Monday, February 15, 2010

Second Childhood Continued

Here are some mini-reviews of children's books cherished by my 4 year old daughter, as well as by her mother and I.

The Secret River - Absolutely wonderful! My daughter still yearns for picture books over chapter books with spot illustrations here and there, but she's old (and ridiculously bright) enough to want stories with more depth and substance than is to be found in shorter children's books intended for limited attention spans. This book is a fantastic bridge from child to kid literature. The entire family was enchanted by this sweet, mystical tale of a girl who wants to do her part to turn hard times into soft.

Blueberries for Sal - Grade for story: A+ Grade for illustrations: A+ Such a sweet story despite the fact that at least to the adult reader there's a sense of legitimate danger. After all, in real life not all bear-human interactions go quite so innocently. But this is a children's book, not an episode of beasts gone wild on Animal Planet, and quite a delightful book at that.

The Paper Bag Princess - Any prince who only appreciates a princess for the fanciness of her clothes and skin deep beauty rather than her heroism, spunkiness and quick thinking intelligence isn't really worth admiring, much less marrying. It's never too early to distinguish between what deserves to be valued and what merely lies on the surface, and that is what this tale helps children do.

Blueberry Girl - My first Neil Gaiman book. Probably won't be the last. The non-religious prayer that he gifts readers with in Blueberry Girl is one of the most moving things I've ever read. If you have a daughter, buy this book.

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More - I'm not sure who gets more of a kick out of Karen Beaumont's books, me or my daughter. I'll give the nod to her in a close race. This wonderful book appeals to her stubborn singled mindedness of purpose regardless of what behavior is being asked of her, and her fondness for rhyme, music, anticipation, and color.

Loopy - Just about every child has one possession that gives them security and is an absolute necessity when it's time to turn off the lights and go to bed. Many children and parents have experienced the horror of this cherished item gone missing, knowing that not even an exact replica will suffice, you absolutely must retrieve the object of extreme affection or else chaos will ensue and all hope of sweet dreams will be lost. My daughter's beloved "Nite Nite Baby" was once unknowingly dropped on the ground while we were out and about. The moment of panic when I realized it was missing is not one I wish to ever experience again. Fortunatly she was found, as was Loopy in this delightful, surreal book that all young children and their parents will identify with.

Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth - Alison McGhee throws in amusing details throughout her illustrations so it's best to go through the pages with care, first reading the main text and then spotting various thought bubbles and sight gags. With each re-read you discover a joke that you missed the previous times. So even though my daughter has a ways to go before reaching the practical joke making and tooth losing/regaining years, this deligtful book is a frequent bedtime read.

A Visitor for Bear - Little kids know a thing or two about persistence, whether it's for a sweet treat or a toy or whatever it is that they absolutely must have at any given moment. So they should identify with the relentless mouse in this book who insists on paying a visit to Bear's house, just as parents will relate to the reclusive bear who simply wants to enjoy a peaceful breakfast. No means no, of course. Except when no is simply not recognized as an acceptable option.

Silly Tilly - Very cute story about a fun loving duck whose silly antics are not particularly appreciated by her peers until she agrees to refrain, at which point life on the farm quickly grows much duller as result. I wouldn't have thought that "sometimes you don't know what you've got till it's gone" was a message of much use to a young child. Seems like you should have a bit more mileage on you before this invaluable lesson applies. Nevertheless, this book proved to be an instant winner with my daughter. She became so upset when informed that it had been returned to the library that we immediately took it out again.

Anansi and the Talking Melon / Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock - Anansi's trick playing greatly amuses my daughter, especially the episode describing his tomfoolery with "talking" melons and the one detailing his antics with a sleep inducing, moss covered rock.

The Story of Ferdinand – My wife is floored by the illustrations in this book while my daughter keeps asking why they weren’t colored in. We’re all in agreement that Munro Leaf penned a masterpiece about the joy of being true to yourself.

Corduroy – A classic tale that I don’t recall reading or having read to me in my own childhood, so I’m very happy to have discovered it in my daughter’s. There’s something very comforting about it.

Oink? - This book was a huge hit with my daughter though I can't quite put my finger on the reason why. Something struck her as hysterical about barnyard animals having a litany of complaints about Thomas and Joseph, and a variety of solutions to at first impose upon them and then assume responsibility for themselves. Yet the pigs either don't understand, don't care, are too lazy, or perhaps they’re too clever to be bothered. There is no shortage of those who want to fix us for a variety of reasons. But if firmly convinced that you aren't broken, who can possibly convince you otherwise?

I Wanna Iguana - A charming story written in the interesting format of back & forth notes between mother and son. Each note from the son is a plea to get a pet iguana, each response from Mom is a reason why this doesn't sound like such a good idea. The son's perserverance and mother's insistence that he prove he's ready for the responsibility of iguana ownership make for an amusing exchange, with David Catrow (one of my favorites) providing the quirky accompanying illustrations.

Princess Grace - As the father of a princess obsessed little girl who has learned via parenting that obsessions and insecurities about appearance starts amazingly early with girls, I greatly appreciate a book such as this one which shows that there's much more to being a princess (what do they do beside look pretty is the question that sets this story rolling) than the Disney variety.

The Yellow Tutu - Children can be very creative in their choice of attire, and what pleases them they assume will delight others. But children, like adults, can also be judgmental and terribly conformist. In this wonderful book a little girl is ecstatic over the yellow tutu she received as a gift and quite entertained by a whim to wear it on her head, thus transforming her into a flower, a lion, the sun. When her friends mock rather than share in her excitement, she is crushed and confused. Fortunately she finds a like minded peer who is able to appreciate the power of imagination, bringing about the birth of a beautiful friendship. The message in this book is a valuable one. It is a collaboration by sisters, one who wrote the story and the other who provides extraodinary illustrations. One particularly poignant page features a picture of the teary eyed girl so skillfully rendered that it could grace the wall of the finest museum.


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