Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hats off to this: I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick Press, 2011), written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, tells the tale of a bear who can't find his hat. He goes about the forest asking anyone he passes if they've seen the hat. Initially he assumes everyone is telling him the truth when they reply that have not seen the hat, even when he receives a very defensive reply from someone who does, indeed, appear to be wearing the missing hat. The bear finally realises he has been told a fib and he literally sees red as he heads back to investigate.

I think I may have actually enjoyed this story more than my daughters. I was laughing out loud and, while I think some of the humour may have been lost on them, they enjoyed the story too. When we finished reading the book they even asked me to reread their favourite parts. It was a great opportunity for us to start another conversation about fibs and how they can hurt others. I also appreciated the way the text is presented. It's written in a fairly simple, repetitive form and is great for beginning readers, like my daughter. She was able to help me read some parts of the story.

Author/illustrator Jon Klassen, originally from Canada and now living in the US, is a past winner of the Governor General's Award for Illustration. He is a talented artist and the pictures in this book are extremely well executed. Some pages are simply illustrated as no words are needed. Klassen has an amazing way with drawing very expressive eyes in his characters so that readers know precisely what the characters are thinking.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Creating a Stink: A Pet for Petunia

All families seem to go through a struggle, at some point or another, over whether or not to get a pet. And all children, inevitably, beg their parents for a certain kind of pet. But some children make less reasonable pet choices than others...

Petunia longs for a pet. Unfortunately the pet of her dreams is a skunk and her parents won't allow her to get one. For obvious reasons. However, Petunia thinks a skunk would make a perfect pet since skunks are so cute and they have stripes! Petunia's parents have the final word and tell her skunks stink. But Petunia is so shocked she can't believe it. And so, she decides to run away to the woods. Soon after entering the woods, as fate would have it, Petunia encounters a skunk. Petunia soon realises, though, her parents were telling the truth.

Author/illustrator Paul Schmid has written a laugh-out-loud funny story. A Pet for Petunia (Harper Collins Publishers, Jan. 2011) is a fun read for the whole family. I especially liked the entire page dedicated to Petunia's rant in response to her parents' thoughts on skunks. I have to admit, though, when I first picked up this book I was a little disappointed in the images. The entire book is illustrated in black, white and purple. Where are all the colours? However, once we started reading the text we were giggling so much that it was no longer important. The pictures are well drawn, expressive and add to the hilarity. And besides, a book about skunks doesn't really need any other colours.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Switching it Up: Children Make Terrible Pets

Peter Brown has a way with creating books that are funny for kids and adults both in his use of animated illustrations and writing. You may know of him through his other books, including Chowder (2006).

Children Make Terrible Pets (Little, Brown & Company, 2010) is a twist on the typical tale of a child and her first pet. Lucy the bear discovers Squeaker, a young boy, hiding in the woods. She takes him home to her mother and asks to keep him. Her mother reluctantly agrees but warns Lucy that Squeaker is her responsibility. You can probably tell where this is going. Lucy and Squeaker have a grand time until Lucy realises caring for a 'pet' isn't always fun. My girls found it hilarious when Lucy sends Squeaker to the litter box in attempt to train him.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Starting School for the Very First Time: Kindergarten Diary

My five year old starts Kindergarten next week. So I've made a point of finding books related to school to read to her just to get her a little more used to the idea. We found Kindergarten Diary (HarperCollins Publishers, 2010) the other day at the library and barely a day has passed when someone hasn't requested this one be read aloud. This book was written by Antoinette Portis, the same author as the best selling Not a Box so we knew it was bound to be cute and funny, too.

This book presents like a diary, the first 'entry' dated September 1st (the next day being the first day of school). Annalina wants to return to preschool and has no interest in starting kindergarten. She has all the typical fears and worries of a new kindergartener. I had to laugh at the entry for the first day of school, "The teacher made all the grown-ups leave", accompanied by an illustration of some very sad looking parents staring through the window into the classroom. Although I have to admit I can totally picture myself doing this next week...

A fun, lighthearted way of helping to introduce your child to what Kindergarten might be like, Portis's accompanying illustrations run along the same lines. She uses mixed media, including photographs and illustration to create interesting visuals that are very appealing to young readers.

Happy Back-to-School!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Starting with Chapter Books: Junonia

Recently my oldest daughter turned 5. We'd been talking for a while about starting a chapter book. Then we found the newly released Junonia (HarperCollins Publishers, 2011) by Kevin Henkes. Henkes is a favourite author around here so we went for it.

My daughter isn't reading independently yet (and this isn't a beginning reader chapter book, either) so I read aloud one or two chapters to her each night before bed. I was amazed that 1. she could sit still long enough to listen without accompanying pictures and 2. that she could answer comprehension questions and discuss the chapters with me after we'd finished each one. A common characteristic of Henkes' writing is his strong development of his characters and settings. I think this was quite helpful to my daughter. While there were very few pictures in the book she could easily use the colourfully written descriptions to visualise the story in her head.

Junonia is a story about family, friendship and discovering oneself. On a yearly trip to Florida with her family, Alice is about to turn 10. She has one goal on this trip: to find herself a rare junonia shell. Amidst her desire to fulfill her quest Alice discovers important things about herself and how she has grown, as an individual, a daughter and a friend.

We both enjoyed reading our first chapter book together so much that we've started a new bedtime ritual and we've started our second novel together. What are your favourite childhood chapter books?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day! Celebrating the Canadian Environment: The Salmon Forest

Whenever we leave the prairies and take a trip to the west coast I am reminded of a great book by Canadians David Suzuki and Sarah Ellis called The Salmon Forest (Greystone Books, 2003). We recently made such a trip and it was my oldest daughter who mentioned this book as we were driving through the forests on our way to the Pacific coast.

The Salmon Forest has all the elements of a typical picture book but the story revolves around the life cycle of the sockeye salmon. So while this book is a wonderful teaching tool it retains the appeal of a story book. Both my 4 and 3 year olds have sat and listened to this book on many occasions and it is one of their favourites.

The reader is introduced to Kate and her dad. They are out walking in the woods while Kate's dad explains each step in the life cycle of the salmon as they encounter different elements in nature. Then they happen upon some old friends fishing. The friends invite Kate and her dad to help prepare and enjoy a salmon meal with them. The interconnectedness of nature is explained in such detail that children's questions are answered yet the book doesn't become dull.

Sheena Lott's detailed watercolour illustrations are realistic and provide a lot of visual interest to the book.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Tale of Two Cultures: Mirror

I've been a fan of Jeannie Baker's whimsical picture books since my student teaching prac in Australia. One of the librarians at my school recommended her books when I'd asked her for a list of notable Australian children's authors.

Baker creates wonderfully detailed pictures from found objects and often her books have few, if any, words. Baker's books are great for encouraging children to retell stories.

Mirror (Candlewick Press, November 2010) is an especially unique book. It is comprised of two almost parallel stories, joined together in one book. One story is a day in the life of an Australian boy who lives with his immediate family in Sydney. The other story is that of a Morrocan boy who lives in a small village with his extended family. It's interesting to compare and contrast the two boys' lives since they are quite similar in many ways but very different in others. Amazingly, the two boys' lives/paths connect in a seemingly small yet significant way.

We particularly enjoyed the way Baker constructed this book. Each story may be read separately, one after the other or they may be read at the same time which is how we first read the book. Also, it's interesting to note that the preface and the author's notes are written in both English and Arabic. I have to say, too, I like how books like this one help us, in the West, to better understand other cultures and their values, especially now during such difficult and uncertain times in the East.