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.”
I have to admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for the weirdos of the world, and this story of bananas, belonging, and being yourself written by the wonderfully weird Matthew Gray Gubler perfectly fits the bill. (I know you all must be shocked to hear this, from the girl who puts books on her cat.) With his 5 crooked teeth, 3 strands or hair, green skin, and left foot slightly bigger than his right, Rumple Buttercup is weird. He worries that people will be afraid of him, so lives a lonely life hiding in a rain drain beneath his town. He is so intrigued by the outside world that he sneaks up to look around from time to time—but only under cover of his trusty banana peel.
Rumple’s story is told in a unique format that feels part picture book and part graphic novel. The story is told in three picture filled chapters, spanning 136 pages. Despite the length, this is a quick read due to the interspersed drawings and minimal text. The style of Gubler’s art really lends itself perfectly to children’s literature. The format and length make it a little difficult as a whole group read aloud, but I can see this as a good fit for beginning readers or a one-on-one read aloud with kids. It is a sweet story that can be appreciated by both children and adults, celebrating that weirdness that makes each of us special.
Boris’s thoughts: “It’s a great story, but I can do without the banana peel. 3 paws.”
This 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.”
Did 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.”
At 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!”
You may have heard of it before, but in case you missed it… March is Reading Month! While I personally celebrate reading year round, I think it’s appropriate that we give some special recognition to one of the most famous authors of all time during his birthday month. To kick of the month, I decided to share one of my favorites from Dr. Seuss: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Dr. Seuss is known for clever rhymes for beginning readers, and adding in a bit of weird silliness. I love weird silliness. While many of his books are built around simplicity (did you know the Cat in the Hat uses only 220 different words?), this is not one of those books. It holds true to the verse and rhyme characteristic of Seuss, and is extra heavy on the silliness, including a huge variety of nonsense words. There is a loose plot through the book (description of all the things that the narrator is seeing), but the focus is more on the rhyme and some fun play in the verses. There are opposites with illustrations, rhymes, tongue twisters, and some other structurally interesting verses tied in. One of my favorites is a page spread that has a poem on opposing pages, told in reverse order with accompanying upside down illustrations.
I see this is the perfect book to read aloud with early readers, and to encourage them to take a turn in the reading. The rhymes are silly and fun, and most of the book is decodable (i.e., you can sound it out). The rhyming makes it somewhat predictable, but there is still a variety in the structure of the verses that keeps it interesting. I especially like the nonsense words– one of the strategies we often teach kids is to look at the sounds, and think about the words that they know. While this can be a good strategy, it doesn’t always work. It relies on a strong vocabulary. I love the opportunity for kids to practice a skill, but to learn that sometimes things that sound silly or wrong, might actually be right. Oh, and what a perfect ending for a bedtime story– on the very last page of the story, it is time to go to sleep!
Boris’s thoughts: “I think you’re over-analyzing this, but I can get behind these rhymes. 4 paws.”
Something 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.”
While 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!”
While this one is not strictly a Christmas story, there is something about Jan Brett that just feels Christmasy to me. This book is a follow up to her telling of a more traditional Gingerbread Man. In this case, it is a Gingerbread Baby. After running of on his initial adventure, the Gingerbread Baby has made his way back home. The story starts with him living contentedly in a gingerbread home with Mattie, although feeling terribly lonely when Mattie goes off to school or out to play with his friends. The Gingerbread Baby goes off on a second adventure in search of friends.
Unfortunately, he goes looking for friends in a plain, normal bakery… where none of the other cookie creatures can talk or play! He is perplexed and decides to rest while he thinks about what to do next. Of course, resting turns into sleep, which is interrupted by a hungry mouse! The Gingerbread Baby decides that this friendship search is not working out for him, and dashes back home– leading to the chase scene that we expect from Gingerbread characters. While he is discouraged from his journey, he does find a nice surprise waiting for him when he gets home, which folds out into an extra large pop-up picture for the end in the hardcover edition.
I like this story as a read aloud. It’s a nice traditional type story, and has a combination of normal storytelling, as well as some verse in the Gingerbread Baby’s speech. The pictures are great: large and with tons of details to look through with kids. One of the compliments of Jan Brett’s books I have heard is about the beautiful borders around the pages of her stories, and this is no exception. I like in this one that the borders serve a dual purpose– there is a recipe for gingerbread cookies included, while we also get to see what Mattie has been up to while the Gingerbread Baby has been away.
Boris’s thoughts: “I think the real lesson here is that I don’t ever need to leave my comfy home. Sounds good– it’s time for a nap.”
Book: Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood, Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
I stumbled upon this one while browsing the Christmas section in one of my favorite bookstores. (Short digression: I love The Book Loft of German Village in Columbus, OH even though I live nowhere near there. I make a point to stop in every time I have the opportunity!) Of course, with a cat and a cute cover like that, I had to read it. So happy that I found this one!
Cat is getting ready for Christmas. However, he has come to a sad realization: he’s been pretty naughty this year. What’s the best solution? To become Santa so that he can give a present to himself, of course! With a little help from the narrator, Cat realizes that this might be a little misguided. He tries to make up for his prior naughtiness with some good deeds– but ends up just causing some more trouble. In the end, Cat performs a good deed without even thinking about it, earning him some credit with the REAL Santa.
The set up and illustrations in this book were cute. It is staged as a conversation between an unseen narrator and the character, Cat. As a cat, of course, Cat cannot talk. He communicates with various signs and uses gestures to get his point across. This could be fun as a read aloud, with children old enough to talk through some interpretation of the drawings. Of course, this could be a good read aloud for younger children too, to talk through the drawings and help them make the connection between the text and the illustrations. Kids will find Cats antics enjoyable, and there’s a nice lesson to point out at the end, when Cat ends up succeeded with “being good” when he stops trying so hard!
Boris’s thoughts: “Hmm. I could be Santa. But I don’t need to be, because I’m definitely on the Nice list. Right?”