Friday, October 18, 2013

Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar? by George Shannon

**Hey friends! We're off on a family vacation and unplugging for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here's a recent pick that we really loved, all about the importance of community and working together. See you in November!**

Food, I think, is a true universal. Everyone in every culture has food that is important to them, food that means celebration or comfort or peace or home. What it is varies from nation to nation, but it's critical in so many ways to all of us. Food can help bridge the gap between cultures; sharing a meal together helps diverse groups put aside their differences for a moment and find common ground.

For those of us who've adopted children from other countries, food is one of the first things we find to bond over. In the early days with Sprout, before he knew he could trust us and far before he understood that we were his now, forever, food was central to our bond. He was eating some soft food at the time, and I'll never forget the first time he tasted chocolate pudding -- the look on his face was shock at first, and then simple sheer joy (and a worldess "more, please!"). Those first days and weeks, food was critical to trust and helping him feel safe and comfortable, and while we fumbled our way as parents, it was the one thing that was easy to provide.

Food is at the center of a new book by George Shannon that I love for its deep perspective on global citizenship. Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar? takes a spin on the familiar "Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?" song, by examining how the treats got in there in the first place. The premise is obvious right from the get-go: Shannon's looking at all the contributors, the world over, whose work facilitates the creation of these yummy treats. So we have workers making cookie sheets and farmers plowing fields, a young boy gathering eggs and a crew stocking store shelves. All of these folks, and many more, share pieces of the work that ends in delicious cookies of all kinds.

Julie Paschkis did the illustrations for this culinary journey, and their stylized, folk-art-infused nature really makes Shannon's ideas come alive. It's important to note that this isn't really meant to be a linear tale - we aren't following one batch of cookies from beginning to end, but rather looking at the process that makes many kinds of cookies, in many places, possible for all. So there are families grinding wheat by hand and others loading trucks, and both processes exist side-by-side in Paschkis' winsome and  clever illustrations. And that's perfectly reasonable.

What I really appreciate about this book, and what I think Shannon and Paschkis are trying to get across, is the very global nature of sharing treats together. We see it in all cultures, as Paschkis shows us on the final threat, where characters of all ages, colors and creeds are enjoying little bits of sugary goodness. This book, perfect to share with the youngest of readers, brings up some great opportunities to talk about the way food comes to our table, but also how food is shared by people the world over. Because after all, who doesn't love a delicious cookie of one sort or another?

Be prepared to read this one more than once - it's a slow build, and the message definitely grew on Sprout the more we read this title. In the end, he was thrilled to see people from all walks of life sharing cookies with each other. And of course, it prompted the oh-so-familiar question: "Can we bake some cookies, Mom?"

Ages 2-5
Source: Library
First lines: "One hand in the cookie jar takes a cookie out. / How many hands put the cookie in is what the world's about."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tricks and Treats - 3 Halloween Books Full of Spooky Fun!

Halloween is pretty much a dream come true for a young kid, isn't it? Wear crazy costumes, tromp through pumpkin patches, collect tons of sugary goodies and play all sorts of silly spooky games. Sprout loves Halloween, probably because my husband is a seriously devoted Halloween guy. Daddy's up for planning costumes in July and hitting the farmstands as soon as the first pumpkins start turning up.

This year we're doing something different and heading out of town at the end of the month. While we'll still be celebrating (in a big way!), we don't have the usual trappings of spooky decor or carved jack-o'lanterns. Sprout knows he's got Halloween fun heading his way, but I did sense a bit of disappointment when we told him there wouldn't be pumpkin decorating this year. So of course I did what any self-respecting librarian would do and hit the seasonal shelves to help me spook up our storytimes.

My first choice was a series entry that I knew Sprout would flip for - Click, Clack, Boo! by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin. We've thoroughly enjoyed every title by this pair thus far, with a special affinity for the first book in the series, Click, Clack, Moo. And this holiday-themed title held our interest very nicely, with its bold graphics and simple plot. This one is a great continuation of the series, and even works to introduce new readers to the crazy antics on this particular farm. Sprout thought it was super silly that Farmer Brown is scared of Halloween - and the big costume reveal at the end struck just the right note with us!

The animal theme continued with Judy Cox's Haunted House, Haunted Mouse. I wanted to try this one out with Sprout because he recently learned what a haunted house was, and was having trouble understanding how something like that could be spooky fun. (He's a pretty literal kid - "scary" and "fun" don't really reconcile in his mind!) This is a pretty solid story about Mouse, who gets caught up with some trick-or-treaters and ends up stumbling into a creaky, creepy haunted house. The best for us was the end, where Mouse figures out that it's not really spooks making the scary shapes and sounds, but normal, everyday stuff - much to Sprout's relief.

Susan Hood's Just Say Boo! offers a little reassurance for kids who might be unsure of how to react to Halloween sights and frights. A trio of costumed kiddos heads out to gather candy, encountering a few scary obstacles along the way. At each one, the kids pause to decide how to react - and then end up facing their fears down with a mighty "Boo!". This was a real revelation for Sprout, and we talked about how he could follow the characters' lead when he feels spooked by something. I think he'll be implementing this one next time he gets his socks scared off by the motion-sensored witch at the grocery store!

How are you changing up your regular storytime routine with seasonal books? And what are your favorite spooky reads, for Halloween or just any time?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kevin and His Dad by Irene Smalls

Sprout and I got pretty lucky with Sprout's dad. My husband is not only a very loving dad, he's also very involved, and has been from day one. He and Sprout were off having adventures together from the first moment Mommy went back to work, when Sprout had been with us for just four weeks. Initially even a trip to the grocery store was a noteworthy expedition, but gradually they have added a lot more complex activities to their retinue. Together my boys have done just about everything imaginable, a lot of it things that the average dad might not attempt with a toddler, much less a dad who uses a wheelchair.

I'm always on the lookout for picture books that celebrate the role of dads in kids' lives, because honestly I find that they're somewhat in short supply. Even tougher to find are titles where the dad is taking on some nontraditional gender roles, something that my husband and most dads we know do without batting an eye! (After all, that laundry has to be done by somebody, right??) That's why, on a recent library visit, I was thrilled to stumble across Kevin and His Dad by Irene Smalls. It not only covers all of the above, it features an African American family to boot - what's not to love?

In this engaging title, Kevin and his dad are spending the day together while Mom is at work. First the boys are doing their chores - washing windows, doing laundry, fixing the faucet. Dad manages to make everything fun, and the mom in me loves that the emphasis is on doing the household tasks first before they go play. Once all the work is finished, the pair heads outside for some catch, then a movie, then a stop at the diner for milkshakes before walking home in the twilight, talking about their day.

I love the whole vibe of Kevin and His Dad. Here's a dad who's in tune with his kid, doesn't mind having fun but who is teaching the importance of taking care of basic chores. The pictures by Michael Hays (of Abiyoyo fame, one of Sprout's favorites) definitely set the tone and emphasize the author's upbeat text. Here are a father and son who clearly enjoy each other's company, having an average day together that is bound to be a memory this boy will remember for years to come. The urban setting is great too, presenting a nicely balanced look at life in a city setting.

The real find here is that the ethnicity of the characters isn't the focal point. Honestly, it's not easy to find a book with people of color that shows *real life*, as people really live it. Don't get me wrong, I think books about historical events or social inequalities are important. But it's also important to just have reality depicted in an authentic way, such as this warm and welcoming portrait of a father and son passing a day with activities everyone can relate to.

If your library doesn't have this one (it's an older title, but still in print), make a purchase suggestion, or consider buying a copy yourself and donating it. Like our other picks Shopping with Dad and Bigger Than Daddy, Kevin and His Dad is a must-have addition to any well-rounded picture book collection.

Kevin and His Dad by Irene Smalls, published by Little, Brown and Company
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
First lines: "On Saturday, with Mom away, Dad and I work -- then we play. First we take the vacuum and railroad the rugs -- choo, choo, coming through! I love cleaning up with you."

Friday, October 4, 2013

April and Esme, Tooth Fairies by Bob Graham

We had a visit from the Tooth Fairy the other night.

Mama wasn't ready for this turn of events. Sprout is four - FOUR, people! He's waaaay too young to be losing teeth. But unfortunately, thanks to a nasty spill a couple of years ago at daycare, he ended up with a tooth that was in trouble, and had to be pulled early. Sprout was totally cool with this, I might add. Completely stoked to have a gap in his smile, and elated at the promise of receiving a surprise from the Tooth Fairy. (As usual, it was just me who was a basket case.)

Strangely enough we had just brought home a library book about the Tooth Fairy. Not because I had any notion that Sprout would be losing a tooth any time soon, but just because we were craving something by Bob Graham. You know, because all of his books are made.of.awesome.

Anyway, it was a fortuitous pick to have April and Esme, Tooth Fairies at the ready. Honestly Sprout didn't know much about the Tooth Fairy, being that Hubs and I thought we were a couple of years out from needing to address the topic. Therefore it wasn't much of a stretch for him to accept the notion of a family of Tooth Fairies, mom and dad and two daughters. The story opens with April, one of the girls, getting a call on her cell phone about a tooth visit to one Daniel Dangerfield. The caller is most insistent that the girls come, and so April and Esme manage to convince their reluctant parents that they are old enough to go on their own. Armed with a coin in a string bag (for the tooth), the girls head off into the night, flying through the wind and dark and finding Daniel's house on the first go. And they find the boys' room, and the tooth - but when Daniel wakes up, can the girls save the evening, and their secret?

Like all of Graham's books, April and Esme has the perfect blend of whimsy and edge. The girls are never in any sort of real peril, but it feels close enough to it that preschoolers and their parents will thrill when they make it safely to, and from, their tooth visit. Graham excels at small details, the kind that make his characters and his plots relatable. In this case, not only did we love the tooth fairy family's home (with teeth hanging from the rafters and a bathtub fashioned from a teacup), we also found the gorgeous cover and endpapers to just extend the story. Really, there's a lot to absorb in a book by Bob Graham - it's no wonder Sprout wants to hear each one over and over again.

Like the dream Daniel Dangerfield thinks he's had, April and Esme lingers with the reader in all the best ways. Whether your kids believe in the Tooth Fairy or not, this book is a lovely means to bring just a bit of magic into the everyday (and who's to say it isn't really real?).

April and Esme, Tooth Fairies by Bob Graham, published by Candlewick Press
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
First line: "Not so long ago, a tooth fairy took a call on her cell phone."