Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays from The Bookish Elf

Cozy Little Book Journal and The Bookish Elf are taking a bit of a break, trying not to read the news too much before bed, and just generally enjoying time with family and friends. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and recharge your batteries for the year ahead!

CLBJ and TBE will return soon with new reviews, as well as some "year in review" type posts, including some of my favourite--and possibly LEAST favourite--books of 2012. See you soon!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

All About Boats: A to Z, by David Aiken and Zora Aiken (illustrated by David Aiken)

All About Boats: A to Z
Authors: David Aiken and Zora Aiken 
Illustrator: David Aiken 
Publisher: Schiffer Books 
Publication Date: October 9, 2012 
I love the concept of this book--an alphabet book about boats and all things boat-related--even if the execution could be better. Some of the rhymes are a bit strained (it's never easy to find a good word for 'x') and the artwork's a bit old-fashioned, but overall it's cute. I'm sure it would be a hit with the boat-obsessed three- to seven-year-old in your life!

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, by K.G. Campbell

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters
Author: K.G. Campbell 
Publisher: Kids Can Press 
Publication Date: September 1, 2012 
Lester is a particular boy. He likes everything to be orderly and neat. He likes things to be proper. So when his Cousin Clara comes to stay (whose cousin she is remains unclear) and proceeds to knit Lester sweater after horrible sweater, all with extra bits or missing arm holes, Lester is not happy. In fact, he's dreadful. He tries everything he can think of to "accidentally" lose or destroy each sweater, but Cousin Clara is a maddeningly fast knitter and there's always another monstrosity to replace the last.

It's rare to get a chance to witness the beginning of the career of a children's book author you know is destined to be beloved by generations. I am too young to have read the very first book by Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl or Margaret Wise Brown, before everyone knew their names, and seen their work from the beginning. But I'm fairly certain that in a few decades time, everyone will know Keith Gordon Campbell from the library of quirky and beloved children's classics he has yet to write. If Lester's Dreadful Sweaters is any indication, you'll be buying his books for your great-grandchildren. I'm actually astounded that this is his debut book. After reading it, I immediately felt such a strong kinship with it that I was certain I had been reading and loving it for years!

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more!

Dinosaur Countdown, by Nicholas Oldland

Dinosaur Countdown
Author: Nicholas Oldland
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: August 1, 2012
This preschool counting book satisfied the dinosaur lovers in my family! The pictures are delightful (and, according to my resident dinosaur expert, accurate enough to pass muster) and the countdown rhyme is very cute. My favourite thing, though, is that it includes zero. Not enough counting books include zero! It shows dinosaur bones with "zero dinosaurs" because they're extinct, silly. Love it!

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Birthday Suit, by Olive Senior (illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes)

Birthday Suit
Author: Olive Senior
Illustrator: Eugenie Fernandes
Publisher: Annick Press 
Publication Date: February 1, 2012

This book is, as you might guess, about a little boy who just doesn't see why he should have to wear clothes. After all, he lives on a beautiful sunny island with warm sun and sparkling water--he should be allowed to go naked! Alas, his family disagrees and tries to tell Johnny that it's time to put some clothes on. It's a sad day for many a nudist toddler. I remember my own wriggly baby was able to somehow get herself out of her one-piece pajamas the first week she was home from the hospital...and that was WHILE SWADDLED! We'd go in and find her swaddling blankets a little loose (but mostly intact) but she'd be completely naked inside the blankets and her pajamas or onesies would be pushed down inside the swaddle, down by her feet. I tell that to Magda now and she's not sure if she believes me, but she certainly appreciates the desire to be a naked toddler. I think a lot of parents and kids will be able to relate to this delightful tale of unencumbered toddlerhood!

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more!

Big Brave Daddy, by Smiljana Coh

Big Brave Daddy

Author: Smiljana Coh 

(text copyright Harriet Ziefert, Inc.)
Illustrator: Smiljana Coh 
(illustration copyright Smiljana Coh)
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
There are a lot of great preschool picture books about kids and their dads...I'm just not sure this is one of them. The illustrations are, I think, meant to be folksy or something, but really they just look like they were done with MS Paint or Facebook Graffiti (and even then, they're not that great). The text apparently wasn't even written by the listed author, since the "text copyright" is held by the publisher, Harriet Ziefert (see below for more about that). I've looked at Smiljana Coh's online portfolio and some of her art is lovely and amazing, but I am definitely not a fan of the art in this book. I thought maybe my three-year-old, Magda, would find it cute and silly at least, but she seemed more confused than anything ("Are they mice? Why do they have big ears? Where are their tails?").

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Lucy Rescued, by Harriet Ziefert (illustrated by Barroux)

Lucy Rescued
Author: Harriet Ziefert
Illustrator: Barroux
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: March 27, 2012
Unfortunately, this is another book by Blue Apple Books that has the page numbers all messed up on the e-book edition (I've contacted the publisher multiple times and have heard no response) so it was impossible to read the book properly on my desktop the way you would a print edition (with pages 2-3 facing each other, pages 4-5 facing each other, etc.). As a result, the illustrations were all cut in half when we were trying to read this, so we had to guess what was happening some of the time. I found it a bit annoying, though my daughter Magda didn't seem to mind since she really loved the story. Something about the story of the little dog that couldn't sleep without a stuffed animal friend really resonated with her (she herself is miserable without Lambie). If you have to choose between a print edition and an e-book edition, though, I would steer clear of the e-book, since it's very likely mis-numbered the way my review copy was (again, I emailed the publisher a few times and didn't get an answer).
Hit the jump for Magda's take and more!

Pass It On, by Marylyn Sadler (illustrated by Michael Slack)

Pass It On
Author: Marylyn Sadler
Illustrator: Michael Slack
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Oh this book would have been so great if the pages had lined up properly! I received the e-book version of this through Edelweiss and read it on my desktop with my three-year-old, Magda. The problem was, the book is clearly meant to be read two pages at a time (like you would with a print book), which is normally not a problem since I just set my desktop reader to the two-page view. With most e-books, though, the publishers remember to number the pages in the digital file the same way you would number the pages in the print edition, or leave blank pages where necessary, so that a two-page illustration--say, pages 2-3 in the book--appear together in the e-book edition. Blue Apple Books, however, didn't do that. They added extra file pages at the beginning (a page of promotional bookmarks or something) that messed up the page numbers and made it impossible for me to view this book properly. So Magda and I viewed half a cow and half a dog on one page, then flipped to the next page for the other half of the dog and half a duck, etc. I contacted the publisher (more than once) to ask for a better review copy, but did not hear back. From this, I can only assume that the e-book edition is exactly like the review copy I received, in which case I would recommend you avoid it at all costs. If, however, you find a print copy, check it out as it's actually a pretty cute story! It's a play on that old "telephone" game I used to play as a child (I'm sure you did too) where the farm animals have to pass messages along and it all gets muddled up.

Hit the jump for Magda's take and more!

The Silly Looking Thing, by Eva M. Sakmar-Sulliavan

The Silly Little Thing

Author: Eva M. Sakmar-Sullivan
Publisher: Schiffer Books
Publication Date: August 31, 2012

This is another one of those books that is "okay" but maybe isn't destined to become a classic. The premise is that a young frog is looking for a playmate at the pond, but refuses to play with the "silly looking thing" in the water, no matter how many times it asks. By the end, the "silly looking thing" has turned into a young frog himself and it turns out he was just a tadpole before. The premise is great and there's so much room for humour here, but I found myself trying to dress up the "silliness" of the book with funny voices and things. The book itself didn't really have much silliness or whimsy, which I found disappointing. When I read it to Magda, she seemed a bit let down at the end, as though I had missed a page. It's clearly intended to be a "message" book about not judging people based on their looks, but I think it's a lost opportunity that the author didn't also make it a funny, silly story that kids would want to read multiple times.

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Drummer Boy of John John, by Mark Greenwood (illustrated by Frane Lessac)

Drummer Boy of John John 
Author: Mark Greenwood
Illustrator: Frane Lessac
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
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Buy Now on 

Wow, if there was ever a children's book that cried out for an audio recording, it's this one! This vibrantly illustrated book tells the story of a little boy getting ready for Carnival in Trinidad by trying to make his own drums out of things he finds in the junkyard, and was inspired by the life of Winston "Spree" Simon, one of the pioneers of the Caribbean steel drum. The pictures and words almost sing right off the page, but I would love to hear an audio recording with the sounds of the steel drum in the background while the author (or a narrator) tells the story of island music, Carnival celebrations, delicious roti and, of course, steel drums. As soon as I read this with Magda I immediately looked up videos of steel drums to show her!

Hit the jump to see the book trailer, Magda's Take and more!

Shadows on my Wall, by Timothy Young

Shadows on My Wall
Author: Timothy Young 
Publisher: Schiffer Books 
Publication Date: August 31, 2012
Shadows on My Wall is a simple but delightful story about a child who has difficulty sleeping because the street lights cause all manner of strange shadows on his wall. At first he thinks there are monsters in his room, but soon learns that he can pretend the shadows are anything he wants them to be, including funny playmates to keep him company at night. I loved this book. The illustrations are simple and consistent--every page is the child's room with various shadows on the wall--but they hit just the right tone. Shadows CAN be scary but it's a great message to remind children that they can also be fun and funny. It reminded me a little of Ed Emberley's Go Away, Big Green Monster! or Charles G. Shaw's It Looked Like Spilt Milk, where things aren't always what they seem and sometimes it's all a matter of interpretation. Plus, as a bonus, the last page includes a whole bunch of how-to shadow puppets that you can try at home!

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more pictures from inside the book!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mac & Cheese, Please! 50 Super Cheesy Recipes, by Laura Werlin

If I told you I'd never made real macaroni and cheese you'd probably stop reading this review right now. But after reading Mac & Cheese, Please! I realize I haven't. Sure I've thrown together some cheese, milk and macaroni (sometimes not even from a box!) but what I've made doesn't even come close to the food porn scrumptiousness contained in this book. 

Laura Werlin starts off with one of the longest introductions I've read in a cookbook in a while, especially in one essentially devoted to a single dish. She lovingly (bordering on obsessively) details the milk to cream ratios, the types of cheese that melt the best compared to those that give the most flavour, the proper wait time to obtain maximum cheesiness. In short, she has thought more about macaroni and cheese than most of us do about Christmas dinner.

But thank goodness she has because the result is a collection of recipes that burst from the pages with enticing photos and clever add-ins that just beg you to try them all right now. When I first read this book I had been sick with the flu for a week and could barely even look at food but I think my body willed itself to get better when I saw all that delicious melted cheese and toasted bread crumbs (and fried mac & cheese bites--oh my!). 

On a side note, I received the e-book only and read it all on my computer screen (my Kobo is fantastic but it would not have done the photos any justice). So I guess what I'm saying is somebody should go buy me this book! It's not available until December 2012 but, you know, Christmas and all...just sayin'...BUY ME THIS BOOK! please?

Hit the jump for more Mac'n'ations (with cheese)....I apologize that was cheesy. Oh, I'm sorry again. I'll stop now.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Too good not to share!

Okay, so this isn't exactly a book review, but since I signed up to do NaNoWriMo this year, I may be a little busier than usual. But I don't want the blog to suffer, so in the meantime I thought I'd share my new favourite video of the week. It's "The Three Little Pigs" in French, to the tune of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." It's unbelievably awesome. My partner Mike and I have been gnomcing around the apartment singing "petit cochon" to our daughter for two days now (Oh, "gnomcing" is a word we made up to describe moving in a whimsically mischievous know, like a garden gnome. It's obvious when you think about it, really.)

Maybe I should find various versions of The Three Little Pigs to review just so I can justify posting this video over and over...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Apples and Butterflies: A Poem for Prince Edward Island, by Shauntay Grant (illustrated by Tamara Thiebaux-Heikalo)

Apples and Butterflies:

A Poem for Prince Edward Island
Author: Shauntay Grant
Illustrator: Tamara Thiebaux-Heikalo
Publisher: Nimbus Publishing
Publication Date: October 5, 2012

It's the cold days of fall in the Maritimes ("my dad has bagged up all the leaves / a shadow hides the place I call home") and a young girl is reminiscing about her family's vacation in Prince Edward Island, remembering all the sights, sounds and smells of the island in the late summer and early fall. From butterflies to apple picking, sandcastles to books by the campfire, she uses the memories of her family's trip to keep her warm as the weather grows colder. Told in Shauntay Grant's rich poetic style, Apples and Butterflies is a love letter to those every day moments of childhood that stay in our memories forever.

I want to go where there are no alarm clocks
and no chores
only time
lots and lots of time

I just want to breathe
breathe air that tastes like apples:

I was lucky enough to go to the Halifax book launch for this book, with live performances by Shauntay Grant and musical guests including Verena Rizg (who appeared--in illustrated form--in Shauntay's previous book, The City Speaks in Drums). Shauntay talked about how this book was inspired by real trips her family took to PEI, as well as by moments of "everyday magic" that her parents created for her throughout her childhood. 

The illustrations are rich and detailed but also whimsical and fantastical. The sun smiles down on the family walking along the beach, the colours of the sky swirl together like cinnamon rolls, and the little girl's magenta scarf twists and twirls for miles around her. Gorgeous!

For photos from the book launch on October 25, 2012, in Halifax, NS, head over to Cozy Little Book Journal!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Live near Halifax, Nova Scotia? Come see Shauntay Grant!

Do you live near Halifax, Nova Scotia? Come to the book launch of Shauntay Grant's latest book for children, Apples and Butterflies! The event is Thursday, October 25 (that's tomorrow!) at 6:30pm at the Halifax North Memorial Library at 2285 Gottingen Street in Halifax. 

Shauntay will be reading from her new book with musical accompaniment, plus there will be refreshments and, of course, the opportunity buy her wonderful new book!
From the Facebook event for the book launch:
Join Shauntay for a performance with musical accompaniment, refreshments, and her wonderful book!
Apples and Butterflies is a gentle, lyrical poem about a family's autumn vacation and shows Prince Edward Island in a light we don't often see --the bright blue and orange light of fall. Tamara Thiébaux-Heikalo's rich and wild illustrations build a narrative with the text, showing us the family beachcombing, flying kites, and picking apples. Shauntay Grant's award-winning poetry makes the reader long to go with her, and conveys the wide-open space of the island, where you can

breathe air that tastes like apples:
ripeand ready for picking.

Shauntay Grant is an award-winning writer, spoken word performer, broadcast journalist, and musician. She is Halifax's third poet laureate (2009–2010) and the author of The City Speaks in Drums and Up Home, which won the 2008 Atlantic Book Award for Best Atlantic Published Book. Shauntay lives in Halifax.

Shauntay Grant is the author of two previous books for children, Up Home and The City Speaks in Drums, both of which are favourites of my daughter, Magda. We'll be posting reviews of all three books very soon!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Happy Hector (A Tilly and Friends Book), by Polly Dunbar

Hector the pig was spending time with his friend Tilly. He was the happiest he had ever been. Then all the other friends started coming in and asking Tilly to play too, until there was no room for Hector. Then he was the unhappiest he had ever been. Luckily Tilly and her friends know just how to cheer him up.

Happy Hector is exactly what a masterful book for young children looks like. The words may be minimal, but they are carefully chosen and thoughtfully arranged, and the illustrations show so much even though they are so simple. I can't say enough good things about this series!

Doodle Bites (A Tilly and Friends Book), by Polly Dunbar

Doodle woke up feeling bitey. Unfortunately her friends don't like it when she starts biting them! This delightful Tilly and Friends book by Polly Dunbar may be about a crocodile, an elephant, a pig and a bird, but it's a story many a toddler can relate to. It's no fun to be bitten or hit, but sometimes your friends just wake up feeling bitey!

I especially love how the characters work together to resolve the conflict and all remain friends.

Pretty Pru (A Tilly and Friends Book), by Polly Dunbar

Pru is a chicken. A fancy chicken. A VERY fancy chicken. She wears makeup and jewellery and bows on her head, and soon all her friends want to play dress up just like Pru.

Polly Dunbar said in an interview that her inspiration for this character came from how funny she thought it would be to have a chicken wearing lipstick because, well, chickens don't have lips.

What I especially like about Pru is that even though she loves makeup and dressing up in fancy things, she's also one of the most responsible of the friends. If someone gets hurt, Pru is the one to get the first aid kit and bandage everybody up or give them kisses. I like to imagine that Pru's personality is how a child would imagine a teenager to be.

Where's Tumpty? (A Tilly and Friends Book), by Polly Dunbar

Tumpty the Elephant is trying to play hide-and-seek with his friends. He's tried hiding by closing his eyes, by putting a box over his head, even by doing a handstand while closing his eyes. But nothing seems to work--everyone can STILL see him! 

This book reminds me of my own childhood when my best friend and I would try to hide from each other and, if all else failed, we'd close our eyes. It also gives a little more insight into the world of Tilly and her animal friends. If you look closely you can see toys on the shelves that look like the characters: a stuffed toy that looks like it could be a pink pig like Hector, a yellow wooden bird that could be the inspiration for Pru, and even a blue couch that looks suspiciously like Tumpty. Polly Dunbar's outstanding series blends perfectly the reality of children's toys with the imaginary world children create for them. She's the A.A. Milne of our time. 

Goodnight, Tiptoe (A Tilly and Friends Book), by Polly Dunbar

It's bedtime in the little yellow house. Tilly has tucked Hector in, helped Doodle brush her teeth, given Tumpty his bath and helped Pru put her curlers in. Everyone but tiptoe. He's wide awake!

This is one of Magda's favourite in the series. Actually her dad and I love it too! It's adorable and I love seeing the characters' nighttime routine.

Hello Tilly (A Tilly and Friends Book), by Polly Dunbar

Tilly is a little girl who lives with her five friends in a little yellow house. They are: a crocodile named Doodle, a rabbit named Tiptoe, a pig named Hector, an elephant named Tumpty and a chicken named Pru. I love these books by Polly Dunbar! I can easily imagine Tilly's friends being the various stuffed toys she has in her room, brought to life by her own imagination. In fact, at the beginning and end of this story, Tilly is reading a little yellow book that looks suspiciously like the little yellow house where all her friends are meant to live. It's like The Matrix for the "under five" set.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Shakespeare on Toast: Getting a Taste for the Bard, by Ben Crystal

Shakespeare on Toast:
Getting a Taste for the Bard
Author: Ben Crystal
Publisher: Icon Books
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
FUN! That's the best way to describe the experience of reading Ben Crystal's Shakespeare on Toast. The author's goal was to make Shakespeare more accessible to readers of all ages who may be reluctant to take on the bard. I'm sure there are a million other books with that goal in mind and I'm certainly not able to provide a comparison of all the other books on the subject, nor can I say which ones I would or would not recommend. What I can say is that I would definitely recommend this one. The only thing that kept me from reading it all in one sitting is that I kept getting up to share what I'd learned with my partner (who is a secondary school English and history teacher and was eager to listen to all of my interruptions...thanks Mike!).

I'm actually planning to start a new project next year called "Shakespeare in a Year" in which I attempt to read all of Shakespeare's plays in a year (or at least before I'm forty, which is more than a year but less than five). I've been rather intimidated by the entire prospect and have been avoiding it at every turn. But this book actually helped. I think I can do it now!

Hit the jump to read some to the cool facts I learned!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Duck & Goose: Goose Needs a Hug, by Tad Hills

Goose is feeling sad and he needs a hug. His friends are all too willing to help cheer him up: with happy songs, splashing in puddles, even standing on their heads. The only thing they forget to do is actually listen to Goose. All he really needs is a hug!

This is a very cute and simple book that will appeal to very young children. And we all need a hug sometimes!

Keep reading for more pictures from the book and Magda's take!

Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueira (illustrated by Poly Bernatene)

There is a little pink pig sitting on a log, saying "Ribbit" of all things. What does he want? all the frogs are wondering. As the various forest animals debate the meaning of this strange event, the little pig waits there patiently, saying "Ribbit." Finally they must call in the wise old beetle to make sense of it all.

The book is--and I know I say this far too much--utterly charming. I especially love the expressions on the frogs' faces as they get more and more upset and confused by the ribbitting pig. So cute!

Keep reading for more pictures from the book and Magda's take!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tilly and Friends series, by Polly Dunbar

Our current book obsession around here is the Tilly and Friends series of books, by Polly Dunbar. They are fantastic and amazing and Magda (as well as her dad and I) could re-read them a hundred times a day. Tilly is a little girl who lives in a little yellow house with her five friends--a crocodile named Doodle, a pink pig named Hector, an elephant named Tumpty, a dancing rabbit named Tiptoe and a very fancy chicken named Pru. The books have simple language and whimsical illustrations that are sure to delight even very young children.

Stay tuned for reviews of each of the six books in the series! In the meantime, check out Magda's homemade Tilly and Friends collection that she made with her dolls and puppets.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Share the Bounty Finding God's Grace through the Spirit of Hospitality, by Benita Long (with Susan Wilson, Ann Mitchell, Sammy Anderson and Steve Wingfield)

When I first opened Share the Bounty I gasped. It's beautiful. It's as much a coffee table book as it is a cookbook, with beautifully photographed recipes interspersed with images of wholesome farm life and drool-worthy home decor ideas that could have come from any number of design magazines or Pinterest boards. It's a book I could pore over for days on end, that I could (and will) leave out for my guests to look at, perhaps at a dinner party inspired by the book.

These are the sorts of cookbooks I truly love. With every recipe imaginable readily available with the click of a mouse, I don't have as much use for the strictly utilitarian cookbooks as I once did. In college I made full use of my dog-eared and heavily annotated how-to guides to help me make the perfect vegetarian chili or four-ingredient apple tarts. But today, with internet access everywhere I go and many years of "learning the basics" behind me, what I really want is inspiration. I want a cookbook that makes me gasp.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Battle of the Dinosaur Bones: Othniel Charles Marsh vs Edward Drinker Cope, by Rebecca L. Johnson

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Pre-Order Now on
The infamous "Bone Wars" refers to the period in American history from the 1870's through to the 1890's when two paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, engaged in a bitter rivalry to discover the most dinosaur fossils (each working at the expense of the other, often using bribery and theft) and become the nation's leading paleontologist. The rivalry was dramatic, bitter and legendary. It also led to some of the most important discoveries about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.

Rebecca L. Johnson's new book, The Battle of the Dinosaur Bones, presents the Marsh-Cope feud in an easy to follow, well-illustrated book that would be appropriate for children (and adults) of all ages. As someone who lives with an armchair paleontologist and is surrounded by dozens of dinosaur books all the time, I must say I LOVED this book. I don't find dinosaurs quite as intrinsically interesting as my partner Mike does, but I've always been completely fascinated with the characters of Marsh and Cope. I love how their rivalry partially started when Cope incorrectly assembled the fossil remains of the Elasmosaurus and put its head on the end of its tail instead of its neck (see below). Marsh saw it and ridiculed his colleague ruthlessly, sparking a professional animosity between the two men that reminds me of the rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

Which reminds me...

Why isn't this a movie? I'm still amazed that the infamous "Bone Wars" hasn't been made into a major motion picture. It would make a great movie! It's already been the subject of books, graphic novels, a card game (!) and a PBS documentary called "Dinosaur Wars," but it needs to be a movie. Seriously. Just look at these two. So cinematic! I could picture them being played by David Bowie (circa The Prestige, when he played Tesla) and Paul Giamatti, no?


Oh, one tiny little point of order: 
At one point in the book, Johnson refers to the Bay of Fundy, where Marsh discovered early fossils, as "in northeastern Canada." It's not. Trust me. That's actually where I grew up and it's in eastern Canada for sure, but it's absolutely not in the "north" by any means. A small point.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Great Back-to-School Books for the Little Ones!

Do you have a little one going back to school this week? Or maybe starting for the first time? Here are a few books for young readers that deal with the ups and downs of back to school.

The Kissing Hand , by Audrey Penn (illustrations by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak)

Chester Raccoon is ready to start school but he's a little worried he'll miss his mother so she gives him the gift of her kiss to last the whole day long. It's sweet and tender and beautifully illustrated. A classic for a reason!

Llama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney

Llama Llama's mama has gotten him all ready for his first day of school. They've met the teacher. They've looked around the classroom. They've talked to the other children. But now it's time for Mama to leave and Llama Llama is sad. Will she remember to come back for him?

Franklin Goes to School, by Paulette Bourgeois (illustrations by Brenda Clark)

Franklin is excited to start school...until he has to actually get on the bus. This book was a perennial favourite in my daycare classrooms as children faced their own fears about starting "big school."

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat: The Art of Dr. Seuss, by Caroline M. Smith

A few years ago (okay, probably closer to a decade now) there was an installation of the artwork of Dr. Seuss at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, near where I live. It was close to Christmas time and--if I'm remembering it correctly--it was around the same time that Ron Howard's movie version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas was in theatres. The entire bottom floor of the museum was transformed into a sort of Whoville, with murals large and small on the walls and various whimsical statues throughout. I was enchanted. That was the moment I became a fan of Dr. Seuss as an adult. I had certainly been a fan as a child, and I still enjoyed the Boris Karloff Grinch every year on TV, but seeing those illustrations and sculptures made me a true fan. I loved the black-and-white or limited colour sketches that were the earliest incarnations of characters that I knew and loved. I loved seeing the process of early sketches being turned into fully formed books. I loved the unabashed whimsy that was Dr. Seuss' trademark.

This was exactly the feeling I got when I opened Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat. The illustrations are gorgeous and inspiring and imagination-bending. The colours are fantastic and magical (I viewed it on my desktop computer instead of my e-reader for full effect). The artwork, much of which I don't think I've ever seen before, made me feel I was getting to know Dr. Seuss on a level I never before understood. 

But--for better or for worse--it's not just the artwork that reveals "the cat behind the hat." This book explores aspects of Ted Geisel that I'm not sure I wanted to know. His failed attempt at an adult book with cartoon nudity inspired by The Rape of the Sabine Women, for example. Or his long history with Standard Oil. Or his racist depiction of Japanese Americans, despite his vocal stance against racial bigotry. I know he wasn't perfect, nor is it reasonable to expect that he--or any hero--would be. It's just...I'm not sure I was ready for the curtain to be pulled back on this one.
My best advice? Buy the book. Treat it like a coffee table book if you prefer (or as inspiring desktop wallpaper if viewing it on your computer). Drink in the gorgeous illustrations and immerse yourself in whimsy. And, if you're feeling a little curious and a little brave, read a little more about the real Dr. Seuss. He was fascinating, if at times troubling. And if, like me, you find the details of his life too hard to resolve with your childhood memories of Green Eggs and Ham, simply go back to the artwork. It's worth it for that alone.

I should point out that I'm in no way implying that Dr. Seuss was a horrible person, just that he was, well, a person. Reading this book was a little like finding out that my kindergarten teacher uses the bathroom. Not awful, just hard to believe.

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Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.