Review of I Will Surprise My Friend! by Mo Willems

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I Will Surprise My Friend!

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2008.  57 pages.

Oh, I do love Mo Willems’ books!  I Will Surprise My Friend! is another easy reader about two friends, Elephant (named Gerald) and Piggie.  As with the Pigeon books, Mo Willems manages to convey all kinds of emotions with simple line drawings.  Adding a raised eyebrow here and a pointed toe there tell the readers exactly what the characters are feeling.

I’d like to try this book in a storytime, but it’s particularly suited for a child learning to read.  There are a few words on each page, and the pictures will give the child delight at deciphering exactly what is happening, and they will find it tremendous fun.

To start out, Gerald and Piggie see a squirrel hide behind a rock and surprise his friend.  The two squirrels are delighted.  This gives Gerald a great idea — they can surprise each other at the big rock.

Gerald and Piggie are both fully engaged in the fun of the planned surprise.  But when two people are both hiding, who’s around to get surprised?  There’s plenty of visual humor in this story, and of course the fun of seeing behind the scenes when both friends get surprised in a way they didn’t expect.

Hmm.  Describing it takes more words than are in the book!  I want to find a beginning reader to read this story to me.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/i_will_surprise_my_friend.html

Review of Millie Waits for the Mail, by Alexander Steffensmeier

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Millie Waits for the Mail

by Alexander Steffensmeier

Walker & Company, New York, 2007. 

First published in Germany in 2006.

Starred Review.

This book was originally written in German, under the title, Liselotte Lauert.  I want a copy!  This udderly (sorry) silly book was my absolute favorite of the Picture Books chosen for the Summer Reading Program.

Millie the cow waits every morning for her favorite time of day.

Because there was something Millie loved more than anything else —

Scaring the mail carrier. . .  and chasing him off the farm.

Millie spends each morning looking for a new hiding place.  The poor mail carrier has nightmares every night.  The poor farmer has all her packages arrive broken.

Millie must be stopped.

The wonderful silliness of this book (How on earth did Alexander Steffensmeier think of writing a book about a cow scaring the mail carrier?) is especially evident in the illustrations.  The look in Millie’s eye as she scours the farmyard for hiding places is priceless.  The page where Millie first jumps out and scares the mail carrier got a big reaction from the kids every time I showed it to them.  A big reaction from the adults in the room, too.

What can I say?  This book makes me laugh every time I look at it.  It doesn’t promote good, noble purposes.  But it is absolutely, delightfully, wonderfully Silly.

http://www.walkeryoungreaders.com/

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/millie_waits_for_the_mail.html

Review of A Visitor for Bear

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A Visitor for Bear, by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Candlewick Press, 2008.  56 pages.

Starred Review.

“No one ever came to Bear’s house.  It had always been that way, and Bear was quite sure he didn’t like visitors.  He even had a sign.”  NO VISITORS ALLOWED

However, along comes an extremely persistent mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed.

This mouse thwarts all of Bear’s plans to keep him out.  The result?  Bear learns that maybe visitors aren’t so bad after all.

The story is simple, but the execution is exquisite!  The expressions on the faces of Bear and the mouse are delightful, beautifully conveying Bear’s anger, surprise, resignation, and eventual delight.

This is a fabulous Story Time selection, as the repetition gets the kids wondering where the mouse will pop up next.  I’ve already tried the book out on three classes of third graders, with great success, and I think it will do equally well with preschoolers.  This book is simply delightful.

This review is posted on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/visitor_for_bear.html

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Review of Audiobook Thank You, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse

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Thank You, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse, performed by Alexander Spencer

Recorded Books, 1984.  Originially published in 1934.  6 compact discs, 6 hours.

I’ve decided that the ultimate audiobook for a long drive is anything by P. G. Wodehouse, read by someone like Alexander Spencer, with an exquisite English accent.  When you’re laughing out loud, you can’t possibly fall asleep at the wheel.

I think of P. G. Wodehouse as the Seinfeld of 1930’s England.  The rich young gentlemen get into elaborately entangled comic situations, which all come together for a big laugh in the end.

In Thank You, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster actually accepts Jeeves’ resignation.  Bertie is dedicating himself to playing the banjolele, and Jeeves cannot tolerate it.  However, they both end up in Chuffnall Regis, where Bertie’s old school friend, Chuffy (Lord Chuffnall), is falling in love with Pauline Stoker, a millionaire’s daughter who was once engaged to Bertie.

In the mess that results, involving captivity on a yacht, sleeping in sheds, a chase with a chopper, a cottage on fire, black-faced minstrels, and the temptations of kippered herring, only Jeeves has the brain capable of sorting things out and orchestrating a happy ending for everyone.

While I was in the middle of listening to this book, I found myself thinking about heliotrope pajamas.  You see, Bertie finds Pauline Stoker in his bed, wearing his heliotrope pajamas, and finds her quite fetching.  Doesn’t the phrase “heliotrope pajamas” have a ring to it?  (All the more so when you’ve been listening to it rather than merely reading it.  I found myself saying the phrase over to myself.)

I mused, “I wonder what color exactly are heliotrope pajamas?”  Well, my son heard me, and looked up heliotrope on Wikipedia.   ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliotrope_%28color%29 )  He showed me exactly the shade.  (I pretty much had it right, for the record!)  But he looked at the references to “Heliotrope in popular culture” and was surprised to find exactly the scene I had mentioned:  “In Thank You, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster returns home to find Pauline Stoker in his heliotrope pajamas after swimming ashore from her father’s yacht.”

So you see, not only can you get lots of laughs, you can also learn the full story of the legendary heliotrope pajamas of Bertie Wooster.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/thank_you_jeeves.html

Review of The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men

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The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men:  Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay, or Dead, by Jill Conner Browne

Well, this book is very irreverent and, how shall I say this?  Not very respectful toward men.  But oh my goodness, it is funny! 

As the author says herownself:  “The reader should not infer any degree of fairness intended by these descriptions; they are used purely for the sake of conversation and, we hope, for laughs.  It is not in my job description to be fair to men or to even seem fair to them.  It’s a little late in the history of the entire world to introduce an element of fairness, and beyond even my considerable powers to bring it to bear, anyway.”

She goes on to describe, with great hilarity, many types of men you’ll find out there:  The Bud Spud, the Dud Spud, the Crud Spud, the Fuddy-Dud Spud, the Pud Spud, the Blood Spud (also known as the Man Who May Need Killing), the Scud Spud, and finally every woman’s dream, the Spud Stud.

And so it goes.  I should mention that Jill Conner Browne does not confine herself to mocking men, but also gives plenty of hearty laughter toward those of us who love them — and the things we’ll go through to try to attract them.

I’m afraid, in my present Being-Divorced state, the chapter I found most utterly hilarious was “Surviving the Wang Wars” about all the delightful ways women have gotten revenge on men who didn’t treat them as well as they deserved.

“Alas and alack, love does occasionally derail, and when it does, it usually wipes out entire neighborhoods, releases a massive cloud of terminally toxic gas, and the cleanup can take years.  And while it may be true that it is not always their fault when things go awry, it is no less true that we certainly believe that it’s always their fault and we want 100 percent of all the blame to be laid not so much at their feet but rather on top of their bodies, making it impossible for them to breathe and continue living in any real sense of the word.  What would really make us just oh so happy is to be allowed to murder them ten different times in ten different ways and then finally feed the remains to the wood chipper.  But hardly anybody ever really gets to do that.  And so, barring that ultimate satisfaction, a number of Queens have demonstrated characteristic Queenly Resourcefulness in their dealings with errant mates in ways that are not likely to land the perpetrator in the slammer, and that’s a Good Thing.  I share them with you as food for thought — fodder for your consideration as alternative strategies should you find yourself currently in possession of a man who is just beggin’ to be killed.”

Now, I should mention that the Sweet Potato Queens do not advocate criminal activity.   Jill Conner Browne says, “Even in Louisiana they will sometimes put you in jail if you kill one.  We’ve stated repeatedly that we are unequivocally against killin’ ’em, even when they practically beg for it by their every word and deed.  If you do, you will miss quite a few St. Paddy’s parades in Jackson while running from the law, and you’ll be a Yam on the Lam.”

if you’re feeling tempted to commit violence, The Sweet Potato Queens will get you laughing so hard about it, you won’t need to any longer.

With lots of silly but all too true insights, I think the uplifting message of the book is summarized in this paragraph:

“Throughout this book, I’ve been carrying on about men and finding them and getting them and keeping them and deciding whether or not to kill them, and if so, how, and so on.  And that’s all funny and mostly true and all that, but the real truth is you are enough — just the way you are, just who you are.  You are a complete entity, a whole person, right there in the skin you’re in.  You don’t need to have a guy to be happy.  Admit it:  You have more fun with a gang of girlfriends than you’ve had on the absolute best date of your entire life.  If somebody comes along who treats you right and makes you happy and you can do the same for him, well, that’s just dandy.  But I’m telling you, the only way that I know to get and keep a happy, healthy relationship is first to create a happy and healthy life for yourself without one.  This is your life to live.”

Preach it, Sister!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/spq_field_guide_to_men.html

Review of The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, by Mo Willems

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Pigeon Wants a Puppy, by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2008. 

http://www.pigeonpresents.com/

http://www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com/

That wonderfully persuasive, pleading (well, demanding) Pigeon is back!  This time — could it be? — it looks like he will get what he wants!  But it doesn’t turn out quite like he planned.

As always, it’s truly amazing how much emotion Mo Willems can convey with a few simple cartoon lines.   The Pigeon bends his knee winsomely when he thinks of what he wants.  He narrows his eyes when he says, “You don’t want me to be happy, do you?”

I’ve gotten to test this out on a few kids, and the inevitable reaction is, “Read it again!”

You’ve gotta love the Pigeon!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/pigeon_wants_puppy.html

Review of Scaredy Squirrel, by Melanie Watt

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Scaredy Squirrel, by Melanie Watt

Kids Can Press, Tonawanda, NY, 2006.  36 pages.

“WARNING:  Scaredy Squirrel insists that everyone wash their hands with antibacterial soap before reading this book.”

Scaredy Squirrel is afraid of many things out in the unknown, things like green Martians, killer bees, tarantulas, poison ivy, germs, and sharks.  Fortunately, Scaredy Squirrel knows how to cope with his fears.  He never leaves his nut tree.

What’s more, Scaredy Squirrel is fully equipped with an emergency kit and an escape plan.

Still, sometimes things don’t go exactly according to plan….

I was completely charmed by Scaredy Squirrel.  This delightful picture book is a fun way to discuss dealing with fears — but mostly it’s a lot of silly fun.

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/scaredy_squirrel.html

Review of Horseradish, by Lemony Snicket

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Horseradish:  Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid, by Lemony Snicket

HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 2007.  168 pages.

ISBN: 978-0-06-124006-5

Here’s the humor of Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, without the depressing storyline.  I’ve always thought his sense of humor hilarious — but get too thoroughly immersed in the story to really enjoy orphans with one dreadful problem after another.

This book is a series of humorous insights on life ranging from a paragraph long to a page or two.  I picked it up and soon was reading aloud from it to anyone I could find.  And laughing more and more, the longer I read.

Now, I don’t recommend reading this book in one sitting.  That would be a bit much.  But having it around to get a daily dose of laughter is a great idea.

Here’s a link to some of the entries I couldn’t resist quoting:

http://sonderbooks.com/sonderquotes/?s=Lemony+Snicket

I found this to be a hilarious and utterly silly book.

Link to this review on the main site:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/horseradish.html

Review of The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, by M. T. Anderson

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M. T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales:
The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen
by M. T. Anderson

Reviewed September 9, 2007.
Harcourt, Orlando, 2006. 243 pages.

This book, another “Thrilling Tale” in the spirit of Whales on Stilts, is a delightful spoof of children’s series books. Both my sons, ages 18 and 12, read this book, and laughed so much and read bits aloud so often, I simply had to read it myself. It may not be great literature or a terribly compelling story, but it is hilariously clever.

Katie Mulligan, her friend Lily, and Jasper Dash, Boy Detective, are ready for a vacation, so they take advantage of a coupon for a free dinner at the Moose Tongue Lodge and Resort. Once there, they learn that the coupons are fake—and many other people, all stars of series books, have received them as well.

Then the Hooper Quints are kidnapped on their way to the hotel. Which of the dashing detectives will be able to solve the mystery? Then a valuable necklace is stolen while people are out searching for the quintuplets. Are the two mysteries tied together?

The story isn’t the point of this book. It’s got lovely unlikely plot twists, just like the series books they are spoofing would have.

Here’s the first section that my 12-year-old felt he HAD to read to me. It’s talking about how Jasper Dash’s books are somewhat out of date.

Often, if you go to a town library and under Keyword Search type “Jasper Dash,” you’ll come up with a list of his books—and beside each one, it says: “Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn. Withdrawn.” This means that they are no longer in circulation. Some librarian has taken them off the shelf, wiping away a tear, and has opened the book to the back, where there’s a pouch for a card dating back to the time of the Second World War, and she’ll crumple up the card, and then she and her fellow librarians will take special knives and slice away at the book and will eat the pages in big mouthfuls until the book is all gone, the whole time weeping, because they hate this duty—it is the worst part of their job—for here was a book that was once someone’s favorite, but which now is dead and empty. And the little cheerful face of Jasper Dash, heading off to fight a cattle-rustling ring in his biplane, will still be smiling pluckily as they take their Withdrawal Knives and scratch his book to pieces.

(How did he know?)

A section my 18-year-old was compelled to read to me was actually on the back flap:

M.T. Anderson is seven monkeys, six typewriters, and a Speak & Spell. It took them ten years to write The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen. Their previous books include Adf2yga^vvvv, WpolwOox.S Ppr2dgn shr Elssf, and The Riverside Edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Adf2yga^vvvv was a National Book Award finalist. The M. T. Anderson Monkey collective is located outside Boston. Its hobbies include flash cards, hopping, and grooming for lice. It divides its time between the parallel bars and the banana trough.

 

Who wouldn’t want to read a book with such a blurb?

Here is the review on the main site:  http://www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/linoleum_lederhosen.html

Review of Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!

by Mo Willems
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Reviewed July 14, 2007.
Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2006. 36 pages.
Starred Review.

My husband used to say that a good book for a toddler is one that ends with someone asleep. In fact if we read such a book to our older son, we could watch him develop dark circles under his eyes and become much sleepier and easier to tuck into bed.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! is another delightful and fun book along the lines of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! This one deals with an activity that toddlers would really like to do—stay up late.

I never have met a toddler who seriously wanted permission to drive a bus, but once my son threw a temper tantrum for an hour in the middle of the night because he wanted to “stay up all night and all day”!

This book gives kids a chance to tell the Pigeon that he can’t stay up late, instead of being on the other end of it. They can easily see that the Pigeon is getting sleepy, and this time he’s the one who screams, “I’M NOT TIRED!”

It’s almost formulaic, with some pages having exactly the same look as those in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! However, with toddlers, being formulaic makes a book all the more delightful as they know what to expect.

I was staying with a friend for a couple of months after I moved, and she has a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. I loved trying out the Pigeon books on them. I was surprised when the 4-year-old was the one who most enjoyed telling the Pigeon, “No!” but the books were a big hit with both kids. Their favorite pages in both books were definitely the full-out temper tantrum pages. Michelle would often open the book to that page and ask me to say it. (Of course, if I kicked and screamed that made it a lot more fun!)

Every child should get a chance to tell this Pigeon what to do. I don’t think they will necessarily understand that the Pigeon is doing the same things they do, but they will enjoy the chance to be the one with the authority.