Another book recently came our way from Independent Publishers Group – “One Gorilla” by Joy Dey and Nikki Johnson. Amid pages of watercolor images of various animals is a story of one good deed leading to another among the mighty creatures of the jungle, big and small.
The overall message of the book is great – that even one small act of kindness might be all it takes for a domino effect that changes the world, or your world at least. The animals of the jungle begin the story ready to pounce, to cackle, to frighten and to scare. But when a chimp, who often throws rocks and items at his animal neighbors, falls out of a tree and hits his head, he is the subject of laughter and ridicule by other animals. It’s not so nice being on the receiving end, the chimp learns. A helping hand from an elephant, who knows the hurt all too well, marks a sudden change in the jungle. The laughter stops, and the chimp begins to show the same kindness the elephant gave her. And it spreads through the jungle, even to the smallest turtle.
I really liked the message the book set out to deliver, and the watercolor images to accompany it are honestly unlike anything I’ve seen in a children’s book so far. I admit that it took me a little bit to register everything that was going on as we read.
We read this book, blindly, at bedtime, and the first part of the story, with the animals ready to hunt, prey, laugh, etc, alongside the splashes of paint, made some of the creatures seem a little nightmarish. But I quickly learned this was an intentional decision, as it sets up the jungle as a scary and not so kind place, leading to the change when one good act leads to another.
As we turned those pages, our 2 ½ year old there with us, I became a little anxious, unsure of where the story was going. In the end, I was able to see exactly what I think the author and illustrator set out to do – create a world of fright and mean behavior in the jungle, until one elephant acts kind enough to set off a chain reaction of good actions.
It works, and while I may have been apprehensive at first, I should have had more faith in my own son’s ability to grasp it, which he did far quicker than I. He knew the animals were acting bad at first, but started to be kind once they saw an example of it. And it must have struck a chord, as it wasn’t long before he asked for “the gorilla book” again.
As I’ve mentioned (a lot) in the past, storytime is a very important part of our daily routines. Whether it’s post-bathtime or not, our pre-bedtime ritual always involved getting a few books off our little guy’s bookshelf (although for quite some time he’s been old enough to pick them out on his own), all plop down on mama and dada’s bed and read together before calling it a night. It’s a ritual, and one that means quite a lot to all of us.
Sure, sometimes we read many of the same ones over and over again, because the little guy has his favorites that he wants to hear again and again, but every now and then, he lets us slip in a new one to try. That’s why when I was given the opportunity from Independent Publishers Group to take a look at a new book, I jumped at the chance.
So we recently read a new book before bed called “The Little Mouse Santi.”
The book, written by David Eugene Ray and illustrated by Santiago Germano, tells the story of a mouse named Santi who, more than anything else in the world, wants to be a cat. He practices all day at everything he thinks cats are good at – strutting themselves across a room, swishing his tail, cat baths, meowing, and of course, looking bored with life.
While the other mice laugh at Santi, he longs to join the cats he sees outside on the farm, eventually overcoming his courage to give it a try when he spots a cute orange tiger cat lounging in the grass.
The illustrations in this book by Germano are beautiful, with a slick, clean style across every line, making even those mice who are laughing at poor Santi downright adorable.
I really did enjoy it. If I had a critique it’s that I liked it enough that I wanted more from it. I would have liked a little more reassurance and confidence-building from Santi as he finally establishes the courage to step out of his comfort zone in the pursuit of his dream. I wanted Santi to feel bad about what the others say but get over it, realizing what they think doesn’t matter. What Santi does in the course of the story comes with a great gamut of emotions that I think everyone goes through at some point in their childhood, and I think a child could learn a lot about self-confidence and the joy of being unique if there were just a few touches upon overcoming those emotions along Santi’s journey.
It’s a swift read, and as I say, accompanied by absolutely beautiful color illustrations. Having never published a children’s book, I certainly can’t speak to the process. But as a reader, I felt Santi’s adventure and dreams could resonate a lot with a small child, but I’d love a little bit more to it.
When I was in elementary school, there was nothing like the day the teacher would pass out those colored pieces of newsprint paper, folded into a makeshift catalog, brimming with choices of the literary sense. It was like a periodic Christmas catalog hunt, reading through every summary, your eyes passing over every book cover sitting there in the Scholastic book order form.
The only thing that probably matched up to it was when your book order actually came in. Even that might be questionable because, let’s face it – it was that cornucopia of choices, the anticipation for the books to arrive that brought about that feeling of excitement and euphoria moreso than actually having the book.
So, when Meg (who is a school librarian, or Library Media Specialist as they are today called, because they do much, much more than in years past) had her annual week of the Book Fair coming up for school, I thought two years old might be a good time to introduce the little guy to the awe and wonder that is the school Book Fair (as well as give him a peek into where mommy goes every day).
Making our way through some dark, snowy back roads one recent night, we made it to Meg’s school for the one evening during the week when she stays late for any parents who want to come with their kids after school or after extracurricular activities to check out the books.
It was truly an experience for the little guy, even before we stepped foot into the library. As we made our way from the car and across the parking lot, we talked about this being not only where mommy worked, but that it was a school. He’s heard of school before, in books and in cartoons. But he had never actually seen one, and he was truly excited that he was seeing ‘mommy’s school.’
Then we got to the library and you’d have thought we walked into Santa’s workshop.
Only a few customers were there when we arrived, but that didn’t stop the monkey from running exuberantly to the shelves and grabbing any book he could with a cover that appealed to him. It wasn’t long before he was plopping down on the floor of the library and just shifting through the colorful pages.
As Meg occasionally tended to the business at hand, I watched over the little guy – or chased after him as the case may be, once he noticed there was so much more to do beyond those Book Fair shelves. (Note: smartboard markers and erasers are not toys. But try telling a two year old that). In between her customers, we’d have the whole library to ourselves, where, as a family, we’d look through shelves, talk about which books we’d like, and generally just have a good time. Probably more fun than you were supposed to be having in the library as a kid. But, hey, we’ve got an in with the librarian. She’s pretty cool, I hear.
From shelf to shelf, book to book, it was an overwhelming experience. It was sort of like our trips to Barnes and Noble, but this time it was where mommy worked, and he seemed to fully understand the full advantage he was taking of the situation, from going behind the library desk, or just shouting ‘chase me, dada!’ as he ran through the library stacks.
He seemed to be having a “Mr. Social” Day, greeting many who came in to the Book Fair,
getting in the way of walking around with other kids as they tried to peruse the book shelves. At one point, he even tried to play the role of assistant. A student who was probably about 8 or 9, I would say, came in and asked Meg for a book. It wasn’t on the Book Fair shelves, so Meg went to look in the back. At which point, our guy turned to the girl who was looking for the book and says “Nope. No more books…” Luckily, she took his passion for being a part of things with a smile.
It’s hard to express just how grateful I am that he loves books as much as he does. I know I’ve probably talked ad-nauseam since starting this blog about how special our pre-bedtime storytime routine is. It’s the sort of thing that pains me if I have to miss. We’ve been doing it, quite literally, since he got back from the hospital. Now, it’s just part of what we do. Only these days, he picks out the books he wants himself.
I’ve read that there are several points throughout life where children decide if they are going to continue being readers or not. My hope is that by having books (and such excitement for them) be such a presence in our lives, that it will help continue to foster that love of reading, and of the imagination he seems to have in abundance. I consider us truly blessed for this. I really do.
I bought several more books for him than I had intended, but a) it helps benefit the school and b) there were so many good kids’ books, how could I not?!
All in all, we really had a great time.
Even I felt like an eight year old again when I walked amid the Book Fair shelves.
And it was awesome.
I wonder if Meg has any of those book order forms lying around…
One builds his house of straw, one of sticks and one of bricks and when the Big Bad Wolf comes calling, it’s only the pig in the brick house, who spent the time working hard on his home instead of goofing off and taking the easy way out like his siblings, who the Wolf can’t get to.
At least, that’s how I remember it.
But apparently, I’ve had it wrong all these years.
You see, our son recently received a collection of books based on Rand McNally’s Junior Elf book line published from 1947 to 1986. Some still maintain the original art while others have updated illustrations. And for some reason, our little guy frequently gets drawn to two, in particular, out of the entire set – The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs. Maybe it’s a numerical thing, who knows.
Leaving the three bears in the woods for the moment, a few frequent readings of The Three Little Pigs recently got me thinking about the story on the page versus the story in my memory – as they greatly differ.
In this book version, recreated from the Junior Elf version in, I believe 1957, the mother pig can not afford to keep her three sons and sends them off into the world to find their fame and fortune.Rather than have any type of intention as to what to do for shelter, each one chances upon people carrying materials along the road – one straw, one sticks and one bricks. And they each build a house. There’s no lesson about planning or thinking ahead, or working hard. Just a chance encounter that leads to how they build their homes.
The story progresses as the Wolf arrives and Pigs One and Two lose their homes (but not their lives) and the Wolf heads to Pig Number Three in his brick house. Just as my memory recalled, he can’t blow the house down. But that’s not where the story ends.
The story then takes a turn as the Wolf, day after day tries to lure the pig out of his brick house.
By inviting him to go places.
The Wolf invites him to go pick beets from a garden and sets up a time to meet the next day. Because, why wouldn’t you accept an invite to meet up with a beast who is standing outside your door and threatening to eat you?
The pig shows up to the garden early and picks the beets before the Wolf even shows up. And when the Wolf tries the same trick with apple picking, the Pig does the same thing, showing up early, but finding the wolf showing up early too. The pig throws an apple at the Wolf and runs for his life back to the brick house.
At this point, you’d think he’d want to stay inside and away from this wolf, right?
No, no. Because the Pig then accepts an invite from the Wolf to go to the fair.
The pig goes to the fair, early once again – and by early, the books says 2 am early. What the heck kind of fair is going on at 2 am?!
And at the fair, the pig buys a butter churn which, when he sees the Wolf coming toward the fair, he hides in. It tips and goes rolling down the hill, scaring the Wolf, who later, for some inexplicable reason, stands outside the house of the pig and tells him how scared he was that a butter churn was rolling after him.
The pig laughs and tells the Wolf that he was inside the butter churn.
Shortly thereafter, the Wolf tries to come down the chimney of the brick house, where the pig has a pot of water boiling on the fire and the Wolf dies. I tend to skip this part (as I don’t think a two-year old really needs to know that) and just ad-lib that it was so hot the Wolf went flying back up the chimney and ran away.
Normally, I wouldn’t feel the need to write hundreds of words about an age-old tale like The Three Little Pigs but it has been handpicked so much recently by my son that I can not shake the strange deviations from the story I remember.
So, I did what I tend to do when something gets stuck in my brain and I just can’t get over the need for answers – I hit the internet.
While the Three Little Pigs was first seen in print in the 1840s, it apparently, is believed to go back even farther than that, but that original version is very much how the printed book we have at home plays out, which I never knew.
I had no idea and yet each time we would read the book, I kept muttering inside my mind “well, that’s not how it really happens. This is weird.”
Nope. I was just wrong.
It just goes to show you how much media can influence your own perspective and recollections, because I am confident I read the book as a kid, but have retained no memory whatsoever of these ‘foreign’ components I mentioned.
All I seemed to remember as ‘the real story’ is this:
So there you have it. Walt Disney has actually altered my memory perception. The Silly Symphonies version of this tale has superseded all recollection of any actual stories I read of this tale.
Regardless, of the three choices, I’ll still build my house of brick, thank you very much. 🙂
Coinciding with my recent post about great children’s books that will keep adults entertained at story-time, I was lucky enough to be invited back recently to the mid-morning Lifestyle program, Mass Appeal to talk briefly about those books and the authors who make them so much fun for both parents and kids.
We had a spot of trouble getting there, as we got on the thruway only to have the check-engine light come on for my car. With my wife’s car having its own trouble at the time, we had to get off the thruway at the next available exit, turn around, and borrow my mother-in-law’s car before getting back on the thruway. It added an extra 45 minutes of time to our trip and I’ll be honest, I didn’t think we were going to make it in time for the segment.
Fortunately, all went well and we made it with plenty of time to spare and nothing owed to a lead foot. I apparently managed to make it without breaking speed limits or rules of the road.
The even greater news? For both the trip there and back, our little guy did phenomenal with the travel. Even when he wasn’t napping, he kept himself entertained with books, toys, or just chattering with us about some of his favorite words.
I really had a ball and where else can I say that my fellow guests included a baby alligator and a parrot?!
We not only talked about the books but I also got the chance to play quasi-game show host and quiz the program hosts, Ashley and Seth on some ‘dorky pop-culture trivia.’ I even pulled a jacket from an old Halloween costume (The Riddler) out of mothballs to wear on air for it.
It was a lot of fun and though our time in the area was limited, we did squeak in a brief reunion with some old friends and THEIR little one, who I’m relieved to say, at nine months old, did not seem frightened by our little guy’s Frankenstein-like onslaught of hugs.
While it won’t let me embed the video, please feel free to give the segment a watch here, if you like: http://wwlp.com/2014/05/23/great-reads-activities-for-toddlers/
Storytime is a wonderful and strong tradition to have in your household, and the earlier you start with your kids the better.
We’ve made storytime a nightly habit in our house, starting the week our little guy came home from the hospital. Now almost two, it has become routine for him to go to the bookshelf, grab a few books he wants and then bring them into our room for a family reading on the big bed.
Needless to say in that time, we’ve amassed more than a few that not only he likes, but my wife and I love to read as well.
As much as I often get nostalgic and wish for ‘simpler times’ or the always-idealized ‘old days,’ one of the great things about the current age we live in is that children’s books have come a long way from “Goodnight, Moon,” which, let’s be honest, is not one of my favorites.
These days, children’s books can be just as enjoyable for parents to read as the kids, so these are just a few suggestions that entertain parents as well as the kids that you might want to add to your family bookshelf if you haven’t already.
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” & “The Grouchy Ladybug” by Eric Carle
It’s the 45th anniversary of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” this year and this book helps to teach days of the week and successive numbers through the timeline of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. It’s one of those classics that is just educational, fun, and absolutely beautiful, as are all of Carle’s books.
“The Grouchy Ladybug,” as her name states, is a bad-tempered bug that doesn’t say please, doesn’t say thank you, and has quite the ego, thinking she’s better than everyone she encounters. The story follows her journey and teaches about concepts like size, time and, of course, good manners.
If you end up really loving Eric Carle’s books (and how can you not?), take a road trip to Amherst, MA to visit the wonderful Eric Carle Museum right over in Amherst. You’ll find his original artwork, as well as get to view the work of guest illustrators on exhibit firsthand. This place is like a mecca for our family.
Books by Mo Willems
Mo Willems is a writer and animator and worked on Sesame Street for several years, where he won Emmy Awards, as well as shows on Cartoon Network. He has written so many wonderful books, but these are some of my favorites.
The Elephant and Piggie series – Gerald the Elephant (named after his favorite singer, Ella Fitzgerald) and Piggie are best friends and through these books deal with issues of friendship. Sometimes it’s separation anxiety, other times it’s being nervous about getting invited to a party, or sharing a new toy or ice cream. It’s all done in a conversational, comic book type style with word balloons and they’re just a lot of fun, each with its own great, positive message.
The Pigeon books – They star, obviously, The Pigeon, who usually wants something. Sometimes it’s to stay up late, or to get a puppy, or to drive the bus, and it’s always something he’s not supposed to do, giving the child, who oftentimes is being told “no,” the opportunity and power to say no themselves. These are highly interactive, so kids love them and parents can enjoy the humor, too.
That is Not a Good Idea – It’s done in a style of silent films, with a great twist ending and deals with just what the title says – not so good ideas.
This book asks the question “How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Cats” and it’s just one of a wonderful series by Jane Yolen. Each book teaches manners and the proper way to act in different situation, this one, of course being if you have cats at home and the proper ways to treat them. There’s books for dogs, parties, playing with friends, cleaning your room; this goes on and on. Great lessons and great images by Mark Teague with a dinosaur name hidden on each page. Many of these types of dinosaurs are well beyond the common ones we come to know, which provides an additional educational element.
Good News Bad News by Jeff Mack
It’s about two friends with very different views on life – one optimistic and one not so much. When children are emergent and anxious to start reading, this is a great book. There’s only 5 total words in it. Those words are repeated, so they learn them better and can eventually read on their own. And the story itself is just funny and touching, and shows why it’s nice to look on the bright side of life.
I Wish That I had Duck Feet and Gerald McBoing Boing by Dr. Seuss
Sure, there are more popular or well-known books by Dr. Seuss, but these are two that really have great lessons. Both are about being yourself.
In “I Wish That I Had Duck Feet,” a little boy daydreams about what it would be like to have different animal parts but realizes the downside of each.
In “Gerald McBoing Boing,” a little boy named Gerald can’t speak but is born with the ability to make incredible sounds when he opens his mouth. He gets made fun of by others for his difference, being called Gerald McBoing Boing by bullies, but it’s about Gerald finding his place in the world and being happy with who he is that ultimately finds him happiness.
Click, Clack, Moo – Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
We have the collection with the first three books of the series.
Cronin writes these to be entertaining and hilarious, and this book details the trouble of poor Farmer Brown as the animals in his barn begin to type and start becoming literate.
When that happens, they have more bargaining and leveraging power with the farmer when he demands things like milk, eggs, etc. It’s a great book that really teaches about give and take and even peaceful protest.
Bill the Boy Wonder by Marc Tyler Nobleman
The kids will get sucked in by the beautiful art and images of Batman and Robin by artist Ty Templeton, but the well-researched story by Nobleman tells the real-life story of Bill Finger, the man who created most of Batman’s villains, decided he should wear a cowl and gloves. It was his ideas that Batman what we know today and sadly didn’t get the credit for it. A great true story told in the form of a children’s book.