Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We Found More Peas!!!

While browsing at the library last week, I was so super thrilled to find a new "pea" book by Keith Baker!  

Little Green Peas is a "pea book" all about colors!  This one rhymed and flowed just as wonderfully as LMNO Peas, and the illustrations were just as delightful.  My toddler's favorite part is the page with the baby green peas.  My kindergartner's only complaint is that there wasn't a page for the color pink.  :)  You can't win them all, I guess!

Pick this one up for a little pea in your life and keep a copy in your home to get happiness from each page of little peas!

A+ Author: Cameron Dokey

I am so grateful for friends with good taste!  In the past few months I've been stuck in bed a lot, and a kind friend brought me by some books she thought I'd enjoy.  Three of them were books by Cameron Dokey in her "Once Upon a Time" series.  I was skeptical at first, I admit it.  It can be easy to come across a lot of sappy, cheesy, same-old/same-old stories when it comes to the classic fairy tales.  There are countless retellings of each one, but most are shallow at best and a waste of time at worst.  I was so pleasantly surprised!

Cameron Dokey does a fantastic job re-imagining these classic tales and breathing new life into them.  I happily rediscovered old favorites (Cinderella, Rapunzel, etc.) from creatively new angles, and then fell in love with stories I don't usually pick up (The Ballad of Mulan, Jack & The Beanstalk, Arabian Nights).  Each story was taken apart and then put back together in a totally new form, yet there were no gaping holes and I still finished with the feeling I longed for.  (And usually an insatiable desire to start a new one pronto!)

After practically inhaling the first three books (I think I read them all in just a few days), I asked for more, then discovered even more at my local library.  I came home with eight new titles in my arms and couldn't wait to go to bed early to start in on them.

I will say, I was slightly disappointed with one story, and that was the retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  Cameron Dokey's Belle was quite similar to Robin McKinley's Beauty, only I read McKinley's telling first and the story was told in greater depths.  Other than that, Cameron still had her unique voice and sequence of events for her story, and there was a much-appreciated theme on the nature of true Beauty (with a capital B).

 I didn't expect to love this one, but it became a favorite!

I loved getting to know Jack and his sister in this one.  There was sooo much more to this story than you usually find!

Cameron has an amazing ability to give each story a unique voice.  I was spellbound by this one.

Think Rapunzel is an abused girl alone with her long hair?  Think again.  This was like reading "The True Story of Rapunzel".

I loved that pumpkins still played a part in this tale, and even were the vehicle for bringing her to the castle.  The rest, however, was completely redone.  Brilliant job letting the story play out without making the stepmother and stepsisters complete villains.

If you've been looking for a new author to love, or a long string of stories to sink your teeth into, I'd suggest checking out a tall stack of these.  I'm a lifelong Cameron Dokey fan for sure!

*I will just point out that there are a couple other authors that contribute to this series, so just look for that when checking out the books.  I have tried some of them, but I feel like they don't do quite as good a job with the stories as Cameron.  

Monday, February 29, 2016


Oh, Keith Baker!!!  Thank you for writing this book!  I cannot say how much I love it.  :)

I stumbled on this book probably three or four years ago at the library in Albany, CA.  I picked it up because Maddie and I spent a lot of time looking at letters and playing with them.  (And also because the peas in helmets riding their bikes across the bottom of the cover were too adorable not to pick up!)  It was one of those books I checked out without even previewing - it just looked good.

Later, when I sat down at home with Maddie to read through it, I was delighted with what I found!  I smiled through this book.  I loved Baker's witty use of words, excellent rhythm, clever tie-ins to each letter, and (of course) fanciful and entertaining illustrations.  Those peas are a hoot!  Ever full of energy, ever doing what you least expect from a pea (engineering a building? caring for a caterpillar at their zoo?), the peas were as fun to point out and talk about as were the giant alphabet letters.

This is another book I want on my shelf, pronto.  I'll probably give one to each of my children to take with them to their own homes and read to their own kids.  Go pick up this book or reserve it at your library, then find a kid to read it to.  You won't regret it.  (And the peas will smile at you for it!)

*Just a side note.  Although I loved the illustrations just as much, I didn't love the rhythm or construction of  Keith Baker's 123 Peas quite as much.  It just didn't flow as wonderfully as his alphabet book.  Go ahead and pick it up to see those adorable peas again, but if you don't love it quite as much that's okay.  :)

We Love Bear!

We read a lot of Bear books at our house.  Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman form a charming team over and over again.  My girls and I both love the story in verse, the sweet friendships, and the deep emotions we feel for bear.  If you're looking for an excellent set of stories in verse to read to kids, this is an exceptional place to start.  With a full eight Bear & Friends books on the shelves, you'll have plenty to scoop up at your library.

The Marvels

I am a big Brian Selznick fan, and have been ever since I was intrigued by the gigantic size of Hugo Cabret and the pencil drawing of a boy's face staring at me from it's fat spine.  I loved discovering a story through words and pictures in a whole new way.  The pictures didn't just accompany the words of the story, they actually took the place of the words for large chunks of the book.

I was equally enthralled with his next book Wonderstruck, which Brian surprised me with before I even knew it was in print.  (Definitely a good surprise.)  I loved seeing another face looking out at me from the spine, and was struck again by Selznick's amazing ability to craft and communicate a truly original story.  He's amazing!  It's incredibly rare to find someone who is equally gifted with both a writing pencil and a drawing pencil, and he's brought his talents together in a fascinating way.

So it was with tingling anticipation that I swiped The Marvels from the library shelf last Thursday and brought it home with me. Setting that fat spine on my nightstand was like collecting a new but somewhat familiar friend.  I loved the gorgeous cover, the shimmering gold-leafed pages, and the expectation of a fantastic tale.  I finished the book in one sitting this afternoon (not as hard to do when half the book is illustrated), but came away with mixed feelings.

There were a couple of things different about this book by Brian Selznick.  The first thing I noticed was that instead of having chunks of illustrations shuffled with chapters, this book had a mass of illustrations at the beginning, followed by a mass of text, then concluded with a few more pictures.

The other thing that felt different about this book was that the illustrations at the beginning launched me into a multi-generational saga, hooked me into the characters, and left me wanting more.  The written portion tied in the original story, but took me in a completely new direction.  I was so invested in the original story and longed so much for more on that line and a conclusion to the tale, that the turn took me a while to get into.  Part of me was disappointed that the original story turned out to be second string to the written text, and although Selznick clued us into the reason behind the missing conclusion, I still ended the book feeling like something was missing.

I wasn't prepared for the heavy hints towards AIDS and gay living found in the narrative, but on the other hand I was intrigued and delighted to read about the true stories and details that led Selznick to craft this story.  I find myself tonight wanting to pull out Wonderstruck and reread a Selznick novel I truly love.  I'll probably recommend his first two novels more than this one.  Or maybe I'll just relive the illustrated portion over a couple more times before I turn it back in...

Not sure what my conclusion is on this book.  I'm probably a little too close to it to judge my reaction clearly, but I know I'm more likely to pick up Hugo or Wonderstruck next time I want a good Selznick in my day.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Little Friends

I cannot tell you how much I LOVE these books!  I first heard of them when one of my first grade students brought Little Pea to share with the class and then memorized it to compete in the school story-telling contest.  It tickled my brain and struck me as clever over and over again.  I was left thinking, "How brilliant!"

These books by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace draw on the common complaints of children and twist them around.  Kids find it hilarious that the very things they want are what these little friends complain about most.  For instance...

Little Hoot has a good life.  He enjoys attending school, playing hide-and-go-seek with friends, and even his time practicing owlish behavior, like pondering seriously.  But there is one thing Little Hoot does not like.  Every night, when his friends all get to go to bed early, he has to stay up late.  That's just the rule when you're an owl.  Little Hoot grudgingly complies with his parents' requirements, but vows that when he has kids, he'll let them go to bed as early as they want.

Little Oink is similarly happy with life...for the most part.  He digs playing with his friends, savors his days at school, and relishes bedtime with his parents (where they play "This Little Piggy" before putting him to sleep).    But the one thing Little Oink doesn't love is mess up time.  While all his other friends are tidying up their rooms, he's forced to unmake his bed, pull all his clothes out of the drawers, and generally turn his room into a pigsty.  His only reprieve is playing house once all his dirty deeds are done, so he can sweep, scour, and scrub to his heart's content.

Little Pea also has it pretty good.  He has loving parents and he can roll down hills really fast!  But every night at dinner, he knows his worst fear awaits him.  While all of his friends get to eat their vegetables, all he is given is candy, and he must finish it all before he can have a smidgen of broccoli or spinach!  Little pea may have to choke his candy down, but he's determined to get what he really wants.

Maddie isn't old enough to understand why these books are truly so clever and funny, but she enjoys them nonetheless.  Brian and I enjoy them even more!  These books combine a quirky idea, perfectly-placed puns, delightful illustrations, and clever characters.  I'm definitely looking forward to adding this series to our bookshelf, and until then they remain a frequent request at the library.

The Boss Baby

A new baby arrives at the house, and from the very first moment, there's no doubt that he's the boss.

This was another lucky library find that became an instant favorite.  In fact, it is one of the few books that I forced Brian to read when he got home after I first read it.  Maddie loved it for the illustrations, story, and funny baby behaviors.  Brian and I loved it because it was so darn hilarious...and was so true.  In so many ways it reminded us of our days as new parents, when we quickly learned that the baby is boss.

This boss has a lot going for him.  His drinks are made to order, he enjoys a spa and an executive gym, his relentless demands are met with immediate results, and anytime he doesn't feel immediately satisfied he just lets his employees know.

But what happens when his employees just become too overworked, overtired, and overwhelmed?  Well, he might just have to change his tactics.  But make no mistake - he's still the boss.

Brian and I are gifting this to some siblings expecting new babies, and it's particularly good for first-time parents.  We loved Marla Frazee's expressive illustrations and funny-but-true depiction of a new baby's arrival.  This is a book Maddie and I are always excited to rediscover on the library shelves.  It's the kind of book that kids enjoy (and definitely find funny), but that parents almost enjoy more...because we've been there.