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Book Review: Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy

Jun 15, 2010
Posted In: Books, Kids

If you and your kids thought Ladybug Girl was a good book (if you haven’t read it, you should), you’re going to love Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, by David Soman and Jacky Davis. Lulu the superhero Ladybug Girl is off to the playground with her mom and dog Bingo. Lulu finds her friend Sam digging in the sandbox and asks him to play. He suggests the sand, she doesn’t like that idea. She suggests the monkey bars. He doesn’t like that idea. And on it goes. Frustration ensues until Lulu decides she wants to play Ladybug Girl and invites Sam to join her. Sam’s interest is piqued at the idea of playing superheroes and the two friends dash about the playground as Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, rescuing all from the imagined terrors of the playground. Two friends join them and the Bug Squad is formed.

The Ladybug Girl books are wonderful at showing the richness of a child’s imagination. A crack in the sidewalk becomes a canyon. Swings become wings and the bugs are soon flying so high they can almost touch the clouds. Children will want to sink into Lulu’s world and join the bug squad. Adults will adore the in-moment writing and the gentle lessons taught.

And, let’s not forget the fine illustrations. Full of color and light, they perfectly complement the story. The red of Lulu’s costume pops on every page, making her the center of the action. Emotion is expertly expressed, with Lulu and Sam (and even Bingo the dog), coming to life with happiness, effort, concentration, frustration, enticement, questioning, fear, commitment and joy.

Soman and Davis are truly gifted. We bought Ladybug Girl a few years ago and still love it. I’m sure we’ll feel the same way about Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy.

Ages: 3+

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Book Review: Little Oink

Jun 14, 2010
Posted In: Books, Kids

Little Oink, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace, is a fun little book that turns the idea of the messy pig on its head. Little Oink is a neat little piglet who DOES NOT like getting messy. But, as a pig, it’s his job to be messy. Before he can go out to play, there’s “mess up” time. He must unmake his bed, unfold his clothes, throw his towel on the floor, put on dirty clothes, drag in some mud, and take all of the toys from his toy box.

Little Oink asks why all of his friends get to clean their rooms and he cannot. He vows that when he grows up, he’s going to let his kids clean up their rooms as much as they want. It’s a great little read that will be appreciated by every child who’s been told that he or she can’t go out and play until everything’s picked up. And, moms and dads will enjoy it too.

The illustrations are spare and creative, but bright and many colored. The illustrator uses an unusually varied palette to bring Little Oink’s world to life.

When writing this I was torn about whether to recommend that you buy this book or check it out from the library. It’s new in our house, so not sure how we’ll feel about reading it for months to come. I can say that my daughter continues to enjoy it. I question whether I will in a month.

And, if you enjoyed this one, check out Little Pea and Little Hoot, by the same author/illustrator team.

Ages: 2+

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Book Review: The Hat by Jan Brett

Jun 10, 2010
Posted In: Books, Kids

The Hat, written and illustrated by Jan Brett, was the first of the author/illustrator’s books that our family read (thank you Aunt Charlotte). Brett excels at bringing to life traditional folk tales and stories based in a multitude of cultures. She retells cultural classics and creates her own original stories. Her writing is simple and lively, while her rich illustrations strongly reflect the cultural origins of each story.

The Hat is set is rural Scandinavia. Winter is on its way, and Lisa, a little girl whose fair coloring and colorful clothing reflect her Nordic roots, is pulling her woolens out to air in the late fall sunshine. As she hangs them on the line, a strong wind blows one of her red and white stockings off the line. It lands on the ground where curious Hedgie the hedgehog finds it. He noses inside and soon the stocking is stuck to his prickles.

Hedgie has a new hat and he’s embarrassed. Hedgie crosses the farm wearing the stocking and along the way meets a series of barnyard animals and the farm cat and dog. Each asks him why he has a stocking on his head. Hedgie answers each time that it’s his new hat and that it will keep him warm in the winter. As he is asked again and again, Hedgie becomes more and more impatient, while the other farm animals hurry to the clothesline to get their own winter hats. It’s a simple, fun story that younger children will appreciate.

Where Jan Brett really shines is her illustrations. The detail is extraordinary. Brett is a gifted artist whose use of color and light brings stories to life. And, Kids of all ages will adore how the pages are structured (and this is consistent across of Brett’s books published to-date). Each page has a central image that follows the overall narrative. There is an image to the left and above that add additional details on the current point in the story (and usually point to a subtext that is happening concurrent with the main story being told through the text). To the right of the main image is an illustration that foreshadows the next step in the story.

For example, at one point in The Hat Hedgie runs into the farm dog and her puppies. The central illustrations shows little Hedgie, the mother dog and her puppies. The image to the left shows Lisa waxing her skis in preparation for winter. The image above shows the clothesline, missing several of Lisa’s woolens. And, the illustration to the left is of the farm pig. Some readers understand the subtext after the first reading. Others will figure it out days, weeks or even months later and will delight in the new story the book is telling them. Don’t spoil the surprise. There’s real joy in figuring this out for yourself (sorry to have spoiled it for you if you haven’t read these books yourself).

Ages: 2+ (younger children might not understand the story, but will love the illustrations. This book has years of staying power.)

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Book Review: Time of Wonder

Jun 9, 2010
Posted In: Books, Kids

Time of Wonder, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, is an impressionistic masterpiece. McCloskey writes about a wondrous spring, summer and early fall spent among the islands of Penobscot Bay on the Maine coast.

Both the poetic language and the rich watercolor illustrations embody the joy that is spring and summer. The wide open spaces of life where anything can happen. When wandering and exploring without direction or purpose is the order of the day. There is swimming and playing in the sand on the beach. There is sailing among the islands and there are sudden rainstorms and lazy rambles through the forests. There are early morning mists and late evening fireflies and bullfrogs. It’s a long, meandering read through the seasons.

And, it ends with the end of summer and onset of fall with its wicked storms and frosty mornings. The house must be closed up for the winter. There’s hard work and much fun. Then it’s time to leave and say good bye to the island. Hearts are full. There’s sadness that summer has ended and excitement for the future. Exactly how one should feel after a summer well spent.

McCloskey brings these experiences alive through rich details. For example, he writes about the approach of a storm and in a very few words the storm is in the distance, then it’s getting closer and closer until the cloud bursts overhead and its raining. And the descriptions are not only visual. He writes about the sounds of the raindrops. In other parts of the book he write about the swells in the sea saying, “SH-h-h-h,” the wind “whispers a lullaby in the spruce branches, and, as a fall storm hits, “words are spoken and lost in the scream of the wind.” The writing explodes with images that are perfectly complemented by the illustrations.

For me, this book more than any other captures the meaning of summer.

Be warned, this isn’t a fast read. It’s a lazy ramble through the islands and well worth the half hour that you’ll put into reading it.

Ages: 4+ (Younger children who may not understand some of the story will still enjoy the language and the illustrations.)

(To return to the Footy Pajamas store to shop for pajamas, click here.)

Book Review: The Magic School Bus: Inside the Earth

Jun 8, 2010
Posted In: Books, Kids, Toddlers

This one’s for the rock lover in your family (which I confess I am). In Magic School Bus: Inside the Earth, written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen, science teacher Ms. Frizzle and her class are off on another adventure on their trusty old school bus. This time it’s a trip inside the Earth to learn about rocks, volcanoes and the Earth’s structure.

Along the way, there’s plenty of fun dialog and adventure. The bus goes from a steam shovel to a giant drill that bores deep into the Earth (in fact, all the way through the Earth to the core and then out again through a volcano).

The book ends with a very funny dialogue between the author and artist and a reader who questions the validity of the story. It’s the perfect touch for the child who has difficulty letting his or her imagination go and having fun with the story.

And, I shouldn’t forget to mention, if your child is on the younger side, the colorful and detailed drawings should hold her attention even if the facts are too much right now.

Like all the Magic School Bus books, this story has a lot of staying power. Both your 4-year-old and your 7-year-old will love these books.

Be warned that these are not short reads, but can be broken into several sittings. It takes us about 30 minutes to read each book cover-to-cover.

Ages: 4+ (as noted in the other Magic School Bus reviews, Scholastic recommends these books for 7-10 year olds, but we know younger children who adore them)

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Book Review: Magic School Bus and the Science Fair Expedition

May 16, 2010
Posted In: Books, Kids

In The Magic School Bus and the Science Fair Expedition, written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen, the Science Fair is days away and some of the kids in Ms. Frizzle’s class can’t think of a subject for the Fair. One of the students (Arnold, if you’re familiar with the series) suggests a trip to the new science museum. Since it’s an easy walk away, no crazy school bus is needed (if you haven’t read any of the other Magic School bus books, you’ll need to know that Ms. Frizzle and her old yellow school bus often take the class on unusual adventures).

But there’s no escaping the wiles of Ms. Frizzle and her bus. The kids are off through time to visit famous scientists, including Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, Madame Curie and Einstein. Along the way they learn about the scientific method, how scientists build upon each others’ work and the hard work and commitment that goes into scientific discovery.

This is one of our favorite Magic School Bus books. By showing the process of discovery, young children see that the scientific knowledge that we have to today is because of the work of scientists of the past. For the child interested in science, it can be inspirational as they see adults who share their curiosity applying that interest and working to answer fundamental questions about our world.

For the skeptics in the audience, each Magic School Bus book ends with notes about the fantastical nature of the books. These explanations are always funny and set just the right tone for a the logician-child.

Like all the Magic School Bus books, this story has a lot of staying power. Both your 4-year-old and your 7-year-old will enjoy this book.

Be warned that these are not short reads, but can be broken into several sittings. It takes us about 30 minutes to read each book cover-to-cover.

Ages: 4+ (as noted in the other Magic School Bus reviews, Scholastic recommends these books for 7-10 year olds, but we know younger children who adore them)

(To return to the Footy Pajamas store to shop for pajamas, click here.)

Book Review: It’s the Bear!

May 15, 2010
Posted In: Books, Kids

It’s the Bear! is the second book, and my favorite, in Jez Alborough’s series of Eddie and Bear books. In this episode, Eddie and his mom head into the woods for a picnic. But, Eddie doesn’t want to go. He’s scared about the bear that lives in the woods. His mother scoffs, insisting that no bear lives in the woods.

They find a lovely spot in a clearing in the woods and layout their picnic blanket. But, uh oh! They’ve forgetten the pie. Eddie’s mom dashes back to get it, leaving Eddie behind in the woods with the picnic basket. Eddie hears a deep voice coming from the woods. It’s the Bear!

Eddie hides in the picnic basket while the giant bear (who holds his giant teddy bear while he munches) eats the picnic lunch. The bear opens the picnic basket. Eddie screams in terror. He wants his mom! The giant bear clutches his teddy. Eddie’s scared him. Along comes Eddie’s mom carrying the pie. She asks what’s wrong. Eddie answers that it’s the bear. His mom continues to scoff. Until she spots the bear and the pie goes flying. Eddie and his mom grab their picnic things and run, while the bear walks away, holding his giant teddy and eating pie.

Just like the first Eddie and Bear book, Where’s my Teddy?, It’s the Bear is beautifully illustrated. The colors are brilliant and the depth amazing. Jez Alborough, author and illustrator of It’s the Bear has a rare ability to convey emotion with simple illustrations. When Eddie is finally able to show his mother there is a bear in the woods and her smug expression changes to shock, while Eddies fearful expression changes to humor, the touch is just right. And, while at first the idea of the bear is scary, Eddie’s expressions and the bears surprising fear, love for his teddy and joy over eating blueberry pie take away any fear that young children may feel.

Unlike many books that are written by the illustrator, the story does not take second place to the illustations. It is fast moving and well paced, with rhyming text that perfectly compliments the images.

Ages: 2+ (I know 8-year-olds who love this book too)

(To return to the Footy Pajamas store to shop for pajamas, click here.)

Book Review: Dogs Don’t Wear Sneakers

May 13, 2010
Posted In: Books, Kids

Want a simple silly book that young kids will love? Then head to your local book store or to the library and get a copy of Dogs Don’t Wear Sneakers written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Joe Mathieu.

It’s a collection of wacky combos (fish eating bagels, parrots in tutus, bulls flying airplanes) that the author and illustrator use to stretch the imagination of the reader and get everyone in the family laughing. For months after we first read this book, my daughter would call out new combos that she found hilarious. She loved it and so will your little ones.

While the writing keeps the narrative moving, it’s the illustrations that will engage your audience. Dogs running in sneakers, dancing cows, bowling moose and ducks on hikes make for wonderful illustrations that are full of life and detail. Your 2-year-old will enjoy Dogs Don’t Wear Sneakers as much as your 5-year-old.

Ages: 2+

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Book Review: There is a Bird on Your Head!

May 10, 2010
Posted In: Books, Toddlers

It’s an unlikely premise: a pink pig (she’s slightly reckless and sentimental), a bluish elephant (who is cautious and just a little nervous), white backgrounds and minimal text (in thought bubbles). But it more than works. All of the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems are laugh-out-loud funny (there are currently 11 in the series) and a joy to read. However, There is a Bird on Your Head! is my family’s favorite.

Piggie and Gerald the elephant are peacefully hanging out when a bird lands on Gerald’s head. Soon, a second bird shows up, then a nest and three eggs. Piggie is delighted. Gerald is less than thrilled. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil the end. But the expressions on Gerald and Piggie’s faces are, as my daughter says, very silly (I would say full of emotion and very very funny). With a simple line or two, Willems manages to convey love, frustration, joy, fear, disgust and more.

Get thee to the library or a bookstore and check out these books.

Ages: 2+ (publisher says 4+, but younger children will appreciate them, as will emergent readers)

(To return to the Footy Pajamas store to shop for pajamas, click here.)

Book Review: Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip

May 8, 2010
Posted In: Books, Kids

My daughter recently developed an obsession with electricity. Since I’m no techno wizard I had a hard time explaining to her the connection between big power transmission towers and the lights in our house. Knowing that science teacher Ms. Frizzle and her magic school bus had already taught us all about dinosaurs, hurricanes and the solar system, we turned to her to get more info on electricity. Once again, she didn’t fail us.

In The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip, a storm hits and the power goes out at school. To find out what caused the outage, Ms. Frizzle takes her class on a trip in the magic school bus. The class visits the site of a downed power line (the kids learn that electricity and be dangerous). From there they visit a coal-fueled power plant where Ms. Frizzle and her students shrink and explore the parts of the plant, from furnace to generator.

They also learn about alternative energy, air pollution, nuclear power, molecules and magnetism. They shrink even more and follow the power out of the plant and into the high-voltage power lines (where they learn about electrons and power transmission). The trip continues with a visit inside a light bulb, a toaster (for a discussion on heating elements), a light switch (where we learn how power is turned off and on), a power saw (where we learn about electric motors), and then a vacuum cleaner (to learn how the vacuum cleaner sucks things up). The kids and Ms. Frizzle then follow the power lines back to school.

It’s a fast and furious and dense ride made humorous by the visit of Ms. Frizzle’s niece Dottie. The dialogue of the kids as they follow Ms. Frizzle on one more adventure is also very funny in places. Your young reader (and you) will learn everything and more that she ever wanted to know about why flipping a switch turns on a light or how the blender works.

For the skeptics in the audience, each Magic School Bus book ends with notes about the fantastical nature of the books. For example, in this episode, writer Joanna Cole and illustrator Bruce Degan have created a game that says what’s fact and what’s not. Just the right tone for a the logician-child.

Be warned that these are not short reads, but can be broken into several sittings. It takes us about 30 minutes to read each book cover-to-cover (this one may take a little longer as you – yes you – and your child try to grasp the concepts).

Ages: 7+ (Unlike most of the other Magic School Bus books, we don’t recommend this one for very young readers. The concepts are a bit more difficult to grasp.)

(To return to the Footy Pajamas store to shop for pajamas, click here.)