26 June 2010

Why, Mommy, Why?

Pre-schoolers are forever asking "Why?" Sometimes I think Isaac is doing it just because he knows it drives me crazy. Legitimate queries do not bother me, but the continual repetition of the word after each explanation is infuriating. He doesn't really want to know why he has to go brush his teeth or why we need to get the sugar bugs out of his mouth or why the dentist will have to scrape them out if we don't or why his teeth will fall out if we let the sugar bugs eat them. He just wants to delay the inevitable brushing as long as possible. And, though every parenting book and discipline manual says not to do it, many times I have resorted to the standard Mom answer, "Because I said so, that's why!"

Thankfully Isaac has just about outgrown the "Why?" stage. But this book will satisfy the curiosity of any pre-schooler, or older child, who asks what is most parents' least favorite question. And it is appropriately titled Why? Lila Prap is the author and the book was originally published in Slovenia.

Each double page spread is simply illustrated with folk-like pictures of an animal. Prap begins with a common question about the animal, each question, of course, beginning with "why?" Then the fun begins. There are multiple answers for each animal, ranging from outlandish to research-based. The author explains the concept best herself on the dedication page,

"Dear curious friends,
Some of the answers to the questions in this book are silly, some are sensible, and some are scientific. (Those are the ones marked by an asterisk *.) But feel free to make up some questions, some answers, and some animals of your own. They can be silly or serious . . . whichever you like."

Isaac likes this book because it is funny ("Why are zebras striped? Zebras are horses wearing pajamas"). I like it for the humor, but also for the information. ("Why do camels have humps? Camels are perfectly suited to life in the desert. They store fat in their humps . . .")

If you are tired of explaining "why," let Prap do it for you for a while. Then maybe you will be inspired to come up with your own silly, sensible and scientific answers to those Why? questions that never seem to end.

*As a side note for teachers or parents of older kids, this would be a great book to use with a writing activity. Have children choose animals that are not in the book and pose a "why?" question for each one. Then they write their own silly and sensible answers for the question, but also research the scientific answer and create their own Why? book with their own illustrations.

25 June 2010

Is That a T-Rex or a Stegosaurus?

If your boy likes dinosaurs, he will love the dinosaur series by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. The first book, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, is my favorite. The rhyme is simple and flows smoothly throughout the book, making it a fun read-aloud. By the fifth book (not including the board books), as often happens with series that rely on a repeating pattern, the rhymes become a bit forced and stilted.

What really makes these books stand out are the illustrations. Mark Teague is an artist whose style is easily recognizable and his dinosaurs practically jump off the pages of the books. He also manages to insert the scientific name of each dinosaur somewhere in the illustration without detracting from the flow of the story. The dinosaurs are also drawn and labeled on the end papers for the child who likes to classify and analyze the characteristics of these extinct animals.

Weston Woods has produced an animated movie using Teague's pictures that is a companion to How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? It adds some explanation by morphing a child into a dinosaur as the story begins, thus showing the children that the dinosaurs are stand-ins for themselves. For very young children this is an element that will help them make that connection. For school-age children, however, it would have been better left out so that they could have made that comparison on their own. Overall, though, it is a fun adaptation.

Get these books while your boy is young (pre-school age). Isaac is starting to lose interest in them as superheroes and other monsters grab his attention. But he does enjoy them now and again and I will definitely be pulling out How Do Dinosaurs Go To School? this summer as we prepare for kindergarten.

24 June 2010

One Two Buckle My Shoe

Isaac's last day of daycare was June 18th. As a farewell gift the daycare director gave all of the children a book on their last day. It was a copy of The Real Mother Goose.

I haven't actually read Isaac a lot of nursery rhymes. I remember reading them when I was little or listening to my grandmother or mother recite them to me. I can recite quite a few now from memory. And I know that Isaac has been exposed to some at school because he has referenced them or come home singing the songs. But, since we let him choose what he wants to read most of the time, we have not focused on these or the folktales that most of us grew up hearing. And we need to do better.

Nursery rhymes and folktales are part of our common culture, our common heritage. They remind us of our common history. They can also unite two different cultures as people find common themes in the stories that their ancestors have told for hundreds of years.

The collection of rhymes that Isaac was given contains many obscure ones that are probably forgotten by many people. But it also has the rhymes that are well-known and still loved by children. We are going to start reading a few each night. One day maybe he will remember reading them and want to pass them on.

22 June 2010

One Person's Trash Is a Boy's Treasure

I can't believe I have not posted about this book yet. It is the quinetessential boy book; I do not know how I have overlooked it. It has a loudmouth garbage truck, poopy diapers, stinky underwear and a trash alphabet rap. And the title is one that will appeal to any boy: I Stink! What boy could resist that?

We actually do not own this book anymore. It fell apart. After countless readings, trips to Florida and being taken to daycare for story time and being shared among all the boys in the class, it had had enough. Our copy was paperback and the pages began separating from the cover. After losing a couple it wasn't the same trying to recite the text from memory without the pictures to add context. Saying fish heads without seeing the disembodied head on the page lacked the EWWWW! quality that makes the book so perfect.

There isn't much more I feel the need to say about this book. The narrator is a garbage truck and it's gross. Boy material from the front cover to the last page.

Kate and Jim McMullan have collaborated on other books. I'm Dirty (about a front loader) is another one that hits the mark with boys. But it doesn't top I Stink! I mean, really, how do you do better than an alphabet of trash?

20 June 2010

Goats, Bears, Pigs and a Dog

Here is my first blog of the summer. Since I haven't been around much this year, my goal is to post at least three times a week until I start back to work in August. There, I have written it and will be sending it out into blogging land, so I am committed. Feel free to remind me of my ambitious plans in mid-July when I am in danger of falling far short of my goal.

Matt reminded me of a book recently that Isaac giggled over repeatedly when we checked it out of the library. This book is one that we still talk about even though we have not read it in about two years. Ivan the Terrier by Peter Catalanotto is a gem of a children's book. Adults and kids alike can appreciate the humor and it is a great introduction for young children to classic folktales.

Ivan is an adorable dog who loves a good story. He loves them so much that he runs right in and takes them over, interrupting the plot and wreaking havoc with the characters.

Catalanotto (try typing that three times fast) begins this book as a retelling of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff", but Ivan runs onto the page soon after the retelling has begun and chases the goats away. The narrator begins a new story, this time "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," with the same results. This sequence is repeated with "The Three Little Pigs" and "The Gingerbread Boy."

Ivan's antics had Isaac asking for this book every night while we had it checked out. Fractured folktales are often a hit with children because they take a well-loved story and turn it on its head. But typically this sub-genre sticks with one story per book.

Catalanotto doesn't retell the stories as much as he uses them as background for his lovable dog, but the familiar characters add to the humor because the reader's expectations are replaced by new twists and turns determined by Ivan.

Isaac and I will be visiting the library often this summer and we will be scanning the stacks for this book. I think it's time for a re-reading.