Once upon a time, there was a wizard who didn’t like organizing his spell bottles and a mouse who didn’t like being a mouse. When the mouse asks the wizard for a spell to make him “something else,” the wizard gives him an unlabeled bottle that (effectively, if not magically) ends up solving both of their problems.
Jack Kent’s distinctive drawings and strong sense of humor make this book very popular with the boys (and I like the message of self acceptance).
Author: Jack Kent
Illustrator: Jack Kent
In a 1989 interview with The New York Times, celebrated chef and author Edna Lewis said: “As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn’t think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.” This book focuses on that childhood, those good flavors, and how the rhythms of growing and gathering food affected the day-to-day life of Ms. Lewis’ family.
The boys love this book; the pictures and lovingly-described foods keep them spellbound. I do have a few small caveats: the recipes included at the end of the book are inspired by Ms. Lewis, but are not her own; the speech of the characters is highly stylized (old poetry and rhymes about food make up much of the dialogue, which may take some getting used to); and we all agree the author of this book likely has never actually heard a whippoorwill (we have learned from camping that its call is anything but melodious–instead it is a dead ringer for an hours-long car alarm).
Author: Robbin Gourley
Illustrator: Robbin Gourley
“Don’t worry, Father. It’s only a dragon.”
“Only a dragon?” cried his father. “What do you mean, only
a dragon? And how do you know so much about it?”
“I just do,” replied the boy. “You know about sheep, and
weather, and things. I know about dragons. I always said that
that was a dragon cave. I always said it ought to have a dragon.
In fact, I would have been surprised if you told me it hadn’t
got a dragon. Now, please, just leave all this to me. I’ll stroll
up tomorrow evening and have a talk with him.”
Stories of dragons rarely fail us; although this story is quite long (albeit slightly edited in this version), it is very charming and my youngest frequently requests it.
Author: Kenneth Grahame
Illustrator: Inga Moore
Genius squirrels follow wintering birds to a tropical paradise. Will their grumpy friend Old Man Fookwire be far behind?
Like the first book in this series, Those Darn Squirrels!, it is difficult to read this book once; as soon as it is done, the boys ask me to read it again. Since they are laughing their heads off for much of the book (no matter how many times we read it), I’m happy to comply.
Author: Adam Rubin
Illustrator: Daniel Salmieri
Posted in Picture Books
Tagged Adam Rubin, Animals, beach, Daniel Salmieri, food, knitting, Machines, Mexico, series, Those Darn Squirrels Fly South, Those Darn Squirrels!, USA
It was early on market day when Sasifi and her mama
started down the path to the main road. The sky was still
gray. Mama carried a big basket of oranges on her head.
Sasifi carried a smaller one.
“Will we ride in the tap-tap today?” Sasifi asked.
“No,” said Mama. “We will walk to market, the same as
Sasifi has just turned eight and is very proud that she is now big enough to help Mama on market day. But she would love to try traveling in a tap-tap (a brightly painted share taxi) instead of walking. This engaging book deftly portrays a way of life very different than our own (the boys wondered why Sasifi’s family did not just buy a car, which lead to an interesting discussion) and is gently humorous. My youngest especially enjoys it.
Author: Karen Lynn Williams
Illustrator: Catherine Stock
Like When Dinosaurs Came with Everything and Monkey and Me, this book arrived in a Cheerios box in 2008 (as I’ve mentioned before, the best year ever for the spoonfuls of stories promotion in our house). Although they don’t get the legion of historical/political references yet, the boys love Duck (who was first introduced in Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type) and this book (in which Duck makes his way from the farm to the Governor’s Mansion to the White House and back home again) is very popular.
Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Betsy Lewin
Posted in Picture Books
Tagged Animals, Betsy Lewin, Civil Rights, Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type, Doreen Cronin, Duck for President, farm, History, Monkey and Me, New York Times Best Illustrated Book, series, spoonfuls of stories, USA, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything
. . . a shabby young
man came trudging up the road toward the
castle. He had patched knees and elbows, and
the feather in his worn hat was bedraggled,
but he had a merry grin, and he was whistling
a gay tune. When he saw the long line of people,
he asked a soldier, “What’s going on?”
“The king’s looking for a new royal cook,”
the soldier replied. “The cook with the most
unusual recipe will get the job and will live in
the palace off the best of the land!”
“Wouldn’t that be wonderful!”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the soldier.
“Cooks don’t get along with the king. He tells
’em what to do, puts things in their pots–he
all but does the cooking himself.”
“You don’t say?” said the young man, and
he got into line.
Much like The King of Pizza, this book begins with a monarch that loves food but is never satisfied with it. And once again, after some twists and turns, everyone ends up happy (including the kids it is read to). The illustrations, by Ms. Hyman, are very good and particularly interesting when you compare them to her later (much more detailed) illustrations for Saint George and the Dragon.
Author: Tom McGowen
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman
Once upon a time, a merchant asked his three daughters
what he should bring them from the city. The first asked
for pearls, the second for gold, but the youngest longed for
a singing lark. The merchant found a gold necklace and a
bracelet of gold, but there were no songbirds to be had for love
or money that winter.
He turned towards home, sorry to disappoint his youngest
daughter. The road took him past a fine castle, with a grand
garden full of spring flowers in spite of the winter snows. At the
top of a laurel tree, a lark sang.
While the boys show polite interest in The Magic Nesting Doll, by the same author and illustrator, they adore this book (which combines and reworks elements of The Singing, Springing Lark; Beauty and the Beast; and East of the Sun, West of the Moon). They each want a copy of their own and I can absolutely see why. (It is gorgeous. Plus, lions and dragons and griffins. Oh, my!) My oldest enjoys pointing out the plot follows the Frozen principle of getting to know someone before marrying them and my youngest repeatedly (forcefully) requests it as a bedtime story.
Author: Laurel Long and Jacqueline K. Ogburn/The Grimm Brothers
Illustrator: Laurel Long
Posted in Picture Books
Tagged Animals, Beauty and the Beast, bedtime, East of the Sun West of the Moon, fairy tale, frozen, garden, Grimm Brothers, Jacqueline K. Ogburn, Laurel Long, out of print, The Lady & the Lion, The Magic Nesting Doll, The Singing Springing Lark, translated
Once upon a time a girl named Katya lived with her grandmother
at the edge of the forest. They worked hard and loved
each other tenderly, until one day the old woman fell ill.
She called Katya to her side and said, “Little pigeon, my time is
near. Soon you must make your own way in the world, but I have
a gift that will help you.” She took a little matryoshka, a nesting
doll, out of a small box. The doll was smooth and bright, painted
in the likeness of the grandmother with apron and kerchief.
Katya started to open the doll.
“Stop!” said the old woman. “Not yet. If your need is great,
open the doll and help will come. But you may only do so three
times. After that, the magic will be gone. Keep the doll and
After her grandmother dies, Katya goes out into the world where she is told that:
“Ever since the Tsarevitch fell under a wicked spell that turned him
into living ice, it is always winter without thaw, night without moon,
and dark without dawn.”
Can Katya’s magic and courage break the spell, saving the crown prince and the kingdom? While there may not be much suspense (at least for an adult reader), getting to the answer is a pleasure. The story feels like a classic fairy tale, with an interesting Russian flavor, and Laurel Long’s illustrations are utterly beautiful (as in her The Twelve Days of Christmas). Although the boys enjoy this book, they do not reach for it as yet.
Author: Jacqueline K. Ogburn
Illustrator: Laurel Long
Here is the key to the house.
In the house burns a light.
In that light rests a bed.
On that bed waits a book.
The books I highlight around Mother’s Day are typically ones that the boys don’t like quite as much as I do. This book is different; for a while the boys actively disliked it. I find it to be very beautiful and soothing (and it was a present from a family member who inscribed our copy), so I didn’t get rid of it, but I did put it away for a few years.
Author: Susan Marie Swanson
Illustrator: Beth Krommes