Archive for the ‘Books at Bedtime’ Category

Books at Bedtime: Two Cat Stories from Tulika Books

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Two very different but equally delightful books from Tulika (India) provide a treat for catlovers to share with their children.

The cover of Where’s That Cat? (Tulika 2009/2011) shows a cheeky wee ginger kitten peeking from behind a curtain (and this is mirrored on the back, but Pooni the cat is no more than a cut-out outline) – but it offers no clue as to the rich detail of the book’s Indian setting.  However, I was sure it would be a treat because it is written and illustrated by Manjula Padmanabhan, who created the wonderful I Am Different. Manjula gave some background about Where’s That Cat? in a blog Where' sThat Cat? by Manjula Padmanabhan (Tulika 2009)post for Tulika when it was first published in 2009.

Little girl Minnie comes home from school and can’t find Pooni. She goes into the garden but, funnily enough, Pooni doesn’t come when she’s called! Minnie asks people all along the action-packed street if they’ve seen the cat, and meanwhile young listeners/readers will be eagerly hunting her out as she goes about her business, practically under Minnie’s nose.  Unusually for this kind of book that plays hide-and-seek with the reader, there comes a point when it really does seem that Pooni has disappeared, and readers’ dismay may equal Minnie’s – but, of course, by the end there is general relief from everybody both inside and outside the book.   Pooni has the last word – “Prrr” – and the final illustration shows Minnie cuddling Pooni, who is no doubt completely unaware of the trouble she has caused.  You can almost hear her purring!

Miaow! by Alankrita Jain (Tulika 2011)The second book is Miaow! by Alankrita Jain.  There are no humans in this story, just two cats, one black, one white; both with green eyes.  The story is short and whimsically charming.  A black cat falls into a can of paint and becomes a white cat – until it rains and the paint all washes off.  Then it meets a white cat and they become friends… maybe even fall in love, but that is left to readers to infer.  The simple story is told elegantly, and the stylised cats in the illustrations capture beautifully the elegant (yes, there’s that word again!) stretches and shapes that cats manage to make with their bodies.  An added bonus are the absolutely gorgeous inside covers that are filled in the manner of traditional Warli art (see Tara Books’ Do! for example) with little black cats doing all sorts of (human) activities.

Do take a look inside both Where’s That Cat? and Miaow! via Tulika’s website (click on “Look Inside” under the cover image).  Like all Tulika’s books, both books are available in several languages, and Miaow! is bilingual with English – the copy I have is English/Hindi, translated into Hindi by Sandhya Rao.  Both these books are perfect for young children, especially if they are at the stage with their reading that they want you to read to them, and then pick the book up for themselves.


Books at Bedtime: The Secret of Platform 13

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Those of you familiar with my Books at Bedtime posts know how much my daughter loves the work of Eva Ibbotson, so it is with some hesitation that I post on yet another book of hers — this time, The Secret of Platform 13 (illustrated by Sue Porter, Thorndike Press, 1994.)   We started this book a little while back after completing Ibbotson’s The Beasts of Clawstone Castle.  It’d be fair to say my daughter and I are on an Ibbotson bender right now.  It’s funny because my daughter has absolutely no interest in the Harry Potter books (unlike her older brother,) and yet she is very much a devoted fan of Ibbotson!

At any rate, The Secret of Platform 13, is about that other magical platform at Kings Cross Station in London where a ‘gump’ opens up once every nine years for nine days to allow denizens to come and go from the mysterious mist-laden place known as The Island.  The Island is governed by a kindly King and Queen and is inhabited by magical creatures like wizards, hags, and ogres in a literal island paradise.  The King and Queen have a baby and the child’s three nurses take it to the opening of the gump and in an unfortunate accident, the child is kidnapped by a spoilt rich woman in London who cannot have children and is spirited away from the nurses, who alas, return to the Island via the gump empty-handed.  Nine years later, at the next opening of the gump, a group of Islanders at behest of the royal couple go out to London to rescue the child.  A motley crew made up of an aging wizard, a fey, a one-eyed ogre and a young hag — the group has their work cut out for them.  The child has grown up to be a rather nasty spoiled piece of business himself — much like his mother — and it will take a lot of convincing to get this child returned to his parents.

My daughter and I have been reading this book fairly regularly in the evenings.  Once, when I finished a chapter with a cliffhanger sort-of-ending, she couldn’t help but read ahead on her own after I’d left the room to see what happens next.  While I still very much enjoy the experience of reading aloud to my daughter, I was pleased to hear that she was so enchanted by the book and its engaging plot that she’d gone and read ahead for herself!  Have you had that experience reading to your child at bedtime?  It somehow makes the reading experience all that more rewarding as a parent!

Books at Bedtime: Remembering Maurice Sendak

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

At age 83, children’s book writer and illustrator, Maurice Sendak has died.  Here’s a link to the New York Times obituary.   PaperTigers recently covered a curatorial project Sendak undertook for the Jewish museum on Hanukkah lamps in this post.   Do check it out.  And if you have half the chance, do check out the author’s many wonderful books for children.  I certainly will be heading to the library in the very near future to do just that!  What was your favorite Sendak title?  Which ones did you enjoy reading as a kid?  And which ones do you enjoy reading to your children today?

Books at Bedtime: What Daddy Reads

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Who does the reading to your child at night?  Mommy or Daddy?  And what books do they choose to read?  In our household, it’s mainly me who does the night time reading ritual with my daughter, but on occasion my husband has done the bedtime reading.  Of course, he picks different books than me and for today’s post, I’m featuring a book he’s been working on steadily with my daughter titled To Kill a Queen: An Elizabethan Girl’s Diary 1583-1586 by Valerie Wilding (Scholastic Canada, 2005)  This book is one in a series of Scholastic titles — the My Story collection — of girls living through historical events like the Great Plague, the Blitz, and the Irish Famine.

To Kill a Queen features an Elizabethan girl named Catherine Anne Lumsden, the 12 year old daughter of a former lady-in-waiting on Queen Elizabeth the I, Lady Matilda Lumsden and Sir Nicholas Lumsden, a secret agent in the service of the Queen.  With such a family so close to the Queen, it’s not surprising that they become embroiled in the intrigues of the court of the day, including a plot to kill the Queen.  So what happens to our dear diarist, Catherine?  Well, I don’t know since I’m not the one reading the book to her!  Since my husband is an English professor, specializing in the literature close to the period covering this book, I could see why he selected this title for his choice of a bedtime read.  How does my daughter like the book?  I assume she likes it well enough, but by now, she is quite used to her parents, particularly her mother, foisting interesting and unusual reads on her!  This doesn’t prevent her from voicing her opinions on the matter.  She came home one day wanting us to read the popular The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to her and so when Daddy went shopping recently, he picked up a copy for her to read to her at night.

Who does the bedtime reading in your household?  And what books do you or your spouse choose to read?

Books at Bedtime: Abel’s Island

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Right now, my daughter and I are working through Abel’s Island (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1976) by American children’s book author William Steig.   Unlike Steig’s other picture books, this is a novel in chapters.  It is illustrated by Steig in his characteristic style, featuring a mouse named Abel.  Abel is a happily married creature who one day, after a glorious picnic with his wife Amanda, is washed away by a violent rainstorm onto an island.  Stranded there, he must find a way to escape while surviving day-to-day on his little tract of land.  Although the plot of the story revolves around Abel trying to find a means to return to his happy domestic life in the city, the deeper import of this tale is what Abel discovers about himself by being alone.  He begins to question himself:

Was it just an accident that he was here on this uninhabited island? Abel began to wonder. Was he being singled out for some reason; was he being tested? If so, why? Didn’t it prove his worth that such a one as Amanda loved him?

The existential questioning aspect of this book I found fascinating and compelling. The enormous challenge for this mouse to get back to the civilization he knows and loves was something I was able to point out to my daughter on our walks through our local park where a creek meets the river in our city.   There are some sandy islands in the river and I told my daughter that being stranded on one of those islands was comparable to Abel’s situation in the book.  She could then appreciate the difficulty of Abel’s struggle.  She certainly feels for Abel and is curious most evenings to know what will become of him.

I’m a big fan of Steig’s picture books — a few of which I’ve read to my son — but reading this little gem of a novel to my daughter has been a real pleasure.  My daughter was mildly surprised at hearing that Steig was the creator of the original Shrek and kept plying me with questions about the book (which of course is quite different from the movie!)  Have you read any Steig books to your child?  What Steig book is your favorite?

Books at Bedtime: Not Just a Witch by Eva Ibbotson

Monday, March 26th, 2012

While waiting around for my daughter’s pottery class to finish one Saturday afternoon, I dropped in to one of my favorite used book stores in Winnipeg called Nerman’s.  Their basement is chock full of children’s books and to my delight, I discovered an Eva Ibbotson title, Not Just a Witch (Macmillan, 1989. Illustrated by Alice Englander.)  When I showed it to my daughter, a self-proclaimed Ibbotson fan, she was delighted.

With her characteristic offbeat humor, Ibbotson introduces us to another wacky world of witches and mythical creatures that don’t quite fit the stereotype.  The story begins with two witch friends,  Dora and Heckie who, on their graduation from their witch academy, have a falling out over the fact they have unwittingly chosen the same hat (one with serpents, of course) for their graduation party.  The two part company and the story then follows the adventures of Heckie as she settles in a small town called Wellbridge.

We’re not all the way through the book yet, but my daughter insists upon being read from Not Just a Witch every night and I am enjoying this one as much as I have the other Ibbotson titles I’ve read with her.  (See my other PT posts on Ibbotson here and here.)  Do you have a favorite author whose books you and your child enjoy reading together?  Do tell!


Books at Bedtime: Tales of Court and Castle

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

I was introduced to the writing of Canadian storyteller, Joan Bodger, through this post on a blog called Pickle Me This by Kerry Clare.   Intrigued by the post, I decided to look up some of Bodger’s titles in our library for our bedtime read, and selected her Tales of Court and Castle, illustrated by Mark Lang (Tundra Books, 2003).  Here was a book that was instantly attractive to me — I’m fond of folk and fairy tales of all kinds — but I wasn’t so sure about how my daughter would take to them.  The tales are very old — medieval, in fact — but told in a storyteller’s voice that is compelling and fresh.  Mark Lang’s illustrations are marvelous.  Appearing before each tale, they illustrate the tale’s most compelling aspect quite vividly.  There’s quite a lovely image of the King and Queen in the tale, “The Warrior Queen,” lying side by side in bed arguing who is the greater of the two, and a very haunting image of Iron John standing in the forest in “Iron John.”  For me, there were a lot of quiet aha moments of “So, that’s where this story came from!” especially in the cases of “Iron John,” the Tristan tales, and “To the Dark Tower” on which a famous Robert Browning poem is based.   For my daughter, these tales were introductions to the magical world of the English tale with their mythical fairy worlds, inhabited by elves and forest spirits, and the like.

Joan Bodger was an interesting woman in and of herself, and her biography is a rich tale of its own.  Canadian writer, Kathryn Kuitenbrower has written a compelling blog post on Bodger and her books here.   Check it out for an in-depth account of a remarkable storyteller.

Books at Bedtime: Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa, illustrated by Ed Young

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

This week-end marks one year on from the devastating  Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.  As the efforts continue to rebuild homes, schools – whole towns and their infrastructure, rebuilding lives without  loved ones, friends, colleagues will  take longer. The IBBY Children in Crisis Fund was one of the many organisations that responded to the crisis, delivering books and Bibliotherapy raining, and stories will continue to play their part in the healing process.

The impact of natural disasters can be hard to grasp for grown-ups let alone children, and reading sories together is one way of facilitating discussion.  Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa and stunningly illustrated by Ed Young (Philomel Books, 2009) is a good story to read together to talk with young children about what happened in Japan.  It is based on the true story of Hamaguchi Goryou (1820-1885), as related by writer Lafcadio Hearn in A Living God“, one of the stories in his book Gleanings in Buddha-Fields.

A wealthy landowner is so loved and respected by the people from the nearby village, that they call him Ojiisan, Grandfather.  One day, during the celebrations of the rice harvest, he is the only person who recognises that a tsunami is about to hit and realises that it is up to him to save everybody.  His grandson thinks he has gone mad when his grandfather sets the rice fields alight, but he has a special reason…

In this beautiful retelling by Kimiko Kajikawa, readers are very aware of the dangers involved but have the reassurance of a happy ending.   Ed Young’s powerful collages convey the power of nature and the many different emotions each stage of the story evokes.  And for older readers, Kimiko has excellent resouces and ideas on her website.

Books at Bedtime: The Gift

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Right now we are into the Christian season of Lent, and during this time, I often look for children’s books with spiritual content to supplement our usual bedtime reading fare.  On one of my favorite spirituality websites, Spirituality & Practice, I read a review of The Gift by the British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy (illustrated by Rob Ryan, Barefoot Books, 2010) and was intrigued and so, got a copy of the book.

The Gift is a very simple story of a young girl’s journey through life.  Beautifully illustrated with the paper-cut art of Rob Ryan (I’m quite partial to this art form as my uncle does this kind of art — kiri-e — in Japan), the story follows a young girl into the woods one day in early summer.  There, while making a buttercup necklace, she has a mystical encounter with an old woman who offers the girl her deepest desire — the wish to be buried in this very spot of her reverie in the woods — in exchange for the necklace.  Thereafter, the girl goes on living her life, fulfilling all her life’s desires, until she becomes an old woman herself, and recalls her encounter of the faraway past.   Of course, now the girl has become that old woman and the story comes full circle.  Throughout the girl’s life, the spot in the woods where she has had her encounter remains sacred to her.  She plants seeds there and takes her children and grandchildren there; they leave small tokens of their visit like stones or pebbles there as she had done when she was a child.  In a way, this girl has been preparing for her death long before it arrives because she knows and quietly celebrates the fact that she will be buried in this deeply local place for her.  This spot in the woods is her soul-home, and she will return there when she dies.

The Gift is a deceptively simple tale and yet it is one of those books worth re-reading to children to make them think about life’s small mysteries from the perspective of  a lifetime.   A contemplative book with beautiful artwork, The Gift is a good read for Lent.

Books at Bedtime: My Hiroshima

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Around New Year’s, there was a book table set up at our local Japanese Canadian cultural centre.  On it was a bilingual book I’d never seen before but had heard of called My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto (Picture Puffin Book, 1992).  After flipping through it, I quickly bought it with the intention of giving it to a friend whose mother was a Hiroshima survivor.  I hadn’t really intended to read it to my daughter, but as it was now in the house I decided one evening to give it a go.  My daughter is ten; she already knows about Hiroshima.  We visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum in Japan when she was six — actually on her birthday — of which I wrote about in a piece called “Atomic Birthday” published in an anthology of writing called Northern Lights.   Understandably, my daughter was none too pleased with my choice of book that night and she protested somewhat mildly, complaining that she would have nightmares,  but then we talked a bit and recalled together our long ago Hiroshima visit in some arresting detail. As far as bedtime reading adventures went, I didn’t consider this one a particular success.

Several weeks passed when all of a sudden, I got a phone call one morning.  It was my daughter, requesting that I bring My Hiroshima to school right away so she could do a spontaneous oral report on it for her class.  Never one to resist an opportunity to promote a good book, I hurried over to the school with my copy.   At lunch, my daughter came home and told me her report was a success.  I told them Japan started the war, and America ended it with the bomb, and then I read the book to them.   That was a succinct little report in and of itself!   Although this wasn’t the first time my daughter had been inspired to recommend one of our night time reads to our classroom, I was glad she had found this particular book worth sharing.   Of course, My Hiroshima deals with a tragic story — but it is written and illustrated by a survivor who remembers not only a terrible historical event but also the delights of her childhood in the city before its demise.

Making choices for bedtime reads can be a difficult business for parents, but sometimes the results can be surprisingly positive in ways you might not expect!  Do you  have any such experiences to relate?  Do tell.