Monthly Archives: August 2012

Monsters Eat Whiny Children, by Bruce Eric Kaplan

Monsters Eat Whiny Children
Monsters Eat Whiny Children, by Bruce Eric Kaplan
(2010, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-1-4169-8689-8)

My sister and I have a term we use for a certain kind of person; we call them “sincere.” Now, we don’t use “sincere” (in quotation marks) to imply in some way that they are not sincere…because they really are. Really, really sincere. And we like that about them; we do! “Sincere” people are wonderful, caring people who have a lot to offer the world. But they’re hard for us to be around very much because, well, they don’t understand us when we speak with tongue in cheek, and, frankly, that’s the way we talk about half the time. It makes things very hard when you’re pretending to be overwrought because, say, you had to mow your whole! lawn! all by yourself in the heat! of summer! (we can be dramatic like that) and the other person tries to sincerely console you and/or offers to help you mow your yard or something. Then we just feel mean. Or whiny. And that’s totally not how we meant for what we said to be taken. So it’s hard.

Anyway…

I said all that to say this: this book is not for the “sincere” type. Or for families whose children are actually afraid of monsters. Or for families whose children might be afraid of monsters because of this book. They might be scarred for life. It’s for the kind of family whose four-year-old girlchild might flee from her cackling one-year-old brother while dramatically calling, “RUN FOR YOUR LIIIIIIIIIFE!” Or whose young girlchild responded to a situation (like the lawnmowing one above) with a matter-of-fact, “You’ll survive!” before she hit age three. Those kinds of families. My kind of family.

It all begins innocently enough: “Once there were two perfectly delightful children”…and quickly turns a page to: “who were going through a TERRIBLE phase, which is to say they whined ALL day and night.” Their “kindly father” warns them that monsters eat whiny children, but do they listen? No! They keep whining until, one day, a monster comes and steals them away to his lair. The children whine about being made into a salad, and the monster’s wife complains about the salad dressing. When the monster fixes the dressing to her liking, a neighbor comes by and suggests making them into whiny-child burgers instead. The kids start playing quietly with each other (instead of whining) while the monsters (new ones keep arriving) have several other changes of mind and mishaps before they settle on having whiny-child cucumber sandwiches…at which point they realize that the two children have escaped (and also that cucumber sandwiches–for which the recipe is included–are tasty even without whiny children in them). The children return home and never whine again, except sometimes. 🙂

The illustrations are low-detail black ink with a few watercolor accents (such as the red eyes and mouths of the whiny children) on white pages with black ink-line frames. Despite the subject matter, they aren’t particularly scary (unless your child happens to be particularly susceptible to being scared by monsters). The characters are drawn with basic outlines (as seen on the cover art image of the two children peeking out of a pot), but the illustrator manages to convey quite a bit with the expressions and colors used, and that probably comes from a lot of practice as he has been a cartoonist for the New Yorker. (With that bit of information–and the fact that he has also written for the television series Seinfeld and Six Feet Under–you probably ought to know that this is the author’s only book (so far, at least) for children although he has published several other picture books and books of cartoons for adults. I don’t recommend reading those ones to your four-year-old, no matter how precocious!) Sometimes the illustration spans both pages, sometimes there are multiple images per page, and the last page is actually completely blank except for a single sentence at the very bottom right corner of the page. The pictures are fun, but the whole tone of the book is set in the brusque dialogue and offhand way in which monsters who eat children are discussed.

GirlChild’s Reactions: GirlChild found this book hilarious (after first being reminded that monsters aren’t real). She brought the concept back up several times during the rest of the day after we read it, saying things like, “If there were real monsters, maybe they’d eat GOOD kids instead of whiny ones! Hahaha!” (I told her that they probably wouldn’t be that discerning and would probably eat any child they encountered, so she should probably not whine just in case. 😉 ) She even interrupted her own whining later to smirk and slyly say, “I hope the monsters don’t come eat me!” or some similar nonsense. (I do love that crazy girl.) I’d recommend this book for children with a sly sense of humor who might also be in one of those TERRIBLE phases and need to giggle their way out of it.

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Online Resource: Whyzz.com

Readers are thinkers, and thinkers need good answers to their questions! Whyzz (pronounced “wise”) is a website dedicated to answering kids’ questions about the world around them in simple, kid-friendly ways. The information is intended for kids ages 4-8, so parent involvement (as suggested by the tagline “whyzz parents raise wise kids”) is important for helping a child create good search terms, navigating the categories, or deciding how exactly to share with the child the information found based on the child’s needs and maturity. Unlike other random internet search results, the writers for Whyzz include bibliographic information from their research into answers to provide credibility for the information included and write in a manner that is sensitive to children’s needs. Categories include nature, culture, stuff we eat, and serious issues, among others, and there are subcategories within each. Questions can also be searched using keywords or phrases, and the FAQ section gives some hints for searching as well. Additionally, there is a slideshow on the homepage that links to the Answer of the Day, a question and answer from the monthly theme topic, and other relevant features and informational highlights. This website is a great resource for answering some of those questions that we parents (or teachers) might otherwise be tempted to answer with an “I don’t know!” or “Go ask your mother!” ;) (I used it to find out for GirlChild why bird poop is white (a very pressing question for her), the internet search I used that actually led me to stumble across this website!) Also available as an iPhone app for answers on the go!

(A link to this free online resource has been added to the Resources for Readers tab.)

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Themed Third Thursday: Going to School Edition

My second niece (I have six) starts kindergarten next week, so this Themed Third Thursday is dedicated to books about going to school! (Instead of recommended reading ages, I’m putting what the topic of each book is. For instance, I’ll delineate which books are general school themes, which are about starting school, and which are about a specific grade level.)

D.W.'s Guide to Preschool (Arthur Adventures)
D.W.’s Guide to Preschool, by Marc Brown (preschool): For children starting preschool, this Arthur book could be a good introduction. It features the somewhat ambiguous animal characters known from other Arthur books and a pair of human twins (who are the only ones who seem to have any troubles at preschool, except Dennis who once wet his pants) and really seems like a seasoned preschooler guiding a newbie through what preschool is like. I’m not fond of all the Arthur books, but this one seems useful!

Llama Llama Misses Mama
Llama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney (starting school): Llama Llama is shy on his first day of school (presumably preschool, but it doesn’t actually say). He doesn’t want to play, and he finally breaks down during lunch because he misses his mama, and his classmates and teacher help him feel better. When Mama Llama comes to pick him up at the end of the day, he realizes that he loves his mama…and school, too! Also available to read free online at We Give Books. (I love reading the Llama Llama books out loud…so much drama! 😉 )

Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten (Miss Bindergarten Books)
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Ashley Wolff (starting kindergarten): Starting with the illustrations on the title page, we watch Miss Bindergarten (a be-jumpered Border Collie) and her students (twenty-six alphabetically-named animals) prepare for the first day of kindergarten. While the preparation of her once empty classroom is unrealistically done the first morning of school before students arrive, this is possibly the only book I’ve seen where the teacher’s classroom preparations are a focus, and it might do new kindergarteners some good to know that their teachers have been working hard to make the classroom welcoming for them!

On the Way to Kindergarten
On the Way to Kindergarten, by Virginia Kroll, illustrated by Elisabeth Schlossberg (starting kindergarten): This book celebrates the milestones of getting older, from newborn to age five and starting kindergarten. It seems like a good book to encourage a child to be excited about getting bigger and moving on, and it doesn’t mention a single fear or phobia, so that’s a plus for those kids who tend to develop all the fears they hear others have (like GirlChild with Caillou shows–blech!).

Countdown to Kindergarten
Countdown to Kindergarten, by Alison McGhee, pictures by Harry Bliss (starting kindergarten): While this book focuses on one worry children might have in the days leading up to kindergarten (not being able to tie shoes), it would be a great way to start a discussion to find out from your child what worries he or she has about starting school and correct any misconceptions before they get blown out of proportion.

Franklin Goes To School
Franklin Goes to School, by Paulette Bourgeois, illustrated by Brenda Clark (starting kindergarten): Okay, so this is not actually written and illustrated by these people, but it’s part of the series, and I’ve seen the television equivalent which seems pretty good as well. It starts with going over some things that Franklin can do (count by twos and tie his shoes, etc.), then showing that he’s still worried about kindergarten, especially once his friends start talking about what they can do. At school, however, the teacher (Mr. Owl) finds out that Franklin knows his colors and is a bit of an artist, and that gives Franklin the confidence to try other things. Another good book for discussing what concerns your child about kindergarten (especially if it has to do with skills).

The Berenstain Bears Go to School (First Time Books(R))
The Berenstain Bears Go to School, by Stan and Jan Berenstain (starting kindergarten): You can’t have a “firsts” theme without including the Berenstain Bears! For fans of the series, this is a good starting school book that doesn’t focus too much on worries, although Sister Bear does think about the things at home that she will miss. She has just a little case of the jitters, and then she has a great time at school.Elizabeti's School
Elizabeti’s School, by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Christy Hale (starting school): Elizabeti is eager to start school, but she begins to worry about how they’ll get along without her at home. She enjoys her day but misses her family, so she decides that she doesn’t want to go back to school the next day. In the end, however, she decides that she’ll “give school another try, but home [is] surely the best place to be.” And it is. But school is worth a try, too. 🙂Fisher-Price Little People Let's Go to School
Fisher-Price Little People: Let’s Go to School, by Doris Tomaselli, illustrated by SI Artists (school): This lift-the-flap book walks through some basic parts of a school day (as well as a school play) while letting children practice opposites, counting, feeling words, shapes and colors, and action words. While I think showing lunch time or a lesson might have been a better choice than the school play in regards to a normal school day, the feeling words probably worked better in the play setting than they would have in either of the other scenes.School Bus
School Bus, by Donald Crews (riding the bus): Donald Crews books are a staple in every library picture book collection, and this basic rehearsal of the comings and goings of school buses might be a good introduction to a young student who has to ride the bus for the first time. The simple description begins with school buses all parked in the bus lot, then shows them moving throughout town during the routine of a school day, ending with them all parked in the lot again.Topsy and Tim Start School
Topsy and Tim Start School, by Jean and Gareth Adamson (starting primary [elementary] school, see here for an explanation of the British naming system): Topsy and Tim move up from playgroup (what seems to be kind of like preschool, not the informal playgroups we often see in the U.S.) to primary school with both excitement and some trepidation about the big kids. Some things are very much like their playgroup, and although they find they already know some children in their class, they meet new friends, too.The Night Before First Grade (Reading Railroad)
The Night Before First Grade, by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Deborah Zemke (starting first grade): Penny, the first-person narrator, tells the story of starting first grade (in the style of “The Night Before Christmas”) with her best friend. She gets put into a different class from her friend, but she finds a new girl, Nina, to befriend and is eager to introduce her to her pal Jenny at lunch…and is surprised to find that Jenny has a new friend to share, too: Nina’s twin sister, Tina! You can read it for free online at We Give Books.Surviving the Applewhites
Surviving the Applewhites, by Stephanie S. Tolan (homeschooling, sort of): This Newbery Honor book is probably not particularly representative of your average homeschooling situation (okay, unschooling is probably the closest, and even that is likely not as unstructured as the Applewhite family version!), but it is a charming book that does feature first-time homeschooling (of bad boy Jake, an experimental “guest” of the family after his expulsions from traditional schools) as a major plot point. It is best suited for upper elementary and middle school readers since the main characters are early teens and there are references to negative behaviors by Jake and his parents (not glorified, however). (If you know of any well-written children’s books about homeschooling, please share! I’d love a “My First Day of (Home)School” type book to review, and I really didn’t have any luck finding another story that was mostly about homeschooling!)

Does anyone have any other books that they’d recommend? I mentioned The Kissing Hand in last month’s Themed Third Thursday, and I know that one is a pretty standard starting-school book, but what other good ones have I missed? Share in the comments!

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Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

I picked this book up because I saw it as a recommendation when I was researching another book and it happened to be on the new books display at my library this week. I’m glad I did.

Wonder


Wonder, by R.J. Palacio (2012, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-375-86902-0)

This isn’t a review so much as a book recommendation. I can’t say I’m an expert in the topic (a ten-year-old boy born with “mandibulofacial dysostosis…complicated by a hemifacial microsomia” (both of which involve visibly severe structural problems of the face) attends school for the first time after being homeschooled through fourth grade due to frequent surgeries and illnesses as a result of his congenital problems), but as a parent and a former fifth grade teacher, this book struck me as an important read for upper elementary students. It’s both funny and heartbreaking as Auggie, his older sister, and a selection of their friends and classmates pick up narration (often overlapping part of what the previous narrator discussed) of Auggie’s fifth grade year at Beecher Prep and his struggles to find his way to be ordinary in a world where no one else seems to be able to see him that way. The subject matter, although heavy, is dealt with–in my mind, at least–delicately yet authentically. I read it way too fast, so I know I probably missed a lot of the nuances, but there were several parts where I just had to put the book down and cry. So, yeah, despite not having the experiences necessary to be a real judge of whether this book is true-to-life (although the reviews I’ve read from people who should know say it is), I have to recommend it. I believe you won’t look at anyone quite the same way again.

(Please, if you’ve read the book and have something you feel needs to be said about it, comment below, especially if you’ve read it with your child or if you’re the parent of a child facing this kind of struggle. I’d love to hear what you think.)

UPDATE (August 28, 2012): A friend of mine (whose son was born with craniosynostosis that required surgery and a temporary helmet) posted about the Children’s Craniofacial Association‘s September 2012 “Craniofacial Acceptance Month” on her Facebook page. This site and the FACES: The National Craniofacial Association site share photographs and information about a variety of craniofacial disorders as well as ways people can help these organizations offer support to the families of children affected. If this book moved you, perhaps you might choose to support one of these associations as a way to reach out!

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