Monthly Archives: July 2016

Day 173 – The Raft

For June 21, in honor of the first (official) day of summer, we read a magical summer story called “The Raft” by Jim LaMarche. As the author himself says in his Author’s Note at the beginning, “The Raft” is a semiautobiographical tale about “a summer in the woods, a special grandparent, becoming a river rat, and becoming an artist.” It’s an outstanding book that gets extra points from me for how much it resonated with our oldest daughter.the raft

Nicky is a little city boy who begins the book in the car with his father, despondent at the soul-crushing prospect of spending a summer alone in the country with his “river rat” grandma. For crying out loud, Grandma doesn’t even have a TV! Unperturbed by Nicky’s attitude, Grandma – whose house is full of her sketches and wood sculptures – keeps Nicky busy stacking firewood, cleaning gutters, changing spark plugs on her old truck, and fishing for dinner (unsuccessfully). Nicky seems determined not to enjoy himself, until, a few days into his summer, an old raft bumps into the dock where Nicky is sitting with his fishing pole. The raft is accompanied by a flock of birds and it has drawings of animals all over it. His curiosity piqued (who drew those pictures?), Nicky corrals the mysterious raft. The next day he and his Grandma go on a raft trip together, and grandma teaches Nicky to pole the raft himself. From that point forward, Nicky can’t wait to finish his chores so that he can explore the river on his own, watching the animals along the bank and sketching them. Sometimes, grandma and Nicky picnic together on the river as Nicky does cannonballs from the raft, and he even occasionally sets up a tent and sleeps on the raft.

One day late in the summer, Nicky rescues a little fawn who he observes from the raft. The fawn is caught in the mud, so Nicky poles over, sets him free and carries him up to his mother. Afterwards, he sketches the fawn on the raft, and his grandma helps him to outline his drawing with oil paint. “Now, you’ll always be a part of the river,” she tells him…a river rat just like grandma.

This was another three-love book (as in “I love love love” this book) for our oldest. Mr. Lamarche’s warm, earth-tone illustrations are soft and comforting, and the story is sweet and inspiring. Reading this book made me want to get our girls out to the country side before they are too much older – to play and explore in the woods.


Day 172 – Can’t You Sleep Little Bear?

We may be past Fathers’ Day now (where is the time going?), but we had one more particularly charming book with a Fathers’ Day theme left in the queue, and we read it today. “Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear” by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Barbara Firth is a delightful and touching story about a restless little bear and his papa’s efforts to comfort him so that he is ready to fall asleep. It is beautifully illustrated, and the story had elements that really resonated with us, making this one of our favorite (if not THE favorite) Fathers’ Day book we read this past week.Sleep

The story unfolds with Big Bear tucking Little Bear into bed and settling down to read his Big Bear book. But Little Bear can’t sleep: he is scared of the dark at the back of their cave. Big Bear brings Little Bear three lanterns in succession, a tiny one, a medium one, and a big one. After each lantern is hung, Big Bear settles back in to read only to be interrupted again by little bear. Even after the final, largest lantern is hung, little bear is still scared – of the darkness outside the cave! Big Bear is at a loss – “all the lamps in the world (can’t) light up the dark outside”. But then Big Bear has a thought, he takes Little Bear outside to see that the darkness is not complete. He shows Little Bear the moon and the stars, and there under the peaceful moonlit sky, Little Bear finally falls fast asleep in Big Bear’s arms. Big Bear heads back inside to finish his book, and falls asleep in his chair with his book in one hand and Little Bear on his arm.

We thought this book was adorable. We loved the soft but expressive watercolor illustrations that gave the tale a feeling of real storybook magic – especially in the picture of Big Bear and Little Bear looking at the moon. I appreciated the way in which Big Bear reacts to Little Bear’s fear of the dark – initially seeming frustrated, he remains compassionate, and each time he rises he realizes that Little Bear has a point. I think that this may also be a good book for little ones who are scared of the dark – it always seemed like stepping outside to look at the moon helped to relax our girls when they were younger and having trouble settling down to go to sleep. “Little Bear” really is a sweet story, and a wonderful choice for Fathers’ Day (even if it was a day late!).

Bonus observation: look closely at Big Bear’s book when he sets it down – he’s reading the same book you are!
P.S. this review (and the image above) are from the October 2002 Special Anniversary Edition

Day 171 – My Dad Thinks He’s Funny

For every kid who has ever rolled their eyes and said “my dad thinks he’s soooooo funny,” have we ever found the book for you! “My Dad Thinks He’s Funny” by Katrina Germein and illustrated by Tom Jellett is a delightful book that really resonated with our oldest and made us all laugh out loud.

dad thinksThe book is narrated by a little boy who is (ostensibly) SO OVER his dad’s corny sense of humor. His dad never seems to be serious, answering seemingly every question or statement with a silly quip. Say “I’m hungry” and dad says, “Hello, hungry. Nice to meet you.” Tell dad you think you have something in your eye, and dad says, “Yeah – an eyeball.” Heading out to go swimming? Dad cautions, “Try not to get wet.” At this point, I expect many children listening to the book will be rolling their eyes and empathizing with the narrator: “My dad thinks he’s funny, too.” Or maybe that’s just what happened around our house. Of course, at the same time that little ones are rolling their eyes, I expect there are an equal and opposite number of dads nodding their heads approvingly: “That’s a good one!” Hmmm. Maybe that was just our house, too. Personally, I don’t think the jokes in this book ever get old, but by far the best one – and the one that made us laugh out loud – was when the narrator cautioned “and when dad says, ‘Time for a special announcement’, we leave the room fast, before it really starts to smell!” Dads do think they are funny.

No matter how jaded the narrator seems, however, the illustration on the last page gives him away – as we see him giving dad a big hug! I thought this book was not only funny, but cute – and so very true to life. The illustrations are playful and expressive and add to the fun – especially the page that demonstrates the “eye-roll”. We give this very amusing book a cumulative family thumbs-up! I recommend checking this book out from the library and reading for Father’s Day, dad’s birthday, belly laugh day, or any day. Now, if you can hang on for a second, I have a special announcement to make…


Day 170 – My Dad

Tired of dad books yet? I hope not, cuz we found another fun one today: “My Dad” by Anthony Browne – an endearing tribute to the way in which a child’s love for his father can cause him to exaggerate daddy’s best traits…just a tad.my dad

The little boy in Mr. Browne’s book has a dad that isn’t afraid of anything – even the Big Bad Wolf. This little boy’s dad can leap over the moon, walk on tightropes, wrestle giants, and easily beat all the other fathers in a footrace. He’s as strong as a gorilla, wise as an owl (with an important caveat), and happy as a hippopotamus. He can eat like a horse, and swim like a fish – and even though he’s big as a house, he’s also soft as a teddy bear. He has several other impressive traits, but the best of all: he loves his son, and he always will.

I thought this book was charming. The illustrations are entertaining and off-beat; I particularly enjoyed how the little boy imagines his father displaying all these remarkable characteristics and accomplishing astounding feats while dressed in his pajamas and his plaid robe. Mr. Browne’s narrator looks at his dad the way that I think many dad’s like to believe their children see them. In many cases, I believe that is how children view their fathers. It’s a lovely thought – for me at least – and a great book for the week of Fathers’ Day in particular.


Day 169 – Oh Daddy!

After finding some over-the-top humor in daddy’s deafening snores yesterday, today we opted for something a little more whimsical and sweet. “Oh, Daddy” by Bob Shea is an amusing tale told from the point of view of a little boy whose daddy is just too silly to make it through life without a little help. The simple illustrations are charming and expressive – adding humor and heart to a storyline that should be familiar to many dads, and certainly resonated with me.oh daddy

Mr. Shea’s narrator may be little, but he is “as smart as two eight-year-olds!” In fact, the narrator informs us that he is so smart, he has to show his dad how to do things, and his dad is a grown up! Meanwhile, daddy is asleep on the couch and snoring away with abandon. When it’s time to get dressed in the morning, daddy puts underpants on his head and asks, “Is this how you get dressed?” When it’s time to drive to grandma’s, daddy tries climbing through the passenger-side window, asking, “Is this how you get in the car?” When it’s time to eat, Daddy spills his carrots everywhere: “Is this how you eat carrots?” Daddy is even confused about how to do big hugs, lumbering around the house and rolling on the floor while trying to wrap his arms around himself. “Is this how you give big hugs?” Oh, daddy! Fortunately, every time daddy gets confused, our narrator is there to show him how things are supposed to be done – including giving big hugs. Clever daddy.

This book gave me a big smile. With an economy of words, Mr. Shea does an excellent job of capturing how I imagine many young children think about their silly fathers. I believe our oldest has long been confused about some of the very simple things in life that her father doesn’t seem to understand, and I could easily see her identifying with Mr. Shea’s narrator. I also enjoyed the subtle humor in the expressions on the faces of the parents and the little boy. This is a really cute book.

Now, I need to print out this review and book myself a helicopter ride so that I can put this review into the “cloud”. This whole interweb thing is so confusing.

Oh, daddy!


Day 168 – My Daddy Snores

After yesterday’s bucolic, idyllic depiction of fatherhood in “I Love My Daddy”, today it was time to “cleanse the palate” with a tale that is a little bit closer to our reality. “My Daddy Snores” by Nancy H. Rothstein and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin provides a comical take on an problem that I think countless families experience – strangely managing to take the issue seriously while at the same time “laughing through the tears” with the outrageous, giggle-inducing illustrations.

snoresFrom night to night, Daddy’s snoring may vary in tone, but not in severity. From a booming dinosaur roar, to an earthquake, to a thundering steam locomotive, daddy’s snoring rips right through the house and keeps mommy from getting a moment’s rest. Even when daddy sleeps outside in a tent, he keeps the birds up all night and their cheeping wakes everyone in the house up far too early in the morning. Eventually, mommy is at the end of her rope and she takes daddy to the doctor – where daddy is cured of his snoring. Ahhhhh. The house is at last silent, until…daddy starts talking in his sleep!

We got a kick out of this book. Well, I did – and our oldest enjoyed some laughs at her daddy’s expense (I’m not absolutely positive mommy saw the humor in it). For some readers, the story may require suspension of disbelief – not to accept the ridiculous places that mommy tries to get some sleep, but to accept the fact that daddy lives long enough to make it to the doctor.

Hmmmm…something just occurred to me. I think I need to go find the doctor from the book…

P.S. the book’s author, Ms. Rothstein, has a site dedicated to raising awareness about snoring and sleep apnea: http://www.mydaddysnores.com/about.html


Day 167 – I Love My Daddy

Are you ready for a flurry of daddy-themed books? June may be our ocean and beach month, but it is also the month for Fathers’ Day! Yesterday we read “Knuffle Bunny”, a humorous tale about how even the most well intentioned daddies can sometimes be so oblivious. Today, we had a little change of pace: a simple, sweet story about the softer side of fatherhood and the connection between father and child. i love my dad

“I Love My Daddy” by Sebastien Braun chronicles a day in the life of a papa bear and his little cub. With charming soft-focus paintings filling every page, Mr. Braun shows papa and cub enjoying playful and quiet moments together – eating honey, playing hide-and-seek, splashing in the river, or just sitting on top of the hill in quiet contemplation. It’s a lovely book – endearing without being sappy – and an especially good bedtime story…and now that I have read over it again, I must go find my children and give them big hugs.

Bye for now.


Day 166 – Knuffle Bunny

It’s Fathers’ Day week, so we have several daddy-themed books on the list – some of them sweet and endearing, and some of them inserted for a dose of (humorous) reality. Falling into the second category today was “Knuffle Bunny” by Mo Willems, a strangely familiar and very funny story. Subtitled “A Cautionary Tale”, it also serves as a reminder for mommies who have forgotten that daddies so often just don’t “get it”.knuffle

One day Trixie goes on to the laundromat with her daddy and her stuffed bunny (“Knuffle Bunny”). She “helps” him put the clothes in the washing machine, after dragging them all over the floor and wearing pants on her head, because…of course! Does daddy lose his cool? No! He is the model of patience. After Trixie inserts the coin into the loaded washer, daddy and Trixie stroll out the door, hand-in-hand with daddy smiling and whistling (perhaps enjoying a beautiful day and quietly congratulating himself on being a wonderful father). As Trixie and her daddy are heading home, however, she realizes something is wrong. Unfortunately, Trixie can’t talk yet, and so all she is able to say is “Aggle flaggle klabble” All her daddy says in response is “That’s right, we’re going home.” She tries, and fails, with increasing vigor, to tell her daddy what is wrong, until finally she works herself into a sobbing fit. By the time they get home, daddy has shed any pretense of patience and is angry, put-upon, and tired of all the unexplained sobbing. He opens the door, and Trixie’s mommy greets him with “where’s Knuffle Bunny?” Oops.

So the family runs to the laundromat, and daddy looks and looks and looks and looks, flinging laundry this way and that. When he eventually finds the lost toy, Trixie hugs it and says “Knuffle Bunny!”…her first (understandable) words ever.

This story really resonated with me…as a father, I do often find myself stymied by some “unexplainable” tantrum, and just when I am at my righteously angry wit’s end, mommy asks me a single question which inspires a self-inflicted slap to the forehead (“when was the last time the girls ate?”, “did you try (insert name of toy or game here)?”, etc.). If I only had a brain. File under “it’s funny because it’s true”.

I think it’s safe to say that we all thought this book was a fun pick for our 365 project. For young listeners, we enjoy reading entertaining stories that also tell us more about how the world works…and this sort of falls into that category. It’s reality-based entertainment. I also really enjoyed Mo Willems’ illustrations, which won the book a Caldecott honor…presumably for the interesting combination of cartoons against a backdrop of black and white photographs. His drawings were a lot of fun – characteristically simple and amusing, evoking an even bigger smile from a story that was already funny on its own.


Day 165 – Curious George Goes to the Beach

Today, on our figurative summertime trip to the beach, we encountered a familiar and well-loved face: Curious George! As you might expect, in “Curious George Goes to the Beach”, Margaret and H.A. Rey’s inquisitive and kind-hearted little monkey has a blast – thoroughly enjoying all the sights, sounds, and sensations of a brand new experience, and managing to save the day along the way.

george at beachWhen the man with the yellow hat (decked out in a delightfully anachronistic one-piece yellow-striped bathing suit) surprises George with a trip to the beach, George is excited – there are so many new, and curious (!) things to try. His little friend, Betsy, isn’t so sure. Betsy has never been to the beach before, and although she is a good swimmer, she is scared of getting in the ocean. For George, however, it’s time to play! After setting up a blanket and umbrella on the sand, George sets out. He tosses a beach ball, digs in the sand, shakes “hands” with a crab, and even sits in the lifeguard’s special chair…without permission (oops!). Hungry after all his adventures, George returns to the blanket for a snack, but everything he sets out for himself disappears before he can eat it, because: seagulls!

Aha! George has discovered a new game – feed the seagulls. Forgetting about his own hunger, George (with help from Betsy) disburses cookies, cake, crackers and even bread for their sandwiches to the growing flock of birds, until the tide comes in and pulls the basket out to sea. George quickly runs to the lifeguard stand and grabs a float – then he swims out to retrieve the basket, and swims back to find that Betsy has jumped in the water and swum out as well! The picnic basket may now be empty, but Betsy and her grandmother have food to spare – and they are happy to share because George has saved the day once again: Betsy is smiling and enjoying herself – she’s no longer afraid of the ocean!

“Curious George Goes to the Beach” is another charming entry in the Curious George canon. We found ourselves once again grateful that Margaret and H.A. Rey remembered to bring the original Curious George manuscript with them when they fled Paris on homemade bicycles back in 1940. But be forewarned – George has so much fun at the beach that this tale of seaside shenanigans may have you packing up the car and heading out as soon as you have read it!


Day 164 – Out of the Ocean

“My mother says you can ask the ocean to bring you something. If you look, she says, you might find it.” A wooden shoe, a sea turtle skull, pelican feathers, coconuts, and a beam from a sunken ship are just a few of the fascinating (and ultimately “necessary”) things found on the beach in today’s book, “Out of the Ocean” by Debra Frasier. Ms. Frasier’s book, illustrated with a combination of colorful collages and photographs against a sandy backdrop, is a thoughtful and charming tribute to the ocean and all the things it can bring you…if you just remember to look!

oceanMs. Frasier narrates her book from the point of view of a little girl, recounting the treasures she has found on the beach and the conversations she has had with her mother about the ocean. Walking the beach, the narrator has asked for and been presented with all manner of treasures, from sea glass to shark’s teeth to skate eggs…to a wooden shoe – and each time, what she has brought home has turned out to be exactly what she wanted.

Meanwhile, the little girl’s mother asks the ocean for things that are too big to bring home: the sun, silver moonlight, the sound of waves, and sea turtle tracks. “Those things are always there”, the little girl tells her mother, “You just have to look for them.” Laughing, her mother tells her that she discovered the secret: “It’s not the asking, it’s the remembering to look.” Some of the biggest gifts the ocean has to give can be missed or taken for granted, if you forget to look.

We thought “Out of the Ocean” was surprisingly sweet and profound. I particularly enjoyed the line about every discovery turning out to be exactly what the little girl wanted – it made me smile, and reminded me of the old saying that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. The body of the book makes for a fairly quick read-aloud, but there is also a six-page “Ocean Journal” at the end that is quite informative and worth a read – providing more detail about some of the specific things the author herself has found at the beach. With or without the journal, however, Ms. Frasier has written (and illustrated) a wonderful book that is a great selection for summer-themed reading.