Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, March 2016 (Winter Picture Book Review Edition)

We received a lot of picture books and board books in the mail during the first few months of the year. For this month's Reading With... I'm sharing Miss Muffet's and Bo Peep's reactions to some of their favorites, as well as my reactions to a few titles I chose not to share with them. All of the titles named in this post are listed at the end with full bibliographic information.

New Favorites

Miss Muffet always gets excited whenever new books arrive on our doorstep, but she typically only takes a strong liking to a few titles. This Winter, there were five titles that really got her attention and caused her to beg for multiple re-readings.

Blanche Hates the Night (ISBN: 9781771471589), about a little girl who does everything she can think up to avoid going to bed, including singing to the moon, arrived during a time when Miss Muffet was testing her own bedtime limits. Though she can't remember Blanche's name half the time (she has called her everything from "Branch" to "Lunch"), she sees in her a kindred naughty spirit. I like the book myself, for the use of light and shadow, and the fun moment where Blanche hangs her pajamas from the moon, asserting that this is the only thing for which the moon is useful. This book has gone out with us on stroller walks and been a frequent choice to have in bed with Miss Muffet during quiet time.

I requested Hoot and Peep (ISBN: 9780525428374) for two reasons. The first was that I love Lita Judge's Red Sled and wanted to see something new from her. The other was that Miss Muffet is still really into owls. This story about siblings who disagree about how owls should communicate - Hoot says they should hoot, while Peep prefers to make such creative sounds as "Schweedly peep!" - is set in Paris. The illustrations, though primarily focused on the two owls and their expressions, give a nice sense of the city as seen from church towers and rooftops. I liked the book well enough, but it is Miss Muffet who has latched onto it. I asked her, after a couple of back-to-back readings whether she thinks Little Bo Peep has "owly wisdom" as Hoot eventually realizes his sister does, and she laughed and said "No, Mama!" But there is something in that sibling relationship that keeps her coming back for more.

Grandma purchased Stanley the Mailman (ISBN: 9781561458677) for Miss Muffet for Easter, but we also received a review copy, which I read to her once, and then put away so as not to spoil the Easter surprise. Stanley's newest career is that of mailman, and his day begins before the sun comes up. As his day progresses, he delivers packages and letters mailed to such adorable addresses as "Myrtle, Myrtle's House, near Shamus and Little Woo's House" and "Little Woo, Shamus and Little Woo's House, just down the road from Myrtle's House, before you get to Charlie's House."  Ever since we sent Valentines to some of our relatives last month, Miss Muffet has been really interested in the mail, so I suspect this one will become an even greater favorite in the weeks to come.

I have never been to San Francisco or Chicago, but I still enjoyed reading San Francisco ABC (ISBN: 9781570619946) and Chicago ABC (ISBN: 9781570619939), both of which star Pete and his dog, Larry. We have some family connections to those areas, so I was able to hook Miss Muffet by explaining which relatives lived or currently live in these cities, and because she is so interested in the alphabet right now, it didn't matter to her that most of the landmarks are places neither of us has ever seen. The most brilliant thing about these books is the way they deal with the letter X. Instead of trying to find some obscure landmark that starts with X, both books use the X to mark the location of its city on a map. This is the best way I have seen an alphabet book handle the X issue!  I also really like the art work, which is very colorful and vintage-looking. We also received board books starring the same characters - Larry Loves Boston and Larry Loves Washington, DC, both of which are very well done and have joined Little Bo Peep's board book stash.

Finally, The Opposite Zoo (ISBN: 9780553511277),  while a bit reminiscent of Goodnight, Gorilla, is a beautifully illustrated book featuring pairs of zoo animals who exhibit opposite characteristics. Because our review copy was an unbound galley, I couldn't share it with Miss Muffet very easily, but we did read it a couple of times, and she really loved the artwork. She wanted to look carefully at each picture, and she wanted to know the names of the animals and make their sounds. I usually enjoy Il Sung Na, and I liked this book as well as his previous titles.

Birthday Books

During 2016, Bo Peep will turn one and Miss Muffet will turn three, so these books will be perfect for us when that time comes. The Importance of Being Three (ISBN: 9780525428695), while primarily a celebration of all the things three-year-olds can do, is also a great lesson on understanding the number three, and being able to count to three. I did read the book to Miss Muffet, and she did ask a ton of questions about the pictures, but she also seemed to know that she was not yet three and therefore maybe not quite ready to relate to everything the kids in the pictures were doing.

The artwork in You Are One (ISBN: 9781771470728) is interesting - it's done in a collage style, but the babies all have realistic faces, and the expressions they make will be familiar to anyone who has ever known a one-year-old. The text is the usual bittersweet reflection on that emotional first year of a child's life, and I question whether kids really relate to that, even at just 12 months old, but for a parent whose child is about to reach that first birthday milestone, this will be a big hit.

Board Books

123 Moose (ISBN: 9781632170323) and O is for Orca (ISBN: 9781632170330) are nature-themed concept books illustrated with photographs. While neither is especially memorable for me, O is for Orca has made an impression on Little Bo Peep. At a recent playdate, she sat in her car seat in a room full of wild toddlers, happily turning the book over and over and occasionally even flipping open a page. This was her first time really handling a book on her own, and I was pleased to note that she had not yet figured out how to eat it, and that she seemed genuinely interested in engaging with the book because it was a book, and not just because it was a random object. A friend also grabbed the book and read it to her toddler during this same playdate, and she was impressed by the variety of animals, but not as thrilled with the ending where, she said, "I guess they just gave up when they got to the end of the alphabet."

We also received an unbound excerpt of In the Wind (ISBN: 9781561458547) from Peachtree Publishers. While the artwork struck me as a little bit outdated at first, the rhyming text is spot on, and the experience of flying a kite on a windy day comes fully to life for the youngest readers. I liked the book and would definitely borrow a finished copy from the library if one is available.

Reading without Little Miss Muffet or Little Bo Peep

These final four titles are picture books I read on my own, but chose not share with Miss Muffet and Bo Peep.

Echo Echo (ISBN: 9780803739925) is a collection of reverso poems by the same team that created Mirror Mirror and Follow Follow, both of which drew their inspiration from fairy tales. This time, the poems are based on characters from Greek mythology. While I have always liked the form of these poems, I find I grow weary of it when I read an entire book. The strongest pieces in the book are the ones which represent two characters' opposing viewpoints on the same situation, as these disparate interpretations of the same events are what make this poetry form resonate so strongly.  The artwork is also very appealing. I'm not sure yet whether this book will be added to our permanent family collection since it will be years before we can use it, but it would certainly make a great supplement to a unit of study on mythology for elementary and even middle school readers.

It is always a struggle to find robot picture books, which is why I was pleased to receive Raybot (ISBN: 9780843183009). While the cartoonish style and commercial look of the illustrations ultimately caused me to decide not to share the book with Miss Muffet, I did think the book would work well for library story time. Raybot's search for a puppy includes lots of onomatopoeia, and it's filled with humor and colorful pictures. It would require some preparation before reading aloud as there is a lot going on on some of the pages, but it would be worth the extra effort to be able to do a robot theme! (For best results, pair Raybot with Hello, Robots by Bob Staake.)

I did look at My House is Alive! (ISBN:  9781771471367) with Miss Muffet because she has started wondering about everyday noises, and the science behind how things work in general. We didn't read very much because she got distracted pretty quickly, and the level of the text was above her current comprehension level, but this is not the fault of the book at all. For a four or five year old listener, it would have been perfect, as it answers the difficult kinds of questions kids of that age tend to ask their parents, and it dispels any fears they may have about the noises they hear in the middle of the night.

Finally, Mom, Dad, Our Books, and Me (ISBN: 9781771472012) was a huge disappointment. While it pretends to be a book celebrating literacy, it focuses almost entirely on "reading" things that do not involve words, such as the sky's weather signs, the time on a watch, and "love poems in [a] boyfriend's eyes." I am already weary of picture book love letters about reading, and since this one isn't even really about books, I couldn't figure out what kids are meant to learn from it. (Unlike all the other books in this post, this title will be published in April.)

Books Mentioned in This Post

I received review copies of each of the books on this list from their respective publishers.
  • Echo Echo by Marilyn Singer. 2/16/16. Dial Books. 9780803739925 
  • The Importance of Being Three by Lindsay Ward. 2/16/16. Dial Books. 9780525428695 
  • Larry Loves Boston by John Skewes. 2/23/16. Little Bigfoot. 9781632170477
  • Larry Loves Washington, D.C. by John Skewes. 2/23/16. Little Bigfoot. 9781632170484
  • 1 2 3 Moose by Andrea Helman. 2/23/16. Little Bigfoot. 9781632170323
  • O is for Orca by Andrea Helman. 2/23/16. Little Bigfoot. 9781632170330
  • Hoot and Peep by Lita Judge. 3/1/16. Dial Books.  9780525428374
  • In the Wind by Elizabeth Spurr. 3/1/6. Peachtree Publishers. 9781561458547
  • Stanley the Mailman by William Bee. 3/1/16. Peachtree Publishers. 9781561458677
  • The Opposite Zoo by Il Sung Na. 3/8/16. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 9780553511277
  • Blanche Hates the Night by Sybille Delacroix. 3/15/16. OwlKids Books. 9781771471589 
  • Chicago ABC by John Skewes. 3/15/16. Little Bigfoot. 9781570619939
  • My House is Alive by Scot Ritchie. 3/15/16. Owlkids Books. 9781771471367
  • San Francisco ABC by John Skewes. 3/15/16. Little Bigfoot. 9781570619946
  • You Are One by Sara O'Leary. 3/15/16. Owlkids Books. 9781771470728
  • Raybot by Adam F. Watkins.  3/22/16. Price Stern Sloan. 9780843183009 
  • Mom, Dad, Our Books, and Me by Danielle Marcotte. 4/12/16. Owlkids Books. 9781771472012
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