Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review: Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

Why I Like This Book:
I have always snuffed out the thought of dying faster than you can blow out candle. It is as simple as this- while I am alive, I choose to focus on living. Now that I have children, I sometimes find myself going too far down the "what if" lane, and it's enough to bring me to a paralyzing halt. The scenarios often involve my own demise, but those thoughts are far easier to handle than the idea of anything happening to my kids.

Oftentimes I find myself happily driving, dragging the kids around on the usual errands, when someone in the backseat points out a graveyard. Then the questions. Is that where Great Pop-Pop is buried? Is that where Granny will go? (She's 97, so that's not an unrealistic inquiry.) How do you get to heaven? Will you be there with me? Oh God. Now I am about to lose it. I almost have to pull the car over to the side of the road, or we'll all find out the answers to these questions sooner rather than later.

And then I think about Dog Heaven. It's a fluffy, simplistic, peaceful tale about dogs who have moved on from their worldly homes to a better place high in the sky. This is how I like to think about a life-after for our canine friends. And it sure makes a good read for my kids who have way too many questions about the subject I avoid with all my might.

Book Summary/Review:
Sooner or later, children start to ask questions about what happens when a person dies. Whether a child experiences the death of a beloved pet, friend, or family member, or just starts to inquire in general terms, it is rarely an easy topic to talk about with someone so young. Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant is a wonderful book that many parents will find helpful and children will find reassuring.

It’s important to mention that the book addresses the role god and angels play in creating a heaven that is perfect for dogs. Otherwise, there are no specific religious overtones or beliefs. In fact, the heaven described in the story sounds almost like a child’s description of the best imaginary playground for dogs.

Dog Heaven is full of fields, lakes, and biscuits falling like raindrops, shaped like the kitty-cats and squirrels dogs love to chase. Fluffy of clouds make the perfect pillows for resting after a long day of playing. And when the dogs miss their owners, they pay a secret visit just to make sure their previous home and family members are doing well.

Reading Cynthia Rylant’s whimsical depiction of a dog’s life after Earth is a pleasant way to address the questions of inquisitive young minds. The author’s first endeavor as a picture-book painter is also a successful one. The child-like illustrations in primary colors create a light, playful tone. Children and adults alike will also appreciate the gentle, upward-sloping pictures which give the reader a sense of floating or rising above.

Overall, Dog Heaven is a great book that parents can use to address death in positive terms. It portrays a fun-filled eternal life for dogs, perfect for assuaging children who are upset, anxious or simply curious about death.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book Review: The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, Beth Krommes

Book Summary/Review:

The prestigious Caldecott Medal is awarded at the beginning of each year to one amazing picture book. The winning book is selected based upon the illustrative representation of the story, not the written content itself. For 2009, Beth Krommes’ earned this much coveted award for her artistic work in The House in the Night.

About the Illustrations

Beth Krommes complements her luminous black and white sketches with traces of gold throughout the story. The effect is both captivating and magical. The pictures are so intertwined with the words, it is impossible to imagine either one standing alone.

About the Story

This poetic bedtime story will provide reassurance to any child who is scared of the dark. The sparse text focuses on the simple, comforting objects associated with home.

“Here is the key to the house. In the house burns a light. In that light rests a bed. On that bed waits a book.”

The book takes readers on a journey from a warm home to the starlit sky and back again, identifying the many familiar things along the way. Children will take comfort in knowing that light is the only difference between night and day.

Caldecott Honor Books

In addition to the Caldecott Medal winner, three books have been selected as Caldecott Honor books for 2009. The illustrations in these books are remarkable as well. You will enjoy exploring these works of art with your children.

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee

How I Learned Geography, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant

Now that the winners have been announced, you will see these Caldecott books prominently displayed in every bookstore and library. Share the joy of reading with your child by reading a Caldecott award book together.

Send The House in the Night to a child today from The Lollipop Book Club!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Book Review: Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor

Why I Love This Book:

Clearly I am not alone in my adoration for Fancy Nancy. But let me tell you why this book appeals to me so much anyway. You see, I am not at all fancy. It's not that I can't be or don't enjoy it sometimes, but it's not at the core of who I am. Practical is more like it. Boring, I know, but it's just the way I'm made.

Just take a look at the contents in my jewelry box- that says it all. A few earrings missing their better halves and a couple of reasonably cute bracelets. Oh yeah, and my wedding and engagement rings. My fingers never returned to their originally slender size after I became pregnant with my first child...eight years ago. One day I'll take the time to have the rings re-sized, but for now they are resting safely on my dresser. I am very happily married. No need to flaunt it to the world with a lot of bling, right?

This is not to say that I never tap into my fancy side. I have to dig deep to find it, admittedly, but there is a part of me that enjoys the occasional indulgence in stylish clothing & accessories. My closet is surprisingly stocked with a decent wardrobe from my days in the corporate world. Lots of great shoes, bags, blouses, skirts, pants..with good labels to boot. Not exactly high end designers, but a good suburban mall Ann Taylor collection.

When my husband and I do occasionally sneak out for a nice dinner, I can become almost unrecognizable. As my good friend Amy says, "You clean up good." Amazing what a difference it makes when sneakers and old jeans are replaced with a good pair of high boots, a skirt with a good cut, and a cute, form-fitting sweater. And who knows, maybe I even find a matching pair of earrings that I bought long ago and forgot about in the midst of everything else. A little lipstick, a good blow dry, and voila! I am Fancy Nancy for one night.

Book Summary/Review:

There are a multitude of wonderful children’s books, but only every so often does a book enjoy such wildly popular success that it leads to toy lines and sequels galore. Fancy Nancy is one of those books. It deserves a place on every little girl’s bookshelf. Even boys (perhaps secretly) enjoy this delightful story about a girl who appreciates the frilly things in life.

So what is it about Fancy Nancy that appeals to so many girls? Robin Preiss Glasser’s illustrations, first and foremost, capture the whimsical imagination of a girl with a grand collection of tutus and tiaras. And the colorful accessories- flowing boas, frou-frou hats, golden bangles and snazzy shoes- are aplenty in the pictures that invite little girls to dress up and join Fancy Nancy in her quest for everything extravagant.

The story itself, written by Jane O’Connor, is equally adorable down to the fancy font. Fancy Nancy appreciates the finer way saying her favorite color (fuchsia is the new purple), and understands that presentation is everything by serving sandwiches with frilly toothpicks.

Fancy Nancy also has a talent for turning everyday occurrences into chichi events, and she decides that her family needs to follow suit. After giving them a lesson on elegance and providing wardrobe consultation akin to a Hollywood stylist, Fancy Nancy and her family head out to The Kings Crown (a local pizza joint) with unparalleled pretense. Nancy is pleased with their performance, from calling one another “darling” and ordering “parfaits.”

Then the unthinkable happens. Tripping on her fanciness, Nancy suffers an embarrassing fall and her glamorous evening is ruined. She returns home with her family and to their unadorned ways, comforted by the love and warmth all the frills in the world cannot provide.

Little girls, especially those with a little bit of Fancy Nancy inside, will enjoy reading this book again and again. Send some fanciness to a sweet girl today from The Lollipop Book Club.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Very First Blog Giveaway!

Congratulations to Mandy, lucky winner of the first giveaway sponsored by The Lollipop Book Club. Visit us again for future opportunities to win great prizes!

The Lollipop Book Club is giving away a very sweet book gift to one lucky winner!

Our company specializes in the gift of books for children, perfect for birthdays, holidays, or simply to celebrate a love of books.

See below for details on how to enter. This is just one of many contests to come, so please visit us often.

The Package Will Include:

  • Any paperback book of your choice on our site- The Lollipop Book Club
  • One adorable handcrafted lollipop
  • A special note from you to the child, printed on a sticker for the inside of the book
  • All delivered in a red envelope to the child's doorstep!
How to Enter:
You have five chances to enter the contest. Each option below is considered a separate entry and must be posted as individual comments here:

(1) Visit The Lollipop Book Club and pick out your favorite book. Come back here and post a comment with the name of the book and your email address.

(2) Post about our giveaway on Twitter and leave a comment here with the link.

(3) Post about our giveaway on your Facebook homepage status (What are you doing?) and comment here when you have done so.

(4) Sign up for The Lollipop Book Club newsletter and leave a comment here.

(5) Announce our giveaway on your blog, and then leave a comment here with the link.

Who is Eligible:
You must have a US address and a valid email address.

When Contest Ends:
The last date of the contest is Friday, March 6th. The winner will be randomly selected and contacted via email. If the winner does not respond within 5 days, then a new winner will be chosen. The winner's name will be posted once the contest is over.

Will There Be More?:
Yes, we are just getting started! We are so excited share The Lollipop Book Club experience with as many people as possible. The best way to truly appreciate what we do is to witness a child's reaction to the gift. Rather than spend our money on print or web advertising, we want to put our gifts into as many hands as possible. Thank you for helping us spread the word!

To Keep or Not To Keep

My home is full of books- piled in corners, packed onto shelves, strewn across coffee tables, stacked on nightstands, and wherever else you look. I go on binges and buy more books than I'll probably ever have time to read. I am usually reading two or three at the same time- right now I'm working on Jodi Picoult and David Sedaris.

I also have an enormous collection of children's books that are spread throughout my kids' bedrooms and in baskets next to our favorite reading spots in the house. The really special ones are easy to pick out, broken in with all of the love they have seen over the years.

The question is....what do you do with all of your books once you have read them or your children have moved on? My friend Sandy, a self-described pack-rat, refuses to get rid of anything. She hangs on to every report card, note, newspaper clipping, and art project not only from her child, but from her own childhood.

This was a HUGE problem when she married her husband, a self-proclaimed minimalist. One day Sandy walked in the front door to find her husband leaning over the trash can in the kitchen. She watched him for a moment, trying to figure out what the heck he was doing. She quietly approached him and realized that he was reading the final pages of a book. When he finished the very last page, he dropped the book into the trash and started to walk away.

Absolutely dismayed, Sandy asked, "Why did you just throw that book away?" To which he replied, "Well, I finished it and it wasn't all that great."

Something about throwing a book in the trash just doesn't seem right, does it? No matter how terrible, boring, offensive you may find it...a book is a book is a book, and it must be of value to someone!

So, what do you do when you are done with your books? Take a quick poll on the right. I want to know!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Book Review: The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman

Why I Love This Book:
Before I had my own kids, I would scoff at other mothers who bent over backwards to feed their children. Huh! Not me. I would just send them to bed hungry. That would teach 'em to clean their plates next time. When my first bundle of joy arrived, my maternal instincts kicked in and I obsessed over making certain my child was nourished properly. A fussy infant turned into a finicky toddler and finally a downright persnickety little boy. Too spicy. Too lumpy. Too yucky. Too chocolatey (what?). Too hot. Too cold. Too this. Too that. Times 3. Yes, my next two were the SAME way. The only difference between me and Mrs. Peters is in our number of offspring. When I read The Seven Silly Eaters for the first time, I was tickled to the core. For every mom who deals with the preposterous demands of picky eaters, kick back and enjoy this funny, funny book.

Book Summary/Review:

For every mom who has a picky eater at home, The Seven Silly Eaters is a must-read that will have you and your kids laughing out loud. As moms, we fully embrace our responsibility to nourish our children. But “short-order cook” is not necessarily what we had in mind when we signed up for this job. Despite valiant attempts at serving one meal to everyone at the table, some of us ultimately succumb to our finicky feeders and their special dietary requirements.

Such is the case with Mrs. Peters. With her first baby boy, she agreeably heats his milk to the perfect temperature- not too hot, not too cold. She is equally as obliging with the next child’s request for homemade lemonade. With her five subsequent children, the demands become increasingly ridiculous- applesauce only, triple-strained oatmeal, soft and squishy homemade bread, and yummy eggs for two (one poached, one fried!). All the while, she is careful never to allow any of these foods to touch or mix, for a gargantuan meltdown of seven silly eaters would ensue!

Then the night before Mrs. Peters’ birthday, she retires to bed exhausted. The children decide to make their respective food of choice for the next morning’s breakfast. This is to be a special surprise for their mom. Readers can easily predict the disastrous mess in the kitchen, but the final outcome is a clever twist that will put a smile on every mommy’s face. Maybe, just maybe, all of our culinary efforts are not in vain!

Mary Ann Hoberman never stretches her perfectly rhyming verse, making this book a delightfully fun read-aloud. The illustrations are equally as noteworthy, capturing the cluttered chaos of a very busy household. Bathroom doors ajar (with little occupants inside), topsy-turvy lampshades, and laundry galore are just some of the many accurate and funny details to explore.

The Seven Silly Eaters is a book that moms and their picky eaters will enjoy immensely!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Book Review: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Why I Love This Book:

Looking back on my childhood, I had my share of Chrysanthemum moments. I grew up on a street with two other girls. Well before the math lesson was taught in school, I learned that 3 is an odd number. Feeling a sense of belonging is so important to kids....and I had plenty of experience to the contrary on Beverly Road. I finally got smart and moved on to a whole new world one block over. Problem solved, until Middle School, that is.

The pressures were enormous and girls are cruel, plain and simple. I had entered into a whole new social strata and the rules had changed. Best friends swapped partners on a daily basis, and someone was always left out in the cold wondering what she had done wrong. Just like Chrysanthemum, I remember feeling anxious not knowing what the next day would bring.

Talking to friends now about those years, we realize that we ALL went through the same thing, and wonder why the heck kids put each other through this torturous period. It is what it is. Can't be avoided, so I am bucking up early and reading Chrysanthemum with my children to prepare them for the inevitable!

Book Summary/Review:

A little girl- a happy, secure, content, well-loved little girl- is thrust into that brutal, unfriendly place called SCHOOL. On her very first day, she skips all the way with a pretty smile on her face to match her equally beautiful name- Chrysanthemum.

At least she always thought it was beautiful. Until kids like Jo, Rita and Victoria change her mind. She’s a flower! Smell her! Pick her! Each day Chrysanthemum returns home more dejected; comfort foods and family time are no longer enough to restore her confidence.

And then one day a new music teacher with a magical voice joins the classroom, winning over all the children. She has a special secret to share about her first name and Chrysanthemum blossoms into a happy child once again.

A Flowery Story about Fitting In

The desire to fit in and make friends is present at the core of every child entering new social situations, especially school. Kevin Henkes’ story is a touching tale of a child who struggles to make friends simply because her name is so different. She ultimately learns to appreciate her uniqueness, after enduring some heavy-duty teasing, and comes out stronger for it.

At some point in every child’s life, he or she will undoubtedly experience feeling left out, sad, and insecure, just like Chrysanthemum. It is a rite of passage that no one can or should escape. The key is to overcome the situation relatively unscathed; preferably, with more strength and dignity of character. And that is exactly what Chrysanthemum demonstrates.

This book is one that must be read to every child. The story is extremely balanced- the teasers are not evil bullies and Chrysanthemum is not an overly sensitive victim. The teasing is very realistic and normal. However, the effects can be very devastating if the child on the receiving end does not have a strong support system of family and teachers behind him or her.

The valuable lessons learned in this endearing story should be shared with every child.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Book Review: The Umbrella by Jan Brett

Why I Love This Book:
A world traveler I am not. I just learned that my sister-in-law traveled to Spain by herself after college, just to explore. And my close friend from high school quit her job, packed her bags, and moved to Italy for a long stint. Turns out that most people I encounter these days have seen a bit of the world.

I did spend 4 months in Spain when I was in college and, truthfully, I found the experience to be a little overwhelming. Maybe with a few more years under my belt, and my husband as a travel companion, I would fare better now.

Until the day comes when I go on an adventure, with kids in tow, I am perfectly happy to journey to exotic places through great picture books like The Umbrella. I get to learn all about life in a Costa Rican rain forest without leaving the comfort of my favorite reading spot. Maybe one day I'll explore it firsthand when my kids are older. I'll put it on the bucket list.

Book Summary/Review:

Explore the beauty of a tropical rain forest with your children.

Take a walk with Carlos as he takes off to explore a rain forest in Costa Rica and the exotic animals that call it home. His journey is captured in pictures framed by vines, creating a sense of peering into the depths of a beautiful, lustrous place.

When Carlos first enters the forest, he immediately climbs to the top of a giant fig tree for a better view. Unfortunately for Carlos, he misses all of the action that starts after the drip, drip dripping rain fills the upturned umbrella he left on the ground.

A tiny tree frog is the first to jump in with a happy “hola”. From there, curious creatures emerge to join him in the small puddle inside the umbrella. As each new animal (including Toucan, Kinkajou, Tapir, Quetzal, Monkey, and Jaguar) lands atop the umbrella, it is sure to tip! But it is not until tiny hummingbird joins the crew that the fun is spoiled.

Meanwhile, Carlos descends from the tree, disappointed that he has not seen a single exotic creature of the forest. He returns home with his umbrella with holding out hope for better luck tomorrow.

The Umbrella is an engaging story that offers a rich learning experience.

Children are transported to a tropical new place. They learn about the various animals that occupy the forest, some of which they probably have never heard of before. Throughout the story, Spanish phrases are injected adding a fun dimension to the Costa Rican experience.

The use of foreshadowing is effective in pulling children into the story. Each page has a small picture of a leaf with the next animal to join the umbrella inside. Children enjoy guessing the name of this new animal and anticipate what will happen when it jumps on top!

The irony is not lost on young readers as they get to experience the action on the ground while Carlos misses it all. This fact is sure to elicit a giggle or two from children who are privy to this secret gathering.

Jan Brett’s rich illustrations and humorous story make The Umbrella a wonderful addition to any child’s bookshelf.

Send a child The Umbrella from The Lollipop Book Club