Monthly Archives: January 2013

Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox

Time for a cozy, comfy, winter read.  Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox is a 2011 gem written by Oregon’s Susan Blackaby and painted by Carmen Segovia of Barcelona, Spain.  Before this great pairing,Segovia had simple, charming paintings of this fox and groundhog that needed to have a book.  An American editor found Blackaby to write the story, the readers’ good fortune.

Brownie Groundhog has a problem.  “A small, scrawny fox heard Brownie grousing.  His ears twitched.  He licked his chops and crouched to pounce.”  The fox appears outside her door and announces he will try to eat her for breakfast.  Fortunately Brownie Groundhog is a clever one.  As Brownie finds ways to put off Fox’s meal, they have a great time together in the snow.

 The book is a sure-footed combo of Segovia’s fun snow scenes and Blackaby’s brisk, effortless storytelling.  Can Brownie Groundhog keep the February Fox from eating her?  I can’t tell you what does get eaten, but I can assure you this book is a tasty snack for the reader.

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews

She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head!

I’m wild for David Catrow.  His illustrations are so comic and appealing that I instantly recognize his books and want to read them.  On his large list of books I’ve never found a better one than She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head!   It’s a 1995 book written by Kathryn Lasky.  It’s a long, super-engaging story of two real ladies in 1890s Boston who are scandalized by women’s hats adorned with exotic bird feathers.  They set their local Audubon chapter into high gear, going to great lengths to kill this fashion and save the birds endangered by it.

In a book crammed with amazingly great pictures my favorite might be the last.  Minna and Harriet our two heroes are reaching out for a birthday hug.  I love how on the wall is a famous, framed Audubon bird that is stepping right out of the frame.

I’m a great believer in picture books for all ages.  This one might be lost on a pre-schooler, would possibly engage  the early elementary crowd, and is GREAT for intermediate and middle schoolers.  That age group is learning that how things are is not how things always have to be.  Harriet and Minna could lead older readers through some wonderful portals.

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Middle Grade, Age: Young Adult, Non-Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews

Book Taming

After Christmas it was high time to tame the books in our house, especially the kid shelves.  Our daughter had a stack of chapter books on her floor that were starting to look like a night stand and our son had so many picture books on his bedroom shelf that you couldn’t find a thing.  I had the sinking feeling there were big winners on his shelf we hadn’t read for a year or more.  Chaos!  Breakdown of civil society, at least on our shelves.  Adding to the family shame, I had books in the Bob Room (our storage room) that the kids hadn’t seen for years.  Things like The Library Dragon (watch for the review) and Sweet and Sour Lily.  Great stuff!

So we went to the kids and they responded like the terrific folks they are.  They made big stacks of books that could go into the Bob Room or head down the road.  Of course a dad has to have thick skin.  (How could our boy push out Mop Top, Don Freeman’s 1955 classic?  And can our daughter really be done with Amelia’s Notebook?)

At any rate it was exciting how seriously they took their tasks.  We found board books to pass onto pre-school friends, stuff to sell back at Powell’s, Goodwill books, and books to take to the free shelf at the kids’ school.

It’s fun to see what they value.  For instance our daughter has her chapter books on the primest shelf space.  Even though she now reads way beyond Junie B. Jones, she’s not ready to part with the belly laughs Junie B. brings.  I love that she still loves a range of picture books.  Most of her culls were from the picture books, but she kept a lot of  favorites.

 Naturally she hung onto Scrambled States of America Talent Show and She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head.  No surprise she kept What Do People Do All Day by Richard Scarry and Shark Vs. Train, one of her recent favorites.  And she stuck by many classics such as Olivia, Tikki Tikki Tembo, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, and even Journey Cake, Ho (from 1953, with the wonderful Robert McCloskey illustrations)

Our six-year-old was pretty ruthless, taking out at least half of his books.  So I chekced out what he saved. For one category, all his picture books drawn from the Little House books (called “my first little house books“).  Which reminds us, it might be time for some full-on Laura Ingalls Wilder bookage.  Many books were no surprise.  He definitely kept his Chris Van Dusen books, two about Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee, as well as If I Built a Car.  Naturally he kept Pirate Cruncher and Jake Starts School.  Another no-brainer was Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry.

I was pleased that he kept the two picture books about a bear who is like Thoreau including Henry Hikes to Fitchburg.  Local authors fared well, whether my son knows they’re local or not.  He hung onto his Just a Party illustrated by Robyn Waters, The Big Wish by Carolyn Conahan, and Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox written by Susan Blackaby.  I was amazed by two books he kept:  William and His Kitten, our old library discard from 1938 by Marjorie Flack (did we even read it?), and the snoozy-to-Dad Yesterday’s Fire Engines, a library discard from 1980.   I shouldn’t be surprised; we’ve navigated its dense prose quite a few times.

OK, our shelves are freshened up and we’re ready to have a great reading year in 2013.  Kick out the reads!

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Filed under Age: All

Another Great Pick for Littles

A friend recently asked me for suggestions for her one-year-old grandson.  It was really fun to remember favorite books for our own kids, as well as books we enjoy giving newborns to grow into.  I have so much to enthuse about that this is my second post geared to the two and under crowd.  Please note that these books can continue to be favorites well past age two.

This second post I devote to the greatest take I’ve encountered on the greatest baby literature we have in our mother tongue.  Guesses?  That’s right!  Mother Goose.

I almost start hyperventilating when I think about the two Mother Goose collections edited by folklorist Iona Opie and illustrated by Rosemary Wells, so I’m taking slow, deep breaths.   Large format hardcovers, each about 100 pages.  I spent so many happy hours reading and looking and reciting the poems with both kids.  Their first one is My Very First Mother Goose.  Wells draws a wonderful bunch of rabbits, cats, guinea pigs, humans, pigs etc.  With each reading there’s another clever touch to appreciate.  The rhymes are so infectious and so important for language development.  Most of our hours with Mother Goose were between age 1 and 3.  Many rhymes in there I knew (Baa, baa black sheep..) and many I didn’t like this gem:

From Wibbleton to Wobbleton is fifteen miles,

From Wobbleton to Wibbleton is fifteen miles,

From Wibbleton to Wobbleton, from Wobbleton to Wibbleton,

From Wibbleton to Wobbleton is fifteen miles.

…How great is that?  Mother Goose rhythm, rhyming and fun with words give baby the richness the experts tell us is crucial for language development.  The books give you lots of chances to “drop” baby and do other fun movements like in  “Trot, trot to Boston”,  “This little piggy went to market”, or “the brave old duke of York”.  Rosemary Wells paintings are endless fun:  cute, cozy, funny, mischievous, with many recurrent characters.  I like the two rabbits wearing sunglasses in the front of a red Roadster convertible driving a fat, happy pig back from market.  Some of the illustrations tell a separate, enjoyable story of their own, like “Half a pound of tuppenny rice (Pop!  Goes the weasel!)”  Wells gives us a tale of over-the-ocean penpals.

When it comes to My Very First Mother Goose and Here Comes Mother Goose, they’re both so full of pleasure I can’t recommend one over the other.  But if you’re partial to guinea pigs, go with the latter.

Many of the poems you will already know, and others you can add to your repertoire.  Even away from the book, you and baby can enjoy reciting things like

Rain on the green grass,

And rain on the tree;

Rain on the roof top,

But not on me.

And another new favorite:

I see the moon,

And the moon sees me;

God bless the moon,

And God bless me.

I love Iona Opie’s introduction to the first collection in which she says, “What did (Mother Goose rhymes) give us, so long ago?  A suggestion that mishaps might be funny rather than tragic, that tantrums can be comical as well as frightening, and that laughter is the cure for practically everything.”

Are you convinced?  Get your Goose ASAP.  And please tell us what is your favorite Mother Goose collection!

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Filed under Age: Preschool, Fiction, Picture Books