Friday, June 13, 2014

BAD DAD

Written by Derek Munson

Illustrated by Melody Wang

(Cannonball Books, 2013)

Parenting can be challenging, especially when a mother has to do it all by herself. Bad Dad is not an ode to the single mother; rather, it is a recognition of the fact that some fathers require as much supervision as the children. Some people take “kid at heart” too far.

Dad is the one who breaks the bed. Shouldn’t have turned it into a makeshift trampoline. At the very least, he should have just watched.  (But don’t we all yearn for bed-bouncing days of yore?)

Dad creates havoc in the kitchen, at the toy store and throughout the neighborhood. Cue title: Bad Dad!

Everyone is in agreement. Perhaps dad should move into the doghouse. Permanently.

Thankfully, he has endearing qualities, too. He’s a homework helper and a hamster provider. Even better, “He banished Brussels sprouts from our house forever.”

Maybe that makes up for an infraction or two.

This is a timely read for Father’s Day, a reminder that no father—no parent (or child)—needs to achieve perfection. Being present can be the greatest present of all. One can pay off the new bed frame in a few months, but those memories of full-on engagement last forever.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

COUNT THE MONKEYS

Written by Mac Barnett

Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

(Disney Hyperion Books, 2013)

I had the pleasure of hearing Mac Barnett speak at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ summer conference in L.A. last year. He had me laughing out loud as he confidently enthralled a room of wannabes (myself included). I knew this man had a refreshingly twisted view of the world. The next Mo Willems.

When I checked out a stack of Mac Barnett picture books from my local library, Count the Monkeys rose to the top of the pile. Hmm, a counting book. We all know the formula: 1 of this, 2 of that, get to 10, end of book.

I can envision Mac skimming a stack of counting books and thinking, “Yuck.” No doubt they sell, but do they have to be so boring? What could spice up this niche? How ‘bout penguins? Are they still uber popular? (What do you mean someone counted ‘em already…and went all the way up to 365? Drat.)

Forget trends. Monkeys are always good.

Mac goes for eager camp counsellor as the book opens: Hey, kids! Time to count the monkeys! It’s fun. It’s easy. All you have to do is turn the page…and COUNT THE MONKEYS. Yee-haw! I feel the energy. I’m so ready. One monkey, two monkeys, three monkeys,…

But wait. What’s this? Upon turning the page, there is not a single monkey. Instead, 1 KING COBRA has invaded the space. Mac tells us the beast “has scared off all the monkeys.” Ah, yes. There’s the twist! And Mac begins to invite audience participation. “Turn the page very slowly, very carefully,” he says, “so [the cobra] doesn’t notice us.”

There is indeed counting in this delightful book. But the constant surprise comes in what is to be counted. It’s all quirky and unpredictable. Imagine that—an unpredictable counting book. Genius!

As I read this book to a young school audience, the children fully participated in the narrator’s invitations to clap, vote, move hands in a zig-zag motion and so forth. This counting book is a pure delight, one that people of any age will enjoy as long as they still have an appreciation for random kookiness. (If you’ve lost it, please find it. Kooky is cool!) Parents won’t hesitate to read and reread this book to children. I would, however, suggest refraining from using Count the Monkeys as a bedtime read. All that zaniness is likely to get everyone involved revved up. Read it and then run outside. Swing from the trees. Just like the monkeys that may or may not appear in this book.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

PICTURE BOOK PICKS FOR STUDENTS GOING INTO KINDERGARTEN



BIG BEAR HUG
By Nicholas Oldland
(Kids Can Press, 2009)
     I’m not sure I would really want a bear hug. But this is the story of one bear with an irrepressible urge to offer hugs. The illustrations are priceless as a bug-eyed rabbit, a moose and a skunk encounter the loving bear.  The story becomes more amusing when Oldland informs us that “what this bear loved to hug most were the trees.” 
     The tale takes another turn when the bear comes across a lumberjack, intent on chopping down the biggest tree in the forest.  Grr! What will be the bear’s natural reaction?

DAVID GOES TO SCHOOL
By David Shannon
(Blue Sky Press, 1999)
     Thoughts of a new school year can make everyone nervous—students, parents, teachers, even principals. There are high hopes. Yet sometimes hopes are dashed as soon as the rules are stated.
     As a teacher and principal, I see David every day. There's one in every class, usually more. He's impulsive, excitable, a dreamer. Full of energy, he seems to be recognized more for his infractions than his contributions. David is the type of student who requires us to look at the classroom from a different vantage point. David is looking for fun and, sadly, school can seem like anything but. David's need to express himself must be channeled in a positive way so as not to squelch his eager mind.

GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE
Written by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
(Chronicle Books, 2011)
     This is a bedtime story for little ones who pass the day digging and building in sandboxes with tough trucks that create, demolish and rebound all to a soundtrack of animated whirrs and booms.

There is a time when construction workers, both young and old, must call it a day and when even the powerful vehicles must shut down for the night.
     No doubt, this will be a popular read night after night. I can envision parent and child whispering goodnight to each truck before the parent provides the final tucks and bids the child, “Shh...goodnight, _____, goodnight.” And,...lights out.

NOT A BOX
By Antoinette Portis
(HarperCollins Children's Books, 2007)
     I love toys. When children walk into my principal's office, they notice two things: (1) kids' books, and (2) toys. With the right imagination, most anything can be a toy. The cardboard box is a true classic, right up there with yo-yos, red wagons and Legos.
     This picture book is an ode to the lowly cardboard box, cleverly designed to resemble one. Inside, the unimaginative narrator—an adult?—remains mystified as to why the young bunny is on, in or near the box. The narrator’s questions and point of view are represented on black and white pages. In between, we see the imaginative play of the bunny, shown in bright colours. Play on, bunny!

THE PENCIL
Written by Allan Ahlberg
Illustrated by Bruce Ingman
(Candlewick Press, 2008)
     A pencil rests on a blank page before discovering its ability to draw. Pencil draws a boy, but then the boy has a request: a dog. Dog wants a cat. Naturally, a chase ensues. The story goes on and on, with problem after problem popping up. (Just wait until pencil draws an eraser!) Oh, such goofy fun!

PETE THE CAT: I LOVE MY WHITE SHOES
Written by Eric Litwin
Illustrated by James Dean
(Harper, 2008)
     Pete the Cat loves his brand new white shoes, adorning each of his paws. For most cats, wearing shoes would not be a happy predicament, but Pete so loves his white shoes that he sings a ditty about them.

     For a roaming kitty, white doesn’t stay white for long. The shoes change color as Pete meanders through such things as a pile of strawberries. The whiteness is gone! Pete may not have expected this, but rather than whine, cry or meow mournfully, Pete simply changes his tune a tad and goes with it. The message is clear: have fun and be resilient.
     (As a bonus, you can find a live telling of the story on YouTube. It will help you get the tune down and maybe start you on the road to superstardom.)

SCAREDY SQUIRREL
By Mélanie Watt
(Kids Can Press, 2006)
     We get a sense of the main character immediately upon opening the book. There, amid a pattern of acorns, is a sticker: “WARNING! Scaredy Squirrel insists that everyone wash their hands with antibacterial soap before reading this book.”
     Scaredy Squirrel fears the unknown so he spends all his time in the same tree, following the same ho-hum routine every day. He has real fears of tarantulas, poison ivy, green Martians, killer bees, germs and sharks. These things lurk just beyond the tree, right?
     Because the fears are so great and so imminent, Scaredy creates an emergency kit and several exit plans if, and only if, escape is absolutely necessary. Naturally, the day comes when kit and plans must be put into action. And, of course, nothing goes as planned.

SHARK VS. TRAIN
Written by Chris Barton
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
(Little, Brown and Company, 2010)
     Under what circumstances would a shark compete against a train? You only have to spend an hour with a couple of boys and a box full of toys to see the possibilities. Indeed, that is where the standoff begins in this book.
     I love this clever, absurd book. It celebrates boys’ imaginations and the shenanigans that can only come from free, unstructured play. Shark and train compete in a variety of situations.

SPLAT THE CAT
By Rob Scotton
(HarperCollins, 2008)
     Why is Splat so anxious that he needs to hide in bed? It is the morning of his first day at Cat School. Yes, this is a wonderful book to share with young readers worried about the start of kindergarten, a new school or simply a new school year. For many students (and adults, both parents and teachers), there is excitement about school but there are also the nagging What Ifs.
     Splat’s Mom must get him out of bed and off to school, no easy feat since the young feline puts up a strong resistance. When he grabs his lunchbox, Splat sneaks Seymour, his pet mouse, inside. Best not to face the first day alone. Just imagine what will happen when Splat’s cat-mates discover the pet mouse! Author/Illustrator memorably chronicle’s the first day of school.

YUCK, A LOVE STORY
Written by Don Gillmor
Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
(Stoddart Kids, 2000)
     The first two sentences of Gillmor’s text are perfect: “Austin Grouper had a brown dog named Fresco, a best friend named Sternberg, and a red bicycle. His life was full.” But the story does go on. Lo and behold, Austin’s world is rocked when a family with a girl his age moves in next door. Amy.
     Of course, Austin’s mom does the mother thing, insisting he go over to greet the new neighbour. He forgoes hello and immediately dazzles with his dinosaur knowledge. She is not impressed. As a result, neither is he.
     The title captures Austin’s simultaneous feelings of repulsion and attraction to the new neighbor. Why is she so...different? The author adds whimsical details, worthy of smiles if not chuckles. On repeated reads, children will focus more on different parts of the story. The details will pop.