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.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Favorite Alphabet Books - Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod

Copyright © 2006 by Bob McLeod

Superhero ABC is an alphabet book with an original superhero showcasing each letter.  I have mentioned previously that I am not a big fan of ABC books and rarely read or purchase them - I always desire a plot in the stories I read to my kids. Superhero ABC, however, is one of three exceptions to my rule.  I bought it, and I am always eager to read it. It is a fun way for kids to learn their ABCs because what child does not love superheros. The illustrations are  large, slick, vivid and zany. The descriptions following the introduction of each superhero has great vocabulary words that your child will incorporate into their everyday speech.

There are also two personal reasons that this book appeals to me.  First, there are several female superheros included, which is important for me as the mother of two sons AND a daughter.  Second, one of the superheros, Astro-Man,  has asthma, as does my eldest child.  My son feels different because he is the only one in the family with the condition, so it is always great to see someone with asthma doing cool things! 
Superhero ABC travels in the car with us because my 6, 4 and 3 year old are very fond of it and pass the book back and forth.  If you are searching for a book that is both fun to read and educational, Superhero ABC just might be it.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Hello All,

I know I seemed to disappear off the face of the earth and I apologize. After much soul searching my husband and I decided to place our home on the market a few months back.  That was the easy part, decluttering and cleaning all the junk we have acquired over the last decade was the hard part.  Actually that is an understatement. It was nighmarish and extremely time-consuming.  My Blog was put on the backburner. We have now cleaned and staged the house and listed it. I hope we will sell it soon and find a new home to begin making memories. I will post a new book tomorrow but from now on instead of 3 posts a week, I will probably only have time to post 1 or 2 a week. Thanks for the kind emails from followers inquiring about me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Favorite Alphabet Books Week - Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel

Text and Illustrations copyright © 2005 by Nick Bruel

Kitty was not always naughty; however, when her owner runs out of Kitty's cat food and offers her an assortment of healthy fruits and vegetables from A to Z, Kitty is not happy.

The finicky feline demonstrates her displeasure by wreacking havoc in the house.

Kitty's owner then runs an errand to the grocery store to purchase more of Kitty's favorite foods - a wacky assortment of foods from A to Z.

Kitty again becomes a well-behaved pet and attempts to make amends for her atrocious behavior.
Will tempermental Kitty stay good?.....

Bad Kitty is another one of  our favorite Alphabet books. Nick Bruel's illustrations of Kitty's antics are very comical to all three of the kids and to this parent! The kids like to point out that a fang protrudes from Kitty's mouth as she becomes irate. As a proud cat family, we can totally relate to extremely finicky feline behavior. If you are searching for an entertaining way for your kids to learn their ABCs, look no further than Bad Kitty.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Favorite Alphabet Books Week - Agent A to Agent Z by Andy Rash

Text and Illustrations copyright © 2004 by Andy Rash

There are 26 spies with names from A to Z. One of the 26 is thought to be a fake spy that has infiltrated the ranks. Agent A has been given a mission -  find out who it is.  How will this mission be accomplished? Agent A will spy on each agent. Each true agent, in the course of being observed, will engage in some action that has a word beginning with the letter of his name. "Huh?" you say. Well, read the following opening lines and it will make perfect sense.

Calling Secret Agent A.
Here's your mission for today:
Every spy who is official
uses words with his initial.
But one spy is out of line.
I need to know his name by nine.
That is all and best of luck,
and now this page will self-destruct!

Agent A, list in hand, sets off and notices the following:

Agent B correctly chooses
Blue, and so the Bomb defuses.
Agent E did not Expect
what happened when he pressed Eject.
Agent J decides he must
adjust his Jet pack's upward thrust.
Agent S subdues a Spy
by letting her Stiletto fly.
Agent A spies on all the agents before he discovers, in a surprising twist, the identity of  the "fake" agent.

I have a confession, ABC books usually do not appeal to me. As a general rule, I do not purchase them or even read them to my kids. I have such a strong preference for a plot, that a book with a list of words beginning with the 26 letters of the alphabet, no matter how beautifully illustrated, usually does nothing for me. There are simply too many great stories to read to my kids during their all too brief picture book stage for me to spend time on ABC books. Over the years, I have made a few exceptions to my rule and I am featuring 3 of the titles this week. These are great ABC books that my kids love and that I, surprisingly, really enjoy reading to them, repeatedly.

Agent A to Agent Z is unlike most alphabet books - it has a plot and a good one. My boys were unfamiliar with spies, so I provided background before the first reading. Throughout the first read, I found myself explaining "tranquilizing darts", "microfiche," "defuse," "incognito", "decode," "suction cups" etc. Those are pretty exciting words, so my boys were riveted. I am always pleased when a book introduces my children to a subject matter that is completely foreign to them. Immediately after the first read, the boys requested a second read, with my previous explanations making it easy to follow. The boys quickly began putting their newly gained knowledge and vocabulary to use.  They now spy on everyone and go on "missions" while "incognito" wearing Star Wars costumes.  These kids are like ninjas - they move without a sound. They carry binoculars; they stealthily track me through the house; they contact each other using walkie talkies and refer to themselves as Agent D and Agent E.

I asked the boys what words I should use in my review to describe Agent A to Agent Z and they said, "Supercool and Awesome."  I have to agree with them! At the time I purchased Agent A to Agent Z, my then 3 year old son did not yet recognize most of the uppercase letters. He quickly learned them all because he has read Agent A to Agent Z so frequently on his own. This  is a fun and unique story and a hit with young boys.  My little girl is also beginning to enjoy the story. As her mother, I thank Andy Rash for including a few female spies. Why should boys have all the adventures?

Note: At first glance, the male spies all appear identical with black trench coats and fedoras. My boys initially were confused as to which agent was which. After several reads you will notice that Andy Rash has made all the agents slightly different with distinct noses and eyes. The kids can now readily identify each of them. Agent A to Agent Z gets better with each read!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mystery on the Dock by Thacher Hurd

Copyright 1983 by Thacher Hurd

Ralph is a short-order cook at a diner at  the dock. He loves to sing, play the accordion and listen to opera music. One evening, a large ship drops anchor outside the diner. Two thuggish rats slink in and demand food.
When Ralph attempts to make small talk, they brusquely tell him to mind his own business.  As the rats eat their food, Ralph skims the newspaper. The headlines reports that his favorite opera star, Eduardo Bombasto, has mysteriously disappeared. Ralph hears the diner door slam - the two rats have skipped out on the bill. Ralph stealthily trails them to the dock.

Once there, he observes a rat called Big Al ordering that a large sack be heaved out of a car trunk.  Unfortunately, Ralph is caught snooping and is thrown into the cargo hold. The large sack, also placed in the hold, begins to move - out pops his favorite opera star, Eduardo Bombasto.  He explains that he was kidnapped by Big Al for ransom. When Ralph and Eduardo attempt to escape, they are spotted.  The two dart up to the ship's crows nest. There they think of way to alert the authorities. Ralph sends up distress flares. Eduardo Bombasto sings for help in his loud operatic voice. Moments later they are relieved to hear the sound of police sirens.
The kidnappers, however, will not surrender without a fight. The daring duo aid the police by swinging down on ropes from the crow's nest and knocking the scoundrels overboard. Big Al and his henchmen are then fished out in a large net by the authorities.
Ralph is  hailed as a hero in the newspaper and even gets to sing for his idol, Eduardo Bombasto!

If you need a good short book with action and suspense to read to an older child, Mystery On the Docks is for you. Thacher Hurd is also the author of the wonderful Art Dog.