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Your Storybook Suggestions
Category Archives: Bilingual
In honor of the first day of spring today we read a whimsical, wonderful book about a little boy and his animal friends waiting for the season to start. The story begins with the little boy, his scarf blowing in the wind and his nose red from the cold, looking into the distance across a barren brown landscape: “First you have brown, all around you have brown…” The text (“First you have…”), the boy’s distant gaze, and the expectant tilt of his dog’s head convey a sense of anticipation…something is coming.
Eager to help spring arrive as soon as possible, the boy plants seeds…and he waits. He inspects his handiwork…and he waits. He sits in his little red wagon and fears that his seeds have been devoured by fat little birds or stomped by clumsy bears…and he waits. He sets out bird feeders and hangs a tire swing…and he waits. Meanwhile, underground there is a riot of activity…a “greenish hum” which you can hear “if you put your ear to the ground and close your eyes.” And eventually, one day he walks out and all that brown isn’t around…instead “all around you have green.”
“and then it’s spring” by author Julie Fogliano and illustrator Erin E. Stead is a sweet and lovely book which we thoroughly enjoyed – in English and then in a Spanish translation as well. Like Kevin Henkes’ “Waiting”, “and then it’s spring” does a marvelous job of combining limited but well-chosen prose with beautifully detailed and subtly humorous artwork to effectively capture what I imagine waiting must feel like through the eyes of a child. We were particularly fond of Ms. Stead’s drawings: the little boy’s confident and determined posture as he pulls his wagon full of gardening supplies, the haphazard arrangement of seed mounds in the little boy’s garden, the little animal vignettes taking place all around him, and especially the small variations from page to page that hint of the coming change in seasons. I recommend reading the book once through to get the flow of Ms. Fogliano’s text first, followed by a slower second pass to truly savor all the fascinating and funny details Ms. Stead has managed to work into every page.
For years, Mr. McGreely has had a dream “…of getting his hands dirty, growing yummy vegetables, and…gobbling them all up.” One fine spring day, “by golly,” he decides it is finally time for his dream to become reality. He hoes, and he sows, and he watches his garden grow – but he is not alone! In the corner of his yard, somebunny else has their eyes on Mr. McGreely’s veggies – three somebunnies to be exact!
That evening…”tippy, tippy, tippy, pat”…the “puff-tailed” interlopers steal into the garden by moonlight and “muncha, muncha, muncha” Mr. McGreely’s carefully cultivated sprouts. What ensues is a rapidly escalating and humorously excessive contest of man against nature – with Mr. McGreely erecting increasingly imposing barriers against these three resourceful and ravenous “lop-eared” larcenists. After building what looks like a maximum-security prison around his garden – complete with moat – it appears he has succeeded in turning away the “twitch-whiskered” trouble-makers…or has he?
Candace Fleming’s “Muncha, Muncha, Muncha” put a big fat smile on my face. The mischievous bunnies, the use of onomatopoeia, and Mr. Greely’s emotional outbursts made for an engaging read aloud experience (for narrator and listener alike). The repetitive moonlight “refrain” of the bunnies sneaking into the garden – “tippy, tippy, tippy, pat…muncha, muncha, muncha” – is great for beginning readers as well. Perhaps best of all, Ms. Fleming’s book inspired us all to start munching on carrots as our oldest read us the Spanish version of the story.
Candace Fleming is scheduled to be featured in the next online author event at Read Aloud Revival (April 17, 2016). We plan on working in several more of Ms. Fleming’s books between now and then. We can’t wait!
If you have ever been confounded by the challenge of finding the perfect present for someone important in your life, then perhaps you will identify with the heroine of this evening’s story book. Originally published in 1962, “Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Presents” tells the story of a little girl’s quest to find the right gift for her mother’s birthday, with the assistance of a well-intentioned Mr. Rabbit. The book is written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, whose Impressionistic watercolor artwork won the book a Caldecott Honor.
The little girl may be short on specific ideas at first, but she knows what colors her mother likes – red, yellow, green and blue. Working together, Mr. Rabbit and the girl brainstorm potential gifts for each color in turn and eventually end up with a fruit basket full of apples, bananas, pears and grapes – a lovely present indeed!
We originally added “Mr. Rabbit” to our list because Mr. Rabbit made the book seasonally appropriate, and because we loved the idea of making a colorful fruit basket for a gift. We also appreciated the fact that we were able to find both an English and a Spanish version at the local library; we like to take advantage of bilingual read aloud opportunities whenever we we can.
We weren’t sure about all of Mr. Rabbit’s suggestions to the little girl (red underpants?), and I can’t recall ever seeing blue grapes – but the characters’ brainstorming provides a nice introduction to colors for younger listeners. There is a repetition to the text that is beneficial for beginning readers, and the story promotes kindness to animals and healthy eating – two things we always value in a story book. Your children may actually enjoy an activity of putting together their own fruit basket after reading the book – especially if you have a birthday coming up at home!
Day 62 of our Storybook Year fell on Dr. Seuss’ birthday; he would have been 112 years old yesterday. In his honor, we had a monstrous pile of Seuss books ready to go; it was actually fairly impressive how many of his books we already had on our shelves, but we supplemented with a trip to the bookstore as well. We read “Green Eggs and Ham”, “Ten Apples Up on Top”, “Too Many Daves” (from “The Sneetches”) and “The Cat in the Hat” – which we were able to find in a bilingual edition (“El Gato Ensombrerado”!). We also read “Fox in Sox” back on day 28, and I am sure we will be seeing the good Doctor again at some point (or at several points) during our Storybook Year.
Nothing I can say in one blog post is going to entirely do justice to Dr. Seuss; there were doubtless thousands upon thousands of better, more thoughtful, and more complete tributes to his impact on children’s literature published yesterday. I will simply say “Happy Birthday” to one of the most prolific and talented storybook writers and illustrators of all time, and “Thank You.”
Have you ever felt a conviction so deeply that you would be willing to walk the plank into a moat full of ravenous alligators rather than act against that conviction? If so, then you have something in common with the hero of “Herb the Vegetarian Dragon” by Jules Bass and Debbie Harter, our read-aloud selection this evening.
Every dragon in the forest of Nogard is a meat-eater, except for Herb. While his fire-breathing brethren eat “all the best boar meat” in the forest and terrorize the people of Castle Dark each night to enjoy “the sweet taste of royal princesses and the crispy crunch of brave knights,” Herb is content to spend his time tending his vegetable garden. Eventually, the brave knights of Castle Dark, led by Bernard the Bold, have had enough and hatch a plan to hunt down all the dragons in the forest and make them walk the plank into the alligator-infested moat. The carnivorous dragons of Nogard – led by the aptly-named Meathook – are forewarned of the danger and go into hiding. Herb, who is blissfully unaware of Bernard’s plan, remains in the open and is eventually captured and chained up at Castle Dark. On the evening before his execution by alligator, Herb receives a visit from a devilish Meathook who offers to spring him from his cell if Herb will prove his loyalty by eating a piece of wild boar meat. Staying true to himself, Herb refuses Meathook’s offer, saying “I’ll take my chances.”
The next day, just as he is about to be pushed into the moat, Herb is saved by the intervention of a little girl who attests to Herb’s gentle nature. However, an eavesdropping Meathook is captured and dragged before the king, who spares his life on the condition that the dragons of Nogard give up eating people forever. Meathook confers with his gang, and after much deliberation they decide that they can learn to survive on boar’s meat and can learn from Herb how to grow their own vegetables in order that they may live in peace with the people of Castle Dark. The book ends with dragons and people – vegetarians and meat-eaters alike – living together in harmony. Kumbaya.
All joking aside, our girls enjoyed this book for its colorful and goofy illustrations – and the text, while lengthy, is fun to read aloud with plenty of opportunities for silly voices and dramatic narration. Another nice thing about the book is the fact that Herb clearly enjoys tending to his vegetable garden, and eating vegetables is important to him. At the same time, the moral of the story – that it is okay to be different and to stand up for what you believe in even in the face of peer pressure – is delivered in a rather ham-handed manner and with some inconsistencies. Parents may also find fault with the (sometimes gory) violence and name-calling in the book. We did.
If these shortcomings do not bother you, we discovered that the book will also be available in Spanish on March 31, 2016.
We encountered Curious George again this evening. Guess what? He is still a good little monkey, and he is still very curious, and the man with the yellow hat is still an absentee “parent”. George is left to his own devices until the very end by which time George’s mischief has already been put right. In our story tonight, George’s mischief starts with getting overly excited at all the amazing books available to him at the local library, and ends with him crashing a library cart full of books.
In all seriousness, “Curious George and the Library” may be just as formulaic as any other Curious George book, but it’s a formula that works. Also, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone familiar with this blog, this story holds particular interest for us. Our entire family identified with George’s sense of wonder at all the different kinds of books available to be checked out from the local library. It’s a giant (free!!) toy store for readers – the library, that is. Our downtown library is one of our favorite places. It really is amazing. But I digress…
I think this is our favorite Curious George story; our youngest went through a stage recently where she wanted to hear this story over and over again. This is also one of the bilingual books in our library; we have cited the advantages of these books previously, including Day 44 – Are You My Mother. Personally, if I were George, I’d go by my Spanish name all the time. I ask you: would you rather be “Curious George” or “Jorge el curioso”? It’s a rhetorical question. I already know the answer.
“Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman is an old standby and was quite popular with our oldest when she was a little girl. When we pulled that title from the envelope tonight, we were reminded of a happy byproduct of our 365 project – it has prompted us to hunt down some of our old favorites, so that we can share them all over again.
Just like her sister before her, our youngest was enthralled by this story of a newborn bird who, upon hatching from his egg in an empty nest, embarks on a quest to find his mother. The text presents multiple invitations to interact with the listeners as the little bird stops to question a kitten, a chicken, a dog, a cow, and even himself as he passes an old car…”Could that…be his mother?” Eventually, he lands on an excavator which, to the delight of young and old alike, he refers to as a “snort”. The “snort” deposits him safely back in his nest, just in time for his mother to return with his first meal. Our youngest was visibly happy for our fine feathered hero when he finally found his mother; she asked to read it again, and then just took the book and started “reading” it herself.
The version we shared tonight was bilingual – written in English and Spanish. We have quite a few of these books around the house, and have found that they have a shelf life several years longer than the English-only version. They are great for young learners as they take a familiar story and put the English and Spanish words right next to each other – it’s a welcoming, familiar way to practice a new language.
It has been said that nothing in this world is certain but death and taxes. I would like to add to that list the fact that George is (a) a good little monkey, and (b) always very curious. Tonight we went with George on an adventure to the firehouse in “Curious George and the Firefighters.” Following a tried and true formula that should be familiar to all George readers, our book tonight found George curiously going where no monkey is supposed to go, at first getting in the way, but ultimately proving to be uniquely helpful. In this story, George jumps aboard the fire engine on the way to an actual fire, and after being reprimanded by the fire chief, he proceeds to distract and entertain all the frightened children with juggling and a massive game of catch. The version we read this evening is bilingual (Spanish and English).
I don’t think this particular story is one of the originals by Margaret & H.A. Rey; it is “illustrated in the style of” George’s creators, but I can’t find an author’s name anywhere in the book. Be that as it may – originals or not – we have always enjoyed reading these short and predictable but entertaining books.
We read another bilingual picture book tonight: “Let’s Eat! / ¡A Comer!” by Pat Mora. This storybook was particularly apt this evening, since we read it while sitting down to eat dinner together; as the note on the back cover says, “Sitting down and sharing – it’s the best part of the day”. After reading “Let’s Eat” in both Spanish and English, we shared what we liked best about the story. I personally liked the dog’s name: Tico. I shall save it for future use.
However, we all agreed that the real clincher – the “hook” if you will – was this: Tina looks at all the food on the table and says, “…We’re rich, aren’t we Dad?”…over the next several pages, Dad looks around the table at the food, at Mama and Grandma, at Tico, and at all three of his children and says, “Yes…We’re rich.” I think that sentiment fairly well sums up how all of us feel when we get a chance to sit down and enjoy reading together.
We are divided in our opinion of tonight’s storybook: “Ten Little Puppies (Diez Perritos)” by Alma Flor Ada. It was a book with which we were already familiar before we pulled the name from the envelope, but even familiar books are fun to “re-discover” when they come up. Majority opinion appears to be that it is a charming little rhyming book, because…puppies? Also, the book is written in Spanish and English, which is nice if you can read Spanish (as our oldest can, and did this evening).
In my opinion, this is a story of neglect. A young girl who obviously has no business having her own pack of puppies, proceeds to steadily lose them one-by-one and page-by-page. One runs off in a snowstorm, another is abandoned at the baker’s, a little dalmatian leaps into the lake (maybe to get away from this little girl), and she leaves one little puppy at the vet’s office because of the flu (?!?). Eventually, she has only one dog, whom she loves dearly…and stuff. Good thing for that dog that the book ended, otherwise she’d have lost him at the park on the next page!
In truth, we all enjoy this book. The rhyme scheme is a bit cumbersome (and more repetitive than rhyme-y sometimes). However, it gets extra points for being bi-lingual, having cute illustrations and…well: puppies.