You’re Mean, Lily Jean (Frieda Wishinsky, author. Kady MacDonald Denton, illustrator. North Winds Press, 2009)
This is a gem of a picture book from a well-known Canadian author. The girls and I finally borrowed it from the library again after reading it for the first time a few years ago. Our second sign-out did not disappoint and I’ve taken better notice of its humour and the engaging illustrations. Snooty Lily Jean moves to the neighbourhood and immediately breaks up a sister playmate duo. Carly, the youngest sister, is intentionally left out, so agrees to anything that Lily Jean suggests so that she can play with the older girls. Carly is delegated to the role of the baby that crawls, the cow that moos and eats grass and the dog that sits under the table and says ‘bow-wow’. But dogs are smart, and so is Carly. Dogs also like to dig in the sand; so does Carly. She plays Lily Jean’s game and wins. Look for the fantastic one-liners in the final pages of this picture book. The topics of bullying, standing up for yourself and forgiveness are touched on in a light, kid-friendly manner, making this picture book thoroughly enjoyable for my girls (and their mom).
Black Dog (Levi Pinfold. Templar Books, 2011)
This picture book was a perfect read at my house this week, as my daughters received vaccinations. In both families–the one in the book and my own, it is the youngest member that faces, without hesitation, the thing that the rest of the family is terrified of. My eldest daughter started crying about getting a needle the night before (I let it slip that we had an appointment the next day–dang!). By the time she was at the doctor’s office, the needle had grown, in her mind, to ten times the size. In Black Dog, Small Hope steps outside to confront the dog that her father cried was the size of a tiger, her mother the size of an elephant, her sister a T-rex and her brother a Big Jeffy (whatever that is). Small Hope’s complete lack of fear talks the dog back down to size, which she then shows to her family, who is barricaded behind a table and armed with kitchen utensils. The exquisitely detailed sepia drawings contrast with the blackness of the dog, which Pinfold draws fantastically. Prepare yourself for the spread that takes you nose to nose with the canine. Although the picture book closes with a message that may be a bit too well articulated, I cannot think of a better way to tell the story of confronting, and conquering, fears.
Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick Press, 2000)
“You haven’t read Because of Winn-Dixie?” my school teacher friend asked me [she reads it to her class]. “Sydona [my 8 year-old daughter] would love it,” she continued.
“I’ve heard of it. I should try reading it to the girls, but Madilyn [just turned 4] might be a little young,” I replied.
Well, Because of Winn-Dixie was a hit with all three of us. A book featuring a neglected yet grinning dog named after a grocery store quickly hooks most readers. To this, add a colourful cast of characters, humour and raw emotion. I got teary a few times reading it, although the ‘Beth Cry Test’ is fairly predictable. There were some meaty topics in this book for my girls to digest: a runaway mother, a distracted father, loneliness and alcoholism were the biggies. But, as I’ve heard many times–kids can handle big topics. And they did. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of depth was lost on them, but that’s okay, because many age appropriate questions were shooting from their mouths and my eldest was showing concern and compassion for Opal, the main character (qualities I would often like to see more often!). The theme of friendship permeates throughout novel. Opal develops a number of unlikely friendships thanks to the four-legged companion that she brought home from the Winn-Dixie instead of a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice and two tomatoes. And I’ve been upset when a surprise bag of candy makes it way home from a shopping trip . . .
Because of Winn-Dixie is a heartwarming book with short chapters, which made it a perfect first novel to read aloud to my young children. It’s received some impressive accolades; a Parent’s Choice gold award in 2000 and a Newberry honour in 2001.
Bink & Gollie: Two for One (Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, authors. Tony Fucile, illustrator). Candlewick Press, 2012.
Superstar authors Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee have teamed up to create the Bink & Gollie series. Suitable for early readers such as my daughter, each book contains three chapters that are low on word count and high on visual stimulation provided by Tony Fucile, who has designed and animated characters for Disney and Pixar. In this second of the three-book series, Bink and Gollie are at the state fair. Their adventures are laugh out loud funny, quiet chuckle funny, shake your head funny . . . you get the idea. The theme of friendship runs strongly throughout each story and culminates in the last chapter and the final two-page spread (gulp; it’s outstanding). I have ordered the third book; I hope that a fourth installment is coming soon.
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse (Kevin Henkes; Greenwillow Books, 1996)
I discovered this picture book from a parenting magazine’s list of ‘best picture books of all time’. My eldest daughter is pleased that it is renewed again from the library – this time we have the shiny new 20th anniversary edition in our hands! ‘Wow’ is about all I can say. Leave yourself some extra time to read this book and enjoy the multiple illustrations on most pages – being 20 years old, its word count is longer than most contemporary picture books that are trending shorter in length. Trust me, though, you’ll be enraptured by every word as Lilly takes her new purple plastic purse to Mr. Slinger’s class for a day. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is a fun, relatable story for children; once you read this picture book, I have a feeling that about all you’ll be able to say is ‘wow’.
The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog (Mo Willems, Hyperion Books for Children, 2004)
I am thankful to my daughter’s grade 2 English teacher for several things, one being that he brought Mo Willems’ Pigeon into our lives. From what I can tell from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Hyperion, 2003) and this book, Pigeon has some anger management issues. But then again, maybe that curious little duckling asking me if my hot dog tastes like chicken would drive me bananas as well. The dialogue between Pigeon and Duckling is well executed but I think that Willems’ even superior talent is how he conveys so much emotion in the mannerisms and facial expressions of the two characters. If hearing your children (and yourself) giggle brings you as much joy as it does me, this picture book will surely become a family favourite.
My Blue is Happy (Jessica Young and Catia Chein, Candlewick Press, 2013)
My blue is also happy, but that is not the reason why I put My Blue is Happy down and said “wow” after the first time I read it. I promptly sought out the author’s website and learned that this book has won some awards and had many other nods from the children’s literary world – indeed, it is not only my newest favourite picture book. The colour pallet of the illustrations cleverly match the colour being discussed on a given page. The green and the black two-page spreads are mesmerizing, while the brown and pink pages have plenty of kid appeal. A final page turn that leaves readers feeling warm and satisfied is the (blue) icing on the cake. I feel happy just writing about this book.
Grumpy Bird (Jeremy Tankard, Scholastic Press, 2007)
What a pleasure it was when my seven year-old daughter brought Grumpy Bird home from her school library – it was one of our favourite picture books 3 years ago. Parents everywhere have tried to master the art of distraction and diversion, which is a theme of this book. Children will love yelling out bird’s increasingly grumpy lines and will giggle at the snack that is served on the final page.
*Parent warning* – this book could result in you buying gummy worms for your child.