A Nicer Version of The Little Red Hen

It was our very own Nathalie who planted the seed to read various versions of a book with the kids to compare and contrast the text and illustrations.  I did this for the first time recently with my four year old.  His teacher was reading The Little Red Hen at school, because some children were not contributing to class needs.  I thought to get this book at home too, to share in what was happening in my son’s class, and discovered that this title, which I had never heard of, is wildly popular.  When I looked it up in our (awesome) Toronto public library system, there were many, many renditions of the book.

Nathalie sprang to mind, and I reserved at least seven copies of the book, all of which I read to the children.  The tale essentially goes like this.  There is a little red hen who would like to make some bread.  She seeks assistance from the other barnyard animals for planting, harvest, threshing, and milling the wheat, and baking the flour into bread.  None of the animals will assist her, so she must do the difficult work on her own.  Once the bread is baked, however, the animals approach and would like to have some, but she refuses as they did not help to make it.

I get the moral:  if you don’t contribute to an effort, you ought not to reap the rewards.  Still, I was uncomfortable: the self-righteousness of the hen hoarding the bread at the end while the other droopy-eyed animals looked on didn’t seem like such spectacular behaviour for kids or their parents to emulate either.

imgres-2So I was delighted when going through our stack of The Little Red Hen books, we came across Margie Orford’s version.  The story proceeds similarly to the other versions until the little red hen has baked her bread.  However, when the animals come sheepishly to ask to eat the baked bread, they recognize their earlier wrongdoing in refusing to help and they bring offerings – honey, cream, jam – to the table to share.  They little red hen accepts their apology and their gifts, and they eat the feast together.

Call me a softie, but I like a happy, collaborative ending.  Forgiveness is important, life isn’t black and white, and our children’s books needn’t be either.  An added bonus:  the illustrations in Orford’s rendition are lovely.  

Our first compare and contrast exercise of different versions of the same story was a success, and neither my four year old nor my seven year old tired of reading all the versions, even though many were very similar to each other.  We’ll do it again, of course.  And no doubt this mama will weigh in on her favourite just as much as her boys will.

A New Favourite: Turtle And Robot

A few months ago a reader commented on a post that I had written and intrigued by the commenter’s name, I clicked on the hyperlink which took me to my new favourite book site: Turtle and Robot.

Turtle And Robot is a children’s book review site that features beautifully written and illustrated storybooks in addition to young adult fiction novels.  No glitzy, over commercialized, poorly written tales here.

Jennifer Lavonier, the author of the site knows her stuff!  Having been an avid reader and collector of children’s books all her life, Jennifer spent 8 years managing and buying books for Books of Wonder in New York City.  It was during her time there that she honed her interest in children’s literature even further and developed a keen understanding for the genre’s history.

Furthermore, Ms. Lavonier went on to work for Maurice Sendak (Yes, that guy!  Author of Where The Wild Things Are and Bumble-Ardy . . . just to name a few) where she witnessed a master at his craft and truly learned to appreciate the intricacies of creating a beloved and timeless tale.

After reading Ms. Lavonier’s philosophy I developed a slight crush on her and have decided that she is someone I would want to be friends with in “real-life”.  Her passion for reading, educating and exciting youth transcends the pages of her blog and will do nothing short of inspire you to look for special, meaningful books to share with your children.

My favourite post from Turtle and Robot is one of her more recent ones.  Discussing a Difficult Topic: Death provides parents with a carefully vetted list of sensitively written and beautifully illustrated books about death (appropriate from as young as 2 years old).  Jennifer Lavoiner suggests that it’s much easier to introduce the idea of death to children before a loved one or family pet passes.

I am very grateful to have discovered Turtle and Robot as Jennifer Lavonier has the done the work for me by choosing the perfect books to share with my little guys whether it be a lesson I am hoping to teach, a discussion I am hoping to have or a cuddle that is long over due.

Children’s Fishing Books

My husband really likes to fish, and has passed that love down to my sons.  At first, it was just my oldest who loved it, but now my second son also loves it, probably since as a new four year old, he can do more of it.

During a week up at my in-laws cottage in Georgian Bay this summer, about two days after his birthday, it was precisely my four year old who caught the largest fish in recent family memory.  To be specific, he snagged a small mouth bass which we took the time to measure:  18.5 inches long and weighing four pounds.  It fed five adults, plus leftovers.

I took a lot of photos of the occasion.  When we got home, I uploaded them all into the computer and deleted them from my camera.  Then I turned to my computer (which was apparently in the process of dying) to discover it had eaten all of the photos too.  In other words, every single one of the thousand photos I took was gone.  Did I mention that every single one of the thousand photos I took was gone?  Mm-hm.

While it’s true that I wanted to light myself on fire for awhile after this wretched episode, I take it as a testament of my immense personal growth that I have decided not to impale myself  over it.  Instead, I’ve decided to highlight some lovely children’s books on fishing, in case your little people are enamoured with hook and line.

A Good Day’s Fishing by James Prosek

A simple story about a boy who searches for what he needs for a good day’s fishing.  My kids were riveted by the story, which I find a little flat, although I liked that the author used specific vocabulary for lures and other gear in a children’s book.  There’s also a thorough glossary, which takes forever to read, but which my older son can’t get enough of.  But the real wonder of the book is its watercolour illustrations, which are stunning – it’s wonderful just for these.

That’s Papa’s Way by Kate Banks

A lovely story about a girl and her father spending the day fishing.  His gentle ways of doing things are contrasted to her child-like ways of doing things, and the warmth between them is mostly understated and yet palpable.   It’s also  nice (and somewhat unusual as far as I can tell) to find the fishing experience shared with a daughter.

The Little Fish that Got Away by Bernadette Cook (illustrated by Crockett Johnson)

Our favourite.  It features “a little boy who liked fishing” even though he “never, no never” catches anything, and the day his luck changed.  The deceptively simple illustrations are as charming as the story, and the rhythms and repetitions are especially nice for my four-year old.  The little book champions the little boy and the little fish that got away, and any little person who knows what it’s like to face unlikely odds (ie. all little people) and overcome them is going to love this book.  It’s a pleasure to read this book every single time, and I have read it a lot of times.

Do you have a book on fishing that you’d recommend?  If so, please do tell.  They are in high demand in these parts. 

Being with The Littles… Again

It’s trite but true:  one of the joys of parenting is rediscovering your own childhood pleasures.  So it was one day when I was perusing a rack of sale books at the library and came across The Littles and the Big Storm by John Peterson.  I clutched it to me, and was immediately transported to the wire display racks at my elementary school library where I searched out these books.  It even brought to me warm memories of Mr. Sullivan, the librarian.

The Littles is a series of chapter books that feature a family of miniature people who live in the walls of The Biggs, who are normal-sized people.  The Littles are just like people, except that they sport tails and that their tallest member is just six inches tall.  They live in harmony with and often to the benefit of the Biggs, even though the Biggs don’t realize it.  With children Tom and Lucy leading the adventures, the Littles use their ingenuity to survive, with regular appearances of contraptions such as a soup can elevator and rafts made from the Lincoln Log toys belonging to the Biggs’ son.

I loved these books as a child for some of the same reasons I like them as an adult:  they are exciting, it’s interesting to envision life from the miniature perspective, the Littles children are clever and brave, and they’re just plain good fun.

I know there are other chapter books that would fit this bill, but I particularly like The Littles at this stage of life because they’re accessible reading for sensitive children.   I have a child who has the attention span and imagination that could lead him through the many chapter book plots, but he’s sometimes frightened or upset enough by what he’s hearing that he doesn’t want to continue. The Littles is nice for kids like him because they can experience the trials of the Littles without feeling too vulnerable.  They can engage a breathless encounter with the Littles’ mortal enemy, a mouse – complete with toothpick spears and sewing needle swords – without feeling in over their heads since they can always pull back and identify with a Bigg.

But I’d love to expand my horizons.  If you know of other early chapter books that are friendly to the sensitive reader, or just have favourites that I can bookmark for later, I’d be grateful to know of them.