September 27th, 2020 · Books

As preschoolers, my kids have been told “No Bathroom Talk.” And at home we also tried to curb their use of poopie, doo-doo, and peep (I don’t know why they say it with a P at the end) talk, especially during mealtimes. Now, with middle schoolers, we’ve just about given up the struggle.  But with a book like POOPENDOUS! by author Artie Bennett you don’t have to worry about scatology at the table because it’s a delight.

Poopendous! is a silly, fun, and very educational collection of information about poop from around the Earth’s animal kingdom. Not only do children learn that monkey dung is sometimes flung (“Monkeys fling with under stress. It helps the monkey decompress.”), a favorite line educated me: “Guano is an Incan word for poop of bat or ocean bird.” I didn’t know it was Incan; I thought it was a Spanish word! Poop from so many animals is described and detailed; Hippo Piles and Wombat Cubes are just the beginning. The book also talks about useful roles of poop. Homes are built of it, it is used for fuel in cooking fires, and cow pies are thrown in contests.

All in all, the book is very cute, and the colorful illustrations by Mike Moran add to the words in clever and entertaining, and not at all gross, ways. Young children will ask for Poopendous! as a read-aloud again and again, and I can attest that older children will reach for it on the bookshelf into their teens. Highly recommended!


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Hello, My Name is Ruby

August 5th, 2020 · Books

HELLO, MY NAME IS RUBY by Philip C. Stead is a charming story of a tiny bird with a big heart who meets many new friends with different personalities and skills. Ruby, the title character, travels around introducing herself to fellow birds of all sizes, hoping to get to know them better. The illustrations are colorful and childlike, with just enough detail to entice small readers to inspect closely and admire feathers and shapes and feet and beaks. HELLO, MY NAME IS RUBY is a wonderful book to share before a child starts on a new adventure with enthusiasm or with shyness, with positive results or with disappointment. 

Ruby’s perseverance and sweetness would be enough to carry this picture book, but the supporting characters make sure that everyone will find someone to champion in the story. None of the birds are labeled by species, but by attributes. A colorful Kiwi shows Ruby that not all birds fly to get around, and a disinterested Peacock makes Ruby sad for a moment, allowing us to see how Ruby handles rejection: with a sad song. Each interaction teaches Ruby something about the world and new skills, until finally Ruby finds an entire flock of birds just like her and introduces her new friends to the flock (peacock excepted…). 

The illustrations have visible lines and “squiggles” throughout, and the colors don’t always stay inside the lines perfectly. Children tend to respond well to this style because they recognize their own tendencies in it. Despite the intentional roughness, emotions jump out at readers. When Ruby is excited, it’s clear she is happy. The curious Ostrich really looks curious, and even the Kiwi has a perplexed look when asking, “What is flying?” 

Finding friends and a place for oneself can be a challenge, and HELLO, MY NAME IS RUBY uses little Ruby to show children that while the world is a big place with lots of different types of friends, we each have a place in it. Highly recommended. 

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Weird, Wild, Amazing! Exploring the Incredible World of Animals

June 25th, 2020 · Books

Tim Flannery’s WEIRD, WILD, AMAZING! is a must-have for any child who loves fauna of any kind. And who doesn’t? If the Star-Nosed Moles don’t convince you, perhaps the Hoatzins will. And if animals you are unfamiliar with aren’t what you prefer, weird and gross facts about whales, giraffes, and lions may be what convince you to return to this delightful collection of details, figures, and silly (but true!) anecdotes about animals from every type of environment. The bright illustrations by Sam Caldwell ensure that both children and adults will find reasons to flip the pages back and forth for hours on end.

This busy and vibrant picture book is filled with strange eating habits and astounding talents of various animals. However, what makes it especially impressive is the sheer volume of bizarre and funny highlights that show us how very different and surprisingly similar various animals around our Earth are. Children of a certain age will appreciate the various references to poop, and others will be grossed out with curiosity by the meals preferred by various birds and furry critters. The illustrations are age appropriate in that they hint at nature’s gore without being overly realistic.

Which sea dweller is born with a baby mustache that falls off within a week? Which mammal has venomous “spurs” that can be used as a deadly defense? And which desert animal emits a piercing shriek when threatened? Kids and adults will have a lot of fun – and learn even more – as they travel through this fantastic book together.

Highly recommended.


review by Kristin Wald

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What’s The Matter, Marlo?

June 14th, 2020 · Books

WHAT’S THE MATTER, MARLO? by Andrew Arnold addresses how children can tackle difficult emotions and recognize the strength between friends. The narrator and her best friend Marlo do everything together, including their favorite game hide-and-seek. Marlo’s dog Hooper is often with them, wagging and chasing and fetching. When conflict occurs, their friendship is tested and eventually strengthened.

One day, Coco (who is named in the book flap but not in the story) asks Marlo to play and is told to Go Away; Marlo looks angry. Instead, she tries to cheer him up with jokes about dogs. Marlo gets angrier and angrier, depicted with thick, black lines above his head. And finally he screams (AHHHHHHH!) and disappears into a page full of black, squiggly lines.

The beauty and reassurance in this children’s book comes from Coco’s resolve and perseverance in making sure she “finds” Marlo despite all the hardship and hurt feelings. In addition, it emphasizes the reality that when children (or all of us…) are having BIG feelings, sometimes they don’t look like what we expect. When Coco discovers the source of Marlo’s seeming anger, the death of his dog Hooper, she cries with him because “that’s what best friends do, too.”

Families should know that the death of the dog is implied with an image of Hooper’s collar hanging on a branch by a plot of dirt. And the anger “squiggles” may be scary to younger, more sensitive children. Overall, however, this picture book will spur parents to have difficult and loving conversations about loss and grief and how to support a loved one working through it. Highly recommended.


Review by Kristin Wald

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