Archive for August 2011

Picnic at Camp Shalom by Jacqueline Jules. Illustrated by Deborah Melmon

Our family vacation was spent at a YMCA Family Camp for the first time this year and it was an amazing experience! Each of us regularly remembers and shares favourite memories from this wonderful summer week. So it is no wonder that we are drawn to books with the word ‘camp’ in the title. It was great to find Picnic at Camp Shalom because it also offered us some insight into Jewish traditions, about which we do not know much.

This book provides a powerful message about misunderstandings – which are a pretty common occurance in life. Hopefully when one happens, they become the kind that are remembered with a laugh by those involved, not the kind that cause a rift between family or friends.

Although we try to help our children become “emotionally intelligent” and to name their feelings as a means of dealing with life’s ups and downs (we are big fans of Raising Your Kids without Raising Your Voice, by Sarah Chana Radcliffe), any interaction could result in a misunderstanding. Picnic at Camp Shalom begins with Sara and Carly immediately connecting when they meet in line at camp. They share many common interests and seem destined to be friends until Carly unintentionally makes fun of Sara’s last name. Sara becomes so mad that she refuses to be near Carly. She needs some time, space and some strategic support from a smart camp counsellor to help her get back on track with her friend. Misunderstandings can only be corrected through the goodwill of both parties. It is important for children to understand that it is not about winning and losing. Rather, the strength and understanding that we invest in our relationships is something that will be a continuing benefit to all.

We hope you had a great summer too. Please feel free to leave a comment with any idea or theme that resonated with you this summer. We will be happy to try and follow up on any suggestions to continue to find and recommend books that you will enjoy reading with your children. Shalom!


Press Here by Hervé Tullet

I think most parents and caregivers would agree – being with children expands your world. Kids are out in the world constantly making new connections and building their community. It is a great thing and I’m grateful to my children for every new connection we make. Maybe especially when you live with young children, in a building, in the city, in the summer – the park is one place where community grows. I’ve read stories by other parents lamenting the end of park season and I have felt that way in the past few years as the summer begins to feel like it is making way for fall. Where would we go? What would we do? How could life continue without the space and connections we find regularly in the park? It doesn’t have to be a fancy park either. Sure, fancy rubber tarmac with zippy movers and climbing challenges are great; but even a small space with a few swings and some space to run around is fine.

This is the kind of park Sophie and I visit many afternoons on our way home from daycare/work. It is right across the street from another daycare, so we meet up with different parents and children, do some swinging, running and bumping (on the teeter-totter) and chat before finishing our way home. This park attracts younger children (perhaps because they are too young to demand a more sophisticated setting?), and it is here that Sophie has found a new role – that of the big 4-year old (using the “big kid” swing) among other children who are 2 or 3 years of age range.

While both Sophie and Elizabeth strongly enjoyed Press Here, I can imagine the younger children we see in this park really adopting it as a favorite. This is a book that I think would really develop in complexity of involvement along with a younger child – I can imagine beginning to read it with a child at 18 or 24 months and continuing to let the book evolve until they are a beginning reader. This book involves and will interest young children — what kid doesn’t love to press buttons?! The story makes the reader and listener active participants in a tale about dots. In our age of extended bling and over stimulation, this book is pure simple genius.

Even as I was thinking about writing about this book here, it reminded me of another book Night/Day: a book of eye-catching opposites. Sure enough these two books are by the same author/illustrator. The Night/Day book never seemed to become a favorite with my daughters and I never really understood why. Now I think that, although it is also a great book, the difference is the active involvement expected in Press Here. So this recommendation is for our friends in the park — we hope you get to connect with a copy of this book and enjoy it. We would love to hear your reaction and happy reading!

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola

I’ll admit it – I’m a big crier! Sad (or happy) movies (with big sound tracks), novels with stories and endings that make you feel like you are losing your best friend (again), opt-ed pieces in newspapers, or children’s books like Love You Forever by Robert Munch. So I pretty much knew what was coming when one of my daughters picked out a book with the title Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs. I tried to dodge it with “We’re taking too many books out already!”, but somehow it stayed in our library check-out pile. Now I have to admit I’m glad it did.

Death is a really hard and scary concept for kids (OK, for almost everyone), but it shouldn’t be ignored. It is around us all the time – my daughter’s daycare friend’s father died suddenly; even more recently one of my good friends’ dearly-loved 99 year old grandmother died; and today I spent some time mourning the unexpected loss of Jack Layton, a man who gave such incredible energy, intelligence and realness to politics in Canada. As much as I would like to shield my daughters from the pain people feel from these losses, it is a reality. It is only through talking about death that children are able to begin to understand and develop the coping skills they will need to deal with what they will face throughout life.

This book presents 4 year old Tommy, a child who gets to connect with both his grandmother and great-grandmother every week. He does this with an innocence and love that is generous and lovely. His defense of his great-grandmother saying “she looks beautiful” is touching and wise. Based on my own relationship with my grandmother, I have always hoped to pass on to my daughters an appreciation of the beauty of old people. I never anticipated finding a book that also helps to convey that message. The death of his great-grandmother and her empty room is heartbreaking. His hope remains when he sees a shooting star in the sky, first for his great grandma and later after his grandmother died. I think this is a comforting and good message for this age range.

This book is based on the author’s personal experience. He is also the author of other books like Strega Nona. It is obvious that old people had a great influence on his life and I’m very grateful that he passed along the stories and wisdom that he gained from these connections.

Wendy’s Grandma at 97 years old
Wilma Nichols (May 23, 1911 – May 23, 2011)

The Big Wish by Carolyn Conahan

Warning! If you blink, you might miss it: that magical period when your child believes anything is possible. It may last a year, a few months or merely days, but it is that time when your child is amazed by all that seems unexplainable–such as the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, super heros (and heroines) and even the power of a wish made while blowing a piece of dandelion fluff.

This summer, my daughter Elizabeth would not let any piece of dandelion fuzz float past without grabbing it to launch another secret wish. We have spent the past few weeks jumping and chasing after every piece we see. I don’t mind because she is about to turn seven, and I know these days of childhood will be over way before I’m ready for them to be.

In The Big Wish, Molly’s yard is covered in dandelions–so many, the town’s mayor believes it is a disgrace. Molly explains that she is the guardian of these flowers until they become wish-puffs ready to achieve a world-record wish. A chance for a wish?! The town decides to hold a contest for the biggest, best wish, with Molly deciding the winner. What should the big wish be? The town characters have plenty of ideas that go beyond the personal and indulgent (along the way, you can ask your child–and yourself–what the wish should be). When the yellow dandelions have become wish-puffs, the townspeople must suddenly all spring to action to protect the field of dreams. Molly in return recognizes that everyone’s wish is of value. These actions help the townsfolk realize that they have the power to make their wishes come true. The biggest wish event may be officially over, but the dreams and community actions to make them happen have just begun.

It took us a few readings and examination of the illustrations to realize the full beauty of this story. Give it a bit more of your time than a typical picture book. It has a message worth appreciating and passing along.

What will you wish for?

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile, by Gloria Houston. Illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb.

Each of my daughters has a middle name which is one of her grandmother’s names. For sometime I have been searching for other examples of those with the name Dorothy, to assure Elizabeth that she was NOT named after the Wiggles’ dinosaur. Rather, she inherited that name as a tribute to my much loved and missed mom, whom she never met but I have tried to convey through photos and stories. This book is a tribute to another lovely Dorothy, a librarian who touched many people’s lives via bookmobile.

If you grew up in a small or mid-sized Canadian or US city you may be familiar with the bookmobile either as an extension of the local library or the sole source of books. For me, this book also highlights the spunkiness of many women in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s – who were feminists. They had a vision of what they hoped for in their lives, but for many this vision ended up being sacrificed to accommodate marriage (and children). That was true for my mom who never had the opportunity to study or continue to build her career once she became a mother. This does not mean that women like my mom didn’t make significant contributions (I recall my mom’s involvement with all ages as a volunteer). But those contributions, like those of many women at that time, were unrecognized, at least until we were older and she returned to the paid labour force. Miss Dorothy’s vision luckily found a receptive audience in North Carolina, during a period in time when books were not so readily available. While she yearns to oversee a collection “in a fine brick library in the centre of town” she is committed to those who like to read. The importance of books is highlighted when the bookmobile becomes stuck due to poor weather. “Finally a farmer on his tractor came down the road and saw the bookmobile. ‘Miss Dorothy,’ he called. ‘Do you have a book of poems I could borrow?'” Books and librarian are rescued, but rescued as well was the farmer who needed poetry in his life.

It is beautiful how Miss Dorothy gracefully ages through the pages. The story ends with letters from those who benefited from her commitment to the notion that books are for borrowing. The final page provides an author’s note, a tribute to this much-loved woman in the form (a book) that meant the most to her.

Legend of The Worst Boy in the World by Eoin Colfer. Illustrated by Glenn McCoy

After a few years of picture books, it is refreshing when your children start to express an interest in books with chapters. Exploring characters in more depth, and holding the story theme from one reading to the next, are both great steps for emerging readers.

Being a parent of two girls who have  no trouble expressing their wishes at the library (and elsewhere), our initial diet of chapter books leaned heavily toward the world of fairy stories with characters Kirsty and Rachel. After about 100 of these (I can only imagine how many hundreds more Daisy Meadows has created) featuring adventures with fairies and girls foiling small, green gremlins whose traits of horror includes sticking out their tongues, we were finally ready to head on to something else. The zany title and accompanying cartoon illustrations gave my daughters the incentive to begin Legend of The Worst Boy in the World.

This story is a humorous, tale told from a child’s point of view that is in-between innocent and grown-up. It provides a fun, intergenerational story told from the perspective of the second son – Will – who seeks someone to hear his complaints. After we learn about his family, it seems like a good decision when he chooses to approach his Grandad, a lighthouse keeper with 70 years’ worth of material to share with his “Bosun’s” weekly allotted complaint.

To keep up with Grandad, Will must dig deep into his experiences and eventually learns a piece of family legend from his dad. His story features eldest brother Marty who finds a solution to Will’s becoming a competitor for Gran’s coveted weekly giant jelly baby.

While the ending seemed a bit abrupt to me, Will realizes the moral of his own story and provides an example of learning a deeper lesson from the words written on the page. This story is a current Aesop’s fable and a heck of a lot of fun to read with your kids. Check it out – you won’t be disappointed!