Ivy + Bean: 9 Books of Awesome

December 4, 2012

This post should have been written months ago. For months I’ve been thinking about how much I love Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, about how consistently hilarious all the books are, and about how Sophie Blackall could illustrate anything and I’d love it (she has taken this to heart and illustrated Craig’s List ads for us).

At the beginning of September I received a review copy of Ivy and Bean: Make the Rules, which is book 9 in the series. Here’s the deal: I was confusing this series with something else. I can’t figure out what I was thinking of, but for some reason I thought this was a series of insipid frothy “we hate boys” girlishness. I’M SORRY. I was completely wrong.

I gave the book to Zuzu. I said, “Here, you’ll like this,” because she’s going through a phase where she picks way-out-of-her-age-range chapter books at the library, based solely on girls and sparkles on the cover, and then carries them around possessively and pretends to read them.

She wanted me to read her this one. This was when I couldn’t really walk, so I figured I might as well read it, since I was stuck on the couch anyway.

Ivy and Bean Make the Rules starts off with Bean’s older sister Nancy getting ready to go to Girl Power 4-Ever Camp, which, of course, totally cemented my wrong preconceived notion that this was a book about lip gloss and how much fun it is.

But then. Well. Something happened. The book started to get funny. Really funny. Then my boys came home from school, and we all squished onto the couch and read the whole darn book, stopping occasionally to laugh really, really hard. See, what happens is, Ivy and Bean make their own camp, Camp Flaming Arrow, which is loosely based on the informational sheet about Girl Power 4-Ever Camp that Bean’s mom pulled out of her purse, and by the time we got to the chapter where they practice first aid, and one of their campers, being a doctor, says, “One-twelve over five in the plexercarpaloo,” we were smitten. In love. We wanted way more Ivy and Bean.

And so, now, every time we go to the library I grab all of the available Ivy and Bean books like I’m getting the last Tickle Me Elmo on the day after Thanksgiving. And then we read them over and over.

And this morning, something happened that made me realize I just had to write this post already. Zuzu, Ramona, and I walked to our local bookstore to get gift certificates for teachers, and right after we went in, Zuzu started screaming, and she grabbed my arm and pulled me to the back of the store, pointed at the Ivy and Bean paper dolls, and said, screamingly, ‘I NEED TO HAVE THAT.” (And then I did a terrible thing: I bought them, and now won’t let her have them until Christmas.)

If something with book characters on it makes my kid SCREAM with excitement, like she’s seeing whatever boy band people are screaming about these days, well, then, I need to tell you about it.

One last word of book recommendation love from me: there need to be more series like this. I can’t think of any chapter book series besides Clementine and Ivy and Bean that thoroughly captivated all of my kids, from the 2-year-old to the 9-year-old. It’s not an easy thing to do. And Clementine and Ivy and Bean are amazing, amazing books. And luckily for us there are five Clementine books and nine Ivy and Beans, so just reading and rereading those should take us a while.

(There are other series like Invisible Inkling that the boys and I love so much, and I realize this is a RIDICULOUS thing I am asking for: a chapter book that will entertain humans from age 2 through adult. I just get all excited about the ones that do.)



Children’s Book of the Week: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

November 8, 2011

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Oh my god oh my god oh my god! This book has made me into such a teenager, gushing with emotion and completely inarticulate in wonder. And not, mind you, because it’s a teenybopper fantasy of any kind, but more because I’m such an unabashed book geek that reading a truly excellent story makes me weak in the knees. And so I say: Oh! My! God! Peter Nimble!

I started to read this book myself, and then literally had to pace the room trying to decide whether to keep reading it myself (because it was so good, I just had to keep reading) or to read it to the children as a bedtime book (because it was so good! but we were also in the middle of another – much more boring – bedtime book). In the end, I decided to do both. For the first time ever, I read ahead while simultaneously reading it as a bedtime chapter book. And it was so good that it was nothing if not an extreme pleasure to be starting over at the beginning before I even finished it the first time. There were actions earlier in the book that foreshadowed the events I was reading about on my own (and I had, of course, missed the foreshadowing the first time around). It certainly helped to make my reading-aloud more entertaining for the kids (at least I think it did).

Have I mentioned how good this book is? When I started reading it to the kids, I read the first two chapters and announced it was bedtime, only to be met with simultaneous howls of protest from all four kids (Ramona is either enjoying literary treasures well above grade level, or figured she had better join in to the sibling-led tantrum).

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is the story of the world’s greatest thief, a ten-year-old orphan boy named Peter Nimble, who steals a box containing three pairs of magical eyes, which lead him on an incredible adventure. He meets many amazing people and creatures, and the craziest and most lovable enchanted knight (the initial description of whom garnered shrieks and gasps and laughter from the kids – really).

Also my favorite birds, ravens, play a very large part in Peter Nimble, so it has that going for it also.

And I’ll tell you that, when we got to the denouement, Henry and Eli sat up in their beds and cheered, loudly, for what seemed like a really long time. They cheered like their team had scored the winning goal (um, in our world here “the hero in a book having a wonderfully surprising happy thing happen to him” is having our team score the winning goal).

Oh dear. And now I fear I’ve talked it up too much, and you all will be disappointed. Though I really don’t see how that’s possible. But maybe forget I said anything. Approach it as I did, not knowing much. Or, oooh! I know! Please go to Jonathan Auxier’s website, and play around with his author photo. That should convince you of his greatness.


Children’s Book of the Week: Cabin on Trouble Creek

February 14, 2011

Cabin on Trouble Creek by Jean Van Leeuwen

I have no idea how I stumbled upon this book…somewhere I saw a description of the plot and something about it being nonstop action (and since we’ve read a few too many no-action dreary books lately, it seemed worth a try). Daniel and Will go to Ohio with their Pa to find some land and build a cabin, and then Pa goes Back East to get the rest of the family and bring them to the cabin. Except…he doesn’t come back. So Daniel and Will are left alone, wondering, and trying to figure out how to survive, especially as winter begins to descend. One comment Eli had was, “I liked this book because there weren’t any bad people in it,” which is true. They saw wolves and bears, they had to figure out how to catch fish and rabbits, and how to make cups and bowls and mittens and snowshoes. They get some life-saving help from a Native American named Solomon, which also helps to positively influence their view of Native Americans (and of people in general). But there’s no evil villain, and it was kind of nice not to have a big meanie to worry about. The whole time I was feeling like I wished the Little House series was this fast-paced. It just seemed like so many of those books focused on, you know, sewing petticoats or reading in the candlelight or just dreary existence (I’m looking at you, Long Winter), and not enough on action.

I know there is a whole genre of books like Cabin on Trouble Creek (My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet, The Sign of the Beaver) but this was the first one we’ve read as a bedtime book, and we loved it (also, this one skews to a younger audience than those other ones do). I appreciated the opportunities to talk about perseverance and self-reliance in a realistic manner (i.e., not in the context of dragon fighting or fantasy, which seems to be the other genre our bedtime reading is heavy in). This is the most-discussed-afterward book I can remember in a long time — it helps that it’s currently winter, and there is 4 feet of snow outside, so we can say, “Hey, can you imagine if you were Daniel or Will and you had to figure out how to find food in this?”


Children’s Book of the Week: Paddle to the Sea

April 13, 2009

Paddle to the Sea by Holling Clancy Holling

Do you remember this book? Paddle to the Sea is seared onto my memory from childhood, mostly from watching the movie version of it in the Tenafly Public Library, probably in 1977 (Kate, were you with me?). So I was greatly pleased when the boys (all of them, Dave too) were as charmed by it as I was, way back when.

It’s the story of a wooden Indian in a canoe, that a Canadian Indian boy carves by hand and puts into the water, with the words “I am Paddle to the Sea, please put me back in the water” written on the bottom. The story follows Paddle’s adventures through the Great Lakes to the Saint Lawrence River and finally to the sea. Along the way, over several years, he sees a shipwreck and a great fire, goes over Niagara Falls, and his journey is almost completely stopped by various mishaps.

The best part is the book’s format. Each chapter is one page. On the page where the text is, there are small sketches related to that particular chapter — a map, a diagram of a sawmill, a history of Lake Superior. On the facing page is a large, lush, full-color painting of Paddle on his adventure. What a perfect format to keep young kids involved in the story. And at the end there’s a detailed map showing Paddle’s looping route on his way to the sea.

This is a great bedtime chapter book: Eli got all of it, and couldn’t wait to read the next night’s chapter, and Henry was putty in Paddle’s hands because of the maps. There’s a reason this is such a classic. There’s a wonderful thread of human goodness and of being true to your word and honoring someone’s dream, plus the whole thing is a nice geography lesson.