Tag Archives: 3 years old

Review: Mary Elizabeth the Spotless Cow

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for Mary Elizabeth the Spotless Cow by Sal Barbera. If you are here because of the tour, welcome! This blog focuses on reviewing lots and lots of children’s picture books.

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We got Mary Elizabeth in the mail on Monday and have been reading it every day since then. My three-year-old has been requesting it every afternoon when we attempt to settle down for naptime. I also found him reading it on his own yesterday. He was totally engrossed in it and didn’t realize I was watching him for a few minutes. Then he looked up and said, in that nonchalant way little kids use when they are being their grown up selves, “Oh, Mommy, I just reading this book.”

Mary-Elizabeth-Spotless-Cow cover

Mary Elizabeth is the new cow on the farm and she, unlike all the other cows, has no spots. At first, the other cows ignore her and won’t play with her because she has no spots. But Mary Elizabeth has seen this kind of treatment before and she has a plan: when the other cows are asleep, she puts mud on herself to look like spots. Will it work? Will the other cows like her now that she looks like they do?

I thought this story was very sweet. At first, the other cows seem like mean bullies when they shut poor Mary Elizabeth out of their social circle, but I appreciated that Mary Elizabeth hunkers down with a plan of action. She uses her own ingenuity to take care of the problem and she does it with confidence. And once the other cows realize the error of their ways, they turn out to be not such bad cows after all.

During the month of October, the publisher is offering this book at a discount through their website. In addition, 50% of the net profits will be donated to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital’s Child Life Program. Visit http://www.sweetles.com/product/books/mary-elizabeth-the-spotless-cow-book/ for more information.

Other picture book reviews you might like:

fancy nancycowboy boydgruffalo

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Book Problems

The books are a little out of control around here.

20130923_074121I’ve been trying to keep the board books in the basket and the paper books in the cabinet, so the baby doesn’t eat all the “nice” books. But the basket is getting too small. And maybe it doesn’t look like there are a lot of books in that cabinet, but if we stuff more in there, they fall out on whoever opens the door.

And then there is this shelf.

20130923_074152I’m not sure I even know what is on there anymore.

Not pictured: the bag of library books, the ones on the beds, the ones next to the chair, the ones on the couch. In addition to tripping over tiny cars and trains every time I go into a room, which I expected as the mom of boys, I keep finding books all over the place. Which is great! Except when I want to clean up! I also have five books waiting to be picked up from the library and they won’t let me put any others on hold until I go get the ones that are already there.

I feel the urge to simplify. Too many things! All over my house! Somewhere in my brain is a little closet where my “throw it away” personality lives. But, arg, when it’s books it’s so much harder. The good ones are beloved, so beloved. The bad ones … wait, there aren’t any bad ones. I already got rid of the bad ones. The ones we have outgrown are all chewed on. And there aren’t very many of those anyway.

So, maybe we just need a bigger basket?

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Look What Arrived!

I took the moon for a walk

We just got a whole box of books from Barefoot Books! This was my prize for winning a contest at Mothering.com for a post I wrote for World Breastfeeding Week. You can read the post here, if you like: On Motherhood.

I Took the Moon for a Walk has to be my favorite book from this collection. We read it quite frequently and it is perfect for a bedtime book. I enjoy the rhyme and rhythm of it, which I don’t often say because sometimes I feel like the rhyming in children’s books is kind of overwhelming. Usually, it’s fine and sometimes it’s fun, but I don’t generally fall into the camp of “I love this poem!” But I am making an exception here. I also like that the story shows a child exploring the world at night without being scared or monitored by his parents. It was the kind of thing I always wanted to do when I was a kid – and something I did do a lot when I was older.

I’ve raved before about Barefoot Books because their website features free podcasts of children’s audio books. I highly recommend these if a.) you are tired of reading to your kids (it is ok to admit that it happens), b.) your child keeps asking for the same story on repeat, c.) you need something to listen to on a roadtrip. When Finn was quite young, maybe 2 years old, we found he enjoyed listening to audiobooks once he already knew the story. Our favorite was The Gingerbread Man. I told him a simple version of it, then we listened to it together for a few minutes, and before long he was requesting it after naptime.

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Thoughts I Had While Reading Lyle, Lyle Crocodile

I’ve said this before, somewhere: when I wind up reading the same book dozens of times, I have to find a way to keep it interesting. Here are some of the thoughts I recently had while reading Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber for many, many days in  row.

Look at all the square footage in this New York apartment/house. Holy moly.

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Mrs. Primm and Lyle sure do spend a lot of time together.

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Now it’s starting to look like they are on dates.

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My favorite page in the book. Says the information lady, “I have no information about a crocodile wearing a red scarf.” If I ever work at an information booth, I am going to start every sentence with “I have information/no information about …”

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I am a little traumatized that Lyle has been sent to the zoo. Don’t cry! Why am I such a wimp about crying in children’s books?

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Oh, good, Lyle gets to come back from the zoo and everyone is happy. And it looks like Mrs. Primm has her nose back.

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Finn loves this book and asked for the “Lild”story almost every night. His favorite part is the character of Mr. Grumps. He asks where Mr. Grumps is on every page and when a page does not contain any pictures of Mr. Grumps, he is unhappy. I would gladly buy a book entirely devoted to the adventures of Mr. Grumps.

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Review: Chanticleer and the Fox

Have you ever checked out a picture book because *you* wanted to read it and didn’t really care if your kids thought it was interesting? I admit, I have done it. And not just because I am tired of reading the same fifteen train books they have at our local branch. It happened last week when I forgot the library bag and made some dumb pronouncement outside the doors, like, “Ok, just one book each!” And then Finn came out of the stacks with one called Buenos Noches, Miami and I thought, “Ok, fine, I will puzzle out the Spanish on that for you,” and Donovan grabbed one of those First 400 Words in the Kitchen type books that are just pictures and are impossible to read.

And then I saw Chanticleer and the Fox. Ooh, ooh, a book based on Chaucer! With sweet olde-tyme illustrations as well. My heart skipped a beat. I am still still a nerd English major of the worst sort.

chanticleer

So … it’s not that great. I mean, the story is cute, but they could have divorced it from Chaucer a little more, in my opinion. True, they updated the language to Modern English, but they didn’t really try to make the words child-friendly. And even though I I recently fell in love with Corduroy, a story about a teddy bear who searches for a button which is not exactly high adventure, I am not sure most kids are ready to follow a story about a rooster. A married rooster, at that. My kids listened to it exactly once, with looks on their faces that seemed to say, “They make books about all kinds of things, do they?” but I guess there is value even in that. I was tired of Chanticleer by about page four. And when the fox arrived, I hoped he would get eaten.

But I did love the pictures.

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Review: Choo Choo, The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away

A review of Choo Choo, The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away by Virginia Lee Burton. I really love this book; it has a special place in my heart.

choo choo

Choo Choo is dedicated, with a beautiful charcoal drawing of a little boy, to the author’s son Aris. In this picture, he is surrounded by his toy trains and — in ever-widening circles — historical, real life trains. The story itself includes all the train-related high-points: tunnels, bridges, stations, traffic crossings, hills, train noises. It is not hard to imagine that Burton knew exactly what her son wanted to see in a train book and made him one that fit the bill. Even the endpapers feature a large panoramic scene of the tracks where Choo Choo runs. My son likes to trace his fingers over the tracks in these pictures, going over the hills and through the tunnels and across the bridge. If you have a small train lover, this book has almost everything you could ask for.

Choo Choo was one of the very first books we checked out from the library that wasn’t a board book. Finn was very young at the time, less than 18 months old, and he had very little patience for this book. There are a lot of words and they don’t rhyme or have a noticeable rhythm. It seemed to take us forever and ever to get through it and, to be honest, many times we did not read the whole thing. I thought it was too long and too wordy and spent a great deal too much space in the beginning laying out the names of the engineer and the fireman and the conductor.

But now that Finn is older, this has become one of his favorite books. Duh, of course we need to know everything about Choo Choo before she decides to run off. We need to know her engineer and see his oil can and hear about how much he loves her; because if you are a person who loves trains, you need to know all about everyone in the book who loves trains. You need to see his hat and imagine it on your own head. You need to see the conductor’s pocket watch and imagine you have one, too. We have to see where Choo Choo goes every day before she runs off, because this is how trains cast their magic spell on us: they travel along paths we can’t always see from our windows or from the roads we usually travel.

Burton is better known for her book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, which is a pretty great book, too. But I like this one better. I saw The Little House, another book of hers, at Half Price Books last week and I am still a little irritated that I didn’t buy it (someone wanted to spend his summer reading gift certificate on a Thomas book). I think I will put that on our list.

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Review: Fancy Nancy

fancy nancy

A few days ago, I took the boys to a friend’s house to play. The little girl, we’ll call her O, had a huge collection of dress up clothes and even if she didn’t, I had the feeling that she would play dress up in whatever. She is a little younger than Finn, but she is a lot better at getting in and out of her own clothes than he is; I’m guessing because she changes outfits all the time. We have some dress up clothes at our house, notably an old felt wizard hat and a pair of fuzzy purple glasses that my neighbors were going to give to Goodwill before we took them. It’s not quite the closet O has, with tutus and headbands, baskets of shoes and twirly skirts. O has stuff you might want to dress up in; we have, you know, some old crap.

While we were playing, Finn found a pair of O’s princess high heels. They weren’t real shoes, just little plastic things for dress up. He shoved his giant feet into them and wore them around the house for a long time. By this time of the day, he was also down to wearing a t-shirt and underpants, as he had lost his shorts on a trip to the bathroom and refused to put them back on. My son in pink high heels, underpants and a t-shirt — may I never forget that vision, it was quite cute. I didn’t think to snap a picture.

The next day, I took the boys to the thrift store so we could search for some new clothes. It dawned on me about a week ago that we are depending on Finn’s hand-me-downs for the baby to wear, but that at this age very few of Finn’s clothes (most of them second hand already) are in any condition to be passed on again. So, since the boys seem agreeable to sit in a cart during the August heat, I am taking advantage and making some trips to the thrift stores to find them clothes. Finn disappeared into the middle of a clothes rack and re-emerged with a pair of plastic pink dress up high heels. “I want them,” he said.

Oh right, I thought, this is why I don’t usually bring you shopping with me: you want stuff. I thought the shoes looked too small, but Finn sat on the ground and put them on while I pawed through the racks of baby shorts. He wore them around the store for a good fifteen minutes. Another mother told me he looked adorable. I was ready to buy them — I’m not sure exactly why. Because it’s subversive and that is ok? Because they were cheap and second hand? I mean, in the end, it’s just another piece of plastic junk to fill up our tiny house; he can play with O’s shoes whenever we go to her house, does he need his own pair? But then Finn found a Minnie Mouse doll he liked better and asked for that instead.

I bring up this timely story because we just read Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser, and it is all about dressing up. Nancy likes everything to be fancy. Here I thought my son’s rejection of the worn out old wizard hat in our sad “dress up” drawer meant he didn’t care about being fancy. I am a dummy, though, because he loved this book and he is very, very excited about being fancy.

Synopsis: Nancy loves being fancy, but the rest of her family is plain. So she decides to teach them how to be fancy and they end up at a restaurant covered in Nancy’s “accessories.” At dinner, she is delighted that they eat with their pinkies up and call each other “darling.” By the end of the story, we see what a family is willing to do for each other to show their love.

The illustrations are top-notch. Nancy’s fancy clothes and curly hair and sheer exuberance are evident on every page. Her parents come across as good sports, gamely dressing up in Nancy’s creations. The page where they enter the restaurant in full movie star attitude is delightful. I was a little sad that dad’s “fancy” outfit was just a top hat and cane from a magic kit. I guess I was expecting him to look a little more like David Bowie. But I totally understand now why people throw Fancy Nancy parties. It is so much fun.

Last night when we read this book yet again (Finn calls it “the fancy book”), I told him maybe he could play dress up at school today. “Do you have a dress up corner at school?” I asked.

His eyes lit up and he nodded his head enthusiastically. “I can be fancy at school!”

And at your friends’ houses and at the thrift store and wherever, darling.

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Cowboy Boyd and Mighty Calliope

Usually, I put up reviews for books that are kind of old news. This is because they come from the library because the library is free. But today’s review is for a book that is not out yet. Something new! Exciting!

cowboy boydCowboy Boyd and Mighty Calliope is from Lisa Moser, the same author who wrote Railroad Hank. We read Railroad Hank a few months ago and loved it. It had a lot going for it, as it was about a train, but even so it is a charming book that is fun to read aloud. We would say the line “Railroad Hank rubbed his chin” very slowly and rub our own chins at the same time. Finn thought this was hilarious. Cowboy Boyd and Mighty Calliope has a similar feel. Even the illustrations seem related, though they are by a different illustrator.

Synopsis: Cowboy Boyd is a cowboy who rides a rhino instead of a horse. Calliope has trouble doing a lot of the ranching tasks and the other cowboys aren’t sure she will work out, but Cowboy Boyd believes in her. And when it’s time to soothe the cattle after a bad storm, Calliope comes through and saves the day in her own particular Calliope way.

Cowboy Boyd is a fun story. Finn asked to read it over and over again, which is always the sign of a winner. I liked Calliope as a character and would like to see her have more adventures in other books. But I think I liked Railroad Hank better over all.

This book will be available at the end of August.

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Summer of Classic Books: New Classics

For some reason, I decided summer was a great time to set some goals. I can’t remember why, maybe because we are about as far away from January 1st and New Year’s Resolutions as we can get? That is my only real touchstone for goals, and it never seems to work out very well. So, summertime must be better, right?

Here are three books we recently read that I consider “new classics.” They are not very old, not old enough to be truly classic, but they all have that feel about them that they will be around for a long, long time.

gruffalo1. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. I’m glad Finn is old enough to listen to books with more words in them now, because this one is wordy and brilliant. It has the rhyming text, the bouncy rhythm, the repeated phrases that are hallmarks of popular children’s stories. And it revisits the old trope of the trickster character in a new way. Finn has always been good at memorizing certain parts of his favorite books, but lately he has taken to reciting whole pages, with or without the book in his lap. Sometimes he will start telling the Gruffalo story while putting on his shoes or collecting up his stuffed animals. I always take this as a sign that the book is a hit.

pinkalicious2. Pinkalicious by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann. I thought this would be too girly for us. After all, the cover features a girl in a princess costume and the whole thing is pink, pink, pink. But, that’s not really the point of this book after all. The main character is, yes, a girl, but she comes across as a real person with ups and downs, instead of just another princessy girl in a fancy dress. Her little brother is a great character, too. I won’t spoil anything by telling you what color he turns at the end of the book, but you can probably guess. Finn asked to read this so many times before we had to return this to the library. Since this was a success, I think we are going to check out Fancy Nancy next. I keep seeing notices for Fancy Nancy parties at bookstores and stuff, so there must be something to it.

knufle bunny3. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. We have been great fans of this series for a while, but it took until recently for us to track down the first Knuffle Bunny. They didn’t have it at my local branch of the library, so we had to order it and wait for it to come in. (Can I tell you a secret? I love ordering books from the library almost as much as I love managing my Netflix queue.) Finn loved the drama of Trixie trying to explain what she wanted without having the words to use. I think even though he is really verbal now and often quite chatty, he still has moments when he can’t express what he wants, or he is misunderstood. I also love the design of the Knuffle Bunny books, the mix of photography and drawings. I really wish there were more children’s fiction books that featured photographs.

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Minnesota History Center

Last month, we flew to Minneapolis for vacation. I really love visiting Minnesota in the summer; it is quite lovely. In the days before we had kids, my husband and I spent our Minnesota vacations riding bikes and exploring breweries and strolling around the lakes. This time, we basically did something train-related every day. One place that Finn is still talking about, and asking to return to, is the Minnesota History Center.

This is a museum with exhibits about Minnesota that are mostly geared towards the school-aged crowd. During the school year, I’m sure it is packed with kids. But we had a secret weapon: we know someone who works there so we had a private tour on a day when the exhibits would usually be closed. I realize how lucky we are to have this kind of connection, but let me just make sure I say this and that you pay attention: if you know anyone who works at a museum or the like who can get you in when it is normally closed — do it! OMG, it was way better than my wildest dreams! If we lived in Minnesota, we would be bothering my poor friend to take us around every Monday.

There is lots of fun stuff to look at the History Center, even if you are a little too young to understand most of what is going on.

This airplane is in the gallery. (Which means you can go look at it even when the exhibits are closed.)

mhc plane

I didn’t take this photo. Click it to see who did.

So is this windmill.

mhc windmill

I didn’t take this photo, either. Click it to see who did.

Inside one of the exhibits is this: an actual boxcar. AN ACTUAL BOXCAR.

mhc boxcar

I think Finn would have moved in to this thing.

There is also a streetcar, complete with steering wheel and token box and a bell.

mhc streetcar

Some of the things I really loved about this place were: everything was touch-able, most things had a play-component, and there were several opportunities to dress up. Check out Donovan sporting a WWII uniform. So cute, that one.

mhc d in a hat

One of the coolest parts about going to museum when it is closed: someone has to open the gates to let you in. I think this could have been the boring-est museum ever, and this gate would have counted as a highlight of our entire trip.

mhc gate

The building itself is gorgeous and offers such amazing views of the surrounding area. It doesn’t hurt that it is in one of the most picturesque parts of St. Paul.

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I didn’t take this photo. Click it to see who did.

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