Best Books, BAR-None

I’m flying (er, floating) through the children’s picture book section of my library–and most recently I’ve been in the “BAR”s. There, I’ve found a few winners.

The Brambly Hedge Stories by Jill Barklem

Families of mice live their lives in Brambly Hedge, happily enjoying the busy work of the seasons.

Brambly Hedge Books

While preparing a recitation for the Midwinter’s celebration at Old Oak Palace, Primrose and Wilfred find a secret passage that leads to an incredible hidey-hole and marvelous costumes that they unveil during their recitation.

Dusty and Poppy get married, Poppy in the fancy dress she’s been preparing for months, Dusty in his fancy duds, unfortunately dusted with a fine (or heavy) coat of flour. As the wedding guests dance, the ropes holding the wedding raft fast break, sending the raft and wedding party floating down the stream until they gently bump into a leafy clump.

All of Brambly hedge is busy making preparations for the day’s picnic–and they don’t even seem to remember that it’s Wilfred’s birthday. Wilfred, being a polite little mouse, doesn’t want to make a big deal of himself, but he is a bit disappointed. So he’s more than a little surprised when, after carting a heavy picnic basket to the picnic, he opens it to discover a cake and presents! Turns out, the picnic was a surprise birthday party for HIM!

Primrose goes off wandering and stumbles into a dark, cold tunnel. She explores it excitedly until she’s absolutely lost–and then she starts to get scared. The menacing figures with lights coming down the hall don’t help at all. She hides in fear until she notices a limp that gives the figure away–it’s her Grandpa out looking for her!

But my favorite Brambly Hedge story is The High Hills where Wilfred dreams of being an adventurous explorer in the High Hills. He gets his big chance when Mr. Apple schedules a trip to the High Hills to deliver some blankets to the needy Voles. Wilfred packs his adventurer’s bag and starts off. When he and Mr. Apple get lost, Wilfred has his adventure. He’s called upon to save the day–and safely deliver he and Mr. Apple back to Brambly Hedge. Wilfred is scared, but his preparations pay off.

Brambly Hedge Illustrations

The Brambly Hedge stories (I read Spring Story, Summer Story, Autumn Story, The Secret Staircase, and of course The High Hills) is a delightful collection of idyllic tales somewhat reminiscent of The Hobbit (although much shorter and less menacing). Illustrated in a manner directly reminiscent of Beatrix Potter, I absolutely adore these books!

Mr. Katapat’s Incredible Adventures by Barroux

Mr. Katapat, the hero, looks like an ordinary man–but really, he’s quite extraordinary. He experiences great adventures through the pages of books he’s found at the library.

He’s a fortune hunter, a time traveler, a sheriff in the Wild West, a detective, and much more.

Mr Katapat's Incredible Adventures

He does all of his adventuring through the pages of books, which he reads as he does almost everything (including unicycling).

But one day, he stumbled onto a new adventure–an adventure he hadn’t read yet. A love story in real life.

That is how Mr. Katapat met Mrs. Katapat.

And that is a story I love to read.

Because by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Vladimir Radunsky

The narrator, who is known only as “me”, introduces us to his house, his friend, the neighbors in his apartment building, and his grandmother.

His grandmother, known as Mrs. Duncan, is an eternal embarrassment.


On Monday, she leapfrogs over Mrs. Q. On Tuesday, she rolls around on the ground. On Wednesday, she acts as if she were skating, only without the skates. On Thursday, she’s tap-dancing and doing cart-wheels. On Friday, she’s flapping her arms like a butterfly. On Saturday, she’s galloping. On Sunday, she’s leaping.

I aspire to be just like Mrs. Duncan.


Because she’s a dancer

Reading My LibraryFor more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

Bird Books

As I continue my path through Eiseley library’s children’s picture book section, I become pickier and pickier about children’s books. So much is monotonous pages of empty words accompanied by bright splashes of illustrations that are equally empty. The rhythms start to grow old, the archetypes tedious. I get worn out.

So when I discover a book that is sweet without being saccharine, educational without being pedantic, and illustrated artistically without trying to be avant-garde, I get excited.

Dianna Hutts Aston wrote two such books that I thoroughly enjoyed coming across this month.

Mama outside, Mama insideMama Outside, Mama Inside tells the story of two mamas preparing for their coming children. The mama outside is a bird, preparing a nest, sitting on the eggs, bringing her hatchlings food, and teaching them to fly. Mama inside is a woman, preparing a nursery for her baby, knitting a blanket, feeding her baby, and taking her new baby to the window to see the baby birds learn how to fly.

The illustrations by Susan Graber are soft and realistic. I was excited to see that Gaber chose to portray Mama inside breastfeeding her child (discretely) while Papa brings a pillow. The image of an infant being fed a bottle has become iconographic–but I’d much rather have the normative image portray breastfeeding! Artists like Gaber deserve kudos for subtly working towards re-establishing breastfeeding as a normative practice.

An Egg is Quiet

The Second Dianna Aston book I was impressed with was An Egg is Quiet, illustrated by Sylvia Long. The book starts with the simple words “An egg is quiet. It sits there, under its mother’s feathers…on top of its father’s feet…buried beneath the sand. Warm. Cozy.” And on it goes, telling about the features of different eggs–their colors and shapes and sizes and patterns and textures. The main text is in large script, with only a short sentence or phrase per page. The bulk of the page is composed of naturalistic illustrations of different eggs, labeled for easy identification, and more detailed descriptions of whatever principle the main script is discussing in smaller (but still not small) print.

This is a delightful book that is sure to have children pouring for hours over its illustrations and dreaming about seeing all the different birds (and a few reptiles) and eggs. Parents could easily read just the large script to their youngest children, while exploring the smaller print in more detail with their slightly older children. I can see this title holding the attention of preschoolers all the way through middle-elementary school children. (It held my attention pretty well too–and I had to go back to check out Sylvia Long’s illustrations in better detail.) This is the nature book I wish I had in my home growing up.

Reading My LibraryFor more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

Moonbear by Frank Asch

Moonbear is an imaginative little bear who loves the moon more than anything else in this world.

In Moondance by Frank Asch, Moonbear dances with the clouds (fog), with the rain, and with the moon (via its reflection in a puddle). In Mooncake, Moonbear wants to take a bite out of the moon and tries a variety of means to capture the moon so he cake take a bite. In Happy Birthday, Moon, Moonbear climbs a mountain to get close enough to the moon to have a conversation. In the conversation (held via echoes), he discovers that the moon has exactly the same birthday as him! On their birthday, Moonbear and the moon exchange gifts via an odd fate.

Moonbear books

In other Moonbear books, Moonbear puts out a sky-fire (a rainbow), raises a pet fish (who turns out to actually be a tadpole), and “dreams” that a kangaroo jumped through his yard.

While my descriptions might make it sound like the moon is animate in this little series, it is not. Rather, a variety of coincidences lead Moonbear to think that he actually is talking to, eating, dancing with, or exchanging gifts with the moon. Moonbear’s misinterpretation of natural phenomena such as reflections, echoes, rainbows, and tadpoles turning into frogs can make these books a great way to start a conversation with your preschooler about some of these scientific facts.

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Besides their potential as a teaching tool, these little books are worth reading because they’re just plain fun!

Other books by Frank Asch that you and your child might find enjoyable include Baby Bird’s First Nest, Baby Duck’s New Friend, and Good Night, Baby Bear. I do not recommend The Earth and I, which is rife with earth-worshiping animism. Thankfully, none of Asch’s other works (that I’ve read) exhibit this characteristic.

For more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

Books without words

I think I’m going to have to stop saying I’m not a fan of things–’cause it seems the moment I do, I find something to disprove whatever I just said.

Take my dislike for picture books with little to no text.

I’m not a picture person. The written word is my heart language. Illustrations are nice but I rarely do more than glance over them. I’m not a fan of picture books that don’t include text.

And then I read these two titles from Jose Aruego.

Children's books

Look What I Can Do contains five words, repeated twice (incidentally, they are the same words that comprise the title.) Nevertheless, the illustrations manage to successfully tell the story of two young water buffalo who take turns showing off and copying one another–only to find themselves in a predicament they definitely hadn’t bargain with.

The water buffalo learn their lesson, and so will your kids, in this cute pictorial representation of the age-old question: “If everybody was jumping off a cliff, would you do it too?”

The Last Laugh has even fewer words–and no sentences. Hiss. Quack. Hee-hee. A snake takes great pleasure in hissing at every animal he encounters, enjoying seeing them quake in fright. But when one little duck’s fright sends him straight into the snake’s mouth, he discovers something that makes HIM quake in fright.

The ducks get the last laugh in this little tale: Quack!

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While I still think I prefer text to pictures, these stories are definitely an exception to the rule. You should TOTALLY check them out!

For more comments on children’s books, see the rest of my Reading My Library posts or check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

Meet Bubba and Beau

Bubba is the son of Big Bubba and Momma Pearl.

Beau is the puppy of Maurice and Evelyn.

Bubba and Beau are best friends. They both go around on all fours, and both are keen on chewing.

Bubba and Beau books

The Bubba and Beau books, written by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Arthur Howard, are a hilarious set of tales about a family of Texas rednecks.

Each book boasts a full cast of characters, including Bubba, Big Bubba, Momma Pearl, Beau, Earl (the trusty pickup truck), and a whole host of other folk.

The stories are told in a mixture of Southern colloquialisms and children’s rhyming language. “Bubba and Beau loved its squishy squish. They loved its squishy squash…Sister, that mud hole was better than pickled eggs.” “Yes siree, those relatives caught up till the cows came home.” “Y’all come back now, ya hear?”

Each story tells a tale in a series of [very] short chapters, describing some typical childhood event: kids getting dirty and not wanting a bath, a baby not wanting to sleep until daddy takes him for a car ride, getting primped and kissed when relatives visit, etc.

The stories focus on childhood events, but they’re really probably of more interest to adults than to children. Mommies (or adept babysitters) will laugh at the typical description of a child’s behavior in each situation. Anyone redneck (which, in books, generally means anybody conservative) will smile and nod when Big Bubba tears up at the sight of so many flags on the stamps he buys from the post office. Anybody who knows older men, particularly of the farming variety, will enjoy the “conversation” the men have on the front porch of the Feed and Seed. “Good day to shoot the breeze.” “Yep.” “Yes siree.”

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This is definitely a series worth checking out the next time you’re at your local library. Even if your children don’t entirely appreciate their humor, you’ll undoubtedly get a few giggles out of this fun little set of books.

For more comments on children’s books (counting and otherwise), check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

A Repentant Reader

I officially repent of all that I have ever said against children’s counting books.

When done right, counting books can be delightful, as evidenced by Ten Little Wishes: A Baby Animal Counting Book, Arlene Alda’s 1,2,3: What do you see?, and now Lena Anderson’s Tea for Ten

Lena Anderson Picture Books

Tea for Ten tells the rhyming story of Hedgehog, feeling lonely, sitting at her table, wishing that her friends would drop by so “she wouldn’t be just ONE”. Thankfully, some of her friends do stop in–and Hedgehog prepares a sweet tea for ten.

Lena Anderson’s picture books have an endearing cast of characters that might be stuffed animals or might be real animals, but are cute and cuddly either way.

Both Hedgehog, Pig, and the Sweet Little Friend and Hedgehog’s Secret are entertaining and have delightful illustrations–but Lena Anderson’s crowning glory (in my humble opinion) is Tick-Tock.

Tick-Tock includes the same familiar characters as Anderson’s other books–but this is another teaching book. In fact, it’s a counting book of sorts.

The story begins at one o’clock, with Uncle Will taking a string of youngsters to the park. At two, they climb a tree. At three, someone falls off the tree. At four… And so the story goes. At seven o’clock, the kids get ready for bed. Every hour afterward, at least one youngster wakes up for one reason or another–until at last the clock strikes twelve and Uncle Will falls asleep in exhaustion.

Like the rest of the books, Tick-Tock is told in rhyme. It’s a short book, but fun–and the illustrations are perfect. Each page has a clock face on it, with the hands pointed at the appropriate time and the numeral for the hour beside it. This is a perfect book for teaching numbers and the basics of telling time.

Reading My Library

For more comments on children’s books (counting and otherwise), check out Carrie’s blog Reading My Library, which chronicles her and her children’s trip through the children’s section of their local library.

This book’s a blast!

Romeo and Lou, a penguin and a polar bear, play together in the snow, molding themselves a space ship for imaginary travels.

When their spaceship takes off, they unexpectedly find themselves in the midst of an alarmingly unusual forest.

Romeo and Lou Blast Off

They’re stymied by unfamiliar sites until they finally see something that looks right–another polar bear (actually a small white dog) and penguin (actually a rather large man in a suit.) They ask for directions–and well, things don’t really go so well.

They meet some walruses (workmen) busy “ice fishing” (actually using a jackhammer on a road). They find another space ship (mini-van) and get inside–only to be chased out by a school of angry fish (children coming out of the swimming pool.) A shark (policeman) chases them all the way over a bridge and onto a ship, where Romeo and Lou build themselves a new spaceship and sail home.

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Derek Anderson’s Romeo and Lou Blast Off absolutely enthralled me with its funny juxtaposition of everyday life and polar animals. The story itself is imaginative, even fantastical–but the real treat is seeing the walruses, the shark, the penguin, etc. all just everyday men that you never would have really noticed…well, they really do look rather like walruses, sharks, and the like. It’s uncanny!

If you happen to be able to find a copy of Romeo and Lou Blast Off, I encourage you to pick it up. You won’t be sorry.

A delightful tale, for sure!

What happens when one silly chicken loses a feather and giggles “The more I pluck myself, the more gorgeous I look”?

Hans Christian Andersen's For sure! For Sure!Not much, except that another chicken hears and tells her best friend.

And Momma Owl hears the chicken friends discussing it and rushes off to tell the nice owl next door.

Who then shouts the news to the pigeon house below.

The story spreads and spreads until the coop where the silly chicken lives hears the dreadful story. Apparently five chickens had all plucked themselves bare trying to prove that they were pining away for the rooster. Then they had pecked each other to death!

Of course the story was true–everyone said so, for sure.

The original silly chicken was an upstanding citizen and roundly renounced the goings on, not realizing that she was the chicken who had started the whole rumor.

Hans Christian Andersen's For sure! For Sure!Hans Christian Andersen’s For sure! For sure! translated by Mus White and illustrated by Stefan Czernecki is a timeless tale about gossip and how rumours spread. I had never heard this particular tale of Andersen’s and was delighted to discover it in my trek through the children’s section of my local library.

The story was told just as stories for children should be told: using straightforward language without overly simplifying sentence structure. The story never once use the word gossip or rumors–but it makes its point clear nonetheless. Many an author could take a note from Andersen’s book and show instead of telling.

Reading My LibraryThe bright, simple illustrations perfectly complemented the text, indicating the delight the many birds were taking in sharing their news with yet another person.

This picture book has definitely got my thumbs up! For sure!

Universal Rights?

Reading My LibraryDisclaimer: The book I describe and rant about within this page was read during my endeavor to read every book in Eiseley library and while following along with Carrie’s Reading My Library project. However, the contents of this post are more a political/social rant than a book review. Just letting you know.

I’d never heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the UN in 1948) until I found a children’s version published in my local library. The book was entitled We are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures.

I had relatively low expectations of the book. After all, it’s an ideological children’s book written by a committee (Amnesty International). That doesn’t exactly make for soaring prose or beautiful language. In fact, it usually means it’ll be boring as all get out and clunkier than your first car. And so it was.

But that wasn’t what bothered me. What bothered me was the ideology contained within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which I have now taken a look at, thanks to this book.)

We are all born free

I didn’t have a problem with statements 1 and 2, dumbed down for children as “We are all born free and equal. We all have our own thoughts and ideas. We should be treated in the same way. These rights belong to everybody, whatever our differences.” Okay.

So too, the third statement: “We all have the right to life, and to live in freedom and safety.”

The fourth statement, against slavery? Statement five against torture? Yep.

A right to equal protection under the law? Sure. I’ll allow habeas corpus for all. (Statements 6-11)

After this, the statements get a bit sketchier. A few I don’t mind (although I’m not sure they’re followed anywhere–even in the US). Equal rights for males and females. Right to your own property (and against seizure without good cause.) Right to believe whatever we’d like. Right to make up our own minds. Right to speak our minds. Right to peacefully assemble. Right to vote. Okay. I’ll grant these.

But right to a home? Right to enough money to live on? Right to medical care? Right to ART? Right to a job? Right to a vacation? Right to a good life? Right to a free education? Right to learn a career?

Are you serious? In my mind, these things aren’t RIGHTS–these things are things you earn. You work to own a home. You work to earn money. You work to get medical care. You enjoy art because you choose to and you pay for it. You take a vacation when and if your employer allows it–or you quit your job and live with the consequences. You pay for your own education. You choose to do whatever it takes to learn a career. These things aren’t rights. They’re privileges that are earned. Who comes up with this stuff?

We often excuse such blather as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because we’d love it if this Utopian society it describes existed. We’d love it if everyone had a free education, if everyone enjoyed the good life (Come to Nebraska–we are “The Good Life”), if everyone had access to art, if everyone had a roof over their heads and enough money to live on. We’d love it. We want that to happen. I want that to happen.

But just because something is desirable does not make it a right.

The noun right means something due to a person or community by law, tradition, or nature. If we are to modify the noun right with the adjective universal (which means of, relating to, or affecting the entire world or all within the world), then we must strike out the words “law” and “tradition”, since there is no universal law or tradition. We must define a universal right as something due to a person or community by nature (although I would argue that the modern “nature” is less appropriate than America’s founding father’s explanation of the source of inalienable rights: our Creator.)

In other words, universal rights are things that are due to people for the sole reason of their being people, regardless of who they are or what they do. Notice that term “due”? Universal rights are things that are owed to every person, regardless of their condition. They are the things that we all have a moral obligation to give to one another.

Most of these things listed as “rights” by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are nice things. Wouldn’t we all love to have a free education? Wouldn’t we all love to have a roof over our heads? Wouldn’t we all love to have a job? Wouldn’t we all love to have enough money to live on? Wouldn’t we all love a vacation? Sure. (At least, I would love to.)

But the question is, do I have a moral obligation to give everyone else in the world a free education? Do I have a moral obligation to give them a roof over their heads? Do I have a moral obligation to give them a job? Do I have a moral obligation to give them enough money to live on? Do I have a moral obligation to give them a vacation? If those things truly are universal rights, than I am morally obligated to do all those things for every other person.

But I’m not. I don’t have to give everyone else an education, a roof over their heads, a job, enough money to live on, or a vacation. Those aren’t universal rights–things owed to everyone for mere virtue of their existence.

Universal rights means that I have an obligation to not kill anyone else (they have a universal right to life). I have an obligation to treat others justly (they have a universal right to equal protection under the law and habeas corpus). I have an obligation to not enslave or torture others. I have an obligation to not steal others’ property. These are universal rights–things due to all people by nature.

The rest? Many are nice to have but not necessarily defensible from a natural or moral point of view. It’s nice to belong to a country–but do I have a moral obligation to give another belonging in a country? It’s nice to have a “good life”–but do I have a moral obligation to give you a “good life”? No, not really. (I might, however, have a moral obligation to not give you a bad life–or to not interfere with your pursuit of a good life.)

Others are not only indefensible from a natural or moral point of view, but are actually contrary to other, clearly defensible universal rights. If everyone has a right to a free education, who pays for it? If everyone has a right to a home, who provides it? If everyone has a right to enough money to live on, who gives them this money? If everyone has a right to medical care, who provides this care? These things are not free. They all have a cost, either in time or in money or both. If these are universal rights, that indicates that they are due to all people REGARDLESS of what they do or do not do. Which means that the only way to ensure that everyone gets what is “owed” to them under this definition of universal rights is to compel another person to give it to them either by laboring under compulsion (slavery) or by giving up their possessions under compulsion (a form of stealing). Yet, slavery and stealing are clearly recognized as violations of true universal human rights.

In the midst of feel-goods about free medical care and education and homes and jobs and money, we forget that for every privilege we wrongly define as a right, we take away another true right.

For the sake of preserving human rights, let’s let our list of rights be short–but strictly observed.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses Princes Knights

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The Twelve Dancing Princesses was not a fairy tale that figured heavily into my childhood. Mostly I remember either the fairy tales found in our red-covered copy of Andersen’s Fairy Tales or the Disneyfied or otherwise pop-culturified tales found in videos and Golden books.

My first real exposure to the story occurred this last February, when I read Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball. I loved the story. I loved how George told the story. I still haven’t read Grimm’s version–so I have no idea how it compares.

I haven’t been actively seeking out Twelve Dancing Princesses stories–but I managed to stumble across one this last week in my run through the picture book section of my local library.

And, boy, is this one a STORY!

Debbie Allen’s Brothers of the Knight is an imaginative retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses–except that instead of twelve princesses, there are twelve brothers–the sons of the Reverend Knight.

Reverend Knight is a hard-working black preacher in Harlem, taking care of his congregation and his twelve sons–Brooke, Bobby, Joe, Snacky, Gerald and Jackie, Teeny Tiny Tappin’ Theo, Lazy Leo, Big fat Raoul, Billie and Willie, and Michael (head of the clan, a ladies’ man). He tried to keep the twelve under check but without a wife (there’s no indication of what happened to her–I presume she must have died) he’s somewhat at a loss. He’s gone through dozens of nannies and housekeepers, but none of them can solve the problem that plagues the house–every morning, the twelve young Knight’s shoes would be threadbare and worn.

One Sunday after church, Reverend Knight goes into his office and prays for help with his sons–and when he gets home, a woman name Sunday is waiting on the steps. She wants the job of housekeeper. She’s come to help with the boys.

But can Sunday succeed in solving the mystery when all the other housekeepers and nannies have failed?

Turns out there are a lot of secrets in the Knight house–and Sunday’s determined to uncover them all. Who knows but she’ll have the Reverend Knight dancing before the tale is told!

I adored this rendition. It’s quirky, it’s fun, and it’s all about dancing (Sorry, I should have warned you that there’d be spoilers.) The story itself is fun enough–but add in that it’s narrated by the family dog and you’ve got utter hilarity.

Check this one out next time you’re at your library–and if they don’t have it, get them to order it. It’s a BLAST!!