Nursery Rhyme Comics

This book could not be more popular in our household…

Back in May, I wrote a positively glowing review of Nursery Rhyme Comics, a 2011 collection of “50 timeless rhymes from 50 celebrated cartoonists” that my daughter instantly adored. Seriously. She LOVED IT. It became the book my daughter talked about endlessly, the book that she wanted to check out every single time we visited the library.

To give you a full picture of her unbridled affection for Nursery Rhyme Comics, here’s a telling excerpt from my original review:

Do you want to know how much [my daughter] loved it? The next day, after I had to read her the whole anthology AGAIN, she asked me, “Do you think Santa will bring me this book for Christmas if I ask him?” For those of you without kids, just FYI, that’s maybe the single greatest endorsement ANY kids’ book can EVER have. That’s like a movie winning 12 Oscars and making a billion dollars at the box office.

That’s right. She asked for it from SANTA. That’s a big deal for a kid. And that happened back in May and, right before Christmas, my daughter asked me again – she remembered – and she asked, “Do you think Santa is going to bring me my own copy of Nursery Rhyme Comics?”

C’mon, parents, how could Santa say no to that? With that in mind, I present this quick video of our 2012 Christmas morning. (The “He” my daughter keeps referring to in the video is, of course, Santa.) So, thanks, First Second Books and Chris Duffy (editor of Nursery Rhyme Comics), as you can see, you guys – and St. Nick – really made my daughter’s Christmas.


Giants Beware

Q: Who would in a showdown – Claudette or Merida from “Brave”? A: The audience.

First Second Books published Giants Beware!, our favorite kid’s book of 2012, and no one can fault them for failing to create some great promotional material for Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado‘s sublime graphic novel. I mentioned the book’s great downloadable activity kit in my review, but First Second also created two very cool book trailers for Giants Beware as well.

The first trailer is a dynamic movie trailer-esque preview of the book – the video is a montage of music and images that really sells how Claudette’s adventures read like a blockbuster animated movie.

The second trailer is interesting. It’s less of a trailer and more of a look behind the scenes at the creation of the book. Basically, it’s a three-and-a-half minute, real-time video of Rafael Rosado digitally inking a page from Giants Beware. There’s no commentary or narration, just some accompanying music as we look over Rosado’s shoulder while he works. While there’s a part of me that really would’ve enjoyed hearing Rosado talk more about his creative process, I found myself really sucked in by the video and this look into his studio. (You will either find this video fascinating or dead boring – fair warning.) Enjoy.


Giants Beware

A truly superior graphic novel for kids

My daughter and I have read a lot of books together this year. A LOT. But, as the year winds down and I find myself looking back at our favorite books of 2012 – the instant classics, the bedtime staples, the required road-trip reading – I keep coming back to Giants Beware!, a fantastic, tour de force graphic novel by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado, which stands as one of the best examples of comics for kids that I’ve ever read.

And, because due diligence is important, I did check with my daughter before bedtime last night and she did authorize me to, quote-unquote, “tell your blog, Dad, that Giants Beware is my favorite new book I read this year.” So, it’s unanimous – Giants Beware is Building a Library’s Best Book of 2012.

What’s so great about Giants Beware? It’s hard to know where to start. I’ve been trying to review it for most of the year, but there are times when I like a book so much that I almost find it impossible to write about it. I find myself tripping over my words, unable to express how much I enjoy the book in question, until I’m halfway tempted to just type “Book am good. Make me happy” and be done with it. But Giants Beware does so much right, it deserves better and, thus, here we are.

With Giants Beware, Aguirre and Rosado have created a blockbuster reading experience. What I mean by that is – this graphic novel is so smart, exciting, accessible, and entertaining that, if it was a movie, it would make $500 million dollars at the box office. The experience of reading Giants Beware is akin to watching a Pixar movie. (One of the best ones.) You just sit there amazed at being told a story with such obvious genius and craftsmanship and also at how you and your child are both able to appreciate it on multiple levels.

That is all to say, I really, really like Giants Beware and so does my kid.

The story revolves around Claudette, a headstrong tomboy who’s always clutching a wooden sword and who can’t wait to one day leave her provincial village and prove herself as a mighty giant slayer. Her father, the town blacksmith, used to be a renowned adventurer (and is now missing a few limbs due to those adventures), and Claudette is aching to follow in his phantom footsteps. She especially wants to set off on a quest to a local mountain range to hunt down a legendary local giant with a reputation for eating babies’ feet. (Aguirre and Rosado are able to make the alleged baby-feet-eating into something that’s really funny as opposed to downright chilling.)

Giants Beware

Don’t cross Claudette if you know what’s good for you…

Claudette is just a fantastic creation – she’s so singularly obsessed with killing monsters that she can barely see anything else in the world. She’s funny, clever, earnest, and loyal – her loyalty particularly shines through when it comes to her best friend Marie and her little brother Gaston. (One of my favorite Claudette lines comes after she dispatches some bullies who were picking on Gaston – “Violence is not just efficient. It feels good, too.”)

Giants Beware

Words to live by…

However, Claudette is so obsessed with slaying the feet-eating giant that she tricks Marie and Gaston into accompanying her on a giant-slaying quest – a quest that was expressly forbidden by both her father and the town’s ruling Marquis (who happens to be Marie’s father). As the kids set off across the countryside towards their date with a giant, pursued doggedly by their annoyed parents, they encounter witches, haunted trees, mad river kings, and a wide variety of fairy tale oddities, experiences that help them test their meddle, conquer their fears, and learn a lot more about the strange world around them.

Giants Beware is a very fun read that really connected with my daughter. It’s a longer graphic novel – around 200 pages – but, the first time I finished reading it to her, my daughter asked me to immediately re-read it, which has never happened before. But the re-read factor isn’t the only reason why I regard this as our favorite book of 2012. While, I’ll admit, there were books we read this year that packed a deeper emotional punch (a tear-jerker, this ain’t), Giants Beware is just an exceptionally accomplished piece of work, a work that shouldn’t be trivialized just because you could accurately describe it as “a fun adventure.”

Giants Beware

This is a seriously funny and beautiful book…

And, personally, one of the main reasons why I think I’ve responded to Giants Beware so strongly is that it expertly plays with so many of the children’s literature themes and tropes that I keep obsessing about on this blog (to the point where it almost feels like it crawled out of my subconscious at times). For example, let me list FIVE areas where I think Giants Beware really, really excels:

1. It’s an Ideal Comic Book for Kids

Recurring readers know that I’m a big proponent of exposing kids to comic books and graphic novels, but, as I’ve complained about before, most comic books aren’t designed in a way to make them accessible to developing readers. The vast majority of so-called “kid’s comics” have miniscule font sizes, hectic layouts, and little-to-no concern with helping new readers follow their way throughout the story. Giants Beware, on the other hand, excels at making itself both accessible and appealing to younger readers. The text is extremely readable, the layouts are clean and clear, and the visual storytelling is top-notch. Even though it’s 200 pages long, Giants Beware is a very quick, readable work for kids. I’d almost equate it to a beginning chapter book, along the lines of a Mercy Watson book, and there just aren’t that many kid’s graphic novels out there that pay such careful attention to the needs of new readers. [read the rest of the post…]


The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

One of the best kids’ book about creativity that I’ve ever read…

At the end of June, I attended a technology and education conference in San Diego and had the great fortune to meet Peter H. Reynolds, a fantastic children’s author and illustrator, perhaps best known for his picture books The Dot and Ish, at the Upstart Crow Bookstore right next to my hotel. I detailed my family’s first exposure to Peter Reynolds in a post back in February about Plant a Kiss, a really warm, inventive picture book illustrated by Reynolds and authored by one of my daughter’s favorite writers, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

In that review, I commented that:

Illustrator Peter Reynolds is also a pretty big deal in children’s lit – his picture book, The Dot, is supposed to be fantastic – but, I’d admit, he’s one of those children’s book creators whom we’ve somehow missed entirely. Plant a Kiss is actually the first Peter Reynolds book we’ve ever read (it won’t be the last)…

After reading Plant a Kiss, during our very next trip to our library, my daughter saw a copy of The Dot on the shelves and, recognizing the artist, asked if we could check it out. Three weeks later, when we had to return The Dot to the library, my daughter brought the book over to the children’s librarian and asked if they had any more books by Peter Reynolds. Coming from a five year old, that’s a fairly huge endorsement.

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

The sequel ain’t half-bad either…

Reynolds is a bit of a renaissance man. Aside from writing and illustrating his own children’s books – titles like The Dot, Ish, So Few of Me, and The North Star – he’s also illustrated the Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald, Someday by Alison McGhee, and a whole host of other titles by authors like Rosenthal, Gerda Weissman Klein, Bob Raczka, Eleanor Estes, and Judy Blume, among others. As if that’s not enough, he’s also the co-founder of FableVision, Inc., a “turn-key educational media developer and publisher committed to creating positive programming and products that help all learners navigate their full potential.” (I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it sounds fascinating.)

There are many reasons why I think my daughter really liked The Dot. It’s a wonderfully illustrated story. It has a very relatable protagonist – a young girl named Vashti, who is convinced that she simply CAN’T draw. And it has a very strong message at its core about creativity, confidence, and using art as a means to express one’s self.

Personally, one of the major reasons why I liked The Dot so much was because it was came along at the perfect time in my daughter’s life. My daughter just graduated from kindergarten back in June and she was one of the younger students in her class. (Just FYI, new parents – the debate surrounding whether you should send children with late-in-the-year birthdays straight to kindergarten or to a “Young Fives” program first is EASILY the most contentious parenting issue I’ve ever encountered. Certain parents go NUTS when the topic is brought up. I understand about being defensive about choices you’ve made for your family, but, jeez…)

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Reynolds is a very cool guy in person and my daughter LOVES this inscription.

Because my daughter was almost a year and a half younger than some of her classmates, there were some developmental differences we noticed between her and some of the older students in her class. Yes, my daughter could read them all under the table, was great with numbers, and has memorized Batman’s almost entire rogue’s gallery (reminder: nerd dad), but, in terms of motor skills, my kid was undeniably on the younger side, particularly when it came to handwriting and coloring in the lines.

And, because such things are inevitable, one of her classmates picked up on this and began to tease her. He laughed at her pictures, he called her a “scribble-scrabbler”, and he called her a baby. The little jerk even picked up a term used by their teacher and weirdly chided my daughter for “not producing quality work.” (I won’t even tell you the names I told my daughter to call him back in return. Honestly. I really can’t. Whenever I tell people, I never come out looking good.) [read the rest of the post…]


People by Blexbolex

These are the people in your neighborhood… your incredibly eclectic neighborhood…

Welcome back to the second installment of What We Took Out From the Library Last Week, a brief glimpse at the FIVE books my five-year-old daughter checked out during our last trip to our local library. We’re going in order, so I can now tell you that the second book we picked out is… a very unusual book. It’s a picture book. (OK.) And a word book. (Seems a bit young for a five-year-old.) A 200-page word book. (What? Really?) A 200-page word book that teaches kids about contortionists, centaurs, fakirs, tattooed men, rabbis, cat burglars, and more. (You’re messing with me, right? Right?)

It’s an extremely cool book called People by Blexbolex. That’s right. Blexbolex.

Reason Why France Is Pretty Cool #497: A guy can rename himself “Blexbolex” and it doesn’t seem completely ridiculous. I mean, it’s a little odd, but I think the guy pulls it off. Maybe I’m just cutting him some slack because I’m so fond of his book. People is easily one of the best designed and most visually stunning titles we’ve checked out from the library all year. We’ve danced around it for the past few weeks. The past three times we’ve been at the library, my daughter has taken it off the shelf, paged through it, considered it, and put it back. For whatever reason, last Friday was the day the book finally came home with us and I’m glad it did. I suppose you could call People a word book – it just has a single illustration of a person and a word describing that person on each page – but it’s really so much more than that.

(For those of you who don’t know, a “word book” is a pretty common kind of picture book for really young readers. It’s primary purpose is, simply, to teach children new words. They’re filled with images of common, everyday things and the word identifying each object appears right underneath the image. Richard Scarry is the KING of the word book.)

The illustrations in People are beautiful. They’re wonderfully simple and iconic representations of different kinds of human beings, done in a fashion that almost makes them look they’re screen-printed or stamped onto each page. But Blexbolex’s concept goes way, way beyond where normal word books leave off. People is a big book – 200-plus pages – and Blexbolex fills each page with extremely insightful images of a HUGE variety of people. And we’re not just talking about firemen and doctors.

People by Blexbolex

They’re like flash cards for humanity…

The book starts with a two-page spread of Man and Woman, but, after that, the pairings get more and more specific and unique. You get match-ups like Couple -Bachelor, Corpse-Retiree, Friend-Foe, Builder-Demolisher, Monk-Rabbi, Nudist-Invisible Man, Amputee-Cyclops, Princess-Werewolf, and so on. Some of the people-types are a little on the unusual or almost macabre side, but there’s nothing mean-spirited or inappropriate about them. My daughter loved encountering words, terms, and personality-types that she’d never encountered before. (“Daddy, what’s an Emir?”) [read the rest of the post…]


Chloe and the Lion

A triumphant recounting of a storybook disaster.

Welcome to the first installment of What We Took Out From the Library Last Week, a quick look at the FIVE books my five-year-old daughter checked out from the library during our last visit. I’m going to list these in the actual order that we picked them out, so we’ll start with a title my daughter grabbed off the “New Releases” shelf in the kids’ section – Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex.

I’m a big fan of artist Adam Rex’s Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (an absolutely gorgeous picture book and dead funny too), so his name was what caught my eye with this title. I pointed it out to my daughter and, after quickly scanning some pages, she declared, “We’re getting this one.” Chloe and the Lion is ostensibly all about a girl named Chloe who encounters a lion in the woods, but it’s really a flat-out comedy, all about storytelling, how books work, and the relationship between storytellers and their creations.

In the opening pages, we see claymation versions of Mac Barnett and Adam Rex introduce themselves – Rex is a multimedia master – and we even get to see the maquette version of Rex illustrate the lead character Chloe. Things quickly fall apart as Barnett and Rex get into a creative squabble, Barnett tries to replace Rex, his replacement doesn’t work out, then the writer tries to draw Chloe himself (he’s a terrible artist) until… as he finally admits, “This book is a disaster.”

My daughter loved the chaos of the storytelling and the variety of art styles throughout the book – when Rex quits the story, he’s replaced by a very different kind of artist and, when that artist leaves, he’s replaced by the writer doing a very bad job of being an artist. So the story is all about the wonderful art of second guessing yourself to death. Once Rex tells Barnett that perhaps Chloe’s story would be more exciting with a dragon (rather than a lion), everything falls apart. Barnett’s attempts to shut down any criticism of his original idea leads to several different artistic versions of the lion (the best one is Barnett’s childish sketch that is painfully ashamed of how it looks), a storyline that doesn’t know where to go (Chloe meets a hilarious cross-section of characters that all seem like they belong in other stories), and a begrudging revelation that, OK, maybe the author DOES need to listen to others from time to time.

There’s something about the whole meta-narrative thing – where characters in a book know that they are, in fact, characters in a book – that just cracks my daughter up. She kept comparing Chloe and the Lion to Melanie Watt’s Chester series – in which a picture-book cat gets into a fight with his illustrator – which is one of her favorite books of all time. The Chester comparison ALONE might’ve sealed the deal on Chloe and the Lion for her and this was the ONE book this week that she actually asked me to read to her IN the library, which, like the Chester comment, is another high compliment. [read the rest of the post…]


My Very First Mother Goose

This is a great nursery rhyme collection... that I very, very rarely read to my daughter.

If you asked me to look back at my home library experiment so far and identify the one area of children’s literature where I really feel like I dropped the ball, the one area in which I feel that our library has the worst overall coverage, I already know the answer. NURSERY RHYMES. I have completely, completely failed to give my daughter a proper education in nursery rhymes. Why? I’m not totally sure. We have some nice nursery rhyme and Mother Goose collections at home, including a particularly cool one – My Very First Mother Goose – that’s edited by Iona Opie with illustrations by Rosemary Wells (I’d definitely recommend it), but, for whatever reason, we haven’t really read any of them all that much.

I’m not quite sure where my unconscious prejudice against nursery rhymes comes from. Maybe I felt that we had enough sing-songy-type picture books, books that we recited and sang so often that it made up for our lack of reading “Humpty Dumpty” or “Three Blind Mice.” (We used to recite Bill Martin and Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? on our drive to daycare every morning.) Maybe, as guy who used to edit reference books on children’s literature, I’d read way, way too many academic essays on the historical origins of nursery rhymes and I got it into my head that I didn’t want to have to explain to my kid the socio-political subtext of “stuck a feather in his hat and called it Macaroni.” Maybe I was turned off by the sepia-toned, English nursery illustrations in so many of the Mother Goose collections – with the girls in big frilly dresses and the obscenely cute anthropomorphized animals being so freaking precious all the time. I don’t really know.

Kate Greenaway Little Miss Muffet

I know Kate Greenaway is a legend of children's illustration, but these dainty, precious nursery rhyme images always turn me off.

In retrospect, it seems so odd to me. Before she was born, I was obsessed with making sure that my daughter had a strong library of fairy tales and folklore. As I’ve mentioned on the blog previously, I made sure that she had to have a “Dad approved” version of Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Red Hen, and so on, even if only so she’d be able to get all the various references to “classic fairy tales” that populate so many modern picture books. (How could she understand the genius of The Stinky Cheese Man if she’d never read The Gingerbread Man first?) But, for frankly stupid reasons, it apparently never occurred to me to make sure that she had the same education in nursery rhymes. Sure, I did buy a few nursery rhyme collections, but I never really pulled them out all that often. And I have no idea why. (Is “nursery rhyme prejudice” a recognized mental disorder?)

To be honest, my daughter got most of her education in nursery rhymes from a “Songs for Kids” CD that my mother bought to play in the car whenever she picked up my daughter for a play-date or sleep-over. While, at first, I found the CD a little obnoxious, it eventually won me over. I hadn’t really thought about how my daughter would eventually learn about “classic” children’s songs like “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” or “Pop Goes the Weasel,” but the CD in Grandma’s car actually did a fantastic job of making her fall in love with a nice mixture of old songs and nursery rhymes set to music. The first time I heard my daughter singing “Ba Ba Black Sheep” to herself – with full knowledge that neither I nor my wife had taught her the song – was both a weird and really wonderful moment.

Nursery Rhyme Comics

I thought my kid was too old for nursery rhymes. This book proved me wrong.

This long preamble is my way of telling you that I really, really didn’t expect my daughter to like Nursery Rhyme Comics, a 2011 collection of “50 timeless rhymes from 50 celebrated cartoonists”, edited by Chris Duffy. Now that my daughter is five, I thought the window for her enjoying nursery rhymes had passed. I thought that, thanks to my nursery negligence, the rhymes would just be too “baby” and uninteresting for her. And, when we took it out from the library, I was very aware that I was more taking it out for me than for her. I’m a big comics fan and some of my very favorite artists – Scott Campbell, Kate Beaton, Jaime Hernandez, Jules Feiffer, Gene Luen Yang, Tao Nyeu, Tony Millionaire, and more – had contributed to the anthology, so, personally, I just really wanted to read it. I didn’t actually think that my daughter would care that much about it.

Now, long-time readers of my blog can feel me building up to something here. And what I’m building up to is the reveal of the ONE seemingly constant and unchangeable rule of parenting that I never seem to be able to escape. A rule that I’ve referenced over and over again in my book reviews. What’s that rule? The fact that – when I make a parental decision or even when I speak a particularly declarative sentence – I am almost always, always WRONG.

My daughter was intrigued when I checked out Nursery Rhyme Comics from the library and asked me to read her a few of the rhymes at bedtime. I said we’d read five rhymes, expecting that her interest would quickly wane and we’d move onto something else. But we did not read five rhymes that night. We read ALL FIFTY rhymes. TWICE. I was completely unprepared for the sheer, unbridled JOY that Nursery Rhyme Comics brought to my five-year-old. She went NUTS for it. She LOVED it.

Do you want to know how much she loved it? The next day, after I had to read her the whole anthology AGAIN, she asked me, “Do you think Santa will bring me this book for Christmas if I ask him?” For those of you without kids, just FYI, that’s maybe the single greatest endorsement ANY kids’ book can EVER have. That’s like a movie winning 12 Oscars and making a billion dollars at the box office. [read the rest of the post…]


I was planning a different post for today, but this morning I realized it was February 29th, i.e. Leap Day, the day that only comes once every four years. Previously I only really enjoyed Leap Day as an excuse to indulge in the bad, old running joke “What if your birthday was on Leap Day? After 16 years, you’d only be 4 years old!” – a joke that has popped up in everything from Pirates of Penzance to Parks & Recreation. But, in recent years, there has been this movement to recast Leap Day as a day where you’re supposed to try new things. It’s the day that doesn’t count, the day that comes around so infrequently that it’s the PERFECT day to finally take big chances. (This new vision of Leap Day was hilariously lampooned on an episode of 30 Rock.)

And I actually love that new definition of Leap Day. It makes February 29th more than just a calendar abnormality. It makes it into something aspirational and optimistic, which are two wonderful qualities for a holiday to have.

Tuesday by David Wiesner

The best Leap Day book EVER.

So, to celebrate Leap Day, I spent my drive into work trying to think of the perfect book to read my daughter tonight to celebrate the Leap Day spirit and then it hit me – David Wiesner’s Tuesday.

Let me get this out of the way – Tuesday by David Wiesner might be the coolest picture book I’ve ever read. If I was making a list of the ten essential books that ANY home library MUST have (ooh, I might actually do that soon), Tuesday would definitely make the list.

David Wiesner is one of the most talented children’s book illustrators that has ever lived, a fact backed up by his unprecedented three Caldecott Medals and two Caldecott Honor citations. He’s the master of the wordless or near-wordless picture book, where he uses his vivid watercolor paintings to tell beautiful stories, capture subtle emotions, and entertain the heck out of parents and children alike. Our family has a short-list of “must-own” authors – children’s book creators whose work we will buy sight-unseen every single time – and Wiesner is definitely on that list.

I’ll do a longer tribute to Wiesner’s oeuvre another day, but, for right now, let me address the question – Why is Tuesday the PERFECT Leap Day book?

Tuesday by David Wiesner

Um, Larry…. what’s happening?

First, it’s all about frogs and reading about frogs on Leap Day is too good of a pun to pass up. Second, the premise of Tuesday really taps into the Leap Day spirit. The book opens with the text “Tuesday evening, around eight” and we then pull in on a turtle in a pond witnessing an awesome sight.

For some unknown reason, EVERY frog in the pond has started to FLOAT up, up, up into the air. Actually, they’re not just floating. They’re full-on flying. They’re soaring through the trees, they’re chasing birds, and, from the expressions on their faces, you can tell that the frogs are LOVING IT. They’re having a blast. They’re doing tricks, they’re sneaking into houses to watch TV, they’re playfully chasing a dog that was previously chasing them – a whole new realm of experience has been opened up to them. [read the rest of the post…]


I Want My Hat Back

He just wants his hat back. Is that so wrong?

One of my favorite things about reading books to my daughter is that, through the process of reading out loud, she learns so much about not just language, but also things like intonation, context, sarcasm, and all of those other glorious abstractions that come hand-in-hand with verbal communication. Funny books do a particularly good job of teaching children about those subtle underlying language rules, and I love watching my daughter realize on her own that, even though a character is seemingly saying one thing, you can infer through the context of the illustrations and the intonation of how the line might be read that the character actually MEANS something completely different. And, if you’re looking for an example of that kind of book, you can hardly do better than I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.

Named as one of the New York Times best illustrated children’s books of 2011, I Want My Hat Back is a masterpiece of understated, slow-burn humor. Even Klassen’s illustrations revel in the art of the deadpan, giving us a menagerie of animal characters with stony, nearly unchanging faces. And yet the blank expressions of the animals – especially the face of the lead character, a bear – can suddenly convey volumes of emotion with only a slight shift of posture or eye position. Fun with language aside, this is a beautiful book – Klassen’s illustrative style reminds me of an exquisite hybrid of Frederick‘s Leo Leonni and A Sick Day for Amos McGee‘s Erin Stead.

I Want My Hat Back

Seriously, Mr Fox. If you're holding out on me...

And it’s a heck of a lot of fun to read too. The premise of I Want a Hat Back is gorgeously understated – there’s a bear who’s lost his hat and he wants it back. But, out of that set-up, Klassen creates an extremely funny scenario. Realizing that his hat is gone, the bear starts to ask other animals in the forest if they’ve seen his hat. He asks a fox and a frog, and they offer polite, repetitious responses, informing him that, “No. I have not seen any hats around here.” The bear then encounters a rabbit, who’s wearing a bright red pointy hat, the color of which starkly stands out against the muted earth-tone palette of all the other illustrations in the book. When asked about the hat, the rabbit responds:

No. Why are you asking me.
I haven’t seen it.
I haven’t seen any hats anywhere.
I would not steal a hat.
Don’t ask me any more questions.

And, no matter how obvious it is that he’s lying – talk about a self-incriminating witness – the bear doesn’t pick up on it, says “Thank you anyway”, and moves on to questioning a turtle.

I Want My Hat Back

Awww... poor guy...

As soon as I turned the page after the rabbit’s rambling response, my daughter did a brief double-take and said, “Wait… he totally stole that hat, didn’t he?” I gave a non-committal shrug and replied, “What do you think?”, and, suddenly, my daughter’s engagement with the story exponentially increased. She couldn’t believe that the bear hadn’t picked up on the rabbit’s obvious lie OR that the bear didn’t notice what was probably his own hat sitting on the rabbit’s head. Now my five-year-old had more information than the bear narrator and, enlivened by her discovery, she couldn’t wait to see how the mystery played out. [read the rest of the post…]


Plant a Kiss

Plant a Kiss: A Cynic's Worst Nightmare

I’m going to open my review of Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Peter H. Reynolds with two quick moments of full disclosure. Ready? Here goes. Full Disclosure #1: My daughter is an unabashed fan of Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I’ve mentioned her love of Rosenthal’s Little Pea board books on the blog before and she’s consistently fallen head over heels for every other Amy Rosenthal book we’ve brought home from the library or bookstore. (She particularly digs Duck! Rabbit!, This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations, and The Wonder Book… three books that I can definitely recommend as well.)

Illustrator Peter Reynolds is also a pretty big deal in children’s lit – his picture book, The Dot, is supposed to be fantastic – but, I’d admit, he’s one of those children’s book creators whom we’ve somehow missed entirely. Plant a Kiss is actually the first Peter Reynolds book we’ve ever read (it won’t be the last), and the only reason I point that out is to reassert that Amy Krouse Rosenthal really was the driving force for my daughter wanting to read this book. So, in terms of full disclosure, just FYI, we were TOTALLY predisposed to like this book.

Full Disclosure #2: Amy Krouse Rosenthal started a viral campaign a few weeks ago to get more people talking about Plant a Kiss and was offering copies of the book to people who felt they could act as a “Plant a Kiss Ambassador” and just let people know about the book. I sent Amy an email, got the NICEST response possible, and quickly received a copy of Plant a Kisswith a beautiful little message for my daughter inscribed on the title page. So… again, not only were we big fans of Amy Krouse Rosenthal in the first place, but she then showed my daughter an immense amount of kindness, so, again, we’re talking about a RIDICULOUS level of predisposition for really, really wanting to like this book. Are we clear on that? OK. So, what’s the verdict?

Plant a Kiss

How it all begins...

Plant a Kiss is a pretty great book.

(Pause for the cynical heart of the internet calling bullshit on my very existence.)

Are you still with me? OK, I’m glad I was so upfront about my metric ton of favorable biases about Plant a Kiss, but, my positive prejudices aside, I think it’s hard to deny that this is a very warm-hearted, very well executed picture book that a lot of kids will really enjoy.

But I can understand why some parents might not be into Plant a Kiss. Why? Here’s the thing – I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty cynical person. I’m sarcastic, I love edgy, jaded authors, I complain a lot, I enjoy irony to the point where I’m a captain’s hat, a Wilco shirt, and a 24-day beard growth away from being a hipster – I am a part of the generation that PERFECTED eyerolling. I am a cynical bastard.

BUT, when I became a parent, I quickly realized that that cynicism is MY BAGGAGE. It’s not my kid’s. My daughter wears her heart on her sleeve 24/7 and, you know what, I’ll be damned if anyone, particularly her dad, makes her think that’s a bad idea. As a parent, it’s my job to get wide-eyed with wonder – to gleefully regale her with tales of pokey little puppies, magic, and adventure – and to not let my inner black-hearted, liberal arts critic-side ruin her fun. I’m not saying that I’m sheltering my daughter. I’m not. If she’s going to decide that the world is NOT a fine place and is NOT worth fighting for – more power to her – but I want that to be her decision, not mine. [read the rest of the post…]