Pre-Television Kids Lit

This book was published in 1928. The length of the story, the style of the artwork and the plot make an interesting contrast to children’s books published more recently.I found myself wondering how pre-television children reacted to the stories they were told. The portrayal of cats and feline behavior is also interesting. Well worth a look.

I’ve seen hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats – and not one was as pretty as this one.

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

The Tears After The Storm

Barnes and Noble

This book is a parable about Rhino, who survives a terrible storm that destroys his home and everything dear to him. Rhino swallows the storm down and must learn to deal with the feelings, and tears, in the aftermath. It’s a good story for all children, but will be particularly helpful to those going through a particularly difficult time.

Quote:

He understood now it was love that mattered. Love could never be lost. Love could never be shattered.

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, written by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo, illustrated by Courtenay Fletcher

Taking A Child To Work

Wordery.com

This book is a lot of fun but I would strongly recommend reviewing it before reading it to a child – particularly if you are planning to take that child to work.

I honestly found myself wondering if this book was for children or parents because there are many worst-case-scenarios illustrated, but it all works out in the end.

Quotes:

“Another nice adult might try to show you how to use the hole punch and the paper shredder: They probably don’t know you’re already a confetti-making expert!”

“Even bosses get nervous before show-and-tell, so let him know you can help. And this time, don’t take no for an answer…When the boss gives his presentation, sit in the back and give him a thumbs-up. And when he’s done, clap really loudly, It’s good to set a positive example.”

Take Your Mama To Work Day, written by Amy Reichert and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

April 28th is Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day!

Giggle Book Award: Santa’s Magic Train

dThe Polar Express has become something of a Christmas classic. Yet, around my house, this book is request, frequently, year-round. It’s 90+ degrees outside, we’ve spent the day at the beach or playing in the sprinkler, and the bedtime story request consists of a mid-winter trip on a magical train to visit Santa.

Barnes & Noble

As the adult, I don’t understand it. I’m sure I made similarly perplexing requests as a child, even though I do not recall doing so. Yet, holiday season or no, the effect is the same – starry eyed children caught up in the fairy tale world of Santa and his elves. Who am I to judge?

Therefore, on the strength of year-round appeal, I am awarding this month’s Giggle Book Award to The Polar Express.

Quote:

“I knew I could have any gift I could imagine. But the thing I wanted most for Christmas was not inside Santa’s giant bag. What I wanted more than anything was one silver bell from Santa’s sleigh. When I asked, Santa smiled. Then he gave me a hug and told an elf to cut a bell from the reindeer’s harness. The elf tossed it up to Santa. He stood, holding the bell high above him, and called out, “The first gift of Christmas!””

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Johnny Is Hungry

Barnes and Noble

I am not a teacher or an expert in Native American culture (or language or history or…), but when I read this book it occurred to me that this might be a particularly useful story for Native American Heritage Month. The reason is because the story is about an Ojibwe boy who arrives at a community event feeling very hungry. Ojibwe traditions require allowing the elders to eat first, so Johnny (who loves to eat), must learn to sit patiently and wait his turn.

It’s a very simple story about a cultural tradition that kids can readily understand. It’s also the kind of thing that exists in many cultures, in one form or another, so it’s an easy thing to talk about.

Again, I’m not an expert, and I most certainly could be wrong about all of this, but those are my thoughts. Take them for what you will.

Quote:

“He looked at all the people still waiting to eat and started to count them. “One, two, three…” Grandma tapped Johnny’s knee. “It’s Time to eat.””

Hungry Johnny, written by Cheryl Minnema and illustrated by Wesley Ballinger

Bullying Ravens and Silver Wings

Wordery.com

This book is about a big Raven who bully’s a little raven and how they (eventually) become friends. It’s beautifully illustrated and presents an excellent (and often overlooked) perspective – the remorsefully bully. However, it provides very little in the way of useful or positive advice for those being bullied. Highly recommended as a conversation starter, particularly if used in conjunction with books geared toward providing practical advice to victims of bullying.

“I fell asleep, but in my dream I saw him flying still higher, the beating of his little heart thundering in my ears. When he was close to the moon, a harsh blinding light lit up the sky. It took me a moment before I could see clearly but then I saw him. He was gliding high above, his wings glittering silvery and as bright as the moon itself.”

The Little Moon Raven by Marcus Pfister

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Giggle Book Award: Worm Puppets

dGiggly Wiggly Worms is written for very young children (age 3 and up). It has simple rhyming phrases and five finger puppets. It tells the story of five worms living in a compost bed. They are an amazing collection of worms living rather exciting lives and sporting a rainbow of bright colors, so it isn’t exactly compost realism.

I picked this book up at a second-hand store. It was well used, with a binding that had seen better days, but the rest of the book was (and still is) in very good condition, so I thought ‘what the heck.’ It was something different and puppets are always fun.

As it turns out, this book has been regularly and repeatedly requested over the handful of years that I have owned it, which is why I am awarding this month’s Giggle Book Award to the five little composting worms in Giggly Wiggly Worms.

Quote:

“Purple worm slimes on moldy cheese. Purple worm yells out yip-yippees! He wriggles and giggles, and tickles your knees.”

Giggly Wiggly Worms by Neecy Twinem

Ninjas Must Obey Rules

Image source: Wordery.com

This story shows, by way of illustrations, a child breaking many rules because he sees himself as a ninja. He is punished by both school and parents but the story implies that he continues to identify (and act) as a Ninja in secret.

If you have a ninja-wannabe in the house, it may be prudent to review this book before reading it to your budding superhero.

Quote:

“Don’t forget, a ninja must learn to pretend that he is not really a ninja…even when he is.”

Ninja Boy Goes to School, written by N.D. Wilson and illustrated by J.J. Harrison

Giggle Book Award: Red Riding Hood Deconstructed

dThe August 2015 Giggle Book Award!

Barnes and Noble

I’ve read this book many times to the kids in my life and listened to them quote the book back to me at random moments throughout the day. I honestly don’t know if they are remembering the book or the funny voices I make while reading it.

If you enjoy reading children’s books as though they were theatrical performances (yes, I do this), then this book is made just for you! In fact, this is a perfect candidate for a reader’s theater performance – if you are a theater student looking for Reader’s Theater (AKA: Chamber Theatre or Interpretive Theatre) material…you’re welcome.

Quotes:

“So let’s see if I have this right. The Red hood is on her way to help an old lady when she meets the Wolfman. He has an evil plan. He likes to dress up in girl’s clothes and eat people. He and Red have a big battle, and Red’s father puts an end to Wolfie.

Well…Sort of…

It’s not a very nice story, is it?”

The Cat, The Dog, Little Red, The Exploding Eggs, the Wolf and Grandma by Diane and Christyan Fox

The After-Dragon Princess

Barnes and Noble

I’ll be perfectly honest, there were several points when I seriously considered putting this book down and walking away.

Inconsistencies and Plot Fails

There were a few moderate inconsistencies. For example, the main character breaks her ankle and tells her father to leave her by the window of her room because she can’t walk to the docks to see him off – and then (in the next sentence) she’s hugging him goodby on the dock. There were a few others involving objects that did not belong, for example: how did the nursemaid/nannies cloak get in the dragon’s cave?

The most glaring error was the knowledge held by Rosie’s best friend. Kit (the best friend) witnesses a rather horrific ‘cure’ for the ‘devil’s mark’ on Rosie’s hand. With a dragon’s claw for a finger, Rosie is unable to marry a prince and become queen (we’ll come back to this primary plot twist), so her mother arranges a visit with a local witch who performs medieval surgery on Rosie’s hand. Kit assists with the ‘cure,’ which doesn’t work. Later, Rosie rescues Kit from the evil witch and takes the girl on as a servant, thereby making her one and only same-aged friend – who knows nothing about the claw. How does a teenager assist with surgery and not know about the item being ‘cured?’

Women

The thing that made me seriously consider giving up on this book was the romance-novel find-a-man plot. I found myself of two battling minds. On the one hand, the culture of find-a-man-or-else is historically accurate. the characters are direct descendants of the Pendragon family whose lives were prophesied by Merlin himself. Removing the pressure placed on a princess to marry into another kingdom for political reasons would not be true to the historic setting. On the other hand, dragons exist and this kingdom has been banished to a tiny island not covered in any actual historic (or literary) text. So, this is neither a historic romance nor an alternate-history novel. It’s just a fantasy novel building off of the legends of Merlin.

More aggravating than the outside pressures were the internal ones. Rosie is fully wrapped up in finding love, landing a man, removing her curse so that she can marry well and struggling with her love-at-first-sight feelings (for a lower-born prince). There are dragons attacking the kingdom and eating people she knows well and holds dear (right in front of her) and the primary internal dialog highlighted is the whole one-day-my-prince-will-come Hollywood-esque drivel.

The witch is a particularly wicked person who is burned to death by a mob of villagers for a crime she did not commit (a respected member of the castle/royal court gets away with murder, literally, multiple times – and is never brought to justice). She is the local practitioner of ancient healing arts that everyone goes to when their Christian-approved methods do not work. Again, this is historically accurate – except for the woman’s personality. Her character is so nasty that the burning is something of a party. There are many (MANY) aspects to this particular plot twist that deserve commentary…but I will leave that to another person.

Dragons

The book convinced me to continue to the end when the dragons swooped down, plucked the princess (literally) out of her medieval court and dropped her into a dragon’s cave. The father dragon turns her into a servant, helping him raise his newly hatched dragons after the death of his mate (killed by the lower-born love-interest prince).

The novel transforms into something completely different the moment the princess leaves the castle. The before-dragons princess is the soft waiting-for-my-prince beauty and the after-dragons princess is a tough, survivor and negotiator capable of making hard decisions in the interest of her kingdom.

Rosie’s time in the dragon cave also brings in some very interesting dragon-perspectives on history and humans that is never fully explored. Sigh. In my opinion, the dragons, their perspectives and the transforming affect on the princess are the most important and interesting aspects of this novel. I reached the end wishing the author had cut the before-dragons section down to 1/3 (or less) of it’s current length and spent significantly more time delving into the dragons and their world.

Tweens

The target audience for this book are middle-graders or tweens.  The text presents multiple opportunities for discussions of history, women, perspectives on alternative medicines/religions, relationships, witch burnings (lynchings), etc.

I do not feel comfortable giving a blanket recommendation on this text. Some tweens are more capable of reading this sort of novel than others. My fear is that some girls will be drawn in by the whole my-prince-will-come thing, without seeing all of the complications surrounding that culture and mindset.

Ultimately, this is one of those moments when parents and guardians have to stop and think – is this book good for my kid?

Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey