Friday, June 1, 2012


I mentioned a few months back that we were preparing to place our house on the market. Well I am happy to say that after many house showings in which I stuffed hundreds of books and millions of stray legos under beds and in closets and any other available hiding place, OUR HOUSE IS UNDER CONTRACT!  We have also found another house that we like and hope to make into our new home. Our offer has been accepted! We have been quite busy with all the house hunting and frantic packing. I will be back with 3 or 4 posts next week to make up for my absence.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stanley's Party by Linda Bailey illustrated by Bill Slavin

Text © 2003 Linda Bailey, Illustrations  © 2003 Bill Slavin

"Stanley knew he wasn't supposed to sit on the couch. But his people went out a lot." So begins the tale of Stanley the naughty dog. The first time he puts one paw on the couch, after his people leave him alone, Stanley is quite apprehensive and waits for someone to yell at him. The couch feels so good that  he pulls his whole body onto it and stretches out. Everytime his owners leave and return without noticing Stanley's disobedience, he becomes more emboldened.   Soon, not only is Stanley enjoying the sofa, but he also turns on the music and breaks into the frig for food.

He feels so clever when his owners return and congratulate him for being such a "Good dog." "Bark-de-bark-bark," Stanley says, wagging his tail.

Initially Stanley delights in his time alone, but after a couple of weeks he longs  for the company of another dog to enjoy his disobedience. So Stanley invites one single dog named Alice to his house.  However, in a scene straight out of every teen movie, other dogs overhear of the party and packs of dogs begin arriving. Stanley is the consumate  host, stating "The more the merrier!," while shaking paws at the front door.  He even invites his guests to raid the refrigerator.
In the human world, it's not really a party unless someone starts dancing with a lampshade on their head, such is also the case in the canine world (see cover illustration).   The party is cut short, however, when Stanley's owners return home early...
There are five books in the series.  We own Stanley's Party, the first book and Stanley's Wild Ride the second book. It is impossible for me or the kids to decide which of the two titles is the best - both are extremely entertaining. In each book Stanley is disobedient but  his antics somehow make him even more lovable.  Bill Slavin's illustrations are a joy to look at and Linda Bailey's text is topnotch. We raise our children to be obedient and respectful, so  my kids really get a kick out of Stanley because his behavior is contrary to everything they have been taught. I frequently give copies of these two books as birthday party gifts and the recipients and their parents have always raved about them.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An Oldy but Goody: Most-of-the-Time Maxie by Adelaide Holl illustrated by Hilary Knight

Text copyright © 1974 by Adelaide Holl, Illustrations copyright ©1974 by Hilary Knight

I tend to gravitate toward books that feature children using their imagination and being creative: Cromwell Dixon's Sky-cycle by John Abbott Nez,  The Adventures of Sparrowboy  by Brian Pinkney, Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn, If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen. I guess in this hi-tech world, I want my brood to appreciate the simplicity but endless power of their imagination. Most-of-the-Time Maxie helps them do just that.

Maxie was Maxie, most of the time -
  Maxie MacDougal McCoy.
He was not very big, and not very small,
Not very short, and not very tall,
  Just an everyday kind of a boy.

But he had the most marvelous, magical powers.
He could do the most wonderful stunts.
At the drop of a hat - maybe quicker than that -
He could stop being Maxie, at once,

The story, told in a very lively rhyme, shows all of the exciting people Maxie can become with his imagination:

a pirate

an astronaut
a matador and a muscle man
a firefighter,
a police officer and a bull rider,
Maxi also becomes an explorer, racecar driver, cowboy, knight, tightrope walker, trapeze artist, wild animal tamer, pilot, train engineer and taxicab driver. Whew! I think the only occupations missing are a butcher, baker and  candlestick maker.

In all of his imagined occupations, Maxie is accompanied by his trusty canine companion. The pup is engaging in some comical action at all times.  In the astronaut illustration, he is clutching an air sickness bag.  In the firefighter illustration, he is painting spots on himself to resemble a dalmatian etc.

The Chicago Public Library doesn't own Most-of-the-Time Maxie, but it is available in used condition on Amazon. I discovered this gem at a thrift shop, and I cannot tell you how many requests for a reading I have received over the years. Best $.50, I have ever spent!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Police Officers on Patrol by Kersten Hamilton illustrated by R. W. Alley

Text copyright © Kersten Hamilton 2009, Illustrations copyright © R.W. Alley 2009

Three police officers head to the station wearing their civilian clothes. They get dressed, "Uniforms! Badge! Radio! Police officers, getting ready to go!" Now in uniform, they charge out the door with Officer Carl on traffic patrol, Officer Jan on mounted patrol and Officer Mike on crime patrol.

Sergeant Santole radios each of the officers as the need arises to get a "situation under control." First, a traffic jam is caused by two squirrels tampering with a street light.
Next, a little boy wanders away from his mom and gets lost.
Lastly, two thieves rob a bank of its ATM machine.
The officers immediately respond. Once an issue has been resolved,the police officers report, "Situation? Under Control! "When people need help, we rock and roll!"

Kersten Hamilton's Police Officers on Patrol is a delightful story told in rhyme. However, it is  the combinatition of R.W. Alley's illustrations that elevated this very cute library book to a required purchase for our home in 2009.  Alley has included many details in his illustrations for kids to pour over -  an eager little police dog that keeps getting underfoot, a red balloon that floats away from a baby and reappears throughout the story.  There are many details that we didn't even notice until having read the  book for several years. Study the illustration of the traffic jam carefully. You will glimpse some of the characters who are later woven into the story.  For instance, you can spot the men who will rob the bank hiding in the back of a truck and the little tyke who will become lost, riding in a car with his mother.

Pair Police Officers on Patrol  with Fireman Small by Wong Herbert Yee for a fun introduction to public servants for your preschooler.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Toad for Tuesday by Russell E. Erickson illustrated by Lawrence Di Fiori

Text Copyright © 1974 by Russell E. Erickson, Illustrations copyright  © 1974 by Lawrence Di Fiori.

My eldest child is almost 7 years old <begins wailing, "WHERE DID THE YEARS GO!">. So, while I still read pictures books everyday to my children, I am reading fewer to my eldest as he has transitioned into chapter books. Over the years, in anticipation of this time, I have collected many vintage and newer chapter books from thrift stores, library and garage sales, to read to him. Although the focus of my blog is picture books, occasionally when I find a great chapter book, I will recommend it.

A Toad for Tuesday fits the bill  and is one of the best books I have ever read to my children. It is such a suspenseful and poignant story. My intention was to read half of the 65 pages on the first day and finish it up the second day. Well, the book was so enjoyable that the kids would not let me put it down. Unfortunately, like so many great books, it is out of print.  If you are lucky, your local library will possess a copy. The Chicago Public library does, yeah! After I finished A Toad for Tuesday, the kids begged me to find more of the books. Luckily, A Toad for Tuesday is the first in a series of 7 books. I borrowed all of them and purchased the titles my library didn't own. Unfortunately, none of the sequels quite measure up to the original, but they are all enjoyable, especially Warton and the Castaways.

Enough background, let me tell you about the story. Morton and Warton are toad brothers. They reside deep in the ground together and have their roles. Morton is the gourmet cook who prepares all of their meals and Warton is the fastidious one who keeps their home immaculate. Their personalities are quite different. Warton is an impulsive adventurer, Morton is a rational homebody.
During one winter, Warton decides that he will travel to visit their Aunt Toolia to deliver some of Morton's delicious beetle brittle. Morton attempts to dissuade Warton from this dangerous trip, but Warton will not heed his advice. The ingenuous Warton fashions skis from  oak tree roots, ski poles from porcupine quills and salamander leather and sets out.

The trip begins well, but eventually Warton is snatched up by a bitter, friendless owl. The owl informs Warton that his birthday is the next Tuesday and that Warton will be his meal, hence the title A Toad for Tuesday. The book is about the relationship that forms between the two as Warton awaits his fate. 
It might be slightly intense in parts, with not 1 but 2 daring escape attempts, but my two oldest really loved this story. I will never let this wonderful thrift shop find go. I expect to read A Toad for Tuesday again and again over the years and eventually share with my future grandchildren. Excellent!!

Has anyone else read this book? If you have, please post a comment. If you have not, please beg, borrow, but don't steal it, and then share your child's opinion.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen

Copyright © 2000 by Chris W. Van Dusen

When I began my blog last year, I immediately knew which of our favorite books to recommend first: If I Built a Car  by Chris Van Dusen.  My kids and I both so love that imaginative story, especially Van Dusen's signature, bright 1950's cartoonish illustrations.  We are huge fans of all things Van Dusen in this house and we own every one of his books.

Well, back to the story at hand ... Mr. Magee decides to take a boat ride. He packs a lunch and sets out with his adorable little dog Dee.
Things go awry pretty quickly, when a bored and playful baby whale spies the boat and uses his blow hole to push the boat into the air.
The situation goes from bad to worse when a gust of wind sends the boat, with its inhabitants, sailing through the sky where it becomes lodged in a spruce tree.
The baby whale hightails it outta there, but thankfully Mr. Magee and Dee are eventually dislodged from the tree by a pod of very clever whales.

Like all of Van Dusen's books, the illustrations are a delight to view, and the story will definitely elicit giggles. The rhyme is upbeat and just fun to read.  Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee is the first in a trio of books with Mr. Magee -A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee and Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee being the second and third books respectively. For existing  fans of Van Dusen, if you have sharp eyes you will have spotted Magee and Dee make a cameo in If I Built a Car.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Messenger, Messenger by Robert Burleigh illustrated by Barry Root

Text copyright © 2000 by Robert Burleigh, Illustrations copyright © 2000 by Barry Root

Over the last almost 7 years, I have read a couple thousand different books to my 3 kids. After reading so many stories, I admit I began to get a little cocky and believed that that there was no topic that we had not read about.  Messenger, Messenger caused me to realize that I was wrong - My kids had never heard of  a bicycle messenger.

Messenger, Messenger depicts a day in the life of a big city  bike messenger named Calvin Curbhopper (is that not the coolest name?). "Snow, wind, sun rain,/ Morning's come around again./Sun wind, rain snow,/ Messenger, messenger, gotta go./ Calvin Curbhopper rides into the day:/ "Messenger comin', outta my way."" The reader gets to experience the fast paced day of the messenger-  riding up elevators and escalators to deliver urgent packages, talking on his walkie talkie, eating lunch on the go, even delivering packages to a seedy neighborhood.
I particularly love the illustrations of Barry Root. He perfectly captures the energy and diversity of a big city, those same atrributes being what I have always loved about big city life.  Root makes me nostalgic for the days when I actually worked in downtown Chicago, before having children.
My kids could not believe that people are paid to ride their bikes and deliver packages. It is the first profession that made my building-obsessed boys ever waver in their steadfast desire to be architect/engineers/builders. I didn't have the heart to tell them that bicycle messengers, if they still exist, will undoubtedly be obsolete by the time they are old enough to work, due to the internet and email. My  kids like to ride their bikes in a straight line with my 6 yr. old first,, then my 4 year old with training wheels, and bringing up the rear, my 3 year old on a tricyle, all shouting "I'm messenger, messenger, messenger man."

To a kid, a bicycle messenger has to be the ultimate cooooooooool job! Robert Burleigh's words combined with Barry Root's illustrations demonstrate that, oh so well.