When You Were Small by Sara O’Leary, Illustrated by Julie Morstad

When You Were Small by Sara OLeary

Every night young Henry prompts his father: “Tell me about when I was small.” From there the magic and delight ensue. Henry hears of the pet ant he used to walk on a leash, bath times in the teapot, his shifting role as chessboard knight to king of the aquarium castle, and so much more. Each page is filled with fun and wonderment that opens the imagination to explore just how small is ‘small’.

I first came across When You Were Small in 2007 when I was doing a study on ‘truth-telling’ in children’s literature. I went into my local children’s bookstore and asked the bookseller if she could recommend anything that would add to my study. Right away she walked over to the shelf, picked up a copy of When You Were Small, and said: “This might interest you.”

At first glance I thought I was handed a ‘vintage’ title, something circa Pat the Bunny (1940). Yet the delightful classic-looking pen and ink sketches were done by Vancouver-based artist, Julie Morstad, and the book was relatively recent, released in January 2006. (Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad have since worked on a number of titles together).

The bookseller was right. When You Were Small was particularly relevant to my study. After hearing about when he was little, about how he used to sleep in a slipper and so on, Henry questions his father: “Dad, is all that true?” To which his father responds: “Well… don’t you remember?” Oooh! I just love it! I’m a sucker for stories that so effectively blend the realms of reality and imagination, and that so brilliantly incorporate (or call into question!) memory. That one closing question, and all the open-ended possibilities it provides, leaves the reader/listener in sheer wonder.

Far beyond my initial academic approach, this book has woven its way into my family. My children, now five and eight, appreciate it as much as I do and often ask for it. After each reading we are drawn into our own stories of “When you were small…” telling tales of both real-to-life  memories and fantastical fictions. We reminisce, we make-believe, and we laugh. So perfect!

I absolutely adore this picture book and I recommend it as a must-have.

Happy 10th birthday, When You Were Small!

Reading in the Woods by Rebecca Bender ResizedReviewed by K.C. Darling

(review copy personally purchased).

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The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

Tail of Emily Windsnap
The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

In this story Emily lives in a boat called the King of the Sea with her mom. She has never been in water before year seven in her school and when she first gets in the water her legs stick together like a tail. She gets scared and doesn’t want to swim again. Eventually she sneaks out at night and discovers that she is a semi-mer. Now she feels like she could swim forever and ever in the endless sea. She meets another mermaid and they become friends. Emily finds out that her dad is a mer-man in a prison really far away and Emily has to get there.

In the end Emily does find her dad, but I’m not going to tell you how. You will just have to read the book to find out! I love this story so much I Elephant by Rebecca Benderalmost have the book memorized word for word.

Reviewed by Erin

(review copy from the library).

***

I must confess, I’ve yet to read this book. I can, however, tell you that for the last few years the CD version has spent far more time here in our home than it has on the shelf of the library that supposedly owns it, and that on many occasions during that time I have gone into the room where it was playing to accomplish some task or other and found myself swept up in the story instead. (The narrator, Finty Williams, does an excellent job of transfusing the story with dramatic energy.) I can also tell you that Erin knows big chunks of it by heart and sometimes she and her sister have great fun quoting lines of dialogue back and forth. And probably none of this would have happened if I had taken the time to read the story description on the back of the CD case.

Rightly or wrongly I have come to have terribly low expectations of any book that features fairies, princesses, mermaids or glitter on the cover. It feels to me like such books tend to be high on glitz and low on substance. So The Tail of Emily Windsnap only came home with us that first time because the image on the CD case did not show a mermaid but a little girl in a sunhat standing on a beach. As I recall, I added it to our basket thinking it was going to be similar to “The Littles” (which we’d just been reading) only with a full size girl.

Thank goodness for my “mistake,” or we would have missed out on hours and hours and hours of enjoyment. And we would have missed out on a tale that is far richer and more nuanced than I ever would have dared imagine given the premise.

Turtle by Rebecca BenderReviewed by Susan Jean

 

Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood, Illustrated by Claudia Rueda

Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood
Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda

Poor Cat – he’s been naughty for most of the year (he has a pie chart to prove it), so he’s going to dress up like Santa so he can give himself a present. But maybe he should try a last-minute attempt at getting on the nice list instead? There are several false starts, involving, among other things, a jet pack (I love the jet pack!!) and stinky fish. Cat does finally find a way to be nice (though from his dramatic posture it clearly pains him a bit) and is rewarded by Santa.

The message of thinking of others at Christmas comes through loud and clear, but in a very funny and non-saccharine way. This book is so much fun! The style of storytelling is novel – it’s a back-and-forth between an unseen narrator and Cat, who communicates through facial expressions and by holding up signs. It would be a great book to read one on-one with a child, to be the encouraging/ exasperated narrator and interpret Cat’s signs together. This is definitely on my to-buy list for the Imp when he’s a bit older. I might even try it at storytime next year. Though the book’s size is a bit small for a group, Rueda’s the pencil crayon and ink illustrations (mostly in just red, green and cat colour) really stand out on the white background. (I really like Rueda’s style, particularly in Huff & Puff.)

For fun in the springtime, see this pair’s Here Comes the Easter Cat and their newest, year-round title, Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat.

Library Fairy by Rebecca BenderReviewed by The Library Fairy

(review copy borrowed from the library).

Treasure Island: A BabyLit Shapes Primer by Jennifer Adams, Illustrated by Alison Oliver

Treasure Island

Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of chocolate milk! It’s another book that I had to buy because the Imp loved the library copy so much. The Giant and I are quite into pirates and so we’ve been introducing them to the boy.

Like all of the BabyLit books, this one focuses on one concept – shapes. The Imp has learned such 2-year-old improbable words as octopus, diamond, oval, crescent and, his favourite, jolly roger. Each 2-page spread has a white picture of the shape on a coloured background with the word below on the left and a Treasure Island-themed picture using that shape on the right (treasure map, Long John Silver, ship, etc.).

While the style of the artwork isn’t my favourite (I’m a girl who likes super-cute), it’s bold and striking but simple, which makes it easy to point out the shapes in the picture and to find details like the various jolly rogers and octopi throughout. This book is a triple threat – exposure to a classic, colours practice and an introduction to shapes, including more complex ones.

Library Fairy by Rebecca BenderReviewed by The Library Fairy

(review copy personally purchased).

How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky, Illustrated by S.D. Schindler

How Santa Got HIs Job by Stephen Krensky
How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky, Illustrated by S.D. Schindler

This book is all about what Santa did before he became Santa Claus. I picked this book because I grew up reading it. I like when Santa is looking for different jobs, and seeing what problem he has with each one. In the story Santa worked as a chimney sweeper, a delivery guy, a cook,
at a zoo and in the circus. The funniest thing in the book is the pictures. Elephant by Rebecca BenderIf I could change one thing it would be the way Santa found the elves. This is a good book!

Reviewed by Erin.

***

How Santa Got His Job has been with our winter/Christmas books for so long I actually don’t recall how it ever came to be there. I think it was part of a batch of winter themed books that came together in a Scholastic book order many years ago. I have always enjoyed the books humorous and original take on the whole Santa thing, especially at a time of year when it can feel like every book is just the same story told in slightly different words. Here we meet him as just another guy, trying to find and keep a job.

I quite agree with Erin, the section of the story with the elves is the one part that seems a bit forced. Most of the connections are more “believable.” For example, while working as a delivery driver Santa gets frustrated by traffic woes and starts doing deliveries at night when the roads are clear. Customer satisfaction becomes an issue and he is fired, but it sets up a logical segue to both his delivery skills and his propensity for night shifts.

All in all, both the text and the illustrations make this a fun non-traditional addition to the holiday reading tradition.

Turtle by Rebecca BenderReviewed by Susan Jean

(review copy personally purchased).

Chloe the Kitten (Fairy Animals of Misty Wood) by Lily Small

Chloe the Kitten by Lily Small
Chloe the Kitten by Lily Small

Chloe the Kitten is a fairy animal who lives in Misty Wood. Her job, as a Cobweb Kitten, is to help make Misty Wood beautiful by decorating all the spiderwebs with glittering dewdrops. One morning she wakes up late and nearly misses the window of opportunity to collect her bucket of dewdrops from the dewdrop fountain. Receiving help from a friend she successfully completes her day’s work only to discover that someone has come along afterward and stolen the dewdrops off the webs. It turns out the thief is only a thirsty little mouse who’s lost. Chloe determines to help her new friend find his family even though he lives by the lions and she’s afraid of the danger they may encounter.

Chloe the Kitten is the first book of the rapidly expanding Fairy Animals of Misty Wood series by Lily Small. Its cover, with a cute fairy-winged kitten and embossed shining silver sparkle, is a sure magnet for many a young reader. My five-year-old daughter eagerly brought it home from the bookstore and begged to read it with me immediately. We curled up on the couch, read the first chapter, then the next, and the next, until we finished the whole book in about an hour!

There are many strengths to this book. Lily Small invites readers into a truly wondrous world– a world in which every fairy animal plays an important part, care for creation is a core aspect in everyday activity, and friendship and kindness are encouraged in spite of worry and fear. Sentence structure is simple and appropriate for early readers yet the simplicity does not distract from other elements of the story. Chapter endings are especially strong, raising a question or concern over the next course of action. It’s difficult to stop reading when one’s curiosity is so peaked.

The  one weakness I’d attribute is the lack of Chloe’s contribution to problem-solving in the story. When it comes to the missing bucket, it’s a friend who provides a solution. When it comes to finding the mouse’s family, for all of Chloe’s attempts and tries, it’s the Wise Owl who conveniently makes it happen. Chloe, as a main character who means well, should have had a more direct role in discovering the location of the  “lions”.

All in all, Chloe the Kitten is an excellent book (perhaps most strong as a stand alone from the rest of the series). It’ll capture the heart of any reader that likes cute animal critters, fairies, forests, glitter and pretty.

Reading in the Woods by Rebecca Bender ResizedReviewed by K.C. Darling

(review copy personally purchased).

 

Hippos Go Berserk! by Sandra Boynton

Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton

My library recently asked staff to help with a display for “Books That Changed Your Life.” Hippos Go Berserk! was one of my picks! It may be overstating it a bit, but I feel like this book brought us together as a new family.

We had received one of Sandra Boynton‘s other great books, Are You a Cow?, when the Imp was born. I had already known how great Boynton is, but the Giant hadn’t encountered her before. Even though we were exhausted and confused new parents, he said that we should go to our awesome local children’s bookstore and get some more of Boynton’s books. So that was one of the Imp’s first outings, at about a month old.

We purchased Hippos Go Berserk! and life would never be the same – the Imp loved it! We read it so often that we can recite it by heart, we’ve read it backwards, the Giant made up a jazzy, Sinatra-esque tune for it and we’d sing it in the car… Once I was back at work, the Giant was still reading it so often that he started noticing little details and making up back stories for the hippos – “Look at that one’s sidelong look, he’s thinking ‘Oh no, it’s the Johnsons again!'” He pointed out that the 9 hippos who come to work go about their jobs soberly and diligently, so therefore all the hippos do not, in fact, go berserk. And he’s concerned that the last 2 hippos have stolen hippo #1’s wheelbarrow. So it makes the two of us laugh together, too.

The Imp always, always smiles when we get to the berserk page and will sometimes turn the pages on us in mid-sentence to get there faster. Now that he’s starting to learn more words, he likes pointing to the numbers and also the page with the moon and the tree. I’m so pleased that the book is growing with him (most board books have a limited shelf life) and it’s been so well-loved that we recently had to buy a new copy, because the original looked like this:

A Well-Loved Copy of Hippos Go Berserk
Our well-loved copy of Boynton’s Hippos Go Berserk!

How about you? Do you have a favourite Boynton book? What are some fun ways you’ve jazzed-up story times? You’re comments are welcome!

Library Fairy by Rebecca BenderReviewed by The Library Fairy

(review copy personally purchased).