It's been years since I read an Anthony Browne book, but his picture books were staples of my primary school library, I must have read Piggybook - the...moreIt's been years since I read an Anthony Browne book, but his picture books were staples of my primary school library, I must have read Piggybook - the one about the fed-up mother leaving her husband and sons to fend for themselves (and they're so hopeless they turn into pigs, and have to beg her to come home and promise not to take her for granted anymore) - so many times, it was a real favourite of everyone in grade 1!
Silly Billy is about a small boy called Billy who worries a lot. He worries about hats, shoes, clouds, rain and giant birds. His parents try to comfort him but nothing they say actually help. Then one day he goes to stay at his grandmother's, and he was especially worried about staying at other people's houses. He tells his grandma, and she has just the thing to help: worry dolls. She tells Billy to tell each doll one of his worries and put them under his pillow. It works, and for several nights Billy has wonderful worry-free sleep.
But then, he worries about the worry dolls, having to deal with all the worry he put on them. So he makes the worry dolls their own worry dolls, to share their worries with. No one worried after that, and Billy continued to make worry dolls for the worry dolls.
Paired with Browne's well-known, richly detailed illustrations that often hide clever little details, Silly Billy is a solid story that children will easily relate to. Ideal for kids who are of a similar age to Billy and starting to worry, themselves, the trick of using worry dolls could be very handy - though what it's really saying is that you should share your worries with someone you trust, and it might lighten the burden.
The illustrations are just gorgeous, and the story is wonderful too - simple, but meaningful and realistic, and given a touch of fantasy, Browne-style. (less)
It has been three months, seven days and nine hours since Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard's mother died. Susan Worthington was a prolific horror wri...moreIt has been three months, seven days and nine hours since Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard's mother died. Susan Worthington was a prolific horror writer who died young, and Ophelia, her older sister Alice and their father, Malcolm Whittard, are still grieving.
In an effort to help them recover and give them a chance of scenery, Ophelia's father accepts a last-minute posting to a museum in another country to finish setting up the greatest-ever exhibition of swords. Malcolm Whittard is, according to his business card, the "leading international expert on swords", but with only three days to go before the opening of the exhibition on Christmas Eve, it's a demanding job that takes up all his time.
Alice seems content to sit and brood, but Ophelia spends the time exploring the museum. It is a cold place, in a city caught up in a perpetual winter, and the museum is a weird and wonderful place. The guards in each room are old ladies with black handbags who spend most of their time knitting or sleeping, so Ophelia is free to wander into parts of the museum she isn't allowed to be in. It is during her exploration that she encounters a peculiar room, with a little door and a big keyhole through which is the eye of a boy, staring back at her.
The boy, who was dubbed "the marvellous boy", has been alive for over three hundred years. He was sent here on a mission by the wizards of east, west and middle, who took his name to keep him safe. He no longer remembers it. They gave him a sword, a relatively plain and heavy sword with a carving of a closed eye near the hilt, and certain instructions. He was to find the "One Other" and give them the sword, with which they would defeat the evil Snow Queen.
The Snow Queen was unable to kill him because of the protective spell on him which also prevents him from ageing and dying, and so she had him locked up here in the museum, and the sword taken away. She need only wait out the time of his protection spell, then she can kill him and be free to take over more of the world, as she did to his homeland and this place, where she has reigned ever since.
Ophelia, unlike her mother, is not prone to fantastical flights of the imagination. She is a member of the Children's Science Society of Greater London and believes in logic and reason and science. But little by little, she finds herself on small but dangerous missions to find the key to his room, to set him free and find his sword before the Wintertide Clock strikes on Christmas Eve and the Snow Queen's plan comes to fruition. But Ophelia is only eleven, she's not courageous and relies heavily on her asthma inhaler. She's a little girl up against a frightening woman, with only the whispered words of comfort from her mother for encouragement.
In her search for the hidden key and the missing sword, Ophelia might just find her hidden courage, and save her sister, her father and the world.
I don't read enough of stories like this one; or rather, I don't make enough time to read stories like this one, which is a sad mistake. Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy was utterly wonderful, a delightful story of adventure, danger, loss, grief, wizards who think a lot, deception, sibling love, resilience, courage and the classic fight between good and evil. It is fantasy in the tradition of the Chronicles of Narnia and similar works, a children's story that will engage and entertain readers of all ages, an old-fashioned tale given new life.
Ophelia is a timid and sensible girl, and the request made of her by the Marvellous Boy requires her to not just be brave, but to put aside all things rational, suspend disbelief and trust the word of a strange boy who claims to be several centuries old. The more involved she becomes, the more danger she is placed in, and the more her old certainties come crumbling down. She doesn't become a new person, or a vastly different person, she simply becomes her full potential as Ophelia. She's a great protagonist, suffering through the classic coming-of-age trial-by-fire that fantasy stories are best known for.
Wizards, [Ophelia] thought, when she gained her composure. What good were they if they couldn't tell you how to do stuff, if they were always talking in riddles and saying they knew everything before it even happened? It wasn't very helpful.
If she were a wizard, she'd write reports for people. She'd make sure everything was very clear. She'd write, Looking for a magical sword? No problem. Go to the fifth floor, turn left, open a large wooden chest, et cetera, et cetera. She'd have check boxes. Found your magical sword? Place X here.
The Marvellous Boy himself remains something of an enigma, and a sad one at that. He tells Ophelia his story in segments, and the vivid rendering of his life before being locked in the little room really brings him to life. He is quite clearly something of a sacrificial lamb, a boy hand-picked by the wizards who must sacrifice everything with little say in the matter. As such, he is an infinitely sympathetic character, a little boy lost who stays calm and friendly and positive in the wake of dire circumstances. I felt so sad for him, but also proud. Foxlee deftly captures the characters and their motivations within the confines of the fantasy formula, a fantasy that is none too clear about place and time. Any apparent plot holes - a never-ending winter somehow sustaining a human population, never mind the trees, is hardly believable - simply don't get in the way of the story. Such is the strength of Foxlee's writing, that it all comes together and works, much like a fairy tale still carries the strength of its own conviction despite the fact that the details don't really make sense.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy oozes atmosphere and tension, suspense and the thrilling bite of danger. Among it lies the fragile workings of family dynamics and confused love, vulnerable to the atmosphere, which makes it all the more precious. While Ophelia is off exploring and adventuring, fifteen-year-old Alice is being lured in by the museum curator, Miss Kaminski, who gives her princess dresses and flattery and helps drive a wedge between the two sisters while also flirting with their father. Miss Kaminski - and it's no spoiler to say this - is the true enemy. Beautiful and elegant but infinitely cold, Ophelia sees glimpses of the woman's true self but is too young to understand it.
While the overall plot is as predictable as any fairy tale-fantasy story - whether or not you have ever read "The Snow Queen" fairy tale (which I have not, strange to say, though I don't think there are all that many similarities really), this story does follow a fairly standard fantasy formula - the story is brimming with imagination and you never really know what's going to happen next, or how things will play out. The writing is strong and near-perfect, the pacing fluid and smooth and not too fast, and the characters fleshed-out nicely. I grew quite attached to Ophelia, and the Marvellous Boy, and welcomed the satisfying conclusion. With such rich detail and atmosphere and action, the story played out like a movie in my head, and I can easily see this being adapted to film one day. It would be a costume- and set-designer's dream come true, to bring this magical story visually to life. As it was, my humble imagination did a pretty good job of it!
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley. Please note that passages quoted here may appear differently in the finished book. (less)
Ernest B Spinosaurus isn't wasting any time telling Santasaurus what he wants for Christmas: he writes his first letter to Santasaurus on the first of...moreErnest B Spinosaurus isn't wasting any time telling Santasaurus what he wants for Christmas: he writes his first letter to Santasaurus on the first of January and continues to write throughout the year. And he's determined to stay on Santasaurus' Nice List! Through Ernest's letters, at once hopeful and cheeky, we get to know this young dinosaur, about his friend Ty, his little sister Amber, and his desire for a Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9. He wants to stay on Santasaurus' "nice" list, and keeps up a steady stream of letters partly to explain away his naughtiness.
Ernest may be a dinosaur, but really he's a typical young boy that children (and their parents) will be able to relate to easily. Coupled with Jef Kaminsky's cartoon-like illustrations, this book reminded me a lot of children's television shows. Granted, the ones I've started letting my two-year-old watch (yes, it's come to that, there's only so long you can hold out!) are predominately British and a mix of fancy 3D CGI and old-style animation a la Peppa Pig, but they all tend to have one thing in common: using animals (like pigs or bees) or mythological creatures (like fairies or elves) or fictional characters (like robots or aliens) to make everyday stories more interesting, as well as to show a universality to human stories. Children's books are, likewise, often used to help dispel the classic "us vs. them" dichotomy that seems to rise in children instinctually, and I do find the books to be less obvious than the TV shows (and I have zero guilt in letting my child read books!).
Dear Santasaurus is a sweet, funny and very entertaining book, a picture book for older children. It was too long and too advanced for my boy, who doesn't really remember his first two Christmas' and is only just getting his head around the typical Christmas symbols: Santa etc. The concept of naughty and nice, or of writing to Santa, these are a bit too abstract for him yet. The story itself has lovely context jokes where the illustrations play off the text - and vice versa - in really fun ways, but likewise my boy is too young yet to get any of the humour, or even really understand the situations or what Ernest is really saying in his letters. It's one I will have to wait a couple more years before getting out again to read to him, which isn't a bad thing. If your child is five or older, they will get a lot out of this.
Here's a taste:
April 1 Dear Santasaurus, For Christmas, I want rainbow underwear with white polka dots. Seven hundred pairs of underwear. And Ty wants a thousand pairs of socks. That's it. No toys. No scooter. Your friend, Ernest B Spinosaurus PS: Just kidding. APRIL FOOL'S DAY!! Ha ha ha.
April 2 Dear Santasaurus, Yesterday's letter was a joke. You knew that, right? I do NOT want seven hundred pairs of underwear for Christmas. I don't want any underwear. I want the Jurassic Turbo Scooter X(. Please, please, please do not bring me any underwear. Your friend, Ernest B Spinosaurus PS: Ty doesn't want socks, either.
May 13 Dear Santasaurus, Today, I scored two soccer goals (one for my team, one for the other team). I ate all my dinner (except for what dropped on the floor). I even helped Amber take her first steps. So let's forget about yesterday's mess with the glitter glue, paint, and Dad's toothbrush. Besides, Mom sure did like the Mother's Day card I made with my own claws. I've been thinking about my Christmas list. I want the Sea Serpent Blue Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9. I also want a Raging Raptor action figure. Please. Your friend, Ernest B Spinosaurus
The illustrations are bold, colourful and lively, and don't simply echo the text but rather show another side to the story, a kind of "what really happened" side to it. They're fresh and fun and really help with the whole book's festive, exciting, cheerful vibe. And what was really nice, especially for a Christmas picture book, was the fact that there was no in-your-face, saccharine moral at the end. Ernest got the Christmas present he wanted, and was really really happy. The point of the story isn't about good deeds and impressing on kids any kind of pressure to be something they're not; it's about kids being kids, and enjoying their childhood, and striving and trying without weighty repercussions or negative consequences. You could read this as "Santasaurus" standing in for God, but not being religious I didn't read it that way (but you could). Children reading this will be able to enjoy it for the entertaining story it is, while also seeing a bigger picture. It's a story that makes an impression, but isn't heavy-handed or lecturing or do-goody. Know what I mean? Kids don't respond well to that anyway.
Children will connect well with Ernest, who is proud of himself for taking a bath without being told, and who does harmless pranks. They will enjoy reading about a year in Ernest's life, and getting to know him. And if anything, it will teach kids that it's okay to play, that you should try to be good and helpful and considerate, but if you mess up nothing bad's going to happen. Your life won't be - shouldn't be, if you have decent parents - ruined. (Sadly, not every child has the freedom to be a child that Ernest does.) Being a child is about learning, in more ways than one, and I've never thought that placing adult responsibilities - with adult repercussions and punishments - on children is at all useful, or teaches them anything but to be scared and anxious or that they're bad and that's that. At first glance, Dear Santasaurus is pure silly fun, but at its heart it's good, solid storytelling that, if nothing else, will secretly reassure kids that there's nothing wrong with being a kid.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book.
Visit my blog to see Stacy McAnulty's guest post as she shares her "12 days of Christmas in picture books" and a cookie recipe!(less)
During the early years of colonisation in Australia, the captains of convict ships as well as whaling boats were encouraged to kill whales - especiall...moreDuring the early years of colonisation in Australia, the captains of convict ships as well as whaling boats were encouraged to kill whales - especially the "right whale", so called because they were considered the "right" whale to hunt. The Southern right whale - or baleen whale - have been a protected species since 1935, but before then over 26,000 of them were killed by European settlers. They are playful mammals who have young only once every three years, and their carcasses were used to make everything from oil to umbrellas, weaving looms to fabrics.
All this I learned from the last pages of Christina Booth's beautiful new picture book, Welcome Home. I had never heard of the right whale before - sadly, a whale is a whale to me, for while I admire and respect them, I've never spent any time looking them up and learning about the different species and their attributes. Booth's story was inspired, she says, by an article she read "about a southern right whale that swam into Hobart's Derwent River and gave birth. This was the first birth there in over 190 years." Once a safe - and mostly deserted - place for these whales to have their calves, it became a busy port full of whaling ships.
Welcome Home is about a boy living in Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, who hears the whale's call "echoing off the mountain like a whisper while the moon danced on the waves." No one else hears it, but he does - and in her call he learns sad truths, the history of whale hunting and her yearning for a safe harbour.
I hear her story. She is telling of her fear and darkness.
Her story turns inside my head, and twists around my heart and I don't want to listen anymore. I want to run away and hide but I stay, looking for her in the cold winter dawn.
Then, as dark shifts to grey, I see her.
She looks for me and comes in closer to the shore.
'We wanted to come home but we did not feel safe,' she says. 'Why did they hurt us? Why did they send us away?'
I hang my head. It wasn't me, but I know what she means.
I do not know what to say. I have no words to tell her.
'Sorry,' I whisper.
Accompanied by truly beautiful illustrations that flow through water and time and dreams and one boy's sadness, the story works on more than one level. For children, it both educates and engages the imagination, drawing connections between past and present as well as the future. It navigates that grey area between past wrongs and present responsibilities, and shows deep empathy for these magnificent ocean mammals.
More than that, even, it uses the story of the right whale to help children work through those feelings of responsibility, and blame. In Australia's past history and present affairs, there are many examples of wrongs being committed against certain peoples - the Aborigines, and boat people, for example, not to mention the environment. And there are issues that we care about and want to do something about but feel useless, hopeless. Young children are just starting on this very human journey of trying to understand the complex nuances of human cruelty: why people do bad things, what role we can play in correcting injustices, and that the majority isn't always right. It's a long journey and it doesn't always end well, but Booth's Welcome Home does an admirable job of opening that conversation, of starting the wheels turning and of doing it in a way that children of various ages would respond well to. In many ways, it's easier - simpler - for children to connect with animals and animal stories, than human ones.
This is ideal for slightly older children, ones who haven't grown out of picture books but are old enough to understand the stories in the pictures. I got this for my two-year-old son, Hugh; haven't read it to him yet as it's for Christmas, and while he's old enough to follow and enjoy the story on some levels, he'll be too young yet for the deeper meanings. Still, that's no reason not to read it to him, and over the years his understanding of the story will deepen and in turn enrich his own learning of the world. This is why I love picture books, and as an adult still love them.
I am in awe of authors like Christina Booth, not just for the beautiful artwork or for being able to tell a powerful, rich story in just a few pages and several lines of text, but for using the picture book medium not to tell a silly, fun story but to teach, and broaden kids' understanding, and open their eyes and minds to the wider world and the stories it contains. That's not to say that there isn't a place for the fun stories, or that I don't enjoy them, but it's a great idea to balance them with really meaningful works like Welcome Home.(less)
This story has the feel of an old fable - the kind of story brought over by your grandparents when they immigrated - but it is in fact made up by the...moreThis story has the feel of an old fable - the kind of story brought over by your grandparents when they immigrated - but it is in fact made up by the author, Tomie dePaola, and first published in 1975. It reads like a fairy-tale, of the classical kind, and has strong moral messages - ones about how you reap what you sow, and going behind someone's back, and meddling in what you don't understand, and being greedy, and so on.
Part of what gives it that old-world (read: old-Europe) feel are the wonderful illustrations, also by dePaola, which somehow remind me of stained-glass windows.
Strega Nona is an old lady who lives in the town of Calabria, a long time ago. The name, "strega nona", means "Grandma Witch", and Strega Nona helps the local townspeople with their troubles - even the priests and nuns of the nearby convent, because she has such a magical touch.
She advertises for someone to help her around the house and garden, and soon employs Big Anthony, a strong young man who doesn't pay attention. He's very helpful, but when he hears Strega Nona saying a magic spell over her pasta pot, he gets greedy. Strega Nona has a magic pasta pot, and when she says the right words, it produces a potful of pasta ready to eat. She must say certain words to make it stop, too, and bow three kisses, but Big Anthony doesn't pay attention and doesn't hear that part.
When Strega Nona goes away to see her friend, Strega Amelia, she leaves Big Anthony in charge, with the stringent warning not to touch the pasta pot. But of course, as soon as she's gone, Big Anthony goes and tells everyone in the town about the pasta pot. They don't believe him, so he decides to show them. Only, once the pasta pot has started producing pasta and everyone has had a bowlful, he can't get it to stop. Soon, pasta is overflowing and rushing out the door and flooding the town. It's a disaster, and only the arrival of Strega Nona can fix it - and she has the perfect punishment for Big Anthony.
I have vague memories of reading this as a kid, and it really holds its own well. I love the illustrations, and the story too, which is both fun and meaningful. It's one for older children, around five or six, but certainly any child would enjoy this tale.(less)
Once upon a time there was a happily married couple whose only sorrow was that they did not have a child. Then one day, they learn the woman is pregna...moreOnce upon a time there was a happily married couple whose only sorrow was that they did not have a child. Then one day, they learn the woman is pregnant and the sorrow is replaced with joy. The wife liked to sit by the window overlooking a beautiful walled garden owned by a sorceress. One day she saw an abundant bed of the herb rapunzel, and a great need to eat some overcome her. Telling her husband she will die if she doesn't have some, he dutifully climbs down into the garden and steals some. But it's not enough, and the next day he goes back - and is caught by the sorceress.
On explaining his problem to her, she tells him he can take the rapunzel, but in exchange she will take their baby when it is born. She names the child Rapunzel, and raises her in isolation in the wilderness. When Rapunzel turns twelve, the sorceress takes her through the forest and puts her in a tall, narrow tower with no door and only one window, high up. It's a magic tower, and spacious inside, but Rapunzel is sealed off from the world. To get inside, the sorceress calls out "Rapunzel Rapunzel, let down your hair", and she climbs it.
One day a prince discovers the tower and is curious; he has heard rumours of a fabled beauty trapped inside. He hides in the forest and witnesses the sorceress's method for gaining access. When the sorceress is gone, he calls out to Rapunzel to lower her hair and climbs inside, giving her the shock of her life. But he's nice and friendly and soon they become lovers and Rapunzel falls pregnant. The sorceress, on discovering that Rapunzel has betrayed her, cuts off her hair and sends her out into the wilderness to perish. Instead, Rapunzel survives and has not one baby but twins, a boy and a girl.
Meanwhile, when the prince returns to the tower and calls out to Rapunzel to lower her hair, the sorceress hooks the shorn hair to the window and confronts him at the top of the tower. She tells him Rapunzel is lost to him forever, and in shock and despair he falls. He doesn't die, but he is blinded and weak, and stumbles for months through the wilderness until, lo! he hears Rapunzel's voice and finds her. Her tears of joy fall onto his face and his blindness is cured. Together with their two children they return to the town and the king's palace, where they live happily ever after.
"Rapunzel" wasn't a story I really read as a kid - I didn't have my own copy, or a beloved version. I knew the story in a vague way, but I don't know if that's because Rapunzel tropes and distinctive symbols crop up so much in our society and culture (like a lot of other fairy tales and Shakespeare plays). In short, I can't actually say with any certainty whether I read the story as a child or not. As an adult with a young child of my own, I suddenly became interested in collecting really good editions of fairy tales and other classic stories - hence my lovely Robert Ingpen-illustrated editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and others.
Finding a good edition of fairy tales is a harder task, though. Ideally, I wanted to browse through book shops and check out the version quality (text) and the illustrations, before committing to buying any. Sadly, the bookshops only had rather trite and silly, or Disneyfied, editions, collections of heavily abridged stories in "bedtime" volumes. So I took a gamble on Paul O Zelinsky's beautifully illustrated retelling, buying it without being able to check it out first.
And it is a beautiful rendering of the story of Rapunzel. I wanted a version that hadn't been made cutesy or had the darkness removed from it - fairy tales should be dark stories, they were originally moralistic, cautionary warning tales, after all. Zelinsky's illustrations are vivid and richly detailed, colourful and patterned yet still broody and full of atmosphere. (I do find the prince's mullet to be a bit off-putting, though!) The story reads well, though in typical fairy tale fashion, plot holes abound. You just have to take those in stride; realism was never the point of a fairy tale, though Zelinsky (whose is "the son of a mathematics professor and a medical illustrator" according to his Goodreads page) provides a lot of precision in his illustrations, which also have the feel of classic Italian paintings. The illustrations are both real and romantic; as an adult I feel that they don't really capture the human emotions or fill in any gaps in the story, but I also feel that as a child I would have been drawn to this style of illustration (I liked the precise and finely detailed, like intricate mazes and Where's Wally? pictures).
Not having anything to compare it to, though, I can't offer an opinion on this retelling over others. I've given you an abridged run-down of Zelinsky's retelling above, and I'd love to hear how it compares to other versions that you've read. This is just the kind of edition I was looking for, and it has a three-page "note" at the back about the history of the story and its history, and the alterations its undergone over the centuries, which is by far the more fascinating part of the story for me! My young son, however, is quite interested in the story itself, and I hope it will be one he (and any sibling he may have) can enjoy for years to come.(less)
The third collection of Curious George stories that I got for my son, who was quite addicted to the Curious George books for a while there, is this on...moreThe third collection of Curious George stories that I got for my son, who was quite addicted to the Curious George books for a while there, is this one, The New Adventures of Curious George. I'm quite glad he no longer wants to read them constantly, as they are hard to read as an adult - I don't mean that they're difficult stories, but that the way they're written really makes you sleepy. Kids love these stories, and they teach them a lot, but unlike so many other picture books or stories, Curious George stories don't really have anything in them for adults.
The stories in this collection are: Curious George and the Chocolate Factory Curious George and the Puppies Curious George Makes Pancakes Curious George Feeds the Animals Curious George Goes to a Movie Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon Curious George in the Snow Curious George's Dream
We have Curious George and the Puppies as a standalone, too, so I've read that one countless times now! Curious George is perfect reading for two-year-olds, and I'm sure will be great when my boy starts reading on his own too. The stories are composed of simple sentences, include some complicated long words, and also utilise the illustrations to fill in the gaps. Curious George stories are like using training wheels. And he's a playful, curious, mischievous monkey that kids really enjoy reading about. It's quite amazing what this little monkey gets up to!(less)
My two-year-old son Hugh's on-going love - nay, obsession - with "the George book" continues. This is the second book of collected stories I've added...moreMy two-year-old son Hugh's on-going love - nay, obsession - with "the George book" continues. This is the second book of collected stories I've added to his ever-expanding library (I have one more to give him, which I'm saving for our 21-hour-long plane ride as a surprise!), and he quickly embraced it with just as much love as he did Curious George: Stories to Share (the yellow one).
The stories in this volume are: Curious George Takes a Train (2002) Curious George Visits a Toy Store (2002) Curious George and the Dump Truck (1999) Curious George and the Birthday Surprise (2003) Curious George Goes Camping (1999) Curious George Goes to a Costume Party (2001) Curious George Visits the Library (2003) Curious George in the Big City (2001)
Again, I don't really know/understand who exactly wrote these stories, which are based on Margret and HA Rey's character, and the illustrators are all different, but for as much as adults (including myself and my husband) get incredibly weary of reading these stories over and over again, I have at least realised and come to appreciate the value Hugh is getting from them. Part of the reason why we don't enjoy reading these stories is that the text is rather tiresome, quite slow and sometimes even a bit ridiculous or awkward.
But I realised fairly recently that the text also covers some serious grammatical ground. All the tenses are included, there are lots of variations on the way you can say something, there are expressions and common phrases that are very much a part of the English language, and all this great language teaching is wrapped up in a rather charming but naïve little monkey's antics - a character small children can really relate to as he often gets into trouble or makes a mess without meaning to, and people are angry with him sometimes but he's also helpful and shows how you can make up for your mistakes. He's small and doesn't understand everything about his (human) world, just like toddlers and other young children, and he just needs some space to figure things out. Curious George is the superhero-like character for young children, as in he fills that role until they grow out of him and turn to Batman etc. (Other picture book characters can fill this role too, of course. Curious George is the one my own son has connected with.)
So I try not to begrudge my boy the pleasure of George stories, even though I tend to go on auto-pilot when I read them and can actually compartmentalise my mind so that while one half of me is reading aloud the way I always do, with inflection and good pacing etc., the rest of me is thinking about completely different things. The text seems so bad to adults but it does serve a purpose, and for the most part it successfully connects the dots between the lively illustrations and the imaginations of a young audience.(less)
I won this book from WeeWelcome.ca, a parenting website, when they hosted a giveaway (check out the website, it's a great site not just for Canadian p...moreI won this book from WeeWelcome.ca, a parenting website, when they hosted a giveaway (check out the website, it's a great site not just for Canadian parents but anyone with little ones, and they also include regular giveaways).
This is a picture book for older kids, but of course when it arrived in the mail I had to read it to my two-year-old, Hugh. He was very attentive and when I'd ad-lib commentary and explain things in the pictures, he'd say "yeah" in that cute "I totally understand I just don't have the vocabulary to say more" way - which I then translate into "I have no idea what that really means but I'm interested and want to encourage you to keep reading."
The story reminds me a lot of Dreamworks or Pixar animated movies, because of the style of illustration (a blend of computer animated stills and drawings), and also of Spongebob Squarepants because Mr Caper reminded me so much of Plankton, who's always trying to steal Mr Krab's crabby-patty recipe. Mr Caper is "a tiny pickled sourpuss", much loved by adults but shunned by children, who instead love lollipops. Mr Caper has a problem. He's super jealous of Lollipop, and he doesn't care that adults admire his "acidic earthiness". He wants to be loved by children for his "complex flavor" and he has a plan to make it happen!
The Great Lollipop Caper is a perfectly silly story with a heart of gold, and with the style of illustrations and the nature of the story itself - not to mention that the main characters are food - I'm sure kids will really enjoy this. It has nuance and Mr Caper comes out as a sympathetic character at the end (brings to mind that oft-repeated adage, "you'll understand when you're older": "you'll like complex flavours like capers when you're older"!). It's about finding your place, appreciating what you have and the people who love you, and even directing your energies in healthy directions! But it's also a fun, amusing story about a lonely, unloved (so he thinks) little caper who hatches an evil plan that seriously backfires, and what he learns from the whole debacle. Good stuff. (less)