Monthly Archives: March 2016

Day 90 – A Sick Day for Angus McGee

“A Sick Day for Angus McGee” by the husband-and-wife team of Phillip C. Stead (author) and Erin E. Stead (illustrator) is a true treasure. The story is sweet, funny and comforting, and the charming pencil and woodblock illustrations, which won the Caldecott Medal for 2011, make me grin every time I look at them.

AmosAmos McGee is a sweet old man living in a tiny wood-panel house nestled in between taller downtown apartment buildings. Every morning he wakes early, packs a lunch, and rides the bus to work at the zoo, where he spends the day with his animal friends. He plays chess with the elephant (who thinks carefully about each move), races the tortoise (who always wins), sits quietly with the penguin (who is very shy), lends a handkerchief to the rhino (who always has a runny nose), and at sunset he reads to the owl (who is afraid of the dark). One day, however, Amos wakes up with a bad cold and can’t go to work. His animal friends miss him and make the trip to his house by bus to spend the day catering to Amos’ needs as he always caters to theirs.

I just adore this book. The idea of spending your days in such a simple but fulfilling way is so compelling – it’s a little escape just to read the story. I also love the way in which Amos is so considerate of each friend’s unique needs, and how his thoughtfulness and selflessness are repaid in kind. Then there are the illustrations, which augment the humor and heart of the story with their little details. Amos himself has such a friendly face, and his clothes and accommodations lend to the comforting old-fashioned feel of the book. The expressions and posture of the animals give insight to their personalities: the look of satisfaction on the face of the tortoise as he wins his race with Amos for the nth time, the crossed feet and sideways glance of the shy penguin, or the elephant’s contemplative pose as he carefully arranges chess pieces in a row while waiting on his friend. In fact, my favorite part of the book was actually wordless, as we saw the animals walking to the bus, waiting on the bus, and riding the bus to Amos’ apartment…I could almost hear the “intermission” muzak playing in my head as I flipped from one page to the next, waiting along with the animals for their story to “start up” again when they reach Amos.

I think we will need to track down some more of Ms. Stead’s books. We thoroughly enjoyed her work on “and then it’s spring” as well. Our oldest actually liked the illustrations in that book even better than those in Amos McGee, but I think that’s splitting hairs. Oh, and one more thing: we couldn’t help but appreciate the fact that Amos’ friends come in a group of five (a key foundational math concept for little ones), and that the grouping is underscored by the number “5” on the side of the bus as the friends all ride to see Amos. We have confessed to our dorkiness previously – as you will see here.


Day 89 – Spring Story (Brambly Hedge)

It’s a beautiful spring morning in Brambly Hedge where busy mouse families have made their homes for generations. While the mice are hard workers, they also make time for fun, and they welcome any opportunity to celebrate. All year long the mice “mark the seasons with feasts and festivities,” and this fine spring morning Mr. Apple has found another excuse to organize a soiree: little Wilfred Toadflax is celebrating a birthday today! What else is there to do but work together to plan a surprise birthday picnic for little Wilfred?  It’s a capital idea, and it all comes together perfectly in “Spring Story” by Jill Barklem.

Thanks to behind-the-scenes planning led by Mr. Apple and Lord Woodmouse, Wilfred is given an enormous basket to cart to the picnic. After much arduous “heaving and pulling, wheeling and hauling” he is rewarded for his hard work upon discovering that the basket is packed with presents and an enormous cake! At last, following a full day of preparing for the picnic, enjoying tea, napping under the bluebells (for adults), and playing hide-and-seek in the primroses (for the young mice), the mouse families return home and fall fast asleep. Sounds like a lovely day to me (especially the napping part).

spring story

“Spring Story” is one of many tales in the Brambly Hedge series by Ms. Barklem. It is a darling little book full of adorable and intricate illustrations. Ms. Barklem reportedly spent five years on research before starting her Brambly Hedge books. Her thoughtful approach and the appreciation she has of her craft comes through on the pages of her books. The drawings in “Spring Story” are carefully rendered in whimsical and vibrant detail. I can easily imagine little hands picking this book up just to pore over the fascinating depiction of the Apple Family tree house. In fact, I wanted to be able to climb inside their house myself! I also took note of the time that Ms. Barklem spends filling in little details of everyday life in the Hedge, including the many wonderful names she introduces for the characters and places (Crabapple Cottage, Store Stump, Wilfred Toadflax, Old Oak Palace, Lady Daisy Woodmouse, Elderberry Lodge, and more!). It all works together to create a complete world inside what is otherwise a fairly simple storyline.

 


Day 88 – Circle of Seasons

Today’s book, Gerda Muller’s “Circle of Seasons”, is a simple and soothing introduction to the seasons, complete with playful and captivating illustrations in Ms. Muller’s characteristic style. While paging through this lovely book, we kept feeling as though we wanted to be inside each of the seasonal scenes, and we could feel a love of nature and of natural beauty shining through each of the drawings.

Circle“Circle of Seasons” is actually a compilation of four “Seasons” board books that were individually published in 1994. The four original books have no text, just Ms. Muller’s charming pictures. This “Circle of Seasons” compilation adds only minimal prose to these illustrations, and does a really nice job of maintaining a slow and inviting pace. After reading the cover page for Spring, (“You know it’s spring when…”) the reader is presented a wordless 2 page bucolic scene of a little country house with flowers in bloom, buds on the trees, baby sheep in the field, and many other sweet details that children can come to associate with the season. Each wordless spread, two per season, presents a welcome invitation to stop and explore the illustrations, to discuss what is happening in the picture and to pick out the details that might be associated with the season depicted. I love the timeless nature of the seasonally-appropriate games and activities taking place in each scene, and I thought it was neat that Ms. Muller included both Christmas and Hanukkah as representative of winter.

We have had Ms. Muller’s Seasons books in our collection for several years, and they have been solid favorites with our youngest for quite a while. I had a bit of a hard time locating a copy of this compilation, but I am so thankful we found one to add to our Gerda Muller collection.

 


Day 87 – Happy Easter!

It feels a little bit too early to be celebrating Easter before March is even over, but here we are! In honor of the holiday, we celebrated with some egg hunting, some paper crafts, and – of course – storybooks! It’s been a holiday-filled month, with several days that merited their own book bundles: Pi Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and National Quilting Day. For Easter, however, we went a step further. After sprinkling our reading list with rabbit and egg-themed books over the past week, today we read four books specifically about Easter.

The first book, “Easter” by Gillian Houghton, was a brief primer on the holiday in English and Spanish, providing some background regarding the religious significance of the day and some of the symbols and traditions that people associate with Easter. With that groundwork laid, we moved on to three charming picture books which were enjoyed by all.

Bunny’s Easter Egg by Anne Mortimer

bunny“Bunny’s Easter Egg” is a sweet and simple story about a tired little bunny looking for a quiet place to rest after a long night of hiding eggs. Too exhausted to do any more work, bunny puts one final egg in her own basket and settles in for a nice snooze…but the egg starts crackling and bumping! Seeking a more peaceful location for her well-deserved nap, bunny hops from one potential resting place to another – but whether due to noisy birds, a prickly hedgehog, squeaky mice, or any number of other disturbances, no location is quite as nice as her basket. Eventually, she returns home for a brief snooze before waking to find that the last egg has hatched her a brand new friend – a fluffy little duckling!

We liked Ms. Mortimer’s cute and fluffy illustrations. There is also some repetitive text in the book which is nice for beginning readers, and creates a fun way to interact when reading aloud with little ones. After reading it through a few times, you can ask little listeners to help you to fill in the blanks (for example: “oh no, I can’t sleep here, it’s far too…noisy, squeaky, busy, etc.”)

The Easter Egg by Jan Brett
easter egg“The Easter Egg” by Jan Brett is a charming parable about a little rabbit named Hoppi with big dreams and an even bigger heart. Every year the Easter Bunny selects the rabbit with the most amazing egg to help him hide eggs for the children to find on Easter morning. Seeking inspiration for his first egg, Hoppi hops from one house to the next observing how each rabbit applies his or her special talent to create spectacularly decorated eggs. Before Hoppi can decide how to start on his own project, however, he comes across an egg that has fallen from Mother Robin’s nest. Hoppi offers to keep Mother Robin’s egg safe and warm while she tends to her other eggs still in the nest, and he stays with it until it hatches into a little baby bird. When the Easter Bunny arrives to judge everyone’s creations he is impressed with all the beautifully decorated eggs. However, it is the empty blue shell of Hoppi’s egg that the Easter Bunny selects as the most special of all.

“The Easter Egg” is a beautiful book, richly adorned with Ms. Brett’s characteristically detailed and beautiful illustrations. As in other Jan Brett books we have read, we found stories taking place not only in the middle of the page but in the margins as well. We also appreciated how, with all of the artistic talent displayed by the other rabbits in the story, it is Hoppi’s kindness that makes his egg exceptional. It may be an inspirational message for some children to hear that attributes like a big heart or a kind soul can be “talents” just as much as skill at painting or woodworking.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack

Contry bunny“The Country Bunny” is a delightful book whose bright colors and vintage illustrations are particularly inviting. There is something about the look and feel of this book that just makes you want to pick it up and page through it; it has been a favorite selection in our house ever since we acquired a copy.

The story centers on Mrs. Cottontail (the “Country Bunny” of the title) and her childhood dream of one day becoming an Easter bunny. She grows up, gets married, and has twenty-one (!) children, and presumably lets go of her dream. Once her children are old enough and well trained enough to run the house on their own, however, Mrs. Cottontail is presented with an opportunity: one of the five Easter bunnies has grown too slow, and Grandfather Bunny must select a replacement. While she has no expectation of being chosen, and while there is no shortage of applicants who are swift enough for the job, it is only Mrs. Cottontail who is singled out by Grandfather Bunny as also being kind enough and wise enough. Eventually, Mrs. Cottontail also proves herself the bravest of the bunnies, earning Grandfather Bunny’s admiration and the golden shoes of the title.

Originally published in 1939, “The Country Bunny” has an endearing old-time feel, although the feminist theme that you can have it all as a woman – motherhood and a successful career – seems like a more modern concept. I found it to be a soothing, reassuring story – even if suspension of disbelief was a challenge at times (twenty-one children left home alone who keep the house spotless and tuck themselves into bed on time?). Most of all, however, I am glad we have the book because we all like to hold the book and look at it. Everyone in our house agreed that this one is our favorite.


Day 86 – P. Zonka Lays an Egg

“P. Zonka Lays an Egg” by Julie Paschkis is a delightful and playfully illustrated book that incorporates inspiring themes of staying true to yourself and avoiding mindless conformity. P. Zonka, a name taken from the word for a Ukranian Easter egg (“pysanka”), is a chicken living in a farmyard where the other hens lay eggs regularly. P. Zonka, in contrast, does not. She spends her days wandering about the yard and soaking in the natural beauty that surrounds her, while her yard mates gossip about her indolence. Eventually, when she does decide to give egg-laying a try, P. Zonka produces something spectacular: a single, amazing egg, adorned with all the vibrant colors and patterns she has been “collecting” on her farmyard strolls! From that day forward, P. Zonka continues to wander about the yard and to lay eggs only occasionally, but – as Ms. Paschkis assures us – when she does, they are worth the wait! P Zonka

Ms. Paschkis’ colorful and exuberant illustrations make it easy to understand P. Zonka’s sense of wonder as she strolls about the farmyard, and the book provides a compelling reminder to readers to take the time to appreciate the everyday beauty in their own lives. We also liked the fact that the gossipy chatter of the other chickens seems to have no impact on P. Zonka, although it does help make this a particularly fun book to read aloud. All-in-all, a great addition to our Easter week reading list.

 


Day 85 – Little Bunny on the Move

“It was time for a little bunny to be on the move. From here to there, a bunny goes where a bunny must.” Will he stop? No – but for a brief nap, this little bunny will not stop – not for pigs, or cows, or fat sheep, or even a sweet little girl who would keep him as a pet. Over hills, through fences, across railroad tracks, this little bunny is not to be deterred – but where is he going?bunny

Peter McCarty’s “Little Bunny on the Move” is a simple and comforting story about a darling little bunny – who looks like a tiny marshmallow puff – moving purposefully across the landscape to make his way back home. While he appears at times to be almost marching across the page, Mr. McCarty’s little bunny is nothing like the frantic White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland, he is merely determined to rejoin his family.

The book is illustrated in Mr. McCarty’s unique style: a dreamy and lightly tinted combination of pencil and watercolor that creates a lovely softness and augments the gentle feel of the story. There is also an interesting interaction of dark and light in Mr. McCarty’s drawings that creates a certain glow to the illustrations. The overall effect is memorable, so much so that even though we haven’t picked this book up in almost a decade, it still felt familiar.

 


Day 84 – Marshmallow

Oliver the gray tabby cat lives an idyllic life alone in an apartment with Miss Tilly. He is a pampered “only child” who is unaware that the world is full of other animals; the nearest thing to a rabbit that he has ever seen is a “stuffed plush Easter bunny.” All he craves in life – and all he has known – is peace and quiet, and being served his meals on time. Then one day, Miss Tilly brings home something small, white, and furry with tall ears, pink eyes and a wiggly nose…and it is alive! “What do you think of this, Oliver?” Miss Tilly asks, “Its name is Marshmallow.” Well, let me tell you what Oliver thinks – he is appalled, and he is afraid of this alien presence. Concerned about Oliver’s ability to peacefully cohabitate with Marshmallow, Miss Tilly keeps the two pets separate – until one afternoon when Oliver slips into Marshmallow’s room. Just as Oliver is about to pounce, Marshmallow scampers up and kisses him on the nose! From that moment, the two are inseparable, “romping like two kittens” with Marshmallow following “lippity-lippity” at Oliver’s heels wherever he goes.
Marshmallow

“Marshmallow” by Clare Turlay Newberry is a darling, endearing little book, like the little rabbit himself. According to the author, “every word of (the book) is true…the bunny was so little and was so convinced that Oliver was his mother, what could Oliver do but be his mother the best way he could?” Ms. Newberry’s amusing descriptions and her delightful charcoal drawings of Oliver’s and Marshmallow’s behavior (which won the book a Caldecott Honor in 1943) are remarkably effective at capturing the interaction between the two animals. Her drawings of Oliver in particular looked familiar to us. Having had both cats and bunnies as pets ourselves, we could picture Oliver watching the twitchy-whiskered invader, “…opening and closing his eyes as if it actually hurt them to look at a rabbit”…or lashing his tail and preparing to spring every time the little rabbit hopped by him. Our favorite part of all, however, was the way that Oliver grew to nurture and love Marshmallow as his own.

If you weren’t convinced before reading “Marshmallow”, by the time you are finished perhaps you will agree with Oliver – as we do – that “a bunny’s a delightful habit, no home’s complete without a rabbit.”


Day 83 – Whose Egg?

Riddle me this: what could be more awesome than a lushly-decorated book with a touch of mystery that also increases your children’s understanding of nature? That same book with lift-the-flap – of course! Enter “Whose Egg” by Lynette Evans and illustrated by Guy Troughton, the second of our Easter-inspired selections this week.whose

Each two-page spread of “Whose Egg” presents a riddle with clues to help identify the animal hiding behind the flaps, and Mr. Troughton’s vibrant watercolor paintings provide additional hints for observant readers. There are eggs from reptiles, birds, insects, and even a certain duck-billed mammal – eight in total. We really enjoyed trying to guess each hidden animal. The only challenge for us was keeping our youngest from opening the flaps too quickly!

Like “An Egg is Quiet”, which we read yesterday, the production quality of this book is wonderful; if nothing else, it is just fun to hold and to look at. I can already tell that it is going to be well loved in our house…and I have a feeling I will be taping some of these flaps back on at some point in the near future!


Day 82 – An Egg is Quiet

I had a feeling just from looking at the cover of this evening’s storybook that we were in for a treat, and I was not disappointed. “An Egg is Quiet” by Dianna Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long, is a beautiful combination of science, poetry, and art.quiet

The simple but elegant text introduces the reader to the wide variety of characteristics an egg can exhibit: not only can they be quiet, but they can also be “clever”, shapely, artistic, and fossilized…just to name a few. Each two-page spread presents a new characteristic complete with stunning watercolor illustrations that are well complemented by the choice in fonts; the production quality is excellent. There are notes scattered around each page providing additional information and letting the reader know what animal belongs to each of the eggs shown. One review I read had what I thought was a particularly apt description of the overall effect: it is like reading a naturalist’s journal.

We read the book through once to get a sense for the flow – the “big picture” if you will – before going back to soak in and discuss all the wonderful details. I really enjoyed being able to identify some of the more unusual eggs from the labels, and was fascinated to learn (for example) that seabird eggs are pointy on one end so that they “roll around in safe little circles, not off the cliff.”

We originally selected Ms. Aston’s book for this week because of the approaching Easter holiday. While not, strictly speaking, an Easter book, “An Egg is Quiet” still fits in nicely – presenting a natural variety and beauty to eggs that outshines the colorful plastic egg decorations we see everywhere this time of year. It seems like the kind of book that would be nice to have on the shelf for little ones to pull out periodically and pore over and I was happy to discover that Ms. Aston and Ms. Long appear to have published several similarly attractive collaborations. I expect we will be reading more of their work this year.

 


Day 81 – World Poetry Day

Today, in honor of World Poetry Day and the changing of the seasons, we read a book of  poems by renowned Children’s author Margaret Wise Brown: “A Celebration of the Seasons”. Although I am by no means a poetry aficionado (I lean toward Shel Silverstein, “The Raven”, and silly limericks), I think that this book of posthumously published nature poems inspired by Ms. Brown’s childhood on Long Island is a very attractive piece of work. It is a delightful combination of lilting prose and beautiful artwork, even if I didn’t absolutely love all the poems.celebration

Published in late 2015, “A Celebration of the Seasons” is actually the second collection of previously unpublished poems by Ms. Brown. As in the first volume, “Goodnight Songs,” each of the twelve poems in “A Celebration of the Seasons” is illustrated by a different artist, and the results are impressive. We had a hard time picking favorites from this collection. I was particularly fond of “the song of tiny cat” about a diminutive banjo-playing feline who is so small that he uses a ladybug for a pillow. I thought Blanca Gomez’s “handmade collage” fit the mood of the poem perfectly, and her little cat made me smile. Our oldest singled out “Fall of the Year” – mostly because of Leo Espinosa’s joyful picture of a little girl dancing among the falling leaves on an autumn day in New England. In truth, however, nearly every one of the two-page spreads in the book is a treat for the eyes.

I recommend taking time to read the introduction and end notes of the book. The introduction provides a brief biography of Ms. Brown and sheds some light not only on her love of nature, but her love of poetry and music. One observation from the introduction that really struck me was her belief that if she could sing the words to a story or poem she wrote, then she knew it had the right tempo (the book actually comes with a CD of songs to go with the poems, but I have not listened to it in detail). The end notes include blurbs about each of the artists, along with brief descriptions from each of how they went about creating their illustrations. It’s fascinating stuff that makes me appreciate the book that much more – and it’s the kind of thing I probably would not have taken the time to read before embarking on our storybook year.