Themed Third Thursday: Anthropomorphic Animals

With all the hubbub surrounding Hello Kitty lately (she’s not a cat, she’s a little girl! not a *human* little girl, sillies! but still not a cat! oh, no-no!) and with GirlChild’s suggestion of doing a post about animal books, I decided to feature books this month that have anthropomorphic animals as the main character(s). Yep, an-throw-poe-morf-ick. Animals imbued with human qualities to varying degrees. There is a broad spectrum of anthropomorphism represented in these books; some of the animals are only animal in form, some just talk but otherwise act and live like animals, some are animals living kind of like animals and kind of like humans at the same time…you get my drift. There’s variety. And I’m going to mostly talk about the books for older kids since picture books are absolutely brimming with anthropomorphic animals and are not hard to find!

Some of my favorite picture books that fit this theme are by Sandra Boynton and Mo Willems. I can only recall one human in a Boynton book (the guy who has fifteen animals), and Mo Willems’ Pigeon, Elephant & Piggie, and Cat the Cat series are all prime examples. I won’t go into all these books because there are so many, and it’s been done before…check the links on the author names to find my Themed Third Thursdays that are dedicated to their works! Other notable authors of well-known picture books featuring human-like animals are Anna Dewdney, Ian Falconer, and Arnold Lobel. Just browse your local library’s picture book shelves for a ton of additional examples by other talented authors; I’m sure you’ll be able to find your child’s favorite animal anthropomorphized there somewhere! Now on to the chapter book variety…

Abel's IslandAbel’s Island, by William Steig (1976): This 1977 Newbery Honor recipient tells the story of Abelard (Abel), a dapper mouse who gets separated from his wife, Amanda, during a rainstorm that interrupts a picnic. He gets stranded on an island and must find a way to both survive and escape his isolation to return to his wife. It is set in the early 1900s in a world where mouse-sized mice live like humans against the backdrop of a giant-scaled world around them. I recommended this book to more reluctant readers when I taught fifth grade because the length wasn’t intimidating and the content was exciting. While the independent reading level is middle to upper elementary, I think GirlChild and other early elementary children would also enjoy this somewhat brief, mostly gentle adventure story as a read-aloud (in part to help set the stage since the Edwardian era and its dress and customs are probably pretty foreign to them).

Geronimo Stilton #1: Lost TreasureGeronimo Stilton #1: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye of the Emerald Eye, by Geronimo Stilton (2004): As confused as I am about the authorship of this book (apparently originally written in Italian (then translated to English) by Edizioni Piemme S.p.A. (apparently a publishing company) and “based on an original idea by Elisabetta Dami,” these books are all credited to Geronimo Stilton, the anthropomorphic mouse who is the editor of The Rodent’s Gazette, the main character, and the narrator of this series of books. He and a collection of other mice living in a mouse-scaled world have all sorts of adventures that range from escapades right in New Mouse City all the way to excitement in Egypt. Each book has a graphic novel feel with colorful illustrations, stylized text, and many full-page maps and diagrams. While GirlChild refuses to even try these books (and I’m actually not sure she could follow them independently because of her lack of journalism and cheese related background knowledge), my nieces seem to all love them. They’re recommended for upper primary to upper elementary readers. (I would not recommend these as read-alouds–there is too much to process visually that would be lost in an audiobook or read-aloud setting.) There are approximately a million of these (okay, more than 60 with the original series, specials, and spin-offs), so if you find a child who really loves these books, he or she will be set for a long, long time!

 

Charlotte's WebCharlotte’s Web, by E. B. White (1952): A winner of the Newbery Honor in 1953, Charlotte’s Web is a pretty well-known story where the animal characters primarily live and act like animals but have human-like conversations, feelings, and some behavior (weaving “SOME PIG!” into a web isn’t exactly a natural talent of spiders…). Most of the human characters cannot understand their speech, just Fern, but all the animals are able to communicate amongst one another. In case you’re not familiar with the book, Fern Arable convinces her father to let her raise the runt of the litter–Wilbur–by hand instead of weeding him out. When he’s old enough to be sold, Fern’s mother suggests selling him to Mr. Zuckerman, Fern’s uncle who lives nearby, so that Fern can still visit him. It is here on Zuckerman’s farm that Wilbur meets Charlotte, a spider who uses her unusual writing skills in a plan to save Wilbur from becoming Christmas dinner. GirlChild is afraid of reading this book since seeing the movie at her grandma’s house, but she’s pretty sensitive; I’d recommend this for a read-aloud or independent reading for middle elementary and up. Other books in a similar vein by this author include Stuart Little (the mouse born to a human family) and The Trumpet of the Swan (a voiceless trumpeter swan who learns to play the trumpet).

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHby Robert C. O’Brien (1971): This time a 1972 Newbery Medal winner (I see a theme here–just how many Newbery medals and honors have been awarded to books with anthropomorphic animals in them?), my mother (we’ll call her Gramma’SchoolTeacher–get it? because she’s a retired elementary (grammar) school teacher and is a grandma (lazily pronounced “gramma” by everyone I know!)? yeah, I’m punny like that…) used this book in her sixth grade classroom as a literature tie-in to her civilizations unit in social studies and science. She says, “I read it with sixth graders because of the social studies and science connections, but it would be ok for younger kids too.  The sixth graders always seemed to enjoy it and we did art projects with it like drawing what they thought the main hall in the rats’ home looked like, the storerooms, etc.  Even made a huge diorama of it one year that was displayed for several months in the town library.” (I remember that diorama–the size of a door–from more than twenty years ago! It was pretty amazing! My mom was kind of a cool teacher. ;) ) It’s about a regular mouse, Mrs. Frisby, a widow whose husband had escaped captivity as a lab animal with a group of rats. The scientists had been experimenting with extending lifespans and increasing intelligence in the rodents, and their work was, unexpectedly, so successful so quickly that the animals learned to read and escaped by following the printed directions on how to open their locked cages. The rats established their own civilization in an underground cave beneath a farm (from which they pilfered water, electricity, and food), and Mrs. Frisby comes to them for help when her son is ill. Eventually, Mrs. Frisby (nonenhanced, mind you, yet still a mouse who lives mostly like a mouse but talks and uses rudimentary furniture made from bits of brick or wood) ends up helping the highly-advanced rats when some of them expose the group’s existence and threaten their safety.

The UnderneathThe Underneath, by Kathi Appelt (2008): Another Newbery Honor book (from 2009), this book actually has multiple interwoven storylines, going back and forth between characters and time frames and settings, all linked together (eventually!) in one time and place and centering on the mother cat and her babies sheltering in The Underneath in the safety provided by the porch that’s guarded by the lonely hound dog, Ranger. The animals in the book don’t have conversations, per se, but there are blues songs that represent the dog’s baying, and the animals’ emotions and thoughts are described by a third-person narrator in a way that keeps them from being completely animal-like in their portrayal. The writing style is described as “lyrical”–lilting, fragmented, awash with imagery and emotion–and the seemingly random storylines weaving in and out of one another make this book rather complex despite the deceptively juvenile-targeted illustration style. Recommended for upper elementary and middle school readers, this would make a beautiful but lengthy read-aloud–perhaps the audiobook would be an especially good way to experience this deep and complicated story.

The Pig Scrolls, by Gryllus the Pig,The Pig Scrolls by Paul Shipton (2004): A healthy amount of background knowledge about Greek myths would do a reader of this absolutely pun-riddled, ridiculous tale good. The narrator–one of Odysseus’ crew that was turned into a pig by Circe (and elected to stay that way)–gets unwillingly wrapped up in an adventure brought on by an oracle of Apollo combined with the sudden silence of all the gods in all their temples. An assistant to the assistant pythia, a dirty and somewhat deranged young goatherd with surprisingly swift development, and, sporadically, an aspiring poet add to the journey from cowardly pig to, well, not-so-cowardly. But still a pig. For now. Because of the necessary background knowledge and the somewhat large number of characters and settings to keep straight, I’d recommend this unusual story for either independent readers in the upper elementary to middle school range or slightly younger readers who have a strong interest in and knowledge of Greek mythology. (And there’s a sequel!)

Warriors #1: Into the WildWarriors #1: Into the Wild, by Erin Hunter (2003): I admit that I have never actually read one of these all the way through, but I’ve had several students who always seemed to have one or more of these checked out of the school library. There are multiple series within the world created by the same author team (Erin Hunter is a pseudonym for a team of six authors), and all of the series appear to share a similar type of anthropomorphism (correct me if I’m wrong!); the animals live like real animals, have human-like thought and communication, and live in a world where there is a mystical magic of which the animals are aware and in which they participate. The Warriors branch of the series involves cats (mostly feral), Seekers focuses on bears, and Survivors (the newest series) seems to be about dogs. Written mainly for upper elementary through middle school level readers, this is another series where, once a reader is interested, there is plenty of material to keep on reading for a long, long time!

I know there are many, many other fantastic books and series that meet the anthropomorphic criteria, and I’d love to hear about some of them in the comments! There is no way for me to create an exhaustive list, however, so I just tried to get a sampling of some of the different kinds of anthropomorphism often found in juvenile and young adult literature. I hope you or your young reader can find something in this list to appeal or to point to something else appealing. Happy hairy reading!

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Themed Third Thursday: Let’s Eat!

I noticed while trying to select picture books for BoyChild recently that there are innumerable books for small children that revolve around food. (Friends, family, and feelings finish off the list of the four f’s of children’s literature, I think.) As I browsed the shelves and picked the mind of our branch children’s librarian, I found that the food theme isn’t limited to picture books! Below you’ll find a selection of books with more than a passing concern for victuals for a wide range of ages and interests–books about food, books with a lot of incidental food included, chef biographies, cookbooks, and cookbooks about food in books. It’s rather astonishing, really. Bon appétit!

The Baker's DozenThe Baker’s Dozen: A Counting Book, by Dan Andreasen (2007): When the clock shows the early hour of 5 a.m., we see the baker start his day by making one cream éclair. By the time 6:20 rolls around, he’s on seven tarts, and when the clock strikes 8:00, he’s got twelve small cupcakes ready to go to open the door to his thirteen waiting customers! Cute illustrations of a very cheery chef making a diverse collection of treats will entertain young readers and counters and more definitely inspire requests for a snack! Perfect for preschoolers and early elementary children.

Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle (1990): Pancakes, Pancakes!In this leveled reader (Ready-to-Read Level One), Jack has to gather what his mother needs to make pancakes (from threshing the wheat to milking the cow!) before he can have his breakfast. While many of the words may be unfamiliar to a child who hasn’t farmed the land, they are at least simple to sound out, and the pictures and progression of the story lend themselves to predictions and picture clue strategies for understanding the text. Don’t let the scary pancake face on the cover fool you…there are no talking breakfast foods in this book! Good for early readers (particularly those fond of pancakes and/or Eric Carle books) and a great mentor text for writing a simple story about putting together a meal (and then doing so)!

Perfect Pancakes if You PleasePerfect Pancakes if You Please, by William Wise, pictures by Richard Egielski (1997): King Felix is a greedy and picky ruler, and he promises the hand of his daughter Princess Elizabeth in marriage in exchange for the perfect stack of pancakes. Her mother comforts her by saying that there is no such thing as a stack of perfect pancakes…unless you used “black magic itself,” and only Maximillian, the Evil Inventor, still used it in their kingdom, and he is so old that she believes he is probably dead by now. She is, unfortunately, incorrect, and when Princess Elizabeth refuses to marry him, he leaves his pancake-making invention to keep making pancakes until they overwhelm the kingdom. A tall, handsome scientist whom Princess Elizabeth had admired during the contest invents a flying machine to take the pancake-making machine to the moon, and the evil inventor gets trapped inside and shipped off with his machine. Princess Elizabeth marries the handsome young scientist, and not another pancake is eaten in all the kingdom ever again. Best for early elementary independent reading and read-alouds.

Gator Gumbo, by Candace Fleming, Gator Gumbopictures by Sally Anne Lambert (2004): A bayou version of The Little Red Hen, Gator Gumbo tells the story of Monsieur Gator who is so old he can’t catch food anymore and is endlessly mocked by his former prey while he sadly eats his vegetables for every meal. One day he gets so angry at their taunts that he gets “hot…red hot…hotter than…Gumbo!” and gets a great idea. You can tell that there’s something stewing in his head more than in his pot by the look in his eye as he asks possum, otter, and skunk if they will help add each ingredient and gets the response, “I ain’t” (instead of “Not I!”) from each of them, so it’s barely a surprise when finally agrees to let the loafers try some tasty gumbo…and they all fall in the pot, the last and best ingredients in his gumbo. A little macabre, sure, but you have to tip your hat to Monsieur Gator for his ingenuity! A good read-aloud for preschool and early elementary or independent read for middle elementary readers.

Amelia Bedelia Bakes OffAmelia Bedelia Bakes Off, by Herman Parish, pictures by Lynn Sweat (2010): I already wrote about the cake and some of the book elements in a previous blog entry, so you can get the details there. In short, in this installment in the series (written by the nephew of the original author after her death), Amelia Bedelia (who we already know is a good cook!) helps out in a bakery with her cousin Alcolu (whose name I cannot pronounce! AL-coe-loo? Al-COE-loo? AL-cuh-loo? Al-cuh-LOO?) as a favor for the baker who is taking the day off. Typical Amelia-Bedelia-ness occurs. And then she makes an impossibly perfect cake out of a basic (but tasty!) recipe. Sure to bring out giggle-fits in less literally-minded children with the background knowledge to understand the misunderstandings. :) An excellent choice for early elementary, particularly children with a pun-ny sense of humor and some baking experience in their personal history. Alternately, this book could be used to introduce some baking knowledge to encourage an attempt at baking (like it did with us!).

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, George Crum and the Saratoga Chipby Gaylia Taylor, illustrated by Frank Morrison (2006): The author notes the inconsistency and scarcity of historical accounts about the creator of the potato chip, George Crum, a chef at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York back in the 1800s, but she pieces what she can together into a brief biographical story of the man whose feisty (love that word!) attitude and distaste for being looked down upon helped him stumble accidentally upon a recipe for one of America’s favorite snack foods. With its rich illustrations in acrylic and its text-heavy pages, this picture book is best as a read-aloud for a smallish group of good listeners or for independent middle elementary readers. (Three other picture book biographies I didn’t have a chance to actual read to review are Hiromi’s Hands, The Adventurous Chef: Alexis Soyer, and Bon Appétit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child, and they all look great!)

All in Just One CookieAll in Just One Cookie, by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by Timothy Bush (2006): Grandma’s expecting company, so she’s baking up a batch of cookies. Her cat and dog (I don’t know why) go on a quest to discover where each of the ingredients originates. With each new ingredient (conveniently listed with instructions like amounts and how to mix it in) comes an explanation of where and how the ingredient is produced for use at home. While this isn’t the sort of book most kids will pore over alone, it would certainly go over well with the curious and those just wanting those chocolate chip cookies at the end! Best for elementary age children with an adult for assistance.

Chocolate Fever, by Robert Kimmel Smith Chocolate Fever(1972): I read this chocolate-themed classic for the first time ever when I was searching for books for this list, and I was pleasantly surprised. While the book clearly has some extremely silly parts (I mean, the kid breaks out in chocolate spots, for Pete’s sake), the gentle references to racism brought up by Mac (the truck driver from whom Henry catches a ride), his reminders to Henry about how his actions must be making his loving parents feel, and the bullying Henry faces on the playground because of his appearance all bring up important and serious topics within the funny framework of a boy catching chocolate fever. Chocolate-loving Henry makes a good story for middle elementary students for independent or group reading.

Lisa the Lollipop FairyLisa the Lollipop Fairy (Rainbow Magic: The Sugar & Spice Fairies), by Daisy Meadows (2013): One of the seven books in the Sugar & Spice Fairies branch of the Rainbow Magic series, Lisa the Lollipop Fairy tells the story of what happens when Jack Frost steals Lisa’s fairy charm and all sugary treats lose their sweetness. Just like in the tooth fairy book from the same series, Kirsty and Rachel save the day (as far as lollipops are concerned–stay tuned for the next book to see if they save ice cream, too!). GirlChild, for some girly-girl reason, really loves these books, so I’d say that the “appeals to 2nd-3rd graders” recommendation from the back of the book can be extended to include almost-first graders and that the “grade 4″ reading level might be overstating things a little. Heaven forbid your child wants to have this book read aloud (not my cup of tea, but maybe yours!), but they make fun, light reading for fairy-obsessed little girls.

Pie, by Sarah Weeks (2011): Product DetailsAlice’s Aunt Polly had run the town’s pie shop–just called PIE–for years, and her award-winning (and very secret!) crust recipe was the envy of all. When she dies suddenly, her will reveals the incomprehensible bequest of her secret recipe to Lardo, her cat, and the somewhat hateful cat to her niece Alice. After these already unusual events, Pie is robbed, and no one can figure out who would have done it. Alice and her friend Charlie investigate the mysterious goings-on and try their hands at some pies (much like everyone else in town). The epilogue isn’t the traditional predictable ending, and a lot of reviewers seemed upset by that, but I thought it was a perfectly reasonable outcome and satisfying closure. Recommended for mother/daughter book clubs, this book includes the recipes for the different pies mentioned in the story (but not the crust recipe!), and the book page on the author’s website includes a number of ideas for using the book in the classroom as well. Readers in middle elementary to middle school would find this simple (but not simplistic) book an enjoyable read.

CookieCookie, by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt (2008): While I had never heard of this author before finding the book while browsing the shelves, she is apparently quite the thing in places where they get a better selection of books written by English authors, and she deals with a number of tough topics in her vast bibliography of children’s books for a range of ages. Another common thread I noticed among her books is the relatively unusual names of her female protagonists, and Beauty, the main character of this book, is no exception. While the book’s main conflict comes from the emotional abuse dished out by Beauty’s dad to both her and her mother, it still ties in with the food theme for a couple reasons. Beauty’s father uses food as part of his repertoire of insults and intimidation (according to him, Beauty eats too much of it, and her mother is an incompetent cook), and the redemption in the end comes from Beauty’s mother overcoming his harassment and actually making a name and an independence for herself as a cookie baker. Beauty, through helping her mother’s new business and finding her voice in the world, regains the confidence and happiness that she had lost under her father’s tyranny. Serious themes, obviously, but a good book for upper elementary and middle school readers.

The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids, Flavor of Wisconsin for Kidsby Terese Allen and Bobbie Malone (2012): While you might not live in Wisconsin, you can use the subject search “Cooking–[your state name]” at your local library to find a similar cookbook for your own area! This particular book is organized by different “flavors from” categories, like forests (berries and maple sugar), waters and wetlands (fish and water-grown plants), meat and dairy farms (cheese, of course!), and foods from the different immigrant and native groups that have a strong presence in the area and an impact on regional cuisine. A brief introduction prefaces each section, and historical information is followed by a selection of relatively simple recipes that fit that category. Based on the complexity of the book and the somewhat mature palates necessary to enjoy many of these recipes, I’d recommend it for upper elementary and middle school readers and cooks (and their responsible adults at home or school).

Cool World CookingCool World Cooking: Fun and Tasty Recipes for Kids!, by Lisa Wagner (2013): I didn’t get a chance to try any of these recipes with GirlChild yet, but I love the set-up of the book. It is perfect for elementary age children to use with an adult or by themselves (with minimal adult help for safety purposes). There are several pages of cooking tools with pictures so kids know what they are and cooking terms with photo illustrations for clarity. Each section (Mexican, French, Italian, African, Middle Eastern, and Chinese and Japanese) includes information about the area, a pronunciation guide for the foods, a photo glossary of the ingredients needed for the recipes, and relatively simple recipes with some photographs for directions where it may be unclear. Lists of ingredients, tools needed, and symbols for warnings (oven use, sharp utensil use, nut warning) and variations are included on each recipe. Also includes an index and glossary at the end of the book.

The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook, Product Detailsby Dinah Bucholz (2012): One of several of her cookbooks based off of foods mentioned in some of her favorite books, this cookbook features recipes meant to replicate pretty much every single food or meal mentioned in the entire Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. The author includes a brief introduction to each menu or single recipe that includes a reference to where the food is mentioned in the books so you can look it up when you enjoy the meal. Many of the recipes are kind of complex, so this is definitely a cookbook meant to be used with an adult, not independently. While the index includes the food names, I do wish there were a section where the meals from each book were listed together so it would be easier to find the foods that went along with the book you’re reading without having to comb through the book for what foods are included. These recipes, as well as the ones in the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by the same author, are best suited to parents and children who are fans of the respective series (with reading ability of at least one of them in the upper elementary and above range), and they’d be great to use as part of a summer reading push or homeschooling unit.

 

 

 

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Fun Fourth Friday: Inspired by Fairy Tales

Okay, I love a good fractured fairy tale, and even the predictable retellings for kids are fresh and new to them, so here I’ll share some of the fairy-tale-based books I’ve encountered either on my own, while teaching, or recently with BoyChild and GirlChild. If you like a fresh face on a fairy tale, one of these might be for you!

The Magic Porridge Pot, by Paul GaldoneThe Magic Porridge Pot, by Paul Galdone (1976): I’m starting with a classic author with a simple retelling because a lot of kids (or their parents who are trying to tell the story!) may not even know a basic version of folk and fairy tales! (I know GirlChild didn’t when I wrote the Cinderella post a couple years ago!) In this story, a little girl and her mother have nothing to eat, and the little girl comes across an old woman in the woods who gives her a magic porridge pot that will boil with porridge with the right phrase (“Boil, Little Pot, Boil!”) and stop with the right phrase (“Stop, Little Pot, Stop!”). They are well-fed and happy. One day when the little girl is off visiting friends, the mother forgets the stopping words and floods the streets of their village with porridge. In the end, the little girl saves the day and no one in the village is ever hungry again. Galdone has a version of pretty much every classic folk or fairy tale you can imagine (I exaggerate, but not much) available on Amazon.

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf,The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf, by Mark Teague by Mark Teague (2013): In this retelling, the pigs are sent on their way with a hoof full of cash by the farmer and his wife when they retire to Florida. The first two pigs skimp on building materials so they can splurge on potato chips and sody-pop, but the third pig invests in bricks (and gets a bonus sandwich from the owner of the hardware store to keep her belly full). The wolf comes through town on an empty stomach and is hopping mad by the time he is turned away (by locked doors or unsympathetic restauranteurs) from several eating places and happens upon a house that smells rather piggy. In his grouchy frustration, he threatens to blow down the house and eat the pig, and his success in the first task both surprises and emboldens him. In the end, he was more “hangry” than anything else, and the sympathetic pigs and their practical sibling help the wolf out, and he’s barely ever bad again. I think this would make a great read-aloud for young elementary school kids who already know the story because the changes will keep them on their toes and are quite entertaining. (Written and illustrated by the guy who does the illustrations in the How Do Dinosaurs…? series.)

Dog in Boots, by Greg GormleyDog in Boots, by Greg Gormley, illustrated by Roberta Angaramo (2011): Dog reads a very nice story about a cat who wears boots, and he’s inspired to buy a set of his own! He keeps trying different kinds of footwear at the shoestore, but each one turns out unsatisfactory in some way. The shopkeeper finally tells him that he doesn’t have quite the perfect thing, but that Dog does: his own paws! Dog agrees, has a lot of fun, then relaxes with another good book…about a girl who wears a red hood. This is clearly a fairy-tale-inspired book for the very young (I’d say preschool to primary school), and it is quite silly. It could always be a mentor text for young writers to imagine what might happen if Dog tried out something from another fairy tale (like growing long hair like Rapunzel or building houses like the Three Little Pigs) and what the results might be. The front papers show Dog trying out a variety of shoes (to fit the theme of the story), and the back pages show him trying out various costumes from other fairy tales.

The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-Be, The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-Be, by Mimi Greyby Mini Grey (2003): I’m not sure I’ve ever read a retelling of “The Princess and the Pea” from the point-of-view of a garden vegetable…until this one. This is the pea, in fact, that is chosen by the Queen as a test to the various visitors claiming to be princesses to prove their royalty in the standard way. First, the Prince traveled the world looking for a princess so that he wouldn’t lose his allowance (his mother’s threat), but none was quite to his fancy. (The illustration on this page shows Polaroids of a variety of princesses, some of them recognizable from other fairy tales.) The Queen then decides to invite prospects to the castle for the real-princess test, but all the visitors are too polite to mention their uncomfortable sleep, so none pass the test. The chosen pea decides to take matters into his/her own hands and, when her gardener comes to the door during a storm and is whisked away to try the test without being able to explain herself first, the pea tries some subliminal messages while she sleeps. The Queen is excited to hear the planted complaints during breakfast the next morning, and the Prince seems quite pleased with his unconventional “princess.” If the final illustration is to be believed, they live happily ever after while they tend the palace garden.

The Princess and the Peas and Carrots, by Harriet ZiefertThe Princess and the Peas and Carrots, by Harriet Ziefert, illustrations by Travis Foster (2012):  Rosebud is a little girl who likes things just so. If things aren’t quite to her liking (mistakes while coloring, itchy clothes, green things in her food), she gets in quite a mood. During one of those moods (caused by food touching other food on her dinner plate), she shoves her plate away, accidentally causing it to spill her entire meal (chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, and gravy!) on the floor. Her mother sends her to her room where she takes out her frustration by completely ransacking it and throwing a massive fit. Her parents come and offer to help her…IF she calms down. When she does and apologizes for the messes she’s made, she and her parents work together to restore the room. After she eats her dinner and climbs into bed, her daddy tells her the story of the Princess and the Pea. Rosebud tries to go to sleep after the story, but something isn’t quite right…and her daddy finds a marble in it that had been missed during the clean-up, proving she’s a real princess, too. Cute illustrations and a phase of childhood (or personality type!) with which many parents and kids can identify!

The Great Fairy Tale Disaster, The Great Fairy Tale Disaster, by David Conwayby David Conway and illustrated by Melanie Williamson (2012): The Big Bad Wolf is getting old, and he’s looking for a less stressful fairy tale for a change. His attempts to integrate himself  into different stories don’t work out quite as he plans, especially when the Three Bears find him in their house and start chasing him from story to story, creating chaos in all the fairy tales! The Big Bad Wolf finally escapes back into his own story only to find himself in hot water–again. Poor Wolf can’t catch a break!

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka and Lane SmithThe Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1992): I have to preface this one by saying that if you don’t like the word “stupid,” it’s probably going to spoil your enjoyment of this book. However, I find it absolutely hilarious and nonsensical, and–like most other Jon Scieszka books–a great hook to get boys into reading about things they otherwise wouldn’t. (What better way to work in a telling of the Gingerbread Man or Chicken Little than using them to explain what these silly stories are supposed to be like!) Primarily for those who like the humor of sixth grade boys. ;) It’s also a Caldecott Honor book if you need more convincing.

Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine (2006): Fairest, by Gail Carson LevineSet in the same fantasy world as her first (and Newbery Honor winning) fairy-tale-inspired book, Ella Enchanted, Fairest pretty quickly reveals itself (through subtle details) to be a reimagining of the story of Snow White. Some of the in-world customs (singing random parts of ordinary speech, regional idioms, etc.) interrupt the flow of the book for me, but if you can let yourself get more absorbed in the storyline than a parent with two children interrupting repeatedly can, then you can probably take all those things in stride. Aza (the main character) was adopted by the innkeepers in whose inn she was abandoned as an infant, but her large-boned and pale-faced appearance among her dark, dainty countrymen gives her quite the complex, and she would give anything to be beautiful. Chance brings her to the royal city for the king’s wedding to a foreign commoner, and Aza gets swept into the intrigue that follows the new queen after an accident during the wedding celebrations puts him into a coma. Includes a handsome prince, a magic mirror, ventriloquy, and gnomes. Probably best suited for girls in middle school and up. (This is not the cover I have; mine has a more realistic illustration. I’m not sure which would have made me more likely to pick it up.)

A Tale Dark & Grimm, by Adam GerwitzA Tale Dark & Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz (2010): There is no false advertisement in this title! The first of three in a series, A Tale Dark & Grimm is a retelling of several of the more macabre fairy tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm. It is most definitely not bowdlerized, and it made me quite squeamish in parts. The author gives us frequent humor breaks, however, with his authorly interruptions (set apart by bold print and occasionally a few nearly-blank pages) that warn of gruesomeness to come (and other bits of trivia and explanation). If Lemony Snicket (apparently a reviewer at The New York Times agrees, if the review excerpt on the back of one of the other books is any proof) and Edgar Allen Poe cowrote a story, this might be it. The different fairy tales (most of them pretty obscure to me, but I never could get through our book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales due to a weak stomach and a propensity for vivid dreams) are woven together by making Hansel and Gretel take on a role in each that was probably formerly populated by a nameless unfortunate child. I couldn’t help but think of a former fifth grade student of mine who used to read Anne Rice books during free reading time; she probably would have found this a YA novel that would suit her fancy! I’d recommend these books for middle schoolers and up with intestinal fortitude and a strong ability to separate fantasy from reality.

The Goose Girl, by Shannon HaleThe Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale (2005): Based on a fairy tale with which I was unfamiliar, The Goose Girl tells the story of Ani, a princess who is betrothed (without her knowledge) to a foreign prince and then betrayed by her lady-in-waiting and most of her assigned guards during the long voyage to meet her fiance. Hale developed the more inexplicable elements of the story–the goose girl/princess’s ability to speak to her horse and command the wind–and turned them into some of the magical elements of her fantasy world, the ability to communicate with the natural world. (This also allowed her to branch beyond this fairy tale to create three more books set in the same world and not based on specific tales.) Ani disguises herself as a commoner and calls herself Isi, then uses her animal-speech to find success as a goose girl and plan her attempt to right the wrong that her lady-in-waiting created and save her country from invasion. And, eventually, to get the guy. Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Forest Born follow in the series, recommended for middle school and up. (She and her husband also collaborated on the graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge, another fairytale inspired story!)

Beauty, by Robin McKinleyBeauty, by Robin McKinley (1978): Robin McKinley has written a vast number of high-quality fantasy and fairy tale books for adults and young adults. My favorite by far, however, is Beauty. A novel-length retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast story, you can’t help but think that Disney sampled from McKinley as much as they did from the original story! Beauty is the nickname of the youngest of three daughters, given to her when she replied in disgust to the meaning of her own name, Honour, “I’d rather be called Beauty!” (a request she regretted throughout her awkward teen  years). She is intelligent and practical where her older sisters are sweet and beautiful, and she volunteers herself as her father’s replacement as the Beast’s prisoner to save him and her sisters (one of whom is married, and the other is pining for her betrothed who was lost at sea). Although it was published before I was born, I read this as a teenager, and I think romantics as young as middle school or as old as still can dream would enjoy the book.

I’ve previously reviewed The Frog Prince Continued and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs so I won’t include them here, but those are additional titles for those who like more goofy than grand in their fairy tales! Find those reviews in my Jon Scieszka and Mo Willems themed reviews!

So there you have it. A good mixture of the silly and the serious, fanciful and farcical, inventive and intense, juvenile and mature (sorry, couldn’t alliterate there!), and all of them inspired by fairy tales! Let me know some of your favorites in the comments!

Waking BeautyUPDATE: I have no idea how I failed to remember Falling for Rapunzelto include a couple books by Leah Wilcox! Waking Beauty and Falling for Rapunzel are hilarious retellings that depend on slapstick confusion and rhyme to entertain. Great for read-alouds for preschool to middle elementary!

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Sickness Delay

So, my kids have been sick again (for almost two weeks!), and we haven’t gotten to the library in three weeks (counting the 4th of July holiday weekend), so I haven’t been able to get all my books for this month’s theme! Themed Third Thursday will be replaced by Fun Fourth Friday again this month!

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Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (and You Can, Too!)

GirlChild sounded like she was talking nonsense when she was telling me about the Amelia Bedelia book she had been reading, but since those books are full of silliness, I figured she just didn’t quite get the jokes, so I had her reread it aloud to me so I could explain the word play. We discussed homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently) and idioms (words or phrases that mean one thing literally but another thing to the group of people who use the idiom (“raining cats and dogs” was the example I used)). While she was reading, I stopped her occasionally to have her explain the jokes to me or to predict how Amelia Bedelia (or her Cousin Alcolu in this book) would interpret what was said. Thankfully, she has some background knowledge about cooking shows and baking in general, so she was able to focus on just understanding their misunderstandings! At the end of the book (which can be seen on the Amazon preview if you don’t have the book in hand! (UPDATE 8/19/14: I can’t see it there anymore, but I found it here instead!)) is the 9-ingredient cake recipe that Amelia Bedelia uses for the sheet cake–which she just goes ahead and makes into a bed cake because she’s so tired!–that wins the bake off for her, and GirlChild expressed a great and overwhelming desire to make the cake! (Everything is a big deal these days–lots of six-year-old drama!) Since Grandma and Grandpa are here this week, I told her we could, and she and BoyChild and I made it this afternoon. She desperately wanted to make it into a bed cake like Amelia Bedelia does, but I wasn’t quite up to trying to sculpt and do fondant and all that to make it really look like a bed like she did, so we just iced it using this frosting recipe and tossed on some sprinkles. It was pretty tasty, and–for anyone with allergy issues–is egg and dairy free! (The frosting has butter and milk, but those could be swapped out for whatever substitute suits your fancy, or you can just use your own allergen-free frosting recipe!)Amelia Bedelia's Sheet Cake

Kids’ books featuring tie-in recipes make it super simple to help connect your kids’ reading to a family activity and make it fun for everyone, and this one was pretty simple and doesn’t require a bunch of bizarre ingredients (or even a bowl for mixing–you mix it right in the baking dish!). Make sure you have enough cocoa in your cupboard (I had to make a last-minute run to the store because my container was emptier than I thought it was!), and mix up this easy cake tonight! It’s great with a cold glass of milk (or milk substitute)!

If you’re into book tie-in activities with your little ones, try an activity or recipe from these other posts, too!

Parents magazine: Read, Cook, Love, by Monica Bhide

Themed Third Thursday: Apples

Topsy and Tim’s Peanut Crunchies (aka, Health Cookies by my Aunt Lois)

Don’t Let the Pigeon Be Your Cake!

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Themed Third Thursday: Dabbling in Dinosaurs Edition

I call this “Dabbling in Dinosaurs” because the books I’m featuring–the books BoyChild loves!–are in no way informative or in-depth; they just dabble. Since dinosaurs are his favorite topic right now but he doesn’t care in the slightest about any scientific information about them, these books are right up my three-year-old’s alley!

Inside-Outside Dinosaurs, by Roxie MunroInside-Outside Dinosaurs, by Roxie Munro (2009): This is the closest to educational these books will get. We bought this book for BoyChild after he chose it from the library and wept openly when we had to return it. (Don’t worry–we commiserated with him, returned it anyway, and waited for a gift-giving opportunity to give him his own so he wasn’t rewarded for crying about returning a book!) Several dinosaurs are featured, and many more are shown in the background of the images (and identified in the back of the book). The featured dinosaurs are shown as a skeleton and have the dinosaur’s name and the meaning of the name. The next spread shows that dinosaur as it might have looked in its natural habitat (with other dinosaurs in the background, too). The last few pages of the book feature outline drawings of the scenes pictured in the book, have colored dots to identify each dinosaur shown, and give the pronunciation and some information about the main dinosaur in the image. (BoyChild never looks at this part, but I’m sure that will come with time.)

Dinotrux, by Chris Gall (2009): Dinotrux, by Chris Gall“Millions of years ago prehistoric TRUCKS roamed the earth. They were HUGE. They were HUNGRY. But they weren’t helpful like they are today.” So begins this silly story of how modern trucks came from the smart dinotrux that escaped extinction and civilized themselves to become the helpful vehicles they are today. With silly names like dumploducus and dozeratops and sight gags like the rollodon squashing a lizard and a few dinotrux leaving smelly messes, the book is probably best for slightly older kids who have a bit of background information on dinosaurs and vehicles and what they’re called (because each dinotrux creature is a reptile version of a vehicle and each name is a portmanteau of a dinosaur name and a vehicle name) and like and understand somewhat subtle potty humor, but BoyChild enjoys browsing this book alone (like he does for a lot of books he loves) and looking at the pictures despite not really getting what’s going on at all. To him, it’s just dinosaurs that kind of look like trucks, and that works for him! (There are also a few others in this series.)

Dinosaur Kisses, by David Ezra SteinDinosaur Kisses, by David Ezra Stein (2013): I first saw this book when we were away from the kids on a short trip, and I almost bought it for BoyChild as a souvenir because I knew he’d love it! (I then realized that it had nothing to do with Nashville and could either be bought cheaper elsewhere or checked out from the library for him, so I was wise and left it on the shelf.) Little Dinah, a newly hatched carnivore of some sort (probably a t-rex) tries stomping and chomping, but then she sees a kiss and wants to try that. After several failed attempts (she always manages to stomp or chomp her intended kissee instead!), she finally finds the perfect creature to get dinosaur “kisses.” David Ezra Stein also wrote Interrupting Chicken, a favorite at the grandparents’ house (because some of the granddaughters call my dad Papa): a Caldecott winner and another hilarious read-aloud for kids.

Dinosaur Vs. (series), by Bob Shea (2008-2014): Dinosaur vs. Bedtime, by Bob SheaYou have to really get your roar on when you read these books aloud to kids! BoyChild will have us read these until we’re absolutely hoarse. With copious amounts of victorious roaring and titles like Dinosaur vs. the Potty and the recently released Dinosaur vs. School, how can you go wrong? My personal favorite is probably Dinosaur vs. the Library (where the little dino finally quiets down for story time!). Roar, roar, roar–Dinosaur wins!

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?, by Jane Yolen and Mark TeagueHow Do Dinosaurs…? (series), by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (2000-2013): From the first entry in the series, How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?, to the most recent ones, How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? and How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas?, these hilarious books pose rhetorical questions about all the inappropriate ways the dinosaurs could respond to the given situation and then come back and declare all the right ways the dinosaurs actually respond. What could possibly end up being just a humorous, rhyming manners lesson (albeit very charming and not didactic) is made absolutely hysterical by the illustrations of enormous, realistic-but-anthropomorphic dinosaurs in human homes with human parents acting like any young child might! (Also, the name of each dinosaur is incorporated into the drawing somehow, often along the tail, but sometimes as a part of the background picture, like magnets on the fridge.) BoyChild’s current favorite is How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad? and GirlChild likes the jokes in How Do Dinosaurs Laugh Out Loud?

These are some of BoyChild’s favorites! If you happen to know of any light-reading dinosaur books for little ones with an early interest or if you know of any good dinosaur books for the very young with more of a scientific bent, leave a comment!

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Themed Third Thursday: Grandparents Edition

My father officially retired at the beginning of this month after about a billion years (more or less–probably less) working for a local John Deere store. (Both GirlChild and BoyChild know that–in our family, at least!–the only real tractor is a stunning green!) In honor of his newly-free grandparenthood, I’m reviewing books this month about grandparents! (Also, this gives you tons of time to find that perfect book about grandparents before Grandparents’ Day in September!)

How to Babysit a GrandpaHow to Babysit a Grandpa, by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish (2012): As every little boy knows, sometimes he will have to babysit his grandfather. (*winkwink*) This little boy gives tips for what to do when a grandpa arrives (hide, then surprise him!), how to entertain him, what to feed him, and what to do during his naptime. Even BoyChild knows that you can’t just wait for a grandpa to wake up–you might have to yell, “Wake up, sleepyhead!” or crow, “Croc-o-dile-doo!” (BoyChild still isn’t great with the cockadoodledoo noise…) so that you can get cleaned up before your parents return! Saying goodbye is made easier when you give hugs and kisses, a picture you drew as a gift, and a request to babysit again soon. Cute illustrations complement the realistic depictions of what might go on in a little boy’s head while a grandpa is babysitting. I just might have to buy this book for BoyChild and his grandpas to read together, especially since my parents will be staying with our kids for a few days next month! (Also recently published by the author, How to Babysit a Grandma!)

Spot Visits his Grandparents, Spot Visits his Grandparentsby Eric Hill (1995): A typical Spot lift-the-flap book, this book follows Spot as he visits his grandparents and gets into some mischief with his grandfather (which they hide from his grandmother) while they are outside working in the garden and playing. Spot happens to find a ball in the garden that had belonged to his mother, and he happily shares his discovery with her when he returns home.

The Napping HouseThe Napping House, by Audrey Wood and Don Wood (1984): The cumulative nature of the story, where everything starts on a rainy day with a napping house and a cozy bed, leads to listener participation and prediction, and the illustrations (gently listing toward the reader as each page is turned, a subtle shift in perspective I didn’t even notice until almost the end of the book) provide comprehension clues and endless detail that make rereadings even more fun. This classic book has aged beautifully–while many children’s books get dated because of the illustrations, these are absolutely timeless! This was actually the first time I read this book to my children (I don’t know why!), and GirlChild was the first to be able to predict which napper would join the pile next, but BoyChild’s sharp eyes were the ones who figured out the flea! (GirlChild also predicted that the bed would break…but she was several pages too early in her prediction. :) )

My Pop Pop and Me, My Pop Pop and Meby Irene Smalls, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson (2006): Onomatopoeia, repetition, and rhyme characterize this book about a little boy baking with his beloved Pop Pop. The illustrations are brimming over with the joyful togetherness of boy and grandfather, and they even clean up after themselves! The book includes a recipe for the Lemon Bar Cake Bake that they are making together in the book. The author has also written My Nana and Me, but I wasn’t able to find a copy of that title to review!

I'm Going to Grandma'sI’m Going to Grandma’s, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (2007): The little girl who is going to Grandma’s is very excited and enjoys time with her grandma and grandpa and the puppy, but she starts to get nervous as bedtime nears. Her grandmother shares with her the story of the patchwork quilt on her bed, how it was made by her grandmother’s grandmother out of pieces of outgrown clothing, and each patch had a story to tell. The little girl then peacefully drifts off to sleep, dreaming of a story quilt all her own. The rhyme scheme in this book has an AAAB, CCCB, DDDB continuing pattern throughout (each page ending with a word that rhymes with “night”), so it would likely make a good mentor text for teaching that sort of continuity in a multi-stanza poem. Mary Ann Hoberman is also the author of the You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You books and several poetry compilations.

Sleepover at Gramma’s House, Sleepover at Gramma's Houseby Barbara Joose, illustrated by Jan Jutte (2010): A little elephant girl is really excited to go visit her gramma because they “love each other so.” She and her grandmother do all sorts of silly and irresponsible things together, and they end the day sitting on the porch swing listening to a summer storm because “the very best way to fall asleep is inside a hug.” I would recommend this as a read-aloud suitable for preschoolers to early elementary, but the unusual vocabulary and flow of the text and the punctuation irregularities might make it difficult for the intended audience to read independently.

Grandpa GreenGrandpa Green, by Lane Smith (2011): Lane Smith may be best known for his illustrations for books by Jon Scieszka (at least to me!), but he is also the author-illustrator of other titles, like The Happy Hocky Family and It’s a Book. This book–a 2012 Caldecott Honor recipient–is very different from his usual bizarre humor, however. It is written as a child telling about his great-grandfather’s life, but the life events are illustrated as topiary trees that the boy is helping tend in an elaborate garden. The great-grandfather apparently uses the garden to help him remember the things that his advanced age would otherwise cause him to forget. The last touching illustration shows the little boy beginning to create his own topiary to help him remember: a life-sized version of his great-grandfather.

What! Cried Granny: An Almost Bedtime Story, What! Cried Grannyby Kate Lum, pictures by Adrian Johnson (1998): Patrick goes to his granny’s house for an overnight trip, but as Granny tries to send him to bed, he realizes he’s missing one thing after another–from a bed to a teddy bear–and his overzealous grandmother hand-crafts each missing item in this tall-tale of a bedtime delay story. (She actually shears some sheep, spins the yarn, knits a blanket, and dyes it when it becomes clear he has no blanket to tuck under his chin.) In the end, he’s lacking nothing…but it’s already daylight again. Poor Granny. (BoyChild didn’t like that she cries at the end!)

Singing with Momma LouSinging with Momma Lou, by Linda Jacobs Altman, illustrations by Larry Johnson (2002): Tamika doesn’t really like visiting Momma Lou in the nursing home every Sunday. Momma Lou used to be her confidante, but now that her grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, she has to remind Momma Lou who she is every time she comes in. After one particularly unhappy visit, Tamika’s father shares with her a scrapbook of her grandmother’s photographs and newspaper clippings, and Tamika decides to try to connect with her again through these mementos. She starts with the picture of Momma Lou holding Tamika as a baby and ends with sharing the clipping of Momma Lou and fellow protesters in jail after a civil rights demonstration. After that last one, Momma Lou no longer has any lucid moments, but Tamika takes the memory of that clipping and sings “We Shall Overcome,” the song they sang in jail and in the nursing home sitting room as they remembered the event, to make herself feel happier when she’s sad.

Zero Grandparents (A Jackson Friends Book), Zero Grandparentsby Michelle Edwards (2001): Second grader Calliope James is unhappy to find that her class will be celebrating Grandparents Day the next week since she no longer has any grandparents. She struggles with her feelings of embarrassment and exclusion, refusing her friends’ offers to share their grandparents with her. Finally, she finds a solution in sharing about one of her grandmothers, the one whom she most resembles and whose picture and belongings she brings to class with her, and her friends’ grandmothers tell her how proud her grandma would have been of her. The second of three books in the Jackson Friends series.

Whether your child calls his or her grandparents Grandma and Grandpa, Meemaw and Pawpaw, Nana and Papa, Oma and Opa, or any regional, language, or family variation in between, sharing these books about grandparents is a great way to keep their grandparents fresh in their minds and on their hearts! (There are a million other great books about grandparents out there, I know! Share some of your favorites in the comments!)

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