Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bear, Dinosaur, Mouse and Dog

When I sat down to write about the latest quartet of amazing picture books, I realized that they were all about animals who were referred to by the type of animal they were, no cutesy names or trying to make them like people. Coincidence worth mentioning? Eh, probably not, but it got me an introductory paragraph out of the deal.

I love Kevin Henkes' books. Owen with his precious blankie, Lilly and her purple plastic purse, Chrysanthemum with her glorious name, poor worried Wemberly and so many more characters that my children adore and identify with. I didn't know he wrote and illustrated anything other than his mice characters, so I was excited to see what Old Bear was about. In the three weeks we had Old Bear in our house, we read it at least twice a day. In the forty-something times I read that book, I never once got tired of it. The illustrations are beautiful and charming, the text is sweet, the colors captivated and we found new things to look at with every reading. Old Bear goes to sleep for the winter and dreams that he is a cub again, with the seasons passing in more brilliance and excitement that he can absorb. When he awakes, spring has arrived to his and the reader's delight. This is an example of a perfect book for 2-4 year olds, but don't let that stop you from reading it to your older kids because mine loved it.

Speaking of other perfect picture books, but on a completely different end of the spectrum, I have lost my voice on several occasions reading Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea. Little Dinosaur battles a pile of leaves, talking grown-ups, a bowl of spaghetti, and other enemies with great success, but bedtime might be his greatest opponent. My kids loved this book so much that I had to put in a request to only read it once a day to preserve my vocal chords. There is a LOT of roaring in this book. My oldest and second daughters took over for additional readings and giggling could be heard throughout the house when this book was pulled out. Big, bright, fun drawings that bounce you from page to page. Everybody should know a dinosaur like this one and he would be welcome at my house any day.

Emily Gravett's books are visual smorgasbords. We read Wolves a while back and loved it, so I fully expected the same fun with Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears. We weren't disappointed. Each page is a multi-media display of different phobias and Little Mouse's additions and journal entries. Gravett's books are more geared toward the six and up crowd, but really, my almost eight-year-old was the only one to truly appreciate the book. My personal favorite fear was isolophobia (fear of solitude) and Little Mouse's entry, "I don't like being alone, or in the dark" followed by a black, blank page. Or maybe it was whereamiphobia (fear of getting lost) with only the words, "I'm scared of getting lost" and a pencil dropped on the floor, no mouse to be seen. The ending was the dessert of the book, after having survived Little Mouse's chronicled phobias and was well worth all the explanations of what everything meant to my younger kids.

Author Amy Hest and illustrator Amy Bates made an amazing team with The Dog Who Belonged to No One. I'll refer to them as Amy 1 or Amy 2, or maybe The Amys. Watch, they'll never team up for a book again and I'll have gone to that effort for nothing. The Dog Who Belonged to No One lives a parallel life to a wisp of a girl named Lia, who delivers bread for her baker parents. He's a good dog, wanting to be loved and sad to be cold and alone. Lia works hard and wishes she had a friend to work along side with her. As you read it, you so desperately want them to meet and when they do, it is so satisfying, so gentle and tender. The pencil and watercolor drawings make The Dog so cute with his crooked ears and spotted coat and Lia with her bike, apron and cap. I just wanted to scoop them all up and hug them hard. My girls enjoyed it too and it sure didn't help with the dog fever around here.

Ahh, there's not much else better than a bunch of beautiful and fun picture books. I could fill my house top to bottom with all these treasures and be happy for a lifetime. The second best thing is an amazing library and a blog in which to spout off on what books tickle me pink. Not a bad second best thing at all. Tell me if any of you readers try out one of these books and how your kids/nephews and nieces/students/random children you meet in the library liked them. It makes me happy to know that good books are being read.


  1. We are headed to the library in about 45 minutes. I'm writing these down and I hope our library has them in!

  2. All right, better add these to the list! There is major construction going on around our library so I've been avoiding it lately. Your descriptions almost make me think the headache might be worth it!

  3. Excellent. I'm looking forward to the dinosaur one in particular. Ever since we read "Edwina" by Mo Willems, and all the Yolen dinosaur books, Jacob has requested dino books every time we're at the library. He's such a little boy.

  4. Funny thing. As a Grandma of your four precious daughters and 8 other children I am taking notes. I am thinking I should buy some of these, now that I have a web cam. I gave K8 money for her birthday today and told her to get herself a web cam so she doesn't have to wait until her husband with the computer/web cam is available. I can foresee some cyber-babysitting in the future, and I think I had better be prepared with a library of fun books to read to my grandchildren.
    btw thanks for that web cam you gave us for Christmas.
    how fun

  5. We've borrowed Dinosaur v. Bedtime several times from the library. Aaron loves the pictures. I'm going to have to look for Old Bear, I think that one will also be a big hit with my crowd. BTW, make sure you check out Mark Foster's blog. He's got some stuff up about a book he's written.

  6. These look great! We'll have to check them out. I'm always amazed at the seemingly endless reservoir of good children's books at the library. I swear our family has checked out 1,000 books over the years, and we haven't even made a dent in the list of good ones. Thanks for the reviews!

  7. Hi Jenny; I hope you don't mind me reading your blog (the link's on Facebook, so hey). ;-)

    I'm always on the lookout for great kids' books, and I hadn't read any of these! Thanks for the recommendations; I put them on our hold list.