Monthly Archives: May 2016

Day 118 – Who Likes Rain?

Who likes rain? With April showers in full swing, we found ourselves asking – and answering – that question while reading “Who Likes Rain” by Wong Hebert Yee. Mr. Lee’s book is a rhyming and rollicking good time that makes entertaining use of onomatopoeia, keeps readers engaged with the repeated question “Who Likes Rain?” and provides a very satisfying ending…at least from the perspective of some younger listeners.who likes rain

Filled with Mr. Yee’s colorful soft-focus illustrations, the book follows a little girl who, rather than despondently sitting at home and asking “Who Likes Rain?”, decides to don her raincoat and, boots and head out into the downpour to find out first-hand. The rain pit-pit-pits on windowpanes, ping-ping-pings on awnings, and tum-tum-tums on umbrellas as the little girl watches cats scat, frogs hop, and worms squirm. She decides that the neighbor’s dog doesn’t like rain, nor does papa’s truck, but ducks clearly do. Eventually, as the rain clears, it occurs to the little girl that there is one more creature who may like rain most of all…as she – KER-SPLAT – jumps right into one of the puddles left behind.

We had a lot of fun reading this relatively simple picture book. There’s some information here about how the real world works – but the best part was the way in which the rhymes hinted at who, on the very next page, was going to like rain. It was infectious enough that mommy couldn’t help but call out the answer before I could turn some of the pages. Big smiles all around!

Day 117 – Bonny’s Big Day

April 26, 2016 was ASPCA National Help a Horse Day 2016. We like horses – they are such beautiful creatures, it’s hard not to – and we would have some for pets ourselves if we had the space, so this evening’s selection seemed like a no-brainer. “Bonny’s Big Day” by James Herriot is a darling story about the bond of love, gratitude, and respect between a hard-working bachelor farmer and his retired plow horses. Like many of the selections from Mr. Herriot’s outstanding Treasury for Children, “Bonny’s Big Day” is full of humor and heart, and it makes us both smile and choke up a bit every time we read it.

bonnys big dayAfter working hard along side their owner, John Skipton, to help build Dale Close Farm, plow horses Bonny and Dolly have been spending the last twelve years of their lives enjoying their retirement. They spend their days cavorting about in their own meadow and splashing in a creek that runs through the farm, and every day John Skipton heaves a bale of hay on his shoulders and walks it down to them. It is on one of these walks that James Herriot joins Mr. Skipton; James has come to examine and treat Dolly’s hoof, into which a rusty old nail has lodged. While visiting with John, it suddenly occurs to James that this hard-working and frugal farmer has been engaged in the rather extravagant pastime of keeping ex-plow horses as…pets…for twelve years! “They’ve earned their retirement” John explains wistfully, and he is incredulous when James suggests that John enter Bonny in the pet show at the local fair. “I’ve never heard anything so silly,” he tells James.

Imagine everyone’s surprise when the normally disheveled farmer appears at the fair the following weekend sporting an old bowler hat, wearing matching (!) socks and leading Bonny – who is decked out in her full show regalia. Despite the initial misgivings of a perturbed show Secretary, Mr. Skipton is allowed to enter Bonny who is awarded first prize by the judge. As James says in his narration, all the other pets may have been cute or charming, “but Bonny was MAGNIFICENT” (emphasis, his). The book closes with James accompanying John back to Dale Close. When Bonny is set loose to run down to her meadow, she and Dolly stop to rub faces together. “Look at that” says John, “Bonny is telling Dolly all about her big day.”

I think my favorite thing about this book is the deep love and gratitude that John clearly feels for these two horses who were irreplaceable in the years when he was trying to build his farm up from nothing. John doesn’t waste time on his own appearance, and he looks to reinvest everything he earns in his farm, but for these two horses he is willing to set aside hard-earned farmland and to make the long walk every day to take them a fresh bale of hay. The horses clearly love him too, running up and nuzzling him…even being sure to push his hat down over his eyes. There are several places where this story chokes me up, such as when John pauses to think about all the hard years he and his horses worked through together, when John walks in with Bonny in her full regalia, when James makes that comment that Bonny looked “Magnificent”, or when the two horses share a quiet moment to share the story of Bonny’s big day.

Ruth Brown’s illustration add to the feel of the book – particularly the humor. The scene where John walks into the show with Bonny wouldn’t have nearly the same impact without her illustration…nor would the humor of John Skipton’s disheveled appearance have been quite as apparent. It’s another feature that helps make “Bonny’s Big Day” one of our favorite animal stories, and my favorite storybook about horses!


Day 116 – If You Were a Penguin

Although we hardly need an excuse to fit in a book about penguins, April 25th was World Penguin Day…so, what did we do? Read a book about penguins, of course! “If You Were a Penguin” by Wendell and Florence Minor, our choice to help celebrate a day which I believe ought to be a national holiday, is a simple but adorable poem spread over 32 colorfully illustrated pages.penguin

“If You Were a Penguin” is entertainment that also manages to inform – introducing the listener to several different breeds of penguin, some typical penguin behaviors, and the different habitats where penguins may be found. The rhyming prose makes this book a delight to read aloud – and the simplicity of the prose makes it a fairly quick read as well…something that’s nice to have available from time to time. Plus: penguins!

In conclusion, I respectfully submit that the more books about penguins you can add to your read-aloud calendar, the better (100% of fathers writing reviews on this blog agree with me). “If You Were a Penguin” is a great place to start.

Day 115 – Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

For April 24, the beginning of National Dance Week, we read a beautiful book about one of the most famous prima ballerinas of all time: “Swan – The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova” by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad. With poetic prose and graceful illustrations, “Swan” is less a traditional biography and more of an enchanting ode to Ms. Pavlova’s love of ballet, and to her burning desire to share that love with the world. Ms. Snyder and Ms. Morstad combine words and pictures to create a true work of art befitting of the book’s subject matter.swan

We are first introduced to Anna as her mother is whisking her off on a snow-covered evening to see the ballet, and that is where we see Anna fall in love. As the dancers perform, Anna’s feet “wake up” and “there is a song, suddenly, inside her.” From that point forward, Anna can not stop dancing. Eventually she begins formal training, and when she finally sets foot on a stage “Anna becomes a glimmer, a grace. Everyone feels it…the room holds its breath.” We are told that Anna shouldn’t be this good, her legs are too long and her feet are all wrong, but “Anna was born for this.”

Anna’s career takes off, she performs for years to adoring crowds, and she is wined and dined by royalty, but there is still something missing. Anna knows that “somewhere, there are people who haven’t heard the music,” so she sets out to “feed (the world) beauty.” She travels the globe performing in venues from bull rings to rickety old dance halls…and “when people throw flowers, Anna tosses them back. It’s enough just to dance.” Sadly, on one of her many trips she is caught out in the snow and catches a chill…”a rattle she can’t shake,”…and try as she might, she can not spin away.
The poetry of Ms. Snyder’s writing paints a beautiful impressionistic picture that hints at specifics of Anna’s life but focuses more on providing a window to her soul. That felt right to us. There is a very helpful Author’s Note at the end that does fill in some of the details, and I highly recommend it. For a Philistine like myself – previously unfamiliar with Ms. Pavlova – it was fascinating to read about how her oddly-shaped feet inspired her to invent her own ballet shoes (shoes which provided the template for the shoes that ballet dancers use today) and how she took what had been an art form strictly to be performed for the wealthy and shared it with everyone, even dancing on the backs of elephants. I also read elsewhere that the title refers to the dance for which she was most known, “The Dying Swan”, which was choreographed just for her in 1905…and then performed by her all around the world.
I would be remiss if I did not talk about Ms. Morstad’s artwork, which is just as important a piece of the puzzle in “Swan” as the writing. We are big fans of Ms. Morstad’s work (see “This is Sadie” and “When Green Becomes Tomatoes”), and her elegant style is tailor-made for Ms. Pavlova’s story. I particularly enjoy how she subtly captures Anna’s awe upon seeing her first ballet, and the graceful, flowing way that she shows Anna moving through every page thereafter.

Day 114 – William Shakespeare and the Globe

On April 23, 1616 William Shakespeare died at the ripe old age of 52, after establishing himself as perhaps the greatest writer in the English language. We celebrated his life on the 23rd – since no one is quite sure of his birthday – by reading “William Shakespeare and the Globe” by Aliki. The book provides an entertaining high-level look at Shakespeare’s life, and the efforts long after his death to restore his famous theater to its former glory. With colorful illustrations and informative insets that fill the margins of every page, Aliki’s book is an engaging and accessible introduction to the “Bard of Avon” for younger listeners.
Bill Shakespeare
Although the pages of the book are sprinkled with quotations from Shakespeare’s works, Aliki does not go into great detail regarding the content of Shakespeare’s writing. She focuses instead on the timeline of Shakespeare’s life and the historical context within which he penned and staged his many plays. Readers are introduced to important historical figures from Shakespeare’s England, and to key rivals like Christopher Marlowe and his acting troupe – the Admiral’s Men. For younger listeners I think this approach is appropriate, providing just enough information to pique curiosity without confusing things by trying to delve into the intricacies of Shakespearean prose.

The book is not just about old Bill Shakespeare, though. Roughly a third of the story is about American stage actor Sam Wanamaker and his tireless work (and infectious dream) to see The Globe Theater reborn so that Shakespeare’s plays could be “performed as they once were”. Aliki succeeds at conveying just how involved and difficult a task Mr. Wanamaker took on – and just how much help and luck he needed to make his dream come true. The only disappointing thing about what is otherwise an inspiring tale is that Mr. Wanamaker didn’t live to see his work completed. Ahh, well… I guess all’s well that ends well (sorry, I had to). As Aliki reminds us at the end of her book, just like Mr. Shakespeare lives on through his plays, Mr. Wanamaker lives on through the reconstructed and active Globe Theater.

We really enjoyed this book, and it certainly whet our appetites to read some Shakespeare together as a family. I think we may still be a year or two away from being able to do so, but this book almost had me thinking we could give it a try tomorrow.

Day 113 – Listen to Our World

Out of several books we chose to read for Earth Day this year, our favorite by far was “Listen to Our World” by Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Entreating the reader to listen to the sounds of nature, Martin and Samspon introduce children to a wide variety of habitats and their animal inhabitants. With spare text and occasionally inventive onomatopoeia, the book provides a visually appealing and comforting read aloud experience that we thoroughly enjoyed.Listen

Beginning with an urban habitat, where children are just waking up to good morning kisses from mommy, the narrative ranges far and wide across the globe: rain forests (parrots “squawk”), deserts (Gila monsters “hiss”), mountain peaks (eagles “wee-aaa”), bamboo forests (pandas “grrr-grrr”), and many more locations besides. After visiting blue whales under the ocean waves (“wahhh! wahhhh!”), the reader returns to a night-time apartment and a good-night kiss from mommy…”Sweet dreams my little ones.” It’s a soothing journey which manages to provide a lesson in geography – especially if you read the “Facts About Animals In This Book” section at the back, and have a globe or atlas nearby as an added visual aid. The varying layouts from one habitat to the next (some vertical, some horizontal) will keep readers on their toes, and the folk-art illustrations are delightfully colorful and engaging.

Published on March 15, 2016, this book is a charming posthumous addition to the Bill Martin book collection. A wonderful read aloud book for Earth Day or any other day.