Monday, September 12, 2011

Socksquatch

The kids and I enjoy stories involving monsters, ghosts, witches, etc., and we're already getting excited for Halloween. Recently we read a hilarious book written and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer called Socksquatch.

There isn't much to this story, as Socksquatch, and his fellow-monster friends, are people of few words. But the few words used are well-chosen, and along with Dormer's simple, child-like illustrations, they create a rich running gag that my kids giggled through from beginning to end.

Poor Socksquatch has cold feet, but only one sock. He goes on a bit of a rampage, much like a toddler in search of comfort. Visiting his monster friends one by one, he asks, "Got sock? Foot cold." But Wayne (a werewolf) has no sock, just fur. Frank sloooowly responds that he has a sock and is happy to share, but because this monster has such big feet, the sock doesn't fit our furry friend. He trips on the over-large garment. This results in a screaming fit as Socksquatch expresses his dismay, again in a rather child-like fashion, arms in air, tears flying ("AAAAAAAAAAA!"). Martin (a mummy), hears the commotion and comes to see how he can help, dragging along the damsel he was terrorizing at the moment. He of course has no sock to offer, but Damsel, who is one heck of a good sport, comes to the rescue of the monster in distress. In the end we see Socksquatch happy at last--for now. Kids will delight in the twist that foreshadows another tantrum somewhere on the horizon. Dormer's other books, as listed on his web site, look as giggle-inducing as this one, so I'll be on the look out for them on our next trip to the library.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Cavalcade of Cats: The Cat Who Walked Across France


Next up on our list of cat-related books is The Cat Who Walked Across France, written by Kate Banks and illustrated by Georg Hallensleben.

Filled with charming, colorful paintings, this book tells the story of an un-named, dainty grey and white cat who lived a peaceful, companionable life with an old woman in a cottage by the sea. Sadly, his woman dies and all of her possessions are shipped away. The cat is forgotten and very lonely. He becomes a stray and roams from place to place. We see France through the cat's perspective, and experience how loneliness feels slightly different from one environment to another, farm to city, park to bridge. We also see how he survives, always moving, always in search of the happiness he once knew in the cottage by the sea. Eventually, he makes his way back to that stone cottage, and walks inside the open door to curl up and rest. When he awakens he finds that the cottage is now inhabited by a kind family with two small children, who are delighted to find the stray and give him food and affection. Unbeknown to them, the cat has found home again, in more ways than one.

This is a poetic, vividly descriptive tale that explores loss, healing, and what makes a house a home. Children will learn that experiencing loss, and learning to love again, is very much a journey--one that is sometimes lonely and difficult. But if one perseveres and keeps hope alive, happiness can be found again.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Cavalcade of Cats: Mr. Pusskins


My kids love cats, so it's not unusual for us to read books about them, as you could tell from my previous post on Halloween Cats. Over the next few days I thought I would share some of the more memorable cat-related books we've read recently.

In our latest batch from the library, we have a book written and illustrated by Sam Lloyd called Mr. Pusskins: A Love Story. This book is worth your time if only for the amusing illustrations of the constantly cross Mr. Pusskins, a shaggy, chubby, rather spoiled ginger cat with a trouble-making streak. Emily, his little girl, absolutely loves him, as evidenced by her ample attention. She is always playing with him, brushing his fur, reading him stories in bed at night and telling him what a handsome boy he is. None of this sits well with Mr. Pusskins, who finds Emily, and his life with her, boring and annoying. He wants more from life, and decides to go after it one night by running away. At first he has a glorious time indulging in all sorts of naughty activities, but in time, a life without a nice warm house to go to at night and someone to give him genuine affection wears thin. He realizes that he should have appreciated Emily and the life he had. A surprise and a choice to be more humble and grateful lead Mr. Pusskins to redemption, and there is a satisfying happy ending. This is a funny story that gently teaches children to return kindness and be thankful for what they have. I've since learned that there are sequels, and I definitely intend to share them with my kiddos.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A New Chapter & the Harper Collins Gift Guide

Hello All. It's been a horribly long time since I've written. Life is crazier than I can describe, and not really in a good way. I'm facing a divorce and dealing with separation from my husband. We've only been married for a couple years, but have been together as a couple for over nine years, and in addition to my own heartbreak (I'm not the one who wants to end things), I'm trying to ensure that my children have stability and feel safe and loved throughout this ordeal.

Part of moving on and trying to stay positive for me is going to involve becoming more active in my writing again. And since this blog is devoted to things I share with my kids, it's all the more appropriate that I turn to it as I enter a new chapter of my life with the Light and Seal in tow.

Today is Black Friday, and frankly I hate shopping on normal days, let alone days when the whole world seems to be willing to kill each other to obtain a good deal. I do, however, enjoy looking at online catalogs and gift guides and am starting to consider what I can do for my kids' Christmas within a limited budget.

I get the HarperCollins newsletter, and today was pleased to spend some time browsing through their Holiday Gift Guide for children's books. You can browse inside the books, which is always fun. I can't believe I'm so far behind in reading the books in the Septimus Heap series. Goodness. Have a look, and start thinking about the new adventures your children can have in the pages of books as they enter a new year.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Magical Book of Poems

If your kids are like mine, they love anything to do with magic, witches and wizards. I love sharing the magic of poetry with them, so what better way to do that and feed their desire for the mystical than with Magic Poems, compiled by John Foster and illustrated by the award winning Korky Paul. This collection of 18 poems deals with all things magical and humorous, from the legend of Quickspell the Wizard (by Jack Ousby), to the story of A Very Modern Witch (by Charles Thomson) with a souped-up broom, you'll enjoy the funny along with the fantastic. Other poems in the collection include:
  • Where Goblins Dwell, a celebration of imagintion by the legendary Jack Prelutsky
  • Harry Hobgoblin's Superstore, by David Harmer that describes a shop I'd love to check out
  • Willy the Wizard's Shopping Trip, by Paul Cookson, which imagines what the chain stores of the wizarding world might be
  • Dinner on Elm Street, by Michaela Morgan, a jab at school lunches that shows the lunch lady in the same vein as the Three Witches from Macbeth
  • The Ballad of the Waterbed by Max Fatchen tells the tale of a piratical boy and his nightly adventures
  • The Marvellous Trousers by Richard Edwards is the story of a magical pair of pants the adventures they gave the one who found them. These are some real traveling pants.
  • The Magician, by Gareth Owen recounts an unfortunate mishap involving a little girl's party, a father palying magician and a disappearing box
  • Maxo, the Magician, by Richard Edwards is a funny story of the revenge of a magician's hat
  • Miranda, the Queen of the Air by Doug MacLeod is the tragic story of Miranda and a levitating panda
  • Wanted--A Witch's Cat by Shelagh McGee is an ad that a witch might place in the paper for a proper familiar
  • Genie by Trevor Millum is a tale of mistaken identity
  • Sir Guy and the Enchanted Princess by David Harmer is one of my personal favorites, tells the tale of a knight in not so shining armor and a princess who rides off alone into the night
  • Mang, Katon, and the Crocodile King by Jennifer Tweedie is a heroic tale of the defeat of a the Crocodile King. It's cute by very hard to read aloud in my experience.
  • Dreaming the Unicorn by Tony Mitton is a lovely celebration of dreams
  • The Moon's Magic by Andrew Collet is a tale of the magical nature of the moon and the fate that befalls the greedy
  • The Lonely Enchanter by Marian Swinger is a sad story about the distance that power places between those with it and those without
If your kids enjoy this collection, be sure to check out the other anthologies by John Foster in this Oxford University Press Series, including Dinosaur Poems, Monster Poems and Dragon Poems.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons from Mother Earth


I recently shared a lovely picture book with my kids written by Elaine McLeod and illustrated by Colleen Wood called Lessons from Mother Earth. McLeod was born Mayo, Yukon and is a member of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation. This book tells the story of Tess, a five-year-old girl visiting her grandmother's cabin in the mountains. Grandmother decides to show Tess her "garden," which turns out to consist of the edible plants growing wild in the woods and meadows surrounding her home. They go for a walk with bucket and basket in hand, and Grandmother shows Tess where to find the plants and teaches her the proper way to gather from and respect the land. She explains that the plants are ready for harvesting at different times in the year, and that there is a balance to strike between harvesting too much or too little--too much and the plants won't produce for you again, too little and the plants will eventually wither and die. Grandmother also teaches Tess that she must care for the land which provides for her, never littering and being careful not to trample plants. "If you are careful and thankful, my granddaughter, our garden will care for you. There is plenty for everyone to share if we don't destroy the soil." Grandmother whispers her thanks to Mother Earth as she harvests and explains that her mother taught her about the plants, so we see the passing of the tradition to Tess. In the end, Tess has learned to be thankful for the Earth and all it provides, as well as the wisdom of her grandmother. This is a beautifully illustrated book, full of soft curves, warm and bright colors, and details (such as the many animals which follow and observe Tess and Grandmother as they harvest). Wood has a gift for portraying smiling faces--she gets the light and shadow just right. The story teaches a gentle lesson of respect and appreciation for Earth and the resources that we share with other creatures. It also provides a nice model of native spirituality, with reverance for Mother Earth and the Great Spirit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day: Two Lessons on Litter


It's after midnight, so I can officially say happy Earth Day!!!! In the spirit of stewardship, I thought I'd share a couple of picture books with you that can be helpful when talking to young children about something we all deal with every day--trash. Whether we're taking it out, sorting out recycling, trying to figure out how to produce less of it, or lamenting all the trash we see on the side of road, trash is a part of our lives for better or worse. These two books teach children how proper disposal and management of waste is important for everyone's quality of life.

The Day the Trash Came Out to Play by David M. Beadle tells the story of Sutton Nash, the "cleanest town in the land" and how this idyllic town was sullied one day when a young boy named Robin thoughtlessly tossed a candy wrapper on the ground instead of in the trash bin. Laurie A. Faust's clever illustrations animate the "Super Sourpuss" candy wrapper by showing the caped superhero on the wrapper flying about on the wind, dismayed and disheveled as his wrapper blows all over town annoying wildlife and inadvertently encouraging other bits of trash to leave their proper receptacles and "come out to play." The story is told in rhyming verse, making it more fun to read aloud, and also a good selection to simultaneously celebrate National Poetry Month. The story teaches that it is important to consider how our trash affects others. At first Robin thinks it's funny to see to the wrapper blowing about and believes he need not worry about it once it is out of sight. "What Robin forgot to think about, is that it has to go somewhere." There's also a lesson about setting a proper example by doing the right thing. When other bits of trash see the wrapper flying around, they decide to come out and run all over town (the illustrations for this are cute as each bit of trash is animated, and it all looks mischievous). "Because they saw someone else go first, they thought it was okay." Of course we're really talking about people here. People will be more likely to litter or be apathetic about their own waste when they see others behaving that way or evidence that others have done so before them (i.e. litter on the ground). This lesson is underscored by the town sign, which is shown at the beginning and end of the story. At the end, an addition to the sign has been made: "Trash begets Trash." The citizens of Sutton Nash are dismayed by the rampant litter problem, and Robin realizes his mistake. He leads the town in a cleanup, and after the incident, the town builds a recycling center.

The Great Trash Bash, written and illustrated by Loreen Leedy, is a similar story about a town called Beaston--appropriately named because it is populated by anthropomorphic animals. As in the previous book, the story begins by describing the beauty of Beaston as we see a sign welcoming us to the town, but it is noted that "something is wrong." This is clear from the illustration, which shows an old abandoned car by the trees, litter along the side of the road, and a series of signs, spaced Burma Shave-style, that tell motorists to "Buy More More and More." The book is much like a comic book because in addition to the main narration, the story is told via speech balloons on the illustrations. Mayor Hippo feels that something is amiss but can't put his finger on it. He is shown interacting with citizens that toss litter on the ground, discuss throwing out their old possessions after buying new items and lament over a polluted body of water where no swimming is allowed. Finally, after slipping on a banana peel and landing in a pile of litter, the mayor realizes that there is too much waste and wasteful behavior in the town. He leads the reader on visits to the dump, the incinerator and the landfill, and he and other characters note the benefits and drawbacks of all of these alternatives for waste management. After discussing their trash problem, the citizens decide to make lifestyle changes that will reduce waste, such as buying in bulk, avoiding excess packaging, and reusing items. They learn to fix their possessions to make them last longer, to recycle and compost, and not to litter. In the end, we see the "Welcome to Beaston" sign again and have the beauties of the town reiterated, but this time we can see that everything is cleaner and all the citizens are out enjoying the landscape and celebrating. On the last page of the book, Leedy offers 13 simple tips for reducing waste. Due to the speech bubble format and the more complex ideas dealt with in this book, it's a bit harder to read aloud than The Day the Trash Came Out to Play, but it can lead to some interesting conversations with kids as you discuss the lessons the mayor learns about waste and what happens to items when you recycle them or compost them.

For more suggestions on books to read with kids as you celebrate Earth Day, see JacketFlap.com's search results on Earth Day, Amazon.com's list of suggested Earth Day books for children and teens, and the Green Reading for EE Week list on the National Environmental Education Week website.