Book Review: The Rough Patch

Patch

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019

I’ve always found it strange when animals have other animals as pets (I’m still getting over Minnie Mouse, a giant rodent, having Figaro the cat as a pet)⁠—just like a fox owning a dog, when dogs generally hunt them down. What’s more, Evan was an odd choice for a fox’s name⁠—I think Mr. Fox would’ve been better. (Generic names worked for The Berenstain Bears.) However, Evan should’ve been a little boy rather than a grown-up fox (or even a grown-up human).

Yes, it just seemed strange for one animal to be practically human but the dog to be just a dog (i.e. like Mickey and Pluto). Disney made it work but Mr. Lies—not so much.

The author did, however, beautifully capture the weather, mood, and time of day with different “filters” and conveyed Evan’s grief perfectly (and heartbreakingly so) in the scene where he sets his paw on his dead dog, their faces turned away from the reader, which lent to the tableau a certain dignity. The lack of background on that page solely was symbolic of how alone Evan felt.

This is the only book I’ve read in this challenge that made me choke up, especially when Evan destroys what he and his dog loved⁠—turning their Garden of Eden into a rough patch of weeds that looked like something out of a Tim Burton movie—hacking his garden to pieces so that nothing good would ever grow there, reflecting the bitter, angry plot that had grown in his heart.

The Rough Patch shows that whatever we choose to nurture will grow. When an ugly vine snakes in under the fence—a vine Evan hopes will choke the life out of his garden—he decides to give it his care, only for it to grow into a prize-winning pumpkin⁠.

The juxtaposition of the cheery bluebirds and the creepy blackbirds, the cartoonish scarecrow and the shrub tree monster, the nourishing vegetables and the fruitless weeds (the last of which, along with pests, were fabled not to exist until after The Fall and death entered the Garden), the joyous sundown vs. the ominous twilight served as an allegory of Genesis, with Death representing Cain, the dog, Abel, and the new pup, Seth. Some might even see the Son of God as the pumpkin (fruit of the “True Vine”) that grows its way into Evan’s garden to finally ripen in his heart.

We know at the end that Evan is ready to make another friend, but I would’ve liked to have seen him plant something over the rough patch where his dog was buried.

What makes this story timeless is the lack of technology depicted—where a fox and a fox’s best friend (in this alternate universe) enjoy outdoor games, gardening, music on the radio, and sweet treats like old-fashioned ice cream cones. However, what kept this book from hitting the 5-star mark was the fox being a little too human and the abrupt ending; it needed an epilogue showing the happily ever after rather than alluding to it.

Suggested activity: I’m a huge fan of frozen vegetables⁠—they’re cheap, healthy, and taste good. They don’t go bad and make great soup additions. However, take a field trip to your local farmer’s market where it’s as much about buying produce as it is about the experience—where you’re able to feel and smell the produce (and sometimes even taste it⁠). Show your child(ren) that good food comes in a rainbow of colors. I often plate a pinwheel shape of different fruits and vegetables, and my daughter loves it.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35887584-the-rough-patch

Book Review: Blue

Blue

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019

The more I read this book, the more I liked it. The keyhole cutouts in the delightful thickness of these pages seemed unnecessary, but my daughter enjoyed locating them; the book’s square shape and the large, simple, bold font is perfection. The lush, sumptuous color—bright but not unnaturally so—so beautifully textured, is stunning. Most of these pages, given the panoramic treatment in double-page spreads that bleed into the spine, would make perfect nursery art: the deep, twilight blue butterflies were like something out of a Technicolor fairy tale, the water shooting out of the garden hose captured the summertime magic of childhood, the granular texture of the snow against the smooth, sable brown of the tree was striking, and the brushstrokes depicting the frothy whitecaps looked so real, I almost expected to feel seafoam.

Simply titled, Blue has a very organic feel—a certain spirituality and harmony with nature (including human nature). It is a childlike, coming-of-age tale.

The concept is rather interesting, for how many unexpected ways can we describe blue using the word blue (i.e. besides light, dark, powder, navy, etc.)? It’s almost like a series of paintings turned into a poem. Everything that was described as blue was connected with an emotion, a state of being, or something gifted to us by the Creator; Laura Vaccaro Seeger totally nailed midnight blue.

Though few words, it tells a story. Each two-word set “maybe blue,” “true blue,” etc., I treated as the title of the story that the pictures painted. Blue is open-ended enough where you can add to the story, but not so open-ended that there is no story. I’m not a fan of wordless picture books (and this was close to it), but the way I felt while “reading” this timeless tale of friendship—the boy growing up while his dog grew old—resonated with me. No preaching, no message—just life—distilled into the most poignant parts.

It was sweet that the boy (now a young man who had yet to befriend another dog) met his true love through their love of dogs—her dog actually seems to choose him first, as if it sensed another dog lover, leading (or rather, dragging) her to her destiny.

My daughter liked this one, and I enjoyed reading it to her. Blue is the kind of book I read when I want not just to make a memory but a connection. If there was a complete set on all the colors, I would buy everyone one of these books.

Suggested activity: Numbers, letters, shapes, and colors are some of the earliest building blocks of learning. When I was a child, getting Crayola’s 64-count with the built-in sharpener was something quite magical. Try having your child come up with naming their own colors (they don’t have to be blue; I was always intrigued by names like periwinkle and lavender; if your child is older, you can come up with double adjectives, like mascarpone-white or tiramisu-tan. Someone has to come up with all of those names, after all. For a field trip, go to a paint store and get a handful of paint sample cards (which I’ve used to make Christmas cards: https://onelittleproject.com/paint-chip-christmas-cards/). And take time out to visit the author’s website. It’s gorgeous! https://studiolvs.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37534395-blue

Book Review: Don’t Touch My Hair!

Hair

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

This book struck just the right chord with its timely message. When I was carrying my child, I had strangers who felt like they could just touch my stomach without permission, only to be affronted when I politely told them no. However, I do think this story went a bit far with the woman in the park yelling for people to chase Aria—just to feel her hair. Pure hyperbole.

Don’t Touch My Hair! opens with a close-up of Aria’s face and her magnificent mane. In this age where many black girls seem to want straight hair, I’m glad she is happy with her curly locks; she is comfortable in her own skin and with her natural hair (body-positivity isn’t just about size, btw). Little girls of all ethnic backgrounds will enjoy looking at the different styles in which Aria wears her hair.

The narrative about having to row out to a deserted island, go underwater or outer space, or to fantasyland was also hyperbolic, though kids are often over-dramatic (i.e. something is never just far but a million miles away); however, this portion would’ve been better had Aria been shown dealing with handsy people at the grocery store, library, school, etc..

I generally hate speech bubbles (I’m not a comic book fan, as this requires your child to have to look at the pictures; I like for them to have the option to close their eyes and just listen) and might have put the book down had part of the story not been told in narrative first-person through Aria.

The art works. As the author noted in the back, I love that she made Aria’s hair the star, using a different process to give it texture, which really made it pop. The bright illustrations matched Aria’s bold personality. A lot of children in children’s books don’t have much of one, but Aria owns this!

One of my favorite pages was the spread with all the houses lined up and the people going about their daily tasks, showing that Aria isn’t an island but part of a community; these illustrations reminded me of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever.

The cover was perfect with the border of hands (belonging to people in different shades of the DNA spectrum) reaching for Aria, which would make anyone claustrophobic.

It’s interesting that the story doesn’t show Aria’s parents (or teacher, etc.) giving her guidance on how to handle a hairy situation (pun intended) but rather shows her figuring it out by doing some reflecting (on a mythical island, red planet, swimming with the mermaids, etc.) where she comes to the conclusion that she is the one who gives the yay or nay on whether someone can touch her hair and that it’s okay to say no to some people and yes to others. That it’s her choice.

In this age of redefining consent–which is not the absence of a no but the presence of a yes.

This book shows that no doesn’t have to be confrontational. Girls need to grow up feeling comfortable to say no–to men and women.

Another point is that some people will still try to touch something, even if it’s just covered up. What’s more, not everything we show is for touch–just for looks. Modesty is another issue, but you shouldn’t have to cover up to keep from being unmolested.

This book would make a great teaching tool—for girls and boys—in this new age of a heightened awareness of consent.

Suggested activity: Teach your child to respect the boundaries of others (and to not be afraid to ask that their boundaries be respected). Teach them that it’s okay if someone says no, that they shouldn’t be afraid of saying no, and that a please will not always get you a yes. This book can also be used to talk about touching things in general, such as art in a museum, other people’s property, and even dangerous things. You could even discuss the power of touch and how King Midas used that power that brought about both desirous and disastrous consequences.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38929947-don-t-touch-my-hair

Book Review: See Pip Flap

Pip

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

The purpose of See Pip Flap is to introduce reading to children just learning how.  In that respect, it works beautifully. What’s more, there is actually a story here where the words and pictures are equally important.  That said, a little repetition is fine, but we don’t need the word flap fifteen times in a row. At least reduce the flaps to three, following it with something else between flaps.

Basically, a mouse named Pip wants to fly with his bird friend, Tweet.  So, Otto the Robot seeks to equalize things for his friend by building a remote-controlled drone for Pip to be able to see what Tweet sees.  (Just remind your child that mice can do things birds can’t do, like burrow under tiny spaces.) Pip’s persistence, combined with Otto’s know-how, made Pip’s dream flight happen.

See Pip Flap was awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor, and it does remind me of Dr. Seuss’s early learning books.  It takes some talent to make a simple book like this enjoyable for the parent. The illustrations aren’t as good as Seuss’s, but they’re just as cute.  Page numbers would’ve been a nice addition, as I’ve taught my child her double digits that way; when children see numbers used in practical applications (e.g. digital clocks) rather than just flash cards which are only used for the purpose of memorization, they see the why, not just the what.   

Of course, my daughter being a lover of robots was a sell for me.  Anything that introduces children to technology (and how it can help overcome challenges) is a plus.  

Suggested activity:  Just as animals have their ways of communication, they also have their ways of moving.  Fish swim, snakes slither, turtles crawl, etc. Teach your child about these modes of transportation–even how humans get from one place to another (e.g. horse and buggy, bicycles, cars, trains, planes, etc).  Such is a good way to teach your child about the sixth sense: kinesthetics (the sense of movement): https://www.painscience.com/articles/sixth-sense.php.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38533032-see-pip-flap

Book Review: Saturday is Swimming Day

Saturday

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

Saturday is Swimming Day is a textbook example of “Give it a try.  You might like it.” Green Eggs and Ham did it much better, though a child being afraid of swimming is more grounded in the real world than eating green eggs and ham (unless you live in the tundra and happen to be served 20-minute eggs and chimichurri pork).

Unfortunately, the story was boring and generic.  

This book is more of what I call a process book–a recipe for how to overcome a fear (in this case, swimming).  

There was nothing special or interesting about the little girl, who remained unnamed; the only person named is the adult.  

What I did like about the story is that it showed the need for teachers–moms can’t do everything, but they can help their child find the help they need when books aren’t enough.  However, the mom didn’t seem very intuitive as she didn’t make an effort to talk to her child about why she got a stomachache every Saturday before class.  

The purpose of the other children served to show that the girl, without class participation, wouldn’t likely make any friends.  Friendship, in this case, was the participation trophy; the joy of swimming was the win. 

Saturday is Swimming Day showed that if you expose your kids to something long enough, they just might try it.  

One thing I did find odd was the little girl calling an adult by their first name; as a child, I never call adults by their first name, unless it was preceded by a title, like Aunt or Uncle.  

Because my daughter loves going to the pool–she even practices “swimming” in the bathtub to get used to the water like the little girl in the book–she liked looking at the pictures (which were dull and flat), but it definitely didn’t make for interesting reading.  

Suggested activity:  If you can give your child swimming lessons, do it.  Uncontrolled water, such as bays, rivers, and oceans, are no places for learning  how to swim; pools (controlled water) are far better. In such an environment, you don’t have to worry about being eaten by varmints or contracting flesh-eating bacteria; you can also add toys without worrying about them getting carried away by the current.  What’s more, you don’t have to worry about getting heat stroke or sunburn. Swimming is great resistance training that is low-impact, and it works out the entire body.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36739469-saturday-is-swimming-day

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #495: For (Blank)

Untitled

For the Love of Chocolate

Whenever she scored a 50-cent KitKat,
she’d tear & peel the wrapper back
as carefully as she would
undressing a burn wound
& ever so quietly, as she would
performing a secret surgery,
for the sound of candy being opened
was a sound her daughter knew⁠—
like a K-9 knew the smell of marijuana
or a bloodhound knew the stench of expired flesh,
because she couldn’t teach her child
that sharing was good
if she didn’t do so
when the opportunity arose.
Rather than share,
she did her one better⁠—
spending a whole buck-&-a-half
for that third KitKat,
so that that second KitKat
she kept hidden
in the deep bowels of her purse
in case of emergency
would be there.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 495

Book Review: Thank You, Omu!

Omu

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019 

Thank you, Omu, is a story about a single, grandmotherly lady with a giving heart, though I’m afraid this book might teach my child that it is acceptable for random strangers (after all, Omu refers to her visitors as Ms. Police Officer, Mr. Hot Dog Vendor, etc.) to just show up at one’s door, unannounced and asking for free food.  Lucky for Omu that in a Capra-esque way, they return her generosity tenfold.  

However, the story would’ve been more believable had it centered on Omu’s apartment neighbors rather than nameless strangers.  

The illustrations aren’t that great, yet I liked them.  The inside of the book is printed with a birds-eye view of the city; the collaging medium using newspapers (in part) fit the big city vibe, though some of the cutouts (like the faceless people in the bus) seemed thrown in to fill space.  Some finer detail work would’ve added depth and interest–like a title on the book Omu was reading. The colors are muted and the paper almost has a recycled feel, the look making me think of brown paper bags–as humble and heartwarming as Omu’s stew.  

I didn’t like the font changing back and forth; font should always be kept plain when it’s part of the text.  (However, when it’s part of the art, anything goes.) Furthermore, I didn’t care for the giant “Knock” words as they came across as loud banging rather than polite knocking.

I’m glad the author included a policewoman but not a woman construction worker in the attempt to be politically correct at the expense of believability.  

What I got from this story is that food, made with love–including self-love–brings people together.  It was almost a Biblical allegory in that there was no way Omu made that much stew for herself yet had enough to feed everyone who came.

This was a nice effort, and one I will read to my daughter again.  Also check out the author’s website–very sleek and comprehensive.  

The little thank you card at the end was perfect–it brought me back to the days when my parents and I would invite the Mormon missionaries over for dinner, and they’d always leave one as a surprise.

Don’t let thank you cards become a thing of the past.

My note to the author:  “A thick red stew” was repeated so much, I wish the recipe had been included.  Little extras like that are like a lagniappe, and such would be a great addition to your site.

Suggested activity:  Go over the list of vocations mentioned in the book.  Ask what a cop does, a baker, a mayor, etc. Convey to your child that by working, we make the world work.  As a child, I loved dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up, which was everything from a “beauty shopper” (i.e. beautician) to a chocolate cake baker.  Let your child dream and imagine, showing them that working with your hands as well as your mind can help solve at least one of the world’s problems somewhere, and that a trade school certification is just as honorable as a college degree.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34642482-thank-you-omu