A Visit to Clifford’s World

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Everyone knows Clifford the Big Red Dog.  He has been around for over 50 years–first as a very popular series of picture books and then as a television show.  Now he’s an interactive museum exhibit too.

This exhibit, designed by the Minnesota Children’s Museum, happens to be at my old library (the one I grew up going to) for the summer, and we stopped there briefly when we visited recently. My six-year-old could have played for hours in Clifford’s World just like she has in the Our World exhibit at the MN Children’s Museum.  She served us lunch at the restaurant (while I pointed out the sign that talked about teamwork) and delivered mail all around Birdwell Island (which gave me the opportunity to point out the other signs about being kind, playing fair, and more).

clifford1It’s hard not to like Clifford.  He always has good intentions even if things don’t always go right the first time.  He might be a lot bigger than the preschoolers who love him, but he’s not so different from them.

The exhibit will be back in Minnesota in September at the Rochester location of the MN Children’s Museum and in the Twin Cities in October.  It’s well worth your time if you have a young Clifford fan in your family who would enjoy exploring Birdwell Island and seeing a nine foot tall Clifford statue up close.

The words you’re not supposed to say

Most of us learn from a pretty young age that there are good words and bad words.  The “bad words” might be hidden from us at first, but eventually someone slips.  Probably while driving.  Or maybe a big kid shares them at school.  Eventually they come out from the shadows, and parents freak out.  Or at least, it seems like most parents do.  I don’t.

Frankly, I don’t swear very much myself.  But I know that other people do, and I don’t expect that I can keep such words hidden from my daughter for long.  Well, in all honesty, I haven’t even tried to keep them from her.  I shrug when my child-free friends apologize for dropping a “bad word” in front of my six-year-old.  Sometimes I’ll even say I’m less concerned about those words than I am the words that hurt people’s feelings.  If any words are bad, it’s the hurtful ones.

Maybe that sounds like some kind of hippie-tastic idealism, but this article echoes my opinion on it pretty well, and I have no doubt that my daughter, a word lover from a very young age, will continue to expand her vocabulary to include all sorts of words, inappropriate and otherwise.  From the article:

“Obviously, Shawn and I don’t want Gracie to walk up to her kindergarten teacher and ask where the bleep she can put her bleeping backpack. But we’re unconvinced that, say, when she gets to high school, she should get grounded for describing a bad day to us with words that help her to express herself.

Hopefully, Shawn and I will instill an expansive vocabulary and love of words in our daughter so that she won’t often need to resort to swearing.”

Turns out, there’s a picture book for this very situation (Isn’t there always?): The Very Inappropriate Word by Jim Tobin.   When Michael learns a new word on the school bus–never used in the book–he loves using it.  He loves words in general, and this one seems especially good.  How does his teacher handle the situation when the word gets around the classroom?  Some kind of punishment?  Washing his mouth out with soap?  Nope.  She send him to the library to find more words.

In the end, it was just one word among many.  That’s all.  No one was hurt in the speaking of the word.

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There’s a more detailed write up about the book at Kirkus, and there’s a book trailer here. No matter how you decide to approach curse words in your family, give this book a chance.  It’s an opportunity to explore why words have the power they do in a way that doesn’t talk down to kids.  And that’s important no matter what words you’ve decided to use or not use.

If you liked… Cosmos

downloadI suppose a better title for this post would be “If your kids liked Cosmos” because I really want to share some of my favorite science titles for the families who have been watching Cosmos together and want to keep the awesome science education going now that it’s over.

  • Gravity by Jason Chin – I love the way that Jason Chin’s picture books take an unusual approach to science, and his newest book does that with gravity.  It is very simple and visually striking.  Well worth sharing with young children to talk about what keeps us to the earth, what makes things fall, etc.   (Ages 4-8)
  • Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space by Dominic Walliman – This grand tour of space is guided by Professor Astro Cat in a fun and friendly way.  It’s stylishly designed and easy to understand. Even kids who aren’t as interested in science will likely be drawn in by the infographic style illustrations and funny asides in the text. It is also worth noting that the author holds a PhD in Quantum Physics, so he knows his stuff.  (Ages 8-10 – Though my 6 year-old loves to browse through it too)
  • How to Make a Planet by Scott Forbes – Start with the Big Bang and follow the steps that led to the earth we know today.  This is a fact-filled science book with the twist of being a “how-to book” for kids interested in having a planet of their own.  (Ages 8-12)

Not to mention some of the books I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past. You are Stardust and Older Than the Stars are two of my favorites.

What are some of your favorite science books for kids?

My Summer Wonders

We ushered in our summer with a busy weekend that was full of sun.  After several days (weeks?) of rain, it was much needed sunshine–at least, it was much needed by me.

IMG_2009IMG_2012 IMG_2014We celebrated the solstice on Friday evening at our Unitarian-Univeralist church, caught a puppet show on Saturday morning at the library (highly recommend catching one of the many performances of Molly and the Magic Boot this summer; my daughter is still singing the “hootenanny” song–though perhaps that’s not a selling point. . .), and joined ten thousand other music fans for Rock the Garden on Saturday night.

While Matt and Kim stole the show for me (even though I was not previously familiar with them), Best Coast deserves a mention for singing “Why would you live anywhere else?”  Of course, they were referencing California, but on the first day of a Minnesota summer, there is no better place to be.  Why would you live anywhere else right now?

Our summer has just begun, of course.  In the weeks to come we will be camping, swimming, grilling, and more.  What will your summer bring?

If you need some inspiration, try a picture book: Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka is a good place to start. It celebrates summer with simplicity and ice pops.  What more could you want?

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Perhaps at the end of the summer we will be able to make our own book of wonders.

If you like… Mo Willems

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This post is for my daughter and her kindergarten class, who have all fallen hard for Mo Willems.  It is also for all the people who say “Do you know Mo Willems?” when I say I work in children’s books.  I have never met the man behind the pigeon, but I am very familiar with his books.  Mostly, though, this post is for the parents who need something to read with their kids when all the Mo Willems books are checked out of the library (as they always seem to be).  Perhaps one of these alternatives will suffice for the day.

If you like the way that Knuffle Bunny captures a universal childhood moment in a way that appeals to both kids and adults, try Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein.  As a bonus, the book also features a dad/daughter combo.

If you like the interactive nature of the Pigeon books, try Cat Secrets by Jeff Czekaj.  It has been in regular rotation at our house recently since we have a new kitten, but it’s fun even without a feline family member. Other potential titles: The End (Almost) by Jim Benton or You’re Finally Here by Melanie Watt.

If the funny friends in the Elephant & Piggie books are your favorite, try When Elephant Met Giraffe by Paul Gude for another set of animals navigating friendship with a touch of humor.  I also like the dry wit of Maxwell Eaton in The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds.

Need more suggestions?  Here are a places to find more reading material for your Mo Willems fan:

  • KDL Recommends Mo Willems Readalikes – More books in the spirit of Mo Willems
  • The Geisel Award – Willems has won this award for beginning readers more than once.  Check out some of the other winners and honors.  Might I recommend The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli.
  • Storytime Skit: Mo Willems – Everything you need to know to plan a Mo Willems event for your library, classroom, or whatever.

 

 

Sugar & Stories

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When your mom is a Book Mom (as my daughter refers to me), you don’t just visit the neighborhood candy shop, you read a book first.

I hadn’t yet mentioned the existence of Sugar Sugar–the Kingfield candy shop–when I suggested we read Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel next. It is a sweet chapter book about a girl who wants to change her name after a classmate makes fun of her (no one wants to be called “Smella”).  In the book, Stella’s family owns a candy shop and some of the action takes place there.  That’s where Stella and her friends decide they will all change their names to some sort of candy.

Each night before bed, I would read a chapter aloud, and my daughter and I would imagine the sorts of candy we would find in a store like Batts Confections or talk about the candy we would like to be named after.  After we finished the story, I hinted that we might go somewhere special this weekend, and my six-year-old’s eyes widened with excitement as she imagined Batts Confections might be a real pace.

Even with all that build up Sugar Sugar got just the response I was hoping for.  And why wouldn’t it? It’s adorable, pink, and filled with sweets of all sorts.  It’s a little girl’s dream–at least, it certainly is among my little girl’s dreams.  We chose our candy–sea salt caramels for me and purple rock candy for my daughter–and walked home with smiles.  I’m sure we’ll be back soon.

Meanwhile, maybe we’ll try some of Stella Batts’ favorite recipes.

Choose to Act

For many people, May 1st is a day of prayer.  For a growing number of others, it is a day of reason.  Sometimes it seems that no two groups of people are further apart than these.  But no matter our preference for prayer or reason on May 1st, we can agree that action is needed to make our world a better place.  The Week of Action (April 24-29) is designed to bring people together to celebrate our ability to make a difference in the here and now.

I plan to engage in small acts of kindness for the next six days.  I was inspired by a book, of course.  There’s always a book in my plans somewhere.  The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz is a feel-good novel about the power of good deeds.  Maybe the idea sounds cheesy to you.  But to me, it sounds do-able.  It might not seem like you’re saving the world when you’re planting flowers in someone’s yard or leaving small gifts for your neighbors, but you are saving little tiny pieces of the world with every action.

 

Hopefully this is just the beginning of my own personal sense of action.  Let’s all choose to act.

The Freezepocalypse in picture books

I’m typing next to an open window, and there has been a steady stream of pedestrian traffic outside.  It’s up to 28 degrees today, and it’s a comparative heat wave.  Last weekend, we were preparing for a Freezepocalypse of ridiculously low temperatures (even for Minnesota), and my family spend two and a half days stuck inside our small apartment.  Here are three picture books that, together, represent our Freezepocalypse:

imbored2  babypenguinsev soupday

 

I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black is for my six-year-old, for obvious reasons.  I felt more like the mama penguin who needed a little time to herself in Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion.  Side note to parents: Do you need a time out yourself? Read your kids this book to introduce the idea.  You’re welcome.

Fortunately, my wonderful partner decided it was a Soup Day as in Soup Day by Melissa Iwai, so we were well fed.  Soup makes everything better.

Books and soup.  That’s how we got through our Freezepocalypse.   How about you?

What does winter sound like?

If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have looked for the answer in a picture book.  It seems like a picture book sort of question, doesn’t it?

photo (1)“Snow came singing a silent song,” writes Lynne Rae Perkins in Snow Music.  In this book, winter is quiet after a snow fall, but there is a whole symphony of sounds if you listen for them.  Cars, trucks, and animals all sound different in the winter.  There’s a beauty in the whispers of snowfall and the loud scrapes of trucks clearing the way.  There’s a beauty in the differences.

For the past several weeks, I have had a different answer to the question.  I have had Haley Bonar’s new EP Wntr Snds on repeat, and these six songs are spare and intimate in a way that creates just the warmth that we need in a cold, cold Minnesota winter.  “Like Ice and Cold” is my personal favorite.  In this song, winter sounds like change, like hope.  Maybe it isn’t so different from Snow Music.

If you need a little encouragement to see what winter can offer during this sub-zero week, try one of these and listen closely.

Find Snow Music at your local library or indie bookstore. Or get more wintery picture book suggestions here.

November Book Pick: Wild by Emily Hughes

Wild_by_Emily_HughesI was all set to write about a proper adult nonfiction titles as my November Book Pick when a package arrived at my door that set aside my well laid plans for something completely different.  There was just something about Wild by Emily Hughes that made it stand out in the sea of picture books that I see or read about.  The 100 Scope Notes review called it “Sendak-ian,” and I couldn’t agree more.  Maurice Sendak’s books might have been full of the fantastic, but there was a level of truth to them that not every book even tries to reach.  Wild reaches right for a truth that might not seem terribly kid-friendly–that some things cannot be tamed–and makes a story that will almost certainly get kids thinking.

wildthingsThere might be something in the timing of my discovery of this picture book.  You see, it arrived (courtesy of the publisher; see the disclaimer below) just after I’d finished reading an advance copy of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and Peter Sieruta.  I’m sure I’ll be blogging about this one again closer to it’s 2014 publication date, but for now I’ll say that it is a kidlit geek’s must-read.  For all those readers who think that books for young people are full of sunshine and lollipops, Wild Things will clue you in to all the subversive books in kidlit history and the stories behind them.  It will whet your appetite for something that seems to break the rules the next time you’re browsing in the children’s section.  I think that’s a good thing.

Wild breaks some rules.  Grown-ups might not completely appreciate it at first, but I hope you’ll give it a chance.

Find Wild at your local library or indie bookstore.  Wild Things will be published in April 2014.  More about it here.

Disclaimer: Wild was reviewed from a copy courtesy of the publisher.  Wild Things was reviewed from an ARC via my employer.

Miss last month’s Book Pick?  Check out Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.