New review: Tweak Tweak

February 1, 2012

Ok, yeah, I’ll admit it: I sort of thought Tweak Tweak was going to be treacly awfulness. An elephant baby tweaks her mom’s tail when she has a question. Yawn. But I was wrong! It’s cute, yes, but also silly and fun. And definitely something certain 3-year-olds I know wanted read aloud a thousand times.

Hear my review on the Brain Burps About Books podcast today, where Katie interviews the other faculty members of the Highlights workshop. You can see more about the podcast episode here, or click here to listen or download directly. Enjoy!


Recommendation: Barefoot Books Podcast

November 14, 2011

This is sort of a Children’s Book of the Week post. It’s high time I recommended the Barefoot Books podcast on here, because it’s such a lifesaver for us. You probably know the publisher Barefoot Books — they do a lot of folk tales and fairy tales, all very good. Well, they have a podcast (mostly weekly) that is essentially audio book readings of these stories.

What this means for you (or, well, for me) is that you can download lots and lots of stories and have them ready to play in the car (assuming you can figure out how to get the iPod to play over your car speakers). They’re free, and they’re good.

I honestly recommend them to someone about once every three days; sorry for spacing out and forgetting to recommend them to you.

You can listen to them right on the podcast website, or you can find them in iTunes and download all the stories there.


Children’s Book of the Week: The Sign of the Beaver

September 20, 2011

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

“This looks like a terrible book. This looks like the worst book in the world.” That’s what Eli said when I told him we were reading The Sign of the Beaver as our homeschool reading book* (which is a book I read in the morning, when we’re a bit more alert and can handle more challenging books than we might pick for bedtime chapter books). This is what Eli said after I read the first three pages: “Hey, actually, I kind of love this! This book is actually really great!”

And it is! I had read and loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond (also by Elizabeth George Speare) (and thank you, Emily, for the recommendation), but hadn’t read this. True, it’s frighteningly similar to Cabin on Trouble Creek but it’s, um (sorry, Jean Van Leeuwen, sorry) much better. In this story, Matt is left alone in the family’s new cabin while his father goes to get the rest of the family. He does a pretty good job of surviving, but does run into trouble, and is totally bailed out by the local Indians. The Indian chief ends up forcing his grandson, Attean, onto Matt, hoping Matt can teach Attean how to speak and read English. What starts as a fairly horrifying activity, as Attean is angry and taciturn, ends up, slowly, over time, growing into this amazing understanding and friendship. The months go by, and Matt’s family is very, very late, and the Indians come to him and say they’re going to leave, to go on a big moose hunt, and then they’re going to go farther west, since it’s time to get away from all the new white man settlements. They invite Matt to come with them, since he is like a brother to Attean, and they’re a bit worried about how he’ll survive the winter alone. And they say, as nicely as possible, “It doesn’t really seem like your family’s going to come.”

We had a long, long discussion about what we would do before we finished the book to see what Matt’s decision was. I was as excited to read this every morning as the kids were. I can’t wait to see what they think of The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

*In Eli’s defense, our copy of the book doesn’t have the cool giant bear shadow graphic you see, here, but has the 80’s-era let’s-make-Matt-and-Attean-look-like-they-could-be-on-the-cover-of-Tiger-Beat cover.


Children’s Book of the Week: Invisible Inkling

September 7, 2011

Invisible Inkling by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Harry Bliss

As someone with four kids between 1 and 8, it’s really, really hard to find a bedtime chapter book that pleases everyone. There really aren’t that many books out there that are simple enough to be understood by all, but complex and interesting enough so that when Dave reads it he doesn’t start sighing meaningfully in my direction. There should probably be pictures. There shouldn’t be a love interest. Funny books are a plus, but adventure works too.

Dick King-Smith has fit this pretty well for us, but honestly, I don’t love all his books. Beverly Cleary works, of course. (I’m just coming up with some other books, right now, in case others are also in this predicament.)  We recently read and LOVED Invisible Inkling. It’s perfect for our bedtime reading problem: exciting, funny, unpredictable, and with great illustrations (Harry Bliss!).

Hank (who refers to himself by his last name, Wolowitz — so you already know it’s funny) finds an invisible animal called a bandapat. The bandapat, Inkling, comes along just as Wolowitz is missing his best friend who moved away, and also as Wolowitz is dealing with an awful bully. Inkling helps him because Wolowitz saved him from a marauding French bulldog named Rootbeer. In the world of bandapats, Inkling must stick around to repay the debt, the Hetsnickle. This should all be enough for you. Wolowitz + Rootbeer + bandapat + Hetsnickle = Fun! Really. It could have no plot at all and I’d be tempted to read a book that revolved around those four words.

The other great thing about Invisible Inkling is the treatment of the bully situation. The grownups in Wolowitz’s life keep trying to tell him that he should empathize with his bully, he should be peaceful toward his bully, he should understand his bully’s problems, he should be friends with his bully. Inkling tells him to bite the bully on the ankle. Guess who’s right? Inkling. Sometimes you’ve just got to bite your bully on the ankle.


Children’s Book of the Week: I Need My Monster

March 28, 2011

I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll, illustrated by Howard McWilliam

Zuzu hasn’t been this obsessed with a book since Sixteen Cows. I read I Need My Monster at least once a day right now. It’s a nice twist on the monster-under-the-bed classic: a boy discovers that his monster has gone fishing for a week, and calls in a series of replacement monsters. The idea is that the boy needs a scary monster under his bed to keep him from getting out of bed. He can’t fall asleep without one. The replacement monsters are ok, but they’re not his usual monster, and the boy is beside himself with worry, wondering how he’ll manage a week without Gabe (yes, his monster is named Gabe). Then — phew! — Gabe comes back, and all is well. The replacement monsters are all pretty hilarious, and there’s something sweet and compelling about a boy being comforted by his own personal scary monster, and about a monster being comforted by a boy who’s a challenge to scare.


Children’s Book of the Week: The Hiccupotamus

February 21, 2011

The Hiccupotamus by Aaron Zenz

Let’s just jump right in to this one. Here’s how it starts: “There was a hippopotamus/Who hiccuped quite-a-lotamus/And every time he got’emus/He’d fall upon his bottomus.” Now, you are either thinking this sounds like the most annoying book ever, or, like me, you’re thinking, “Why hasn’t this been done before?” And I mean that in a good way. We love this super silly, very rhymey, easily memorizable hiccup story. And why on earth has there never been another children’s book that rhymes “rhinoceros” with “minty dental flosserous”? It seems so obvious. But I never have seen it before, nor any of the other ridiculous and straightforward rhymes in here. Henry has taken to breaking into random stanzas from this book whenever he pleases, and we are all getting great joy from pretending Ramona is Hip Hop Rapper Baby, rapping out this entire book (which makes me think of the Flight of the Conchords’ Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros every time we do it).

There is a kind of odd thing at the end where the author pretends that, I don’t know, the whole book is a movie or something, and gives bios for all the “actors” who play the various parts in the book. It strikes me a little as, “see, I can be funny in more than one way!” and it doesn’t really go with the rest of the book. But we have just been ignoring that part, and enjoying the hiccup part.


Children’s Book of the Week: Five Minutes’ Peace

February 7, 2011

Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy

This is one of those rare books that totally understands the trials of both children and parents, humorously appeals to those purported difficulties, and makes everyone feel happy and jolly and like they’ve been heard. Mrs. Large (an elephant) tries to sneak off to the bath so she can get away from her adorable, meddlesome children. They, of course, want to know what she’s doing, and follow her right up the stairs. Mrs. Large tells them to go back downstairs, that she only wants “Five minutes’ peace from you lot.” They give her all of one minutes’ peace and then descend on her and know how to push all her buttons (the older boy, Lester, wants to play a tune for her on his recorder, and points out that he’s been practicing, like “you told me to!”).

They all end up climbing into the bathtub with her, which makes her get out, and try to escape to the kitchen (which is a mess, due to the children’s sloppy eating habits, which is what she was trying to escape from in the first place). She gets “three minutes and forty-five seconds of peace before they all come and find her.”

My Aunt Sandra sent us this book last summer, and we really read it all the time. I read it and feel glad that I’m not the only one who wants to escape from my children and just be all by myself for a while, and the kids feel like they’re not the only children who can’t understand why on earth their parents would ever want to leave the room that they’re in. Oh! And the best part of this book is that it comes with a CD, which my children might like listening to even more than hearing me read it, so I actually get five minutes’ peace thanks to this book.

I’m looking forward to other Large Family books based on my life, like maybe Mrs. Large Tries to Get Winter Gear on Her Children and Get Out the Door in Under an Hour or perhaps  Mrs. Large Explains to Her Screaming Child that Show and Tell Objects are Not Her Responsibility, and it is Not Actually Her Fault that It Was Left Behind by the Back Door.


Children’s Book of the Week: Petit, the Monster

January 27, 2011

Petit, the Monster by Isol

This is a very simple book based on what has probably been an issue since cave people were trying to figure out what makes children such nutty little beings: sometimes kids are angels, and sometimes they are not. They are, sometimes, as you can guess from the title, monsters. This is a theme we’ve explored before, in books like Edwardo, The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World and Jeremy Draws a Monster and even, to a certain extent, Jumpy Jack and Googily. Apparently we need to keep being reminded that Kids Can Be Monsters, and That’s Ok.

We’re introduced to Petit and all his conundrums (“Petit can be very nice to Grandfather Paco/and very mean to pigeons”). And then his mother brings this duality to his attention (“How can such a  good boy sometimes do such bad things?”). Petit chews on this dilemma for a bit, thinking about what he does well, and what he doesn’t do well, and other children who are not so nice, and how sometimes he likes them, even if they’re mean. He finally says to his mom, “I must be some kind of good-bad boy, maybe. There’s no other explanation.” Which yes, of course, it’s true, and so good for Petit to verbalize it, and especially good for the surely good-bad kid(s) sitting in my lap to hear. And then it ends hilariously: “‘Mother is good because she understands, and bad when she sends me to bed without dessert. Could it be that it runs in the family?”‘

I’m going to ignore the fact that Eli’s most pressing question was, “Why is his name Petit?” and assume that they were all reassured to read yet another tale of a boy who had difficulty being good all the time.


Children’s Book of the Week: A Tale Dark and Grimm

January 22, 2011

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

I have now seen three reviews of this book that mentioned turning the last page, flipping the book over, and starting it again. I pretty much dismissed all that, but got it because the concept — a retelling of classic Grimm brother stories that weaves Hansel and Gretel into each one — sounded intriguing. Henry started reading it first, and it was one of those books that he just carried all over the house and read in corners and under tables and didn’t do anything else until he was done. Then I picked it up, and while it didn’t grab me wholesale quite the way it did Henry (or, well, maybe it’s more that I have to drive the car and make the dinner and don’t have a 7-year-old’s luxury of having my day’s agenda be: Read Book), I plowed through. But! While I was plowing through, Henry kept stealing it back. And then I finished it, and if I saw it lying on the couch, later, I couldn’t help picking it up to reread some of the juicy parts.

And it is pretty juicy. If by juicy you mean “with blood spurting everywhere.” It’s not gratuitous, and those Grimm brothers do tell a gory story, so it really just plays off that, but there is a lot of gruesome stuff in here. But it’s not scary. Not heart-pounding, I mean. It’s more alarming, and “oh no!” and, mostly, “what’s next?” I will say that you’ve got to know your kid on this one, and it totally wouldn’t work as a bedtime chapter book. But the whole thing was so exciting, and so deliciously grotesque, and it all wraps up in such a satisfying manner, that you really do have to go back and reread. A lot of the Grimm stories were unknown to me, but I love the way Gidwitz ties them all together, and the part where Hansel goes to Hell and fools the devil’s mother is worth the price of admission right there.


Children’s Book of the Week: Here Comes the Garbage Barge!

April 19, 2010

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

This is my Earth Day book pick. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it has really grown on me (it’s one of those books that has been helped rather than hurt by the fact that Eli wants it read to him every 20 minutes). It tells the true (albeit heartily embellished) story of over 3 tons of garbage from Islip, NY, that, in 1987, had no where to go. So some businessmen decided to toss it all on a garbage barge and tow it to North Carolina. Where it was rejected. And then it was towed all over the coast, all the way down to Belize, where it was turned back at every port, until it was finally towed back to New York, where it tooled around the harbor for the summer, until Islip was forced to take it back.

A huge part of this book’s appeal is in the illustrations, which are elaborate hand-built sets made of clay, fabric, and, well, various garbagey bits. But the kids also definitely get the point. They like the humor in the story, but they understand that there’s a reason not to just throw things out, because you’re just contributing to garbage-barge-incident kinds of problems. I appreciate that this gets an earth-friendly theme across without being all sanctimonious and obvious about it. Mostly it’s a fun story with great pictures, and then, at the end, you do think about where all that stuff you throw in the bin under the kitchen sink goes.


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