The Magic School Bus: Inside a Hurricane

By Joanna Cole

“Seatbelts, kids!”

I have always loved The Magic School Bus. And, odd as this will sound, I don’t recall catching the t.v. show very often. No, what I got hooked on were the books and the video games. I wish those games still worked, but they’re from 1995-98-ish era, so most PCs won’t run anything that old. But man were they ever fun for my sister and I to play!

But my first Magic School Bus love was always the books. I would go to the library, scoop up as many as I could, and read them for hours. I think kids have the best educational books, and the Magic School Bus ranks up there with the best of them. Inside a Hurricane is just what it sounds like: Ms. Frizzle takes her class into the science and terror of extreme weather.

Now, The Magic School Bus will never be known for stellar writing. The story is told in a journal-entry type of way, detailing what the class is doing. Meanwhile, the dialogue is told through speech bubbles, and extra science is offered through student reports that are set to the side. Not to mention the details in the art! That’s a lot going on in just a few pages.

While there is a lot going on, it’s not overwhelming. Everything is written simply, with diagrams to help transmit the information. The science is balanced by the humour of the character interactions, which helps the books from being dry and gives them their traditional feel.

We need more books like this; little science books designed for kids that offers some laughs. I don’t mean Eyewitness books (though I love those too), but books that are designed to make them want to keep reading. The Magic School Bus did that for me, kicking off an obsession with the solar system that lasted for a year or two. Thank you, Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus!

Suggested Ages: 6-9

Big Sarah’s Little Boots

By Paulette Bourgeois & Brenda Clark

When we’re small, small issues take on big importance. So when a favorite toy breaks, or you rip a dress, or outgrow a favorite article of clothing – that becomes a big deal.

Unless you’re a destructive little beast like me and purposefully destroy the lovely clothes your parents gave you. But even then, you’ll probably enjoy this story.

Big Sarah’s Little Boots was one of my childhood favorites. The titular character, Big Sarah, loves her rainboots. They’re bright, shiny yellow, and when she jumps in the puddles they go SQUISH and the water goes KERSPLAT! But then, one day Sarah tries to put them on, and her boots have shrunk! She tries everything – pulling on them, growing them in the garden, playing tug-of-war with them – in an attempt to make them bigger, but nothing works. Time for Big Sarah to get bigger boots!

Big Sarah’s Little Boots is a nice book helping explain to children that it’s okay to move on to something new; you might like it just as much (if not more) than what you had before. The majority of the story, however, is dedicated to Sarah trying, so very hard, to cling to her beloved old boots – just like any kid would do when presented with change. I know I can say that, at 15 5, I was not very good at adapting to change. If you need proof, just go visit an elementary school on the first day of class and see how many children are crying.

The story is great. The text is simple and easy, with onomatopoeia to make it more fun. There’s no rhyming pattern, but it flows easily, and there’s enough repetition to make it stick.

There is a lot of white space at the beginning of the book, but it fades around the middle point, when Sarah tries to make her boots stretch. It’s this middle part that meshes text and images the best, and are among the best in the book. It helps immensely that the pictures are amazing. I know I say this a lot, but it’s true; great pictures make a children’s story, and children get the best illustrators. I can’t tell you what medium is used, but the colours are bright, the artwork is amazing, and it’s so true to life some of them could almost be pictures. There’s one picture of Sarah pulling her socks off in an attempt to get the boots on, and it’s so incredible I just want to pin it to my wall. The details in these pictures will make them a lot of fun for children to look through; I remember the details of the skipping ropes tied to her boots, and the different styles of rainboots she tries on, from when I was a kid.

If you can find this book, I suggest you pick it up. It was published in 1987 in Toronto, so it’s probably not the most accessible, but I’m sure it’s out there. It’s cute, educational, beautifully written and illustrated. If your child has a favorite toy/piece of clothing/binky/blanky/etc., they’ll be able to relate to this book. Everyone has gone through the same growing pains as Sarah, and it will show them that they’re not alone.

~

And since we’re coming up to mother’s day, I will give incredible props to my mom that 99% of my books from my childhood have survived as long as they did in as good a condition as they did. Every child should have the opportunity to find all their old books in the basement and be able to raid them for a blog!

Love you mom ❤

~

Recommended Ages: 3-6

Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader

By the BRI (Bathroom Readers’ Institute)

If I know anything for sure, it’s that the above title post caused one of two reactions in you:

  1. If you know about the Bathroom Reader Series: “Awesome!”
  2. If you’ve never heard and/or read the Bathroom Reader Series: “Uncle… John’s… Bathroom… No! Just no.”

But hear me out! (If you’ve never tried these books before). They are awesome. Even better, they’re accessible for all ages, and have offerings for all ages.

The general format of any Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader is an assortment of facts, arranged in 1-5 page lengths. I tend to prefer the general books, but there are other UJBRs that specialize on topics such as music, American history, Canada, and so on. There are collections of quotes, wordplay, riddles, stories about Ancient Rome, mythconceptions… the list goes on.

For the people still looking at me really oddly, each book is quite heavily vetted before it goes to print. That doesn’t mean everything is 100% accurate, but no reference book ever is. And yes, this is a reference book, though I don’t recommend ever trying to add it to your bibliography. If you ever wanted to be the King/Queen of trivia, you need to start investing in these books, because there’s no easier way to read then when it’s interesting.

Which brings me back to kids. I first picked one of these up when I was around the age of 11. I don’t remember why, but I’m glad I did. I am now Trivia Queen of Nova Scotia [no citation available], as well as a proud UNBR addict. These books are a great reading tool, especially if your child loves random facts, or you want to encourage them. They’re great to pick up, read for five minutes, put down, come back. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to read them, because there’s no story, no chapters – nothing to follow plot-wise.

UJBRs have been getting longer and longer over the years. My first one topped out around 300pgs, but now they can be closer to 500 or above. Which is great for me, but terrifying if all you/your kid can see is length. Luckily for us, Uncle John has addressed this problem by producing Uncle John’s Did You Know? Bathroom Reader For Kids Only. I think this was the book I recommended the most at Christmas, because it has something for everyone.

This does not, of course, mean that everyone will like it. Facts just bore some people. But if you give it a chance, I think you’ll find it really enjoyable. Don’t be put off by the name – the name is most of the fun! There isn’t even a lot of toilet humour left – they ran out of those jokes about 10 years in.

Mr. Bach Comes to Call

By Susan Hammond

The basic premise is this: A young girl is practicing Bach on the piano, despite any desire to do so. Mr. Bach then appears and teaches her the value of the piano, while simultaneously telling her of his life and music.

Mr. Bach Comes to Call is a great mix of back-from-the-dead autobiography and concert CD. Many of Bach’s most famous musical works are played within the story, both in the background and featured on their own without any interruption. I don’t really remember what I enjoyed most – the story or the music. But I don’t even have to choose, because Mr. Bach Comes to Call gives us both in one.

Suggested Ages: 4+

Hammond, S. (1990). Mr. Bach Comes to Call. The Children’s Group.

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Eyeshield 21

Written by Riichiro Inagaki, Illustrated by Yusuke Murata

Eyeshield 21 is a multi-volume saga in manga (comic) form. Specifically, Eyeshield 21 deals with American Football, a sport that does garners about as much enthusiasm and understanding in Japan as it does among North American women.

The hero is bullied Sena Kobayakawa, a tiny, blindingly fast boy whose idea of success is just being accepted to high school. Tricked/bullied into joining the two-man American Football team by the demonic Hiruma, Sena becomes the star of the team with his lightning-fast reflexes and speed.

The pace of the story is excellent, as is the character development is exquisite; and all of it built around the development of an underdog football team.

Suggested Ages: 12+

Inagaki, R., & Murata, Y. (2005) Eyeshield 21: Volume 1. Viz Media LLC.

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Smoky Night

By Eve Bunting

The story of Smoky Night is set during the Los Angeles Riot, and is from the point of view of an African-American child named Daniel. He lives with his mother and cat in an apartment building located in the heart of the riots. The main plot revolves around Daniel’s family and their apartment neighbour, an Asian woman (Mrs. Kim). This dislike is reflected in the way their two cats fight.

Smoky Night tells a story of racism without overtly touching the race button. The setting of the Los Angeles Riots provides an interesting backdrop that is easily overlooked if you are young and unaware of what the name “Rodney King” involves.

The artwork is incredible. The heavy oils on one page, and the scattered mosaic of random household objects or rubble on the other. It will be one of the things you remember most about this book.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

Bunting, E. (1999). Smoky Night. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt More

Sesame Street (SesameStreet.org)

Sesame Street does a bad job designing a site that is brightly coloured, sparkly, and contains both sound and animation. This is a great start – something to catch and hold your child’s attention. All the big links are along the top of the bar, where children will find and click on them.

Sesame Street has been a definitive force in children’s media education for 45 years and counting, and this site is clearly targeted to kids. Depending on how much you teach your children about how to use websites, your child might be able to navigate this website without issue and get the full impact of everything. I do suggest parents vet this site for themselves and watch to see how your child handles this site before leaving them to have at it.

Suggested Ages: 4+

Sesame Workshop, (2011). Sesame Street. Sesamestreet.org More

Waiting for the Whales

By Sheryl McFarlane

Waiting for the Whales, by Sheryl McFarlane, was one of those books I loved when I was small. It differs a lot from other books in it’s main character; for the first half of the book it is an unnamed old man. He lives alone between the forest and the sea, grows his own food, and spends his days waiting for that one time of year when the orcas will swim by his home.

The artwork is stunning. Ron Lightburn has a beautiful touch, crafting pictures that evoke a wonderful sense of emotion in each page. From the old man’s loneliness to his camaraderie with his granddaughter, to the simple scene of his death, each scene is done with tact and touching simplicity.

Among its five awards, Waiting for the Whales won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration, and the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrators Award.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

McFarlane, S. (2002). Waiting for the Whales. Orca Book Publishers.

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Grover’s Amazing Dream: A Storybook Introducing New Words

By Liza Alexander

The full title of the book is Grover’s Amazing Dream: A Storybook Introducing New Words. The very first page (after the title page) is a Note to Parents that gives a mini-speech about the importance vocabulary, and how this book will have words that your child will likely not understand. That is the point, in face, to help them learn new words as Grover describes his amazing dream.

The artwork is mediocre. While the colours are very well-done, the strength of it lies in the background. Grover, on every page, always has the same expression – the same one on the cover. While the children can connect to Grover in his attitude – innocent, full of childlike wonder and imagination – the artwork doesn’t convey his attitude very well.

While everything about the book is simple, it does provide a lot of new words and onomatopoeia that will help stretch vocabulary.

Suggested Ages: 4-7

Alexander, L. (1988). Grover’s Amazing Dream: A Storybook Introducing New Words. Western Publishing Company.

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Nadia’s Hands

K. English

Nadia’s Hands tells the story of a Pakistani-American girl and her Auntie Laila’s wedding. Auntie Laila is having a traditional Pakistani wedding, and Nadia will be the flower girl. Already worried that she won’t be good enough as a flower girl, another Auntie puts mehndi (henna) on her hands the day of the wedding. For a long time she has to sit very still, and has a lot of time for self-reflection and worry as various family members come by and remark on her hands. But Nadia doesn’t like her hands – with the mehndi, she doesn’t think they look like her hands at all.

This is a small coming-of-age story, as well as a story of acceptance of heritage. Nadia’s story is a story targeted as an old childrens audience, around 8-10, where they will still appreciate and enjoy the story, but also grasp the meaning and not be put off by the large amounts of text. The artwork is not as fine as some of the others, such as Stellaluna, but it has its own unique style and helps they story move from beginning to end.

Suggested Ages: 5-9

English, K. (1999). Nadia’s Hands. Boyds Mills Press.

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