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

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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.

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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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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See How You Grow

By Dr. Patricia Pearse

(See How You Grow: A lift-the-flap book is more of a medical book then a story, meant for children who ask where babies come from. The first half of the book is dedicated to Sarah’s little brother Ben – his conception, growth, and birth.

This book was written by a doctor, and the medical diagrams are excellent, though perhaps beyond the true comprehension of children. The growth of baby Ben and the lift-the-flap aspect of the book will keep children’s attention, and it has some interesting analogies when describing why and how the body changes when it grows (motorcycle messengers delivering messages). Overall, it’s a good (if somewhat dated) guide to the beginning of life.  Some parts, like the page on nutrition, will fall absolutely flat with kids, since they don’t control what they eat, and they likely won’t like half of what is on the page.

Suggested Ages: 3-5+

Pearse, P. (1988). See How You Grow. Barron’s Educational Series.

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Martin’s Big Words

By Doreen Rappaport

Martin’s Big Words is a short biography of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, from childhood to death. Meant for young children, the story is told bluntly and as simplistically as possible as it covers his life is separatism, his life in the church, cries for de-segregation, and death.

On the cover, there is no title, no author or illustrator, only MLK’s face.  The focus, simply and elegantly written, is on MLK’s message, presenting it to children in a way that they will understand. It is likely they will not truly grasp this importance – the target audience is too young – but it is likely to be one of those books that stays with them as they grow and learn.

Suggested Ages: 4-9

Rappaport, D. (2007). Martin’s Big Words. Disney Book Group.

What Do People Do All Day?

By Richard Scarry
Less of a storybook and more of a casual, introductory view of what, exactly, do people do all day? WDPDAD (What Do People Do All Day?) is a fabulous book full of details that will keep any child entertained as they learn the words associated with everything, from specific buildings to tools to people.

WDPDAD does not shy away from giving in-depth details either: in the chapter of building a house, Richard Scary shows us exactly what goes into building a house, including the sewer pipes. It teaches children what the keystone of a bridge is, and how people ride on a train. For the inquisitive young mind, What Do People Do All Day is one of the best books you could ever find.

Suggested ages: 3-5

Scarry, R. (1968). What Do People Do All Day? (Abridged). Random House.

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Stellaluna

By Janell Cannon

Stellaluna

Stellaluna

Stellaluna is the story of a baby bat who cannot yet fly. Separated from her mother when they are attacked by an owl, she falls into a bird nest, where is adopted by the three chicks who live there. When she finally learns to fly, her differences become more obvious, and she is eventually reunited with her mother.

In addition to the story, Stellaluna also offers a few bonus pages of bat facts that are sure to whet the appetite of the young reader.

The artwork is beautiful. Each picture is beautifully painted and flawlessly reflects the tone of the page that accompanies it. The picture of Stellaluna reaching up to receive her insectoid meal is gorgeous, while flawlessly transitioning to comedic picture of her spinning around a branch.

Suggested ages: 5-9

Cannon, J. (1993). Stellaluna. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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