The Book of Mistakes

Mistakes happen. To all of us. You can either let them ruin your project or you can let your mistakes help you grow.

Corinna Luyken is an amazing artist who makes mistakes. Her debut book came from a mistake and I cannot begin to explain her art with words, so you’re going to have to go get this book and read it. I will give you a taste:

It started

with one mistake.

Making the other eye even bigger was another mistake.

But the glasses–they were a good idea.

You just have to read this book. There is so much more to the mistakes that become more in Luyken’s art.

I really love the idea of building on our mistakes. Mistakes make us better, and I always point out when I make one around kids. They need to know it’s okay. Thanks Luyken for helping illustrate that point.

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Bittle

Life is pretty good for Julia the dog and Nigel the cat.

Until their owners start acting strange. They paint a room a green that Nigel disdains and they bring home tiny hats and socks…and then a baby!

Julia and Nigel do not think the family needs a baby. And they are certainly not going to be the ones to raise it!

But the little bit of a thing-Bittle-works their way into their hearts. She plays with them, she shares food with them, and when she cries, they comfort her.

The climax of the story comes with Bittle’s first words. Will it be dada or mama? It ends up being “woof” and “meow”, and then something all three can do together:

I really like reading this story. MacLachlan’s humor about the animals slowly coming to love Bittle is wonderful. Kids love this book too, find a little one to share it with and you’ll see what I mean.

Baabwaa & Wooliam

I really like books about sheep. They have those great words that work in the “baa” sound and I love to make that sound. And the title of this one is fa-baa-lous!

Baabwaa likes to knit, a very practical sheep hobby, and Wooliam likes to read. One day they decide to have an adventure similar to the ones the read about in books. After a few laps around the field they meet a suspicious sheep who has not been taught to brush his teeth.

Wooliam realizes that this is the wolf in sheep’s clothing that he’s read about and a chase ensues. Eventually, the wolf stops running to ask what Wooliam meant about reading about him. As it turns out, the wolf can’t read. It is agreed that Wooliam will teach him to read and Baabwaa will knit him a sweater (his wool one looks awful!)

There are still some chases from time to time but in the end, the three become friends.

I loved this book! I had no idea how the story would turn out, but I sure like how it ended up.

Old-timey strongmen

I got in some new books today and was very excited to see new biographies. The one that caught my eye was Strong as Sandow by Don Tate.

Eugen Sandow was once a weakling who became the world’s strongest man through exercise and eating right.

I have not yet done more reading online about Sandow, but some of the information about him is sketchy, as author Don Tate points out. As an interesting side note, Tate is a former natural body building champion himself.

Sandow’s story is similar to another famous strongman, Charles Atlas.

Atlas is considered the epitome of the male form, but he also started out as a weakling. I just rescued a very beat up copy of a biography of Atlas as well.

Atlas came years after Sandow but had a similar career. He was a model for statues and paintings like Sandow and he created fitness routines and books to help others get healthy and fit.

I have a third strongman biography at school as well. Siegmund Breitbart was known as Zishe the Strongman (his biography has that title.) His story differs though. He was naturally strong as a child and I did not find any information about him writing about his strength or promoting his exercise routine.

So if you’re in the mood to learn about something outside of your normal selections, give these three old-timely strongmen a try.

Tom’s Tweet

It’s a scientific fact that cats are predators and they love to eat birds. The cat in today’s story is banking on that.

Tom is prowling through the yard after a storm when he spies a tweet on the ground. He sneaks up to catch it and then realizes it’s nothing but feathers and bone.

Somehow, some way, this little tweet blink-blink-blinks and Tom feels responsible for helping it. But how do you get a baby back into its nest when it’s mama is psycho?!?

Tom decides to give mama some cool down time. That darn tweet needs something, but what? Not twigs in a slightly nest-ish pile, ugh! It wants worms, but won’t eat them whole! Tom chews up the worms for the little tweet and that finally does the trick. Tweet is so happy, he curls up in Tom’s armpit for a nap.

Tom finally manages to get the tweet back into its nest and is rid of it once and for all. So why is he dreaming of the little tweet? Cats aren’t supposed to care about birds!!!

The next day, Tom sees something fall out of the tree…could it be his tweet? Of course. Mama bird realizes that Tom is trying to help the baby back to the nest and gives him a new job. Tweety sitting.

I loved this book! It has so much going for it. Dan Santat drew the great pictures and Jill Esbaum wrote a funny sweet story. Despite what the laws of nature are, it’s not unheard of for these odd relationships to form. Tom reminds me of our big (very big) Jack. Jack is a lovable curmudgeon, as Tom is at the start of the story. It just made my day to read this great story.

Amelia Bedelia

Did you read Amelia Bedelia as a kid? I know I did. She’s considered a classic character and for good reason!

Peggy Parish’s classic was written in 1963, and Parish continued to write about The mixed-up maid until she passed away in 1988. The premise of Amelia Bedelia’s stories are that she doesn’t understand figures of speech. When told to dress the chicken for dinner, we get this:

When told to dust the furniture, she uses fancy perfumed dusting powder to sprinkle over everything. When told to draw the drapes, she tests out her artistic skills, and to change the towels, she cuts them up and resews them into something completely different.

Now I love Amelia, and I love the idea of her books, but kids today don’t necessarily get all the jokes. I read the original story to first graders last year. They knew about dusting and about changing the towels, but none of them had ever heard curtains called drapes or heard of dressing a chicken or turkey, and I don’t know anyone who still uses fancy perfumed dusting powder. The problem isn’t with the writing, it’s with our language and how it grows and changes over time. Our vernacular evolves and changes every day. So does that mean we scrap amazing books like Amelia Bedelia?

No, of course not! I think we just have to find a way to make it work–expand the kids’ horizons. We (the readers) were given a big help in 1994 when Herman Parish, the nephew of Peggy Parish, started his own Amelia Bedelia book series.

You’ll notice right away that Amelia is a little girl, and that’s great. Herman can give her her own storylines without cutting in on the ones his aunt created. The picture books were so popular that he decided to start a chapter book series as well.

I haven’t had a chance to read the series yet, but I’ve started the third book, Road Trip. Amelia is excited when her father announces they have a week to go roam…which Amelia thinks means they are heading to Rome in Italy. This is the same kind of joke that Peggy Parish used in the original books, but it’s more culturally meaningful to today’s readers. After her dad figures out her confusion, he explains that they will be exploring the great sites in their own backyard…which sounds to Amelia like they won’t even be leaving home! Kids often get the real meaning long before Amelia which makes it even funnier to them.

I know you and your little readers will enjoy this wonderful classic character, even if it’s in her new incarnation. I often start kids with the newer stuff, and they find the older stuff better because they have an idea of what’s happening before they jump into a book full of figures of speech they don’t hear on a daily basis.

But don’t jump on books, it’s hard on the spines and you could slip and fall. (See what I did there??)

First Day Jitters

Today was my school’s second day of the school year, so I wanted to post about one of the many, many books about going back to school.

Sarah Jane Hartwell does not want to start at her new school. She refuses to get out of bed and just knows she’ll hate it.

Mr. Hartwell tries to reason with her, but this girl is stubborn! I love that the dog sides with Mr. Hartwell and the cat with Sarah Jane.

Finally, Sarah Jane has to get up and get ready for the dreaded first day. Mr. Hartwell reminds her of all the new friends she’ll make and how much she’ll like it once she settles in.

Mr. Hartwell drives Sarah Jane to school and horror of horrors! The principal sees her and insists on guiding her inside. The worst part of all? She also insists on introducing Sarah Jane to the class!

What a fun story! Kids can see that teachers are people too, and we have first day jitters just like them. Julie Danneberg wrote a series of books to cover the whole school year.

Just a note: Julie Danneberg is an author and a teacher.

The Muppets

Yup. I’m one of those people. An adult who still adores Jim Henson’s Muppets. Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise, you’ve been reading my ramblings for months, you must have seen it coming.

The Muppets have been around for decades. Besides the cast of The Muppet Show, Jim Henson created Sesame Street to help bring education to inner city kids. He changed the world when he did that. I’ve already told you about my love for the Sesame Street books Grover’s Book of Cute Baby Animals and The Sesame Street Pet Show.

Another great show he created was Fraggle Rock. I loved the Fraggles and I own DVDs of the seasons. I also snagged some picture books for my kids from a thrift store.

You can even buy interactive Fraggle Rock books from Amazon.com. Fraggle Rock Game Day and Fraggle Friends Forever are available for Android devices. The Doozers come from Fraggle Rock and they have been recently given their own preschool show, so naturally, books followed.

He also created The Muppet Babies. I watched them every Saturday morning. I loved all of their adventures and quite a few books were made about the babies.

And even a comic book series (we own this issue!)

There was a series of books that taught morals. The Muppets were school aged in those books.

I can’t even begin to list all of the books the Muppets were featured in back when I was a kid. I do wish I owned this one though:

And I’m tempted to buy a copy of Chickens Are People Too (but what are Gonzos?)

I know I got this comic strip collection from the Weekly Reader orders when I was a kid.

The Muppets have kind of dropped out of the spotlight in the last few years. Disney bought the Jim Henson studio, and Jason Siegel badgered Disney until they agreed to make a new movie. The new movie sparked a short resurgence in their popularity. I bought a few books for school that came out because of the movies (which are hilarious and star studded, must like the originals).

There is a long-running comic book series too. I don’t have a local comic book store so I don’t have any, but the cast retells great stories like Robin Hood and The Phantom of the Opera in them.

Finally, I want to tell you about a great middle grade series that features the Muppets. Kirk Scroggs is the amazing author/illustrator behind Tales of a Sixth Grade Muppet.

Danvers is an average kid who idolizes the stunts of Gonzo the Great, unfortunately those stunts don’t work any better for him than they did for Gonzo.

Life for Danvers is turned upside down when he wakes up as a Muppet one morning! No one knows what has caused this anomaly, but there are a couple scientists down at the Muppet Labs who might be able to help.

In the meantime, Danvers takes an internship at the Muppet Theater and learns from Gonzo the Great himself!

The cast is all here and Scroggs draws them perfectly. There are four books in the set and they are pretty darn fun. Kids love this style of illustrated books — like Diary of a Wimpy Kid — so these are great for reluctant readers.

There are other Muppets groupies like me out there. The Muppets may not be mainstream, but they will never fully fade away, the Internet has seen to that. I, for one, am so glad these books were made and I know there will be more.

The good ol’ days…

When I was a kid, I looked forward to reading the comics in the paper each day (in color on Sundays). I developed a love for a few strips that Im sure you’ll recognize.

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts were some of the best comics around. They weren’t risqué and the kids didn’t rely on video games for fun. I loved going to the buy/sell/trade book store and finding a new Snoopy book. I also loved their holiday specials on TV.

Another favorite was Jim Davis’ Garfield comics. Who wouldn’t love a lazy cat who hates Mondays and picks on the dog in the house? Garfield was kind of a jerk, but in the 80s and 90s, that was still okay for kids to see. I’m not an early morning person, but I was up every Saturday to watch Garfield and Friends with my dad. Part of the Garfield universe was US Acres. I loved Orson the pig and Wade the duck.

Anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s knew who Gary Larson was. His comic, The Far Side warped the senses of humor of an entire generation. Thank you, Mr. Larson!!

My other great love was Calvin and Hobbes.

Sometimes you just gotta love a kid who’s too smart for his own good, and the mischief he and his imaginary tiger get up to.

I’m a grown up now, with kids of my own, and I certainly see where the inspiration for Calvin must have come from!

I still own all of my old Garfield books and at least one Far Side collection. I’m pretty sure I have a Calvin and Hobbes collection too. I showed them to my girls, they just weren’t excited like I wanted them to be. Oh well, I’ll save them to re-read myself and then with my grandchildren.

Round Robin

Today’s book is vintage, but within my lifetime. The copyright is 1982 and the author is Jack Kent.

Round Robin starts out as a typical robin chick, a big head and not much else. But he’s hungry so he eats and eats and eats until he looks more like a ball than a robin.

This plucky little bird doesn’t seem to mind his size until the other robins fly south for winter. Round Robin doesn’t mind walking and bumping along until it starts to snow. Then he tries to travel on the packed roads but it’s too dangerous! Round Robin realizes he has to walk off the roads but food is getting hard to find and he meets a new danger–

Thankfully, the snow has done two things for Round Robin: cut down on his eating and made him exercise, so now he can fly!

I liked this book. I could only think of one other picture book where a character’s weight is talked about:

Silly old bear! He just loves his honey a little too much.

Weight is something that we are very careful about because it is a big problem in the western world, especially in our children. No one wants to tell a story that will make kids feel bad. I personally enjoyed the story because I’m like Round Robin, I like food and I’m a little round. I’d like to think I wouldn’t make the same mistake as Round Robin does after he loses his weight heading south; he ate so much on vacation that he became a round Robin again.