Imaginary Friends and Secret Lives

scaryThe Little Bit Scary People by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger is a delightful story with one of the best messages I often try to remember. I’d like to think I’ve passed this message on to my kids but frankly I’m not so sure I have, so am glad we read this story.  A little girl describes various people in her life-a kid on the street, the bus driver, the cafeteria lady, and so on, by describing them and saying they are a bit scary. The pictures do show people someone might be intimidated by. But then… she imagines what they might be like at other times and sees that they are no so scary. For example, (and I don’t remember exactly so this could be a wrong example but you get the gist), the mean looking bus driver might go home at night to her four kids and cuddle on the couch with them.  The pierced and tough looking teenage boy looks scary, but in the mornings he lays in bed cuddling with his cat until his mom tells him to get up. And finally she is able to use the own example on people she actually knows something about (her own family) to reinforce it all.  I love this idea that people have lives beyond what we see and someone who looks scary or intimidating, but not be.  This is the kind of imagination I love (in fact, similar to the “people watching game” where you make up stories about strangers) and I highly recommend this book.

beekleImaginary friends sure get a good rap in picture books, stories, literature, movies, etc.  I was always a little disappointed that not only did I not have one, but neither did either of my children.  That said, they still make a good story.  We all enjoyed The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat, very much. The as-yet-unnamed Beekle lives on an island with other imaginary friends.  These creatures are fantastical and adorable.  They live there until a child imagines them and names them.  One by one the others are called up, until the blobby white creature with a crown is left there.  He decides to go find his child himself and it is a very satisfying and happy ending when they do.  Don’t miss the endpapers on either end of the book, which show each child with his or her complementary imaginary friend. It’s fun to see why the child dreamed up the creature.



Beyond Picture Books

taxiSpace Taxi: Archie Takes Flight by Wendy Mass. It’s Take Your Kids to Work Day and Archie is in for the surprise of his life. It turns out that his dad is not just a taxi driver, but a space taxi driver. He zips around the universe delivering aliens here and there.  Would you believe that I happened to receive this book on the actual Take Your Kids to Work Day? It looked short and funny and I handed it right over to my 3rd grader.  He read it in about a night, so it might be geared to a bit younger, but he said he liked it.  It’s the start of a series and Wendy Mass is a reliable writer, so we’ll probably check out the rest.


geniusThe third grader continues to read a broad range of easy to difficult books-happily listening to picture books, easily reading chapter books like Space Taxi, poring over information compendiums, reading the first four Harry Potter books, and any kinds of survival series. He’s somewhat interested (or I want him to be interested?) in mythology, but I’ve often had trouble finding any books that were entertaining/readable enough for him.  Well, we found a great selection at the bookstore and bought it outright.  The Ken Jennings’ Junior Genius Guides are really nice softcover guidebook type books. Greek Mythology tells all sorts of stories in Greek mythology in a casual, fun, readable way. Plus there are lots of cartoony doodles and pictures and charts. There are also ideas for things you can do, such as using a flashlight to make constellations. I bet any of these books would be great gifts for the junior geniuses in your life.

luluWhile at the bookstore we were choosing a book for a 1st grader’s birthday gift and I was so taken by the discovery of a series that I had to buy the first book for us: Lulu and the Duck in the Park.  It’s written by Hilary McKay, an author I have liked for a long time-British, funny, heartwarming. She doesn’t get enough attention I think (though perhaps now she does) and she’s reliably wonderful.  In particular, I thought it would be nice to have a chapter book geared more towards my kindergarten daughter (though the third grade boy did really enjoy listening to this-sometimes I think I could read my kids anything, that they just like hearing our voices.)

Lulu is a girl who is “famous for animals.” She loves animals of all sorts and fortunately has a family that supports that. One day her class is in the park they walk through on the way to swim class (this may have been the most fascinating part of the story for these American 2014 readers) when they witness dogs chasing and attacking all the nesting ducks there. Lulu rescues the egg from her favorite duck’s nest and brings it back to school. One problem–their teacher (“famous for her steely glare”) has vowed that if another animals is brought into class she will trade the class guinea pig for stick insects. So when the egg hatches, what is Lulu to do? I love the way McKay writes and we all thought this was a terrific story (with an adorable cover) and can’t wait to read about Lulu and whatever animals she rescues next.

(Coincidentally, I am presently reading McKay’s newest book for older readers called Binny for Short.)

Yes, That is Funny

That’s Not Funny! and Who’s in the Bathroom? (both by Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds) feature one of the lowest forms of humor-the poop joke. But by golly, does that joke land with kids. And yes, they are funny.

funnyThat’s Not Funny!  tells the story of Hyena, who is witness to all kinds of mishaps that befall his friends. Slipping on a banana, smacking into a wall, coconuts landing on heads, etc. Every time something happens to one of the animals it causes another thing to happen. And each of these awful things makes Hyena laugh and laugh, and the poor victim cry out, “That’s not funny!” I’m sure we can all relate to being that person, and thus it makes it super hilarious when it all comes back to Hyena at the end when everything bad happens to him..and then something extra, too.

bathroomIn Who’s in the Bathroom? two children wait on a long line for a public bathroom.  While they wait (with increasing urgency) they wonder about who could be in there and why they are taking so long. Could it be “an elephant having a poo?” or maybe “a waddling penguin too frozen to piddle?” (complete with picture of a frozen stream of said piddle) or maybe a “hippo’s fat bottom got wedged in and stuck” Many, many animals with many possible scenarios, all very funny and tied in to what kind of animal it is. When the door finally opens it’s a very funny and cute payoff. This would actually be a great book for 2 and 3 year olds.

Architects and Engineers

iggyIggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, feature some pretty clever kids. And while I’ve read many a picture book about talented artists, singers, fashion designers, etc., I don’t know that I know many others that tout architecture and engineering, so these are pretty cool.
Since he was a wee babe Iggy Peck has loved building and constructing fantastic structures. Unfortunately, when he gets to school his teacher puts a ban on architecture.  The hilarious and improbable backstory is that she had an architecture related trauma as a youngster herself.   But on a class trip the group finds themselves relying on Iggy Peck’s architecture smarts to save the day, as well as curing his teacher of her fears.


rosieRosie Revere is one of Iggy’s classmates and she simply loves to invent all kinds of gadgets and gizmos. That is, until someone laughs at one of her more preposterous ones. It takes a visit from her great great aunt Rosie (who is clearly Rosie the Riveter) to remind Rose that failure is a part of trying and the process of getting better.
Roberts’ illustrations for both books are delightful, with preposterous hairdos, graphic lines, and neat details.

Rabbits and Enchanted Frogs

We’ve just discovered an author we’re finding exceptionally clever-Emily Gravett.  (Who is by no means new, and has quite an extensive catalog, so we’ll be looking for more.)This week we checked out both Spells and The Rabbit Problem.  They are both picture books with an element of reader interaction/page manipulation/lots of jokes to find.

spellsSpells begins with a frog finding a book of spells and attempting to do one that will turn him into a handsome prince.  Each page has a rhyming type of spell, but the final phrase may not make much sense or rhyme, depending on which part of the page you turn. Remember those toys and books where the page is divided in three and you can make kooky animals by turning the top (head), middle, and bottom (legs) to different parts? That’s the basic concept here.  There are lots of lovely clever details and a twist of an ending when the frog finally gets what he wants.


rabbitThe Rabbit Problem has page manipulations too, with three dimensional elements.  An empty field with a fence around it (Fibonacci’s Fence, ha ha) has but one lonely rabbit in it. When another rabbit joins her she is happy. The rest of the book looks like a calendar with each month showing a changing tally of the rabbit population and some kind of crisis (carrot shortage, carrot abundance, heat wave, etc.) I loved the details, such as  cookbook during the month of carrot abundance. You could actually turn the pages of it and read the hilarious “recipes.” Very clever with so much to look at!

Not Your Average Bears

goldiWe like all sorts of Goldilocks variations, and Leigh Hodgkinson’s Goldilocks and Just One Bear is an especially delightful twist on the classic.  The bear suddenly finds himself in an overwhelming city, dazed and confused and lost.  He seeks refuge in the penthouse of Snooty Towers and enters a vacant and lovely apartment.  In a familiar turn events he tries out food, seating, and finally a bed. The human mom, dad, and little girl arrive home to find the disarray, which seems somewhat familiar to the mom. The startling twist made us laugh and also provided a charming and sweet ending.


winterWhen I saw the title and cover of The Winter Visitors by Karel Hayes, I immediately thought, “It’s like the Fourteen Bears in Winter!” And while it’s not exactly, there is a similarity in one aspect.  As the book opens you see a family packing up their summer cabin-sheets cover furniture, belongings are packed, things are tidied, and a boy’s red cap blows out into the lake.  As they drive away you see a bear family watching their departure. And then, the bears move in.  All through the fall and early winter you see them enjoying the cabin and all it has to offer. There are fun connections to the human family, such as going fishing and catching the red cap.  Eventually they begin their winter nap, snug in the cabin, and when spring arrives they clean up and move out just in time for the return of the people. There are lots of fun details and parallels to look for in this, as well as being an enjoyable take on the familiar concept of “what happens when we’re not there.”

A Sweet Life

cupcakwA pair of sweet books for today! What’s sweeter than a delicious cupcake? Not much. Cupcake by Charise Mericle Harper does one of my favorite things and personifies food (like in Arnie the Talking Doughnut or Stop That Pickle!) A vanilla cupcake with creamy white vanilla frosting is very happy on a plate with other cupcakes, all of which are very colorful and festive. She begins to feel a bit plain, especially when they are all chosen and she is left behind. Along comes a candle who is also feeling plain and mopey, especially when compared to all the other fancy candles that are around.  He suggests that Cupcake would feel better if she just had something decorative on top of her. He comes up with all kinds of crazy ideas (pancakes, a squirrel) and of course it’s very clear that the best decoration of all that would solve both their problems would be for the candle to be atop her. Simple and enjoyable, and it reminded me of Spoon and Chopstick.

thisplusThis Plus That: Life’s Little Equations by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a lovely book that shows the special equations that make up life. For example, laughter + keeping secrets + sharing=best friend.  Cupcake up above could use this lesson: anything + sprinkles=better.  And my husband read this page three times loudly: chores ÷ everyone=family. Charming illustrations by Jen Corace show cheerful rosy cheeked children acting out the lesson. A sweet book.