Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Written by Kathleen W. Zoehfeld

Illustrated by H.A. Rey

(Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

Give me a greeting card and I’m apt to keep it for a month, maybe a year.  Perhaps it will sit amidst a pile of coupons, clippings and playbills in a dresser drawer until my next big move.  A picture book, however, never gets turfed and never winds up in a thrift store...not in my house at least. 

I’ve bought many a copy of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! as graduation, retirement and moving gifts over the years.  No doubt, I am not alone in this gift giving idea and publishers have taken note.  In recent years, other inspirational picture books have been published such as DreamBig featuring Ian Falconer’s beloved pig Olivia and the penguin-themed Learning to Fly by Sebastian Meschenmoser.  It should come as no surprise that a similar book featuring Curious George should join the market.

These books follow a similar formula.  The main message:  you’ll fly high, you’re destined for greatness, amazing things await!  Still, there will be unexpected curves and dips.  Of course, you’ll overcome the obstacles for nothing can stop you.  Yes, it’s all one glorified Hallmark card. 

And yet it’s more than that.  Not only are Aunt Betty and Uncle Nathan rooting for you but, by golly, Curious George believes in you, too.

Yes, you and that cheeky monkey have a cheering section rushing toward you, with the man in the yellow hat near the front and a couple more yellow hat-bearing men in the crowd.  H.A. Rey’s original watercolor and charcoal pencil illustrations accompany new motivational text.  “HIP, HIP, HOORAY!  You’ve done great things.  The whole world is proud of YOU today.”  Words that apply to the monkey are also perfect for you:  “Whatever you do, you will find your own style.  Even if it surprises a few!”  Go, monkey!  Go, you!

Who can suppress a smile, harkening back to a favorite literary character from early childhood as the next big step in life nears?  As we get older, carrying around a heavily chewed and drooled upon teddy bear may trigger unwanted stares, but there is both comfort and inspiration packed in a picture book that can be prominently displayed on a home or office shelf and read over and over.  May you never be too old to enjoy the antics of Curious George.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Originally created by Margret and H.A. Rey

Adapted from the Curious George film series

Edited by Margret Rey and Alan J. Shalleck

(Houghton Mifflin, 1989)

I don’t have many memories about the library at the elementary school I attended in Hamilton, Ontario.  I can recall the names of most of my classroom teachers, but not the librarian.  I know it was a place to be quiet, that the librarian had grey hair and that she liked to ramble on about award stickers on book covers.  (My friends and I associated those stickers with DANGER and POISON symbols.)

During my early school days, farting dogs did not get their literary due (doo?).  Neither did wimpy kids or principals in underpants.  There was a “rambunctious” monkey, however, that kept me amused:  Curious George.  The individual titles don’t stand out in my memory but, when it came time to line up and sign out a book, George and the man with the yellow hat were always a good bet.

When I entered teaching and began to amass my own personal library collection, I needed to ensure that my primary school primate had a place on the shelf.  Due to my love for icecream, a staple in every healthy diet, I purchased Curious George Goes to an Ice Cream Shop.

The story begins with George and the man finishing cleaning the house.  My dog ignores me whenever I tell him to fold the laundry, but George has worked hard sweeping with broom and dustpan.  Naturally, it is time for an ice cream reward!  Off they go to a new ice cream shop with many flavors, including monkey-approved banana.

Of course, the yellow hat guy has to run some errands.  To the doctor’s?  Don’t those tightly fastened high boots cut off circulation in his legs?  Perhaps the man is off to buy a new outfit or a baseball cap at the very least.

George is left in the shop, gazing at the many flavors and toppings as the owner busies himself with something in order to allow the monkey to have free rein (or reign).  Imagine the shenanigans! 

Sure, the story is simple, but you can’t go wrong with ice cream and a monkey.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Recipes inspired by Dr. Seuss

Concocted by Georgeanne Brennan

Photographed by Frankie Frankeny

(Random House Books for Young Readers, 2006)

This is part of a week-long focus on feeding minds and stomachs, a celebration of children’s cookbooks and picture books that fixate on food.

The star attraction of the cookbook appears on the cover:   green eggs and ham.  Haven’t we all wondered what that would taste like?  And would they taste even better on a boat with a goat or on a train in the rain?  What other diverse foods might Sam I Am introduce to us? 

Alas, we don’t know the answer to the last question, but Dr. Seuss, like Roald Dahl, knew how to stir our imaginations with off the names of kilter culinary treats, among other things.  It should come as no surprise that there is a Seuss-inspired cookbook. 

Author Georgeanne Brennan relies heavily on Dr. Seuss’s illustrations as well as his words to dream up food names and their recipes.  Sometimes, the color in a drawing is what Seussifies a basic item like the cake the Cat in the Hat eats in the tub in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.  Clearly, this cake has a filling and a pinkish coating on top.  Brennan’s “Cat in the Hat Tub Cake” becomes one of the easier concoctions in the book:  store-bought angel food cake with a layer of strawberry-infused whip cream in the middle and on top. 

Some of the recipes are a bigger stretch.  For instance, “Zans’ Cans Chili”, while looking mighty tasty in the photograph, is a creation inspired by the literary reference to a Zans that opens cans in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.  The chili seems to come more from Brennan’s imagination than that of Theodore Geisel.  Based on the intent look on the boy and girl’s faces and the number of cans they want opened, I think the contents would more likely be canned candy or Fudge Sludge than chili. 

I do like the idea to turn the head-sprouting daisy from Daisy-Head Mayzie into a cookie to top a burger referenced in the original book.   Kids would be thrilled to be served a burger with a daisy-shaped, icing-decorated cookie on top.  Dessert first?  Oh, it isn’t the worst!

The recipes are organized into sections (e.g., Breakfast, Beverages, Lunch), but without tabs or title pages, everything seems to run together.  If you are going to organize the collection, make it clearer.

The photographs are helpful.  When you’re going for zany, the recipe followers need to see the end product and how it is served.  For that reason, I was disappointed that some recipes lacked a photo, particularly Who-Roast-Beast, in actuality a chicken dish with mushrooms under the skin.  Brennan refers to the “dramatic Who look” from this mushroom tucking.  Why then no photo?  I don’t want to sound like I have a heart two sizes too small, but I just can’t visualize Brennan’s Roast Beast.

And on the subject of Whoville food fare, it is a bit of a head scratcher to include recipes for “Who-Roast-Beast” and “Who-Pudding”, but to leave out Who-Hash.  Seems the hash is just what’s needed to create a complete Who meal.  Perhaps the Grinch made a dash with the whats and hows for Who-Hash.

Unlike Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes, the Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook becomes a clear ode to Seuss by including quotes from the relevant portions of the master’s original books.  Including the source illustrations also helps to make this book a perfect companion piece to a treasured shelf of Dr. Seuss picture books. 

And so what’s the secret to Green Eggs and Ham?  Guacamole-coated egg yolks and a ham slathered with apple jelly and coated with cilantro and parsley.  Not entirely unappetizing, but the cover shot is enough for me to get the picture.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Photographs by Jan Baldwin

Recipes compiled by Josie Fison and Felicity Dahl

(Puffin Books, 1994)

This is part of a week-long focus on feeding minds and stomachs, a celebration of children’s cookbooks and picture books that fixate on food.

How is it that I only discovered this book this year?!  As noted in the Introduction, the seed for Revolting Recipes germinated from a conversation between Roald and his wife, Felicity.  Weeks later, Roald produced a listing of the delectable, wacky and disgusting food items mentioned in his various works for children.  After his death, Felicity collaborated with others to create this fitting labor of love.

Just reading the Recipe List at the beginning is enough to activate children’s imaginations and make parents fret over the inevitable mess in the kitchen and the awkward tasting ceremony to follow.  While there are some yummy sounding recipe titles like Bunce’s Doughnuts (inspired by Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Strawberry-Flavored Chocolate-Coated Fudge (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), you know kids are going to want to fixate on the creepilicious-sounding concoctions from James and the Giant Peach:  

Stink Bugs’ Eggs

Mosquitoes’ Toes and Wampfish Roes Most Delicately Fried

Hot Frogs Crispy Wasp Stings on a Piece of Buttered Toast

Quite the menu!  At the end of the recipe for Snozzcumbers (The BFG), there is a note to tempt readers:  Sophie said the original Snozzcumber tasted of frogskin and rotten fish.  The BFG said it tasted like cockroaches and slime wanglers.  What do you think?  That is enough to bait mad chefs into giving the recipe (basically tuna-stuffed cucumbers) a try.   The grosser sounding the dish, the better.  Don’t think so?  Take out a carton of sour milk, comment on how badly it reeks and see if any kid can resist having a sniff for himself.  Gross is irresistible.

To be honest, the actual recipes often sound worse than the titles as they call for heaping amounts of butter and not very enticing ingredients like white bread, celery, cod, corn syrup and chicken bouillon cubes.  Blech.  That said, the recipe I would want to try with a group of kids is for Lickable Wallpaper (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  You’ve got eight hours of wait time in the middle of the directions (“Is it ready yet?  How ‘bout now?  What about now?”), but who wouldn’t want to feast on edible wallpaper?

Dahl’s regular illustrator, Quentin Blake, helps strengthen the visual connection between the classic novels and this collection.  Still, I would have liked to have seen a specific book quote referencing each recipe title or a short explanation connecting recipe to novel.  In doing so, the young cooks would want to return to the original source of such Dahl-icious creations as Candy-Coated Pencils for Sucking in Class and Wormy Spaghetti.  Anything that returns young readers to the zany, imaginative world of Roald Dahl is worth celebrating.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


By Jackie Urbanovic

(Harper Collins, 2008)

This is part of a week-long focus on feeding minds and stomachs, a celebration of children’s cookbooks and picture books that fixate on food.

I have to be honest.  I didn’t judge this book by the cover; I judged it by the title.  Duck Soup.  The term has special meaning to me.  No, I don’t salivate over visions of mallard bits bubbling in a pot of broth.  (I am a vegetarian.)  And, no, I didn’t realize until I was an adult that “Duck Soup” was the name of a movie by the Marx Brothers.  Instead, the title makes me think of my grandfather, a charismatic gentle giant who wasn’t so much a storyteller as a phrase felon.  He could take any expression, give it entirely new meaning—often something in the realm of absurdity—and make you believe these phrases were Grampy Originals.

Down the cellar behind the haxe
A fisherman from Stoney Creek
Grab a wing, asta
Duck soup

Yep, duck soup.  If you’d loaded up the oars, the life preservers and towels in the rowboat, duck soup.  If you’d cleared forty buckets of rocks to create a sandy path to wade into the river, duck soup.  Used your bread crusts to soak up every ort on your dinner plate?  Duck soup. 

Duck soup meant it was all good.  Forget excellent, awesome or groovy.  Duck soup was my praise of choice, particularly when accompanied by my grandfather’s goofy grin.

When I browsed a bookstore in the Vancouver airport terminal and eyed the title of Jackie Urbanovic’s book, I giggled like a child while a allowing a rogue tear to roll down my cheek.  I miss hearing that expression, seeing that grin.  I hugged the book as I carried it to the register for purchase.  No matter what the contents, the book would be a personal treasure.

Fortunately, the story is the kind of silly tale that my grandfather would have delighted in reading any young visitor at our family cottage.  Maxwell Duck loves to cook.  Seems soup’s his thing.  He’s served up all sorts—Fish Soup with Curry and Pickled Lemon anyone?—to the displeasure of his furry friends.  Max is done with following recipes.  He wants to concoct a recipe of his own.

I can’t relate to cooking demonstrations on The Food Network—all those prepped bowls of minced this, chopped that, ready to toss in a pot or pan, no trail of mess to wipe/scrub/toss.  By contrast, Maxwell Duck is a chef I can identify with,...even if my beak is a tad smaller.  As he loads the pot with veggies, stains splatter the stove, the counters and even the cook himself.  I approve.  (As my grandfather would say, “Now you’re cooking with the gas.”)

When Max tastes his creation (“SLURP, SLURP, SIP”), he decides it is missing a certain something so he waddles off to the herb garden in the back yard.  At that same moment, his friends Brody (the dog), Dakota (the cat) and Bebe (the bird), march through the front door and call out for Max.  No answer.  They see a simmering pot of soup and panic.  (Refer once again to the title of the book.)  I won’t reveal what happens next, but in the end the dinner consists of takeout pizza, not soup.  Yep, I can relate to that, too.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see Emeril, Rachel Ray or Jamie Oliver ending an episode chewing on a slice from Pizza Hut instead of oohing and aahing over a tastefully garnished entree served on a perfectly colored serving plate?  How odd that a picture book with a culinary duck is more realistic than a cooking show.

It seems that Duck Soup, whether the book or my grandfather’s expression, isn’t so goofy after all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


By Mollie Katzen and Ann Henderson

(Tricycle Press, 1994)

This is part of a week-long focus on feeding minds and stomachs, a celebration of children’s cookbooks and picture books that fixate on food.

I’ll cut (or dice) to the chase:  I love this book!  When I became a vegetarian, the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen was a must-buy.  Here Mollie collaborates with her children’s preschool teacher, Ann Henderson, offering a recipe collection tested and tasted by youngsters. 

In her introduction (“Greeting”), Mollie—I’m sorry, I just think of the author on a first name basis—makes a couple of key statements. 

First, children develop an interest in cooking at an early age.  Typically, however, this interest is only nurtured through play involving Play Dough, mud and slightly discolored plastic vegetables.  Yes, I’ve pretended to eat many a delicious plastic or sand-packed meal as delighted kindergarten chefs watch my every “bite”.

Second, even when children get to participate hands-on with food preparation, their role is minimal.  I recall “helping” my mother make cake or pudding.  This consisted of a minute or two of stirring and then licking the mixers and finger scooping the chocolaty ooze which clung to the bowl.  This book invites children to be more involved in preparing food.  Mollie dreams:  “Grownups would be helpers, instead of the other way around.” 

She later provides a thoughtful comment to help adults determine when it is best to use this book.  “As adults, we often cook to eat, but for children the main event is the process of cooking—not the product.  So cook when you are relaxed and have time to really enjoy your child and yourself....These best if you don’t try to make them...when your household might be hectic.”  Such advice increases the likelihood of a positive shared experience, one that further nourishes a child’s interest in cooking.  Much more is quotable in the opening pages, every sentence packed with realistic wisdom that comes from many adult-child cooking experiences.

Each recipe accounts for four pages in the book.  The first two pages provide the information in traditional format, listing the needed kitchen tools, providing safety reminders and offering amusing quotes from the young cooks/tasters (e.g., Noah notes, “I also like cinnamon on broccoli.”)  The third and fourth page lay out the recipe in a series of simply drawn picture steps for kids to follow.  The pictures show the essence of each step but will require some elaboration from an adult.  Still, when I first perused the recipes while fatigued on a ferry ride home after work, I stopped reading the recipes and simply “read” the pictures.  Made me hungry and gave me ideas for quick late night dinners or snacks.

A recipe highlight is Number Salad (with ten steps that practice counting, beginning with “1 handful coconut”, “2 tablespoons O.J. concentrate” and finishing with “8 grapes, stir 9 times”.  The tenth step simply says “EAT”.  Kids will also want to make Green Spaghetti, a fun way to refer to pasta with pesto sauce.  The title recipe involves mixing fruit in orange juice and yogurt, creating a “soup” that doesn’t need to be heated.  Personally, I want to make Noodle Pudding, which the authors describe as “[b]asically an unbaked noodle kugel.”

While there is no meat in the recipes, the authors avoid the use of the word vegetarian.  This is not a book aimed at steering children away from meat.  It is simply a collection of fun, easy, healthy recipes that children will want to prepare and maybe even eat.  Pretend Soup is all about active reading with tasty rewards providing an exciting payoff!

Monday, June 18, 2012


Illustrated by Gloria Kamen

(Golden Press, 1965)

This is the first of a week-long focus on an oft-overlooked nonfiction category, cookbooks for children.

Aside from a couple of series (i.e., Thornton W. Burgess’s animal adventure books and Encyclopedia Brown mysteries), fiction wasn’t my thing when I was a kid.  I wouldn’t say I was a big on nonfiction, but it was my preference by default.  I frequently browsed through my Britannica Junior and Disney’s Wonderful World of Knowledge encyclopedia sets, I memorized facts on my hockey cards and I regularly consulted our two daily newspaper subscriptions, expanding my must-skim sections over time.  And then there was one other pivotal book from my childhood, the spiral-bound Betty Crocker’s NEW Boys and Girls Cookbook.  (Curiously, there is a space separating cook and book on the cover, but not on the title page.  One would think a copy editor would have caught the inconsistency.)

This 1965 book follows the highly successful first children’s cookbook, published in 1957.  One of the selling points for both books was that all the recipes had been tested and regarded favorably by children who served as “test-helpers”.  Considering the time period, it is remarkable that nine of the twenty-five children are boys.  (After all, a few years later in junior high, I would be gender-tracked, suffering through all-boys Woodworking while the girls studied Home Ec.)  Truer to the times, all the children, based on their sketched portraits, are white with typical English names like John, Joan, Ricky and Chris.  As well, there is no cultural diversity in the recipe list:  no hummus, no Greek salad, not even nachos.  This is a book that considers iceberg lettuce, hotdog wieners and fruit cocktail as staples.

The opening section, “What Every Cook Should Know”, contains some must-read retro advice on staging a meal.  Under the heading “Setting the Table”, Betty states that family meals should “[a]lways have a centerpiece—garden flowers, fruit, a little pot of ivy from the window sill, or a figurine from the cupboard shelf.”  (TO DO this weekend:  Scour through garage sale heaps in search of figurines for my cupboard shelf.  (PLAN B:  Bring in one of my beloved garden gnomes.))  Betty schools the reader on good manners, with tidbits like “Wait to begin eating until Mother is seated and all the family has been served” and “Wait until everyone has finished before you ask to be excused from the table.  When you are, tell Mother ‘Thank you.’”  In our home, Betty would have been proud.  With nostalgic sadness, I read “Fun at Dinnertime” where Betty reminds us of the lost art of communication over family dinners: 

Dinner is the sociable meal of the day when all the family gathers

around the table together, and everyone tells what happened at

school, at work, and at play.

Betty adds, “Talk about happy subjects” and suggests a conversation game called “Table Topics”.  Yes, let’s have families talk, but let’s not have it get too real.

As a boy, I salivated over the recipe for Polka-dotted Macaroni and Cheese (the dots are sliced frankfurters liberally tossed on a casserole dish of macaroni topped with “cheddar cheese soup”—is there such a food item anymore?).   Even then, however, Meat Loaf à la Mode was an instant reject.  No way a scoop of mashed potatoes suffices as a fill-in for ice cream!  And speaking of turnoffs, the Italian Pizza, consisting of no spices and chopped onion as the only veggie, risked steering a generation of youngsters away from the World’s Greatest Food.  The unappetizingly drab photograph did not help.  These were the days before anyone dreamed up “food stylist” as an occupation.  (Test-helper Mary Sarah shares the thinking of the time in the beginning of the book, “Mother showed me how to cut parsley and put it on top of soup.  It looked pretty there.”) 

I recall following the chocolate chip cookie recipe to provide a surprise treat for my parents after they left me unsupervised for a few hours as a nine year old.  (There was so little to fear back then.  No AMBER ALERTS, no internet reports of children abducted and entrapped in far off Belgium.  All hysteria was reserved for testing whether laundry detergent could remove grass stains from little boys’ jeans.)  Back to my cookie recipe,...the ingredient “½ teaspoon soda” perplexed me.  Soda?  Coke or Pepsi?  In cookie dough?!  I skipped that part and presented my parents with baked goods guaranteed to knock out a few teeth.  Lesson learned and emergency dental visit miraculously averted.

I think I stared at the ice cream sundae pages the most.  If only my parents stocked our freezer with something other than no-name Neapolitan.  “Special Occasions” represented the second most flipped to section.  In addition to festively decorated desserts for Halloween and Christmas, Betty provided handy notes for a “Big Top” Party, complete with directions for place card balloons, Popcorn Ball Clowns and a heavily candied Circus Parade Cake.  I never tried to carry out a circus party—too much work—but I imagined becoming everyone’s best friend if only my mom would do it all. 

I tried very few of the recipes, but gazing at and reading about recipes that Betty believed I could handle proved infinitely more entertaining than cracking open good-for-you Newbery Medal novels or yet another Hardy Boys book my grandparents bought for my birthday.  Betty Crocker’s Boys and Girls Cookbook established a habit I still follow today.  Now a vegetarian, I regularly purchase cookbooks and foodie magazines, thumbing through the pages, gazing at the photos, visualizing the steps for particularly enticing recipes and then relegating the reading material to a kitchen cupboard stuffed with unrealized dreams.  I can read about Mars and never go there; same with oven adventures involving concoctions admittedly several notches more enticing than Butter Sticks and Fruit Basket Upset.  To this day, soup from a can seems so much more sensible.

Friday, June 15, 2012


By Charles Fuge

(Sterling Publishing, 2003)

I remember the recess banter, Marvin’s father being the token in a game of one-upmanship.  “My dad almost played hockey in the NHL.” 

Someone would have to top that.  Usually Joey Biagoni.  “Oh yeah?  Well my dad knows how to change a tire.  On a semi!”  No one ever questioned the hierarchy.  It was a given that if you dared butt in to brag about your father, the new revelation topped the last on. 

Until someone’s truth was too stretched to be accepted.  Usually it was Jimmy Hardy.  “Oh yeah?  Well my dad swam across Lake Ontario and had to have his leg sewn back on after a shark bit it off.” 

A fight would ensue—this was about the honor of fathers after all—and Jimmy, Joey and Marvin would spend a week of recesses standing against the wall, glaring at the rest of us who couldn’t put a wicked spin on fatherly feats like burger flipping or take the garbage out.

Boys love to boast about their dads.  Writer/Illustrator Charles Fuge would have us believe that bear cubs share this tradition.  The story begins with a cub telling his four pals, “My dad is the roughest, toughest, biggest, strongest dad in the whole jungle.”  As the group follows the braggart through the jungle, he goes on to compare his father’s strengths with those of elephants, alligators and lions.  One by one, the followers flee, the talk too frightful.  Suddenly all alone, the little bear is no longer so brave.  He is, of course, rescued by a certain someone, allowing the perfect opportunity for a bear hug.

I stumbled upon this little book in a preschool.  (Anytime there is a collection of books for kids, I can’t help but browse.)  The illustrations are worth a second look to see how the boastful bear loses all his bravado when the other cubs abandon him.  The back cover picture of father and son is then even more endearing.  My Dad!  is a quick read to open up discussion about favorite animals, important connections to family and the needlessness of being boastful.  There is nothing greater than a parent’s love.  Parents don’t need to become superheroes to be pretty super.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


I have now posted my thoughts on 100 books I think are worth reading.  More posts are on the way.  However, I am pausing to look back on my recommendations and to follow a pervasive trend that exists in society:  encapsulating ideas in a numbered list (e.g., Letterman’s Top 10, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, my neighbor’s Top 3 reasons for cranking up the pressure washer the moment I choose to have a Saturday afternoon nap). 

Herein, is my Top 10 list, an encore trumpeting of some outstanding books I have previously reviewed.  Initially, I felt a Top 3 would suffice, but that left out too much.  A list of ten proved difficult as well.  My draft list included nineteen titles and I felt guilty about the runners up that would have proudly appeared in a Top 30 or Top 70.  I am, after all, the type of person whose favorite book may vary depending on my mood, the amount of Vancouver rain during the week or what I’ve read most recently to an engaged audience.

Perhaps because the process proved so challenging, I have included links to other books I have recommended that I connect for one reason or another to The Chosen Ones.  I can’t imagine anyone having read all my posts, so this provides another opportunity to read my thoughts about books I strongly believe are worth sharing with boys...and girls.  I encourage you to go back and peruse the original posts.  Just click on the title to read my initial thoughts.  The blurbs below are written based on my lingering impressions of each book.

Trumpets ready?  French horns?  Oh, let’s shake things up and throw in a ukulele and a couple of kitchen pots and ladles.  Drum roll, please...

Number 10:       

By Jean-Luc Fromental and Joëlle Jolivet
(Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2006)

Love the fact the book is oversized.  Love the odd color palette.  The book has an environmental message and contains all sorts of math that kids will enjoy spotting.  Forget the counting from 1 to 10 books.  Fromental and Jolivet go much bigger!  More than anything though, this is a silly story about always lovable penguins (at least, when they come in manageable groupings).

Other math-themed recommendations:  A MillionDots, Tale of a Great White Fish.


Number 9:         

Written by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by James Croft  
(Candlewick Press, 2003)

Here’s a book that presents nonfiction in a fun way. Sure, the topic is a perennial favorite, but Davies helps debunk the popular misrepresentation that all sharks are enormous beasts intent on terrorizing humans while an ominous score plays in the background. It’s been a hit every time I’ve read it to groups of kids. Give them the facts and make it fun. Davies has done just that.


Number 8:         

By Mélanie Watt

(Kids Can Press, 2006)

For some, safety trumps adventure.  Scaredy Squirrel loves his routines, set in his familiar tree.  Danger lurks in the great beyond:  poison ivy, killer bees, green Martians and savage sharks (Note to Scaredy:  read book pick #7.).  Elaborate emergency plans must be made in case the dangers ever become a reality.  Poor Scaredy soon discovers, however, that sometimes you just can’t plan for the unexpected.  This book is guaranteed to amuse!

Number 7:          

By Peter H. Reynolds

(Candlewick Press, 2003)

I can view the book literally as encouragement toward my woeful abilities as a visual artist, but this book has a broader application.  It prods all of us to go ahead and try things, to be acknowledged and to set our own standards instead of comparing ourselves to others.  This book is truly inspirational.  Every time I have read it, the audience spontaneously applauds the message.

Other books that celebrate art:  The Art Fraud Detective, Augustine.

Number 6:         

Written by Cary Fagan

Illustrations by Nicolas Debon

(Tundra Books, 2008)

This book is great fun to read aloud.  Fagan packs the picture book with a broad range of characters, allowing readers to create so many different voices to represent the crazed salesman, the nostalgic old lady and the nervous suitor who tries to garner the courage to blurt a marriage proposal.  More than anything, however, this is the story of an odd looking toy, unceremoniously rejected by a spoiled boy named Archibald Crimp, and Thing-Thing’s hopes that someone will accept and love him.  The illustrations and the toy’s floor-by-floor observations at the Excelsior Hotel make this story completely fresh and wholly memorable.
Other heartwarming books I recommend:  Big Wolf & Little Wolf, A Visitor for Bear, Otis, Toy Boat.

Number 5:         

By Oliver Jeffers  
(Harper Collins, 2006)

If only it could work.  Get smart by eating books!  Feast on stacks of books—Mmm!  Found a red one!—and obliterate the competition on lucrative quiz shows!  Become brainier than your teacher!  (Kids typically gasp and say, “That’s impossible!”)  Of course, Henry’s book-eating ways go terribly wrong.  The tale captivates young readers and underscores the value of books.  Digesting facts just might not be such a literal endeavor.  The title lets us know this will be a goofy read.  Indeed, it is.  I am so thankful that we can be entertained by the zany mind of Oliver Jeffers!

Number 4:           

By David Wiesner

(Clarion Books, 2006)

An old camera washes up on the shore.  Whose is it?  This is an opportunity to discover so much more than a mere message in a bottle.  Here is a wordless picture book that can take an hour or more to “read”.  It reminds children of the importance of attending to pictures.  Wiesner is another creator with a truly unique mind.  I am in absolute awe of this masterpiece collection.  It is candy for the eyes.

Other wordless books I’ve recommended:  Why, Ship Ahoy!,  Imagine a Place (okay, it has words, but I prefer to pass my time gazing at the pictures).

Number 3:         

By Elisha Cooper  
(Greenwillow Books, 1999)

I would never have thought that such a plainly named book about erecting a building would  be so brilliant in terms of text, illustrations and layout.  With each reading, something different stands out in Cooper’s portrayal of the people and the process of building a structure on a vacant lot. 

More recommended books about how things are made:  If I Built a Car, Transformed, Angelo.

Number 2:         

By Peter Holwitz

(Philomel Books, 2005)

I see so many ways to use this book in working with students, but more than anything, this book is pure entertainment.  For me, it is a treasure that I only discovered by browsing the bookshelves in a library.  As transformed in the story, Scribbleville is the kind of enlightened place where I’d love to live.  And how true that the first people to show acceptance are the children...and a teacher.  You must track down this title!

Number 1:         

Written by Zetta Elliott                 

Illustrated by Shadra Strickland

(Lee and Low Books, 2008)

I love dining on green eggs and (veggie) ham, imagining where the wild things are and fretting over a bus-driving pigeon, but Bird is a picture book that shows us how deep picture books can go, addressing complex subject matter like drug addiction, death and dreams.  The book shatters stereotypes and assumptions we make about drug users and reminds us that some who possess a core of goodness may still go astray.  Strickland’s illustrations are exquisite and Elliott’s story will linger with you.  If I could only keep one book (and thank goodness I am not faced with such a ludicrous predicament), this would be it.  Thank you, Shadra.  Thank you, Zetta.
If you like this, you might also be interested in these books about social issues: Way Home, Riding the Tiger, The Boy from the Sun and Shin-Chi’s Canoe.