Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Black Dog, and the size of our fears.

I picked up Black Dog from the New Books section at the library, enticed by the eery cover.  After a quick flip through at home, I set it aside thinking it was too scary for the boys (4 and 7).  In fact, the big black dog made me a bit uneasy myself.  Days later, when we had read, and reread, the rest of our weekly library loot, I picked Black Dog up again, reluctantly.  The book had become the epitome of itself.  

Black Dog is a book about fear.  About how we see it.  How we let it grow.  Bigger than us.  Paralyzing sometimes.  Until we force it back down.  

One by one each member of the Hope family sees the big black dog out the window.  Each panics worse than the last, in amusing literary similarity. 


Until Small, the littlest family member, reacts with brazen courage and marches outside to face the beast.  In her little sing-songy voice she dares the giant to follow her along, this way and that, forcing the dog to grow smaller and smaller to mimic her path, until he follows her through her home's small cat door.  No longer a thing to be feared.  

“You can’t follow where I go,
unless you shrink, 
or don’t you know?”

When I told my kids I thought the book would be too scary for them, they laughed at me.  The storytelling was brilliant and the illustrations were eery perfection.   I could have loved Black Dog on those merits alone.  But the metaphor, oh how I love thee, metaphor.  What are your black dogs?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Captial A Awesome

Alphabet books are a dime a dozen, but A is for Musk Ox is anything but commonplace.  Musk Ox hijacks this run-of-the-mill abc book, intent on spicing things up.  I was standing in the bookstore, looking like an idiot, laughing out loud reading this last week.  

The book opens with Zebra quite ticked off.  Musk Ox has eaten right through his apple -- and right through his perfectly wonderful abc book.  Musk Ox insists that he has done Zebra a great favor, saving him --and the world-- from the inevitable boredom that any "a is for apple" book would evoke.  He continues to upend every letter into Musk Oxen awesomeness.  

A is for Absurd.  My highest compliment.

Kickin' it old school with Jef Czekaj

This recommendation goes out to all those nerds, like my husband and me, who amuse each other by dropping tongue-and-cheek hip phrases like mad skillz, word and old school.

Jef Czekaj is my boyz' favorite book creator right now.

Our first introduction was Yes, Yes, Yaul!  As in, (sing with me):  "Yes, Yaul, to the beat, Yaul."   Yaul is a porcupine in a rut.  He says "no" to everything.  Until the day he meets Hip and Hop, a rapping Turtle and Hare duo who know how to raise the roof in Old School County.  They teach him that yes is much more fun.  In true Turtle and Hare fashion, Hop raps fast and Hip raps slooooooooooow.  My husband saved the day during our first reading, performing all the rap portions of the story.  Before long, though, the boys took over entirely.  They just can't get enough.  We keep renewing and renewing and renewing from the library.

We had to wait seemingly forever to check out the original Hip and Hop story, Hip and Hop Don't Stop, from the library.  Some other family probably fell madly in love like my boyz and kept renewing and renewing and renewing.  Not that I blame them.  Here's the video promo, because some books just can't be summarized with mere words...

If you're brave and enjoy acting a little bit ca-razy with your kiddos, snatch up a Hip and Hop tale, cast inhibition to the wind and throw down some dope beats.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars: my thoughts mid-read

So, I'm a little more than half-way through The Fault of Our Stars.  Here's what I'm thinking about, among a zillion other emotions:

We should not disdain the young geniuses among us, especially in our schools.  Not only are they our future leaders, innovators, musicians and artists -- they are the next great novelists.

My mind is currently lost in the genius that is John Green.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Because I am one...

The Insomniacs drew me to it from a mile away.  Partly due to my constant state of sleep deprivation, and partly due to the gorgeousness of the cover art.  They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I so do.

I brought it home to Matthew, my seven-year-old old, and said, "I got a book for us!"

He examined the cover.  "What's an insomniac?"

"Someone who can't sleep," I said.

His face lit up as he declared with arms extended, "I'm an insomniac!"

Yep, welcome to the club, my buddy.  It's the double-edged sword of creativity, and I know it well.

The book opens with this line:  The Insomniacs weren't always a nighttime family.  A pretty brilliant opener.  Here's the scoop: this little family of three moves across the globe for the mother's scientific job.  No matter what tricks they try, the poor family just can't adjust to their new timezone.  Eventually, after much exhaustion, they decide to embrace the nighttime and all it has to offer.  I really enjoyed all of the animal nightlife that was highlighted.  And the artwork.  Oh my.  I'm totally in love with the art.

Take a look, and take note of the Brothers Hilts, of whom I'm sure we shall see much more:

This laboratory one is one of my favorites.  I love the glow of the colored glass and the silhouette effect.  The Brothers Hilts has met all my official crush requirements, especially #3: friendly jealousy.

Long live insomniacs and all the beautiful wonder they create while everyone else is dreaming.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Next up...

After finishing Son this week I needed something to read next.  I must have gone temporarily insane for the last few months - I had completely forgotten the beauty that is a library hold.  Once I came to my senses, I put five books on hold and one became available immediately. Seeing your name wrapped with around a book with a rubber band, saved just for you, makes it seem like a special gift.

Yesterday the library picked out a special gift, just for me.  It's exactly what I wanted: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Markus Zusak, author of one of my favorite books of all time,  The Book Thiefsays this about it, “A novel of life and death and the people caught in between, The Fault in Our Stars is John Green at his best. You laugh, you cry, and then you come back for more.”  It gets five stars reviews from just about every reviewer on Amazon.  Many call it the best book they've read in years.  That's a lot of hype.

Guess who's excited?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Lois Lowry's conclusion to The Giver contains so much meaning in its one word title.  As I was reading I found the word cycling in my brain.  It is the pulse that beats beneath the pages.

The Giver was pretty much story perfection.  When I finished it, I was torn.  I wanted to find out more about Jonas and Gabe but read mixed reviews about the other two books in the series.  In the end, I chose to read both Gathering Blue and Messenger in hope of catching glimpses of Jonas and baby Gabe, to feel more resolution.  Instead the stories seemed darker and left me feeling frustrated and bereft.  Part of me wished I had stopped after The Giver and left the rest to imagination.

Until now.

Son does what I dreamed the other two books would.   It makes the journey through the middle books worth the ride.  It threads hope and goodness through the darkness.  When I read the last word, I closed the cover.  Satisfied.

Monday, December 10, 2012

20 Children's Book for Christmas!

There are countless Christmas books out there, 
here are my current favorites, as my gift to you:

Great Joy  
By Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Great Joy is my new favorite children's book for Christmas.  Really, with the team of DiCamillo and Ibatoulline, it would be hard not to create something special.  On my first reading, I literally felt my chest swell with joy and had to shake my head to keep the tears away.  One brilliant page turn left me filled with the joy of triumph, good news and grace.  

By Barbara Robinson; illustrated by Laura Cornell
When we were kids, "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever " was one of my little sister's favorite movies.  When I saw the picture book last week, I had to pick it up, because I was already smiling at the memory of the hilarious Herdman family.  Barbara Robinson refashioned her original story into picture book format in the best possible way.  I feels fresh and real, well-written and funny.   It pulls at the heart strings, while telling the real story of Christmas.  I think this one's worth a purchase.

By Olivier Dunrea
Bear Noel was a surprise, one of those hidden gems you secretly hope to find when you sift through a pile of seasonal library books taller than your Christmas tree.  Anticipation builds as each animal announces the coming of Bear Noel, first Hare, followed by Wolf, Fox, Boar, Hedgehog, Possum and Owl.  Each spread I got chills as I read, "He is coming," whispered Hare.  Perhaps I'm feeling overly allegorical these days, but I couldn't help but parallel all of creation rejoicing in eager anticipation, waiting for the arrival of the king.

By Macky Pamintuan 
My four-year-old loved this interactive, seek-and-find-style, modernization of the twelve days of Christmas.  Nolan giggled, searched and counted his way through the whole book.  As a bonus, it was an effortless way to introduce my little guy to a classic Christmas song.

By Lauren Thompson; Pictures by Jon J Muth
If you followed my 31 Days of Children's Book Crushes, you know that I have a crush on the watercolor artwork of Jon J Muth.  I love the quiet simplicity of this Santa story paired with Muth's gorgeous, hushed art.  There is a bit of magic in the pages.

By Anne Margaret Lewis; illustrated by Elisa Chavarri
I met the author two years ago at the Traverse City Book Festival and took home a signed copy of Santa Goes Green for my boys.   A little boy named Finn doesn't want any toys this year.  Instead he wants only one thing for Christmas: to save his adopted polar bear, Leopold.  It's the universally inspiring story of "one boy, in one town, who can make a difference".  Even though we aren't big Santa or environmental people (don't hate us), Finn's story is irresistible.    Lewis writes excellent read-aloud dialogue and Chavarri's artwork made me love Finn and Leopold even more.  

By Elizabeth Cody Kimmel; illustrated H. B. Lewis
Historically Santa messes up Joe's Christmas gifts, so this year Joe was very specific about what he wanted.   A real live penguin pet --not a stuffed one-- with the name Osbert.  This year, Joe was gifted with his exact request -- and learns that sometimes it's best not to receive the thing we think we want most.  After reading Mr. Popper's Penguins this year, my boys love penguins. Or maybe they already loved penguins, so we read about Mr. Popper.  Regardless of the chicken or the egg, any outrageous story about kids having a penguin pet is an instant hit around here.  

By Helen Ward; illustrated by Wayne Anderson.
This pair has a history of creating picture books that are simultaneously eery and transcendently hopeful (The Tin Forest and The Dragon Machine ).  I like that Finding Christmas is consistent with their former work.  A little girl searches the streets for a special gift on Christmas Eve.  Along the way she is met with wonder, frustration and the perfect provision.

By Eve Bunting; illustrated by Timothy Bush
We just finished reading The Cricket In Times Square , so this little tale of a lost and lonely cricket finding significance at Christmas was spot on.   I love the idea that a cricket song is the like the voice of the angels praising, singing Joy to the World the Lord is Come.  It reminds me of Luke 19:40: "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." And other verses like Psalm 19:1-4, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the earth."  The little cricket is praising, even when we are too distracted to hear him.

David Milgrim
Nicholas Duck is excited to be Santa's helper this year - until his younger siblings tag along and keep messing things up.  They get over-zealous and over-promise on Christmas gifts to every one they meet, which had everyone in our family laughing.  In the end, as is so often true in real life, his brothers and sister are the best tool to help him grow in patience and generosity.

Night Tree
By Eve Bunting; illustrated by Ted Rand
My seven-year-old added this one to my list.  He came home from school this week and told me all about it because he loved it so much.  He even remembered the title.  It's the story of one family's Christmas eve tradition.  They set out to find a tree - but they don't cut it down as the reader might originally assume.  They do something much more interesting.

Mortimer's Christmas Manger
By Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman (Bear Snores On) team up again to create this sweet story.  Little Mortimer just wants a comfy place to rest and finds the manger in the family nativity set is the perfect bed for a mouse.  Until one night when he hears the family read the Christmas story and learns about the baby who truly belongs there.

Uncles and Antlers
By Lisa Wheeler; illustrated by Brian Floca
A hilarious book about Octavia reindeer and her seven crazy uncles, who each have a special talent (like impersonating Elvis) and happen to pull Santa's sleigh. Lisa Wheeler always cracks me up.  Floca's loose illustrations add another layer of humor.

By Chris VanAllsburg
The quintessential Christmas book.  Most years the boys request it all year long, but this year we're pulling it out just in December.  One year, after hearing about a friend's fun evening, we put Polar Express-inspired train tickets on the boys' pillows and took them for a wintry drive to see all the Christmas lights.  Popcorn, pjs and a road trip = special memories.

By Laura Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond
My kids love all of Laura Numeroff's If You Give books.  For some reason this one is my seven-year-old's favorite.  Check out the Christmas edition for its extras, a fun seek-and-find Christmas tree with mouse and all her ornaments, and some Christmas recipes.

By Karma Wilson; illustrated by Jane Chapman
You've gotta have a Bear book on your list.  Enough said.

By Lisa McCourt; illustrated by Cyd Moore
Same goes for Merry Christmas, Stinky Face .  Though I don't love it like I love the original, we still get it out of the library every year and celebrate a little bit of Christmas with our pal, Stinky Face.

By Gennady Spririn
There is something special about this book that draws me into its world.  I usually hate books that reprint song lyrics as text, but this one is transcendent.  Reading the words of We Three Kings, one of my favorite Christmas songs, juxtaposed with Spirin's opulent artwork really exalts Jesus as the king of kings.  "Born a King on Bethlehem's plain; Gold I bring to crown Him again, King forever, ceasing never, Over us all to reign."  I love that this book was created by a Russian-born artist.  Russians understand kingship in a way that we, as Americans, never can.  If you go through Advent with your kids, this book would be a beautiful addition to your tradition.

By Kate Klise; illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
When his loving mama knits this bunny the perfect hat for Christmas, he is inspired to make a hat for each of his friends.  Each hat is elaborate and unique, perfectly designed for its intended recipient.  I love that the child character draws and designs each one so thoughtfully, then works hard with his mother to craft them.  At first his friends are less than happy with their quirky hats, until a big storm hits... 

Truth in the Tinsel
By Amanda White
This advent ebook was written by Amanda White, who blogs at OhAmanda and ImpressYourKids.  You can learn more about the book and/or purchase it {here}.  Amanda is always a blessing.  She has a beautiful heart for children and impressing them with the word of God.

Since book recommendations are my favorite gifts, please, please tell me your Christmas favorites!