Category Archives: 3 years+

The Well at the End of the World

well

By Robert D. San Souci, Illustrated by Rebecca Walsh

Chronicle Books, 2004

The King of Colchester was a kind and just man, but not a very good ruler. Oh, he did fine dubbing knights or deciding what to have for dinner. But it was his daughter, Princess Rosamond, who really ran the kingdom. She advised her father on matters of state, kept the royal accounts, and fixed the drawbridge when it wouldn’t rise or lower. People often said it was a shame she wasn’t beautiful, too. But practical Rosamond would just laugh and say, “I prefer good books to good looks. I may not be pretty, but my father’s treasury is in order, the drawbridge works, and I’ve almost saved up enough for a new set of royal dishes!”

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The Little House

house

By Virginia Lee Burton

Houghton Mifflin Books, 1942

Once upon a time there was a Little House way out in the country. She was a pretty Little House and she was strong and well built. The Little House was very happy as she sat on the hill and watched the countryside around her. 

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The Tub People

tub

By Pam Conrad, Illustrations by Richard Egielski

Scholastic, 1989

The Tub People stood in a line all day on the edge of the bathtub. There were seven of them, and they always stood in the same order — the father, the mother, the grandmother, the doctor, the policeman, the child and the dog. They were made out of wood, and their faces were very plain. They could smile or frown, or cry or laugh. Sometimes they would even wink at each other, but it hardly showed.

My son attached a piece of blue painter’s tape to the cover of this book, marking it as one of his all-time favorites. Although truthfully, he was probably also looking for a project that would stall his bedtime without making me lose my patience. (How can you get angry at a child for showing love towards his books?) One evening, the Tub Child is accidentally swept down the drain, causing untold grief, loss and helplessness to wash over the “surviving” Tub People. Despite the happy ending, there’s a melancholy tone to this book and illustrations that I’m not always in the mood for. But I recommend it all the same.

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Ella Takes the Cake

ella

By Carmela and Steven D’Amico

Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005

It was already summer vacation and the bakery was busier than ever. Ella tried her best to help. But sometimes, she didn’t feel very helpful. She’d already swept the floor three times. There wasn’t a crumb on it. When the oven timer went off — DING! — Ella thought she’d help by taking out the macaroons. “No, no, no,” her mother sang. “You might burn yourself.”

Maybe it’s because I read this to my daughter while my son was attending his first day of nature camp and I was fraught with anxiety, but I found this book to be…a nail-biter. Little Ella, who surely owes a huge debt to Babar, insists on delivering an enormous three-tiered birthday cake. She is, of course, on her bike, while Danger Cake is pulled behind her in a clunky wooden wagon. Ella is blissfully unphased by the obstacles she encounters — including her belligerent “friend,” Belinda and an alarmingly steep hill.  I’m sure I read this story faster, louder, and with more urgency than my daughter would have liked. But I breathed a sigh of relief when Belinda delivered the cake to the Captain intact (and my son had a blast.)

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Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

notnorman1

By Kelly Bennett, Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

Candlewick Press, 2005

When I got Norman, I didn’t want to keep him. I wanted a different kind of pet. Not Norman. I wanted a pet who could run and catch. Or one who could climb trees and chase strings. A soft, furry pet to sleep on my bed at night. Not  Norman. All Norman does is swim around and around and around and around and around and around and around and around…

Here’s the perfect book to read your kids when they’re asking for a Dalmation or pony and you’re thinking more along the lines of… koi. The young narrator of the story think he’s been gypped out of a “good” pet. After all, Norman can’t do anything. Or can he? The more time and attention Norman spends on his little googly-eyed fish (albeit under the guise of bringing him back to the pet store), the more he begins to appreciate his new finned friend. The cheerful digital drawings keep up, er, swimmingly, with Bennett’s gentle narrative.

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The Bora-Bora Dress

bora

By Carole Lexa Schaefer, Illustrated by Catherine Stock

Candlewick Press, 2005

Lindsey never ever ever wore a dress. She wore her baggy shorts to run on the beach. She wore her old jeans to climb up to her tree house. She wore her patch overalls to jump in heaps of leaves. “What’s a dress good for, anyway?” said Lindsey.

The answer: Going to her Aunt Fiona’s extremely fancy dress-up party. Lindsey reluctantly lets her mother take her to Miss Beeline’s Girls’ Shop to look — just look –– at dresses. As any tomboy in her right mind would expect, they’re hideous, with fluffy ruffles, lots-of-dots and plaids-and-pleats. (I do enjoy a good hyphenated phrase.) But then Lindsey spies a surprising frock that looks as if it was made just for her. My two-year-old daughter, who points to any dress and says, “I will never, ever wear that,” finds this book quite curious. I think she appreciates long-legged, adventurous, sloppy-in-a-cool-way Lindsey. (There are those hyphens again.) And the illustrations of Aunt Fiona’s party — especially her hedge maze and Tower O’ Cupcakes — are magical. Blissfully, Lindsey doesn’t make a Kafka-esque transformation into Prim and Proper Princess.  She simply comes to the logical conclusion that a good dress serves a purpose as well as jeans.

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Lovable Lyle

lyle

By Bernard Waber

Houghton Mifflin, 1969

Everyone loved Lyle the Crocodile. The Primm Family, with whom he lived, loved him dearly, of course. And the bakery lady loved him. She always gave Lyle a cookie; his favorite kind, with colorful sprinkles on top. 

Look closely at the above image. I’m pretty sure that’s red Kool-Aid, circa the 1970’s, spilled over the top right cover. On the left is a piece of Scotch tape on which either my sister or me priced this book at a reasonable 3 cents. But of course, we would never really sell it to anyone besides each other. Out of all the Lyle books, this was by far our favorite. Uber-friendly, tender-hearted Lyle is crushed when he starts receiving hate mail from a secret enemy. To try to make the terrible missives stop, he ramps up his juggling abilities and practices big, big smiles in the mirror. But the letters keep coming. The mystery of who is sending them and why will keep kids interested, and I love the myriad of important life lessons this book teaches. Take your pick: “It isn’t always possible to please everyone.” “Don’t judge people before you get to know them.”  “Watch your kid at the beach,” and so on.

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The Curious Garden

curious

By Peter Brown

Little, Brown Books, 2009

There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind. Most people spent their time indoors. As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place. However, there was one boy who loved being outside…

I’m calling this book an “eco-conscious fairytale.” Granted, these pages (printed on recycled paper, mind you) contain no princesses, princes, wicked witches or dragons, but there is one very kind, determined boy who finds beauty where others do not. And there is a patch of curious green plants in need of rescuing. And as in all fairytales, there is a city (er, kingdom) where the inhabitants are in desperate need for an imaginative leader who will transform their dreary world. So…eco-conscious fairytale it is. With sparse, elegant prose and vivid illustrations that are difficult to look away from, Brown tells the story of little Liam, who begins nurturing a long-forgotten garden. Because of his efforts, the plants and flowers spread across his city, magically affecting everything and everyone in their path. A fabulous reminder to go play in the mud.

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Ladybug Girl

ladybug

By David Soman and Jacky Davis

Dial Books, 2008

After breakfast, Mama says, “Papa and I have work to do around the house. You’ll have to figure out your own fun time, okay?” “How am I ever going to do that?” asks Lulu. “You can do anything, Lulu. You’re Ladybug Girl!”

When Lulu’s parents are busy, Lulu is doubtful she can find anything to do on her own. To make matters worse, her older brother goes off to play baseball with his friends, chiding, “You’re too little.” Fortunately, Lulu finds that as Ladybug Girl, there are plenty of fun things she can do on her own. (Not to mention brave tasks to accomplish — some puddles are shark-infested, you know.) With her faithful basset hound, Bingo, at her side, Lulu turns a potentially boring morning into a fabulous adventure. David Soman’s illustrations are utterly charming; it takes my kids and me a full five minutes to get past the front cover of the book, which shows Lulu dressed in a variety of fabulous costumes, from a space explorer in a bubble-shaped helmet to a hilariously haughty movie star — sort of Ginger of “Gilligan’s Island” meets Jackie O. But the red tutu and rockin’ ladybug boots are by far, my favorite. I’d totally wear them if they came in my size.

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Tinker and Tom and the Star Baby

tinker

By David McPhail

Little, Brown, 1998

Tinker and Tom couldn’t get to sleep, so they sat on the edge of the bed, gazing out the window. They had not been there long when a small, bright object went streaking through the sky. “What’s that?” gasped Tom. “That’s a baby star,” Tinker told him. “It probably got lost and now it’s looking for its mother.”

Books are a bit like ice skating routines. Some are technically perfect, but lack artistic style. You can tell the skater’s practiced her (or his) ass off, but she (or he) doesn’t really seem to be enjoying the process. David McPhail is absolutely not one of those skaters. In each of his books, he seems to be enjoying the hell out of himself instead of obsessing over where his characters (or story) will land. That can make for some disappointing third acts or undeveloped characters, but not in the case of Tinker, a hilarious, uproariously fun accomplishment. Tinker, a mechanically-minded boy, and Tom, the bear who lives with him, find a Star Baby who’s crash-landed in their backyard. While the Star Baby happily gobbles down cat food in the kitchen (illustrated with drawings that made both me and my son cry with laughter), Tinker and Tom mix some rocket fuel to send their little visitor back to its awaiting mother. Who knew rocket fuel required orange juice  and a pot of baked beans?

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