Category Archives: Children’s Books

‘The Lotterys Plus One’ by Emma Donoghue

(Age 8-12)
“Once upon a time, a man from Delhi and a man from Yukon fell in love, and so did a woman from Jamaica and a Mohawk woman. The two couples became best friends and had a baby together. When they won the lottery, they gave up their jobs and found a big old house where their family could learn and grow…and grow some more. 

Now Sumac Lottery (age nine) is the fifth of seven kids, all named after trees. With their four parents and five pets, they fit perfectly in the Toronto home they call Camelottery. 
But one thing in life that never changes…is that sooner or later things change.”

Emma Donoghue has written her first book for children. It is a quirky, romp of a story about diversity and family, with non-preachy life lessons about inclusiveness and unconditional love. This modern-day hippy, environmental, cooperative family home-schools, volunteers, has several ‘rescue-pets’ and gets creative about just about everything. But how accommodating can this otherwise amazingly flexible family be when their grandfather moves in? He’s the one from the Yukon who they’ve never met and seems so grumpy. Sumac, the narrator of the story, is horrified to learn that he’ll be taking her room on the first floor and he has something called dementia.

Every family has “inside jokes” in the form of silly words or nicknames, and Donoghue goes all out with that kind of wordplay in this book. The Dads are PapaDum and PopCorn, the Moms are CardaMum and MaxiMum, family meeting are ‘Fleetings’…you get the picture. There are WAY too many wordplays which at times interrupted the flow and made me stumble in the reading. I feel really conflicted about this book because I love the idea of it but found it hard to read.

Undoubtedly there is an amazing message to young readers…people and families come in all shapes and sizes and colours and types and this definitely is something to be celebrated and normalized, but the author packed in WAY too much which really bogged the story down. In contrast, her portrayal of a five year old boy in Room was so much more simply authentic and well fleshed out–these characters just felt like silly caricatures, which then kinda defeats the purpose. I think unfortunately, she had more fun writing it than anyone will have reading it–a book with a great premise but a lost opportunity in the end.

Note: Royalties from this project go to Room to Read, a nonprofit working in literacy and girls’ education across communities in Asia and Africa.

‘The Aunts Come Marching’ by Bill Richardson and Cynthia Nugent


(Preschool – 3) Thanks to Jessica for putting me onto this fabulous musical counting book with a catchy marching tune. Road tested with our new grandchild, this slightly wacky but delightful book is already a favourite both with children and adults (always my benchmark with picture books)! The illustrations are such fun, the repetitions irresistible, and in case the tune  is unfamiliar, there is a helpful musical score included. What a great introduction to various instruments as well! The eccentric aunts (not ants) come marching one by one, two by two, etc., all playing loud instruments and bound on staying for awhile. Oh help!! Dad would like to be marching (or swinging) to a slightly less frenetic drumbeat…in his hammock!

‘Scaredy Squirrel’ by Mélanie Watt

scaredy-squirrelstarstarstarstar
(Age 5-7)
This award winning series of children’s picture books features an adorable paranoid squirrel. It receives high marks from me for humour and for tapping into one of life’s realities: fear. If books are handy tools for vicariously encountering all kinds of human experience and emotion, this series has good value indeed!

Scaredy Squirrel would rather stay in his safe and familiar tree and follow a carefully planned routine, than risk venturing out into the unknown. Until one day the unexpected happens…and of course, he learns a gentle lesson that life will sometimes thrust him out of his comfort zone. What I like is that while developing him slightly, the experience doesn’t change him completely which is realistic and affirming.

Other titles in the series: Scaredy Squirrel… at night, goes camping, at the beach, as a birthday party, makes a friends, prepares for Christmas, and prepares for Halloween. Lots of adventures where courage is needed!

I loved the note at the back of the book:  “Mélanie Watt never leaves her home near Montreal, Quebec. She would rather concentrate on creating books for kids.” 🙂

Here is a read-aloud of the story. (If you can’t see this or interact with it in your email post, just click on See All Comments  or on the Post/Book Title at the top of the post, and you’ll get right to the blog where you’ll be able to click on the link.)

 

‘Ish’ by Peter H. Reynolds

Ishstarstarstarstarstar
Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.
Henry van Dyke

Following directly on from my last post, this is an amazing yet simply illustrated children’s picture book about enjoying creativity wherever it takes you. Even children can judge themselves too harshly and not pursue a creative endeavour because they feel they are not ‘good enough’ at whatever it is they enjoy doing. Be it drawing, or instrument playing, or writing, or sewing, or dancing, or inventing, or whatever… Give yourself and your children and grandchildren the gift of abandoning perfection and enjoying the abandon of creative expression. Dare to live life as recommended in this picture book, “ishly ever after.”

Ramon loves drawing, anytime, anything, anywhere. But after a careless remark, all that changes. Ramon’s sister Marisol comes to the rescue, ‘framing’ things for him in a way that opens his perspective to what is way more valuable than ‘getting it right.’

Ish completes a trilogy by Reynolds called Creatrilogy, with two books of similar theme The Dot and Sky Color. Ish is my favourite of the three.

‘Oi Frog’ by Kes Gray and Jim Field

Oi Frog!starstarstarstarWho doesn’t love a charmingly silly story with inventive illustrations!?! This children’s picture book has it all…humour, rhyming, creativity, and all together it’s just plain fun. It might even lead to a game to play on your next road trip!

Cats sit on mats, hares sit on chairs, mules sit on stools, gophers sit on…well, you get the idea! But that frog, oi that frog, is being a pain because he just will not agree that he must sit on a log!

While researching this book, I came across this delightful poem review on Goodreads by Leila Skelton which recommends the book way better than anything I can say about it:

This book is like a rhyming treat
Accomplishing that special feat
Of mixing up who wrote, who drew,
Producing something fresh and new
That overall is very funny
(And very worthy of your money).

A frog would like a comfy spot
But is that easy? No, it’s not!
For every creature that we meet
Has got a special rhyming seat
And finding where we sit each one
Is really only half the fun!

My nieces love this. (knew they would)
IT REALLY IS SO VERY GOOD!
All bedtime faves have been forgotten
In favour of a froggie’s bottom!

I hope you take this tip from me:
BEST OF THE YEAR!
(So far, bought 3…)

‘Stellaluna’ by Janell Cannon

StellalunastarstarstarstarstarThis is a gorgeous children’s picture book from the 90’s. I’m not sure how it never came across my radar before. Thanks for the heads up Kathy (via K & M)!

It is a tender story of family, friendship, and love but far from schmalzy. A fruit bat is separated from her mother and ends up living with a bird family. There is hilarious humour around the fact that birds and bats are very different creatures indeed! But there are also powerful messages about how to appreciate and value difference in yourself and in others. The illustrations are luminously deep and capture remarkable moments in the story.

Enjoy the story and pictures here, beautifully read by Pamela Reed.

‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ by Judith Kerr

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbitstarstarstar(Grades 3-5) Judith Kerr was a child in Berlin before the outbreak of the Second World War. Her father was a journalist who had to flee with his family first to Switzerland, then to Paris, and finally to England where Judith has lived ever since.

In the story, Anna (Judith) sees posters everywhere of a man called Hitler who she thinks looks like Charlie Chaplin, but has no idea who he is. Why does her father have to leave? Why is it suddenly so dangerous to stay? Where are they going to go? Because of Hitler they must leave everything they know and love behind, including a stuffed pink rabbit.

Judith Kerr writes and illustrates books for children. You may also know the Mog series based on the family cat, and The Tiger who Came to Tea. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (first of the Out of the Hitler Time series) was written to convey to her children what it was like for her to be a refugee during the war. Her son had seen The Sound of Music and said, “now I know what you went through in the war.” She wrote Pink Rabbit to set him straight.  Even though her family was displaced, she has good memories of how her parents made it seem more like a positive adventure than being uprooted. She said she never realized until much later how hard it must have been for her parents to make the decision to flee to foreign lands. She has always been thankful they did.

Today I had the pleasure of being in the audience at a BBC recording and asking Judith Kerr a question. She is a very youthful 92 indeed and it was wonderful to listen to her speak about her life, art, and writing. There were several elderly war veterans who attended, having some connection to Judith and her family as well, and she enjoyed meeting them. In the interview it came up that sometimes people think that Pink Rabbit is a metaphor for “childhood.” She replied in a down-to-earth tone, “Absolutely not. Don’t read into it, it was just a stuffed pink rabbit!” She said her husband came up with the catchy title because he thought it would help sell the book. Well, he was right!

Teachers will find plenty of teaching resources online to use with this upper elementary book, focussing on the refugee experience as much as the Holocaust. Other similar books are Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.