Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Great Spruce

Well, I've found a book after my own heart. It's a book about Christmas, family, traditions, and protecting the life and longevity of trees.

I just love trees. I like having lots of trees on our property and having our house shaded by them. I love their beauty and history. I love the way the sun catches the leaves, making them glow and sparkle. I love their beauty in the fall, and the sounds of crunching leaves under my feet. And I love to see and hear my kids climbing them -- just as I loved climbing them when I was little.

And I hate to see trees cut down. I know that there are many valid reasons for tree removal -- they might be dying or posing a danger to others if they are prone to breaking. I get it, but I still miss their beautiful presence.

So when my kids and I read The Great Spruce by John Duvall, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2016), I fell in love with it. I think you will, too.


The book begins with Alec and his love for climbing trees -- especially the great spruce. "It was the most magical of all the trees, tall and strong and spreading ever upward." Such lovely writing.

Alec's grandpa had planted the spruce long before Alec was born, and together they decorate it each winter with lights and tinsel.


Alec and his grandpa are not the only ones who love the tree: visitors arrive who ask if they can take the great spruce for the city's Christmas celebration. Alec is appalled that his tree would be gone forever, and he blocks the men from cutting it down. Instead, he convinces them to dig the tree up by its roots and borrow it!


And that's just what they do. They dig up the great spruce and it is transported to the city where it is enjoyed by thousands. One girl, in particular, loves the tree, so Alec gives her one of its cones, encouraging her to plant the seeds that are inside so that she might grow her own great spruce.


By spring, the spruce is replanted and is thriving at home, and Alec is still spending his days climbing its beautiful limbs.


Exquisite endpapers
The writing in this book is beautiful and lyrical, the story is sweet, the characters are selfless, and the spruce's legacy lives on. And the illustrations by Gibbon are so perfect for this story: they are colorful and detailed and convey, page by page, a world that is full of life, beauty and goodness.

Sigh. It's just such a wonderful and hope-filled story. And here's the best part: there's an author's note at the end of the book.


It tells of the history of the giant Christmas trees used for celebrations like those in New York -- how the trees used to be dug up and borrowed for the season, and were later replanted in their home. Because it is cheaper to just cut down a tree, though, this practice changed. Now, John Duvall devotes his work to gently removing trees for celebrations such as these and then returning them to the earth. I love that. To preserve these magnificent trees so that they can continue thriving is a beautiful thing, indeed.

I hope you get a chance to share this book with your little ones this season. It's a special one!

Happy reading,
~Jen

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Twelve Mice of Christmas

Happy Sunday and Happy Holidays!

I've been busily working and writing lately, because I wanted to have an entry to share for Susanna Hill's 6th Annual Holiday Writing Contest. The guidelines this year are to write a 300-word (or less) children's holiday story based on the structure or concept of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The story can be "poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate."

So...my attempt is below! (296 words) Thanks for stopping by and reading.


THE 12 MICE OF CHRISTMAS
by Jennifer Garthe

 

Within the snowy woodland,
12 mice were gently creeping.
Inside a cabin in the woods
Their friend Old Bear was sleeping.               


This time each year they loaded up
With gear for celebrating,
To bring the feel of Christmas
While their friend was hibernating.


The first mouse of Christmas
Placed a wreath with bow and berry
Upon the door to welcome guests
And make the house look merry.


The second mouse of Christmas
Set a stocking by the fire,
Followed by the third mouse
Bringing garland to admire.


While Bear snored on, the next four mice
Brought in the Christmas tree.
They placed it in a corner
Just where Bear would wake and see.


The eighth mouse of Christmas
Brought in strings of twinkle lights.
Soon the tree and garland glowed
With glints of frosted whites.

 
Mice 9 and 10 came in with
Shiny tinsel for the tree,
And ornaments of red and gold
That sparkled brilliantly.


The 11th mouse of Christmas
Brought sweet cocoa to the house.
He’d serve warm mugs to Bear
And then to each and every mouse.


The 12th mouse of Christmas
Brought their favorite treat of all:
His shiny wooden fiddle
To delight ears big and small.


The house was warm and ready.
The tree was glittery.
The mouse took up his fiddle
And began a melody.


The music stopped Bear’s snoring
And the mice knew he could hear it.
He slowly woke and saw
His house aglow with Christmas spirit!

 
They brought Old Bear his cocoa
And some slippers for his feet.
They listened to the music
In the room so snug and sweet.

 
“Thank you, friends,” he said
With mug in hand and raised to tell:
“Cheers to a happy Christmas
And to friends who love us well.”



Happy Holidays to you and yours -- and best wishes to those who submitted entries to the contest!

~Jen

UPDATE (12/19/2016): My entry won an honorable mention in the contest! While the story didn't qualify for the list of finalists, I'm happy to have gone through the process and to now have a manuscript that I can polish. Excited to stretch my writing muscles more in the coming months!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gateway Books

Yesterday, on my Instagram account, I posted about the latest bookish podcast that I adore. In episode #51 of Anne Bogel's What Should I Read Next, she talks with the creators and hosts of The Baby-sitters Club Club podcast.


How awesome is that?! A podcast devoted to the beloved series and gateway books for so many of us. And perhaps the best part? The hosts are two men in their thirties. 😂

If you grew up reading these books like I did, you are going to want to check out this podcast. Each episode is devoted to one of the books in the series, and they go in chronological order. The hosts, Jack and Tanner, take their discussion ever-so-seriously. It is a riot. For instance, they explore the question that has been plaguing us all: did the sitters need to take out a small-business loan to get their business up and running? Also, what is up with Stacy's suspicious behavior? Well, of course they can't discuss that until episode 3. :) The discussion is a hoot, completely tongue-in-cheek, and oh so nostalgic.

I adored these books. Adored. I saw myself in the characters and wanted to be like them (and write like them. Remember the diary entries?? I loved their handwriting!).


These were the gateway books in my life -- the books that got me constantly reading and wanting to read more. And I never stopped reading after I grew out of them.

I also remember the books that had me reading and running to the bookstore for new releases after I grew past the BSC -- Christopher Pike novels. Did you read his books? Not quite as silly as the Goosebumps books, but not nearly as sinister as Stephen King's work, Pike's teen thriller novels had me hooked!



There was death and murder and malice and suspense, and I loved the thrill of it all. I'm grateful that my parents let me read what interested me. I eventually moved out of my teen thriller phase onto other literature, but these gateway books opened doors to a lifetime of reading.

Take a trip down memory lane -- what were the gateway books in your life?

Happy reading,

Jen

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Hallo-weiner

It's OCTOBER!!!

Sing it: It's the most wonderful month... of the year!

It's truly my fave -- the crisp air, blue skies behind colorful trees, the crunch of leaves, pumpkins and of course Halloween!

Eons ago, my sister gifted me what has become one of our favorite picture books on our shelves. We read it throughout the year, but definitely most in October. If you love dachshunds, Halloween, puns, and an underdog story, then you will love The Hallo-weiner!

 
The Hallo-weiner, written by Dav Pilkey (of Captain Underpants fame), was published in 1995 (Blue Sky Press). The story opens with Oscar (who was "half-a-dog tall and one-and-a-half dogs long") going to obedience school. Unfortunately, Oscar was teased by the other dogs, and this upset him. That is, it usually upset him, but it was Halloween and he had excitement on his mind!
 
 
Upon returning home from school, though, Oscar's excitement is snuffed when his well-intentioned mother shows him the costume she got for him:
 
 
He's humiliated, but wears it anyway because he doesn't want to upset his mother. The night continues to unravel, though, as the other dogs in his group take all of the candy at each house, leaving nothing for poor Oscar. (And the puns delightfully abound here.) But then, something scary frightens the group as they are cutting through the cemetary on their way home from trick-or-treating. And because of Oscar's unique shape and size, he is able to save the day.
 
 
Besides being an entertaining read-aloud, this book shines with Dav Pilkey's art. Of course it is hysterical to see mother dogs in pearls kissing their pups and handing out Halloween candy. But the pictures and spreads are full of bright colors and interesting effects. On many pages, Pilkey shows an enormous full moon in the background with colorful swirls in the sky, and you can see the silhouettes of the dogs in their silly costumes. The details create a just-right spooky mood that leads to a heart-warming ending full of furry smiles.
 
 
I love that at over 20 years old, this book is not at all out-dated. The artwork, word count, and story are just as appealing to readers today. Truly, there is much to love about this howl-oween book, and I hope you can get your paws on it soon! (Aw, c'mon -- sometimes the puns just have to come out!)
 
Happy reading,
 
~Jen
 
 


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

5 Bookish Podcast Episodes of the Week

Podcasts: Oh, how I love you.

I used to be the type of person to always have the TV on for background noise or news. But now I've been more actively listening to podcasts, instead -- while doing the dishes, while mowing the grass, while walking or running, or while driving (though, really, I'm mostly blasting Toddler Radio on Pandora in the car). There are such a variety of podcasts out there, ranging from informational to humorous to inspirational, and I am sure there are gems that I don't know about!

For today, I'd like to share five recent podcast episodes that I haven't been able to get off my mind. All of these are available on iTunes or can even be accessed through the links provided. Check them out!

1. The Yarn -- George Unraveled with Alex Gino (episode #29)

The Yarn is a podcast on children's literature hosted by school librarian Travis Jonker and teacher Colby Sharp. In this episode, they talk with author Alex Gino about their middle grade novel George. In the book, George is viewed by everyone as a boy, but she knows she's a girl, and desperately wants to audition for the role of Charlotte in the school play, Charlotte's Web. Though the teacher won't allow it, George devises a way for everyone to see her for who she really is.

While I haven't had the chance to read this book yet, the discussion was moving. Gino says that when they began the book 10 or so years ago, they weren't sure how this topic would be received. But as our culture has evolved over the years and has become more open to having these conversations, Gino knew they had to get this story out there.

But while our culture is indeed more open to embracing trans people, there are still people very uncomfortable with the topic. Our own school district is introducing new health ed curriculum that will touch on topics of gender identity -- and this has been controversial. For me, I am proud of the new curriculum and hope our world continues to move in the direction of loving others for who they are. 

"I ask you to remember the young trans student,
alone and with fewer resources than you,
who needs to find themselves represented in literature."
~ Alex Gino

2. What Should I Read Next? -- The books we can't wait to read this fall (episode #41)

My very favorite independent bookstore in St. Louis is the Novel Neighbor. It is located in my old neighborhood of Webster Groves -- a charming, tree-lined municipality with two bustling town centers. The bookstore is charming, itself, filled with books and bookish gifts and an adorable children's nook. So I was thrilled to hear owner Holland Saltsman on this episode of Anne Bogel's What Should I Read Next!

Anne and Holland discuss the books they are excited to read this fall, from children's lit to YA to adult. There is lots of inspiration to be found here -- and lots of great titles to add to your "to read" list.

3. This American Life -- One Last Thing Before I Go (episode #597)

In this episode, two journalists tell two very moving stories of final words. In the first story, citizens in Japan who lost loved ones in the tsunami travel great distances to visit a phone booth -- a phone booth that is not wired, not connected -- to speak with those lost in the tragedy. The idea is that their words are carried on the wind, perhaps out to sea, to reach their loved ones.

In the second story, two estranged brothers in their 80s pay a visit to one another after 40-some years. Their bitterness tries to resurface, but new insight leads to a new perspective on past hurt.

Deeply moving.

4. All the Wonders -- Mac Barnett and Adam Rex (episode #287)

This author-illustrator pair is fuuuuuuuuny. I found myself chuckling many times as host Matthew Winner talked with them about their new book How This Book Was Made. They are smart and creative and I so enjoyed listening in to their process. And their words to the kids at Matthew's school at the end? Hilarious!

5. Stuff You Missed in History Class -- The Death of Poe

I recently discovered this podcast, and if you enjoy hearing stories from history or insights into significant moments that you've never heard, then you will want to check this one out.

This episode is perfect for our approaching Halloween season. Who doesn't love Poe? His creepy stories and poems are so unique and rich, and his life and death so mysterious. This episode sheds light on the life and death of this beloved icon of American literature.

* * *

Do you have any podcasts that you love and would recommend? Please leave a comment! I'm always searching for new stories. :)

~Jen

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Hungry Lion

There are so many wonderful books out there. Daily, I read about book birthdays or up-and-coming new releases, and I either immediately request them from my library or mentally file them away as "must reads."

But then sometimes life happens, and that mental file box malfunctions -- and I forget to get that desired book until months later. And that's what just happened with A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals.


I cannot believe we haven't read this book sooner! But I'm so glad we have it now. Released in March of this year (Atheneum), and written by art director/illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins, A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals is the story of a very hungry lion and a cast of additional animals. But wait -- the animals keep disappearing! What could be happening?! Well, readers (and little listeners) think they know -- but they don't know. This book has a twist -- and then another surprise -- and then another!


The surprising twists in the book serve to elicit different reactions from the reader. At once amused, you are then touched ("Awwww!"), and then you are horrified, and then you are laughing again! These twists make this book sooooo fun to read with kids.

Accompanying this fun story are Cummins' playful illustrations. That bold, hungry lion sits among an otherwise muted palette of characters who are smiling pleasantly. Each page turn brings a surprising detail -- missing animals, dancing bunnies, a mischievous grin on the lion's face.


Cummins' use of marker and gouache (just love those bold strokes in that lion's mane) -- paired with her unique narrative voice -- have created a book that is truly kid tested, mother approved. Add this one to our faves of 2016!

* * *

And you know my love for the All the Wonders resource of podcasts. Check out their episode with Lucy Ruth Cummins. I really enjoyed this one!

Happy reading,
~Jen

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Hannah and Sugar

As I mentioned in my previous post, there was one book this summer that was on repeat like no other -- being read time and time again, and being discussed even when we were away from it. And that book was Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016).


Plot: When Hannah gets off the school bus each day, Sugar is there, waiting for Violet P. As gentle as Sugar is, Hannah is nervous around her, and always keeps her distance. But when Sugar goes missing, Hannah joins in the search. She thinks about how scary it would be to be lost and, in one unexpected moment, she musters up some very real courage to bring about a happy ending.


I think there are two main reasons why this book has become such a favorite in our household: its simplicity and its art. The story's concept is relatable and compelling -- many kids are nervous around dogs, and pets sometimes go missing. Berube's moderate and purposeful word choice for telling the story makes it easy for very young children to understand, but the older ones get wrapped up in the conflict, as well. And its subtle messages of understanding adults, community support, and an act of bravery make this simple story quite powerful.

Couple all that wonderfulness with beautiful art, and this book is the whole package. With ink and paint, Berube has created sweet, relatable, beautiful, moving illustrations that add to the story's drama. As an adult, I enjoy the details and sweet scenes as much as my kids.


Hannah and Sugar is that special type of book that appeals to a great range of ages, and I love hearing my toddler flip through the pages and mimick reading the book based on clues from the art. It is a book that lends itself to repeat reading, and I imagine it will have success for years to come.

If you haven't had a chance to read this one yet, I hope you will do so soon! Happy reading!

~Jen


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Summer Review

Whew! Another summer has come and gone, and it was insanely busy. Good, but busy. My youngest is two now, and I had her with a sitter one day a week. This allowed me a little bit of a break and made it easier to take the older two to places that might not be so easy with a toddler, like movies. Though, really, we ended up at the pool most of those days. :) Some highlights in pics:



In terms of work, I didn't get much personal or professional writing done, which was at times discouraging. I didn't blog but once, and I didn't make much progress with writing. But we were all still reading, and I was absorbing kidlit info and inspiration through podcasts and Instagram posts.

My own Instagram feed got some love, and I posted today about our biggest obsession this past summer:



Now that the kids are back in school (even Vivy's in school two mornings a week!), I plan to focus more on writing. I'm going through the lessons in Pam Calvert's Picture Book University, and then I'm registered for a class taught by children's author Nancy Polette starting next month. I'm excited! Then, of course, in November comes Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo. I discovered her website juuuuuuust after PiBoIdMo ended last year, so I've been looking forward to participating in this year's community of inspiration for months now.


To summarize the summer in a bookish way:

Fave kidlit book read: Ms. Bixby's Last Day

Fave kidlit podcast: All the Wonders interview with Lin Oliver

Kidlit book read most in our house over the past three months: Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube


How was your summer? Did you read any amazing kid lit? Did you make any progress in your own writing ventures?

Happy reading,
~Jen

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Secret Tree Fort

Do you ever judge a book by its cover? I know I do -- literally! And that's what happened with the book I'm featuring today:


Secret Tree Fort, written and illustrated by Brianne Farley (Candlewick, 2016).

The cover and the compelling title of this one jumped out at me -- the green, the curious images in the tree, a bookish girl reading, and a secret -- first hearing it mentioned through posts and discussions, and finally beckoning from the library shelf.

But when I finally cracked the spine and read this with my kiddos -- it was truly magical. This book captures the allure of a tree house -- that enticing place that so many of us dreamt of or imagined -- or had, if we were lucky enough -- and takes it up a notch. Because this is no ordinary tree house.

In the book, two sisters are sent outside by their mother. The older sister brings her book and plunks down at the base of a tree to read (this would have totally been me!). The little sister wants to know what she's doing, and in an attempt to get her sister's attention and interaction, tells her that she has a secret tree fort.


But she does give her sister more clues, and we are along for the ride. This tree house can launch water balloons at attackers, has flags to communicate different messages, has a crow's nest to spy for pirates, and even has an underwater viewing area. Like I said: MAGICAL!


Will Littler Sister be able to get Big Sister's attention? You'll have to read it to find out!

Farley's illustrations are colorful and whimsical and inviting. The creatures and objects that become part of the tree house's story make you remember those childhood longings for adventure and that special hideout. Add to that Farley's ability to express the relatable emotions through the expressions of the main characters, and this book is so very delightful.

I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Giveaway!

Have you heard of the Midge and Moo series of picture books? Kerry McQuaide is the author and illustrator of six lovable and educational stories featuring Midge and her beloved stuffed animal, Moo. And through June 10, she is hosting a giveaway!


The books:

Midge and Moo are best friends. They came home from the hospital together when Midge was just two days old, and they do everything together. If Midge builds a tower, Moo knocks it down. If Midge tracks mud in the house, Moo gets the blame, too. They are always there for each other, and readers will find that Moo gives Midge the confidence she needs to explore, learn, and grow. I just love the sweet interactions between this little one and her lovie.


With colorful and playful illustrations on each spread, children will get a zoomed-in view of the relatable activities between Midge and Moo. The stories are short and sweet with just a few words per spread -- perfect for repeat reading with kiddos ages 0-5.

The author:

Kerry McQuaide grew up with parents and sisters who believed snuggling and laughing were a part of reading picture books. And now, she hopes to touch lives with her own stories of love, kindness, and friendship.


"When you read to kids, it is magical when you all laugh at the same part.
It is a wonderful way to slow down and bond. And kids are so funny,
they’ll ask the same questions over and over. “Is her mom mad at her?”
or “Why is she sad?” They are processing the world they see
reflected in the books and the human emotions they experience
in their own lives through theses stories."

The giveaway:

Through June 10, Kerry McQuaide is hosting a fun giveaway. You could win all of the Midge and Moo picture books, the brand new Midge and Moo Coloring Books, plus crayons of course (8 books total)!


I think this would be a fabulous way to build or enhance a library for your little one. Snuggle up and read the stories together, and then, the next day, revisit the themes through coloring together.

Enter here! (Scroll down just bit to enter.)

And if you don't win but would still like to enjoy the Midge and Moo books, they are available here.

Happy reading!

~Jen

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Humbling Story

Well, May has been a crazy month! The kids' last day of school was last Thursday, and there were all kinds of end-of-the-school-year festivities. My oldest graduated from elementary school, so now we'll have a middle schooler, first grader, and preschool kiddo. :)


I haven't been doing as much writing because of all this busyness. And being home with the kids all summer, I'm not sure how much progress I'll make. So I'm still soaking up what wisdom I can in hopes of putting pen to paper periodically over the summer and then in a more focused manner in August.

But something kind of funny and kind of embarrassing happened last week. Back in February, I had entered a 50-word poem into Vivian Kirkfield's 50 Precious Words contest (in honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday). I was pleased with my little poem and got some positive feedback. I titled it "Pair Skate," and one of the words I used was "swizzled." I was proud of the word choice, thinking I had come up with an original spin on the term "swizzles" used in ice dancing.

Well, last week, we finally checked out Tara Lazar's Little Red Gliding Hood.


The story is a sort of mash-up of a variety of fairy tales, with well-known characters and plot lines making an appearance throughout. The main premise is that Little Red needs to find a skating partner for the Pair Skate. And throughout the book, it talks about Little Red swizzling and twizzling.

Well, I was embarrassed. I mean, it was an honest mistake, but I had submitted a piece of writing that was extremely close in theme, content, and word choice to another well-known published piece. Humbling.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever accidentally copied someone and found out later? Is there any way to avoid this? If you are a creative in some way, shape, or form, I'd love to hear about any experience with this!


Check back tomorrow for a giveaway opportunity and I'll also spotlight a new picture book this week (hint: it involves a tree and a secret!).

~Jen



Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fetch! (These 5 Picture Books about Sticks)

Friendship. Loneliness. Family. Imagination. Perseverance. These are a few of the powerful and moving themes found in this darling collection of books featuring sticks. I think that you and your child will find that these common pieces of wood can be extraordinary, indeed. Enjoy!


1. Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)


This heartwarming rhyming book begs to be read again and again. Stick and Stone are alone, until they meet each other. They become fast friends, and Stick, well, "sticks up" for Stone when a meanie teases him. Their bond grows, but then there is a frightful storm, and Stick is blown away. Will Stone be able to find him?

Ferry's sparse use of words and sweet rhythmic verse convey an incredibly moving story of friendship. And the pairing of text and illustrations in this book is touching and meaningful. The reader hears and sees the delight and significance of a good friendship, as well as the power of defending those close to you. And then, wonderfully, the illustrations show reconciliation with that bully at the end. So great. This one is certainly a "10" in my book. ;)


2. Stick Man by Julia Donaldson; illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2008)


From the author/illustrator duo that brought us The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom, Stick Man tells the story of a stick who is taken farther and farther away from his family in a series of mishaps: a dog who thinks he is a fun toy to fetch, a swan who wants to use him in her nest, a family who brings him inside for their fireplace. Will Stick Man be able to survive and return to his family?

Told in the well-paced, rollicking rhyme that is characteristic of Donaldson's storytelling, this is a tale with adventure and tension and lots of heart. The use of repetition gives this story a structure that is captivating for kids, and they can chant along with the refrain: "I'm Stick Man, I'm Stick Man, I'M STICK MAN, that's me, And I want to go home to the family tree!" And you will love Scheffler's endearing, detailed portrayal of this adorable stick. :)

3. Papa Gave Me a Stick by Janice Levy; illustrated by Simone Shin (Star Bright Books, 2015)

 
This is a beautiful book and story. Antonio wants his own guitar (guitarra), like the ones he's seen in the mariachi band. But his papa says they don't have the money for such things. Instead, with a wink, he hands him a stick. In a series of events, Antonio helps animals and people around the town, who in turn gift him little items. When he finds a gold ring lost by a groom, he is gifted the thing he wished for the most.
 
This book is unique and diverse and provides a glimpse at another culture. While children will already relate to the themes of family, love, and longing, they will also be exposed to Spanish terms and Mexican symbols and traditions. A heartwarming story with beautiful illustrations -- I hope you'll check this one out.

4. Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis (Harper Collins, 2008)


In this sparsely-illustrated, minimalist picture book, there exists an unseen narrator who repeatedly warns the main character, a pig, about the potential dangers of the stick he is carrying. Each time, the pig retorts, "It's not a stick!" And for each spread in which the pig tells the reader it is not a stick, the illustrations expose the triumphant imagination of the stick wielder -- for he is imagining the stick is a fishing rod to catch a shark, or a paintbrush for a masterpiece, or a sword with which to fight a dragon. This seemingly simple book is incredibly powerful in concretely revealing the imagination at work -- perfect for reading with children and celebrating the power of imagining. I love it.

5. Stick! by Andy Pritchett (Candlewick Press, 2013)


Another minimalist picture book, this one features a dog with a stick. And he wants someone to play with him. With one word per spread, he tempts the various barnyard animals with "Stick?" but they all have their own entertainment ("Mud!"). Discouraged, he flings the stick away -- but it is thrown back! And now he has a new friend.

It is amazing how a story can be told in such spare wording, but this one will have you rooting for the dog to find a playmate and delighting in the emotions that the illustrations convey. A great book for repeat-reading with kiddos!


Happy reading!

~Jen

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hypnosis Harry

Do you remember, as a kid, your parents saying no to everything? Or, as a parent, do you get in arguments with your children about things they can and cannot do? (I vividly remember morning arguments when my oldest was a kindergartener and I insisted she couldn't wear dresses but needed to wear pants on gym days. Oh, the drama!)

Well, today's book examines what might happen if parents would just loosen up and start saying YES:


Hypnosis Harry by Catherine Bailey (author of Mind Your Monsters), illustrated by Sarita Rich (Sky Pony Press, 2016), tells the story of young Harry, who hypnotizes his parents into saying yes to his every whim. Cupcakes for dinner? Yes! Pet monkeys? Sure! No more broccoli -- ever? Absolutely!


However, getting his every desire isn't always satisfying, and things are kind of a mess. Harry soon realizes that when his parents would say no, it was truly for his own good. But wait -- what happened to grandfather's pocket watch?


Bailey's story is truly delightful. You can imagine all of the fun and messy ideas that a child might cook up, but then she examines the unintended consequences of some of those choices. She gently but clearly shows the loving boundaries that parents provide when they don't give their children everything they want. And the ending is just perfect -- satisfying and humorous all at once. :)

And Rich's illustrations do what illustrations ought -- they add another layer to the story. Her colorful and playful pictures show heaps of child-like wishes come true, and they build upon the author's words. I love that a child can listen to this story being read, while their eyes perceive new levels of meaning through the illustrations.


This author-illustrator pairing has produced a fun and meaningful book that children and adults will enjoy reading over and over again.

For further reading:


Enjoy!

~Jen

Thursday, April 21, 2016

One Special Book

I don't want to say too much about today's book because, well, it doesn't "say" anything at all! It is a wordless picture book that is both visually exhilarating and emotionally powerful:
 


The Snow Rabbit by Camille Garoche (Enchanted Lion Books, 2015) uses only illustrations to tell the story of two sisters. It opens with the sisters looking out of a window of a cabin in a snowy wood. One sister finds a rabbit in the snow, and an adventure ensues. Beyond that, I don't want to say too much about the plot, except to say that there is one page-turn in particular that is incredibly powerful.


How the artist is able to tell such a moving story without any words is fascinating, but Garoche nails it. As you can tell by the cover, the artwork is spectacular, and the pages are filled with dreamy scenes that seem to move beyond the page.


The dimensions of the illustrations give a 3-D appearance, and you feel like you are in the snowy scenes. Children can enjoy this book with a caregiver or on their own, and each page turn keeps the reader guessing at what is going on. It is certainly a unique reading experience.


I hope you enjoyed the brief glimpse into this story today. I encourage you to acquire this book and have your heart moved by this touching story!

~Jen

Friday, April 15, 2016

Absolutely Aggie

 Use what talents you possess;
the woods would be very silent
if no birds sang there
except those that sang best.
 
~Henry Van Dyke


When reading picture books, some are pure fun, some are touching, and some are educational. And they all have an important role in boosting an early love of reading. Add in a positive and affirming message of self-worth, and the picture book takes on another level of meaning.


Dust Fairy Tales: Absolutely Aggie (2015) is the second book from author-illustrator team Michelle Eastman and Kevin Richter. It tells the story of Aggie -- a loud, brassy, disheveled dust fairy who loves to play the bagpipes. But she doesn't fit in with the other fairies. They are graceful; she is not. Their wings shine; hers -- well, perhaps they manage to hide her slouching socks. No matter how Aggie tries, she just can't change, and it is defeating.


She takes to hiding away at night, sad and alone. But, she still plays her bagpipes -- she loves her music, even if it isn't perfect.


One night, her music catches the ear of another fairy (and his companion snail -- so cute!), who invites her to join his band. They love her. And even though they don't hit every note, Aggie absolutely gets to be herself. It's a perfect fit.


This book has such an important message to share with children. Aggie wasn't happy when she was trying to be anything other than herself -- and I want my kids to know that their true happiness and meaning will come when they are being who they are meant to be. People will come into our lives who complement our true selves, and that is true friendship.

In addition to this big message of self-worth, Eastman has created a mythical fairy world that is enchanting. She urges young listeners to pay attention at night to see if they can hear Aggie and her band, which adds to the magical ambience of the book. Her rhyming, lyrical meter paired with Richter's vibrant and detailed illustrations create a world that children will want to visit again and again.

I hope you will read this one with your kiddos soon!

For more on Michelle and Kevin, click the links below:


Happy Friday!

~Jen