there, it moves on to cat greetings, and communication via scent, sound, and body posture. The book wraps up with some more behavioral information—typical habits for indoor and outdoor cats. Along the way there is some advice in communicating and living with cats. I believe it is said a few times that cats tend to have the attitude that we belong to them, rather than the other way around. I’m not quite sold on this, but I think there is some truth to it. Boris knows that there are some limits to his running of the household. I am the keeper of the treats, after all.

Although I would still consider this a picture book, it is quite heavy on text. Most of the pictures included are for demonstration, with a few additional illustrations to fill in along the way. The drawings are fairly simple and cartoonish, which I think feels appropriate with the style of the book. There are a few photos of the author (Jean Craighead George) included, intermingled with the cartoonish cats. It feels a little silly—especially the picture of her on hands and knees rubbing heads with a cat. I suppose this is one way of keeping interest for kids who might otherwise be off put by the lengthy text passages on each page. I can see this as a good book for older kids who have an interest in cats or pets, or perhaps animals in general, but would not necessarily make a general recommendation for this one.

Boris’s thoughts: “A well read cat like me clearly has much more to say than this book would suggest. 2 paws.”

Penguin and Pumpkin

img_2482Over the years, I have amassed quite the collection of Penguin-centric children’s literature. While Tacky is certainly the character I relate to the most, the Penguin created by Salina Yoon is by far the sweetest. There are several books about Penguin’s adventures with his friends, sometimes venturing far from the ice world that is his home. In this fall adventure, Penguin learns what fall looks like away from home, and brings back a special fall surprise for his little brother, Pumpkin.

When Penguin and his friends decide to visit a farm to learn what fall looks like off the ice, Pumpkin is still too small to come on such a far journey. Penguin and the others set out on an iceberg for their long trip to the farm, with the size of their vessel gradually diminishing as they get further from home. At the farm, they discover pumpkins of all varieties, and put together a harvest package to bring home. They even build themselves a new boat for the way back, made from a giant pumpkin! Back home, Pumpkin has been imagining some fall adventures of his own, but is very curious about the real fall. He is excited to have his very own pumpkin brought back for him, but the real surprise is the extra bit of fall Penguin brought so he could see what fall really looks like– snowing leaves!

Like I started with, this is a super cute and sweet story. First of all, I think it’s adorable that Penguin has a little brother named Pumpkin. The illustrations are well done and add some fun details into the story. I love the little details like the dwindling ice berg on the journey, and Sleepy Penguin who always seems to be dozing off. There are some bits of conversation added in to the story along with the narrative text. The books are definitely aimed at younger children, with many available as board books. These are fun as read aloud or bedtime stories, with great things to point out to kids in the pictures throughout the book.

Boris’s thoughts: “Did you notice that we get both of the falls that are in this book– the snowing leaves and the real snow! Both fun to watch. 4 paws.”

The Nightmare Before Christmas

img_2396The evolution of Halloween over time puts it in a unique position among holidays and traditions. Not that there have not been changes in other holidays, of course, but the contrast between the night of literal tricks or treats mayhem in the past and the more lighthearted trick or treating of today is quite stark. This makes it a bit more difficult to define what is “classic” in Halloween—we do not have the same sort of classical tradition in film and music that is carried through with Christmas. There are classic horror films, but these are not truly constrained to or even tied to Halloween. Enter here, the bridge between these two, and I give you a Halloween classic: The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Most know this story from the movie, which we will forever be debating about—is it a Halloween movie, or a Christmas movie? (Both, obviously, but I digress.) A little over a decade before this stop-animation film came to be, it was a poem written by Tim Burton. The poem is a basic outline of the story of the film, starting with its own rhyme and meter, then switching to match that of the original Christmas poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Jack Skellington is discontent in Halloweenland, and when walking through the woods stumbles upon a strange door that takes him in to Christmastown. He is excited about this discovery, wishing to bring Christmas back home with him. As in the film, the Halloween takeover leads to disaster, although it does not end with the same level of excitement of a Santa kidnapping and rescue. Santa intervenes, Jack learns his lesson; Santa does realize that Jack meant no harm, and so brings a bit of Christmas to Halloweenland to show that there are no hard feelings.

Although it well predates the film, the poem was not published until the time of the film’s release. This particular edition is a special release for the 20th anniversary of the original publication and film release. The poem is set up into a picture book with original illustrations by Tim Burton. I believe some of these are from the original publication, but there are some new illustrations added to the anniversary edition. As a fan of both the poem and the film, this was a fun look behind the scenes for me. The illustrations are reminiscent of the animation, perhaps serving as a bit of a storyboard around which the film was fleshed out with its songs and plot additions. This book holds a special place on my shelf year-round, but is out for display this time of year. I love the detailed simplicity of this gold and white cover, with the iconic scene of Jack on the hill, bordered by some lovely little drawings of Zero the ghost dog.

Boris’s thoughts: “It could use a few more black cats, but otherwise I approve. 3 paws.”

Creepy Pair of Underwear

img_2154What a perfect mix of fun and spooky! While shopping at the underwear store, Jasper Rabbit convinces his mother that he needs something more than just “plain white”– he needs the cool green underwear in the special display. His mother is worried that they are a little creepy, but he assures her that he’s not a little bunny anymore, and the underwear are not too creepy for a big rabbit. That night, he proudly wears his new underwear to bed. But then, after the lights are out, he realizes they might be a little creepier than he thought: the underwear are giving off a ghoulish green glow that he cannot get out of his head. Jasper stuffs them in the bottom of his hamper and goes back to sleep. Then the next morning… they are back! Jasper makes several attempts to rid himself of the underwear, but they continue to show back up in his drawer. When Jasper finally finds a way to keep the underwear away, he has another realization… he has become accustomed to that gentle green glow, his bedroom is awfully dark without the creepy glowing underwear.

This book is super silly, with just the right amount of spookiness twisted in. There is a nice, creepy aesthetic to the illustrations, all in black and white with dark backgrounds, except for the green glow of the creepy underwear. I can see this one enjoyed by kids off all ages, with an engaging story and ridiculous premise. A story about underwear is going to be funny to kids, and the idea of being haunted by creepy underwear is obviously hysterical to anyone under the age of 10 (and probably a lot of us adults too).

Boris’s thoughts: “Okay, it’s funny… but don’t get any ideas. If you start stringing glowing underwear around the house, I’m leaving. 2 paws.”