Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner is the first in a new series called Wings & Co. I heard about it in the fall and was bummed to find out it was only in the UK. But, hurrah! It’s now out in the U.S. and we were able to read it. This reminded me so much of a Roald Dahl book, I loved it (and yes, the kids did too.) Emily Vole is an abandoned baby adopted by the most awful greedy people ever. As soon as they are able to have their own babies (triplets Petal, Peach, and Plum) they make Emily be their unpaid servant. It’s a miserable life straight out of Matilda. Emily’s good fortune comes from the next door neighbor, Mrs. String. It turns out she’s somewhat magical, which Emily realizes when she falls through the hedge and meets both Mrs. String and her 6 foot tall talking cat. It’s all quite marvelous as of course Emily is destined to play a role in a battle between an evil person (who, fantastically, has chicken legs) and the fairies (who all gave up their wings ages ago.) This first book is satisfying, but it’s very much the set up for the series, so now we can’t wait for book number 2 (out in September, I hear) in which Wings & Co. will be fairy detectives on a case.
Fraidy Zoo by Thyra Heder. This might be my new favorite picture book. And it’s not just me-we read it last night and my daughter requested it twice this morning. It’s a great day to go to the zoo and the older sister couldn’t be more excited and ready. Younger sister, Little T, is apprehensive, though. She’s afraid of something, but not sure what. Her family assures her that they won’t go until they’ve figured out what she’s afraid of. And then (improbably) spend literally the entire day trying to figure it out. It’s how they try to figure it out though that is so spectacularly entertaining. Mom, Dad, and older sister create imaginative costumes and props to make an animal for every letter of the alphabet. We loved how creative they were, using household objects to make these instantly recognizable things. And while it’s unlikely anyone could make 26 of these in a day, and make them so awesomely, they are realistic, which is so nice. For example, one of my favorites that I immediately wanted to make for Halloween was for J. An umbrella held high is covered in bubble wrap and streamers, and held by the girl dressed in goggles and a swimsuit. Jellyfish! The author bio says that Heder likes to make elaborate Halloween costumes and boy would I love to see them if they are anything like these pictures.
The ending is surprising and wonderful, making us shriek with laughter. So clever and fun-do check it out!
Who doesn’t find a chameleon’s ability to change color enchanting? It’s such an amazing fact made more magical in books and movies all the time. Blue Chameleon by Emily Gravett is a simple story with lovely illustrations that has a lot of fun with the idea. Chameleon is blue-as in, kind of down because he’s lonely. He tries to befriend all sorts of things by matching them-a banana, a cockatoo, a boot, a ball. Not only does he change his pattern/color, but also makes his shape match. As you might expect, he finally finds the perfect friend to match by finding another chameleon. With just three words per page (his greeting, his color/pattern, the object he’s matching) and the perfectly executed concept, this would be a terrific book for a toddler storytime (though we enjoyed it here!)
With a couple of colds in our house this week, it was the perfect time for A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Written by Philip Stead and illustrated by Erin stead, this won the Caldecott medal a couple of years ago, and is absolutely charming. Amos McGee cares for the animals at the zoo. And he doesn’t just feed them, he plays chess with the elephant, races the tortoise, and reads to the owl. He’s the perfect friend to them. When he doesn’t show up one day because of a cold, the animals take their turn at caring for him. What I love about this is how Amos is depicted-his routine, the lack of other people in his life, and he knows just what his special animal friends need. A wonderful story whether you are sick or well!
Published in 1935 and winner of the Newbery Award, Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink is a classic. It’s a book I know I read more than once as child and I chose it for our latest audiobook. There was so much I hadn’t remembered about this story and it was a treat for me to listen to, too.
Set in 1864 in Wisconsin, this is a story about Americans on the frontier. Caddie’s mother is from Boston and fondly remembers her fine life there, but Caddie and her brothers and sisters are growing up on the edge of wilderness, where they run free and wild in the woods. Caddie has been allowed to live as her brothers do, and she is a brave, adventurous girl (who is, consequently, scornful of dainty girls and “women’s work.”) Although everyone is aware of the Civil War, it does not really reach them, other than that Father paid someone to take his place in it. There are wonderful details of their life, such as the circuit rider coming by, raising turkeys, and their school days. Each chapter is almost a self contained story. Caddie and her family are friends to the Indians, but many of their neighbors are nervous. The chapter where there are rumors of an Indian massacre is really tense one, and yes the idea that the Indians should just leave their home so they don’t make the white folks antsy is appalling. One of the really fascinating aspects of the book is just placing it in time. It’s 1864 in Wisconsin–they mention Abraham Lincoln and the Civil warm, they live a fairly rustic farm life, yet they are prosperous, Boston is clearly quite civilized, and they also tell of life in England at that time.
This reminded me of when we listened to Miracles on Maple Hill-another very old-fashioned classic that is beautifully written. That’s another thing I liked about this book. We read and listen to a lot of silly, funny stories, and it’s nice to every now and then listen to something with beautiful language that is wonderfully written. I suspect I read this when I was older than 3rd grade, but I think both kids did a fine job listening to, understanding, and enjoying the story. Caddie is an American classic, embodying the spirit of the young country.
Between the new show Cosmos and the science fair last week, we’ve had science on our minds lately.
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine, illustrated by the improbably and wonderfully named T. S. Spookytooth. I grabbed this book without even opening it, just based on title and cover. I thought it would be a good non-fiction book for my son to enjoy on his own, but it proved to be a fantastic book for all of us to enjoy. The premise is that human and animal skeletons share basic structure, it’s just that the basic elements (vertebrae, leg bones, finger bones, etc.) are shaped differently and used differently. It’s a basic but fascinating concept that I had literally never considered before. And now my new favorite fact is that a bat’s wing bones are its finger bones. Each page asks what would happen if you had, for example, extra bones on your spine that curved out? And an illustration showing that on a person. Turn the page and see the corresponding limb/structure on an animal (in that example, you would have a tail, like an alligator.) This is a terrific example of fun, readable, non-fiction. A fantastic find!
The scientific method is employed in the picture book The Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora. We’ve read many, many books about children eager for a pet and out to find the right one. This might be a new favorite take on that theme. Because her parents are scientists they tell their pet-wanting daughter that she must do research first. She goes into the field to make observations on specific animals. First the farm, then the zoo, then on to indoor animals. In each section there’s a query, observations, and conclusion. What is so exceptional is that the entire thing is in verse, so it’s a collection of poems. Clever, funny, poetic, and with an overall story. This was super enjoyable.
Since my son was working on his science fair project last week, I also grabbed Zeke Meeks vs. the Stinkin’ Science Fair by D. L. Green. This is one he read on his own, so I can’t speak personally, but he reports that it was good and he recommends it. It’s about a kid out to win the science fair and find the perfect project for it.
Books packaged with sound recordings are nothing new, but there seems to be a new packaging in town. I was delighted to discover a shelf in my library (located next to those pesky hanging bags of books and tapes/cds) that had picture books with cds directly in the book. I’ve been checking out handfuls, as my kindergartener especially loves these. Unlike audiobooks, we’ve found that most of these really do need to be listened to along with looking at the book because the pictures are so much of the story. The recordings are wonderful at bringing the stories to life with music, sound effects, and narration. All of them are Weston Woods productions, and they are wonderful. If I haven’t already written about these here, I should have as they are all books we’d already read and enjoyed many times over. See if your library has them!
We’ve read and listened to:
and then it’s spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (could not be more perfect for this cold March)
Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld (absolutely charming story of a wee cloud who wishes she could rain like the big ones do)
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown (oh Peter Brown, you are always so clever! and children i make terrible pets)
Arnie the Talking Doughnut by Laurie Keller (Laurie Keller always has wonderfully funny detail packed illustrations. When a doughnut is finally bought he’s super excited until he finds out what people do with doughnuts)
Library Mouse: Home Sweet Home by Daniel Kirk (We love Library Mouse and in this story he explores and learns about different styles of homes. )
It was exactly one year ago today that I launched this blog! In that time I’ve published 140 posts, and recommended 331 titles/series. Because most posts have more than one title I had to just look through every single post and count them up! (I’m not doing that next year :) ) It was actually pretty fun to scroll through and see all the books we’ve read and talked about and enjoyed. I hope I’ve led you and your family to some new titles that you’ve enjoyed and I’d love to hear from you and know if that’s so.
I’ve the got the perfect bonus recommendation for today to commemorate this occasion. One of my earliest posts was for a favorite called And the Train Goes by William Bee. Last night my husband brought home a book he said he couldn’t wait for us to read, and it was...And the Cars Go by William Bee. Hurrah! We all put a cheer of excitement to see that he had a new book similar to the train one (seriously-a cheer of excitement.) The format is similar, with different sounds and refrains adding up. The illustrations are super-just as retro British feeling as the other, with bright colors and tons of details to pore over, including, yes, snails to look for. (This time, though, Mr. Bee right up front says how many snails there are and to look for them.) We really enjoyed this worthy follow up and will probably end up buying it to add to our collection.
Thank you to my small but loyal followers. I really have enjoyed every comment and hope you’ll keep on reading.