What Pet Should They Get??

What Pet Should I Get?

By Dr. Seuss, 2015

The Story: A brother and sister go to the pet store to choose a pet. Dad says they can only get one. And mom says to be home by noon. So they have to make a decision, and make it quick. But it’s hard to choose between a dog and puppy, kitten and cat, fish, turtle, bird and even fantastical creatures. So which pet should they get?

What Wallace and I Think: Hooray for new Dr. Seuss! The story goes that the late Dr. Seuss’s wife and assistant found the completed manuscript of What Pet Should I Get? while going through some old boxes. There are several theories why he never published it. Apparently Seuss usually worked on more than one project at a time, and seeing as the siblings from this book are the same from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish there is speculation that this book inspired One Fish Two Fish and his attention went to creating that book. Or perhaps he was simply working on too many projects, and he forgot about What Pet. Whatever the reason, thanks to his wife and assistant we now have a NEW Dr. Seuss book over twenty years after his death, and it may be in the running for my favorite Dr. Seuss book.

The whole story is about making difficult choices within guidelines. Making a decision with so many wonderful options can seem next to impossible. Each time the brother and sister think they have settled on what pet they will get, something new catches their eyes, giving more possibilities for them to weigh. The struggle reminded me of my brother, who when he was little, would always take a lot of time to make decisions. Whether it was what movie we would rent, what chocolate bar to get, what toy to buy, he would silently pace the isles for what seemed like hours until someone (usually me) made him make a decision so we could move on with our day. I was teasing him about this when we were much older, and my brother told me that he always took so long because he knew he could only choose one thing, and wanted to make sure he made the right choice, not one he would regret later. Sooooo, if this book was out when my brother and I were little, it would have been his “theme” book.

The wonderful wordplay you expect from Seuss is present, and the fantastical artwork is also what you would expect. I love how it moves from the children considering real animals, to imaginary ones, showing how out of control the choice process has become. What I LOVE most about this book is that the pet the siblings choose is a mystery! They walk out of the pet store with a box, some eyes peeking out, but it is left up to the readers to decide and imagine which pet they picked. This could make for some fun writing activities in the classroom, or generally fun theoretical imagining with your little ones. I for one think they chose the dog, because it’s the first pet the brother saw and I firmly believe in going with your initial gut instinct. And dogs are the best. Obviously. Though, considering how many pets the siblings have in One Fish, Two Fish, maybe they didn’t follow their father’s rule at all!

What pet do you think they chose?

This book lives up to the Dr. Seuss legacy and should to be added to anyone’s Dr. Seuss collection.

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Creating the Most Magnificent Thing: A Review of Ashley Spires’ Picturebook

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Kid Can Press 2014

The Story: A girl has a wonderful idea to make the most magnificent thing. She enlists the help of her best friend, who happens to be a dog, and gets to work trying to make her idea a reality. But translating her wonderful idea into what she pictured is hard, time consuming, and takes many trials and errors. Frustration builds until the girl explodes! Lucky her best friend has the perfect type of stress relief: taking him for a walk. The longer they walk, the more her frustration fades, until she’s refreshed and able to return to her project and finally produce her most magnificent thing.

What Wallace and I Think: This picturebook hit home for me. Whether it’s having an image in my mind that I struggle to put on paper just as I imagined, or translating an idea onto paper as eloquently as it seems in my head, turning an idea into a real thing is hard and rarely turns out just as I imagined it. This picturebook encourages perseverance, patience, and teaches the valuable lesson that creating something takes hard work.

What I found the most valuable piece of advice, something that has worked for me for years, is that sometimes you need to walk away from that idea for a while, gain perspective, and refresh your mind in order to come back stronger. This is a hard thing to do when you’re in the middle of something, and want to get it done (or at least if you’re like me and get a little obsessive about finishing something once you’ve started it).

Walking with Wallace

Walking with Wallace

Just like the unnamed girl, what usually works for me is taking Wallace for a walk, breathing in fresh air, playing in the dog parks, and just taking in nature. Then, without even trying, new ideas and thoughts float in. I have always figured out my best solutions and my greatest ideas when walking Wallace.

You’ve probably already guessed that one reason why I love this book is because it features a dog. And you would be right. The relationship between the girl and dog is great, and often times humorous. I also love how determined the girl is, and that her idea involves building something (girl power!) Especially powerful, are the models she makes before achieving her magnificent thing, the models she deems failures, are found to be useful to other people. Even “failures” have significance and a use. Mistakes are OK. Maybe even welcomed. And her final product is far from perfect, showing that being successful doesn’t mean perfection. Heavy stuff people. These lessons are not just valuable to children, but to us grown-ups too.

I recommend this magnificent book not only to be read to children, but to all my fellow perfectionists, creatives, builders, and dreamers. It would make a nice gift to someone starting out on any new venture, or to someone struggles to make their wonderful ideas into a reality.

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I am not) Review

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) By Peter Brown

Little, Brown and Company 2014

The Story: Robert has a big problem at school. His teacher is a monster! She doesn’t appreciate his paper airplanes, his chatting in class, even the way he walks! With a teacher like that, Robert needs some downtime on the weekend, so he heads to his favorite park. But lo and behold, Robert finds a terrible surprise! His monster of a teacher has decided to spend her free time in HIS FAVORITE SPOT! Bound by social graces, Robert says hello, and he begins to realize maybe his teacher isn’t a monster after all . . . well . . . at least when she’s not in school.

What Wallace and I Think: This is a great picturebook for those of us heading back to school (I start on Thursday!!!). How many times have we all felt misunderstood by our teachers? Sometimes they’re worse than parents! Noticing everything, making it seem like you can’t do anything right! If you, or a child you know, feels this way, this is the book for you.

Peter Brown literally humanizes the monster teacher, Ms. Kirby. The longer Robert spends with Ms. Kirby in the park, the more Ms. Kirby loses her monsterous form and is revealed as a human woman. We’ve all had that experience of running into our teachers outside of school, and it feels weird to realize they’re people too, they don’t live at the school! Outside of school, Robert and Ms. Kirby are able to better understand each other. Most importantly for Robert, he realizes that Ms. Kirby isn’t a monster, she can have fun, but perhaps school isn’t the place where she can have it. It’s a great lesson in changing your perspective, and looking outside yourself to consider things from other people’s vantage points. This is one of the great benefits of not only reading picturebooks, but just generally reading to younger children, as it can develop their empathetic sensibilities.

Aside from the great message, Brown has created a funny book with quiet punch lines found mostly in Robert and Ms. Kirby’s facial expressions. The art is fantastic, and as I’ve already mentioned, I love that Ms. Kirby slowly transforms from looking like a monster to a woman.

While this book is obviously great for kids that have already started school, I think it could be of benefit for younger children to have this lesson instilled within them before starting school or preschool or daycare. Or, do you know a teacher that would appreciate feeling understood? This could make a great funny gift for teachers in your life. My mom might just be getting one for Christmas (if she hasn’t already bought it for herself, which is a huge possibility!!)

Huggers Wanted: Review of Simona Ciraolo’s Hug Me

Hug Me

Simona Ciraolo

Flying Eye Books 2014

The Story: Felipe the cactus wants a hug, but his family isn’t the touchy-feely types. Felipe sets off to find a friend, but being a cactus, it seems impossible to find someone who wants to get close. After hurting a balloon and bringing shame onto his family, Felipe gives up his search for a friend and lives alone. Until, one day, he finds someone as lonely as himself, the perfect friend who doesn’t mind Felipe’s prickles! And Felipe gets the hug he’s always wanted.

What Wallace and I Think: This picturebook is hilarious for children and the adults reading to them. If you love clever word play as much as I do, the humour starts with the paratext as the book opens with labelled portraits of Felipe’s family which include: Aunt Obessa, Bigbrotherus Pricklearum, Cuginus Cleistocactus. There’s the hilarious punchline when Felipe is growing closer and closer with his potential balloon friend, which relies on the drama of turning the next page to find an angry cacti family member holding a newspaper with the front page reading “Cacti House Scandal. Cactus Attack. Balloon in Hospital” (npg).

The crayon heavy art is fun and in a kid-like style, making it appealing to young readers. There is little text, so the colorful images do the heavy lifting when telling the story, making it ideal for very young readers.

My only complaint is that the metaphor of the cactus wanting a hug falls apart for me. From the back cover, it seems like the book addresses what it is like to not get the love and attention you need from your family. But then Felipe continues to be rejected because he is a cactus. So then could this be a larger comment on prejudice? On assuming someone is one way because of their family?! Or am I being too much of an English Major, and it’s really just about a walking and talking cactus. You decide.

Metaphor aside, this is a fun, colorful, feel-good book little ones will love to have read to them by their favorite hugger.

Good Grief!: Review of Bug in a Vacuum

Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt

Tundra Books 2015

The Story: A wee little fly and a dog’s favorite stuffed toy get sucked into a vacuum, causing both the fly and dog to experience the five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, despair, anger, and acceptance.

What Wallace and I Think: Grief and the stages one goes through to cope with it is such a unique and interesting topic for a picturebook. I especially appreciate that Watt explores two types of grief within the text. For the dog, whose favorite toy has been sucked in the vacuum, it is grief over losing a loved one (and no, the dog does not get his toy back, which teaches a valuable lesson about loss). For the bug, who suddenly finds himself stuck in a vacuum, it is grief that comes from an expected and uncontrollable change (so your child might relate to this in terms of having to move, change schools, start a new school/daycare ect). What is particularly nice is that Watt deals with this heavy subject matter with humour. The picturebook is not a downer, nor does it trivialize the bug and dog’s grief. It strikes a perfect balance of respecting the characters’ emotions with humour. It is a book you can come back to with your child, or yourself J, when a sudden change or loss has occurred to help give voice to difficult emotions. Plus there is a happy ending, leaving the reading on a positive note.

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I enjoyed the art in the book immensely. There is very little text, so most of the story is told through images and clever advertisements on household items with jokes hidden in the ads for the adult reading to their little ones, which also gives the whole setting a very 50s-60s Mad Men ad feel (in other words, Don Draper would approve of this book). There is TONS to look at on each page, making this a book that would be ideal for re-readings, and probably one kids will be asking to be read again. With there being so little text, it is one younger kids can “re-read” on their own.The book is longer than your average picturebook. More bang for your buck! But because it’s longer, be aware that the first time reading it may have to extend past one story time. However, when you’ve gone through it once and know the story, I think rereading could go quicker with your child wanting to flip to favorite parts, and maybe focusing on different pages with each reading.

This would be a wonderful addition to anyone’s library. The bug is feisty, the dog is adorable, and the message is important. I’m passionate about destigmatizing mental health issues, and picturebooks like Watt’s is a step towards doing so. This could be read to children as young as toddlers, and could be an interesting teaching tool in classrooms with elementary age children.

And of course Wallace likes anything that features a dog, so he gives it five paws.

Review of Migrant

Migrant (2011)

Written by Maxine Trottier, Art by Isabelle Arsenault

0888999755

The Story: Anna feels like a bird because her family moves north in the spring and south in the fall. Her Mennonite family lives in Mexico during the winter, and travels all the way up to Canada in the summer to work on farms harvesting fruit and vegetables. Anna often wonders what it would be like to stay in one place.

Maxine Trottier explains that people like Anna’s family helped to build Canada and the United States (and continue to), and that they live difficult lives. Often, because their first language is Low German, they cannot understand English or Spanish. The houses that are available for rent are shabby and expensive. There is no union to protect these migrant workers, and they are often not well received by employers or communities. Trottier argues that “We all need to remember just how our country was built,” (npg) and it can only be assumed that Trottier hopes to remind us of this history through the picturebook Migrant.

What Wallace and I Think: Migrant is an ideal example of how important paratext often is with picturebooks. Without the write-up on the hardcover flaps, and the short history lesson on the endpapers, few children or adult readers would know what the book is actually historically addressing. The picturebook’s text and images are filled with Anna comparing her life to various animals: she feels like a jack rabbit who live in abandoned burrows; she feels like a bee during the day; at night she is like a kitten snuggled under a single blanket with her sisters (For any teachers out there, this book could be a perfect tool in teaching simile, metaphor, and/or illustrated metaphor to students). In the main text there is no mention of her family being Mennonite, though they do wear traditional Mennonite clothing. Though Anna briefly explains her family moves from the south to north and back again (through the metaphor of her family being like geese), we are not told the south is Mexico and the north is Canada. The book could have perhaps benefited from more context being worked into the main text, or, the explanation that ends the book may have been better utilized opening the book.

However, taking the paratext into context, Migrant tells a unique story opening readers and listeners to a different way of life, clearly not linked to just specifically Mennonite migrant workers, but migrant or seasonal workers in general. Trottier makes it clear in her explanation that she wanted to write this story to bring issues of social justice to the surface: “Migrants deserve safe working and living conditions. They deserve recognition for an honest day’s labour. They should be treated with the same respect that is extended to citizens and visitors alike” (npg). Hopefully reading this book to children can spark some interesting discussion surrounding social justice, and the life of migrant workers.

As with so many picturebooks Isabelle Arsenault has illustrated, in the case of Migrant, it is Arsenault’s art which both cements the message to the history, as well as allows the text to transcend the historical background. Arsensault’s illustrations are complex and whimsical, making the reading of this book largely appealing to younger children. Patterns and shapes are repeated throughout the book, linking Anna’s dream world to reality. For example, after imagining her family as geese (geese are drawn wearing hats and head scarfs), the silhouette of the geese is repeated on the following page in the shadows of Anna’s actual family. Collaged triangles that decorate the front and back matter are repeated in the quilts Anna’s brothers and sisters sleep under. Such repetitions visually connect the textual metaphors and similes to one another, blurring the boundaries between literary language and reality. And, personally, I find the red, orange and blue color scheme and the combination of paper collage and crayon drawings visually appealing. Whether or not a child can yet grasp the call for social justice, the art will be appealing.

While I feel the art could engage younger readers, I think the book’s message makes Migrant best suited to children 5 and older. I could see the picturebook being a great discussion and teaching tool in any elementary grade. I give the book a 4/5

Olemaun and Alice

When I Was Eight

Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Art by Gabrielle Grimard

Published in 2013 by Annick Press

images

The Story: Olemaun, an Inuit girl, longs to go to school so she can learn to read the outsiders’ books, especially the book about Alice that her sister Rosie reads. Olemaun begs her father to take her to the outsiders’ school until he reluctantly lets her. But school is nothing like Olemuan imagined. A black-cloaked nun cuts off her long hair, strips away her warm parka, and takes away her Inuit name, and calls Olemaun instead Margaret. For weeks Margaret does nothing but chores: scrubbing the floors, washing the walls, dishes, and laundry. Margaret is no closer to being able to read, so she takes her education on herself and teaches herself to read. One day, intended to shame Margaret, a nun throws a large book towards Margaret and tells her to read, and Margaret “confidently sliced through the words without a single moment of hesitation.” Margaret feels powerful from this victory and realizes she is “Olemaun, conqueror of evil, reader of books. . . I finally knew this, like I knew many things, because now I could read.”

What Wallace and I Think: This is a picturebook about Canadian residential schools. Let that sink in. I don’t remember being taught about residential schools when I was in school. It may have been mentioned, but there wasn’t any emphasis to make it stick in my memory, and I think this was intentional. Why? Because Canada, our nation, is embarrassed, ashamed, by what was done to Indigenous children in these schools. And what do we do when we’re embarrassed about something? We don’t talk about it, because talking makes the knot in our stomach, lets others know about that thing we’re embarrassed about, that we don’t want other people to know about. It makes us, the person who is embarrassed, uncomfortable.

But those like the Fentons are telling their own stories, so that what was done is not ignored and not forgotten. The Fentons do this by writing a picturebook, to start education about this dark history young. When I Was Eight is the true story of the Margaret Fenton’s experience at residential schools, and she has dedicate the book to “the Indian Residential School survivors who haven’t yet found their voices.” And perhaps it may help those to find their voices if what happened to them wasn’t ignored, and this picturebook is a step is solving this ignorance.

So as you can probably already guess, I think this is an important picturebook that needs to be read to children. It will take many children outside their own lived experience and help to develop their empathetic sensibilities, and will give voice to many children whose own family members are still coping with what was done to them in residential schools.

I could recommend this book being read to children as young as six or seven (grade one age).