Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I recently started reading this brilliant and beloved children's classic to my nine year old son. Like Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth takes place in a fanciful land where nothing makes sense and the journey is more important than the destination. The story follows a loose narrative --Milo, the main character, Tock his faithful 'watchdog,' and the Humbug are trying to save the Kingdom of Wisdom by rescuing the princesses Rhyme and Reason.  Along the way they met a host of unique and interesting creatures.  My nine year old loves the scenes of people floating above the ground, selling words on the street, eating their words, and mining for numbers.  Everyone Milo meets is not quite what they seem, but are exactly what they should be. The story can be a little confusing and the word play a bit advanced.  I enjoyed reading this one aloud so I could explain some of the play on words that my son didn't quite understand.  An enjoyable read with an older child.

This wonderful  article in the New Yorker celebrates 50th anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth detailing how the story came about why this book continues to be a classic.

Did you read The Phantom Tollbooth as a kid?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Peter Brown

I recently discovered author and illustrator Peter Brown and instantly loved the first book I read by him The Curious Garden.

This story, inspired by true events, tells the story of Liam a young boy who decides to help a small garden grow. At first it is hard work and things don't always go as planned.  But as Liam begins to learn about gardening and preservers the garden begins to grow and grow. As the garden grows so do the gardeners and the town changes from a dull, dreary town to a town full of flowers and trees.  Brown's wonderful illustrations often need few words to carry the story along.  This book is one of my kids favorites.

Today at the library I discovered two more books by Brown about Lucille Beatrice Bear.  Lucille is a precocious bear who always wants to have things her way. In Children Make Terrible Pets she finds a small boy in the woods and decides to take him home and keep him.  All is grand for awhile until "Squeak" starts to cause all sorts of problems and Lucille comes to realize that children do indeed make terrible pets.  Brown's delightful cartoonish illustrations--done with pencil, paper and cut construction paper-- truly bring the story to life.

In Brown's latest book Lucille wakes up one morning bound and determined to make a friend.  She tries as hard as she can to fit in, but nothing seems to be working out. When she has finally given up hope, a friend arrives.  The illustrations are what make this book truly special.  Children will relate to Lucy's predicament and love the ways she tries to fit in -- trying to wash a skunk, asking an ostrich about flying, wearing a kangaroo suit, and accidentally eating a bees home.  I love the expression on Lucille's face when she says, "Take a deep breath, Lucy! You can do this. You can make a friend." Kids of all ages will relate too and enjoy this book.  A wonderful read-aloud!

Check out Peter Brown's website for more information on the author.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies

There are so many things I like about this book-- the realistic conflict between the two siblings, the different perspectives shown in each chapter--illuminating how miscommunication so easily occurs, the business lessons tied into the lemonade sales, the way math problems are slipped into the story and the wonderful strength of the relationship between Jessie and Evan. The Lemonade War is a beautifully written book that chronicles discord between siblings Evan and Jessie and how they overcome their conflict.

Evan and Jessie have a very different reactions when Evan, a fourth grader, finds out his younger sister Jessie, a second grader, will skip third grade and be in his fourth grade class.  Jessie is relieved that her big brother will be able to look after her.  Evan however, is worried Jessie will make him feel stupid and look bad in front his friends.  Jessie is the book smart sibling whereas Evan has the people smarts. What starts out as a small issue spirals out of control as the story progresses and more and more miscommunication and misunderstand come between the two siblings.  As the end of the book nears the two realize that things have gotten out of hand and they must communicate their true feelings to one another.

The other element in the book it the actual lemonade war.  Evan and Jessie make a bet over who can earn $100 faster by selling lemonade.  The book is filled with business and economic tips on how to improve a business.  Additionally, each sibling has to use math to figure out how to make more money.  They take us along on their thinking process showing us two different routes to discovering the answer to a problem. This helps highlights one of the important elements in the story--how people learn.

Davies has an amazing ability to skillfully write the emotional mindset of the two main characters making the reader able to root for each one and also to see the flaws in each persons character. Not overly preachy, but educational, emotional, and very engrossing this is a wonderful book for elementary school aged kids.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Discover the Comedic Genius of Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger!

The combined comedic talents of author Helen Lester and illustrator Lynn Munsinger have produced some of my favorite books for kids.  Their most popular series is probably Tacky the Penguin.  A cute series about a wacky penguin whose differences make him a trial and a blessing to his perfect penguin siblings.  Lester has written many other quirky books that kids love.  Her characters are silly, sometimes not so smart, and all have a little of every child in them. The characters exaggerated behavior will keep kids laughing and engaged as they see a little of themselves in each one.  Munsinger's fun watercolor illustrations bring the stories alive with their vibrant playful portrayal of each characters antics.

Score One for the Sloths -- A school of lazy sloths who spend all their time sleeping and lolling about, meet a new classmate who is eager for activity.  When a crisis arises only their active friend can save the day.  Kids will love the images of sloths sleeping through reading, lunch at the Slotheria and recess.

A Porcupine Named Fluffy -- What do you name your newborn porcupine? Not Fluffy!  Fluffy tries to live up to his name and it just doesn't work.  Eventually he makes a friend with a name as odd as his own and learns to laugh at himself. A perfect books for kids who sometime feel their own name is not quite the right fit.

Me First -- Pinkerton, a bossy, pushy, pig always has to be first--first in line, first to eat, first on the bus. Soon enough however, on a trip to the beach he meet a Sandwitch who helps him realize that being first is not all it's cracked up to be.

Listen Buddy -- Buddy's large ears seem to indicate he will be a great listener, but he constantly confuses everything he hears.  In the kind of joke kids love -- since they are in on it-- Buddy's dad asks him to bring him a pen, instead Buddy brings him a disgruntled hen!  When an episode of bad listening almost lands Buddy in a stew pot he realizes that listening closely is more important than he thought.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Great Activity Books for Kids!

As the cold weather arrives I start trying to think of fun indoor activities to do with my kids--arts and crafts are at the top of the list!  I love this series of art and activity books.  They are full of creative and fun ideas.  All the crafts have cute pictures, are fairly easy and can usually be done with craft items you have lying around the house.

The Little Hands Art Book: Exploring Arts and Crafts with 2-to-6-Year-Olds by Judy Press

The Little Hands Big Fun Craft Book: Creative Fun for 2-to-6-Year-Olds by Judy Press

The Kids' Wildlife Book: Exploring Animal Worlds through Indoor/Outdoor Experiences by Warner Shedd

Kids Create! Art and Craft Experiences for 3 -to-9-Year-Olds by Laurie Carlson

Alphabet Art: With A to Z Animal Art and Fingerplays by Judy Press

Animal Habitats! Learning About North American Animals and Plants through Art, Science and Creative Play by Judy Press

Around the World Art and Activities: Visiting the 7 Continents through Craft Fun by Judy Press