Monthly Archives: December 2015

Themed Third Thursday: Books Get Meta

meta- : Describing or showing an awareness of the activity that is taking place or being discussed; self-referential

Books getting meta. Books about books. Books that refer to themselves as books. Books where the characters are aware of being in a book. While my categories may stray from the generally accepted definition of “meta,” these self-aware books and books about books are sure to be page turners for your book-loving readers!

Product DetailsThe Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Snow, illustrated by David Smollin (2003–most recent edition): In this Sesame Street classic book, Grover warns the reader not to continue on with the book because there is a monster at the end of it, and he is scared of monsters! In his distress, he tries everything to avoid getting to the end. Not to worry, however–Grover himself is the monster at the end of the book! I vaguely remember this book from my childhood, and the fact that it is still in print is telling. A great breaking-the-fourth-wall book for preschool and early elementary children, this book is best shared as a read-aloud.

Book! Book! Book!, Book! Book! Book!by Deborah Bruss, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (2001): When the children all go back to school after a summer of fun, the animals on the farm are bored. The hen decides to go looking for something to do, and the other animals follow. When they come upon a building where people with smiles on their faces are exiting, they decide this is the place for finding something to do! (The place is the public library.) The horse thinks the hen is too small to be the one to go in to ask, so he goes in, but all the librarian can hear is “neigh, neigh,” so he leaves sadly. Each of the other larger animals also try, but the librarian can only hear their animal noises. Then the hen, frustrated, determines to go in herself. When she arrives, she starts clucking, “Book! Book! BOOK!” It takes a few tries, but the librarian suddenly realizes that she’s asking for books! She gives her three, and the hen takes them back to the farm with the other animals to read together. Everyone is happy except the frog; he keeps claiming that he’s already “read it!” With a cute story and simple plot, a read-aloud (to emphasize the chicken-y sound of the word “book” in particular) to children as young as preschool would be a crowd-pleaser!

We Are in a Book!We Are in a Book! (An Elephant & Piggie book), by Mo Willems (2010): Gerald the Elephant and Piggie are sitting back to back on the ground when Gerald suddenly notices that someone is looking at them. When Piggie gets up to investigate, coming closer to the reader, they realize that they are being read by a reader! They are very excited and try to get the reader to say the word banana, then they laugh and laugh about it. Piggie offers to let Gerald try it before the book ends, and Gerald is shocked to realize it will end (on page 57, no less). He is distraught over the approaching end, but Piggie comes up with the idea to ask the reader to read the book again to prolong their fun. The book ends semi-abruptly with the two of them hoping their request works (because, after all, having a conclusion to a book where the characters want it to be read in a continuous loop would be counterproductive!). While this is a perfectlly acceptable book for an independent young reader, all the Elephant and Piggie books make amazingly fun read-alouds as well.

The Best Book in the World!, The Best Book in the World!by Rilla (2014): When I looked up this author’s website to see if I could figure out her name (her full name is Rilla Alexander, but the library copy I have has “Rilla, Alexander” like Rilla is the last name!), I discovered that she is primarily an illustrator and graphic designer (which, considering the appearance of the book, didn’t surprise me). I also discovered another of her books (also featuring the character she calls her “alterego, Sozi”) that I really must have–Her Idea! (I was just having a chat with a friend this morning about all the writing ideas I have that I never carry through to completion!) The relevant book to this theme, however, features Sozi as she gets started on a book. With book in hand and a superhero mask over her eyes, she moves through town as she progresses through her book, and then things start to focus in more on the story world she enters. The book states, “Page by page you’re carried away. So let yourself go!” Sozi (whose name isn’t mentioned in the book) travels deep into her book, picking up strange companions on her way. Just as things seem to be getting overwhelming, she takes a moment to “rest [her] eyes” and dozes off. All the characters who populated her book now populate her dreams, and they huddle around her book–The Best Book in the World–as she dreams because of the secret they share: “the story won’t stop…[i]f we go back to the beginning again!”

The Children Who Loved BooksThe Children Who Loved Books, by Peter Carnavas (2012): Angus and Lucy don’t have a lot in the way of personal possessions; in fact, they even live in a camper with their parents instead of a regular home or apartment. What they do have, however, is books. They have so many books, in fact, that they soon overwhelm their tiny living space, and their father hauls them off. In addition to the logistical problems they start having because books were a literal prop in their home, the abundance of space in their house allows a lot of space to form between the members of the family as well. When Lucy brings a book home from the library, they can’t help opening it up and starting to read aloud. They all crowd around the father as he reads, and they read together on the couch late into the night (where they also all fall asleep). Bonded together once again through a shared story, they take their bike out first thing in the morning and head to–you guessed it!–the library for more books. As the last page says, “Angus and Lucy didn’t have very much, but they had all they would ever need.”

What Happened to Marion’s Book?,What Happened to Marion's Book? by Brook Berg, illustrated by Nathan Alsburg (2003): Marion is a hedgehog who loves to read all kinds of books in all kinds of places. She’s looking forward to starting school because her nana said that she should become a librarian some day, and she knows school is the place to start! She is most excited about visiting the library and taking out two books at a time. One morning at breakfast, however, she drops some raspberry jam on her open library book and knows she can’t just leave it there. She tries all kinds of things to fix the red stain (from letting the dog lick it to washing it in the washing machine!), and she even considers donating one of her own books to replace the ruined one, but all of her books have been dirtied because she reads them everywhere. She worries that she doesn’t know how to treat books, will be banned from the library, and will never be able to become a librarian. She finally gets the courage to tell her mom, and her mom tells her that she’ll have to pay to replace the book. When she brings the ruined book back to the school library, the librarian is disappointed, of course, but she gives Marion a tour of the “book hospital” where books are repaired and gives her a bookmark to remind her how to care for books. And, of course, Marion pays for the ruined book and checks out two new ones! (This hit close to home since GirlChild’s milk Thermos leaked in her backpack and spoiled a library book recently!)

Wild About BooksWild about Books, by Judy Sierra, pictures by Marc Brown (2004): In this rhyming story, librarian Molly McGrew accidentally drives the bookmobile to the zoo. Instead of being perturbed by her mistake and their reluctance, Molly starts reading Dr. Seuss aloud to attract a crowd. Soon, all the animals come to check out books (in two senses of the phrase!). The crocodiles enjoy Peter Pan, an elephant reads Dumbo, the pandas request books in Chinese, and then the puns begin! The llamas read The Grass Menagerie, the scorpion leaves stinging reviews of the poems the insects are inspired to write, and the hippo wins a Zoolitzer Prize for her memoir, Mud in my Blood. Then Molly hires some of the construction-minded animals–the beavers in particular–to create a branch library to satisfy their literary needs right there at the zoo. Now that they have their very own zoobrary, it’s sometimes hard to see the animals because “[t]hey are snug in their niches, their nests, and their nooks, [g]oing wild, simply wild, about wonderful books.” This book is a great one not only for introducing the concepts of reading, getting inspired by reading to write, and finding the perfect kind of book for your interests, but it also appeals to little readers who simply like animals and learning new animal names!

Have I Got a Book for You!, Have I Got a Book for You!by Mélanie Watt (2009): Al Foxword is a creature (of some sort, I can’t really place him!) and a salesman. This book serves as an infomercial for itself as Al tries to convince the reader not only that he or she should buy a copy of the book but that he or she should buy multiple copies of the book. He tries every trick of the trade, wheedling and exaggerating, throwing in bonus gifts and deals for buying more than one. When all his efforts seem to have failed, he reminds us of the one big rule of merchandise: “You break it, you buy it!” And the last page is “torn.” Definitely meant to be read aloud by someone with few inhibitions. 😉 (Also, might be a great book to use when teaching information literacy and the tricks advertisers use!)

Wanted: Ralfy Rabbit, Book BurglarWanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar, by Emily MacKenzie (2015): Ralfy Rabbits loves books so much that “one thing led to another,” and he starts actually burgling books from people to get his fix! Unfortunately for Ralfy, Arthur also loves books, and he notices when parts of his well-organized collection start to go missing. Arthur stakes out his bookshelves and sees Ralfy, but no one believes his story about a thieving rabbit, not even the police. That is, I mean, until Ralfy accidentally burgles the home of PC Puddle, the officer to whom Arthur had spoken when he called in his complaint. When Arthur is called in to view a line-up of bunnies wearing “I ❤ Books” shirts, he isn’t sure which rabbit is the robber until a conveyor belt of goodies is passed in front of them, and the only bunny who goes for books instead of the carrots and lettuce offered is Ralfy. Arthur feels sorry for Ralfy because he is only in trouble because he loves books, and he has a great idea of where Ralfy can borrow his fill of books without having to steal them: the library! And Arthur and Ralfy become “best ‘book buddies'” and visit the library together often. Good fun for elementary readers.

The Book that Eats People, The Book that Eats Peopleby John Perry, illustrations by Mark Fearing (2009): I read this aloud to BoyChild, and he was a little concerned about it. Once I realized it wasn’t just a play on words or something, I was a little concerned, too, that young BoyChild would be having nightmares about his books…but it was better to finish and remind him that it was just pretend than to leave him hanging with carnivorous books running through his dreams! Recommended for ages 3-7 on Amazon, I’m going to go ahead and suggest a slightly older crowd despite the relatively small amount of text per page. I’m thinking middle elementary is probably a safer bet what with the book actually eating people and phrases like “it coughed up his bones and they clattered across the floor like wooden blocks” and the like. Sure, it’s darkly hilarious, but that seems like more the sort of thing that children with a stronger grasp on the concept of reality versus fiction might enjoy. Featuring a ton of collage elements and a very cranky-looking book, the visuals are also geared toward the upper end of the suggested age range and beyond. Future fans of the Series of Unfortunate Events would like this book!

Incredible Book Eating BoyThe Incredible Book Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers (2006): Henry loves books, but not in the same way that most people do; he literally devours them. It starts by accident at first, when he mistakenly licks his book instead of his popsicle when he’s distracted. It quickly progresses, however, into tearing into pages and then into whole books and eventually several books at once! He eats all kinds of books–he’s not picky–and finds that he grows smarter and smarter with each one he ingests! Eventually, though, eating all those books so quickly without giving himself time to “digest” them leads to confusion and nausea. Henry stops eating books then, and it takes him a while to figure out what else he can do with his books…and he tries reading them. Just like before, he gets smarter with each book he reads, although this method is slower. Now he reads all the time, and he only occasionally slips back into bad habits (as evidenced by a large “bite” taken out of the last few pages and back cover). The irony and graphic design elements of this book make it better for slightly older picture book readers, middle to upper elementary.

Return of the Library Dragon, Return of the Library Dragonby Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael P. White (2012): Miss Lotty (short for Lotta Scales, we discover), librarian at Sunrise Elementary School, is retiring. As she tries to reassure the students that the new librarian will be as much and more fun, one of the children asks if the new librarian will let them use computers, and her old dragon-ish ways rear their heads briefly as she declares, “Over my dead dragon body!” On her very last day of work, she is greeted in the morning by the unpleasant discovery that IT has arrived, taken all the books, and filled the library with electronics only! Miss Lotty is steaming mad (literally), and the students beg for their books back, listing all the reasons books are still relevant and enjoyable. They also discover, however, how enticing technology can be, and Mike Krochip (the IT guy) crows that soon the kids will forget all about books in a month! Miss Lotty loses her temper, and everyone flees, but they warn the young woman in the hallway that the “librarian’s a real dragon!” This young woman, it turns out, is the new librarian, and she is the same woman who, as a child twenty years prior, had convinced Miss Lotty to shed her draconic book-lending practices in the first place. (You have to read the short newspaper article in the front matter for this to make any sense, actually, so don’t skip it!) Molly reassures Miss Lotty that the books will be returned because she insisted that they remain as a condition of her employment, and completely replacing books with technology makes her feel a little dragon-ish as well. The last page shows an image of Miss Molly at her desk with children, books, and a sign proclaiming Technology Free Tuesday–striking a balance between printed and electronic resources. This is apparently the second book about the Library Dragon, so reading The Library Dragon first would be an alternative to making sure the newspaper article page gets read. Quotes on reading, books, librarians, and information technology fill the end papers. The controversy about technology and the proliferation of punny names and book titles probably wouldn’t register with younger readers, so I’d suggest a middle elementary to upper elementary audience for this book.

It's a BookIt’s a Book, by Lane Smith (2010): This book is more for big kids and adults than it is for the picture book crowd (particularly if you don’t want to read/have your kid read the word “jackass” for comedic effect–just giving you a heads-up here!). It features a mouse, a jackass, and a monkey. The monkey is reading a book (with the mouse under his hat, for some reason), and the jackass is using a laptop. The jackass keeps asking the monkey if his book can do some thing that the laptop does (scroll down, connect to wi-fi, play music, etc.), and the monkey keeps responding with, “No, it’s a book” (or some variation on that theme). Then the monkey hands his book over so the jackass can see for himself, and the jackass gets totally absorbed to the point of not wanting to give it back. When the monkey gives in and lets him keep it (he’s going to the library anyway), the jackass offers to charge it up for him when he’s done. That’s when the mouse says, “You don’t have to…it’s a book, jackass.” So, a book that might have been fun to read with small children of the digital generation kind of gets fouled up with a double entendre. If you don’t care and wish to share it with your children anyway, that’s fine; it’s a clever book! If that’s a little more mature than you like to go with your child’s vocabulary (or if you’re a school teacher and probably shouldn’t), you can try It’s a Little Book for the same kind of cleverness but in a board book without the words to make children giggle (and with contents suited for an even younger set).

Books for Older Kids that I Wish I’d Had a Chance to Actually Read and Review Properly But Didn’t:

Secrets of the Book, Secrets of the Bookby Erin Fry (2014, upper elementary): This book features a book called Pandora’s Book which is full of images of positively influential historical people that the guardian of the book can bring to life. That there is a shady man who has a book called Pandora’s Other Book suggests that infamous historical people are included in that book. The heroes of the story are sixth graders: a boy who is losing his sight, another with autism spectrum disorder, and the “resourceful” granddaughter of the previous keeper of the book (who goes missing right after passing the book on).

Archie Greene and the Magician's SecretArchie Greene and the Magician’s Secret, by D. D. Everest (2015, upper elementary): The first in a new series, this book tells the story of Archie Greene, a boy who receives a very old book on his twelfth birthday and learns that he is part of a gifted family given the job of protecting and preserving magical books. Archie himself has some hidden talents as well. The reviews I read suggest that there is a lot of content to process, so this is probably good for a dedicated reader who enjoys the concept of magic hidden in the real world. The summaries made me think strongly of The Librarians show and of Warehouse 13, if you happen to be the adult in charge of selecting books for your tween or early teen and know those series!

Inkheart trilogy, Inkheartby Cornelia Funke (2003, upper elementary to middle school): Meggie’s father, a man who repairs rare books, never reads aloud to her, and she discovers why when one of the characters he accidentally read out of a book (and Meggie’s mother into it) shows up outside their home late one night. This fantasy story starts with the idea that spoken words–particularly words spoken by someone with talent–are powerful, and the three books in the series continue in that vein, and with added elements of the power of skillful storytelling and writing added in, to create a world where a good reader can literally make a book come alive and a good writer can transport you into a book. (I have actually read all of these books, but it was long enough ago that I can’t give a very specific review!)

I know there are many, many more of these books available! Just search the subjects “Libraries–Fiction” and “Books–Fiction” to find a vast selection from which to choose!




Leave a comment

Filed under review, teaching suggestion, theme

BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas 2015

For quick reference, here is a list of all the books from BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas 2015. For an almost-5-year-old boy, this list was a dream come true!

[BoyChild Chooses book list]

1. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, by John Rox, illustrated by Bruce Whatley
2. A Gift for the Christ Child, by Tina Jähnert, illustrated by Alessandra Roberti, translated by Sibylle Kazeroid
3. And Then Comes Christmas, by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jana Christy
4. Just Right for Christmas, by Birdie Black and Rosalind Beardshaw
5. Dinosaur vs. Santa, by Bob Shea
6. Dinosaurs’ Christmas, by Liza Donnelly
7. Where Did They Hide My Presents?: Silly Dilly Christmas Songs, by Alan Katz and David Catrow
8. Carl’s Christmas, by Alexandra Day
9. Twelve Lizards Leaping, by Jan Romero, illustrated by Christine Mau
10. Frosty the Snowman, by Diane Muldrow and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, adapted by Rick Bunsen
11. The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot, illustrated by Ruth Brown
12. McDuff’s Christmas, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers


Leave a comment

Filed under theme

BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 12–McDuff’s Christmas

McDuff's Christmas

McDuff’s Christmas, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (2001)
(previously published as McDuff’s New Friend, 1998)

I’m not a huge fan of Rosemary Wells, but I gave BoyChild free reign on the shelf of Christmas books at the library, and this was one he grabbed for himself (not realizing that the author was also responsible for all the Max and Ruby books we have in our personal library). I do like Susan Jeffers’ work, though, and I was pleasantly surprised by this book (one of several in a series).

McDuff is a West Highland terrier (better known as a Westie) who lives with Fred, Lucy, and the baby. He, Fred, and Lucy are waiting impatiently for Santa to come, concerned that the storm will stop his visit. They all go to bed, but McDuff is woken in the night by a thump. He woofs and wakes up Fred and Lucy, and Fred has to dig him a tunnel to let him outside. McDuff finds nothing and comes back in. This happens a second and a third time, and the third time, McDuff tunnels himself to the garage where the family finds Santa rummaging around for their snow shovel to free his stuck sleigh! Fred and McDuff help Santa dig free while Lucy prepares soup and sandwiches for them. After Santa leaves to finish his duties, they find things in their stockings that are just what they want or need, and McDuff finds a new friend–a tiny black kitten (in a box, not his stocking)! After they open their gifts from Santa, they all fall asleep until Christmas afternoon!

Susan Jeffers’ art is always a blend of realistic and whimsical elements. Swirling snow, glowing bulbs, intricately patterned clothing…the details are soft, the colors bright and welcoming. The perspective changes throughout the pages, sometimes looking down at the scene from above, sometimes from dog level, sometimes with a split frame, sometimes as a two-page spread. McDuff himself sometimes looks more dog-like, and sometimes he has an almost human look to his eyes. From the candy-cane laden bathrobes the adults wear to the windmill pattern on the wallpaper border to the three different sweaters McDuff wears, there is texture and detail to delight the most dedicated of picture-viewing readers. (My personal favorite image is the two-page spread looking down on the brightly lit house in its snow-covered yard.)

This is the kind of book for very young readers and listeners that a parent can read and get a little chuckle, too. From the extremely festive way Fred and Lucy dress (and dress McDuff!) to the humorous exchange between Fred who is feeding the baby (“The baby is full.”) and Lucy who is taking McDuff out for a “walk” (“McDuff is empty.”), there are some things that little readers might not notice but that provide a little comic relief for the adult reader. (I just noticed on another read-through that the text says that Lucy had soup and sandwiches ready, but the table is displaying a large ham, a layered jelly, cookies, pudding, pecan balls, and what appears to be a croquembouche.) BoyChild may not have caught all the visual details the first time through (although I clued him in on the full/empty joke’s meaning), he was able to answer logically when I asked why the family slept all the way until Christmas afternoon–because McDuff kept barking and waking them up all night! I’ve not read the other books in the series, but it might be worth finding for a little BoyChild who loves dogs and all things silly!


Filed under theme

BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 11–The Christmas Day Kitten

The Christmas Day Kitten

The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot, illustrations by Ruth Brown (1986)

We read this one because we are James Herriot fans around this house, and BoyChild originally wanted to pass it up because [SPOILER ALERT] a cat dies. He went back, however, and selected it, and when I said I thought he didn’t want it because it was sad, he said, “I remembered I’m not afraid of anything except being alone.” So the story with a sad part is in!

Based on actual events in the life of James Herriot (the pen name of Al Wight), a country veterinarian in Yorkshire, England, in the 1930s and beyond, the sad parts of veterinary medicine aren’t overlooked. In this story, a stray cat visits the home of Mrs Pickering and her three Basset hounds, but Debbie (the name Mrs Pickering gives the cat) won’t stay around long. One Christmas morning, Mrs Pickering calls Mr Herriot to come to see Debbie at her home because something is very wrong. (Veterinary surgeons were called by the title “Mr” instead of “Dr” in the UK until very recently (March 2015).) Debbie has come to Mrs Pickering’s home in distress and bearing a tiny kitten in her mouth. Although Debbie dies, the kitten is well, and Mrs Pickering keeps him. A year later, Mr Herriot happens to be passing by on Christmas morning on his way home from another call, and Mrs Pickering invites him in. Buster, the kitten from the previous Christmas, is active and playful and brings Mrs Pickering joy. He is, as she says, “the best Christmas present [she’s] ever had!”

The art in this book fits the setting well. The delicate detail of the scenery brings the Yorkshire Dales to life, and the animals are particularly realistic. (Browsing for Ruth Brown‘s illustrations–and discounting the ones where someone mistook her for the American singer/songwriter of the same name!–I see that she has illustrated many books about animals (including a number of James Herriot’s other children’s versions), so they may be a favorite subject for her art!) I really would love to watch this artist (and many others whose art astounds me) do her work so I can see what she does to create such vast and detailed scenes! The kitten on the front cover looks almost like it was stitched in needlepoint because the brush strokes are so tiny. A beautiful book, and a real story of loss and love and finding joy in simple things.

This book may be hard to find, but Amazon reviewers have mentioned that the story itself (minus the pictures) can be found in James Herriot’s Cat Stories and (with at least some pictures) James Herriot’s Treasury for Children.


Filed under theme

BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 10–Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Little Golden Books)

Frosty the SnowmanRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer





Frosty the Snowman, by Diane Muldrow (2013)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, adapted by Rick Bunsen (1998)

These Little Golden Books are the 10-minute read-aloud versions of their respective classic Christmas movies. Since today is my husband’s birthday and I can blame BoyChild’s current obsession with these books on him, I thought today would be a good day to showcase these choices together!

If you’ve seen the movies, you’ve pretty much read the books. The benefit of the books is not having to listen to Rudolph’s nose honking or Hermey’s voice. 😉 (If you really like those sounds, may I recommend The Original Christmas Classics Gift Set dvds? You can hear your fill!) Each book is a condensed version of the story from the movie. Rudolph’s story makes his father seem less horrible (the coach and other young reindeer are still just as mean), but Rudolph’s antlers don’t grow during the wandering-around-alone bit because that’s cut down. (Instead, they apparently sprout between the time Santa asks him to lead the sleigh and take-off! Illustration oops!) If you have a favorite part of the movie, don’t be particularly surprised if it got cut from the picture book version; there’s a good deal of trimming to make the flow and format work. My husband mourns the loss of the “Messy, messy, messy!” line from the Frosty the Snowman one! The art is pretty much straight from the movies as well; Rudolph’s even maintains some of the 3-D feel through some faux-collage texture. The songs are not included, of course, so if that’s your favorite part…get the dvds or be prepared for an impromptu song break while you’re reading!

There really isn’t much to be said about these except to inform you that they exist if you and/or your child happens to be really into old Christmas movies for kids! (These were a gift from a grandma, and BoyChild asks for them so often that even his daddy has gotten tired of reading them to him!)


Filed under review

BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 9–Twelve Lizards Leaping: A New Twelve Days of Christmas

Twelve Lizards Leaping

Twelve Lizards Leaping: A New Twelve Days of Christmas, by Jan Romero Stevens, illustrated by Christine Mau (1999)

BoyChild is getting hard to please this week, but he likes lizards and other creepy critters, so this was a winner!

This book is a Southwestern U.S. version of the traditional English carol. From a quail in a paloverde tree to steaming tamales and the twelve leaping lizards, each day’s gift is something found in that part of the world, and the few people depicted are as diverse as that region actually is as well. The artist has included at least one lizard in each image, interacting with the gift of the day somehow and drawing the art out of the heavily bordered area where the main image is found and across the full page spread to where the text is located. The colors are deep and rich, typical of Southwestern folk art, and the technique the illustrator uses makes these acrylic paintings almost look like murals on a concrete wall. The text mostly fits the rhythm of the song well, with one syllable-heavy exception (luminarias has too many!), and was easy to sing to the tune as I read the book aloud. A little knowledge of Spanish pronunciation might help, but the few Spanish-influenced words (paloverde, pinatas, tamales, and luminarias) are likely simple enough or in common enough use not to be too difficult to say for most.

The desert animals, cowboy themes, and bright colors make this book a good alternative for the sometimes delicate and frilly versions (like the beautiful Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett!) often found to illustrate the traditional version.

Other alternatives:

(other states available!)

(a layered board book version)


Filed under theme

BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 8–Carl’s Christmas

Carl's Christmas

Carl’s Christmas, by Alexandra Day (1990)

In this endearing tale of child neglect…

Wait, no. I’m just kidding. As confused as I was as a child realizing that Nana in Peter Pan was actually a dog (I thought J.M. Barrie was just going overboard with the characterization and apparently missed something important as my mom read it aloud), the idea that people might leave their young children with just a dog for supervision (in fantasy books, at least!) should not continue to surprise me! I’m willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of my son (who thought this book was hilarious)!

Carl is a Rottweiler whose owners apparently entrust him regularly to watch their toddler child (simply called “the baby”) while they go out and about. In this book, they’re off to Grandma’s and church on Christmas Eve. Who would possibly consider bringing a baby to either of those places?! 😉 Other than the first page where the father tells Carl this (and to take good care of the baby), the only other text in the book is environmental print (signs, gift tags, etc.) to help explain certain events in the plot. The rest of the story is told entirely in beautiful oil paintings of the enterprising dog and his trusting charge. Carl gets the baby out of her crib and brings her downstairs to see the Christmas tree, then they decorate a houseplant together. Carl gets the baby ready for an outing, blue snowsuit and purple hat and all. They go downtown to check out the stores, and they win a Christmas basket full of goodies. The baby donates her hat to a bell-ringer dressed as Santa, and a caroler whose group they join gives her a scarf to warm her head again. (By this time, a scruffy stray dog has started following them.) When they see a couple children inside a house checking the fireplace for Santa, they rush home again (where an apparently stray cat is waiting near the door). They all go inside and enjoy a fire, and they fall asleep on the floor (where they are joined by two mice). Carl hears something and wakes up, rushing out the front door to greet his owners…except it’s not them–it’s Santa and his reindeer in the front yard! Carl helps Santa bring in and distribute gifts to all the inhabitants of the house and is given a new collar himself. Then Santa disappears up the chimney, and Carl brings the baby (wearing her brand-new hat to replace the one she gave away) up to bed, settling in for the night on the floor next to her crib.

The paintings really are gorgeous, but BoyChild just thought it was funny that the baby and dog were out and about on their own! I should have had him do the storytelling for this one, but I had forgotten that these books are basically wordless, so I did the narrating myself while I kept expecting more text to come up! (I would have needed to explain the signs or he probably would have thought that Carl stole the Christmas basket and wouldn’t have understood why the baby was giving her hat to the Salvation Army bell-ringer, but I wonder what else he would have noticed to talk about in the pictures!) As long as you don’t fear that you will raise a child who will become an adult who thinks it’s okay to leave just a dog as a babysitter, these are sweet and funny books to share with your early readers and pre-readers! They give many opportunities to apply reading comprehension strategies (previewing, predicting, asking questions, making connections, etc.) despite the lack of words, and this book (or another in the series) may be a good mentor text for teaching some of these strategies without the distraction or intimidation of large blocks of text. Another possible extension for this text would be to have a child illustrate a story of what he or she would do if left alone with a pet in charge! (BoyChild loves our little French bulldog, so this could be a really funny story. He refuses to draw, however, so it might have to be a story he dictates to me instead!)

(Good Dog, Carl is the original, and there are at least ten books in this series!)


Filed under review, teaching suggestion