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Do you know people who don’t like cats? Maybe you’re one of those people yourself. My first word was “chat” which means cat in French. It came ahead of Mama and Papa by several days. So I was very happy to discover this book by Jennifer Armstrong that shows even the most hardened of non cat lovers can be rehabilitated.
The heroine of the book, or at least the main character, is a very wealthy and haughty woman. When her husband dies, she is too proud and suspicious to let anyone know she needs help. Eventually, she is reduced to unhappy poverty. One day, when there is no food in the house, she goes fishing. It is there that she meets a fine ginger cat who helps her catch fish. Selfishly, she takes the cat back to her house to guarantee that she will always have a fisherman. From that day on, with the cat’s help, her prosperity returns.
One day a beggar comes and asks her if he can have an old basket to carry his belongings in. She is rude to him but gives him an old basket. Unfortunately, her ginger cat was sleeping in the basket! At first she is upset because she lost the source of her prosperity. But then, she realizes how much she loves and misses her ginger cat. She goes searching for him. She buys every basket from every beggar that she passes until she has spent all her money. The story ends with the reunion of the woman and the cat. But now it is a friendship, not exploitation. And that friendship extends to all the people of her village. From that time on the scrolls above her door read “contented joy.”
The illustrations by Mary Grandpre are extraordinary. She has a wonderful way of drawing from different and unexpected angles, with very dramatic coloring and lots of motion.

Babybug magazine has been around for years, steadily and repeatedly garnering prizes, recognition and praise, so it’s surprising that so many people still haven’t heard of it.  Babybug is one of the many quality children’s magazines offered by the Cricket group.  Its target audience is toddlers, and with that in mind, it is printed on sturdy near-cardstock, with non toxic dyes, bound without staples, and with rounded edges that won’t poke or cut.  I have an ongoing subscription to Babybug – it is like a plate of appetizers tantalizing the palate before the larger main course of full-sized picture books is served.  In Babybug, there are bite-size offerings from some of the best authors and illustrators in the world of children’s literature.  Each issue opens with a moment in the life of Kim and Carrots.  Kim is a toddler and Carrots is her stuffed rabbit.  I am jealous – Carrots has the most expressive (and changeable) expressions of any stuffed animal I’ve ever seen, and engages actively in Kim’s adventures.  The helpful website that subscribers get access to along with every subscription explains that having Kim and Carrots in every issue provides stability and continuity and gives young readers a sense of security. The Kim and Carrots episodes are also an opportunity to explore the types of activities and adventures that are meaningful to toddlers – playing on the beach, putting groceries away, taking a bath, etc.  The remainder of the issue is a series of short 2- or 4-page spreads of poems or stories lavishly illustrated.

To learn more about Babybug, browse an interactive sample issue, or subscribe, click here. For some reason, the interactive sampler displays the 2-page spreads as if they are on each side of a page, giving the mistaken impression you can’t see both sides of the spread at once.  That is misleading – the 2 pages that go together are side by side in the magazine.  (Also, if you search the Internet before subscribing, you can almost always find a discount code that will reduce the standard subscription rate.)

Babybug also offers a couple of e-books for use with iPad, Kindle or Nook – they appear to be collections of some of the 2-page spreads from past magazine issues, and I carry one on my iPhone for impromptu babysitting emergencies.

There are lots of different reasons for buying children’s picture books: some have magnificent artwork, some have deep and meaningful stories, some are funny, some teach important information or skills.  One of my favorite reasons to buy a book, though, is because it is so much FUN to read.  If the book is fun for little boys to hear, that is an even greater bonus.  Not because I’d rather read to little boys than little girls, but because it’s harder – in my experience, at least – to find books that little boys really engage with.  Roadwork is all about the trucks and tasks involved in building a road. Each two-page spread has 3 lines of story culminating with a trio of great read-aloud words.  This is pure joy to read, and you will never look at roads the same way again.

For a good gift to a little boy in your life, pair this with Good Night, Good Night Construction Site.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site

 

I have a friend who doesn’t have any children and also doesn’t have any children’s picture books.  She doesn’t understand why I do.  Or at least, she didn’t understand until I showed her a book by Maggie Kneen.  The two volumes I have are both hardcover, printed on almost cardstock thickness, and embossed.  They are satisfyingly hefty (although not too heavy for a child to hold), with smoothly soft paper and a pleasing texture pattern on each page.  Add to that endearing illustrations and charming stories, and they are a pure delight to experience from cover to last page.

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Paris-Chien

Paris-Chien: adventures of an ex-pat dog

I have spent much of my life traveling back and forth between the rural, Mormon, rugged-individualist United States of my mother and the suave, political, materialistic France of my father, literally, symbolically, and conceptually.  It has not always been an easy journey, but it has never been boring.  Paris-Chien (a pun on Parisien, of course) by Jackie Mancuso deals with a few of the more humorous differences, as seen from the eyes of a dog.  When his “mom” (ouch, I love dogs but can’t quite get comfortable calling myself their mom) moves to Paris, Hudson is excited.  He’s heard Paris is a great place for dogs.  But when he gets there, he struggles – as all of us have – with the language, the cultural differences, the homesickness for the familiar.  How he learns, with a little help from his mom, to navigate the new world is a charming story for children who have to move to a new place, or for adults.  Or for dogs, if you read to your dogs.

The art work of Paris-Chien is modern and fresh, very similar in feel to this graffiti artist I watched in the 4th arrondissment last year.

And fancy dogs have their own boutiques now on the grandes avenues…

By the way, I discovered Paris-Chien in a most unusual way.  I was exploring a fabulous website called They Draw and Cook, filled with “illustrated recipes” that the founders created and that readers send in.  One sorting option shows recipes illustrated by children’s book authors. My interest and hunger were piqued enough by Jackie Mancuso’s yummy/lovely Pissaladiere recipe  that I went immediately to Amazon to look up her book.  Et voila.  I highly recommend this website  to get children interested in cooking, illustrating, and possibly eating new foods.  I may even try illustrating a recipe or two myself.

Lynley Dodd‘s books are a relatively new addition to my collection. I was reading Reading Magic by Mem Fox, and she mentioned meeting a couple of businessmen in Australia. The conversation turned to reading aloud, as it so often does with Mem Fox, and both men assured her they read aloud to their children. One started reciting Harry Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy and the other joined in. I’d never heard of that book and wondered what kind of a book two different Australian fathers would memorize. So I started looking for it and thank goodness for Amazon.com…

Lynley Dodd’s books are a combination of whimsical pictures and rollicking rhyme. They remind some people of Dr. Seuss, but there’s a significant difference. Dr. Seuss has a lot of imaginary words – Lynley Dodd uses amazing real ones, like skedaddle and hobnob and skittery.

Hairy Maclary has several dog pals, such as Bitzer Maloney all skinny and bony and Hercules Morse as big as a horse. He also has a little friend, Zachary Quack, who appears in one of my favorite volumes. And in the same neighborhood, there is a cat named Slinky Malinky who gets his own sets of books. All have fantastic vocabulary, cute illustrations, and memorable rhyme. They are wonderful for reading aloud.

I purchased a copy of Ladybug Girl, by David Soman and Jacky Davis, years ago when it first came out.  I remember showing it enthusiastically to my friends:  “Look how the dog matches the girl in all the illustrations!” I would say.  “Look, here on page 1, his ears stream back like her wings, and his tail mirrors her upraised leg.  On page 2, they both stare up at Mom with the same expression on their faces.  On page …”  Before I ever read the words, I was entranced with the way the illustrator could make a short-legged brown and white dog and a little girl in a black and red ladybug costume look so endearingly alike, page after page after page.  When I finally got around to reading the story, I was equally entranced with the words.  Ladybug Girl finds herself in an all-too-common situation: her big brother won’t let her play with him!  She responds by performing superhero deeds with the help of her faithful sidekick Bingo, such as lifting a “giant” rock blocking a line of marching ants, leaping big puddles, and balancing her way across tree trunks.  More importantly, she learns to value her own skills and experiences along the way.  Most of the friends I showed this book to, when it first came out, ended up buying a copy.  Apparently, so did everyone else in the US, because there are a flock of Ladybug Girl books available now.  This is still my favorite.