Saturday, April 28, 2012

What's Basbusa reading?

The Enormous Crocodile is more of a chapter book than a picture book in length and format, but be warned, it's not actually divided into chapters! So a "just one chapter" promise can get quite long :) Basbusa loved this one, and we've read it cover-to-cover four or five times. I adored Roald Dahl's books when I was little, but I had forgotten that although the plots are easy enough for a little child to understand, the language isn't. Plus, some of the topics that are fun-scary for an older kid would be much-too-real-scary for Basbusa! But I think The Enormous Crocodile is a great introduction to Dahl for little kids. It's about a very big, very mean crocodile with "secret plans and clever tricks" to catch six delicious, juicy little children for his lunch. That might not sound like appropriate content for a three-year-old, but actually the characters are so clearly caricatures that it's funny rather than scary - even Basbusa knows that he's not really going to gollop anyone up at one gulp. There's also quite a bit of name-calling, which I usually avoid; but since the Enormous Crocodile really is planning to eat up yummy little children, I didn't mind reading aloud, "Oh, you horrid greedy grumptious brute!"

I chose The Littlest Wolf because the author, Larry Brimmer, had written some Easy Readers we enjoyed. An unusual way to arrive at a good picture book, I know, but I'm glad we found this one. It's the story of a little wolf, the youngest of his siblings, who is feeling discouraged because he can't roll, run or pounce as well as they can. His father comforts him, and he ends up cheerful again. It's not much of a plot in terms of excitement, but the little wolf's emotions are very true to life, and his father's reassurances soothe him without minimizing his feelings. "'It is true that Ana runs like the wind, and you run like a soft breeze,' he said. 'That is just as it should be. ...  Running like the wind comes later.'" Basbusa seems to really like that message - I've heard her use it herself once or twice when there's something she can't do. Two other things I liked about this story is that it's the Daddy doing the comforting rather than the Mama, which makes a nice change, and that the author uses very pretty language. "It was a perfect summer morning. Big Gray was watching his pups frolic in a poppy-dappled meadow. But not all of them frolicked. One pup, the littlest, peeked out at the others from behind the trunk of a great, gnarled oak." I was a bit disappointed in the illustrations, though - I thought they didn't live up to the pretty descriptions.

Zuzu's Wishing Cake is the story of a little girl who wants to make friends with the little boy who has just moved in next door. In the end she does, and they end up sitting happily side by side and sharing the wishing cake. What makes this book unusually appealing is the very sweet young-child logic that Zuzu uses in trying to get to know him. He's not coming out to play? Hmm. Maybe he can't see what a nice day it is! He must need a telescope. Well, that's no problem; she can make him one! Which she cheerfully does, having unrolled all the paper towels to get at the cardboard tube. Basbusa is still very interested in the nuances of the making-friends process, so the plot was a hit with her, and she also liked that Zuzu narrates her thoughts to the reader with speech bubbles. I liked Zuzu's self-confidence, and how she makes things, paints things, cuts things and glues things just as a routine part of her play, rather than as specially-designed "craft project." I also liked that Zuzu, as shown on the cover here, is not particularly "cute," as illustrated preschoolers go. You don't often see children in books who just look like average kids.

And finally, like last week, I wanted to mention another set of Early Readers that we have enjoyed. The Rookie Readers series seems to come in three levels (A, B and C), and so far Basbusa has enjoyed almost all of them. I don't present them as part of a "reading lesson" or anything like that - I just leave them in a pile with all her other books, and she chooses whatever catches her interest. She has always loved books that are little, though, regardless of the content - her favorite book at moment is a pocket dictionary - so these do at least have that much going for them, right off the bat :) The Level B books (such as Bubble Trouble, shown at right, which is her favorite to date) are just perfect for her reading level. She can read these without any assistance, and although the story-lines are necessarily somewhat curtailed by the limited vocabulary, the excitement of independence more than makes up for it! And even in my own opinion, the plots in the Rookie Reader books are ok. Not amazing, but by the standards of Early Readers, not bad. Pretty good, even. Other books she keeps returning to from this series are All Wrapped Up, Carousel Ride, Lightning Liz, Quite Enough Hot Dogs, and Sara Joins the Circus.

Linking up with What My Child is Reading and Read-Aloud Thursday.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

What's Basbusa reading?

The illustrations in Spring Story are so delightful that I would have been in love with this series without a single word of text. This book is the first of four stories about mice living together in a hedge in the countryside, and just look at all the charming details in their world (sorry about the blue-ish colors; they're phone pics!):

Basbusa did like this book, but her interest-level corresponded more to the plot rather than to the illustrations.The story-line in Spring Story tells of the surprise birthday picnic that the other mice organize for little Wilfred, and it's a sweet and pleasant tale, although it wouldn't have been particularly memorable on its own. We tried the sequel, Summer Story, but the plot focused on the wedding plans and eventual wedding day of two of the mice, and Basbusa couldn't really relate. Equally breathtaking illustrations, though.

This next book is one I really didn't enjoy much. In fact, the first time we got it out of the library (and renewed it twice), I refrained from blogging about it. But now that Basbusa has requested it again, and has hung on to it for yet another renewal, I guess I can no longer avoid mentioning that The Book That Eats People was a big hit in our house. The title pretty much sums up the plot: this is one mean book. Make sure you don't have any traces of peanut butter on your fingers if you're going to read it, because this books is always hungry! The story gives this book's dark history of child-gobbling and book-ripping, and warns the reader to beware its voracious appetite. That's pretty much it. I don't get what exactly Basbusa found so appealing, but for the record, it definitely appealed :)

Next up, a fantastic non-fiction picture book. Alice of Supratentorial mentioned Yucky Worms in a post a few weeks back, and said that she and her toddler had both enjoyed it after exploring some worms in real life. Well, as it happened, my two girls and I had found a giant worm ourselves that very morning. Basbusa reacted with much alarm, and Kunafa with tremendous enthusiasm (oops! I'm so sorry, worm!). So clearly, this book was for us. The story has a basic plot - a little boy helping his grandmother in the garden - which was enough to catch Basbusa's interest (particularly the fact that the boy, like Basbusa herself, first responded to the worm with hesitation). The facts about worms which the grandmother shared with the boy, to change his mind about disliking them, were truly fascinating: did you know that worms have five pairs of hearts? Or that they breathe through their skins? I also liked that some of the facts were mentioned as part of the text, whereas other fascinating little snippets were mentioned in different font as part of the illustrations, written along worm-tunnels, for example. This meant that we could skip some detail on the first few reads without interrupting the flow of the text, and explore the extra factoids later after Basbusa was more familiar with the book. It was a clever way of including lots and lots of information without overwhelming a three-year-old reader. Plus, pretty illustrations with cats, birds and butterflies, which were the only part that really interested Kunafa. Clearly, worms in a book are nowhere near as fascinating as worms in real life, to a one-and-a-half-year-old :)

Oh, and if you and your kids are interested in worms, you must go see this set of worm experiments for preschoolers that Maureen just posted about at Spell Outloud! (part two here)

I also want to mention a series of easy-readers we recently discovered. These books are about the size of chapter-books, but really they're more like picture-books in content - there are lots and lots of illustrations on every page, with very little text. They're silly, genuinely funny stories about unusual families and their usual-but-unusual occupations, and Basbusa is loving them. The text is relatively complicated by easy-reader standards - for example, "The next day Mrs. Wobble wobbled with a jellied dessert. The jellied dessert landed on the manager's head!" But there is so little text per page, and the pictures are so helpful in showing what's going on, that Basbusa can get through them by herself after a read or two with me. She enjoys these books just for the sake of the silliness in the stories, and I don't think she has actually noticed how much her confidence and fluency has improved in the week or two since we found them. So far we've read Mrs. Wobble the WaitressMaster Salt the Sailor's SonMiss Brick, the Builders' Baby, and Mrs. Lather's Laundry, and there are plenty more in the series to choose from! (It's a British series, and many of the books don't seem to be in print any more in the US, but try your local library - ours has the whole lot of them.)

Linking up with What My Child is Reading and Read-Aloud Thursday.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What's Basbusa reading?

Another long-ish blog-silence, for the same reason as before - Basbusa is so enthusiastic about chapter books these days that we're not reading anywhere near as many picture books, so our book-per-day count has gone down considerably. Although I'm glad she's excited, of course, I can't help feeling that it's a bit soon to be leaving the picture-book universe. She's only three and a half! To me it feels like watching a toddler wearing shoes with heels - ok, I can see she's delighted to be so fancy, but surely she can't play properly in them...?  I guess it depends what she's playing, though... And in any case, it's probably only a phase, and not something I need worry about unless she's still ignoring picture books a few months from now.

So, here are our favorite chapter-book read-alouds from the past two weeks. We read another five or six which I'm not mentioning, either because they were clearly above Basbusa's comprehension level (not that she was willing to stop reading them), or because I found myself skipping or editing frequently to tone down mean-child behavior in the stories.

By far my favorite, and Basbusa's too, was More Milly Molly Mandy Stories. Oh, how I wish this author had written more books! They're just perfect for Basbusa in terms of length, characters, and plots, and I love the values and lifestyle it illustrates. Yes, ok, I doubt any childhood was ever so idyllic, but it doesn't come across as saccharine or artificial. Milly-Molly-Mandy, Billy Blunt and Little-Friend-Susan are just the kinds of friends I want for my daughter :)

Basbusa was also crazy about The Little Red Fox by Allison Uttley. She actually read this one, unbeknownst to me, with Grandma, because I had found it in a box of my own childhood books, pre-read it, and found it too boring to want to sit through again. But Basbusa sat through the whole thing in two sittings with Grandma, absolutely enthralled, and has been mentioning the characters in her pretend-play ever since. It's about an orphan fox who is adopted by a family of badgers, and occasionally pursued by an evil and sneaky old uncle.

We both enjoyed Emmaline and the Bunny, although I think Basbusa was just going for the plot, and didn't necessarily pick up on the theme of wildness, joy and individuality vs. order, silence and conformity. The plot is simple and easy to sympathize with - basically, a lonely little girl who passionately, desperately wants a bunny - but the beautiful illustrations and the author's use of language are two more reasons to read this one. Katherine Hannigan uses words for their sound as well as purely for their meaning, but without becoming so unorthodox as to make it confusing for a young listener. For example, shortly after a narrow escape from a hawk: "Soon, the bunny's eyes were not so big-black. Soon, its heart was not so heavy THUNK-ing. The bunny lay on its stomach. It put its ears flat on its head and closed its eyes. Emmaline lay on her side nearby. She raised her hand. Slowly, she rested it on the bunny, like a blanket. The bunny's body shivered once, then stilled. Emmaline felt the bunny's fur. It was soft and warm like summer clouds. She could feel the bunny's heartbeat in her hand, thunka thunka thunka." (In the text, these sentences were divided into several different paragraphs, so they didn't sound so disjointed - the paragraphs made for more natural pauses.)

Two Times the Fun has four short stories about the everyday adventures of four-year-old twins called Jimmie and Janet. Basbusa could completely identify with their excitements and disappointments, savoring Jimmie's tremendous satisfaction in having dug a big, real hole in the backyard with a big, real shovel, and fully understanding his dismay when he woke up from his nap to find Janet curled up inside his hole, pretending it was a nest. It didn't take us long to finish the whole book and leave me searching - yet again! - for more age-appropriate chapter books, but that's my only criticism!

Linking up with What My Child is Reading and Read-Aloud Thursday.