Create with Maisy : A Maisy First Arts-and-Crafts Book by Lucy Cousins

If you have read Yummy! Eight Favorite Fairy Tales by Lucy Cousins, a favorite of mine and many story time attendees, or, for that matter, any of her Maisy books, then you know that Cousins knows her audience (four and under) very well. I know that there are many, many crafty moms and dads out there creating things with their kids as soon as they can grasp a glue stick, nevertheless, I still get requests about once or twice a month for craft books for toddlers and I can never find anything that comes even close to being acceptable. Create with Maisy definitely fills a void and, after you read this book you might agree with me that it's the only book you'll need when it comes to crafts for little hands. And, even if you don't actually need this book, consider it the best birthday present you will ever give to a child and his/her parents.

Cousins begins her book with a "Message for the Grown-Ups" which shows just how in-tune she is with creating, crafting and kids and I am printing it in full here:

Making things is fun.

In this book, Maisy makes a lot of things that I hope you and your children will enjoy making too. The instructions are very simple, and you don't need to follow them if you have your own ideas. I hope that our will already have most of the things needed in your home, but if not, just use something different.

While your children are enjoying making things, please make sure they are safe. Help them when necessary and always use:

- glue and glue sticks that are washable and nontoxic
- child-friendly scissors with rounded ends
- washable nontoxic paints, like poster paints

Any birthdays coming up? I think homemade gifts are the best presents. I still cherish things my teenage children made when they were little.

Have fun!

Besides being a book filled with arts-and-crafts you can do with toddlers, . Create with Maisy is a book that toddlers will want to look at. Oversized and with a sturdy cover and thick pages, . Create with Maisy is filled with big, bright illustrations and crisp photographs of the finished crafts and the supplies needed to create them. There are seventeen simple crafts, each accompanied by a list of supplies needed and a short "How to Make It" column. But, as Cousins says (which I totally love) if you don't have something on the list, use something else! Many of the crafts in this book will be familiar to parents, but there are plenty of us out there who appreciate having it spelled out - in pictures and words! And honestly, as a parent who has made her fair share of cardboard doll houses, puppet theaters, and other assorted crafts with (who am I kidding, FOR) my kids, I still learned new things from Cousins's book - things they did not make in preschool!

My favorite crafts in the book are the the Button Bowl and the Sparkly Crown. Sure, these are things you can think of yourself, but have you? The button bowl is a tactile extravaganza and uses air-dry clay and a big tub of buttons and beads and anything else that you want. Have your children shape a bowl, dish or anything they want out of clay and then let them go crazy pressing buttons, beads and sparklies into the clay. Actually, I think some pre-craft playing with the buttons is a great way to start the  activity. Just in case you've never encountered this, most craft stores sell tubs of assorted buttons for a relatively reasonable price and I always have a good supply on hand. The other craft I love is the Sparkly Crown. Again, this may have the "been there, done that" feel to some of you, but for me Cousins brings something new to this essential piece of toddler headwear. The photo in the book makes it look like Cousins saved the foil wrappers from candy for a year and used them to great decorative effect on her crown, whether flattened or crumpled into little jewel-like balls. It almost makes me want to get my glue sticks out...

Goldilocks and Just the One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson

Leigh Hodgkinson is brilliant! An exploration of her website, Wonkybutton and her book blog, as well as her adorable, very cool blog about creative things she does with her young daughter, took up much of my evening. After reading her newest picture book, Goldilocks and Just the One Bear, I flipped to the author bio and learned that Hodgkinson, who is also a filmmaker and animator, worked on the award winning television series Charlie and Lola! This makes so much sense if you are familiar with the work of Lauren Child, author of (besides the Charlie & Lola books, the Clarice Bean series, among others). These two utterly talented women seem to have a similar flair for patterns, collages, vibrant colors and, above all, HUMOR! These people write (and illustrate) very funny books. 

Since Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs came out in 1989, it's been tough to top them when it comes to turning fairy tales on their heads. However, Hodgkinson definitely brings something new to this realm with her retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks and Just the One Bear. Instead of a little girl lost in the forest, we find a bear (with a spoon...) wandering in the big city, completely lost and a little bit frightened. In fact, "he didn't have a crumb-of-a-clue where he was," and his "furry legs were slightly wobbly."

The bear decides the best course of action is to "pop into Snooty Towers and get away from this terrible racket." You know how the story goes, but that really doesn't matter because you just can't wait to see what kind of twist and tweak Hodgkinson lends to this tale. One fine example is the bear looking for a bite to eat. Thinking everything is porridge, he eats from the fish bowl as if it were soup (too soggy.) He moves on to the kitty kibble shaped like fish (too crunchy.)

The chair scene proves even funnier, but I won't ruin it for you. As the bear finally finds a bed to snuggle into, he begins to dream of "puttering around in his slippers." Then he dreamed of "a voice shouting very loudly." The family who lives in Snooty Towers has come home!

 But the real surprise is who the bear meets when all the shouting is over!! Boys and girls will love this story, especially if they know the original, so be sure to get out your fairy tale collection just in case. Goldilocks and Just the One Bear is so much fun I can't wait to see what Leigh Hodgkinson does next!! 

Some of you may remember my review from earlier in the year of Niklas Catlow's phenomenal new series, Mega Mash-Ups. A mash-up of a doodle book and do-it-yourself chapter book as well as crazy adventures that really do mash up out-of-this-world face-offs between robots and gorillas in the desert and pirates and ancient Egyptians in a haunted mansion, to name a few. Well, now there is a GIRL friendly version!!! Review to come, but check out these cool shots until then...

Source: Review Copy


The Frank Show by David Mackintosh

While I am thrilled that reports of the death of the picture book were greatly exaggerated, I have been wondering of late if there will ever be room for another William Steig or Bill Peet in this world?  Is there space on the shelf of the bookstores for this kind of book, a publisher willing to go with a picture book that does not feature a "character" sure to spawn a series and, above all else, an author and illustrator who can tell an intelligent story with words and pictures in 32 pages that does not talk down to readers but instead lifts them to a higher level of thinking? I hope so. And, I think that David Mackintosh's newest book, The Frank Show, comes very close.

One thing that William Steig, especially, was not afraid to put in his picture books were adults. Have you noticed how there are very few adults in kid's books anymore? And if they are there, actually on the page and interacting with the children in the story, they are a source of comfort and a boundary. In fact, when I did an informal survey of picture books on the shelf at the store where I work, out of almost 400 titles, less than 50 had adults in supporting roles. We are a huge part of kids' lives! Let's get more adults back in picture books! The Frank Show is all about an adult! A crotchety, opinionated one at that! As the narrator says of him, "My grandpa doesn't always like the way things are. And he always does things his way." When the teacher asks everyone in the class to talk about a family member for show-and-tell on friday, our narrator thinks of his mother first. She is too busy, though, and sends him to his father. Dad suggests talking about his baby sister Minnie, but that's a non-starter. The only person left is Frank, but "Frank is just grandpa." 

Although our narrator doesn't think there's too much to share about Frank with his class, he does know a lot about this guy and takes the reader through a laundry list of Frank's likes and dislikes, which he makes very clear. Frank "likes doing things the old-fashioned way." He doesn't like fancy food (the illustration here shows Frank reaching into a jar of pickled onions for a snack.)  He only needs a haircut once a year and "he only likes listening to his music."

As our narrator learns more about the people his classmates are planning on talking about (Kristian's dad is a comedian on TV, Fay's cousin tells you if your bag is too heavy at the airport, Donny's dad works in a potato chip factory) we see a fantastic illustration of the kids on the schoolyard. Although his best friend's questioning of Frank as a choice for show-and-tell stirs up a burst of pride and conviction in the narrator, he is still quite nervous on the big day. After giving his brief speech, Frank steps in and regales the class with stories of his time in the war, giving his last drop of water to a thirsty horse ad getting green tattoos with his soldier buddies to remember the big battle. Frank stays for lunch with the class and keeps them entranced. 

Don't miss David Mackintosh's previous picture book, Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School and his new book, due out soon, Standing in for Lincoln Green.

What Will You Be, Grandma? written by Nannette Newman, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark

There really aren't as many grandma and grandpa picture books out there as you might think. Yet, most kids have them (grandparents) and, in this day and age, many kids, like Lily in What Will You Be, Grandma by Nanette Newman with illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark, have grandparents who are most definitely not the old, denture wearing, nap taking kind from the books and movies of my childhood.

As Newman says in her author bio, she wrote this book after her granddaughter, Lily, asked her what she was going to be when she grew up. In the book, Lily's grandmother answers thoughtfully, "Well, a lot of people think I've grown up already." But, Lily thinks Grandma has a long way to go and is filled with creative and clever career advice. "You could grow wings and fly around the world, making sure people are nice to their cats and dogs like I am," is one of my favorite suggestions. To this Grandma answers, "Id like to have wings," and there is a lovely illustration of Grandma, her patchwork quilt wings, and binoculars to keep watch as she flies all over the world with Lily on her back.

Grandma and Lily continue on their imaginative adventure with ideas and images that are whimsical but not overly so. The book ends with Grandma saying she would like to be a "lady with a little granddaughter named Lily who she loves from the top of her head to the tips of her toes," just as it should. What Will You Be, Grandma is a wonderful book that celebrates the bond between grandma and grandchild as well as the creative, unique way kids have of looking at the world. And,  What Will You Be, Grandma is the PERFECT gift for a grandchild to give to a grandmother!

Source: Review Copy


Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover, by Cece Bell, 56 pp, RL 2

Beginning reader books, the good ones anyway, seem to center around two friends. Friends who are usually opposites. I always think that this friend quota has been filled (Frog & Toad, George & Martha, Elephant & Piggie, Benny & Penny, Dodsworth & Duck) and then someone comes up with a new pair. With her book Rabbit & Robot: The SleepoverCece Bell has created a fantastic new beginning reader duo that even subverts (mostly) the predominant odd couple set-up where one friend is reasonable and rational and the other is a neurotic. Rabbit and Robot's humor and drama functions more on the premise that these two friends are the same and different, with Bell flip-flopping these rolls in various chapters.

Taking a page from Frog & Toad, Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover begins with a simple premise: Robot is sleeping over at Rabbit's house and Rabbit has made a list of four things for them to do over the course of the evening. Each item on the list represents a chapter - 1. Make pizza, 2. Watch TV, 3. Play Go Fish, 4. Go to bed. Each item on the list brings it's own dilemma. Topping the pizzas finds Rabbit wanting carrots, snow peas and lettuce and Robot wanting nuts and bolts. When Rabbit says he ha no nuts and bolts, Robot uses his magnet hands to find some around the house. However, he disassembles the table and chairs in doing so. But, these two friends find a good way to work things out - in every chapter, not matter what the crisis. I can't wait to read more about these buddies.

Source: Review Copy

Penny and Her Song written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, RL 1.5

Penny and Her Song is now in paperback!!

I am so excited that, with Penny and Her Song, Kevin Henkes has written his first book for emerging readers. This man is so talented, across the board, and this seemed to be the one genre he hadn't tackled. Besides being a wonderful illustrator, he writes picture books with a range of complexity as well as chapter books for a range of readers. As I mentioned recently in The Changing Face of Board Books, Henkes is a genius when it comes to a seemingly uncomplicated, simple plot that is ultimately full of meaning and Penny and Her Song is no exception. Two chapters long, Penny and Her Song has the repetition of simple words that you would expect in a beginning reader book and, as I have come to expect from a book by Kevin Henkes, thoughtful parents who lovingly say "no"when they have to but also say "yes" in a way that acknowledges and affirms. 

Penny comes home from school with a song she wants to sing to her parents. Mama greets her at the door but asks her to wait to sing her song because the babies are sleeping. When she sees her Papa he says the same thing. Penny goes to her room, shuts the doors and starts to sing. But she wants someone to listen to her. She sings to the mirror but that feels wrong. She sings to her glass animals but that doesn't work either. Then she "moved her glass animals around on the top of her dresser. She almost forgot about her song.
Chapter Two starts at dinner time and it's still not a good time for Penny to sing. Finally, after dinner, Penny sings her song and it is a song that is exactly like what you would imagine a preschool or kindergartener to make up. Mama and Papa compliment Penny as do the babies, in their own baby way. Then Penny sang her song again. Then everyone sang her song, with the babies singing their own baby way. Then they all did a little show with costumes, but the babies wore what they were wearing. Exhausted, every one heads off to bed. As Penny is being tucked in she asks, "Will I remember my song in the morning?" They both answer, "Yes." 

The book ends with these words that accompany the picture below,

 "And they were right, Penny remembered her song. Beautifully."

Penny and Her Doll is out now in hardcover and 
Penny and Her Marble is due out February, 2013!

Two of the first picture book character dolls I bought were Lily and Julis, from Henkes' Julius, Baby of the World and, of course, Lily's Purple Plastic Purse. Now that my daughter is nineteen, I have less reasons to buy these dolls, but look how cute this Penny doll is!

You can find her and other really wonderfully made picture book related toys at Merrymakers.

Source: Review Copy


Cat Tale by Michael Hall

I regret not reviewing Michael Hall's first two books, My Heart is Like a Zoo and Perfect Square, both of which are fantastic and read repeatedly by me at story times. I hope to make up for this oversight by introducing you to to all three of his books here! Cat Tale is Hall's newest book and, like his first two, Hall's Eric-Carleian, Leo Lionni-esque-colorful-collage-style is perfectly suited to his playful stories. Cat Tale begins, "From word to word they find their way, Lillian, Tilly and William J." With this almost-tongue-twisting start, you know you are in for some fun. The cats, "pack some books and kitty chews. They choose a spot, they spot some ewes." From page to page, the words flow like honey and change like chameleons. The three cats "flee a steer. They steer a plane. They plane a board. They board a train."

It never ceases to amaze me the way Hall makes this crazy tale fit together! As their story draws to a close, the three cats "tail a bear. They bear some hail. The hail a giant purple whale. From word to word they find their way, Lillian, Tilly and William J." This delightful, charming book ends where it started - with books! When we first meet the three cats, they are packing books for their adventure and at the end of their journey they are cuddled on the couch, reading together!

Hall's second book, Perfect Square, is my favorite of the three. A perfect square is perfectly happy being red and square. But, "on Monday, the square was cut into pieces and poked full of holes. It wasn't perfectly square anymore." The great fun of this book is the anticipation and guessing what the square, in its new form, will become as the week unfolds. The cut up, holey square turns itself into a fountain that "babbled and giggled and clapped"! Over and over the square changes and changes into beautiful, wonderful things, coming together at the end in a brilliant way. A celebration of imperfection,   Perfect Square reminds me of Barney Saltzberg's charming, superb, Beautiful Oops!, both of which make excellent gift.

Finally, Hall's charming first book, My Heart is Like a Zoo is best experienced by watching the book trailer. You will be amazed at the animals Hall can make using hearts only...

Source: Review Copy

Meet Me at the Art Museum: A Whimsical Look Behind the Scenes by David Goldin

It took having three kids to figure this out, but one parental philosophy I rely heavily on (no doubt because of my passion for books and belief that there is a good book in this world to address any issue or need) is the importance of preparing my children before they embark on a new experience. Whether it is what to anticipate when going to the doctor for a shot, what to expect when flying alone on an airplane or what kind of behavior is appropriate when you have to go with mom to a boring meeting, I like to give my kids as much information as possible to prepare for the best outcome possible. For many kids, a trip to an art museum is an outing that calls for some preparation. Not only for laying out behavioral expectations, but also for preparing kids of any age to get the most out of their experience, making it more than a walk through a big, boring building filled with paintings and stuff.

David Goldin's wonderful new book Meet Me at the Art Museum: A Whimsical Look Behind the Scenes is perfect for this very thing! Although the googly-eyed, anthropomorphized ticket stub and name tag (Stub and Daisy) who star in this book make it appealing to the youngest museum goers, Goldin includes a wide range of information about an art museum, including a glossary  and title list of all the art work included in the book.

You've heard me say it here before, but I LOVE MAPS and Meet Me at the Art Museum: A Whimsical Look Behind the Scenes has one on the endpapers! The narrative of Meet Me at the Art Museum: A Whimsical Look Behind the Scenes finds Stub asking Daisy, the docent's helper (docent definition included) for a tour of the museum. This is not a tour of the art within, as you might expect, but a tour of the parts, places and people that make the museum go. From the coat check room to a viewing and explanation of "symbol signage" that help visitors navigate the museum, Goldin focuses on aspects of the museum that many of us may not give a second thought to but might be of interest to young visitors who are not especially interested in the Rembrandts or Rodins in the room. A discussion of the job of curators, conservators and archivists to security features, librarians and the room where the damaged art work is fixed and restored, Goldin highlights aspects of an art museum that we take for granted - even the gift shop, cafe and drinking fountains.

The story of Daisy and Stub ends in this very room where Stub's eye is caught by a colorful, vibrant collage. Taking a closer look, a burst of air lifts him up and blows him onto the collage, which has just been sprayed with a fresh, sticky coat of varnish. Stuck on a work of art and happy to have a home in the museum, Stub finds himself part of The Dance, a David Goldin work inspired by Matisse.

Meet Me at the Art Museum from David Goldin on Vimeo.

Meet Me at the Art Museum from David Goldin on Vimeo.

Source: Review Copy


Hit the Road Jack, written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Ross MacDonald

I love a good picture book. I especially love a picture book that tackles an adult subject or theme. DB Johnson has found a way to make the Transcendentalist philosophy of Henry David Thoreau and the surrealist vision of René Magritte palatable, digestible and, above all, entertaining for young audiences with his books Henry Hikes to Fitchburg and Magritte's Marvelous Hat. Susanna Reich and Amy June Bates introduced Julia Child and her culinary odyssey in a to picture book readers in a very tasty way with their book Minette's Feast.With Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero, Marissa Moss and Jon Hendrix made the brave life of a young American compelling for young readers. Every time I encounter a picture book that tackles one of these adult subjects or themes, my first thought is, "Why?" My second thought is, "What will a child get out of this?" My third thought is, "Does this book work as a story on its own, even if the reader knows NOTHING about the subject?" If a book works, like those cited above, the answer to those questions is, obviously, "yes." When I saw that  Robert Burleigh, author of many biographies and non-fiction books for children and adults, and illustrator Ross MacDonald, a favorite of mine, had written a picture book, Hit the Road Jack, about Jack Kerouac, I had to have my questions answered, especially since I was, in my high school days, a bit of a Kerouac fan. Doesn't everybody read Kerouac in high school (and then never again, like Salinger...)?

Since I'm reviewing Hit the Road Jack here you have probably guessed that I was able to answer "yes," to all my questions after reading this gorgeous picture book. First off, Hit the Road Jack works wonderfully as a story book, regardless of any preexisting knowledge of Jack Kerouac. As the Publisher's Weekly review notes, Hit the Road Jack is not "a biography or an introduction to Kerouac's work; instead, it's a tribute to his spirit and his era." Burleigh has written a rambling story about a restless jack rabbit who travels across the country, enjoying the sights, because he wants to ad he can. His text reads like a song and, after a few pages you may have the strong urge to start scatting or be-bopping and slapping your knee as you read. The book begins, 

Hey, Jack! Skedaddle! Gotta hop! 
Vamoose! Take off and go! 
Nose is itching, ears are twitching, 
Come on! Get with the flow! 
Time to see the road unwind 
And feel the wind blow free. 
"Hello, America! Here I come, 
From sea to shining sea!"

MacDonald's illustrations are glorious, harkening back to the era of Jack Kerouac's book, Virginia Lee Burton. Making Jack into a rabbit makes his glee and enjoyment of his trek translatable to children and, as noted above, more about the spirit of the era than a biographical story.

Burleigh's author's note, "Who was Jack?" is brief, and, like his book, more about the journey than the man, which is ok. Hit the Road Jack reminds me of some of Bill Peet's books, which, although first published in the early 1970s, introduce young readers to a post-WWII America where train hopping and circuses were part of a midwestern sensibility and straightforwardness that infused Peet's stories. Why write a book about Jack Kerouac's most famous work, On the Road, for kids? Because, his travels across America are interesting to readers of any age and his writing style is one that remains iconic. "What will a child get out of this?" an appreciation for the vastness of our country, the regional differences and the great joy in traveling. Finally, "Does this book work as a story on its own, even if the reader knows NOTHING about the subject?" Yes. Without a doubt. Burleigh's writing is a joy to read out loud and, while his book is more of a travelogue than a narrative, that is entirely fitting to the subject matter. MacDonald's illustrations of America in the 1950s and his love of the subject matter are glowing. In all likelihood, an adult is not going to buy this book without some understanding or knowledge of Jack Kerouac, but for those who do, they are sure to be surprised and delighted with their purchase!

More books by Ross MacDonald you should read...

Source: Review Copy