Thursday, June 19, 2014

Minnie and Moo: Hooves of Fire, by Denys Cazet

If you haven't discovered the world of Minnie and Moo, the fantastic farmyard series by Denys Cazet, I highly recommend them. Magda and I just love them!

Minnie and Moo are--as you may have guessed--a couple of cows who live on a farm and are always getting into misadventures, mostly brought on by their own grand expectations of life. They go dancing, they see the world, they solve mysteries, and--best of all--they are constantly thinking of ways to improve their farm. But of course it often goes a little bit wrong. They are, after all, not that smart, being just cows. They're certainly very smart for cows, and sometimes it seems they're even smarter than their perpetually slacking farmers, but they have their limits.

And that's when the books are at their most delightful.

In this book, the bovine pair have decided to host the First Annual Hoot, Holler, and Moo Talent Festival, an inter-farm talent show and fundraiser (the farmer needs a new tractor). They've arranged for various acts in the talent show, though it may be harder than they thought to keep things running smoothly. Elvis the Rooster won't leave the stage. The Boarzini brothers who are acting as security guards have their hands full with weasels, coyotes, foxes and hyenas (why were they even invited??) and the cash box has a habit of going missing. Oh, and there's an unscheduled port-a-potty race that is both hilarious and icky.

Since my daughter is only four, we read this chapter book together one chapter at a time over a course of about a week or so. It reads well this way, because for most of the book each chapter is a different stage act. So the sheep and their protest song is one chapter, the jazz poet pig is another, the dancing bull is another, etc. There were times throughout the book that both Magda and I were laughing out loud at the animals' antics. I will say that some of the animal acts weren't that easy to read aloud, however, since they involved long passages of song lyrics which I had to figure out how to sing. I'm not sure I did most of them justice.

There were also a few things I decided to edit a little for my very young child as I was reading it. Some of the animals say things to each other or as part of their talent show performances that were a little more rude than I'd like for a four-year-old. Things like calling each other "fatso" or songs about "ugly women who at least could cook" (except of course it wasn't "women" but cows or pigs, etc.) weren't so cool with me. So I changed those a little bit as I was reading it. But I also know that the intended audience is a little older than my child, so not everyone would necessarily be bothered by this.

Even still, the book had many more good points than bad points, and I'm definitely a fan of the series. Magda and I have read another chapter book in the series, Minnie and Moo and the Seven Wonders of the World (also about improving the farm in grand and misguided ways) and we both loved it. Better still, there are numerous Minnie and Moo books that are for younger readers, so if your child likes them then she or he can grow with the characters. Genius!

"Mommy, can we read another chapter of Minnie and Moo and the Hoofs of Fire"?

--We already finished it, honey.

"Oh. Oh yeah. Well I really liked it! I liked Elvis the Rooster. He was so ridiculous. Even when it wasn't his turn on stage he kept wanting to be on stage. And everyone kept saying, 'No, Elvis! You already had your turn!' but he wouldn't listen. Oh that Elvis." (rolls her eyes)

--I know. He wouldn't listen to the cows! Like Minnie and Moo and Irene...

"Mommy! Irene was a rhinoceros! Not a cow!" (shakes her head)

--Was she a rhino? Oh my goodness, I should know this. We JUST finished it...

"Yeah, see? That's why we should read it again. You've already forgotten about Irene! But I remember because her name reminded me of that book Brave Irene and I was thinking well I bet Irene in this book is brave too, and then I was thinking well of course she would be because she's a rhinoceros and rhinos seem very brave, I mean they do have a horn..." (this went on for some time)

Bottom line: Magda thinks we should re-read the whole thing again right away because it is awesome and because she is worried about her mother's memory.

Minnie and Moo: Hooves of Fire
Written and illustrated by Denys Cazet
Series: Minnie and Moo
Publisher: Creston Books
Publication Date:July 15, 2014
View on Amazon

Source: review copy from publicist

If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur, by Linday Bailey (illustrated by Colin Jack)

What an absolutely charming, laugh-out-loud funny book! I know my four-year-old can be pretty easy to please when it comes to children's books, especially if they have dinosaurs in them, but I wholeheartedly agree with her glowing review of this one. Here's what Magda had to say:

Magda's Take:
"I loved it! I loved the part where it says 'If you happen to have a dinosaur in your living room' because it's so funny! You can't have a dinosaur in your living room! They died out before humans were around! But I liked where they got all the dinosaurs to give them rides and deliver the mail. I even liked the part where it said that some dinosaurs would make good kites even though those weren't really dinosaurs. It was still funny though. Can we read it again tomorrow?"

If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur
by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Colin Jack
Published by Tundra Books (Random House)
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
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Source: NetGalley

Friday, June 13, 2014

At Home with Modern June: 27 Sewing Projects for Your Handmade Lifestyle, by Kelly McCants

If I can make these, then literally anyone can

I don't consider myself much of a seamstress (I was going to say 'sewer' but then I realized that 'sew-er' as in 'one who sews' is indistinguishable from 'sewer' as in 'where poop goes'...which is probably why people say 'seamstress') but I can mend torn clothes, sew a hem, and make simple things like doll clothes or pillow covers. But even I found the projects in this book easy. As in, really easy. So easy, in fact, that I probably didn't need a book to tell me how to do them (like make a place mat or a simple pair of curtains).

At the same time, if you are someone who loves the look (or idea) of handmade items for your home but have absolutely no idea where to begin, this book might be perfect. The photos are aspirational and--as promised--modern, even though they're referencing a nostalgic time gone by. For instance, the author refers to her grandmother as "the only person she ever knew who wore an apron" then shows you how to make an apron. It's the book for people who find Pinterest exciting but too complicated.

But because the projects are so simple, At Home With Modern June does make me want to try the few ideas in the book that are slightly more intimidating (to me at least) like the Roman blind or the bed skirt ruffle. Since the other things are so easy, how hard could these ones be? If I actually do get a Roman blind finished, I'll be sure to update you with my results!

Ultimately Kelly McCants captures perfectly the current trend of "modern nostalgia," mixing old-fashioned patterns and ideas with modern sensibility and accessible techniques. The projects are probably too simple for the serious sew-er (see? it's hard to write that word) but are a great starting point for someone who desperately wants to be able to point at something in their home and say proudly, "That? Oh yeah I made it."

Simple and adorable apron
At Home With Modern June: 
27 Sewing Projects for Your Handmade Lifestyle
by Kelly McCants
Publisher: Stash Books
Publication Date: March 1, 2014
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 Source: NetGalley

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World, by Ann Downer

Wild Animal Neighbors:
Sharing Our Urban World
Author: Ann Downer
Publlisher: Lerner Publishing/ Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: August 1, 2013
View on Amazon
Source: NetGalley

Is there anything more exciting than an unexpected deer sighting? You're driving along the highway or perhaps looking out your window and bam! Only the most amazing creature in the world is eating grass right in front of you. And hopefully, if it's not deer hunting season or if the poor creature is not actually trying to cross the highway, a moment later it'll find its way back into the woods and be gone from view, as quick as it came. Why is it so exciting? Partly because it's unexpected, partly because deer are just awesome, and partly because it's so out of place. A wild animal shouldn't be near the highway! That's just dangerous!

And it IS dangerous, which is what this book is basically about. More often than not, when a wild animal wanders into an urban environment, the animal is in just as much danger from us as we are from it. The heartbreaking example of the wild cat in California a couple of years ago resulted in the animal being put down before it could successfully be contained and relocated. It's sad, but it often happens that way.

I feel bad for all of the animals in this book. Just look at the coyote in the sub shop (pictured above). Look at his little face! He doesn't want to be in the sub shop. How did this even happen? He just wants what we all want: a place to sleep, something to eat, and maybe a little cherry soda. Is that too much to ask?

Having said that, I actually grew up in a very non-urban environment and I have no love of coyotes. There were coyotes in the woods all over the place where I grew up and those guys can be total jerks. But something about seeing them completely out of their element, wandering through a shop like some kind of adorable bandit, well, it makes me feel for the guy. Poor li'l coyote...

Of course, I say that NOW, from the safety of my computer screen looking at still photos of the animals, but if I ran into one of them in real life I'd probably freak the #@&! out. A squirrel in the park tried to steal my peanut butter sandwich once and I almost fainted.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Good Dog, by Todd Kessler (illustrated by Jennifer Gray Olson)

Well I knew I had to get this book as soon as I saw that it was about a dog named Tako because that was also my dog's name when I was a child. What are the odds? And I'm so glad I did. Both my daughter and I were completely charmed by this tale of a lonesome dog who finds a family and eventually becomes a hero.

My favourite part: I love the fact that Tako's owners, the Lee family, have a bakery that is constantly being sabotaged by the greedy corporate baker up the hill, because I think it's very funny that someone so obsessed with money would choose to open a bakery in the first place. Plus all of his baked goods are completely joyless, which I also think is very funny (How do you even make a sad cupcake? Somehow he manages it).

I also like how it shows the difference between acting like a "good dog" or a "good person" and actually doing the right thing, which isn't always the same thing.

Magda's favourite part: "I really like that the little boy found a dog and he actually go to keep him. That's awesome!"

[Mom's note: Yeah, thanks a lot for THAT idea.]

The Good Dog, by Todd Kessler
Illustrator: Jennifer Gray Olson
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Publication Date: July 15, 2014
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Source: NetGalley
Book Website

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems, by Brian P. Cleary (illustrated by Andy Rowland)

As a poet and a teacher, I naturally love books that help kids develop a love of poetry. Having said that, I'll be the first to admit that it's not always easy to find poetry books for very young children. Sure, many children's books are written in verse, but most of them don't draw attention to that fact, so it's not always easy to introduce poetry as a concept to young kids.

If It Rains Pancakes introduces haiku and lantern poems by giving examples with themes that children would like (like pancakes!). It may not be the most sophisticated introduction to the poetic forms, but that's kind of the point. Plus, I'll admit I wasn't familiar with lantern poems so it was a nice introduction for me as well!

Magda's Take:
I liked the little poem stories. My favourite was "If It Rains Pancakes." When I saw the book, I hoped there would be one about pancakes and there was! I really like pancakes.

If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems
by Brian P. Cleary
Illustrated by Andy Rowland
Series: Poetry Adventures
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date: May 1, 2014
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Source: NetGalley

Monday, June 9, 2014

Baby, Come Out! by Fran Manushkin (illustrated by Ronald Himler)

I cannot overstate how much my four-year-old loves pregnancy. Even though she's an only child, she is positively obsessed with seeing pregnant moms. I think it's partly because she wants a sibling, but it's not just that. She loves everything about pregnancy, even in animals. "Pregnancy is my hobby," she tells people. I know, I know. It's weird. Maybe she'll be an obstetrician when she grows up, or a midwife. In the meantime, some of her favourite books are ones that showcase expectant families. So Baby, Come Out! was positively made for her!

Originally published in 1972, this book has been reprinted by Star Bright Books and would make a lovely gift for anyone convinced that their baby is just never going to come out (I can relate to that fear).

My favourite part:
I really liked the pictures of the baby inside the mom's belly. They reminded me of Maurice Sendak's characters: simple, charming and full of lots of opinions. You can tell the baby is full of personality, even in the simple drawings. I also really like the old-fashioned clothing of all the other characters, like the book was originally published in the 1870's instead of the 1970's.

Magda's Take:
I really like Baby Come Out. I especially like when the baby says, "Okay here I come!" after the father kisses Mrs. Tracey on the stomach. I also liked when the big sister said, "We know how to get the baby to come out" and then she yelled at the baby to come out. That was the funny part because the baby said, "You yelled at me so I'm not coming out." That was so funny.

Book Details:
Baby, Come Out!
by Fran Manushkin
Illustrated by Ronald Himler
Published by Star Bright Books
Publication Date: February 28, 2014
(Originally published in 1972 by Harper and Row)
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Source: NetGalley

Friday, June 6, 2014

Because I Stubbed My Toe, by Shawn Byous

Did you ever have one of those days where everything goes wrong? You start out stubbing your toe and before you know it, there's mayhem everywhere? Cats are flying through the air and everything? Okay, maybe not THAT much mayhem, but that's what happens to the boy in this picture book by Shawn Byous.

I like that it takes a cranky moment--stubbing your toe--and turns it into something so silly that you can't help but laugh. Plus there's a surprise happy ending which makes the boy glad he stubbed his toe in the first place!

Magda's favourite part: "My favourite part is all of it. I especially liked how the lady read it on the computer." [She means this YouTube video of someone reading the book.]

Because I Stubbed My Toe
Author/Illustrator: Shawn Byous
Publisher: Capstone
Publication Date: January 1, 2014
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Source: NetGalley

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Carrot, by Vanita Oelschlager (Illustrated by Kristin Blackwood)

This book was saved from a 1-star review (if I did star reviews on my blog) by Magda, who loved it. I did not. Here are our (separate) reviews:

Magda's review: 
I loved it! I loved the whole book. My favourite part was when the cat dreamed of getting married because weddings are fun.
[Mom's interjection: Sorry, how would a wedding be fun for a CAT?
Magda: It's just a dream, Mommy.]
5 stars

My review:
Oh, the writing is so bad it was difficult to read it aloud without wincing. It's the most insipid must-rhyme-at-all-costs bad poetry I've read in a long while. The whole book put me in a bad mood it was so vapid and banal.
1 star

Final review: 
3 stars (given grudgingly on my part)

by Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrated by Kristin Blackwood
Published by VanitaBooks
Publication Date: May 2, 2011
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 Source: NetGalley