Monday, January 28, 2013

A ball for Daisy

by Chris Raschka
schwartz & wade books, 2011
32 pages, hardcover

In the spirit of this wordless book, I first thought to post a wordless review and draw it all instead. But that wasn't working out so good – some pictures may be worth a thousand words, but mine are not.

Chris Raschka's, on the other hand, may well be. I "read" this with my three-year-old daughter, and after going through it once with her, pointing out the pictures, and helping her follow the flow of what was going on, she was ready to tell me the story. And she had a lot to tell! This is what makes wordless books so fun. Even pre-readers can take a turn reading to their mom and dad, and they will be so proud to do so!

The story is of a girl, her dog Daisy, and the ball she loves to chase. After playing indoors for a bit, they head to the park where they have some more fun chasing the big red ball. But what's a good story without some adversity to overcome? Another dog grabs the ball, starts running away with it, and, before Daisy and her owner can catch this other dog, IT POPS THE BALL!

Daisy is devastated – she tries to play with what's left of the ball, but it just doesn't work. Dog and owner head home where Daisy curls up on couch, and sadly drifts off to sleep.

Of course the book doesn't end on such a dour note. The next day they head to the park only to find the other dog there again, but this time its owner is there too, and she is holding a big blue ball! Daisy and the other dog run after each other chasing this new ball – I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Fun and very interactive picture book that will be enjoyed by pre-readers 2.5 year olds and up.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mr Putter & Tabby

by Cynthia Rylant 
illustrated by Arthur Howard

It's always fun to find a children's book that is interesting enough for parents to read a few times without getting too bored. And it is an absolute treasure when you can find an entire series of such books! Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby books - 22 in all, so far - are exactly these sort of books.

Mr. Putter is an older retired man, with an older quite sedentary cat named Tabby. And next door they have a wonderful neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, who has a good dog named Zeke. The go on the sort of adventures that older people do – a boat ride, a cooking class, painting the porch – and their two pets help liven things up too. These are quiet, sweet stories that will have you and your child smiling throughout.

My wife has also enjoyed reading them to our three-year-old, and was only disappointed with one of them when I told her it was the one "where Mr. Putter and Mrs. Teaberry finally get married." She was very sad to discover I was just joking - this perfect couple hasn't yet become an official couple. We are still hoping though!

I would recommend these for the 3-9 age group - great books for parents to read to older children, and fun books for children just learning to read to tackle for themselves.

Below I've included short reviews of the first 20 titles that we've read. I would highly recommend the series, with the exception, perhaps, of Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train, which has this elderly couple flouting a rule – not the best example, particularly in a book for young children. But that is the exception to a series full of charm and warmth.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea
Mr. Putter has some wonderful English muffins he would love to share, but no one to share them with. And when he goes to the pet store looking for a cat, all he finds are kittens, far too full of energy. But when he visits the animal shelter Mr. Putter finds a cat who's certainly not overly energetic. Tabby's joints creak, his hair is thinning and she seems a bit deaf in one ear... just like Mr. Putter! It is a wonderful match!

Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog
When Mrs. Teaberry slips on a kiwi (the fruit, not the bird) and twists her ankle, soft-hearted Mr. Putter quickly volunteers to walk her dog Zeke. But Zeke is no model dog - for Mr. Putter he is a nightmare! At least until Mr.Putter and Zeke have a man to dog talk. In this, the second book in the series, we meet Zeke and Mrs. Teaberry for the first time, and while I will say I don't think this is the best book to start with in the series - the chemistry isn't quite there yet - I should also note that my daughter enjoyed as much as any of them.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake
Mrs. Teaberry inexplicably loves fruitcake. Or, at least, Mr. Putter finds it inexplicable. For Christmas Mr. Putter decides he wants to make her a cake that won't hurt her foot if she drops it. But he has never made a cake before! Another sweet story about this wonderful elderly couple.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears
Mr. Putter loves fall, because that's when he can pick the juicy pears from his tree and make pear jelly. But this year Mr. Putter's cranky legs aren't cooperating – he can't make it up his ladder to pick them. But that isn't enough to stop this inventive senior. Mr. Putter remembers how, as a kid, he used to use a slingshot to knock things down. He fashions his sling, takes careful aim at his pear tree, and gives it a go. It turns out, however, that his slingshot is much more powerful than he thought, and Mr. Putter spends the next several hours launching apples high, high, high into the air, until they disappear over his house. Great fun... though it does nothing to get his pears down. And it leaves him without any apples too! Fortunately, Mrs. Teaberry comes to the rescue.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Fly the Plane
Mr. Putter may be old, but he still loves toys (even though he knows he isn't supposed to anymore). In this adventure Mr. Putter and Tabby enjoy flying a radio controlled toy plane, and give it to someone who enjoys it even more.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Row the Boat
On this very hot summer day, and Mr. Putter figures out a great way to stay cool. He takes Tabby, and his neighbor Mrs. Teaberry, and her good dog Zeke, out on the lake. And on an island in the middle they eat their lunch and he and Mrs. Teaberry share "tall tales" from their lives. This is the first book that had me hoping the author would soon write "Mr. Putter & Tabby Pop the Question."

Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train
What could be better than going on a train ride? The only problem, it turns out, is that trains don't allow pets. But this rule is bypassed when Mr. Putter backs Zeke into a backpack, and Mrs. Teaberry carries Tabby on the train in a picnic basket. This is the only book in the series I might give a miss – I don't want to teach my very young daughters that it is clever to figure out how to get around rules.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn
Mrs. Teaberry decides that since she and Mr. Putter like music so much, they should be in a band. But what sort of band can they be in, since neither knows how to play an instrument?

Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch
Mr. Putter's porch is looking a little shabby. But when he gets out the pink paint, a squirrel decides he might want to help. Soon little pink paw prints are everywhere! Fortunately Mr. Putter has a wonderful neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, who is happy to help him clean up the mess.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Feed the Fish
When Mr. Putter and Tabby both love visiting the fish store. But when Mr. Putter brings three goldfish home, Tabby starts having troubles - he can't stop watching them! However Mrs. Teaberry is one again able to help - how nice it for Mr. Putter and Tabby to have such a wonderful neighbor!

Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold
"When Mr. Putter was a boy, he had almost liked colds. He always got spoiled." But now that he's old, it's not good to have a cold – there's no one to spoil him! Or is there? Mrs. Teaberry, and her good dog Zeke, make sure that this is "the best cold Mr. Putter ever caught."

Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup
Mr. Putter and Tabby both love soup, but there always seems to be something stopping: either they don't have the onions, or the beans, or the macaroni. And then when they finally have all the ingredients the trusty stove decides not to work. But no worries - Mrs. Teaberry would be happy to let them use her stove. And, of course, Zeke won't be a bother, right?
One caution offered: Mr. Putter says "Jiminy!" which, as the urban dictionary puts it, is "a way of swearing without swearing." I have no problem with it, because Jiminy is not God's name, but mention it because I understand why some might think differently.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book
When a snow storm keeps him indoors, Mr. Putter decides to become a mystery writer. He soon discovers there is a lot of preparation involved in getting ready to write - snacks don't just fix themselves! When Mr. Putter's writing strays from mysteries and towards the many good things he sees all around him, Mr. Putter is a bit discouraged... until Mrs. Teaberry cheers him up!

Mr. Putter and Tabby Make a Wish
With a shock Mr. Putter realizes that today is his birthday, and while he thinks he's too old for cake, candles and presents, he still wants a celebration. So he calls up Mrs. Teaberry. She is happy to come over... but she first needs to do some chores. While Mr. Putter waits, increasingly impatient, Mrs. Teaberry is preparing a surprise!

One caution offered: Mr. Putter says "Good heavens!" which, because it is what people say instead of taking God's name in vain, is still viewed by some as being objectionable. While I might dissuade my own kids from saying it, "Good heavens" is not God's name, so I don't have a big problem with it. I mention it here because I understand that some might think differently.

Mr. Putterand Tabby Spin the Yarn
Mrs. Teaberry is a very good neighbor, a cook and a baker who loves to share her culinary creations with Mr. Putter. But Mr. Putter has started to wonder if he's a good neighbor – what does he do for her? So he decides to do something nice, by serving tea to Mrs. Teaberry's knitting club. But being a good neighbor turns out to be quite a bit harder than Mr. Putter thought!

Mr. Putter and Tabby See the Stars
Mrs. Teaberry likes to feed Mr. Putter. And Mr. Putter likes to be fed by Mrs. Teaberry. But one night he so enjoys himself that he doesn't notice just how many of her jelly rolls he has eaten. Later that night he does notice - his grumbling tummy won't let him sleep. So he and Tabby go for a walk in their neighborhood. And who do they meet? Mrs. Teaberry! It seems her good dog Zeke also had too many jelly rolls, and his tummy wouldn't let him sleep either. Mr. Putter and Mrs. Teaberry tell each other "stories in the moonlight. They told secrets. They make each other laugh." This is another sweet simple story that will have you rooting for Mr. Putter to get down on one arthritic knee.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Run the Race
With Mrs. Teaberry's encouragement, Mr. Putter enters a seniors' race. And, with the help of Mrs. Teaberry's good dog Zeke, Mr. Putter run quite a race!

Mr. Putter and Tabby Spill the Beans
Mrs. Teaberry is very good at coming up new things for her, and Mr. Putter to do. Of course, sometimes these new things don't work out. But they are always an adventure. This time around Mrs. Teaberry wants the two of them to take a cooking class: one hundred ways to cook beans! To Mr. Putter this doesn't sound like it will be much of an adventure. "But he wanted to make Mrs. Teaberry happy. Fortunately Tabby and Zeke are able to turn this into an adventure after all.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Clear the Decks
Mr. Putter thinks that Mrs. Teaberry is a genius when she decides they should have an adventure on a sightseeing boat. But as much as Mr. Putter likes the boat, Zeke likes it even more. When he decides he doesn't want to leave, it is up to the boat's captain to talk Mrs. Teaberry's good dog into letting go of the mast.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell
Mr. Putter gets all nostalgic about school, and arranges to visit a first grade classroom. Tabby and Zeke arrange to make this a very memorable visit!

21. Mr. Putter and Tabby Dance the Dance
Mr. Putter may have two left feet, but Mrs. Teaberry thinks he is a wonder! I wonder when he is going to ask her to marry him!

22. Mr. Putter and Tabby Drop the Ball
Mr. Putter decides that, as fun as napping is, they really need to take up a sport. He finds his old baseball glove, and calls up Mrs. Teaberry, who knows just the right team to join where one of the players is 100 years old. No one is very fast... except Zeke. Oh Zeke, put down the ball!

23. Mr. Putter and Tabby Turns the Page
Mr. Putter loves to read out loud and Tabby loves to listen. When the library invites patrons to come "Read aloud to your pet at Story Time" Mr. Putter decides to go. But he makes a mistake. He tells Mrs. Teaberry. She loves new things so she wants to do it too. But Zeke in a library?

24. Mr. Putter and Tabby Smell the Roses
Mrs. Teaberry's birthday is just around the corner: what can Mr. Putter and Tabby get her? She likes her garden, so Mr. Putter decides to take her to the Conservatory. But can Zeke behave himself in the midst of so many flowers and plants? Well, no, and suddenly the bananas and lemons are flying around everywhere. But even after the rambunctious mutt gets them all booted out, that doesn't put a damper on the celebrations. Mrs. Teaberry even manages to make lemonade out of the lemons.

25. Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slopes
While this isn't the conclusion we were hoping for – Mr. Tabby and Mrs Teaberry getting married – it is another fun episode. This time Mr. Putter is a bit tired of winter and needs a little excitement. He remembers the sledding he used to do as a boy, and just knows his adventurous neighbor is bound to have some toboggans. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pilgrim's Progress, Part II (and Part I too)

by John Bunyan
originally published in 1684
Kessinger Publishing (Sep 10, 2010)
406 pages

This edition actually contains both Part One and Part Two of Pilgrim's Progress, but since so many know much about the first part, and much less about the second part, let's look at Part Two. As generations have known for over three centuries, Part One of Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory depicting the progress of a pilgrim named Christian from bearing a burden of sin, to finding the remedy by going through the wicket gate to the foot of the cross, to fighting the enemies of faith (representing the devil, the world, and our own flesh), to a final glimpse of the pilgrim's destination (see Hebrews 11:13-16).

What many forget is that the beginning of Christian's journey is particularly difficult because his family refuses to come with him out of the City of Destruction (the prospect of God's judgment on our sin). Christian goes through his entire pilgrimage without his wife Christiana and his four sons.

While Part One thus shows how lonely (yet finally rewarding) faith in Christ can be, Part Two stresses much more the beauty of the communion of saints. Christiana, inspired belatedly by the faith of her husband, embarks on the same pilgrimage with her four sons. Along the way -
  • they meet other citizens who refuse to join them, or seek to tempt them away from the pilgrimage, like Mrs. Timorous, Mrs. Bats-Eyes, Mrs. Inconsiderate, Mrs. Light-Mind, Mrs. Know-Nothing, Mr. Brisk, and Madame Bubble;
  • they meet others (many of them older pilgrims) who support them on the journey, like Mercy, Mr Great-Heart, Old Honest, Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, and Mr. Stand-Fast;
  • the company supports such weaker pilgrims as Mr. Fearing, Mr. Feeble-Mind, Mr. Ready-to-Halt, Mr. Despondency, and Mr. Much-Afraid;
  • Christiana's sons marry various and virtuous female pilgrims they meet;
  • all are strengthened by visiting Gaius's Inn and the House Beautiful, and passing through the Wicket Gate and the Delectable Mountains;
  • they come upon some of the same terrors as Christian did in Part One, like the Doubting Castle and the Valley of the Shadow of Death; and
  • the pilgrims encounter such other dangers as chained lions, Giant Grim, the apples of Beelzebub, Giant Maul, Giant Slay-Good, and the Enchanted Ground.
Through it all, the communion of saints makes for a journey full of good fellowship and mutual adventure - not quite like Christian's harrowing odyssey, but a great twist on it that shows that faith not only unites us with Christ, but also with other children of God in Christ. Combined with the many poems sung by the characters, the story in both Parts makes for a really good read that is both entertaining and inspiring.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Elephant & Piggie

by Mo Willems
Hardcover, 50+ pages

My three-year-old and I both love Elephant and Piggie - when I bring a new one home from the library often times she will literally squeal with delight (before having kids I always thought that was just an expression – now I know better). They are great books for preschoolers and also very fun for first graders just learning to read.

Piggie is the more expressive of the two friends, but Gerald the Elephant can get bouncy and loud too. It's one adventure after another for two very good friends who are thoughtful, fun-loving, curious and most definitely loud (it's no coincidence that nearly every book title is capped off with an exclamation mark!).

My daughter loves the stories because the drawings and the characters are just so energized! The plots are simple enough for her to follow, and bring up situations that she understands (like dealing with a friend breaking a toy, learning to throw a ball, and cheering up a sad elephant).

All of the books are full of silly fun, and most of them teach simple moral lessons without being obvious about it. For example, in Listen to My Trumpet, Piggie's performance is so bad, Elephant doesn't know quite how to tell her. So he praises her for what he can: her trumpet is shiny, and she can play it loud, and she holds it very well. But when Piggie insists on hearing his opinion of her playing, he is honest. Fortunately, it turns out that Piggie wasn't trying to play music, but was instead trying to sound like an elephant, so it all works out in the end. What a great lesson in, and example of, honesty and tactfulness!

Another feature I appreciate is that the stories are generally limited to two characters. That makes it a bit simpler to handle giving them different voices (I go with a high voice for the girl Piggie, and low for Elephant, and that's pretty much the limit of my vocal ability - if a third character shows up they are stuck with my normal voice).

And I love that there are 18 of these. When I do eventually get tired of one book (long before my daughter is) I can bring home another one from the library, to her squealing delight!

Recommended for 3-9. The following are short reviews of each title, listed in alphabetical order. You can click on the titles to find them on

Are You Ready to Play Outside?
Piggie want to play outside. She really wants to play outside. But then it starts to rain. What's a pig to do? Maybe a change of attitude, and a good friend, can help her have fun no matter what the weather.

Can I Play Too?
Elephant and Piggie are going to play catch, but then Snake asks if he can play too. But Snake does not have arms, so how can he play catch? After a few misadventures Piggie, Elephant and Snake figure out how to play the game so then can include everyone. With a little commentary from mom or dad, this is could be a great way to teach kids about thinking of others, and include others in what they do.

Elephants Cannot Dance!
Elephants cannot dance – it even says so in a book! But as Piggie reminds her friend, that doesn't mean you can't try! And while Elephant is not very good at doing most dances, he can do a very good rendition of "the Elephant dance." This is a title that, with some parental guidance, can be used to teach children that while they will not be good at everything, they can still try to improve, and they have their own unique talents and abilities.

Happy Pig Day!
It's "Oinky Oink Oink!" (that's pig for "Happy Pig Day!") and Elephant feels left out – he doesn't have a snout, or hooves, and he is not pink! But then Piggie explains that "Happy Pig Day!" isn't just for pigs; it is for anyone show loves pigs! So that certainly includes Elephant!

I Am Going?
Piggie is going, and Elephant is having a hard time dealing with it. I was hoping this one could be used to teach my daughter how to deal with the "It's time to go home now" situation, this title would just exasperate the drama. Elephant just cannot stand being apart from Piggie, and, it seems, he never has to be. Though I love the series, this is one isn't all that good.

I Am Invited to a Party!
When Piggie is invited to a party, she turns to Elephant to figure out what to wear because "he knows parties!" Good clean silly fun!

I Broke My Trunk!
This is a laugh-out-loud story for both parent and child. How did Elephant break his trunk? Did balancing a hippo and rhinoceroses on it have anything to do with it? Nope. Or at least, not directly. This is my favorite in the whole series.

I Love My New Toy!
Piggie has a new toy she really wants to show Elephant. But when she shows it to him, he accidentally breaks it. Piggie does not deal with this very well, even though Elephant is very sorry. But when it turns out the toy isn't really broken after all, Elephant shows Piggie where her priorities should have been: "Friends are more fun than toys."

I Will Surprise My Friend!
After Piggie and Elephant see two squirrels having fun jumping out and surprising each other they decide to try it too. They agree to meet at a the big rock. But when they both arrive on opposite sides of the rock, and thus don't see the other, each begins to wonder what happened to the other. The humor here comes in the contrast: Gerald wonders if Piggie might have fallen off a cliff, or been abducted by a giant bird, or whether she might be fighting a scary, scary monster right now while Piggie wonders if Gerald might have gone for lunch. Funny, but Gerald's wondering made this a bit borderline for my three-year-old, making this the only book in the series I wouldn't read her right before bedtime.

Let's Go for a Drive!
Elephant wants to go for a drive. And if you are going to go for a drive you need lots of stuff, like maps, sunglasses, umbrellas and luggage to carry it all. Fortunately his friend PIggie has everything they need. Or does he? Lots of fun repetition in this one that your child will catch on to quickly and be able to shout out along with you.

Listen to My Trumpet!
When Elephant hears Piggie playing her new trumpet he has to figure out a nice way to say she is very, very, very, very, very bad! He does a good job, which makes this a fun and instructive book.

My Friend is Sad
When Elephant is sad Piggie decides to cheer him up by dressing up as a cowboy, then a clown and finally a robot. But he still doesn't cheer up. Why not? Because he is sad that Piggie wasn't there to see them too! One caution: parents may want to note that while friends are a blessing, they are not everything.

Pigs Make Me Sneeze!
Is Elephant allergic to Piggie? Could his best friend be making him sneeze? Or might there be another reason for why Elephant is sneezing all the time? More silly fun!

Should I Share My Ice Cream?
Elephant wants to be a generous soul. But share ice cream? It's so yummy! Elephant spends so much time wrestling back and forth that by the time he finally decides to share, his ice cream has melted! But don't worry – Piggie sees that her friend is sad, so, to cheer him up, she offers to share her ice cream.

There Is a Bird On Your Head!
Piggie gives the moment by moment commentary as first one bird, and then two, land on Elephant's head, build a nest, and have eggs that soon hatch. Complete nonsense, and lots of fun.

Today I Will Fly!
You may think pigs can't fly, but when Elephant tells Piggie that, it doesn't discourage her in the least. And, with a little help from a friend, she does get off the ground!

Watch Me Throw the Ball!
Elephant is very good at throwing a ball. Piggie... not so much. But she sure has fun trying! A caution I might add for this one is on boasting. All of it is done in fun, but there sure is a lot of it here! Parents will want to point out that boasting in our strength, if we actually mean it, is disgraceful (Prov. 11.:2).

We Are in a Book!
Piggie and Elephant discover that they are in a book. They then have great fun when they realize they can get the reader to say whatever they want (and they really want the reader to say "Banana"). But when Elephant discovers that, like all books, this one is going to end, he and Piggie figure out a way for the fun to continue - they ask the reader to read the book again! This is an inventive book, but a tad taxing if daddy wanted to read just one more book.