We often get requests for books that help teach children about proper rules of behavior – everything from sharing to telling the truth. While we frequently turn to our nonfiction collection for titles designed to teach children about specific subjects or topics, often picture books more powerfully portray the importance of doing the right thing.
The use of humor is one reason the messages in picture books can have a greater impact with children. And you can’t get much funnier with preschoolers (or even the K-2 crowd) than the word underpants – not to mention the word poo. (Please, don’t mention it!) The picturebook Brief Thief by Michael Escoffier uses both words in a span of a few pages while reminding readers that it’s not right to take things that don’t belong to you.
You see, poor Leon the Lizard finds himself without a necessary item after relieving himself. He notices an old pair of underpants hanging from a nearby tree branch and uses them to “finish his business.” As he discards the underpants behind a bush, a voice calls to him. It claims to be Leon’s conscience: “The little voice you hear inside your head whenever you get up to something naughty.” The voice continues: “… Since when are we allowed to touch other people’s things? What do they teach you in school, anyway?”
Leon never learns the real identity of his conscience, but readers will be amused to learn that the voice belongs to a rabbit who had been using the underpants to complete his superhero costume. We don’t learn his superhero name, but I’m guessing that it’s Superego.
Imagine, if you will, being in a nursing home; you have limited mobility and most of the staff believe that you are suffering from dementia, but you know you are not who they think you are. You are in fact Elvis Aaron Presley. You traded places with an Elvis impersonator to get a little peace and quiet and he managed to kill himself, making it very difficult to go back to your rightful place. Read more about The King, the President and the Mummy
The year is 1964. America and Russia are in the midst of a cold war and nuclear proliferation. The possibility of nuclear war is on almost everyone's mind. The questions are asked, "Could we start a war by accident?" and "Once in motion, could we stop such a war?" In 1964 two films were made that attempted to answer that question, in very different ways. Read more about A Tale of Two Bombs
There is nothing like the adventure of a good spy movie. Undercover Blues is nothing like a good spy movie, it is however a spy parody. This 1993 movie stars Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid as Jane and Jefferson Blue, two spies out on maternity leave in the city of New Orleans, who are called back into action with their newborn in tow. The Blues are the type of people you want in a tense moment, nothing fazes them and they always seem to be in control, even if they aren't
Undercover Blues is not a fall on your face laughing parody like Spy Hard, or Top Secret which try to hit you with one joke after another hoping that if you didn't like the last joke you'll like the next one. It is more like watching the James Garner Western parody Support Your Local Sheriff. The humor is a little dry and will make you chuckle. It is willing to take its time to build a joke and wait for the pay off. Dennis Quaid plays Jefferson Blue as a little cocky and sure of himself. Kathleen Turner seems more like a typical housewife, but with a bit of sultriness to her as well. They want to give the impression they are just like everyone else when it is obvious they are not. Undercover Blues is lighthearted comedy with villains that are more than a little over the top. You'll find a little violence and a touch of sexiness, but nothing out of the PG range. In all Undercover Blues is a film that you don't have to think about too hard and that you can sit back and enjoy.
Pete the Cat has been a cool cat fixture in children's literature for a couple of years now. He first appeared on the picturebook scene in 2010 with Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, followed by Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes in 2011. Each story features Pete singing a little ditty, which you can listen to and download for free through the publisher's website. (You can also watch a short video of each Pete the Cat through the website, too.)
In 2012, Pete managed to save Christmas -- and sing about his four groovy buttons. And 2013 has already proved to be an impressive year for Pete as he launches a beginner reader series and earns a Geisel Honor Award. Pete was charming as Santa's substitute, but it was Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons that earned kudos from the Association for Library Services to Children, which cited it as one of three Honor Books for the 2013 Geisel Award. Named for the great Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), the Geisel Award is presented annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States.
Up, Tall and High! a cleverly designed lift-the-flap book was the 2013 Geisel Award winner. This humorous story, with limited text and an interactive format will certainly appeal to beginning readers. And the other Geisel Honor books are both delightful. But while Pete The Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons is notable for its accessible vocabulary, repetition of phrase, and rhymes which serve beginner readers so well -- it also did an outstanding job of incorporating simple math into the story. As (spoiler alert!) Pete's buttons pop off his favorite shirt one by one, large numbers appear at the bottom of the page, showing that 4-1=3. And later, 3-1=2, and so on...
My newly 5-year old daughter and I had great fun with this story talking about numbers and math, as well as the definition of groovy. And giggles abounded as we discovered that in the end, Pete is left with one button after all. Can you guess what type of button he still had?
Almost all of us are familiar with Walt Disney's Fantasia. The premise of this movie was simple to state if not to carry out; turn a group of Disney animators loose interpreting classical music into a vibrate visual style. Walt Disney animators did this with elegance and style.
Enter Italian film producer Bruno Bozzetto. He gives us a fictional director who aspires to share with us his truly original idea; to take classical music and force an animator he has kept locked away for years upon classical music and interpret it into a vibrate visual style. Read more about Allegro Non Troppo
Take a touch of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, add to it a smidgeon of John Grisham, a dislike for the music industry, (not music, just the industry behind it), stir well and you have Rob Reid's book Year Zero. It's about a universe of beings that have discovered that humans have the best music of any race in the entire universe, only they can't contact us because we aren't part of the "Refined League." In a moment of universal insanity, their solution is to pirate every song ever made, and distribute these to every being in the universe. Suddenly, after coming out of their music- induced rapture, they realize that under earth law the universe owes the people of earth a very large amount of money. Read more about Year Zero
"Ghost Town" takes the M. Night Shyamalan movie," The Sixth Sense" and stands it on its head. The tagline for the film says it all; "He sees dead people ... and they annoy him." After a near death experience, Bertram Pincus (Ricky Gervais) finds he has the ability to see dead people. The dead want his attention so that they can close out the incompleteness in their lives and move on. Pincus is a very good dentist but very inept as a human being and the type of character Gervais plays well. The role of a competent loser suits him. His sudden ability to see the dead doesn't leave him impressed nor does it fill him with fear. Instead, it seems to annoy him. He would much rather be left alone to be the perfect loser. Read more about Ghost Town
The versatile Mo Willems, author and illustrator of popular picture books about the much loved Knuffle Bunny, the demanding Pigeon, and Early Readers featuring good friends Elephant and Piggie, has unleashed his creative humor into the realm of classic folk tales. Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs as retold by Willems, follows the basic plot of the familiar story featuring the three bears and an adventurous blond haired girl. But instead of porridge, the dinosaurs are preparing bowls of delicious chocolate pudding at varying temperatures. They seem to be setting a trap for an "unsuspecting kid" as they loudly announce their departure for "someplace else" -- not necessarily a walk in the woods. Read more about Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs
Lydia, Emily, and Cassie have been best friends through everything, guy problems, family issues and even Secret Assignments. While they all attend a posh private school, each girl has a unique way of expressing herself. Lydia sometimes declares that she is a fish, with the intention of becoming a writer someday. Emily's dream of becoming a lawyer might never gain steam if she can't remember the difference between cinnamon and synonym. And Cassie just wants to stop being too afraid to get up on stage and sing. This year their English teacher has assigned them pen pals from public school Brookfield High to reacquaint them with the Joy of the Envelope. Over the course of the year they each get to know a stranger. Sebastian is an artistic soccer player who sometimes can't control his temper. Charlie is a sweet guy who always seems to be in trouble. And Matthew is either very dangerous or nonexistent. Prank calls, mistaken identities, spy missions, Dates with Girls, with a side of blackmail and revenge make for an interesting year!