Tag Archives: Mo Willems

Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 2000-2009

Themed Third Throwback Thursday this month will clearly require some throwing back as it is not being posted anywhere near the third Thursday (despite the fact that I got it to post as being published over a week ago!)…I hope you can forgive me for that! 😉

Again, we’re definitely in a time frame where “classic” or “lasting” is a relative term, so I enlisted the help of my local children’s librarian to find out what books from this decade already have a following among young readers. This list reflects her suggestions as well as my own experience with and guesses based on what kind of children’s books have been, in the past, popular in the long term.

Newbery Medalists of the decade are:

2000–Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis
2001–A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck
2002–A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park
2003–Crispin: The Cross of Lead, by Avi
2004–The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, by Kate DiCamillo
2005–Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata
2006–Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins
2007–The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron
2008–Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz
2009–The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

The Caldecott Medalists are:

2000–Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Taback
2001–So You Want to Be President?, by Judith St. George, illustrated by David Small
2002–The Three Pigs, by David Wiesner
2003–My Friend Rabbit, by Eric Rohmann
2004–The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordecai Gerstein
2005–Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes
2006–The Hello, Goodbye Window, by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka
2007–Flotsam, by David Wiesner
2008–The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
2009–The House in the Night, by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes

Kate DiCamilloBecause of Winn-DixieHer first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, was published in 2000, was named a Newbery Honor in 2001, and was made into a movie in 2005. The Tale of Despereaux, her 2004 Newbery Medalist, became an animated film in 2008. She won the Newbery a second time in 2015 with Flora & Ulysses (featured in my post about superhero books). However, middle grade fiction is not her only strength! My kids both enjoy her funny Mercy Watson series (GirlChild as an easy independent read, BoyChild as a Tumblebook read-along!), an early chapter book, and she’s also tried her hand at a couple picture books. She often tackles tough topics that kids can understand (divorce, loneliness, homelessness, etc.) and empowers her characters to overcome their circumstances and be the heroes of their own stories. The consistent quality of her works suggest that longevity is almost inevitable!

Neil GaimanThe first Gaiman Coralinebook I encountered was actually Stardust, through the movie (recommended by my sister, whom I shall call “Marian the Librarian” (if I haven’t already done so) since she is a youth services librarian in a public library), published in 1999 (and definitely a YA or above book–not for readers younger than high school). He has an extensive bibliography, however, that starts in the mid-80s and continues to now and is primarily in the speculative fiction genre. Many of his efforts are in comics and adult literature, often short stories or poetry, but shortly after Stardust, he started publishing more child-friendly books (although most still with an edge). Some of my favorites for middle elementary to middle school are Coraline (although I can’t look at the illustrations for long!) and The Graveyard Book (the Newbery Medalist which I experienced as an audiobook read to perfection by the author). And of his picture books, I enjoyed The Wolves in the Walls and loved Chu’s Day (as did my children). He seems to be the kind of author that will continue to be read far into the future!

Lemony SnicketSeries of Unfortunate EventsI started purchasing The Series of Unfortunate Events for my classroom shortly after the first book was published in 1999. By the time I was done teaching 5th grade in 2007, the series had been completed. I remember picking up most of them from the Scholastic book order, but the last few were purchased at a local bookstore when I couldn’t wait for them to come out in paperback! Wikipedia suggests “mock-gothic” as a genre, and a setting is hard to nail down. (It feels almost steampunk to me with its Victorian vibe and a variety of anachronistic technologies, but it is less focused on the technology than on the woe the main characters face near-constantly.) Another term Wikipedia uses is “absurdist”–the characters seem like Gothic caricatures, villains and heroes alike, and the plot events are often sadly absurd. Snicket’s understated melodrama and dire and dreary commentary are hallmarks of his work. Some children read the books and get depressed; others (like me) find the understated absurdity to be absolutely hilarious. Besides the author’s other prolific writings, the series has been translated into many languages and is in the process of being made into a second movie.

Mo WillemsMo Willems‘ first books for childrenDon't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! came about after a stint as a writer and animator on Sesame Street; he decided to become a stay-at-home dad to his daughter, Trixie (who became the protagonist in his Knuffle Bunny series). Between his Pigeon books, Knuffle Bunny, and Elephant and Piggie books, it’s hard to believe that there are any youthful readers who haven’t come across and enjoyed something he has written! (My children strongly adore all of his works and are mesmerized by the Scholastic animated versions they got from Grandma! I wrote about how much we adore him in a Themed Third Thursday post a few years ago.) He received Caldecott Honors for Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, and Knuffle Bunny, Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity.

I feel like I’m overlooking someone (or a few someones!) really talented and prolific with a strong body of work in this decade, and I’d love it if you’d help me out by telling me in the comments about the authors/series from this decade that have the potential to make a lasting impression on children’s literature!




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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!



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Themed Third Thursday: My Bin of Books


So, illness and vacations kept us away from the library this past month, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have plenty to read! This month, I’ll give you a glimpse into my living room where there is always a bin of child-chosen books ready to read! (There’s not enough space in a single blog entry to cover the books on the shelf in the kids’ closet or the giant IKEA shelving unit in my bedroom…)

Knuffle Bunny, by Mo WillemsKnuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems (2004): The first book we purchased for GirlChild while she was still in utero, Knuffle Bunny’s tale of a beloved stuffed animal, mundane family tasks, and a child’s first words pretty much makes me cry every time still. GirlChild reads it to BoyChild now, and he chimes in for the “WAAAAA!” and points out facial expressions. We have three Scholastic videos of Mo Willems’ works (including this one), and the book and video remain favorites.

Margret & H.A. Rey’s Curious George’s Curious George's First Day of SchoolFirst Day of School, illustrated in the style of H.A. Rey by Anna Grossnickle Hines (2005): George goes to school on the first day to be a special helper, and he does help with many things. When he “helps” mix the paint, though, he makes a big mess. George feels bad about the mess, and the children feel bad for George, so they all chip in to help clean up the mess. George is invited to come back any time.

Alphabet RescueAlphabet Rescue, by Audrey Wood and Bruce Wood (2006): Charley’s Alphabet decides to take a trip to Alphabet City (where they were made) while Charley takes a trip to visit his grandparents. The lower case letters set out to try to rescue things with a little firetruck they fix up (after their first attempt at practicing fire-fighting with the capital letters fails), and they help M, u, and d wash a car and rescue c, a, and t from a tree. When the capital letters in their firetruck blow a tire as they head toward a fire at the letter-making factory, the little letters invite the capitals on board their truck and race to the fire. They rescue all the trapped letters, and the city throws a celebratory parade in their honor. They then return home to Charley to help him write his thank-you note to his grandparents for a good trip.

Alphabet Under Construction, Alphabet Under Construction, by Denise Flemingby Denise Fleming (2002): Mouse is very industrious, and he goes through the alphabet doing things like airbrushing the A, carving the C, and erasing the E. Uses a good variety of craft and construction related verbs with illustrations to help show the meaning of the words. The art is unusual in that it was “created by pouring colored cotton fiber through hand-cut stencils.” The last page shows Mouse’s work schedule calendar on which he has crossed off all the letters.

Barbie: Horse Show ChampBarbie: Horse Show Champ (Step Into Reading, Step 1, Ready to Read), by Jessie Parker, illustrated by Karen Wolcott (2009): Barbie gets out of bed on the day of the horse show, eats a big breakfast, and brings an apple to her horse, Tawny. Barbie prepares Tawny and herself for the show and tells her she hopes they win a blue ribbon. Tawny does well until she shies at a jump, but she tries again for Barbie and makes it. They end up with a white ribbon and a trophy.

How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read?, How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read?by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (2003): Although learning to read can be frustrating and requires following some basic book-care rules, little dinosaurs who stick with it and treat books respectfully learn to love to read!

Product DetailsWhisper the Winged Unicorn: Journey to Julie’s Heart, concept by Amber Milligan, written by Christopher Brown and Jill Wolf, illustrated by Tom Kinarney (1986): Although this was published when I was but a wee lass, I have to admit that I do not recall having read this book. (It belonged to GirlChild’s aunt and came to our house with a collection of other old books from Grandma and Grandpa Florida [not their real names, clearly].) GirlChild, however, loves it enough to keep it upstairs with the books for frequent perusal, and I’m betting that the fact that 1980s cover illustration might make a little girl’s heart feel all warm and snuggly, along with a winged unicorn as a main character and Julie’s father being a veterinarian like GirlChild’s probably round out the reasons why a not-too-picky reader would choose this one as a current favorite. (The image here is not the same book, but it is the same series. If you click the image, though, it will bring you to a customer image of the actual book we have!)

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovelby Virginia Lee Burton (1939): It doesn’t matter to BoyChild that steam shovels have gone out of style…he loves any books about diggers! In this classic title, Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, look for jobs to do when steam shovels are being replaced by electric and gasoline and Diesel shovels, and they find one in Popperville digging the cellar for the new town hall. They work faster and better as they collect an audience, and as the sun sets, they finish…but find themselves deep in the cellar without a way to get out. The people of Popperville decide to let them stay, Mary Anne converted to a furnace for the town hall and Mike as the janitor, and they live happily ever after right where they did their last digging job.

Lalaloopsy: Chasing RainbowsLalaloopsy: Chasing Rainbows, by Jenne Simon, illustrated by Prescott Hill (2014): Several of the inhabitants of Lalaloopsyland are spending a rainy day indoors when the rain stops and a rainbow appears. They have heard that there are surprises at the ends of rainbows, so they go out looking. Each time they think they’ve found the end of the rainbow, they encounter another friend who joins them as they see that the rainbow actually continues. Eventually they run into Bea, the resident librarian, and she tells them that a rainbow is actually a circle, so they’ll never find the end. (This, contrary to other things Bea finds in her library, is actually true.) They decide to celebrate the rainbow with a picnic even though they never found the end.

Cars 2: Travel Buddies, Travel Buddiesillustrated by Andrew Jimenez, Harley Jessup, and Jason Merck (2012): Lightning McQueen and Mater take a “shortcut” on the way home from the race in London, and they end up visiting ten different countries before finally arriving back on the mainland and home.

Doggies, by Sandra BoyntonDoggies: A Counting and Barking Book, by Sandra Boynton (1984): Ten different dogs (and one cat!) and a variety of different dog noises make up the pages of this silly counting book by my favorite board book author! BoyChild, despite aging out of the board book crowd at age three and a half, still loves to hear me woof my way through this one!

My Big Book of Trucks & Diggers, My Big Book of Trucks & Diggersby Caterpillar (2011): It might be clear that BoyChild is the one home most often to read books in the living room by this selection of titles, and this book is no exception. Each spread shows a different work vehicle with four smaller images of different labeled parts of that digger or truck on the facing page. Nothing makes BoyChild happier than knowing the specific words for obscure things, and this book is the reason that “ess-cuh-vay-tor” was one of his first multi-syllabic words after turning two!

Mele the Crab Finds the Way OutMele the Crab Finds the Way Out, written by Gail Omoto with Jan and Judy Dill, illustrated by Garrett Omoto (2007): Financed by a grant from the United States Department of Education and as a publication of the Partners in Development Foundation, this Hawaiian book is a story-with-a-moral. It tells of Mele (“merry”) the Crab who is used to getting her way by force, and she doesn’t care who she hurts to do it. When she gets caught by fishermen and put in a bucket with other crabs, she is frightened because they fight against her escape. When she remembers what her grandmother taught her about putting others first, she comes up with a plan to help the others out first, then escape herself. When she learns to put others first, she discovers the joy of friendship and taking turns. This book was purchased by GirlChild’s globe-trotting aunt (the same one with the winged unicorn book in her childhood library) while she was in Hawaii and comes with an audio cd of the story as well (which helps since Hawaiian words aren’t all easy to pronounce!).

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, by Mo Willemswords and pictures by Mo Willems (2006): The preschool-like Pigeon is supposed to be getting to bed, but he comes up with all kinds of excuses and reasons why he doesn’t need to…until he conks out mid-explanation! Like every Mo Willems book, tons and tons of fun for little listeners–my children like to read this one together.

Llama Llama Misses MamaLlama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney (2009): GirlChild got this one almost two years ago, but they like hearing Llama Llama read aloud almost as much as their mama likes reading it! Llama Llama is dramatically upset about being left for the first time at preschool, but he comes to realize that it’s okay to like school and your mama!

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, Product Detailsby Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld (2011): Quite possibly BoyChild’s favorite book (he found it at the library at the same time as he found the Trucks & Diggers book, and we had to get them both for him at Christmas that year because the library’s copy was always at our house!), this story tells about the diggers getting ready for bed after a hard day’s work at the construction site. He can quote vast sections of it as he pages through on his own due to frequent rereadings with anyone he can snag!

Mudshark, by Gary PaulsenMudshark, by Gary Paulsen (2009): This book was a gift from Santa at GirlChild’s Breakfast with Santa at school, and we haven’t read it yet. It’s not in the same vein as Hatchet and many of Paulsen’s other works, but this one seems funnier and less dramatic than those and well suited for a younger readership (but probably still older than my kids) than some of those intense titles. We’ll give it a whirl before it gets relegated to the boxes with my boxes of fifth grade classroom books, though!

Viking Ships at Sunrise (Magic Tree House #15), Viking Ships at Sunrise (Magic Tree House #15)by Mary Pope Osborne (1998): I’ve not actually read this one (it was another gift from Santa at GirlChild’s Breakfast with Santa), but, like every other Magic Tree House book, it uses fantasy and time travel to help young children explore history and legend. Peppered with facts and trivia and with an extra list of facts at the end, if a child is particularly interested in a topic in one of these books, many of them have associated research guides for further factual information! I haven’t yet gotten GirlChild into these books, but I’m hoping to do so…historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and fantastical historical fiction is a great way for kids to ease into the craziness of history!

Besides the books, we also have several magazine subscriptions in the bin: American Girl, Clubhouse Jr., Highlights, and High Five!

While you may not care for all the titles we have here (and you can probably tell which of these aren’t my personal favorites!), it’s always great to have a selection of books for browsing out and available so your children get used to the presence of books in their lives and it’s easy to just grab something and get sucked in!




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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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Don’t Let the Pigeon Be Your Cake!

Don't Let the Pigeon Be Your Cake!

This cake is an homage to Mo Willems‘ Pigeon books which BoyChild loves! This is his cake for his third birthday, and he now owns all the Scholastic storybook DVDs for the Pigeon books (and can quote The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! all the way through with GirlChild). (By the way, if you’re hoping to recreate this most awesome of cakes, it’s just a basic box of cake mix made into two 8 inch rounds and one cupcake. Frosted with Rick’s Special Buttercream Frosting (made with half butter-flavored Crisco and half unsalted butter for the shortening) tinted with Wilton’s Sky Blue food coloring gel (and I was a little heavy-handed with it, so it’s a little brighter than it ought to be) and basic yellow food coloring for the beak, I added the eye by making marshmallow fondant (subbing in marshmallow creme for the marshmallows and water, eliminating the vanilla (to keep it white), and mixing it all in a stand mixer), cutting it out with a coffee mug, and using a dab of frosting to attach an Oreo (or Oreo-like substitute) to the center. The beak is a cupcake cut in half with a little trimmed off each half to make it flat and frosted on all exposed sides (most before attaching it to the side of the cake with a toothpick in each part).) Pretty easy and totally fun, it’s a must for any Pigeon-themed party!


March 15, 2014 · 8:40 pm

Themed Third Thursday: Mo Willems

Mo Willems (not Williams…check the pronunciation here!) has been a favorite at our house before GirlChild was even born. (In fact, I chose to review Knuffle Bunny for a class in library school so that I had a good reason to purchase it for our baby’s library!) A former writer and animator for Sesame Street, Mr. Willems’ quirky humor has delighted small readers since at least 2003, when Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! was published (and was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2004). (If you view his bibliography in the FAQs on his webpage, you’ll notice credits for several comic books that are written earlier and for a presumably older crowd as well.) All that said, GirlChild and all her similarly aged cousins received a Scholastic Storybook Treasures DVD set for Christmas from my parents–Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals–and it reminded me that everyone should know about his work, so here is a Mo Willems themed Thursday for your enlightenment!

Knuffle Bunny series: Trixie is based on Willems’ real-life daughter, and these books are cute, realistic stories of a girl and her constant companion, Knuffle Bunny (and her mommy and daddy who love her).Knuffle Bunny12.25'' I cry at the end of every one, every time!

  • Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (2004)–When toddler Trixie and her daddy go on an errand to do laundry, Knuffle Bunny gets a little lost,  Trixie’s daddy saves the day, and Trixie speaks her first words! This was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2005.
  • Knuffle Bunny, Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity (2007)–Trixie experiences a disagreement and a mix-up with a classmate who has her own Knuffle Bunny (or K’nuffle Bunny)!
  • Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion (2010)–Trixie loses Knuffle Bunny on an international flight to Holland to visit her grandparents, and after some time spent without her Knuffle Bunny, Trixie is able to make a hard decision that proves she’s growing up.

The Pigeon books:Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus - Plush Stuffed Animals (with Voice)  The Pigeon has strong emotions and doesn’t always handle them well. That said, he’s kind of funny when he loses it! Great for preschool to early elementary children.

  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (2003)–The bus driver entrusts the reader to keep the Pigeon from driving his bus while he’s away. The reader is expected to fill in the blanks of the conversation (the Pigeon and bus driver both address the reader directly) by interacting with the characters, so this is a fun read for small children (especially those who like to say, “NO!”). This was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2004.
  • The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! (2005)–The Pigeon demonstrates his crazy emotions in this board book.
  • The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? (2012)–The Pigeon is upset that the Duckling gets the cookie he asks for because the Pigeon NEVER gets what he asks for! Kids get a peek at the Pigeon learning about manners and being unselfish.

CCat The Catat the Cat books: Cat the Cat and her similarly named friends (like Duck the Duck and Sheep the Sheep) have repetitive fun with a twist as they encounter one another (and a lot of rhyme) through the pages of each book. Pages feature large, colorful pictures, one brief sentence, and an occasional speech bubble. Perfect for preschoolers and very early readers because of the picture clues and repetitive text.

Elephant 7Elephant & Piggie books: This early reader series features cautious/worrywart Elephant Gerald and his mischievous friend Piggie (the Pig) who speak to each other (and us!) using color-coded speech bubbles and font clues for intonation. GirlChild LOVES these books and will sit and reread them (using the picture and font clues and what phonics she knows when she gets lost in the story) aloud to herself or to retell them to us (usually word-for-word) over and over again! (I think this may be the way she learns to read before kindergarten next year!)

  • I Am Invited to a Party! (2007)–Piggie gets invited to her first party and asks her friend Gerald for advice about what to wear.
  • We Are in a Book! (2010)–Piggie discovers that she and Gerald are in a book, and the two friends have some fun (and some concerns!) about interacting with their reader.
  • Can I Play Too? (2010)–When Snake asks if he can join their game of catch, Gerald and Piggie have a hard time figuring out how to include him…until they decide they can play catch with their friend!

Other works:

Mo Willems Pigeon and Pals: Complete Cartoon Collection Volumes 1 & 2Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals: Complete Cartoon Collection Vol. 1 & 2 (Scholastic Storybook Treasures, 2012): Perfect for preschool and early elementary fans of Willems’, this two-DVD set features the familiar animation of the Storybook Treasures series and the art (and vocal talents) of Mo Willems. Includes Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, and Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed as well as read-alongs and interviews with Mr. Willems himself. (Jon Scieszka–one of my favorite quirky authors for kids!–stars as the voice of the bus driver, too!)

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (Ala Notable Children's Books. Younger Readers (Awards))Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (2005): Leonardo is a terrible monster: he can’t scare anyone! When he thinks he’s finally found the perfect candidate for frightening and things don’t go as planned, Leonardo has a decision to make.

Naked Mole Rat Gets DressedNaked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (2009): Wilbur is a naked mole rat, and that’s how the other naked mole rats think it should stay…but Wilbur likes to dress up! What will Grand-pah mole rat have to say when Wilbur says, “Why not?” about getting dressed? A fun read for eliciting laughs and reminding children that different doesn’t mean bad! Elementary students will probably appreciate the book the most.

Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator!Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator! (2011): Amanda and her stuffed alligator have a lot of fun together, but Alligator frets about waiting when they’re apart (like when Amanda visits the library for one of the conspicuously unchildlike books she reads throughout the book or when she goes to the zoo with her grandfather). A new stuffed panda from Amanda’s grandfather really raises Alligator’s suspicions.

Time to Pee!Time to Pee! (2003) and Time to Say Time to Say “Please!” (2005): Time to Pee! is a cute and funny book to read with your recently potty-trained child to remind him or her of the steps to independent bathroom use. (No potty humor involved, and the book comes with a success chart and stickers!) Time to Say “Please!” is a book about manners and asking before you do something, but it is far from didactical. Children will enjoy looking at all the little mice and their crazy signs (where the text is located) by themselves as well!

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs: As Retold by Mo WillemsGoldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (2012): I cackled aloud reading this take on the Goldilocks story. In it, the dinosaurs most certainly do not (*wink wink*) set a trap for a naughty and unsuspecting little girl with their chocolate pudding set on the counter to cool. Thankfully, the little girl comes to her senses in time to leave the dinosaurs still pining for their “delicious-chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbon” treat. Probably for a slightly older crowd because of the wink-wink-nudge-nudge writing, I think middle elementary students would find this book a blast!

City Dog, Country FrogCity Dog, Country Frog (2010): A decidedly different book by Willems (and illustrated by Jon J Muth), City Dog and Country Frog strike up a friendship that changes with the seasons. A sweet and spare book for sharing with preschoolers and early elementary children.

This is by far not an exhaustive bibliography of Mo Willems’ work (you can find that and a whole lot more on his website!), but this is a good sampling of some of his most famous series and works and gives you a taste of what kind of books he writes and illustrates. (Another bonus: a lot of his characters do cameos in his other books, and that’s a treat for any child who’s a fan!) Give him a try with your preschooler to elementary child!

(7/12/15 Update: Here’s a link to the Zena Sutherland lecture Mo Willems did back in 2011. Pretty awesome stuff for readers and writers to hear!)


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Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems

Just to get things started, I’m going to go ahead and post a few of my old reviews that I did during library school for assignments.  They are unnecessarily wordy and formal, but they cover everything from the text to the illustrations, so they may still be useful to someone!  I’ll post this one about Knuffle Bunny first since I’ve read it aloud to GirlChild and can tell about how she interacts with it!

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems
(2004, Hyperion Books for Children, ISBN 0-7868-1870-0)

Trixie is a typical little girl who loves her stuffed bunny, and the book takes place “not so long ago, before she could even speak words.”  One day, when she and her daddy go on an errand, Trixie experiences a tragedy with which many young children will identify: her bunny goes missing.  In the end, Trixie’s tragedy is averted and she speaks her first words: Knuffle Bunny.

Children will easily identify with the young heroine, as many a child has misplaced a favorite toy and suffered terribly for the duration.  Trixie’s attachment to Knuffle Bunny is familiar in its ferocity as this situation is standard to most childhoods.  How many quirkily named stuffed animals have taken an unexpected or unappreciated trip to the washing machine?  Even as adults, we can remember the trauma of seeing our “friends” submerged in suds or, even worse, having had our parents sneak the beloved toy away for washing!  When we see Trixie and her daddy walking away from the machine with Knuffle Bunny’s blank eyes peeking out, we adults immediately anticipate the tantrum that is to follow and feel like calling out, “Wait!”  In fact, many adults will see themselves in the positions of Trixie’s parents, moving swiftly from frustrated to frantic as the truth of the situation reveals itself.  What parent hasn’t tried desperately to soothe a child whose needs or wants were unclear, only to discover suddenly, and quite by accident, what the problem was all along?  The dawning realization hits us like it hits Trixie’s father: the world simultaneously stops and shatters, and we see what the big deal was all along.  While every parent hopes to hear the words “mama” or “dada” first, isn’t it too often another word that seems to put the child’s true love into perspective?

The visual presentation of this book is unusual and accessible on many levels.  The font is large and reminiscent of a kindergarten teacher’s practiced hand.  The text often spreads several pages, and there is just enough per page to maintain interest while reading aloud.  In addition, as a way to imply mood and movement, the placement of the text and illustrations change throughout the story, and the size of the font varies from page to page or scene to scene.  For the very young, the clear, two-dimensional characters make a simple, eye-catching focus in the foreground.  For older readers, the real-life, sepia-toned background photographs will provide many opportunities for visual exploration, and the subtleties of the drawings create the chance to notice something new each time the book is read—which it will be, over and over!  Knuffle Bunny is a book in which children and adults both will see themselves, which will, in turn, help carry parents through the many readings their children will demand.

Post Script:

GirlChild’s reactions: GirlChild loves to ask questions now about the backgrounds and the characters and where they are and what they’re doing and how they’re feeling all throughout the book.  She has always loved the overly dramatic wailing her daddy and I do when we read about Trixie’s temper tantrum, and she likes to do the “snurp” herself.  She seems to have learned from this book a good deal about reading facial expressions and body language to express her own and understand other people’s feelings, and she still often proclaims, “Look!  I’m sad!  I have a tear!”–just like Trixie!–when she wants us to know how truly heartbroken she is about something.

This was written back when I was expecting GirlChild, so, of course, her reactions aren’t from when the review was written but are more recent.  However, I was right in thinking this one would make a great read-aloud and that little ones would love it!  This is a perfect book for any child who has a favorite lovey, and I would recommend it for the toddler and preschool crowds in particular.  There’s also a story DVD called Knuffle Bunny… and More Great Childhood Adventure Stories (2007, Scholastic Storybook Treasures) with a version of the book that the author, Mo Willems, and his daughter, the real Trixie, narrate.  Mo Willems–a former writer and animator for Sesame Street–has written quite a few other fun books for young kids including Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity, and the Cat the Cat series.

Additional titles:


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