Monthly Archives: June 2014

Harry the Dirty Dog

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Harry, a white dog with black spots, hates baths. But he loves exploring and getting dirty. After becoming a black dog with white spots (that his family doesn’t recognize), bathing suddenly becomes more appealing.

We enjoyed the Scholastic Video version of this simple, cute book a great deal when the boys were younger.

Author: Gene Zion
Illustrator: Margaret Bloy Graham

Violet the Pilot

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Violet is “a mechanical genius” with a particular gift for building flying machines, a faithful canine sidekick, and supportive parents. What is not to love about book starring a strong, independent, STEM-focused female protagonist whose skills and moxie lead her to save the day?

Well… First, the book presents Violet’s inclinations as way outside the norm for a girl: “while other girls were playing with dolls and tea sets, Violet played with monkey wrenches and needle-nose pliers.” Although this book was just published six years ago, this feels outdated. Second, Violet is an outcast. She eats lunch alone; other kids make fun of her; and she hopes to compete in an airshow because, if she wins a prize, “maybe then the kids at school would be nice to her.” While she ultimately saves the lives of an entire Boy Scout troop, and gains the respect of her community, there is real pain here that the wish fulfillment doesn’t hide.

But the boys love this book and focus on Violet’s brilliant designs, her dog, and the happy ending. (We do talk a bit about how the other kids at school are being unkind and missing out by not getting to know her.) This is the first book on this blog that we discovered through my oldest bringing home books from his school’s library, but I’m guessing it won’t be the last.

Author: Steve Breen
Illustrator: Steve Breen

Rapunzel

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Once again Paul O. Zelinsky draws from the best of the Grimm’s multiple versions, along with earlier Italian and French versions, to create a compelling and beautifully illustrated tale. My youngest will accept no substitutions; we must read this edition: “The one with the big tower.”

While this story violates the Frozen principle–“You can’t marry a man you just met”–in a big way and the prince seems to be either a cad or none too bright (otherwise why wouldn’t he just bring Rapunzel a rope ladder early on in their relationship?), it is a classic. (And Frozen has made discussing these kinds of issues much easier and faster at just the right time.)

Author: Paul O. Zelinsky/The Grimm Brothers
Illustrator: Paul O. Zelinsky

The Going to Bed Book

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This was the book we read every night to our youngest when he was a young toddler. Like Goodnight Moon (the book we read every night to our oldest when he was that age), it isn’t about telling a story or making sense; it is about setting a mood that is cheerful, calm, sleepy, and safe. When you are picking a book to read over and over again, this is a very good choice. I especially enjoy the final lines:

The moon is high. The sea is deep.
They rock
and rock
and rock
to sleep.

Author: Sandra Boynton
Illustrator: Sandra Boynton

Encyclopedia Prehistorica series

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Layers upon layers of scientific information are presented in this series through eye-popping pop ups (each double page spread has one big pop up, plus lots of smaller ones hidden in mini-attached pages). It is perfect for kids who love animals and science (and have learned to be gentle with delicate books).

Author: Matthew Reinhart
Illustrator: Robert Sabuda

The Frog Princess

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While the story of the Frog Princess is not as well known as that of the Frog Prince, it is a classic tale and my youngest has taken to this version like, well, a frog to water. A queen realizes her three rather foolish sons need “sensible wives,” so she has each shoot off an arrow, telling them they will find their bride where their arrow lands. Two of the princes find brides suited to their interests (food and clothing), but the youngest (a dreamer) finds only “a little green frog.” When the queen declares the son with the cleverest bride will become king after her, does the youngest stand a chance? (Of course he does.)

Author: Emma Chichester Clark
Illustrator: Laura Cecil

The Pigeon series

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Mo Willems is (still) brilliant and, oh, do we love his Pigeon, an opinionated, stubborn, ball of feathers and raging desire. In these books, the Pigeon wants, finds, begs, pleads, screams, coaxes, dreams, refuses, and (occasionally) moves on.

The boys love him (to the point where my youngest is thrilled whenever he sees a real pigeon) and this series is highly recommended.

Author: Mo Willems
Illustrator: Mo Willems

The Bake Shop Ghost

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Miss Cora Lee Marriweather
ran the best bake shop in
these parts–maybe even in the whole
state. The chocolate in her Mississippi
mud pie was darker than the devil’s
own heart. Her sponge cake was so light
the angels kept hoping it would float up
to heaven. No birthday was complete
without a Merriweather layer cake with
her special buttercream frosting.

It would be hard to find a sweeter ghost story than this one, although it does start out sadly. Miss Cora Lee’s baked goods get lots of attention, but she is basically ignored. After she dies (no one cries at her funeral until they realize her desserts are a thing of the past), her ghost refuses to leave her bake shop until a new baker can fulfill a very special request.

This book is very enjoyable to read aloud and the boys love hearing about (and dreaming of choosing from) the bake shop’s wares.  I especially like the gumption, persistence, and–ultimately–friendship of the two main characters.

Author: Jacqueline K. Ogburn
Illustrator: Marjorie Priceman

Curious George and the Puppies

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I don’t think the original Curious George books have aged well. They strike me as sad, dark, and scary; they weren’t my favorites when I was a kid and I haven’t read them to the boys. But this book (although written by a ghost writer and drawn by a committee) has a really sweet story and stands well alone. George’s curiosity doesn’t lead to him being kidnapped, endangered, and/or jailed; instead it frees a mother dog to find her lost puppy. The lap sized board book version is perfect for toddlers and young preschoolers.

Author: Unknown ghostwriter
Illustrator: Vipach Interactive in the style of Margret & H.A. Rey

The Magic School Bus series

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Ms. Frizzle, who may be the coolest teacher ever, has a magic school bus which takes her (sometimes reluctant) class on incredible trips. They travel on the ocean floor; get lost in the solar system; have an electric field trip; explore in the time of the dinosaurs; and go inside the earth, a bee hive, a hurricane, the human body, and the waterworks. Yet they are always back before the end of the school day without anyone knowing of their adventures.

These books are well designed and fun to look at, are packed (packed!) with scientific information, and have fun stories too (with the exception of Lost in the Solar System, which has a truly annoying guest student as a major focus–I avoid that one whenever possible). I expect that, once the boys get older, they will enjoy reading all of the dialogue boxes and side notes that I usually skip in the interest of time. Their favorites are: Inside the Earth, Inside a Bee Hive, Inside a Hurricane, In the Time of the Dinosaurs, and At the Waterworks.

Author: Joanna Cole
Illustrator: Bruce Degen