(Cybils 2012) Family, Friends, Home, and Neighborhood

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It has been another delightful week of Cybils’ reading. This week’s list of books all tend toward family relationships, friendship, or community place, including Zebra putting on an alphabet show with his friends (Z is for Moose), a boy adopting a penguin (One Cool Friend), a bear from a book looking for friends and a place to live (Otto the Book Bear), siblings learning to get along (Chloe, Instead), and one girl’s ability to bring warmth to her community when she finds a never-ending box of yarn (Extra Yarn).

Z is for Moose by Kelley Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinksy (Greenwillow, 2012) is a creative alphabet book. Zebra is directing an alphabet of friends (including Apple and Ball and others) in a alphabet pageant, and Moose is really excited for his turn. The problem is that when it comes to the letter M, Zebra forgets Moose, and goes with Mouse. The full-color illustrations are appropriately playful and Moose’s dramatic response to the situation is something kids relate to. The friendship-filled ending was highly satisfying. Z is for Moose is a delightful alphabet book for primary-aged kids. Raisin’s thoughts: “It’s silly! I liked it.”

One “cold little afternoon, in a cold little town,” Annabelle finds a way to warm her town when she finds a box full of yarn and she decides to knit sweaters for everyone and everything. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer + Bray, 2012) is a magical book, with a hint of intrigue and mystery. Annabelle’s talent for knitting brings a change to her small town, and when an evil duke hears about that mysterious box of yarn, he arranges to steal it. Will Annabelle’s town ever be the same? I love the mixed media approach (although I’m not certain just how the illustrations were made). The yarn is bright and colorful. The rest of the illustrations are dark pen illustrations. As Annabelle knits, color comes in to the town. And (this is a spoiler) there is happiness in the end. I can’t think of anything that should be different about this book: it is simply wonderful. Raisin’s thoughts: “It was a nice silly book.”

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small (Dial Books, 2012) features a very proper boy who adopts a very proper-looking kind of animal, a penguin. With his father always distracted inside of a book or newspaper, Elliot seems to be going about it without his father understanding. For example, Elliot very politely takes a hose to his room and sets the thermostat on low so Magellan the penguin can learn to skate. At the end of the book, there is a surprise waiting for the reader! The illustrations are perfect: the pen and ink gives it a cool feel (perfect for a penguin book!) and the watercolor and colored pencil additions give it a little bit of life that make it simple adorable. Raisin’s thoughts: “I didn’t like that one because his dad didn’t stay by him.” (We’ve had a number of stranger danger conversations, and he was concerned that his dad wasn’t paying enough attention…)

Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson (Disney Hyperion, 2011) was probably my son’s favorite book this week. Otto is a bear that lives inside of a book, but likes to come out when no one is around. When Otto gets left behind on the family moving day, he feels very small. He finds the world very cold and unwelcoming, and he longs to be back inside of his warm, cozy book. That’s when he finds a place he’ll feel most at home, a place with lots of other books and book bears…. I’ll bet you can guess where that is. The pen and pencil illustrations are adorable, Otto is sweet and charming, and the words are large and accessible for early readers. Raisin’s thoughts: A favorite book because “the bear got left behind and I liked that part because he had an adventure.”

Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Candlewick, 2012) is about a rough-edged dog who learns to have a little bit of a softness to him when fuzzy white bunnies begin following him around. Although Mike doesn’t want to be known as a softy, the fuzzy bunnies begin to grow on him. As they become friends, he defends his image as a mean guy by standing up to his friends on behalf of the bunnies. It was a cute story of learning to accept friends for who they are and being willing to think outside the box. As an adult, I wasn’t crazy about the ending message. I personally thought Mike should abandon his meanness and become a little soft around the edges, maybe learn that it’s okay to be a fuzzy bunny. But as it was, it was still a funny story of learning to accept others. Raisin’s thoughts:  “I didn’t like that bunnies kept appearing.” Apparently he doesn’t like cute fuzzy bunnies?

Lemonade in Winter by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Schwartz and Wade, 2012) is a clever story to teach about money. A brother and a sister have decided to have a neighborhood lemonade stand, despite the fact that it is the middle of winter and snow covers the ground. Their parents suggest they won’t have much luck in making money, but the kids are determined. By the end, the kids figure out that they have spent more quarters than they have earned, but the fun they had was worth it, plus they can still buy themselves popsicles. The subtitle is “A Book about Two Kids Counting Money,” and the lesson on quarters and earning money is not subtle. But plenty about the book draws kids in to it, from the chanted refrain to the kid-like ink and pencil illustrations to the anticipation of success with every neighbor’s purchase. Raisin’s thoughts: He liked it.

Neville by Norton Juster, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Schwartz and Wade, 2011) captures the frustration of moving into a new neighborhood as a young child. A new boy wonders about his new neighbors and wanders down his new sidewalk. When he reaches the corner, he starts calling for “Neville.” When other kids join him in searching for Neville, they become very curious to meet him. As the new boy goes to bed that night, we learn his own name, which we have been able to predict. I personally never moved as a kid, but I loved this boy’s creativity in setting the stage for his neighbor kids and giving himself a place in their lives. Raisin’s thoughts: He liked it, but I don’t think he saw the cleverness of the story. This is a book for clever older kids (maybe ages 7-10).

Chloe, Instead by Micah Player (Chronicle Books, 2012) is a sibling book: an elder sister in annoyed by young Chloe, who is always making things difficult. When the sisters find a way to work together, with Chloe dancing to her sister’s music, the older sister appreciates her far more and is glad for Chloe. This was a nice book to open a conversation with Raisin on how he might be frustrated or annoyed by Strawberry’s ability to change things he likes and get in the way. Since she’s still so young, he did not quite get it yet (she does not get in his way yet). Nevertheless, the illustrations are bright and cheerful, and the end result (Chloe dancing up a storm while her sister plays) is a fun reminder of a possible solution to sibling frustrations. Raisin’s thoughts: “I didn’t like it because the sister ate her crayons and ripped the books.”

Homer by Elisha Cooper (Greenwillow, 2012) celebrates the peaces that comes from the familiar, from home, by focusing on a dog who stays on his porch all day. Other dogs want Homer to come race with them, the children invite him to race on the beach with them, but Homer stays where he is and watches. It’s a quiet book where not much happens in the illustrations: most of the watercolor-and-pencil pictures feature Homer resting on the porch, watching his loved ones. But Homer lets one reflect on what makes one happy, and sometimes sitting and watching the ones we love is enough. Raisin didn’t get that far. His thoughts: “I didn’t like it because Homer didn’t do anything. He kept saying, ‘No.'”


Reviewed on October 16, 2012

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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