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If You Were a Dog Written by Jamie A. Swenson Illustrated by Chris Raschka Farrar Straus Giroux BYR 9/30/2014 978-0-373-33530-4 40 pages Age 3—6
“If you could be any kind of animal, what would you be? Would you be a sod that goes ARRRROOOOOOO? Or maybe you would be a sharp-toothed dinosaur that can CHOMP, STOMP, ROAR! Perhaps you might want to be a hopping frog that goes BOING, BOING, RIBBET! But maybe you would want to be the best kind of animal of all. Can you guess what that is?”[inside jacket]
Review Using sparse text, including exuberant onomatopœia, and characteristics specific to the animal on the spread, Swenson asks young children how they would act if they were a dog, a cat, a bird, a bug, a frog, and a dinosaur. Each two-spread animal begins its question with a recognizable formula:
“If you were a . . . would you be a . . . ?”
For example, the first animal is the dog.
“If you were a dog, would you be a speedy-quick, lickety-sloppy, scavenge-the-garbage, frisbee-catching, hot-dog-stealing, pillow-hogging, best-friend-ever sort of dog?”
The following spread always asks one final question:
“Would you howl at the moon? Some dogs do.”
Youngsters will love the questions, especially each of the activity-type characteristics in If You Were a Dog. While not written in rhyme, the text flows nicely. The individual characteristics are ordered such that the similar suffixes following each other. Raschka’s illustrations are child-like in form, yet lively, and capture the text and the reader’s (listener’s), imagination. Young children will not only contemplate how they would act based on the given charactersitics, but are bound to come up with their own. I like anything that activates and stretches a child’s imagination and If You Were a Dog fits that bill nicely.
The final three spreads in If You Were a Dog acknowledge that we cannot become any animal we want, but we can imitate those around us. Besides, kids are told, the best animal to be is yourself.
IF YOU WERE A DOG. Text copyright (C) 2014 by Jamie A. Swenson. Illustrations copyright (C) 2014 by Chris Raschka. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers—an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, New York, NY.
Full Disclosure: If You Were a Dog, by Jamie A. Swenson & Chris Raschka, and received from Farrar Strauss Giroux BYR, (an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group), is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
I’m sometimes called the Bread-Bike-Book Woman by people who recognise me in the community but don’t know me by name; I go everywhere by bike and my basket is nearly always full of either baguettes and or books.
Shop assistants will ask what I’ve borrowed from the library, or let me know when the fresh bread is cheap at the end of the day. It’s a sobriquet I’m quite at ease with
Tom McLaughlin‘s The Cloudspotter is actually called Franklin, but because of his passion for watching the sky and imagining what he can see high above him, everyone calls him after his hobby.
To some, the Cloudspotter might appear isolated; Indeed, he doesn’t have many friends.
But what he does have is bags and bags of imagination. He can look at the sky and imagine stories galore in which he’s a hero, and adventurer or an explorer. Simply put, he’s very happy with his head in the clouds.
One day, however, Scruffy Dog arrives on the scene. The Cloudspotter doesn’t want to share his adventures and poor Scruffy is sent packing. But could it be that Scruffy wasn’t trying to take anything away from Franklin? Perhaps he was trying to offer him something? Something kind and full of heart, to make adventures and exploring, on earth or in the sky, even more enjoyable?
Tom McLaughlin’s quiet and thoughtful story is a lovely celebration of the power of imagination to provide comfort and joy, as well as solace. The Cloudspotter also acknowledges that it’s quite OK to be a bit different, to daydream. It shows how when friendship comes knocking it’s about doubling – rather than halving – fun and games through sharing.
All in all a delightful book to encourage us all to be open to spotting more adventures in the world around us.
After sharing The Cloudspotter with my girls, I prepared somewhere comfortable to do a bit of our own cloud spotting…
…we lounged around and saw lots of scenes like this…
…then we went over to the paint station…
…and started covering large sheets of paper with various shades of blue, mixing in PVA as we went. The large sheets of paper were strips of wallpaper lining. The PVA (glue) was mixed in so that we could start sticking “clouds” onto our skies as soon as the paper was covered:
We used a mixture of cotton wool and toy stuffing for the clouds, exploring the different ways these materials stretch and becoming wispy.
Whilst our sky scenes dried, it turned out that cleaning up after painting was almost as much fun as creating our art!
A few hours later, our skies were ready to go above beds, enabling hours of relaxing cloud spotting. Here’s what the kids can now see as they lie with their heads on their pillows:
What can you see in our clouds?
Music to spot clouds by could include:
Blue Clouds by Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower
Baby Cloud by Caspar Babypants
Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell
Other activities which could be great fun to try out alongside reading The Cloudspotter include:
Oddrey Joins the Team Written & Illustrated by Dave Whamond Owlkids Books 8/15/2014 978-1-77147-061-2 32 pages Age 4—8
“When Oddfrey decides to join her school’s soccer team, she brings a new and unexpected approach to teamwork! On the day of the big game against the Quagville Crushers, nothing is going right—until Oddfrey comes up with a slightly unusual idea. Never afraid to be herself, Oddfrey devises a plan that gives her teammates the strength to be themselves, too. When they all use their individual talents to work together as a team, the results are extremely satisfying—and highly exuberant!”[book jacket]
Review Oddfrey Joins the Team is the third Oddfrey book (Oddfrey, Oddfrey and the New Kid). According to the publisher, Oddfrey “marches to thebeat of her own drum.” With a daisy sprouting from the top of her head, Oddfrey certainly looks odd. I like Oddfrey for a few reasons. First, she likes sports, although her idea of “sports” is sometimes odd. Oddfrey prefers to combine different sport to make a new game. For example, she kicks a basketball into the hoop, rather than shooting it, and bounces a football off her personal sized trampoline, rather than throw the ball to her helmeted dog. Oddfrey’s dog—spotted with big, beautiful, and excited eyes—sticks by her side, always ready to join in her fun. Which brings me to the second and third reasons I like Oddfrey: she does her own thing and she has a pooch for a pal.
I also like Oddfrey because she thinks outside of the soccer sidelines. I only know the basics of soccer: run back and forth after a ball and kick the ball into opponent’s net, which happens less often than one would think. Maybelline—new kid from book 2—asks Oddfrey to join the school’s soccer team—the Picadilla Bees. Maybelline is the star of the team, mainly because she hogs the ball, leaving the other kids to run back and forth. Oddfrey approaches soccer as she does other sports: in her own way. The players are confused and the coach is dismayed, as Oddfrey combines soccer with ballet. Between sending her shoe flying on an attempted kick, balancing on top of the ball, and cart wheeling down the field, Oddfrey does score a goal—GOOOAL!!!—by butt-bumping the ball into the net. Yes, Oddfrey is her own little gal.
The next game is the BIG GAME against the Quagville Crushers. The Bees practice hard. Milton karate-chops the ball down the field (Maybelline: “Just kick it!”). Earl head-bumps the ball (Maybelline: “Use your head, Earl!”). Maybelline gives everyone advice—where is the coach?—even to her friend Oddfrey. Following rules is not in Oddfrey’s skill-set. Poor Maybelline-the-Star, she cannot get it together in the BIG GAME. The Bees are falling fast to the Crushers. Oddfrey puts on her thinking cap and realizes the team name “Bees” must mean something—and it does. Oddfrey uses this to get her team buzzing. What is “Plan Bee,” you ask. Well, you know I can’t say, but read Oddfrey’s new story, Oddfrey Joins the Team, to find out. You’ll do a lot of laughing as you find the answer and read—and see—the exciting conclusion.
The illustrations are action-packed, with details running from spread-to-spread. But you don’t need to like soccer to enjoy Oddfrey Joins the Team. Oddfrey’s pals are interesting in their own right, and the story has less to do with soccer and more to do with ingenuity, friendship, teamwork, and . . . well, if I said the last feature, you might figure out the ending. Both girls and boys will enjoy Oddfrey and her stories. Older kids will also find much to love and enjoy about Oddfrey. Humor runs in both the illustrations and the text, making Oddfrey Joins the Team fast-paced, deliciously funny, and a great story hour book. Oddfrey’s individuality, imagination, and ingenuity are great traits for a character, real or human. Having read Oddfrey Joins the Team a few times, I am ready to skip to the library, Oddfrey-style, and read the first two books in Oddfrey’s, I mean Mr. Whamond’s quirky series.
Would you let your child loose with someone whom others might describes as threatening, morally corrupt, gullible, impudent, and very hungry for little people?
I’m guessing not.
And yet with picture books we do that more often than we might realise.
And our kids love us for it.
A great example of this is the newest board book from Gecko Press, a New Zealand based publisher I follow with great interest for they have a very particular eye when it comes to books which do things differently.
Help! The Wolf is Coming! by Cédric Ramadier and Vincent Bourgeau, translated by Linda Burgess, is a wonderfully thrilling and delightfully funny story about a wolf making its way threateningly towards us, the reader and listener. As it gets closer and closer we’re invited to do what we can to stop Wolf in his tracks and save ourselves from his clutches.
Prompted to turn the book to an angle, we cause Wolf to start slipping off the page. By shaking the book, we can rattle Wolf. But can we actually save ourselves, and more importantly, save our children?
Like Hervé Tullet’s Press Here, Help! The Wolf is Coming! pushes the boundary of what we take for granted as a book and how we can interact with the physical object in our hands. It asks questions about how we allow ourselves to play, to let imagination take over whilst we suspend reality. Both Press Here and Help! The Wolf is Coming! encourage us to do various things to the book and these actions appear to have consequences for what’s on the page.
On one level, we are in no doubt that what we’re doing doesn’t actually cause any reaction; A physical book is not like an app, where a tap or a swipe does change what happens. On another level, however, we as readers and listeners have great fun becoming omnipotent, able to shape the story and take control of the book, even if (or perhaps because?) what happens, happens inside us.
Help! The Wolf is Coming! not only tests the boundaries of what it means to be a book and engage with it. It also nudges up against themes which push boundaries. It’s about a wolf who is no doubt full of bad intentions. He’s all jagged edges, his mouth is blood red, his eyes stare strikingly out from the page. If we’re not careful, we are going to be eaten up. And yet I can guarantee this is a book that will be requested time and time again. Even though Wolf is a baddy through and through our kids will want to return to him. And why’s this? Why do we put ourselves through the worry and the fear?
Perhaps it’s all for the peal of laughter and delight that comes with the relief when we realise at the end of the book that we’re safe and in the arms of our loved ones. Just like the thrill of a circus ride, coming face to face with a threat, a big worry, or an enormous fear is all worth it if, in the end, we discover we’re safe.
That said, Help! The Wolf is Coming! will suit fans of Jon Klassen as the ending is potentially ambivalent. The door on the wolf may not actually be locked shut… and what then?
This book is sizzlingly good fun to share. It’s got an enormous appeal across the age ranges (don’t be fooled by the fact that is has been produced as a board book. I challenge you to give it to some 10 year olds and see how they react; I’d place money on a hugely positive reaction). Delicious desire, finely tuned tension, wit, power, giggles and exhilaration are all to be found in its pages. No wonder we’ve all returned many times to this book already.
And returning to wolves is something which Gecko Press has also done several times now. They’ve a whole slew of great books which explore that double edged wonderfulness of wolves – their capacity to simultaneously provide enormous excitement and terrible anxiety – and their ability to make us feel clever at their foolishness.
In addition to Help! The Wolf is Coming!, they’ve published I am The Wolf and Here I Come! (such a great book for children learning to get dressed and one which will end with adult and child heaped in a bundle of tickles and kisses and cuddles), I am So Strong, I am so Handsome (two wonderful books about hubris), Wolf and Dog (a fabulous, gorgeously illustrated first chapter book about heart warming friendship). Noting this apparent predilection for all things lupine I asked Gecko Press publisher Julia Marshall for her thoughts on her wolfish catalogue and why she thinks wolves, despite being threatening, morally corrupt, gullible, impudent, and very hungry for little children are so perfect for meeting in picture books.
Playing by the book:Help! The Wolf is Coming, I am The Wolf and Here I Come!, I am So Strong, I am so Handsome, Wolf and Dog…. what does your catalogue tell us about how you feel about wolves?
Julia Marshall, Gecko Press Publisher: Wolves can be so many different things in a book. The image of a pack of gray, slinky, shadowy wolves is terrifying, isnt it? But what our wolves have in common is that they are all a bit funny. They are busy trying to be frightening, though they are not at all. They are a bit bombastic, a little silly, and it is easy to get the better of them. And mostly they are very frightened themselves, poor things.
Playing by the book: What do you think young children love so much about these wolf characters?
Julia Marshall: I think children love to experience the frisson of fear, safely confined to the pages of the book (In I am The Wolf and Here I Come! on the back cover it says “Snap the book shut to keep the wolf inside”. And when I read it to a child I say: “And isn’t it nice that he has to stay there, all night!”). It is a bit like tickling – sort of nice-not-nice at the same time. But of course one should not take a wolf at face value. A wolf is a wolf, after all, and always a little unpredictable, and it is as well to know that.
Playing by the book:What other children’s books (in particular, picture books) with wolves in do you love?
Julia Marshall: I love Emily Gravett’s Wolves – it has my favourite picture book cover also. Old stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Romulus and Remus are very strong for me too. My favourite French wolf is Loulou by Grégoire Solotareff and I would love for that to be a Gecko Press book.
Playing by the book:Have you any more wolf books on the way?
Julia Marshall: We do! We have a new non-fiction book coming early next year about Wolf and Dog, which includes things about mummies and dinosaurs. It is a great book! I like its mixture of fiction and non-fiction and the humour that is at the heart of it.
Playing by the book:Ooh, great! That sounds right up our street. We’ll be keeping an eye out for it!
Inspired by Help! The Wolf is Coming! my girls and I set about creating our own interactive books with instructions for the readers to make magic happen. We each started with a blank board book: You can buy blank board books ready-made, your can make your own from pressed (ie non corrugated) cardboard, or you can recycle old board books by covering the pages with full sheet adhesive labels which you trim to size, which is what we did.
First we talked about different ways we can physically interact with books and what consequences that could have for their illustrations. Then we mapped out our interactions on a story board and then drew them into our board books.
Front covers and titles followed and now I can proudly present to you:
Here’s an excerpt from my 7 year old’s book:
I’m not going to give away the end of this exciting story, but let’s just say it doesn’t turn out well for Evil Emperor Penguin (yes, if you’re a fan of this fabulous comic you might recognise the lead character )
Whilst making our books we listened to:
Wolf by First Aid Kit
Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran in homage to my teenage years (“What Mum, you liked this when you were a kid? NO WAY!?!”)
Howlin’ Wolf by Smokestack Lightnin’, cause you gotta educate the kids.
Alongside reading Help! The Wolf is Coming! you could look up other wolfy books to enjoy together. Here are some of my favourite:
My thanks go to @AHintofMystery, @jonesgarethp, @chaletfan, @librarymice, @ruthmarybennett, @AitchLove, @KatyjaMoran, @kdbrundell, and @KrisDHumphrey for a stimulating discussion on Twitter around wolves in books for children, especially exploring the notion that wolves in picture books are often depicted as threats (as in many of the picture books above), whilst in books for older children are often depicted as allies (for example in Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, or Katherine Brundell’s forthcoming The Wolf Wilder). Whilst there are exceptions to this generality, we discussed why there might be different relationships with wolves depending on the age of the readership: Wolves as a metaphor for growing sexual awareness – which has (mostly) no place in picture books and is therefore presented as bad thing, but as readers get older it becomes less threatening, wolves as a cipher for independence, growth and maturity, and / or our relationship with wolves shifting as we grow up, as we become bolder and more interested in (or at least less threatened by) unpredictability. No doubt there’s much more that could be unpicked here, but it was a really enjoyable conversation and I’m really grateful to everyone who chimed in.
Series: Back-and-Forth Books Written by Beth Schwartz & Lynn Seresin Illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell Capstone Young Readers 8/01/2015 978-1-62370-236-6 22 pages 9″x8″ Age 1—4.
. “One two three, how many tigers do you see? Count along as one little tiger turns into ten playful tigers (and their mama!). Then start again by counting the butterflies beginning with ten. Little hands and little eyes will delight to explore these sturdy interactive board books from front-to-back and back-to-front. Award-winning team Betty Schwartz and Lynn Seresin have created charming, tactile two-in-one experiences for the littlest learners”[back cover]
Review Cute little tigers, with big wide eyes and long striped tails, will indeed charm little kids as they count from one to ten and then ten to one (actually, the butterflies begin with eleven, for the smart, observant, little kid). The tiger at number 1 simply walks into the tall grass with one butterfly trailing behind. Turn the page and there are two tigers, greeting one another. With each new turn of the thick and sturdy glossy pages, a new tiger joins in with its siblings. The tigers have a fun morning (or afternoon) doing all sorts of things that will energize young children: climb trees, play in the water, do tricks, play soccer, follow-the-tiger, tumble about, and roar with all the might of a little tiger. These playful tigers will definitely amuse young children.
After a rough and tumble morning (or afternoon), the ten tigers take a nap with mama, making Ten Playful Tigers the perfect bedtime story. Upon waking, kids can count the butterflies from ten (eleven) down to one and then blast off into the rest of their day. Kids will also like turning the pages with the die-cut holes and rubbing Mama-tiger’s orange and black striped fur. Counting from ten to one involves counting the number of holes containing butterflies—on the left side of the spread—and then adding in the one or two butterflies flying elsewhere on the half-spread. Large purple numbers guide kids as they count.
The oversized book may be too large for some little hands, but with help this should not be a hindrance. The illustrations are beautiful, fun, and lively. Even the butterflies change shape and color, seemingly having their own group fun. I especially love the spread with the, wait a minute . . . one, two three, FOUR roaring tigers. They each have four pointy teeth and one large mouth, which when opened wide, makes their nose and eyes seem to scrunch. Ten Playful Tigers is the perfect board book for young children learning how to count.
Series: Back-and-Forth Books Written by Beth Schwartz & Lynn Seresin Illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell Capstone Young Readers 8/01/2015 978-1-62370-234-2 22 pages 9″x8″ Age 1—4 .
“Busy little dinosaurs, as a rule, agree it’s fun to go to school! Follow dinosaurs through an alphabet of activities from A all the way to Zzzzzz. But wait—you’re not done! Go back to A and name the things that start with the letters along the way.”[back cover]
Review Busy Little Dinosaurs will teach young children their ABCs in an unconventional manner. Each spread contains a four-line verse of rhyme and somewhere in that rhyme is a word with the letter or letters for that spread, going from A to Z. For example, the second spread is for the letters “Gg,” “Hh,” and “Ii.”
“Dinos gather together, hang a flag from a tree, and imagine they’re pirates, that sail the high seas.”
At the top left of each spread, in various colors, are the next letters in the alphabet. It would be easy enough to learn the alphabet by learning the letters while ignoring each verse and illustration, but that would not be much fun. The dinosaurs are doing all sorts of imaginative activities, many of which young children could also enjoy. In the above verse, the orange dinosaur looks at a map while wearing a pirate’s hat. The green dinosaur wears glasses and is looks over a different type of map, while the third dinosaur peers through a telescope—“Land Ho!”
Young children will have loads of laughs learning the alphabet with Busy Little Dinosaurs. The colorful, sturdy pages are glossy and wipe off kid-gunk with ease. The “A” dinosaurs enter school with their backpacks and big smiles. Throughout the day, the dinosaurs have a tremendous amount of fun as they enjoy many activities: play instruments, exercise in gym class, play soccer, paint, eat lunch, read books, and take a nap. All make for a rather decent kindergarten day.
Once those dinosaurs awake, they can flip back through the pages and, well, this part is actually a little tricky.
“Now go back to the cutouts for surprises and fun. Guess the letter things start with and then you are done!”
The first spread is now letter “Z,” and in the cutout is a picture of a zebra fish—the object begins with the letter Z. On spread “Y,” the cutout is over the orange body of the yawning dinosaur. This could be the word “yawning” beginning with the letter Y, though not an object. “Ww and Xx” opens to a bookworm or a worm reading—begins with the letter W. But then “Tt, Uu, Vv” opens on the color purple on the dinosaur’s nose. I cannot think of anything beginning with the letter t, u, or v for this “object.” The spreads repeat this pattern of object then body color until the child is back to the front off the book. I love the idea, but do not understand what object each color represents, especially if the letter of the object is one of the letters of the spread, though that was not specified. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to get an object in one cutout for two spreads. This does give a child the chance to use his or her imagination when deciding what object the colors might represent to them. Unfortunately, as a back-and-forth book, Busy Little Dinosaurs works well going forward and half the time in reverse.
Despite this problem, Busy Little Dinosaurs is a fun, imaginative, interesting, and colorful learning experience for young kids. Learning the ABCs in this manner is more beneficial than simply reciting the alphabet repeatedly until learned. Rote learning is never as much fun as experiential learning. I would highly recommend Busy Little Dinosaurs for teaching young children their alphabet. I believe, learning in this manner—non-rote learning—helps kids learn faster and remember what they learned longer. Busy Little Dinosaurs will have young children excited to learn the alphabet—and that is the best way to learn.
Every evening for the past couple of weeks I’ve had an appointment in the Kingdom of Silk.
The Kingdom of Silk is a small patch of ground on the outskirts of a small Australian town. It’s remarkable for the wealth of love and creativity, the depth of compassion and brightness of sincerity you can find there. It’s a place full of peals of laughter, although visiting it is also known to squeeze gentle tears from your heart.
This magical location may sound vaguely familiar to you: It’s the setting of a series of short novels by Glenda Millard, the first of which I reviewed earlier this year. It’s not often I return to the same book on my blog (indeed re-reading more generally is something I rarely do, knowing that time is always too short and the worlds to be explored between the pages of a book are ever expanding) but back in February when I first entreated you to find a copy of The Naming of Tishkin Silk, I had only shared one of the series with my children, and I was curious to witness how they would take to the honest, unpatronising, sometimes heartbreaking exploration of emotionally complex issues that continues across the entire series of Kingdom of Silk books. After all, fostering, dementia, refugees and world peace are not your everyday, run-of-the-mill themes for books for children.
These books (illustrated by Caroline Magerl and Stephen Michael King) have been our end-of-day bedtime delight for about a month now. I’ve been reading them to both M (10) and J (7) at the same time. We’re almost finished The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, and September, when the last book in the series (Nell’s Festival of Crisp Winter Glories) is due to be published, now seems unbearably far away.
I’m sharing all this with you because these evening visits to the Kingdom of Silk have been so quietly beautiful as a shared family reading experience that I’d love for you to be able to experience them too. Sharing the stories of the Silk family and how they face up to the challenges family life throws at them and seeing how they respond generously and kindly to problems faced by people they love has brought so many “tender moments” to our own family. It’s brought magic into our lives as the stories have made us see creative, enchanted opportunities where we didn’t see any before. This magic is pin perfectly described in Plum Puddings and Paper Moons, the 5th book in the series:
‘We’re all born with magic in us,’ she said. ‘A child’s magic is so powerful it sometimes rubs off on grown-up people. When that happens, they rediscover their own leftover magic and all kinds of remarkable things happen. Their limpy legs grow stronger and they don’t need as many naps. The words of long-forgotten songs and stories come back into their heads. Sometimes they compose completely new tunes and whistle them on red buses in the mornings when they’re going to the library to borrow books about interesting topics like magic puddings or very hungry caterpillars. And on cold, dark, dismal days they see fired-breathing dragons and knights in shining armour, where once they saw only clouds. People like this laugh loudly and often, and they smile more, because they’ve discovered the marvellous secret that leftover magic is a cure for gloominess and loneliness[.]”
The Silk Family have a wonderful institution: The OCCASION Breakfast. Each Saturday morning, a member of the family prepares a themed breakfast over which everyone lingers. This weekend M and J insisted on our first OCCASION Breakfast, which they themed around the colours of orange, yellow and red, honouring the Silk children Amber, Scarlet and Saffron.
Breakfast isn’t the only time food brings people together causing outbreaks of smiles and laughter. Cakes feature in every volume of the Kingdom of Silk. There’s a lovely passage (also in Plum Puddings and Paper Moons) about how the gift of a cake can quietly speak volumes. Ever so keen to try out the recipe for Amber’s Armenian Love Cake which Millard supplies, we’ve been baking them, gobbling them and giving them to friends.
Amber’s Armenian Love Cakes – wonderfully nutmeg-y light cakes with a biscuity base
Whilst I love cakes, if I had to choose between them and books, I’d have to forgo the sweet treats. And why? This short passage, from the sixth book in the series, The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, nails it:
On the bottom tier was a small cut-glass dish of sugar-coated aniseed rings, a plate of pink jelly cakes and a tattered copy of Anne of Green Gables.
It was Nell’s book. She’d had it since she was a young girl and had learnt a lot about being a better person by reading it, even though it was a mostly made-up story. From the moment her daughters were born, Nell read to them. it didn’t matter that they didn’t understand the words. books are many things: lullabies for the wary, ointment for the wounded, armour for the fearful and nests for those in need of a home.”
The Kingdom of Silk books are music to entrance and transport you, balm for bruised souls, practical tools for fostering empathy, and the most comforting, comfortable refuge at the ends of busy days. Lots of books come to life in our home but having seen how my daughters have taken these stories deep into their hearts and lives, their play and conversation, I wouldn’t be surprised if in forty years time it is these ones which my children remember most happily when asked to think of their favourite books of all time.
Written by Kaila Eunhye Seo Illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo Peter Pauper Press 5/01/20`15 978-1-4413-1731-5 40 pages Age 4—8 X X “Fred’s world is filled with fantastical friends that make his days so much fun he hardly notices that no one else can see them. But one day Fred goes off to school, and things start to change. As Fred grows up, his childhood friends slowly fade away and seem to disappear, taking some of life’s sparkle with them. But a chance meeting with a special young girl reminds Fred—and readers young and old alike—that magic and wonder never really disappear . . . they live forever in our hearts.” [book jacket]
Review Fred’s imaginary friends have the people in his small town thinking he is different—a polite way of saying the boy is odd. Fred has the ability to see and hear things other people cannot. Fred also believes in things the other townsfolk either cannot, or simply will not, believe. Despite the townsfolk’s’ inability to see, hear, or care about Fred’s creatures, the creatures cared about the townsfolk.
“Sometimes they acted like the wind and moved branches out of the way for people. And sometimes they acted like shade and kept people cool on hot summer days”
What is Fred seeing and hearing that make the others consider the young boy an oddity? Fred sees creatures . . . imaginary creatures . . . imaginary friends. He never cares about making other friends—he already has the best friends a young boy could hope to have.
When the day arrives for Fred to begin school, he makes new friends . . . real, alive friends. His imaginary friends wait, no longer part of Fred’s day. One day becomes two, then three, and each school year blends into the next. One-by-one the creatures Fred adored disappear, losing their color, and fading into the background. By the time he reaches adulthood, all the imaginary creatures are lost from Fred’s memory.
The real world takes too much of Fred’s attention and time. Fred’s days run together as he does the same things day after day. This monotony leaves Fred feeling empty, friendless, and all alone, even in the park where he played so joyfully with . . . with . . . he doesn’t remember with whom he played with, or even what his playmates look liked. Where did his childhood friends go?
FRED will have you wondering when your imaginary friends left you. When these old friends leave, they take with them a very precious commodity: your imagination. Can you imagine doing anything other than your daily routine? Not just a dream vacation, but something that will cheer you up, daily make you implausibly happy, and has the synapses on the right-side of your brain sizzling with ideas, as they jump from neuron to neuron. Neither can Fred, poor guy. Then he gets lucky. A small child comes to the park while Fred sits reading—always a delightful detail in a children’s book. The young girl, with a pocket full of lollipops, asks Fred if he and his friends would like a lollipop. His friends anxiously watch Fred, who says,
Someone can see his friends. They are all still with him. A synapse POPS! Another SIZZLES! Fred’s heart no longer feels weighed down, and instead, he feels free. Fred’s imaginary friends—and his imagination—return. Adult Fred finally realizes he . . . wait, I cannot tell you what Fred realized. Fred would like to tell you himself. This is his story. FRED surprised me, in a very wonderful way. Imagination, and the magical journeys it can create, is not the sole domain of childhood, but we tell ourselves there is no time for such “silliness,” yet without retaining our child-like selves, we lose much of our creativity.
I love Ms. Seo’s direct lines in the pen and ink illustrations. Each spread overflows with artistic detail and the color remains only with the story and its characters. I think Ms. Seo’s attention to detail and using color to focus readers’ eyes on the story shows she cares about making a terrific sensory experience for children. The monsters are hilarious and kid-friendly. Not one creature will cause nightmares, as none is even a wee-bit scary. They walk among the unsuspecting—and unbelieving—in town without any commotion. I do wonder how the non-believers (who possess little to no imagination), would think if they saw what Fred could see. The story and all the eye-catching illustrations are a definite sign that this debut author/illustrator has not lost her childhood imagination, inspiration, or her imaginary friends.
Out in the depths of the Spooniverse Space Dog is getting read to return home following a long mission sorting out planetary problems in the Dairy Quadrant. Just as he starts to unwind a distress call comes through on his Laser Display Screen. Without a moment’s hesitation our super hero, Space Dog, jumps to and rescues the occupant of a flying saucer drowning in an thick ocean of cream on a nearby planet. But what’s this?
It turns out he’s saved his sworn enemy: Astrocat.
Will they be able to put aside their differences as another cry for help comes in over the space ship tannoy? Will teamwork triumph as they face terror together?
Space Dog by Mini Grey is an anarchic, adrenalin-packed adventure of The Highest Order. Utterly and joyously playful, wildly and lavishly imaginative, this dynamic and delightful journey exploring space and friendship is sublime.
Grey’s witty language, from the hilarious exclamations made by Space Dog (“Thundering milkswamps!”, “Shivering Stilton!”) to the deliciously outlandish names of rare alien life forms (the Cruets of West Cutlery, the Fruitons of Crumble Major) has had us all giggling time and again, even on the 15th reading of Space Dog. Her pacing is timed to perfection, with dramatic stretches interspersed with moments of great relief and humour, drawing readers, listeners, grown-ups, children ever more closely in to Grey’s fantastic, phenomenal universe Spooniverse.
Grey’s illustrations are equally packed with panache. From the detailing given to brand labels and packaging (whether on space food or game boxes) to her powerful use of suggestion (look out for what is almost missing off the page on the spread immediately before Space Dog and Astrocat land on Cheesoid 12, or the shadow redolent with threat as they turn to leave the Cheesy planet), Grey’s illustrations richly illuminate the world she has built to share with us, giving enormous pleasure every time they are returned to.
Although there are echoes of super hero comic strips and silent movies with their intertitles, dramatic soundtracks and expressive emotions theatrically mimed, Mini Grey’s visual and verbal style is truly unique. Spirited and inventive, Space Dog is an outstanding book and fortunately you can find it right here right now in our very own universe.
Every single page turn of Space Dog was met with “Mummy, can we do that??!!”, whether it was making a planet out of cereal packets, coming up with a recipe for supper based on the Spaghetti Entity in the Pastaroid Belt, designing our own version of Dogopoly, rustling up Astrocat’s cake, making spewing tomato ketchup volcanoes, or playing with fondue. In the end we settled for making spaceships for the characters in the book, and flying them over our patio.
We dressed up as astronauts ourselves, making space suits from disposable painting overalls, decorated with electrical tape and completed with control panels from cardboard.
Once appropriately attired we were ready to launch our space ships. Unlike Pop Goes the Page we used nylon bead thread rather than wire to make a zip line, partly because this is what we had to hand, but also because it’s extremely smooth and there are no issues with kinking. One end was tied to the bathroom window, the other to the end of the washing line in the garden.
Soon spaceships were zooming all over our patio…
Later we turned our hand to making hats for a fruit and vegetable parade, inspired by the hat competition which Space Dog has to judge:
Other activities you could try inspired by Space Dog include:
Making space ships big enough for kids (and their grownups?) to fit in. A large cardboard box, a roll of tin foil and some plastic lids or moulded plastic from biscuit boxes is all you need to get you started. (Here’s one we made earlier).
Reading the extraordinary graphic novel Laika by Nick Abadzis. This is more for us grown ups than the kids (though my 10 year old has read it) but I can’t resist recommending it whilst I’ve got a chance.
Would you like to go into space if you had the chance?
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Space Dog by the book’s publisher.
I cannot recall so many 6-star reviews in such a short period of time (5 of 7 current titles). I didn’t hand-pick them, it was simply their turn. I hope you have a chance to read each of these books, and any other that might make the list this year. Today, another winner arrives today. Debut author Allabach and award-winning cartoonist Turnbloom blend the picture book with the graphic novel for a unique experience. x x x x x Dragon and Captain
Written by P. R. Allabach Illustrated by Lucas Turnbloom Flashlight Press 4/01/2015 978-1-9362613-3-8 32 pages Age 5—7 x x “What is Captain doing in Dragon’s sandbox? He’s moping over his lost ship. Dragon is a boy in a robe and pajamas. Captain is a boy with a three-sided hat. But when they set off on a backyard adventure to find the lost ship, they become . . . DRAGON AND CAPTAIN, FEARLESS EXPLORERS! Together they trek through a dark forest, climb down a cliff, and hike all the way to the sea to outsmart a band of evil pirates! Can dragon and Captain rescue the missing ship . . . before lunch?” [book jacket]
Review Imagine a picture book partially written as a graphic novel. That image is Dragon and Captain, the story of two little boys who wake up one morning to confront a mystery—where is the Captain’s ship. Did the sea grab hold, dragging it far away, or did something more nefarious occur?
While enjoying his breakfast, a blue-hued Dragon spies a red-haired pirate trespassing in his sandbox. Rushing out, Dragon confronts the intruder,
“Hey, pirate. What are you doing in my sandbox?” “I’m not a pirate, good sir. I’m the captain of a ship.” “You look like a pirate.”
Thus begins the wonderfully witty and whimsical, fantasy-filled, backyard adventure. Turnbloom’s graphite, ink, and digitally painted illustrations alternate between the boys’ imagination—told as a comic strip—and their reality—seen in traditional picture book spreads. The process enhances the story with vivid action, and gives the reader direct access to the young boy’s right-brained imagination and creativity.
Captain and Dragon’s world is void of technology. A crayon drawing, a paper-towel tube, and a toy watch respectively become a map, a telescope, and a compass. What would your imagination do with green bushes, a water sprinkler, and a stone walkway? How would your creativity re-claim the Captain’s ship using only toy sandbox shovels, paper, and a bicycle? Why must the duo sneak past the one-eyed teddy bear? Captain, and his new friend Dragon, trek through a dangerously dark forest and scale a cliff to reach the sea, never leaving the backyard and finding all the above items valuable to their journey.
I love that Dragon and Captain could ignite a child’s innate imagination, sans technology. I love that after reading Dragon and Captain, kids might see their surroundings as an adventure; everyday objects as imaginatively malleable; and reading as exciting and essential. Parents will enjoy reading Dragon and Captain to their children, especially after hearing their cries of,
“I’m bored. There’s nothing to do around here.”
Yes, there is something to do and Dragon and Captain will show the way. Kids will love the brightly colored illustrations by award-winning cartoonist Turnbloom, and the backyard fantasy-adventure, smartly written by debut author Allabach. Dragon and Captain is a terrific book for any “Books for Boys” list, yet girls will love it, too. Aye, matey, this girl adores both the Dragon and the Captain.
Series: Felt Finger Puppet Board Books Written by Sarah Gillingham Illustrated by Lorena Siminovich Chronicle Books 5/01/2015 978-1-4521-0640 10 pages 7” x 7” Age 0—2 x x “Turn the colorful pages of this irresistible board book to discover just what makes little crab’s beach so cozy. Is it the warm tide pool? Is it the soft sand? No, it’s little crab’s family! Bright pictures, a sweet, reassuring message, and an adorable finger puppet fi this book with reading and playtime fun!” [back cover]
Review On his beach, Little Crab relates a day of fun activities for readers. Ah, before you turn the cover, turn the book over. In the center of the back cover is an opening—a die-cut circle—waiting for you to bring Little Crab to life! He is actually a finger puppet crab.
“On my beach, I race over sand with my friends, “I hide between the treasures in the warm tide pool . . . “
Beginning with the first spread, each die-cut opening decreases in size (5” diameter on the cover down to 2 ½” diameter on the next-to-last spread—perfect for the 2” oval Little Crab. The circles might sound bland; they are not. Smooth circles alternate with wavy circles, much like the pattern waves leave as they return to sea. I really love this eye-pleasing, 3-dimensional pattern. I think young children will also like the different textures.
Little Crab decides to race over his beach with his sea creature friends. Helping him navigate the beach puts children into the story. Without them, Little Crab could not navigate his way through the sand and water. Upon reaching his destination, Little Crab enjoys a nap with . . . sorry, only Little Crab can reveal his companions.
I think young children will enjoy becoming Little Crab and wiggling him through seaweed and splashing the orange crab in a wave pool. One caveat: little hands might find holding the book, while playing with the finger puppet, awkward. On My Beach is a good size for a board book story, with traditionally thick, glossy—difficult to tear, easy to clean—cardboard pages. The 7” x 7” book is a perfect fit for my hands, enabling me to navigate Little Crab through his story while easily turning the pages. Young children might need to adjust—every confidence they will—using problem solving, imagination, and dexterity.
The varying seascapes and critters, rendered in collage, are bright and inviting, working perfectly with the cover. Young children will love the combination of story and an interesting puppet. The stuff that interest young children and their enjoyment of books include a good story, an interesting character, including play, and becoming part of the adventure are all found in On My Beach. The latest title in the (first published in 2009), will entertain young children. From a barn to a pond and patch, the Felt Finger Puppet Board Books series introduces young children to a variety of places and things (see list of titles below).
Written by K. E. Ormsbee Illustrated by Elsa Mora Chronicle Books 4/14/2015 978-1-4521-1386-9 440 pages Age 10—14 x x “For as long as Lottie can remember, the only people who seem to care about her have been her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter-writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things and people are arriving on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless.
And then a door opens in the apple tree.
Follow Lottie down through the apple roots to another world—a world of magic both treacherous and beautiful—in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.” [book jacket]
Review The beginning of The Water and the Wild draws the reader in with the sharp writing and imaginative descriptions. We meet 12-year-old Lottie, an orphan, who lives in a New Kemble Island boardinghouse with a reluctant Mrs. Yates, whom the author describes as dour with a dislike of children.
“In her opinion, children belonged to a noxious class of furless, yippy house pets that did nothing but make noise at inconvenient times and crash into her potted gardenias.”
Lottie has only two things she cares about: the apple tree, where she hides her keepsakes in a copper box she found hidden in its roots, and her best friend Eliot. Each year, Lottie placed a wish in her keepsake copper box and returned it to the roots of the apple tree. Each year, on her birthday, an unknown writer sent Lottie her wish.
Eliot is ill with an unknown incurable disease, and nearing the end of his young life. Lottie decides to ask for a cure for the incurable. Soon after, her life changes course when Adelaide, a sprite, urgently whisks Lottie to safety down the roots of the apple tree to Limn, a mysterious place that exists under New Kemble Island. Here, Lottie meets Mr. Wilfer, a sprite healer, Adelaide and Oliver’s father, and Lottie’s benefactor. Mr. Wilfer has been working on an “Otherwise Incurable” potion. Problem is, this is supposed to be for the king, not Eliot, and when it does not arrive as expected, the king arrests Mr. Wilfer. With the cure in hand, Adelaide, Oliver, Oliver’s half-sprite, half-wisp friend Fife, and Lottie take off for the castle to save Mr. Wilfer.
I enjoyed The Water and the Wild but the journey to the castle felt like it would never end, though there are many bright spots along the way that I loved and will intrigue readers. The three kids travel through strange lands filled with danger. Along the way, Lottie learns she is half human-half sprite—a Halfling—and the Heir of Fiske making her heir apparent to the throne and a target of the current, rather cruel, king. The worlds of both New Kemble Island and Limn are easy to visualize.
Oliver speaks in the words of poets, all of which the author annotates after the story. This can make Oliver’s speech confusing at times for both Lottie and the reader, but is an unusual and imaginative way to introduce kids to classic poetry. Lottie, the odd-girl-out in both worlds, is an easy character to cheer on and kids in similar situations will easily identify with Lottie’s loneliness and the cruel, bullying students she encounters at home.
I wish I knew how the story ended. Maybe there is a sequel in the works, but as it is now, Lottie is somewhere in Limn doing something and, as the author writes,
“This is better.”
I do recommend The Water and the Wild to advanced middle grade readers and adults who enjoy a good story filled with suspense, unusual beings, adventure, and a little magic. The illustrations at the head of each chapter are made from cut paper. See Elsa Mora’s website for more examples of this incredible artform. The Water and the Wild is K. E. Ormsbee’s debut novel.
NOTE: There is a sequel planned for Fall 2016, as yet un-titled.
Written & Illustrated by Matt Phelan Candlestick Press 9/09/2014 978-0-7636-5955-4 32 pages Age 2—5 x x “It’s raining and raining and raining, and Penelope is bored. “What would you do if you had your druthers?” asks her daddy. Well, if Penelope had her druthers, she’d go to the zoo. Or be a cowgirl. Or a pirate captain who sails to the island of dinosaurs, or flies away on a rocket to the moon. If Penelope had her druthers, she’d go off on amazing adventures — but then again, being stuck inside may not be so bad if your daddy is along for the ride!” [publisher]
Review It’s a rainy day and young Ms. Penelope is bored. Rain continues flowing down the window and the sky remains dark. Dad is home reading a book—good for you dad—and he notices his daughter’s frustration and boredom. Dad asks Penelope,
“If you had your druthers, what would you do?”
“What are druthers?”
“Druthers are what you would rather do if you could do anything at all.”
Penelope decides if she had her druthers, she and dad would go to the zoo. That is just what they do. Hunkered down behind the bars of a stair railing, dad becomes a caged ape. “Ooo-ooo-ooo,” Dad calls out from his “cage.”
But druthers change and Penelope decides she would like to be a cowgirl. Dad strides one arm of the couch and his daughter the other. Together they ride their horses . . . until Penelope decides being a pirate would be fun . . . and flying to the moon . . . and . . . with dad tuckered out Penelope makes one final druthers.
“But I guess if I really had my druthers . . . “
Druthers is a wonderful book for rainy days or any boring day. It exemplifies the creativity of imagination. Dad is a hoot and the perfect parent to spend a day with, on any day. I also love that while Penelope is staring out the window waiting for the rain to stop, Dad is reading a book. What a wonderful detail to promote reading. I also love all the activities the two imagined while laughing, singing, dancing, smiling, and enjoying each other while playing together like best friends.
The illustrations are wonderful and do a great job of visualizing all of Penelope’s druthers. Kids and parents will love the story and each scenario and, like myself, all the details that make everything come alive. Druthers allows you to experience the fun, and laugh along with Dad and Penelope. There are not enough books with dad directly involved with his child. Druthers is the best “Dad book”and a wonderful gift idea for Father’s Day (tie not included).
Penelope’s really druthers,
“. . . it would rain tomorrow, too.”
Druthers is a keeper! If I had my druthers, every dad would share this book with his child(ren), boy or girl.
Full Disclosure: Druthers, by Matt Phelan, and received from Candlewick Press, is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review The opinions expressed belong to Kid Lit Reviews, and no one else. This is disclosed in accordance with The Federal Trade Commission 16CFR, Part 255: Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
My seventeen-year-old son has just completed fifteen examinations in the course of two weeks. They varied in length – some in excess of three hours, with a half hour break before the next exam – and we are still feeling the fallout from this veritable onslaught.
What would I do if I did not tell my stories? I might be “asleep” in life. But even in sleep my stories dance in my mind. They wait. They hear my “voice.” That “voice” is a part of them. Where soul and chance meet, in their midst are cinematic images. They must be given an account in […]
The sumptuous cloth cover and unfurling clouds swirling across the end pages indicate something special about Elise Hurst’s latest picture book, Imagine a City. You’ll recognise Hurst’s illustrations from her other picture books such as The Night Garden, Flood and The Midnight Club to name a few. Imagine a City is a glorious collection of […]
Dinosaurs have invaded my library. We’ve turned this November into Dinovember. Dinovember is the month when the dinosaurs come out to play. It was started by two parents who decided to have some fun with their children’s dinosaur toys and a month of dinosaur antics was born. You can follow the dino adventures on the Dinovember Tumblr. The creators also recently released a book, What The Dinosaurs Did Last Night.
Inspired by these silly dinosaurs, my staff and I decided to have some fun. We transformed one of our giant workroom windows in a calendar. Each day we post a new picture of what the dinosaurs have been up to at the library. The kids (and the parents) are having lots of fun checking out the photos and have even been looking around the department to see if they can catch the dinosaurs in action. All the staff have pulled together to make Dinovember happen with taking pictures, sharing dinosaur toys, helping us come up with ideas, and letting us invade their departments with dinosaurs. It’s a very simple thing to put together and the response has been great. I love inspiring imagination in the kids and they are getting a kick out of all the silly things the dinosaurs come up with to do each day.
Here’s a peek of what our dinosaurs have been up to:
Photo Credit: Valerie Bogert
Photo Credit: Valerie Bogert
Photo Credit: Valerie Bogert
Photo Credit: Valerie Bogert
We’ve been having so much fun, I think we should make Dinovember a yearly treat. And I hope other libraries join us in the fun!
As I noted last Wednesday, J. Patrick Lewis' anthology title says it all: "Everything is a Poem." Last Thursday, we looked at science in poetry, Monday we looked at nature in poetry. Tuesday, the focus was on history in poetry, yesterday we took a look at biography in poetry. Today, let's have fun with imagination in poetry.
The subtitle of this book says it all: "Crazy Car Poems."
If that didn't get your attention, check out the co-authors -- J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian. Now you KNOW you're in for some fun, right?
If you're still not sure, here's a bit from the introduction poem, "Introduction:"
"...But someday our fantastic cars Might look like cool dark chocolate bars,
Banana splits, hot dogs or fish -- Or any kind of ride you wish..."
This book is all kinds of imaginative fun. The plays on words are groan-worthy, and the illustrations are a blast.
Poem-Mobiles was reviewed by Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup (check out the picture of the Teddy-Go-Cars -- doesn't that make you want to use up some of the leftover Halloween candy making Snickermobiles?)
Being an illustrator is great fun. Why? Because you can use your imagination to go places you’ve never been and do things you’ve never done. For instance, I have always wanted a log cabin up in the mountains. As a teen, I used to imagine having a studio up a flight of wooden steps to a big room. It would have rafter ceilings and a window seat for me to look out of. It would be warm and cozy and I could sit and do my art all day long near a roaring fire in the wood stove.
When I began thinking of places for my character Burl the bear to live in, I made it just like “I” wanted it! Warm and inviting! When you walk through the doorway of my story, you will find a home that lives in my imagination. It will be a place that I love and I will revisit it many times as the story progresses. I must be passionate about what I draw or it becomes listless and boring. This process is what makes a story believable.
My experience tells me that children notice the tiniest of details. I did a school visit after Peepsqueak was published by Harper Collins Publisher. I read the book to the children and then we talked. Through out the story there was another story going on in the book. It was a little tiny mouse who appeared on many of the pages. The children did not miss it. They even commented on the mouse as I read to them. I let them in on a little secret. I named the mouse Elliot. When I told them his name they all squealed with delight and pointed to the cutest little boy in their classroom who was named Elliot! He was beaming. Suddenly he became part of the story. He was so happy!
These are the things that make a story magical in the eyes of children and adults alike. Its also why I continue creating images. I love seeing characters develop. I love finding their voices. .. what they are like… what they like to do. It does not stop when I leave the studio. I think about them all the time, until I finally know how they would react in any given situation. That way they become very believable creations and loved by all.
Stay posted, Burl and Briley are growing on my heart daily. I can hardly wait to illustrate the books that are in my mind!
Like many families, now we’re in the run up to Christmas, we’re spending time getting crafty together, making presents and decorations, and this book has given us hours of delight. Full of ideas about how to customise wooden peg dolls into adorable characters, Bloom also provides lots of tutorials for how to use your peg dolls in innovative ways, such as in mobiles, wands, wall hangings and pincushion embellishments.
Super clear and friendly instructions, made beautiful and even easier to follow by the inclusion of simple but beautiful watercolour illustrations along with many photos of all sorts of children making and playing with peg dolls made sure this book really appealed to my kids as soon as they set eyes on it.
That the instructions are easy to follow and result in items which the kids are really proud of was clearly demonstrated by the way my 9 year old, M, took the book off by herself and created her first ever felt toys:
Although M was totally absorbed by herself in her sewing, as a parent I especially enjoyed Bloom’s emphasis in her instructions on how the whole family can take part in making their own peg dolls; she clearly indicates which parts even the youngest children can get involved with, and encourages us grown-ups to be involved, but also to let our kids do their own things with the dolls. This book isn’t about parents turning out coffee-table-book-worthy gorgeous ornaments (although we’re definitely encouraged to play, sew and create along side the kids); it really is about facilitating children’s exploratory play and creativity.
The book includes a list of suppliers of peg dolls, felt and one or two other items that are especially nice to use (such as artificial/millinery flower stamens) and I would heartily encourage you to gift a bundle of supplies, including some watercolours, with this book so that the recipient can dive in straight away. I’ve personally used Craftshapes for my blank wooden peg dolls in the past and they’ve always be lovely to deal with.
What we started with
Here are some of the characters we created:
Whilst painting, sewing, sticking and playing we listened to:
Wedding of the Painted Doll, one of the hit songs from the musical “The Broadway Melody” – indeed, it reach #1 in the charts in 1929! Another version with more lyrics can be heard here.
The doll dance from Delibe’s ballet Coppélia
Come Over To My Dollhouse by Lunch Money. Whilst in some ways this is a world away from the lovely peg dolls made by Bloom (which are the antithesis to Barbie, who does feature in this song), the video is enormous fun and might inspire you and your kids to make your own video for your favourite music.
If you want ideas about how to take things a step further with your peg dolls take a look at:
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed Making Peg Dolls & More: Toys that spin, fly and bring sweet dreams: It is beautiful to look at and filled with enticing projects, which are both achievable and give results to delight in. It is also a book which is very proud to be just a starting point; it’s really about giving you ideas which will bloom in you and your kids’ imaginations.
What family craft books would you recommend?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.
I believe any book can fuel the imagination when it arrives in the right hands at the right time, but there are also some which explicitly explore how we nurture creativity and create space for inspiration and following our dreams. The Wonder by Faye Hanson and The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett are two such books which I’ve read recently and which have left me brimming with delight, hope and happiness and which have sparked hours of inspired play in my children.
The Wonder by Faye Hanson is a sumptuous début picture book about a young boy whose head if full of daydreams which transform the humdrum world around him. Time and again adults tell him to get his head out of the clouds and come back to reality, but this is barely possible for a child who finds wonder, curiosity and delight wherever he looks. Finally in art class he’s able to let loose his imagination onto a blank sheet of paper delighting his teacher and filling his parents with pride.
The child in this story sees ordinary objects but has the imagination to turn them into astonishing stories, breathtaking ideas, and worlds full of adventures waiting to happen. I know I want to foster this ability in my own children (and in myself!); the world becomes more beautiful, richer, and simply more enjoyable when we are able to imagine more than the grey, wet and humdrum daily life that all too often catches us up. This utterly delightful book is an enthusiastic encouragement to let more imagination in to our lives.
Click to view a larger version (it’s really worth it!) of this interior spread from The Wonder by Faye Hanson
Hanson’s illustrations are dense, saturated, and rich. Careful use of colour lights up the boy’s dreams in his otherwise sepia coloured life. Limited palettes add to the intensity of these pictures; it’s interesting that their vitality doesn’t come from a rainbow range of paints, but rather from focussing on layer of layer of just a few colours, packed with exquisite detail. There’s a luminosity about the illustrations; some look like they’ve got gold foil or a built-in glow and yet there are no novelty printing techniques here.
All in all, an exquisite book that will tell anyone you share it with that you value their dreams and want to nurture their ingenuity, inventiveness and individuality.
Now let me play devil’s advocate: Is there sometimes a line to be walked between feeding a child’s imagination and yet enabling them to recognise the difference between real life and day dreams? In The Wonder, there are plenty of adults pointing out the apparent problems/risks of day dreaming a great deal. On the other hand, in The Imaginary, a mother fully enters into her daughter’s imaginary world, not only acknowledging an imaginary best friend, but actively supporting this belief by setting places at meal times, packing extra bags, even accepting accidents must be the result of this friend and not the child herself.
Amanda believes that only she can see her imaginary friend Rudger. But all this changes one day when a mysterious Mr Bunting appears on the doorstep, apparently doing innocent door-to-door market research. But all is not as it seems for it turns out that Mr Bunting has no imagination of his own and can only survive by eating other people’s imaginary friends. He’s sniffed Rudger out and now he’s going to get him, whatever it takes.
Click to see larger illustration by Emily Gravett, from The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold
If you’ve ever wondered where imaginary friends come from, and what happens to them when their children grow up and stop day-dreaming this is a book for you. If you love a good villain, adventures which include libraries and narrow escapes you’ll enjoy this too. If you’re a fan of elegant and attractive books you’ll want to feel this between your hands. The illustrations by Emily Gravett are terrific (in every sense) and incredibly atmospheric, magically adding beauty and tension to a story which I thought couldn’t be bettered.
One of the ways my girls have been inspired in their playing since sharing these books became clear when they told me they wanted to make a star-making machine to go with the one features in The Wonder (see the illustration above).
M first wrote out some recipes for stars:
I provided a little food for thought…
…and a selection of machine parts.
Several hours later the star machine was coming together
Next up a selection of star ingredients were sourced:
The machine was fed…
Can you see the pulses of one star in the making?!
And out popped these stars (here’s a tutorial) at the end of the star making process:
Here’s one just for you:
Whilst making our machine we listened to:
Invisible Friends by Dog on Fleas
Imaginary Friend by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
‘Pure Imagination’ from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film
Going on a Wonder Walk. I’ve been thinking about places which spark the imagination or create a sense of awe and thinking about how I can take the kids to visit these places and see what ideas the experience sparks. In general the sorts of places I think have the potential to ignite wonder include high-up places with views to the horizon, hidden places, for example underground, enormous spaces whether man-made or natural, and dark places lit only by candles or fire. I think these locations could all work as seeds for the imagination, and so during the coming holiday I’m going to try to take the girls to a place that fits each of these descriptions.
I read this after listening the fabulous Bookrageous Podcast which read and discussed the book for their book club and then interviewed the author. It is a fascinating look at what is happening inside our minds when we read. The author, Peter Mendelsund, is a book designer for Knopf in the US but also has […]