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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life by Jerdine Nolen illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Material from Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life by Jerdine Nolen copyright © 2005, Illustrations copyright © 2005 by Kadir Nelson.  Used by permission of Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

Hewitt Anderson is an average sized boy born into a family of great height and girth. His parents  have a belief that big things are best.  Despite his size, Hewitt is nurtured, cherished and included in all aspects of their daily lives. When his parents go out for strolls, Hewitt sits in their intertwined hands or on the brim of his mother's hat or in his father's pocket.  Hewitt is so small that he can fit in the palm of his father's hand. He enjoys falling asleep there while being serenading by his parents' beautiful voices.
Hewitt's parents search for ways to accommodate his small size and keep him safe. Several times they almost lose him between floor boards while sweeping and in flour while baking.  While he is adored, understandably Hewitt's small stature confounds his giant parents. After he reaches the age of seven and still has not grown, they have him examined by specialist from all over the world, without success.  His parents then feel a sense of urgency to teach Hewitt how to survive average-sized in their big world.

Survival Lesson 1 - Swimming. When his parents attempt to teach Hewitt to swim, an accident causes a huge wave which sends Hewitt sailing into the garden maze. While searching for Hewitt in the maze, they  themselves get lost. Ultimately, it is Hewitt that guides his parents safely out.
Survival lesson 2- Bean Stalk Climbing.  While Hewitt is being taught to climb a beanstalk, his father becomes fearful and cannot climb back down. Hewitt hops unto a falling leaf and floats to the ground to summon help.
His parents are increasingly impressed with their son's ability to keep his wits about him.  One fateful day his parents accidently become locked in a room. Hewitt's small size allows him to climb into the keyhole and unlock the door and rescue them.  His resourcefulness gains him his parents' complete acceptance of his size and confidence in his ability to fend for himself. Hewitt Anderson's small size will not prevent him from having a BIG life!

The kids and I have been very delighted with Jerdine Nolen's endearing story of unconditional parental love. The language is quite sophisticated and vocabulary rich which provides an opportunity to advance my childrens' own vocabulary.  Words such as "miniature, stature, girth, resplendent, aria, gargantuan, mammoth and spontaneously,"  are liberally sprinkled throughout. The book is also longer and more complex than the average picture book, which provides the challenge that my kids need.

I have mentioned previously that Kadir Nelson is one of my favorite illustrators. His art always exudes such warmth.  You can  feel the mutal love between adorable, diminutive Hewitt and his giant parents. Nelson also illustrated Salt in His Shoes  and  Please, Baby Please which I featured. As an African American family, I am always on the lookout for great books that allow my children to see themselves reflected positively. Hewitt Anderson's Great Big Life fits the bill.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shadow the Deer by Theresa Radcliffe illustrated by John Butler

Text copyright © Theresa Radcliffe, 1993, Illustrations copyright © John Butler, 1993

"It was early summer in the forest. The leaves on the old oak tree had opened at last. Beyond the oak tree was a thicket of brambles and some young hazel trees and here, hidden in a hollow under the bramble bushes, lay Shadow the deer."

Shadow  is hungry and thirsty. She, however, must wait for evening before she can safely leave the shelter - she has a three day old fawn sleeping beside her.  When evening arrives, Shadow presses her fawn's head down with her nose. The fawn instinctively knows that he must lie very still while his mother is gone.
Shadow heads for the lake, wary of danger. She does not want to leave her fawn but because of her own thirst, she must. Meanwhile, a fox, Redflank, and her two cubs are on the far side of the forest. Redflank observes her cubs playing and knows they are hungry. She goes off  in search of voles in the bramble thicket by the old oak tree. Redflank is startled and delighted to see the fawn sleeping. She creeps closer, thinking about her hungry cubs.

At that moment, Shadow is hurrying back from the lake, anxious to return to her fawn. A pheasant signals a call of alarm. Shadow knows her fawn is in danger and she gallops toward him, arriving just as Redflank is about to pounce. She springs across toward her fawn, "she would let nothing harm him!" Shadow trounces Redflank by pummeling her repeatedly with her hooves. Redflank retreats . . . defeated.

Shadow hurries to her fawn. "He stood up on his wobbly legs and nuzzled against her. Shadow licked his head. The danger was over."

During my first week blogging, I featured Bashi, Elephant Baby  from this six book series about the harrowing first days of life of various wild animals. I recently reread the entire series to the kids, upon their insistence in one sitting. I was once again reminded of how great the books are. I thought I would  feature Shadow the Deer in order to gush more about Theresa Radcliffe's story and showcase more of John Butler's impressively realistic illustrations. The stories are suspenseful but always end happily with the mommas successfully protecting their babies against various predators. As I mentioned in my earlier post, these books are out of print, but you can find them used online. Truly a superb series with gorgeous artwork!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Where's the Big Bad Wolf? by Eileen Christelow

Copyright © 2002 by Eileen Christelow

Detective Phineas T. Doggedly does not hold the Big Bad Wolf in high esteem. He knows that the Wolf is a "low-down, no-good, chicken-chasing, pig-poaching rascal[]." Every time he is caught committing a crime, the Wolf is repentant and promises to behave, but his recidivism rate is 100%.

One day while Detective Doggedly is driving down the road, a sudden gust of wind blows by. It sounds similar to huffing and puffing - straw goes flying everywhere. Doggedly investigates, confident that he will find the Wolf up to criminal mischief, yet again.  Doggedly sees three little pigs in distress, their straw house destroyed.  He is flummoxed, when instead of the Wolf, he sees a sheep.  The sheep introduces herself as Esmeralda. When questioned about her presence, she explains that she happened to be walking by "just in time to rescue these delectable little piggies!"
The foolish pigs believe a tornado caused the destruction, but Doggedly knows better. He has no doubt that somehow the Wolf is involved. While he searches, Esmeralda, under the guise of being fearful of wolves, beats a hasty retreat.  Doggedly keeps searching and finally finds the Wolf at home. When he is confronted,  the Wolf claims that he has been home with the flu. Doggedly knows something is odd, "I just can't quite put my paw on what it is."
Later, upon the advice of Esmeralda, the gullible pigs rebuild their house out of sticks. When like the house of straw, it collapses under suspicious circumstances, Esmeralda the sheep is again at the scene of the crime, appearing to be helpful.
Doggedly believes that it is the Wolf's work, but again the Wolf has an alibi.  He is found in the hospital with flu-like symptons.
Heeding the advice of some elderly cows, and to Esmeralda's chagrin, the three pigs rebuild their third home out of brick. When there is an unsuccessful attempt to blow down this brick house, Esmeralda is seen fleeing the scene. As the aptly named Doggedly pursues her, he sees her climbing up a ladder into the same hospital room where the Wolf is supposedly recuperating. Esmeralda, the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing, is caught and of course he promises to be good.  Once he has served his jail time, do you believe that he is indeed reformed? Well, soon a peculiar looking horse arrives in town and befriends the three little pigs. . .

This story and the illustrations are hysterical. My personal favorite is of the Big Bad Wolf,  feigning illness, wearing pig slippers and a bathrobe embroidered with "BBW." The illustrations also provide evidence that belie the Big Bad Wolf's protests of innocence. The kids like studying the illustrations and pointing out the clues. It makes them feel quite smug to be more clever than Detective Phineas T. Doggedly.

There exists a plethora of  retellings of the classic Three Little Pigs tale.  The retellings are usually from the pigs' perspective but more recently, some have been told from that of the wolf's. Eileen Christelow writes from a unique third perspective - that of a detective.  Where's the Big Bad Wolf? is by far the kids' favorite version. Ms. Christelow informed me that, of  the books she has written, it is one of her favorites also.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sadie the Air Mail Pilot by Kellie Strom

Text and Illustrations copyright © 2007 by Kellie Strom

Sadie is a member of a small crew of air mail pilots. The pilots' routes take them from Air Mail Headquarters to Chile, Peru, Argentina and other South American countries. One day, Sadie is assigned to deliver mail to the Knuckle Peak Weather Station which is at the summit of a steep mountain range.
The weather is perfect, initially.  As she approaches Knuckle Peak, however, the skies become overcast as a snow storm approaches. When Sadie radios to Knuckle Peak for the forecast, she is informed of the inclement weather and urged to return to HQ.  Sadie is an intrepid pilot dedicated to her job, and she is perhaps a bit foolhardy.  She does not heed the weather warning but instead flies through the storm, up, up, up to Knuckle Peak. "Things look grim, but don't get nervous, Nothing scares the Air Mail Service!"
She arrives safely and after completing the mail delivery and chatting and eating with the two occupants of the station,  it is time to return to Air Mail HQ. Weather conditions, however, have deteriorated even more.  Sadie  is encouraged to wait out the storm by Weatherbird Gusty and Forecaster Fogg, but she declines. She repeats an oath of the Air Mail Service: "The winds may blow ice and snow, But still the Air Mail's got to go!" She takes off in her little red plane, but a disaster occurs - Sadie's instruments begin to freeze causing her to crash. Fortunately, she is rescued in short order and a creative solution is found to get her plane back soaring in the air. Sadie, the fearless tiger, returns to Air Mail HQ - mission accomplished!

Since my daughter has two older brothers, she is a bit of a tomboy. She loves to run, climb, jump, flip, slide, build and now play basketball. She is also a "girly girl", so she is very likely to engage in those activities wearing a party dress and carrying a Hello Kitty purse.  I love the combination because, honestly, I do not think I could tolerate her exclusively wanting to be a princess, wearing shades of pink and having tea parties daily.

In the years since my daughter's birth as I have sought books for her library collection, I have been extremely frustrated. While Princess books abound, it is difficult finding adventure picture books featuring female characters. Sadie the Air Mail Pilot is one of the few wonderful exceptions.  On the flip side, you can't swing a stick without hitting an action-packed picture book featuring a male character.  Thus, my boys have a large, wonderful collection. Take heed writers out there, I know many little girls who would love more thrilling picture books featuring - GIRLS!

While Sadie is a female tiger, do not let that prevent you from seeking out this book for little boys in your life. My own boys, even now at 6 and 4 years of age, still request that Sadie the Air Mail Pilot be read. My daughter,  for whom I purchased the book in the first place, is only now at the right age to enjoy this great story. I recently shared it with her, and she was enthralled by the illustrations and pulls it out everyday.  Kellie Strom's illustrations in Sadie the Air Mail Pilot are the most striking and unique that I have ever seen. There are so many details to study that even years later, we frequently find something new. I can predict that Sadie the Air Mail Pilot will continue to be one of the most oft requested books in the house for a few more years.

Unfortunately, Sadie the Air Mail Pilot is not part of the Chicago Public Library's collection. Even more upsetting, this wonderful book appears to be out of print. Luckily, used copies can be found online. I suggest you do so. Neither you nor the kids in your life, will be disappointed.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Eldest Child's Favorite Book - Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle by John Abbott Nez

Copyright © 2009 by John Abbott Nez

Cromwell Dixon, born in 1892, showed an aptitude for inventing from a very young age. Among the items he built was a rowboat for four rowers and a mechanical fish made from windup clocks. When his inventions did not work as he anticipated, Cromwell did not despair.  He would simply regroup and look for another way to make them function. "That boy had more gumption than a gopher."

Cromwell enjoyed reading scientific magazines to marvel at the latest wonders of his time such as skyscrapers, ocean liners and automobiles. But, flying machines most intrigued him. In 1904, while at the St. Louis World's Fair, Cromwell flew for the first time in a balloon. It was then that he decided to become an aeronaut and to build his own airship. Cromwell spent months designing every detail.

His final plan was quite ingenious - his bicycle would power the airship.  Cromwell was only 14 years of age when he began building what he dubbed "The Sky-Cycle." His very supportive mother sewed the pieces that would make up the gigantic balloon to hold the hydrogen gas.  Cromwell, himself, built generators to produce the hydrogen.

Cromwell experienced setbacks. Varnish had to be applied to the balloon to render it airtight, but one night the varnish caught fire, destroying the balloon. The irrepressible Cromwell decided to begin constructing a new balloon the next day.  "It will be a better design by far than the first!" he said.

August 9, 1907 was the day of  the Sky-Cycle's maiden flight.  A crowd gathered in Columbus, Ohio and watched awestruck as "with barely a sound, the Sky-Cycle came to life and floated away, lighter than air."  Cromwell climbed to 2,500 feet, but then, unexpectedly,  the Sky-Cycle began losing altitude. The gas cap on the balloon had come loose, letting hydrogen escape. Cromwell kept his wits about him and climbed off the bike, onto the frame and refastened the gas cap, but the Sky-Cycle continued to rapidly descend. Cromwell began to lighten his load by jettisoning all non-essentials. He was able to regain control of the Sky-Cycle but there was too much hydrogen loss to continue his flight. He was forced to make an emergency landing almost two miles from his starting point.
The incredibly self-possessed boy said when he landed safely, "Why, you know, it's easy. There's nothing to be afraid of."

As I have mentioned - too many times probably -  both of my boys love to build. My pillow cushions hardly ever remain on the couch because they are constantly being used to construct forts, rocketships, caves etc. It is maddening at times, but I try to nurture their imagination - plus it means less time spent begging to play video games. I have also made sure an abundant supply of old fashioned toys such as Tinkertoys, Lincoln logs, Legos, blocks and puzzles are always on hand.

My eldest, since the age of 3, has been consistent in his desire to be a builder/inventor.  Thus, he loves any book about creative young boys.  If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen and  Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn are on his list of top 5 books. Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle, however,  has been his absolute favorite book, hands down, for 2 years. His love for this book can be attributed to the fact that Cromwell Dixon was a real boy who accomplished an impressive feat.  Reading about Cromwell Dixon makes my son's dream more tangible. I still recall how incredulous my boys were the very first time we read about Cromwell Dixon designing, building and finally flying his own invention.

I cannot end this post without mentioning my eldest child's recent accomplishment. He is looking over my shoulder as I type this and beaming. He had been pleading for a 5000 piece Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon building set since he was 5 yrs. old. Santa Claus is not rich at our house, nor is Santa Claus insane, so my son instead received the 1200 piece set this Christmas. All on his own, he followed the diagrams and assembled it in 2 days. That's my boy! I cannot help but feel that Cromwell Dixon's Sky-Cycle helped him accomplish what in my mind is an impressive feat for a 6 year old, by fueling his passion for inventing with each read through the years. John Abbott Nez has written an intriguing true story of imagination, perseverance, courage and skill. The illustrations are also a treat!

Caveat:  My interest in Cromwell Dixon piqued, I wanted to learn more. Sadly, I discovered that he died in 1911 at 19 years of age  in a plane crash. Thankfully, John Abbott Nez does not mention this tragic fact in his picture book and I have never told my kids, but will once they are older. This fact in no way diminished my fondness for this inspiring story.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Middle Child's Favorite Book - Mabela the Clever retold by Margaret Read MacDonald illustrated by Tim Coffey

 Mabela the Clever appears with the permission of  Albert Whitman & Company.  Text copyright © 2001 by Margaret Read MacDonald, Illustrations copyright © 2001 by Tim Coffey

"In the early times, some were clever and some were foolish."  Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same. "The Cat was one of the clever ones. The mice were mostly foolish." One exception was a little mouse named Mabela who had been taught cleverness from her clever father. He gave her the following sage advice:

Mabela, when you are out and about, keep your ears open and LISTEN.
Mabela when you are out and about, keep your eyes open and LOOK AROUND YOU.
Mabela, when you are speaking, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU ARE SAYING.
Mabela, if you have to move, MOVE FAST! 

One day, the Cat claims that mice will now be allowed to join the Secret Cat Society. The Cat informs the mice to arrive early Monday morning for the initiation ceremony. Now that sounds suspicious to me, but then I was raised on Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker cartoons and thus can spot all forms of trickery a mile away.  This invitation does not cause the mice to raise an eyebrow. But they are after all, foolish.  Obediently, the mice arrive, eager to learn the ways of the Cat. The Cat instructs the mice that they will go for a walk and that while walking they will sing:
When we are marching,
We NEVER look back!
The cat is at the end!
Fo Feng, Fo Feng!

The mice begin marching in a single file line with Mabela in the lead, because she is the smallest. The Cat brings up the rear.  Unbeknownst to the silly marching mice, as they shout "Fo Feng," the Cat is snatching one mouse at a time and placing them in his sack. After a while, Mabela begins to think about her father's advice.
"Mabela, when you are out and about, keep your ears open and listen." Mabela then listens. She notices that what before sounded like a long line of mice behind her, only sounds like a few mice.

"Mabela when you are out and about, keep your eyes open and look around you." Mabela turns her head slightly to the left and right.  She only sees a  short line of mice behind her and the cat is very close now.

"Mabela, when you are speaking, pay attention to what you are saying." The song that the mice are chanting contains the words, "the Cat is at the end."  Mabela realizes that phrase means that no one is watching what the cat is doing. 

Lastly, "Mabela, if you have to move, MOVE FAST!"  Mabela, does not pause a moment longer, she dives into the bushes.  The Cat attempts to pounce on her, but instead pounces on thorns and gets tangled up in the bushes.

Clever Mabela is then able to rescue all the foolish mice from the Cat's sack. Little Mabela has outwitted the Cat and saved the day!

Tim Coffey's illustrations are just beautiful. The book is filled with rich and saturated greens and purples and reddish- browns and yellowish -oranges. The above illustration of Mabela rescuing her fellow mice is particularly lovely. Coffey has made little Mabela with the buck-teeth and bulging eyes into a very adorable character. One day I will compile a list of my favorite book cover illustrations, Mabela the Clever is definitely in the top 5.

On the first page of Mabela the Clever, Margaret Read MacDonald  provides an informative note on the origin of the story. It is a retelling that originates from the Limba people of Sierra Leone in Africa. The book ends with a saying of Limba grandparents, "If a person is clever, it is because someone has taught them their cleverness." I believe that Mabela the Clever has allowed me to impart some cleverness to my own children that will serve them well in life.  I have used the advice of Mabela's father  to caution my children about danger and their own personal safety. I'd like to think that they are more observant because of the many readings over the years. They know to look, listen and pay attention when they are "out and about." And they know, that by all means if they need to get out of a dangerous situation - "MOVE FAST!"

While I have labeled Mabela the Clever as my middle child's favorite book since it is the one he selected, it really has been a firm favorite of all of ours for years. Well, except for my husband, who detests mice, even mice in books. Although he loves the Mighty Mouse cartoon - go figure:-)

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Youngest Child's Favorite Book - Mouse Went Out to Get a Snack by Lyn Rossiter McFarland illustrations by Jim McFarland

Text copyright © 2005 Lyn Rossiter McFarland
Illustrations copyright © 2005 by Jim McFarland

A scrawny mouse emerges from his home to get a snack. He doesn’t want much -  just a bit of cheese. He scurries around, wary of the house cat.  When he arrives at the dining table, he climbs up the leg, and to his delight, a feast lays before him.  Suddenly, one measly piece of cheese hardly seems sufficient. He flexes his muscles and cracks his knuckles. Then he gets busy!
Mouse drops a platter on the floor and begins tossing  heaping amounts of  food on top of it: "1 piece of cheese; 2 plump plums; 3 baby carrots; 4 fried chicken legs; 5 ears of corn; 6 tasty tacos; 7 assorted jelly beans; 8 colorful cupcakes; 9 jolly gingerbread men and 10 slices of chocolate cake."
After climbing down the table, Mouse again flexes his muscles, hoist the platter over his head and starts back to his mousehole.  His run of good fortune ends when he is confronted by the dreaded cat. Attempting to evade capture, Mouse sprints through the house still holding the platter laden with food.   
Mouse arrives home, but alas, the platter of food is humongous and the mousehole entrance is tiny.  Mouse skids to a stop and the platter of food goes flying. Will Mouse scurry into his hole unharmed but empty handed .. .

Periodically, I ask my kids to name their favorite books. This week I am featuring their responses.

I borrowed Mouse Went Out to Get a Snack from the  library a few years ago because of my affinity for the Tom and Jerry cartoon when I was a child. My kids received the Tom and Jerry DVD set this Christmas. It was their first introduction to the series. Once I peeked in on them watching it and howling with laughter. I felt so nostalgic thinking back to myself at that age, sprawled out on the sofa with my own siblings. It was a full circle moment. They told me that Tom and Jerry reminded them of Mouse Went Out to Get a Snack.

At first glance, Mouse Went Out to Get a Snack is deceptively simple: the text is sparse and composed of simple, short phrases. Kids, though, will eat it up!  The story really invites audience participation. My own kids cannot resist imitating the puny little mouse flexing his tiny muscles and cracking his knuckles. They cannot resist listing all the 10 food items McFarland has drawn to look so yummy. All three have learned to identify their numbers from Mouse Went Out to Get a Snack. In addition, Jim McFarland's illustrations of the darling, scrawny mouse are so enjoyable that you cannot just skim over them, no matter how many times you have read the book.

Mouse Went Out to Get a Snack has two double pages that we use as a memory game. On those pages, the food items are pictured with the numbers next to it, but without the description that is included on the earlier pages. The kids delight in trying to recite the descriptive words for all the food items from 10 down to 1 without making any errors.

Each of the boys at some point in the last 4 years has named  Mouse Went Out to Get a Snack as their absolute favorite and now it is my daughter's turn. While it no longer occupies the #1 position on either of my boys' lists,  my eldest still includes it in his top 10, and my middle son, in his top 5.  It pleases me greatly that Lyn McFarland's funny, action filled and very endearing story has remained so popular with them all!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe

Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe appears with the permission of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.  Text and illustrations copyright © 2009 by Chris Monroe

Chico Bon Bon is a very handy monkey who resides in a tree house. He is never without his tool belt, even while he slumbers. Chico owns the usual tools, like a measuring tape, screwdriver and saw, but he also has the following: "chopper, chippper, bopper, bipper, tacker, clacker, snicker-snacker, nail finder, candy finder, plug wrench, lug wrench, pug wrench, bug wrench, razzler, frazzler, frizzler, twizzler, de-twizzler, lid lifter, pickle picker, jibber, jabber, paper scraper, glitter vac, putty splapper, tail clamp, sponge brush, hook-on-a-stick."

One morning, Chico's sleep is disturbed by a loud, unusal noise,"AROOGA BOOM CLANG CLANG." Chico assumes that the sound is coming from what appears to be a gale force wind that is blowing through his open window. He closes the window - the noise, however, continues.  Chico walks around the house to search out the source. He checks the bread box, the hamper, under the floorboards, his swimming pool, among others places, without luck. Chico imagines all types of farfetched scenarios that would explain the noise: woodpeckers playing tricks on him, a monster, a spacecraft on the roof. Chico's tree house is quite palatial, with four levels that are accessed by ladders, slides and fireman poles.
After searching every inch of the house, he discovers that the noise is emanating from the laundry chute. He cannot see what is in the chute when he looks down, because dirty clothes are on top of whatever is stuck there.  When Chico goes to the basement to look up, this is what he sees:
a friendly elephant named Clark. Clark explains that he wandered into Chico's tree house by accident that night, thinking it was his friend Elsa's.

Chico ponders how to rescue Clark, who is wedged in pretty tight. Once he has a plan, he pulls out his tools and gets to work. I won't tell you exactly how Clark is rescued, but it involves atypical tools: a banana cannon and a sticky winch.

Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem is the second book in the now three book series. We have read the first book, Monkey with a Tool Belt, numerous times. We have not yet read the third title, Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Seaside Shenanigans which was just released this past summer. It has the word "shenanigans" in the title, so it has to be amusing.

The boys enjoy this series for several reasons.  First, there is a monkey and his name is almost impossible to say and not smile. Try it yourself - "Chico Bon Bon." You're grinning aren't you? Second, the kids are going through a tree house phase. Boy, do they want us to build one. Since that will not be happening any time soon, they have contented themselves repeatedly scrutinizing every room of Chico Bon Bon's tree house.  I have to admit, I want that tree house for myself. Our home resembles a hovel compared to Chico's mansion in the sky! Third, we also have a laundry chute, so the kids find it amusing to peer down it and imagine seeing an humongous elephant or other peculiar animals wedged in there. Fourth and most importantly, there are tools. Like Chico, the boys consider themselves to be quite handy. They recite the silly names of the tools and guess their purpose.  After reading step-by-step how Chico rescues Clark, they discuss alternative plans and tools that could have been used. Chico Bon Bon, Chico Bon Bon, Chico Bon Bon we love you!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Old Cricket by Lisa Wheeler illustrated by Ponder Goembel

Text copyright © 2003 by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrations copyright © 2003 by Ponder Goembel

Old Cricket wakes up feeling, "cranky, crotchety and cantankerous." His wife requests that he repair the roof, but he is in no mood to oblige her. Old Cricket decides to avoid the work by using deceit - he tells his wife that he has a creak in his knee. Concerned, she advises him to see Doc Hopper and she packs a breakfast for him to eat along the way. Old Cricket walks away with a "creak-creak-creak" in case his wife is watching.
En route, he meets his cousin Katydid. She asks Old Cricket to assist her in picking berries for the winter. Old Cricket continues with his deception, this time also claiming that he has a crick in his neck. Katydid offers him a berry to eat along the way. Old Cricket walks away with a "creak-creak-creak" and a "crick-crick-crick" in case Katydid is watching.
Further down the road, Old Cricket comes across his Uncle Ant who asks for his aide to harvest the corn. Old Cricket tells him that in addition to the creak in his knee and crick in his neck, he has a crack in his back.  Uncle Ant offers him a kernel of corn to eat along the way.  Old Cricket walks away with a "creak-creak-creak", "crick-crick-crick" and a "crack-crack-crack" in case Uncle Ant is watching.
Old Cricket feels quite smug: he has successfully avoided doing any work. He has no intention of visiting Doc Hopper either,  but rather finds a comfortable place to nap. His plan is soon disturbed by Old Crow, "caw-caw-caw," looking for lunch. Old Cricket continues his deceit, and warns Old Crow that he has the hiccups and will cause indigestion if Old Crow swallows him. Old Cricket then attempts to hobble away as he has all day, with the pretend "creak-creak-creak," 'crick-crick-crick," "crack-crack-crack" and now a fake "hic-hic-hic".

Old Crow is not as easily fooled, and he begins to pursue Old Cricket. As he attempts to evade being lunch, Old Cricket throws food out of his bundle hoping the Old Crow will slow down to eat it. Each time, Old Crow gulps the food down without stopping. Finally all that remains is a biscuit and Old Cricket tosses it.  Old Crow snaps it up, but because it is so dry, he begins to choke. Old Cricket is then able to escape.
While he was fleeing from Old Crow, Old Cricket stumbled and slipped, resulting in actual injuries.  When he comes upon Doc Hopper's office, the doctor fixes all of Old Cricket's, now real, ailments. Old Cricket returns home, a little wiser, and repairs the roof that he attempted to avoid that morning.

Old Cricket is a perfect read-aloud because there are many opportunities for the reader to ham it up.  I borrowed the book from the library two years ago and after hearing my kids' guffaws throughout the first read, I knew we needed to own it. Lisa Wheeler's story has wordplay and repetition. The kids enjoy repeating the "creak- crick- crack and hic" sounds. The Old Cricket shouts out words like, "Crikey", "Cornsakes," "Criminy" which add to the giggles. There is also suspense as Old Cricket attempts to flee and there is a moral regarding honesty. In addition, I  am delighted that great vocabulary words are introduced - cranky, crotchety and cantankerous among others.   

Ponder Goembel's illustrations are the icing on the cake. The illustrations are detailed, colorful, lovely and large. The large size is a bonus for me, because all three of my children can easily view them while I read. I don't have to hear, "Let me see," "No, let me see," and "I can't see either." Plus I think "Ponder" is a very cool name and I like pronouncing it each time we read Old Cricket:-) Ms. Goembel informed me that "Ponder" is an old family name meaning "pond."