Dec 30, 2012

Bathtime for Twins

by Ellen Weiss
illustrated by Sam Williams

Entertaining little book about two toddlers sharing a bath. They splash and pour water, admire their toy boat, play with soap bubbles and generally just have a good time getting squeaky clean. Then there are towel rubs, squirming into pajamas and snuggling in bed. It's simple and adorable. The text moves in an easy rhythm with good rhymes patterns (not forced as some kid books can feel). The pictures are pencil drawings with watercolor wash (at least that's what it looks like to me); they have a nice soft feel and are yet very lively and fun. My kid really likes this book; it's currently one of her favorites. If I see one of the companion volumes -there's one featured on the back of the twins enjoying playtime- I'll certainly check it out.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 28 pages, 2012

Dec 28, 2012

Otherwise Normal People

Inside the Thorny World of Competetive Rose Gardening
by Aurelia C. Scott

Although it has (again) taken me quite some time to read it, I found this book about roses very interesting and engaging. In it, the author met with quite a few rose enthusiasts from different areas of the country, visited their gardens, learned how they grow roses, and attended a few rose shows. It was all quite eye-opening. First of all, I was pretty taken aback by all the work that roses seem to require. Especially if they're grown in cold areas and need winter protection- which ranges from simply covering them up to burying them in trenches (resurrected in spring) or finding ways to bring them indoors (usually a garage). But it seems that rose people love the challenge. Not only that, but roses also need constant tending whether in the form of pruning, pinching unwanted buds, complex feeding and spraying schedules, applications of insecticides, etc. This part upset me a bit, but it sounds like it would be impossible to grow perfect show roses without the use of chemicals to kill disease and thwart bugs. If the roses are grown well enough to be considered show quality, there is a whole 'nother round of meticulous preparation and grooming they go through to make it to a display table and possibly win a prize. Even the spacing between petals is carefully rearranged. It all sounds quite heady, and the show-rose people certainly seem obsessed. I do admire their ingenuity in devising things to protect blooms from the weather and safely transport cut roses, usually out of recycled materials. One guy even built his own sprayer.

All that was fascinating, but I found the very end of the book enthralled me most. I wish Scott had written more about this side, the world of old-rose enthusiasts. They are even more my kind of people. Instead of being interested in the perfection of form and visual beauty of the rose, they are all about the scent and the thrill of finding and rescuing hundred-years-old varieties. (Because you can't have both, a rose is either very beautiful or has an incredible smell). As roses are usually grown from cuttings, there are scions alive today that are literally from the same living tissues as roses that grew hundreds of years ago. These old-rose enthusiasts will hunt for roses growing at old homesteads or graveyards and take cuttings to grow them in their own gardens. Sometimes they rescue roses from sites slated for demolition. Then they try to identify what variety they have; some arguments of old-rose names in public gardens are ongoing! They are rose-hunters and rose-rustlers, definitely a more casual bunch than the show people. And the roses they grow have deep history, often have a mystery surrounding them, or a story behind them. In fact, while there were quite a few tender stories about roses in the lives of people among the show set, they didn't really touch me the way stories of the old roses did; one tale of a rose planted on an infant's grave brought me to tears... These old roses are wild, rambling, intoxicating and not at all persnickity about care. I think if I got into roses these would be my kind, the ones that make your head swim when you inhale, and don't require arsenals of chemicals to keep them healthy.

The only thing that would have made this book better would be the inclusion of some pictures of roses!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 235 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Pop Matters
The Hum of Desperation
Rose Garden Advice

Dec 27, 2012

Who Hoo Are You?

an animals book
by Kate Endle

This is one of those little books which I happen to find lovely, but my daughter doesn't seem to  like herself. It has the same charming cut-paper illustrations with wonderful patterns and visual textures as What is Green? Each page is just a picture of an animal naming himself: I'm a lazy lion, I'm a curious kitten, I'm a lovable little lamb, etc. They're really adorable. I especially like the tipped-over turtle; his shell has splotches that look like differently-colored rocks, with a nice patchwork effect. But for whatever reason when I open it and start reading about the animals, my daughter reaches out to shut the book saying "No!" and pushes it away. I think her opinion is made clear, though I'm puzzled at the cause. It's happened the past five or six times I've tried to read it to her (we've only once made it all the way through) so I'm going to take it back to the library and continue with other books.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 18 pages, 2010

Flip, Flap, Fly!

by Phyllis Root

Soft and bright pastel pictures illustrate this board book that shows various baby animals learning from their mothers their respective mode of locomotion. The little bird practices flying, the baby fish to swim, the snake wiggles, otter slides, duck paddles and so on. At the end of each spread the baby animal says "Look, I see a-" leading onto the next page of mother-baby pairs. Finally the little mouse sees a child, who isn't running or jumping but just getting a kiss from mom. Then the child ties it all together by observing all the baby animals around him. Nice book.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 32 pages, 2009

Dec 26, 2012

Touch and Feel Jungle Animals

by DK Publishing

Another one of the touch-and-feel variety, this board book features animals from the jungle with some foliage around them, and a texture patch on each page for little hands to explore. There's a fuzzy tiger, hairy orangutan, and nice scaly pattern on the snake. I did find it a bit disappointing that the toucan beak and frog skin were both the same- perfectly smooth- doesn't a frog skin have some kind of texture? but other than that it's a very nice book that keeps my kid engaged. Bright colors and very attractive-looking animals.

 Rating: 3/5........ 10 pages, 2001

Dec 25, 2012


by Lois Ehlert

This is one of the coolest board books I've seen in a long time. Cut-paper collage illustrates birds looking for food in the new-falling snow. Then the narrator shows an accumulation of things in bags and piles, names the anticipation of waiting for a really good snow day. And there follows a showcase of snowmen, suddenly spanning two pages and taking up the width for their height so you have to rotate the book ninety degrees to change the orientation. There is a snow dad, snow mom, snow boy and girl, snow baby and snow cat, even a snow dog (pretty shapeless but fun nonetheless). The cool thing is that the snowmen, made also of cut paper, have all kinds of real objects put on them besides the iconic scarf and carrot nose. And multiple items are used that will feed the birds. There are strawberries and corn kernels, sunflower seeds, berries, raisins, popcorn, peanuts, etc. Plus all kinds of curious objects like id tags, toy car wheels, bottle caps and so forth. The dog covered with many kinds of buttons is fun. My eighteen-month-old likes to point out the objects she knows: "Hat! Fork!" Each page also shows a (grateful you must think) bird or squirrel on or near the snowman, which will also provide it some winter food. The last few pages show the snowmen melting. a nice touch with a bit of rhyme.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 26 pages, 1995

Dec 24, 2012

Baby's Best Friend

by Rachel Hale

Like Hugs and Kisses by the same author, this book is full of absolutely beautiful photographs of babies paired with young animals. The simple text phrases describe attributes of being a friend, or of the animals- cute or furry, friendly, snuggly and so forth. There's puppies and kittens but also birds (perched on baby hats) and bunnies, even a duckling, sheep and turtle. (Funny thing, my daughter always says "ewww" at the turtle picture because once we found a smashed turtle shell outside and while looking at it with curiosity cautioned her against touching it because of possible germs. Now she seems to think all turtles are yucky!) This book has better phrasing than Hugs and Kisses, the rhythm doesn't feel so forced. Both baby and I like it a lot.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 20 pages, 2011

Dec 23, 2012

Hugs and Kisses

by Roberta Grobel Intrater

Cute book of close-up photos showing babies exchanging kisses and hugs with their parents. Kisses on the feet, belly, cheek (one leaves a lipstick mark!) etc. Of course my eighteen-month-old loves seeing pictures of other baby faces, and she recognizes the activity, often presents her own foot or face for a kiss as we read this book. She also likes to point out identities: "Baby! Mommy! Daddy!" and sometimes facial features: "Eye! Noo (nose). Eaw (ear)." The only question I have of the book is the choice of a black background for the pages. They just seem kind of dark and often the hair blends into the background. Not sure why that choice was made. But it is an adorable book regardless.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 10 pages, 2002

Dec 22, 2012

Good Morning Baby!

by Sabine Kraushaar

This board book is shaped like a flower. The pages are round and the petals make tabs, two or three per page, sticking out at different angles. It's really the only thing going for it, the curious shape. The gist of the content is just toys: each page shows a toy and names it while a sparkly butterfly appears alongside. That's it. I don't even know why it's called Good Morning, it could just be called My Toys or Let's Play or something else entirely and still work. I find it rather inane. But the flower shape is just so charming and original I forgive the book its otherwise silliness.

Rating: 2/5 ......... 8 pages, 2006

Dec 21, 2012

Do You Want to Be My Friend?

by Eric Carle

A book without pictures, this one shows a little mouse on each page greeting other animals. On each spread the next creature's tail is showing, letting you guess who the mouse will meet next. Mousie encounters a lion, elephant, peacock, seal, horse, giraffe and myriad other creatures before he finally finds another little mouse and together they find shelter in the hole of a tree. Just in time, as a thick green line that has been present on all the pages reveals itself at the end to be a very long snake! Lovely textures make the pictures enjoyable to look at and it's pretty easy to come up with some narration for the book, whether pretending to have the mouse talk to each animal, or just name the animals for your little one.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 30 pages, 1971

Dec 20, 2012

Baby Animals

In the Jungle
by Kingfisher Books

Beautiful clear photographs of cute baby animals introduce toddlers to creatures that inhabit the jungle. The book features an orangutan, frogs, tapir, gorilla, elephant, tiger and lemur (is that a jungle animal?) There's a little description telling something about each animal and a feature of its behavior: the tapir's spots help it hide in the foliage, a lemur likes to sunbathe, elephants cool off in the mud, etc. The text has some fun variations going on, with letters bending, changing shape and doing other irregular things to help emphasize the action or characteristic described. It's quite fun, very attractive and a bit educational all at the same time.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 14 pages, 2011

Dec 19, 2012

What Are You Doing, Maisy?

by Lucy Cousins

I remember reading Maisy books with my older daughter when she was small, and now I'm discovering them all over again for her little sister. Maisy is a little mouse with animal friends. She's featured in board books, often with lift-the-flaps (which is always fun but I have to guard against enthusiastic little hands tearing them!) The pictures are simple and bold with bright, clean colors. This one shows Maisy in each picture getting ready to do something, and the text on the facing page has little pictures of the objects involved. When you lift the flap it shows what Maisy does with all those things. For example, on one page it shows eggs, butter, flour and candles, Maisy on the facing page is stirring in a bowl. What is she doing? Lift the flap, and there she is looking proud with a finished cake! The teaching moment of deducing what activity might use each group of objects is only enhanced by the progression of all the pictures- it turns out that Maisy is doing things specifically to get ready for a big event at the end. My little girl loves these books so much that she even says the name; she'll bring me a book repeating "May-sie, May-sie" insistently until I read it. We're going to have to find more than just the three I've currently borrowed from the library.

Rating: 4/5 ....... 14 pages, 2003

Dec 18, 2012

Thumper Counts to Ten

by Kitty Richards

Cute little counting book full of adorable furry bunnies and other forest animal friends. The details of the background foliage, flowers and textures of grass, pebbles, water ripples etc really make it lovely. What is a very simple concept ends up being a book full of detailed pictures that give the young reader a lot to look at beyond just counting how many butterflies or ducklings are on the page. I'm not terribly fond of books that capitalize on popular films or tv characters, but this one has a nice quality that readily overcomes my reluctance to appreciate it.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 16  pages, 2007

Dec 17, 2012

My Very First Book of Motion

by Eric Carle

You must know that Eric Carle is something of a classic illustrator when it comes to picture books. At least, I think so. He's the one who did The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Well, this board book has the same lively, bright cut-paper collage illustrations. Each one simply shows an animal. The textures and patterns in the paper pieces that make up each picture are wonderful, but what makes this book really fun is that it has a double set of pages, top and bottom, so you can leave an animal page in place on the top and turn through all the words that describe actions on the bottom, until you find the one that matches. It's quite fun, especially as some can be ambiguous- does the caterpillar match with climb or crawl? which animal goes with strut? And you'll never guess which one performs the action flip- a creature I hadn't encountered in a kid's book before!

rating: 4/5 ........ pages, 1986

Dec 16, 2012

A Good Day

by Kevin Henkes

This cute little book shows four creatures, each with a simple problem: a bird has lost its feather, a puppy got his leash tangled up, the baby fox is missing his mother and little squirrel has dropped his nut. Each animal looks sad at his predicament but then a bad day turns around as they each find a solution or overcome their disappointment. At the very end there's a nice closing touch where a little girl finds the feather the bird had lost and runs with it to her mom in delight: what so dismayed the bird turned out to be a highlight of her day!

 Rating: 3/5 ........ 32 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Kate's Bookery
What Adrienne Thinks About That
The Brimbank Book Shelf

Dec 15, 2012

Beach Day!

by Kristin Sorra

Cute little board book shows a redhead toddler enjoying a visit to the beach with her family. Each page simply has the words of her greeting a new activity or person: the lifeguard, the waves of the ocean, a seagull, a sandcastle. Hello, umbrella. Hello, towel. Hello, shells etc etc. Can be quite repetitive. But kids like that. One of my toddler's favorite words (at least it gets a lot of use) right now is simply "HI!" (she practically yells it at everyone we meet on walks) so she quite enjoys this book.

rating: 3/5 ........ 22 pages, 2009

Dec 14, 2012

Four Tenths of an Acre

by Laurie Lisle

I don't know why this book didn't sit well with me, but I just couldn't focus on it. And normally I like reading memoirs about gardening. Hers includes a lot about the history of her new town, and quotes from other writers (most famous names) about gardening. If I had been in the right frame of mind I could have enjoyed learning how a little town changed its face over the generations, and compiled another large list of books related to gardening and plants to read. The book is peppered with their titles. As it was I often found my attention wandering, or bored. Perhaps it's because my own focus has shifted; the challenges of creating a nice garden design in her oddly shaped narrow yard failed to capture my interest.  I suppose I relate more to the growing of houseplants now; I did find myself curiously attentive to the pages about her indoor plants, particularly a large jade which she tried unsuccessfully to coax into flowering. I actually thumbed eagerly through the pages to see if she ever managed that; having read on another blog last year about someone who did I wanted to say aloud to her: it's not just the dryness, it's temperature, too! Let it go dry and cold, and see if that works! But of course the author can't hear me talking aloud to her book.

So I really only skimmed the second half of this book, but perhaps you would like it better.

Abandoned ........ 219 pages, 2005

Dec 9, 2012

Picking Your Battles

by Bonnie Maslin

I find it difficult to write about self-help books without feeling like I'm exposing something of my flaws and failures. I also find it hard to know which books in this area are more credible than others. What makes one author's advice more solid than another's? And I often wonder if I am just liking a self-help book because its views already agree with my own; but what if my views are wrong? maybe a book that I didn't agree with but that taught me to do different would be more useful...

Anyway, I found this book helpful enough that right after finishing I wanted to turn to the front page and read it all over again, but I've already renewed it twice from the library. So I bought myself a copy. That in itself says a lot. I feel like the real test of the book's veracity will be how well its suggestions work when put into practice. I am trying, but still fall far short of where I should be as a parent. Here's some of the things that really stuck with me from Picking Your Battles.

The book describes methods of implementing discipline, being firm and sticking to the rules and standards you have made for your family, without caving into arguments. It helps you discern between what kinds of infractions are merely irritating to you and better ignored, which are impolite misconduct that should be corrected, and which are serious infractions that need to be acted on immediately. It tells you how to teach your child to be responsible, to recognize consequences, to understand the impact of their actions on others. Shows you strategies for managing anger, whether it be at your children, or anger they feel towards you. Points out that anger can be useful, as long as it is not expressed with aggression. Helps you recognize your own discipline strategy and realize if it is effective or not. And so on. Grounded in an understanding of child psychology, the author also tells you how to recognize when your kid is acting the way he does because of a developmental stage, not just because they're trying to be difficult or get under your skin. This is another thing I often need to remember. There's a lot more that I'm not even touching on here, but I don't really know how to describe it properly.

Well, I'm trying to implement some of the ideas from the book: to listen more, guide and direct more than demand and punish, give positive reinforcement instead of negative reprimands, and stem my irritation (I tend to nag a lot). But I think I'm going to read this book over again many times before I am done.

rating: 4/5 ......... 352 pages, 2004

more opinions:
Jesse's Girl

Dec 8, 2012

Busy Gorillas

by John Schindel

Guess what, I'm still reading the parenting book. And have a handful of gardening books I foolishly checked out from the library but have found no time to read. Life is busy now, hours always occupied. But I do happen to read lots of kid's books. So they're going to be the main feature here for a while! I have some catching up to do . . .

Busy Gorillas is in the same little series as Busy Kitties, one of my daughter's favorites that must be popular with other kids as well because I have never been able to find it again at the library. The board book shows gorillas doing various things: climbing, swinging, gnawing on plants, slapping their chest, pushing each other, napping, dashing about (blurry photo here- nice effect!) cuddling an infant, and my favorite, a big frowning face. That picture is just great! Each photo is paired with simply rhyming text. Sturdy little book illustrating to small readers activities that gorillas do- many of which are just like things we do ourselves.

rating: 3/5 ....... 20 pages, 2010

more opinions:
The Brainpan
the Well-Read Child