Posts Tagged ‘books my five-year-old loves’

Picture Book Spotlight: My Name Is Elizabeth

February 22, 2012 @ 5:18 pm | Filed under: ,

My Name Is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe.

A frequent request from Miss Rilla these days. The young heroine’s righteous indignation—her friends and neighbors will keep calling her nicknames—speaks to my five-year-old’s little-sister heart. There’s a hint of imperious Eloise in Elizabeth’s not-entirely-polite exasperation with the folks who insist on greeting her as Liz, Lizzy, Betsy, or Beth—and we all know how much small girls adore Eloise. 🙂

At last Elizabeth can bear it no longer: her full name bursts out, a bellowed plea to the neighborhood. The message gets through. No more Lizzy, no more Beth. Elizabeth she is, and Elizabeth she shall be. Well—except to a certain baby brother who can’t quite wrap his mouth around that grand name. But that’s all right. Like my Rilla, who belly-chuckles at this part of the book every time, Elizabeth makes allowances for little brothers. That’s my favorite part of the book, too, an affectionate twist that leaves you with a grin.

I haven’t road-tested this one on my boys yet. Wonderboy’s an Elephant-and-Piggie man all the way, and Huck, well, he’s still busy counting the trucks and trains in The Little House.


February 10, 2012 @ 6:05 pm | Filed under: , , ,

My plan for today was to read and to sew, so naturally I did neither of those things and spent most of the day in the garden. The weather demanded it. Perfect sun, perfect breeze. Rose and I moved a number of nasturtium seedlings from the back yard to the front; I keep trying to fill in a rather stark flowerbed right in front of the house, and nothing works. This is entirely because I am an inconsistent waterer. But also an optimist. This time, as all the times before, I firmly and deeply believe I will follow through and nurture those bitty seedlings to lush abundance.

At least this time, my unmerited faith in myself didn’t cost a penny. I planted a $1.49 packet of seeds in the back garden four years ago and they have multiplied enthusiastically. I’ve tried them in the front before, but it’s a sunbaked flowerbed that really wants to house succulents and cacti. So: I’m both inconsistent and foolish. But hopeful! These nasturtiums are going to be spectacular, I am certain of it!

In the back yard, I pruned a butterfly bush and the big cape honeysuckle to make a sort of archway leading to a nook by the back fence. Rilla and I read Roxaboxen yesterday, and you know what that means. (Hannah’s post reminded me that, like Miss Rumphius a while back, here was another beloved book Rilla hadn’t met yet.) She spent the afternoon painting rocks for edging a little house under the arching branches. I yanked out a mess of bermuda grass. Lots left to do—I completely neglected the garden last summer—but we made good headway today. She’s collecting dishes and stones.

I have only cut out half the squares for our Valentine’s blanket, but I did find the cord for the sewing machine today. Progress!

I’ve been enjoying (and shuddering at) all your snake stories in the comments. I have another one of my own to tell, but it’s long, and I have to scan some pictures. It’s a place story, really, but it’s full of snakes—the story and the place.

Oh, and Rilla finished my game of Oregon Trail for me. I hear my wife died—of snakebite!

Assorted Notes on a Sunday Afternoon

December 4, 2011 @ 3:24 pm | Filed under: , ,

I was supposed to go to L.A. today to do something really super-fun, but I came down with a nasty cold instead. Because I am spontaneous and exciting like that. I’ve spent the weekend sprawled against my pillows in tragic poses (when someone is looking) and devouring Cybils nominees (when no one’s watching).

Last night, around ten, I finished Brian Selzick’s breathtaking Wonderstruck, bawling through the last forty pages. Which is the highest praise I can give a book: “it moved me deeply.” Now, I don’t know how people are writing reviews of this book without spoiling all its surprises, so I’m not going to say anything specific about it at all. Yet. Read it, and then let’s have a nice long chat about it, okay?

Picture books Rilla enjoyed this week:

Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman.

Chicken in drawing decides to help with the painting; hijinks ensue. Delicious art. This would be lots of fun to pair up with other picture books that break the fourth wall, such as David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs or Melanie Watt’s Chester.

Follow Me by Tricia Tusa.

Lyrical poem with perfectly lovely art (I’d like walls the colors of her skies). “This book was very…unusual,” declared Rilla approvingly. I think what she meant was that it’s non-narrative, not plot-driven. Girl on swing thinking soaring thoughts.

More book recommendations here.

Picture Book Spotlight: A Dog Is a Dog

November 2, 2011 @ 6:25 pm | Filed under: ,

A Dog Is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan, published by Chronicle Books.

The cover of this delightful picture book grabbed my kids’ attention immediately with its bright orange and turquoise palette; the big grinning doggy face made them giggle.

Those giggles never stopped: this is art that goes straight to a little kid’s funny bone.

In whimsical rhymes and big, comical images, we learn that a dog is a dog no matter what it’s doing—“Whether it suns on the beach, or glides on the ice.” “A dog is a dog, if it’s skinny or fat. A dog is a dog, unless it’s a…CAT!”

Would you believe that grinning doggy unzips his dog suit, and there’s a plump ginger cat inside? This is the point when Rilla’s giggles turned to shrieks of laughter. But the surprises don’t stop there…It seems a cat is a cat unless it’s a…

Oh, no, I’m not telling. But we all howled. I did not see that coming. Nor the next twist, nor the next! One of the things I love about this book is that it manages the near-impossible feat of employing the sort of rhythmic pattern that young children delight in, while simultaneously making unpredictable turns. And this while delivering art that bubbles over with humor and energy. I’ve become a huge Stephen Shaskan fan in one fell swoop. You remember last year when I went nuts over Jeremy Tankard and Tom Lichtenheld? Yeah, Shaskan is on that list. I’m officially (and totally on the spur of the moment) dubbing it the Mo Willems List: storyteller-illustrators whose art has won my heart with its bold black outlines and lively antics and hilarious facial expressions (often on creatures you wouldn’t think would be terribly expressive, like a dump truck or a pigeon or a woolly mammoth or…the thing inside Shaskan’s cat suit). [I’ve recently encountered another artist who belongs on this list, but I’m not allowed to tell you his name yet. And that, my friends, is what you might call a hint.]

Anyway, my dears…A Dog Is a Dog gets high marks from Wonderboy, Rilla, and Huck (not to mention their daddy and some amused big sisters). Enjoy.

Review copy received from publisher, but you know I don’t write about them unless they’re a hit with my own personal focus group.

P.S. Did you know November is Picture Book Month?

This Week in Rillabooks

September 27, 2011 @ 7:55 am | Filed under: ,

Is there anything in the world more happymaking than the artwork of a small child?

Perhaps the artwork of a small child inspired by a favorite book. Remember how much my whole family (seriously, every single one of us from 42 to 2) enjoyed Jon Klassen’s deliciously startling I Want My Hat Back?

Rilla was moved to attempt her own rendering of the bear at the pivotal moment when he recalls where he has seen his lost hat. That may be my favorite page in the book—the visual shock of the red background so perfectly captures the drama of the bear’s epiphany, and hints at the outrage he feels.

Now she’s working on a page from another family favorite: Don and Audrey Wood’s The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear.

Picture Book Spotlight: Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

August 5, 2011 @ 5:02 pm | Filed under: ,

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas.

This may just be my favorite picture book ever. I discovered it during grad school when I worked at a children’s bookstore, and it was love at first read. I don’t think I have ever once read it without tearing up. When I read it to the littles yesterday, Scott had to step in near the end when I was too choked up to speak. It’s a beautiful book, and true in the way that sometimes only fiction is.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a little boy who lives next to an old-age home. He is friends with all the residents and loves to visit them. When he hears his parents say how sad it is that his favorite resident, 93-year-old Miss Nancy, is losing her memory, Wilfrid Gordon quizzes all the other old folks about what a memory is exactly. “It’s something warm,” one tells him. “Something from long ago.” “Something that makes you cry.” “Something that makes you laugh.” And so on.

And so Wilfrid goes off and collects a box of treasures for Miss Nancy—a warm hen egg, a funny puppet, an old medal…

It’s what happens when Miss Nancy handles the gifts that always makes me cry. Perfectly lovely, and Julie Vivas’s tender colored pencil drawings are as lovely and moving as the story.

“He imitates the world he drove away…”

July 6, 2011 @ 4:23 pm | Filed under: ,

I knew Rilla was enjoying The Bat-Poet, but I didn’t realize how much until this afternoon, as we neared the end of the book. She turned to me with furrowed brow and said, “When we finish, will we be able to read it again?”

“You mean right away?”


I told her sure we could, and she heaved a mighty sigh of relief.

I’ve noticed that the older girls can’t help but be drawn into the story if they pass through the room where Rilla and I are reading. It’s a soft and gentle tale, rather quiet, with velvety-rich language. Oh, I just love Randall Jarrell. His mockingbird and chipmunk have such personality, and the introspective, yearning bat is a kindred spirit—really. He composes poems. He longs to be able to pour forth a magical, uplifting song like the mockingbird’s, but he can’t sing. He finds himself fitting observations into words and phrases, lyrical and perceptive lines of poetry. But oh, how he doubts himself. The mockingbird’s cool, clinical analysis—“It was clever of you to have that last line two feet short”—leaves him bewildered and longing for an audience who is moved by his words. When, after hearing the bat’s poem about an owl, the chipmunk shivers and vows to go underground before dark from now on, the little bat is deeply gratified: he knows his words have had an impact.

His poems move and shiver me, too—

All day long the mockingbird has owned the yard.
As light first woke the world, the sparrows trooped
Onto the seedy lawn: the mockingbird
Chased them off shrieking. Hour by hour, fighting hard
To make the world his own, he swooped
On thrushes, thrashers, jays, and chickadees—
At noon he drove away a big black cat.

Now, in the moonlight, he sits here and sings.
A thrush is singing, then a thrasher, then a jay—
Then, all at once, a cat begins meowing.
A mockingbird can sound like anything.
He imitates the world he drove away
So well that for a minute, in the moonlight,
Which one’s the mockingbird? Which one’s the world?

I know that mockingbird.

I know that bat, too.

Related post: Rose petal, rock, leaf, bat

Best-Loved Doll Books

June 21, 2011 @ 2:36 pm | Filed under:

1. What else? Rebecca Caudill’s The Best-Loved Doll, of course! I adored this book as a child; I found the girl’s devotion to her scuffed-up, faded, frazzle-haired doll deeply touching and believable. Rose went through a long period of attachment to this book after I made her a (highly imperfect) cloth doll when she was seven or eight years old.

2. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden. Has probably been read a cumulative total of thirty times by my three oldest daughters. Creating a house for two homesick Japanese dolls helps a girl get over her own homesickness. Lovely.

3. Among the Dolls by William Sleator. NOT a hit with everyone here: decidedly too creepy for some. But I remember the delicious chill up my spine when I (around age eleven) first encountered the sinister gleam in the eyes of that doll family out for revenge.

4. May I count a toy rabbit as a doll? Kate di Camillo’s melancholy The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which captivated us as we drove across Oklahoma and Missouri last summer, seems to me to deserve a place on this list.

5. Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle. As I mentioned the other day, I don’t find Mr. Gruelle’s writing very easy to read aloud; it feels stilted and arch. But as a child I loved the world he portrayed, both inside Marcella’s nursery and out of it.

6. Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. An early Newbery Medal winner about a doll who packs a great deal of adventure into her “first hundred years.” I’d like to hear about her second century…

Rose petal, rock, leaf, bat

June 14, 2011 @ 10:28 am | Filed under: , , , ,

“Mommy,” says Rilla, “I’m in a bad mood.”

“You’re in a bad mood? Why?”

“No, not a bad mood. A bat mood!”

She holds up her wrist, clinging to which is a small furry brown bat with tiny magnets in its wingtips. We were digging through a box of toys in the garage this morning, looking for my old Smurf collection; Rose found the mushroom house in the girls’ closet and wanted to populate it for Rilla. The garage search produced only the baker Smurf—and, it seems, the stuffed bat. For today, at least, Smurfs have been forgotten.

Well, a bat mood. I can accommodate that. I went hunting for our copy of Stellaluna but didn’t find it. (You may detect a pattern here.) However, there on the shelf was Randall Jarrell’s lovely fairy-story, The Bat-Poet. Even better. Rilla propped her wrist on the arm of my rocking chair so her little bat could see the pictures—such delectable ones, drawn by Maurice Sendak.

Once upon a time there was a bat—a little light brown bat, the color of coffee with cream in it.

We didn’t get far, for after only a few pages, Rose and Huck returned from a walk around the block, and he had treasures to bestow. A rose petal for Rilla, a large smooth stone for Wonderboy, and a yellowed magnolia leaf for me. He could hardly hand them over fast enough: he needed his hands free to sign cat whiskers. My children measure their walks in number of cats encountered. This was a three-cat morning, a very good day.

Rilla’s bat had things to tell Rose, who is extremely receptive to the confidences of small animals in the hands of small children. Rilla showed her The Bat-Poet, and the opening line reminded Rose of the Little Brown Bat entry in the Handbook of Nature Study. The three of them—big girl, little girl, stuffed bat—looked at the pictures in that book for a while, and then it was cast aside and Rose began to spin a story: the first installment, I’m told, of The Bat Chronicles, about a little girl named Batty (inspired by The Penderwicks, of course) who rescues a lost bat named Bitty. I was eavesdropping like crazy, but then Wonderboy wanted his daily Signing Time, and the Bat Chroniclers moved to their bedroom.

And now the boys are watching Zoo Train, and Jane is running her lines for our upcoming Twelfth Night performance, and Beanie is lying on her bed listening to Suzanne Vega.

And in case that all sounds too idyllic, I should mention that my sink is full of breakfast dishes, and my floor is carpeted with cracker crumbs. There is a mountain of paperwork on the table behind me. I should be doing housework but sat down to write this post instead.

P.S. Thank you for your questions and comments on the open thread. I am so enjoying them and should have a chance to answer some of this afternoon. And I have a question of my own for another post. I’m really stealing these minutes right now—it isn’t my usual blogging time—but I wanted to capture the morning before it slipped away. Signing Time is almost over, so writing time is too!

Related post: “He imitates the world he drove away…”