Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish is a funny story about a boy who decides he absolutely must have his friend's goldfish.  Not finding anything in his bedroom that they can agree to swap, they settle on his dad, who is so absorbed in his newspaper that he doesn't notice anything that happens during the entire story.

Once Mom gets home, the boy and his sister are sent to get his dad back.  At his friend's house, he returns the goldfish and learns that his dad was swapped for an electric guitar, he takes the guitar back to it's original owner and finds that his dad was swapped again.  Author Neil Gaiman takes us on a journey all over town as the children search for their dad.

The zany story is not the highlight of this book, however. What sets it apart from the rest of the pack are the layered illustrations by Dave McKean.  Photographs, newspaper, drawing and painting are layered to create a unique accompaniment to the text. They are rather dark, but manage to convey the charm of childhood.  The last page is slightly more menacing and leaves us hanging with a will-he-or-won't-he situation.  Look for interesting touches throughout the book, such as eyes drawn as goldfish, a queen wearing a ship as a hat, stamps, letters and photographs.

The version I have also includes an afterword by Neil Gaiman, in which he explains how this book came to be.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Bad Case of Stripes

David Shannon is a children's lit rock star!  I got to hear him speak a few years ago at the BYU Symposium on Books for Young Readers.  He was entertaining and shared his how-I-became-an-author story, told us to look for his little Scotty hidden in his books, and revealed some illustrations from his soon-to-be-published (at the time) book, It's Christmas, David!

A Bad Case of Stripes (this link goes to an online reading of the book by Sean Astin) is a fun, colorful lesson in being yourself and resisting peer pressure.

Camilla loves lima beans, but refuses to eat them because she wants to fit in and all of her friends hate lima beans.  She wakes up on the first day of school and her entire body is covered in stripes.  The doctor can't figure it out, so off to school she goes.  Naturally, the other kids ridicule her and call her names.  Throughout the whole miserable day, her body art changes whenever someone makes a demand - polka dots, checkerboard, stars and stripes.

The situation grows worse and none of the medical experts hovering over her can diagnose the problem.  Reporters wait outside her home, hoping to catch a glimpse of the girl who is now covered with roots, berries, crystals, feathers, and a long, furry tail, all leftovers of other people's suggestions.

Finally, a friendly old lady knocks on the front door and solves the problem. Camilla decides that no matter what other people think, she's going to eat as many lima beans as she wants, whenever she wants.

The lesson might be lost on younger readers, but older readers should be able to infer quite easily that not being true to yourself results in misery.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Miss Malarkey Doesn't Live in Room 10

I laugh every time I read this story - probably for a couple of reasons: 1) having taught Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade, I know that there are children who really do think their teachers live at school. I love the look of surprise on their little faces when they see me at the store or library or walking down Main Street.  2) the pictures of the teachers after hours are hilarious - it would have been fun to have that experience with my friends at Sierra.

The young narrator walks us through Miss Malarkey's life after school.  The best part for me is the illustrations of all the teachers eating in the cafeteria, playing in the gym, lined up to get drinks at the drinking fountain in their jammies and having pillow fights in their very messy bunkhouse.

And then...Miss Malarkey moves into his apartment building.  He cannot believe that she has to take out her own garbage, I mean, doesn't the janitor do that for her?!?  He is shocked to see her having a party when it isn't even someone in the class's birthday.  Worst of all, none of his classmates believe him when he tries to convince them that Miss Malarkey doesn't live in Room 10.  

Oh well, there's always next year in second grade - Mrs. Boba definitely lives in Room 12.

Delightful story, vivid illustrations by Kevin O'Malley that convey what it's like to have a young, beautiful teacher, be in awe of school and teachers, and what it's like when the realization hits that the world is larger than your own little life.

Miss Malarkey Doesn't Live in Room 10 by Judy Finchler has several sequels: Miss Malarkey Won't be in Today, Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind, Testing Miss Malarkey, Miss Malarkey's Field Trip and Congratulations, Miss Malarkey!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Seattle Aquarium - Guess What I Bought in the Gift Shop?

I got to visit the Seattle Aquarium today with some friends from the ville.  If you are ever in Seattle, be sure to make this one of your destinations.  Very kid-friendly and, if you are interested in marine life, fascinating for adults as well.  Don't forget to eat lunch in the cafe and have some Ivar's clam chowder.

Our last stop during our visit was the gift shop.  My go-to purchase in overpriced touristy gift shops is a magnet to add to my growing collection.  But today as I was looking through the children's book section, I found several 50% off books and you know I had to get a couple!

The first title that attracted my attention was Santa is Coming to Washington.  It must be a thing now, because there are quite a few "Santa is Coming to" books on Amazon, so you might be able to find your home state or even city on the list.

This is definitely a niche book, banking on the excitement people feel over seeing places they call their own in print.  I admit, I felt a little thrill at seeing Bainbridge Island mentioned on one of the pages and my friends found their new hometown as well.  

Not a solid story, though, and with that being the case, I would have liked to have seen Santa enjoy more of Washington's famous places.  If you're going to target a specific audience, at least immerse them in all of the glory of their particular world. The Space Needle is shown and St. James Cathedral is mentioned along with the Pacific Science Center, Mount Rainier, and David Rogers Park.  A dozen cities are mentioned in passing as well.

The illustrations are quite good and I would have loved to have seen more of the sites the author mentioned come to life on the pages of this book and Pike Place Market is a notable omission.

The next book that grabbed my attention was the Fish with the Deep Sea Smile by Margaret Wise Brown.

This is a charming story of a father and his two children who go on a fishing trip to find the fish with the deep sea smile.  The illustrations by Henry Fisher are bright, fun and lively.  He perfectly captures the tone of Wise's rhythm and rhyme.

The story is exactly what we expect from Brown - delightful.  She is known for repetition, rhyme, rhythm, writing for children rather than to children, and throwing in a challenging word now and then to keep children wondering.  

This story is perfect for little readers who love the predictability of a familiar refrain with a new twist added on each page.