What We’re Reading: Kids

From Beth-Anne

imgres-1

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.

imgres-2

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.

SWNBFC-front-cover

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.

FC9478E2-1165-4B9F-AC72-E13BCC9E2F30

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.

imgres-3
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….

imgres-6

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

imgres-7
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.

Advertisements

Father Christmas

Raymond Briggs’ 1973 portrayal of a decidedly human Santa Claus, Father Christmas gets 71PDRDWHJVL._SS500_.gifmy vote as my favourite Christmas book ever. In this graphic novella, Briggs turns the traditional stereotypical view of Santa — jolly, benevolent, good natured — on its head.

Awoken from a dream about sunning himself on a tropical beach, Santa greets Christmas Eve with a mild curse: “Bloomin’ Christmas here again!”. This a very modern Santa, who grumbles about the weather (“bloomin’ snow!”) his herd (“bloomin’ deer!) and the demands of his work (“gettin’ a bloomin’ cold, now!”).  He’s a one-man show: with only a couple of reindeer to help him, and no mention of Mrs. Claus, we follow our man as he readies himself for the biggest day of the year: Christmas.   He flies around the United Kingdom delivering presents, visiting cottages and caravans, and ending, appropriately, at Buckingham Palace.  Gifts delivered, he settles down to a nice dinner, a lovely nip of brandy, a cigar (I know!) and peruses travel catalogs for warmer climes,  which is just what you’d probably want to do too, if you were in his boots.

There are few words in this book (and most of them are the word “bloomin’!”) but Briggs’ colourful and evocative illustrations more than make up for the absence of text.  I’ve blogged about this book before, at least in its movie form, so great is my affection for it.  Father Christmas appears to be out of print here in Canada, but it is available from Amazon.com.uk. and abebooks.com

A Visit From Mrs. Claus

One of my favourite holiday traditions that we started when our boys were born was having Mrs. Claus make a visit to the house.  Why should Santa get all of the glory?

Mrs. Claus slips into the house in the wee hours of the morning on December 24 and leaves a fresh set of pyjamas along with a favourite Christmas book at the breakfast table for each of the boys.

By bedtime our bellies are full from the shortbread cookies we’ve made for Santa and the boys anticipate his arrival while reading their new Christmas stories.

Christmas tales, twinkly lights and three excited children snuggled in their pjs.  What could be better than that?

Dear Santa

Custom Santa Suit, http://www.costumers.com

Image via Wikipedia

I fear, my red-suited friend, that your days are numbered around our place.

You see, I think the boys are on to you. They may be little, but they’re pretty savvy. Sebastian used his mad interrogation skills to get me to confess to being the tooth fairy today. Two days of questioning and I crumpled like wet cardboard.

While I was laying there, prone, Daniel piped up with, “Yeah, and I bet Mommy’s Santa, too!” Yeah, I know. How’d he figure that out already?

You’ll be happy to know that I shut down that conversation as fast as I could. I sent Daniel my best “not NOW” look, changed the subject quickly (my stock reminder to them to hand in their homework works well for many occasions) and sent them on their way to school. Crisis adverted.

I think. But I swear I saw a look of triumph in Daniel’s face. My insistence in your existence may now fall on deaf ears.

So Santa, if this is to be our last Christmas together, I have to admit something.

If the boys are savvy to you, if our explanation about the physics of how you can be present in multiple shopping malls at the same time no longer seems plausible, if I can no longer use your exhortation to “be good!” as a crutch (“if you don’t stop that I’ll call Santa!”) then I really won’t be upset. At all.

As you know, you’ve hardly been an active participant in our Christmases. They boys only ever get one gift per year from you. Growing up, I knew kids who got nothing for Christmas except the Toronto Star Christmas Box . And it struck me, even as a kid, that this seemed inequitable. Why would you give some kids multiple presents, and others…..just one. And so, as parents, we’ve tried to even the playing field, intending that along the way, we’d also teach them about gratitude (that gifts are given and accepted and not just conjured up as by magic, so the gift requires acknowledgement) and about how blessed they are to live as they do. It’s hard to teach them to be gracious and modest about their blessings when Santa spoils them, but not other kids.

We’re not unimaginative grinches. We acknowledge the joy and magic that you bring to Chrismas each year. I once had a friend who refused to tell her kids about Santa, since she didn’t believe in lying to them. That always seemed to me to be a bit disingenuous. Parents lie to their kids all the time. I lie to mine when it’s necessary, to keep them safe, protect their innocence or get them to the dinner table. So we’ve willingly fostered a belief in your existence, brought the kids to see you, written you letters, and allowed the boys to be kids, to believe in your magic. And who knows? Maybe you’ll get letters from my boys this year, and I hope you’ll forgive their spelling mistakes.

But if not, please don’t be too upset. I’m kind of looking forward to a different understanding of what Christmas means. I love giving gifts. I love to spoil my boys – I really do, and I admit that we do spoil them at the holidays. But when we take our boys to buy a gift to donate to children who have less than them, when we teach them about charity and giving and volunterism – all things we feel are so important, it will be nice not to have to continue to explain how you fit into all this.

Merry Christmas, Santa.

Marcelle.