Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Oh the fish book!  I've been biding my time to feature a Jon Klassen book and then he up and wins the Caledcott Medal this year so I had to act!

Like most picture book lovers, we're big fans of Jon Klassen at our house. Both I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat are among E's nightly requests and usually get read in quick succession.

Just open the cover, take in those endpapers and let yourself fall in love with a book. This Is Not My Hat tells the tale of a little fish who swipes a little blue hat from a sleeping big fish (or so little fish thinks).  Little fish thinks he's gotten away with the perfect crime and makes for the place 'where the plants grow big and tall and close together'.  He thinks he can hide here unnoticed.  He thinks no one saw him swim away. He does admit it's wrong to steal, but he thinks it's actually kind of ok because the hat fits him better anyway. Unfortunately for him, he thinks all the wrong things.

Big fish is on his tail all the while and cunningly follows the trail of little fish bubbles into the plants. He emerges victorious wearing his hat.  Klassen is clever here and though we don't see the action, we know that little fish has been gobbled up.

It's a fitting moral that's refreshingly subtle in how it's presented. The final pages of the book only feature illustrations and it gives the reader a chance to talk about what's just happened. It's like a silent film and it works like magic here.  You watch this story happen as much as you read it.

E kind of figured out for himself that the little fish gets gobbled up in the end.  I realised early on that he associates this book with a nursery rhyme called Slippery Fish where sea creatures gobble each other up.  I think it makes for a healthy does of artful reality. E's even found a small plastic blue bowl that he's taken to wearing on his head just like little fish's hat. Thankfully so far there are no big fish following him around. Congratulations John Klassen and thanks for a beautiful book!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean and Eric Litwin


This week we bring you Pete the Cat.  According to The New York Times (best seller children's picture book list) he's already a huge hit in America.  It was only a matter of time before Pete and his songs made their way into our home. E was given this book as a Christmas gift and I was a little tentative at first.  The narrative wasn't quite my cup of tea at first glance and I was unsure if the songs would engage E.  Could I be more wrong? 

Pete the Cat is the cool dude of picture books and if his skateboard and surfboard aren't enough proof then just check out his songs.  E can't get enough and I've been indulging his interests pretty heavily via this book and the free online song downloads (more on that later).

Pete has a favorite shirt with four groovy buttons.  He's got a song that he sings about said buttons and it's his theme tune for this story. One by one the buttons pop off, but instead of crying Pete just keeps right on singing.  Even when the last button pops off it does nothing to deter Pete's chilled out mood because, guess what, he's still got his belly button!  Yes folks, this feline has got a belly button (just like E as I've been told numerous times) and he starts singing his song about that button instead.  He even sums it up with a fitting moral: 'stuff will come and stuff will go ... we keep on singing.'

I love Pete's attitude and I'm a sucker for cats with human attributes.  E is especially entertained by how each button pops off in dramatic fashion (see the cover illustration) and he loves to count them.  Counting, numbers and basic math are actually big themes in this story and there's a lesson for your young reader each time a button pops off.  

For a taster of Pete the Cat and his antics visit his extensive website at HarperCollins. We spend a fair amount of time listening and singing to his songs and I'm sure it won't be long before another of his adventures enters our home library.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

I've been waiting for months to talk about this American classic. Today seems like an opportune moment as the snow blankets my home state of NC and continues to fall outside my window here in London. It's a pleasure to share this Caldecott award winner with readers who may be new to Keats' book and Peter's stories, and it's a chance to remind other readers of why this book is such a favorite.

Peter wakes up to discover snow outside his window. He puts on his snowsuit and spends the day discovering how much fun it can be.  His feet make funny footprints in the snow and it crunches as he walks.  He makes tracks with a stick, snow angels and a snow man. He is endlessly enchanted and entertained by it. Peter even tries to bring a clump home in his pocket and learns the disappointing lesson that snow melts indoors. It causes him to dream a sad dream that all the snow has melted away. However, he is cheered the following day to wake and discover that the icy white landscape outside his window is the same as the day before, beckoning him out to play and make new discoveries.

The Snowy Day is a perfectly simple story and E and I talk a lot about what Peter gets up to outside in the snow. E engaged with Peter from the beginning ... as did I.  However, it's the trademark style of Keats' illustrations that strikes a chord with so many readers. They are collage like, bright and warm. The various snow scenes are drawn from different perspectives which to me makes them more interesting, slightly abstract and that bit more challenging for the young reader.

There has been much written about this book due in part because it features an African-American main character. The author page on the Penguin website puts it into context: "Long before multicultural characters and themes were fashionable, Ezra Jack Keats crossed social boundaries by being the first American picture-book maker to give the black child a central place in children's literature." First published in 1962, The Snowy Day celebrated its 50th birthday in 2012 and remains a firm favorite. 

If you like Peter as much as we do then I recommend you read, A Letter for Amy.  We're having lots of fun with that one too. 

For more about Keats and for tips from teachers visit the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

p.s. Apologies to any regular readers for the blank post that was distributed earlier! Pete the Cat will feature next week.

Monday, 7 January 2013

A New Home for a Pirate

It's the new year and 'Ho, ho, ho hearties' is the rallying cry at my house. E is on pirate overdrive and that includes one of our favorite books at the moment, A New Home for a Pirate.

Jed is an unlikely pirate.  He looks the part, all his family are pirates and he lives on a a pirate ship, but what he longs for more than anything is 'a house that stands still with a view from a hill.' Jed decides to abandon ship as it were and set off in search of a new home.  His family give him their blessing and  help Jed to pack all the necessary goods for his adventure: one long rope, pirate hat, great-grandad's wooden leg, cutlass, spotted handkerchief, clean underpants and a toothbrush among other things.  It's a clever list as the items are clues to how Jed's search for a house unfolds and the motley crew of characters he meets along the way.

Jed waves goodbye to his family and takes off on his bike. It's not long before he meets a bird who's nest has been destroyed.  Jed promptly volunteers his pirate hat for an alternative nest and invites the bird to join him on his adventure.  Next, he meets a sheep tangled in brambles and Jed uses his cutlass to set him free.  The pattern repeats as Jed helps one new friend after the other by using his pirate paraphernalia. E really engages with the text as each time Jed helps a new friend he exclaims, 'Shiver me timbers! I've got the very thing.' And each time he learns what they're looking for he adds to his mantra until his quest for a house on a hill includes a 'a stretching-high tree in a field (bramble-free) and a doormat where Old Dog can lie'.

This is a hearty old tale that swings along with Jed's rhyming mantra and by the end he and his crew make a trade on a house belonging to a farmer who longs to be a pirate. I read this one aloud to E's nursery class (a mix of 2-4 year olds) and they listened intently and shouted excitedly in equal measure. I can't think of a better recommendation.

For more about Ronda Armitage and Holly Swain visit the publisher's website.