What We’re Reading: Kids

From Beth-Anne

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Be Grateful Little Bear by Kara Evelyn-McNeil, illustrations by Max Scratchmann

Kara Evelyn-McNeil, a children’s entertainer from Whitby, Ontario wrote her first book Be Grateful Little Bear in hopes that parents will start a discussion with their children about being grateful for the blessings in their own lives. Little Bear finds himself alongside the proverbial fence, looking over at what appears to be greener pastures, but his loving parents remind him of the many wonderful traits that make him a special bear. The message, be proud of who you are, resounds loud and clear and served the purpose the author intended. My three boys sat around after the oldest had read the book aloud, and (yes, at my prompting) listed the things that make themselves and their brothers special.

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Dinosaur Farm by Frann Preston-Gannon

Preston-Gannon, the first UK recipient of the Sendak Fellowship, spent one month living with and learning from Maurice Sendak, and Dinosaur Farm proves she is worthy of such an honour. This beautifully illustrated story tells how hard life is on a farm: waking up early, caring for your animals and tending to the earth but in a whimsical twist the animals that populate this farm are not chickens, cows and pigs . . .they are dinosaurs! The creative way the text is displayed makes reading with expression much easier for budding orators. My middle son spoke in a loud voice when reading BIG and a much quieter voice when reading small. But perhaps it is the textless illustrations that tell the reader the most. The last image we’re left with is of the farmer fast asleep tucked in his bed with his dinosaurs that have crept in through the open gate, asleep all around his bedroom. My boys were quick tell the “story” on that final page and to make a connection to another of their favourite bedtime stories, Goodnight ,Gorilla.

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Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas by DK Simoneau and David Radman, illustrations by Brad Cornelius

When Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas arrived at our house there were enough squeals of delight from my youngest to trick one into believing that it was Christmas morning and not a hot, humid July day. To say that my three boys are obsessed with Christmas, Santa and all things related would be a gross understatement. In fact, as I type this now, my youngest (age 3) is watching Barney’s Christmas on Netflix (reserve your judgement, I needed some time to hammer this out). DK Simoneau and David Radman have written a Christmas tale that must be added to your night before Christmas reading list. In this story, nothing is quite right on Christmas Eve. The elves are now 7 feet tall trolls, the stockings have been replaced with long underwear and most concerning, Santa’s suit is not red! It’s purple! My boys loved this book and everything about it – the whimsical fonts, the twists on the traditional and the illustrations. Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas now has a place in our Christmas tales reading box . . . after my youngest slept with it in his bed for three nights.

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Kitty Hawk and The Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading

The first book in the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective series will have you hooked! What’s not to love? Canadian adventure, a fearless heroine and endearing characters . . . the Kitty Hawk series by Iain Reading is a breath of fresh air among the vampires, werewolves and teen angst that have dominated the young adult genre for the past few years. What’s more, the author has included an additional reading list and two websites for adventure enthusiasts to explore.

From Nathalie

We continue to (try to) make time for creating art hereabouts, and I am newly inspired.  I was at the Cabbagetown Outdoor Art Festival on the weekend and fell in love with the art of Judy Anderson of Kukucaju, which captures wonderfully the subversive violence of children’s stories and imaginations.  Her Big Sister caught my eye; art that endorses eating one’s siblings is something that would go over well in our house, where it’s not all brotherly love.  Check out her website.  You can have you own kids’ drawings turned into a custom-made piece of 3-D art.

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One great book in our art adventure is the Big Book of Everything Manga.  Youngest (6) has had great success with the manga monsters and robots, and the drawings range from very simple to complex.  It’s a great art instruction book for artists of varying levels of ability.imgres-4Middlest (9) is awash in bookish goodness: two new releases in his favourite series.  Last month, it was the sixth book in Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Escape from Lucien.  Until we went to hear him speak, I had not read the Amulet books, but Kibuishi was such a great speaker that I read all of the books in the series in a single sitting.  They feature a really plucky heroine, who is brave and good and flawed.  She wears an amulet that gives her power, but whether it is for good or evil is still unclear.  In a world of kids’ books that are starkly black and white with respect to good and evil, I like how Kibuishi keeps us guessing about his plot and characters.

imgres-5Middlest is also reading book five in Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series: Pirates of the Silver Coast.  Lots of plot twists and cliff hangers here, too.

One thing I’ve noticed with his consumption of these graphic novel series is that he re-reads them over and over again.  I used to fret about his re-reading these instead of trying out new chapter books, but it’s obvious that he has a real love for these books.  He’s rushed out to get the new books in the series, bless him, and now makes a habit of asking me to check publication dates for his favourite authors.  That’s some serious book love right there.

Middlest is also reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Perhaps you’ve heard of that oneI’m reading the Harry Potter books aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and then Middlest goes off and reads ahead.  I’m really enjoying myself with these books.  Youngest keeps stopping me to ask what words mean, which is sometimes frustrating, but, then again, he keeps stopping me to ask what words mean.  He’s listening!  He’s engaged!  He’s learning!  Coincidentally, Kazu Kibuishi has done the cover art for the latest edition of the Harry Potter books.  Cue my collector’s obsession….

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Finally, Eldest (13) is reading The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch.

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Eldest: We had Library today.

Nathalie: What book did you choose?

Eldest: The Name of This Book is Secret.

Nathalie:  Ooooh!  I liked that one.  It’s very meta-textual.  Why did you pick that one?

Eldest: It fell on my head.

Nathalie: Seriously, why did you choose it?

Eldest: Seriously, it fell on my head.

Here endeth the attempt at intelligent discussion about books.  You win some, you lose some.

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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.

Thank you, Mr. Sendak

We learned today that Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of such children’s classics as Where the Wild Things Are  passed away this morning, as a result of a stroke on Friday. He was 83.

It’s rare to find someone of my generation who did not read at least one of Sendak’s books as a child. I still have, from my childhood,  a hard-backed, well-worn copy of Else Homelund Minarik’s Little Bear. Little Bear was one of my first favourite books. I adored Sendak’s illustrations and spent hours looking at his drawings as I tried to decipher the words that accompanied them.  Sendak’s illustrations are  warm, and funny without being sentimental. There was a comfort in those drawings; a gentle reassurance that despite Little Bear’s (and our own, by extension) foibles, he would always be loved and cherished. I’m sure I couldn’t have articulated that thought, then; I just knew that something about those drawings made me happy.

Years later, I read that book to each of my boys, together pausing to giggle over the predicament of the bear who was too cold to play outside without snow pants, but who found his own pelt warmest of all; and rejoicing at the kind surprise of a birthday cake. Likewise, when the boys were small I found myself turning the tables on my own little Wild Things, threatening each that given the chance, I would eat them up, I love them so, only to have each flee to their rooms in mock horror, shouting “No!”.

It is the darker, harsher Sendak with whom most of us are more familiar: the disobedient Max and the petulant Pierre, whose only words are “I don’t care!” It is this version of which many of us are most fond. Sendak recognized that childhood is not all sunshine and happiness. It’s really a place of uncertainty. Children lack power, and they know that. Sendak’s best work illustrates what happens to a child in a fantasy world where they are in charge, safe in the knowledge that when things get out of hand, there is a safe place for them, and their food will still be hot when they return to it. Said Sendak:

“And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming wild things.”

It’s a testament to his gift that so many of us revisit his work time and time again now with our own children, encouraging them to tame their own wild things.

Wild Things Mural in the Children’s Section of the Richland County Library, Columbia, SC. Photo credit : Gerald Brazell on Flickr,  2011.