86. “Scare a Bear?” by Kathy Jo-Wargin

Do you still remember the “Moose on the Loose” we dealt with a few weeks ago? I hope that  if you did happen to meet a moose in your yard, our speculations helped you to properly deal with the tricky intruder. This time, Kathy-Jo Wargin has another serious question for us. “Do you know how to scare a bear?” Isn’t it a vital matter when you go camping or hiking? You must be ready even for the most unlikely emergencies.

So what would you do to scare a bear? Especially the one not so easy to scare? “Would you bang pots and pans?… Would you shout? Would you yell? Would you ring a loud bell?” What if that bear wanted to swim in your pool without a suit? Or fish from your boat without his own fishing rod? What about dinner with the beast? “Would you share your peas?” What if he wanted to stay overnight? Would your bed go “KERPLUNK” if he climbed in?

Well, it is easy to get carried away as far as potential scenarios, so it is also crucial to find a universal solution for a hard to scare bear, whatever happens.  I am not going to spill the beans, but I can tell you that the answer is in the book and it will surprise you. Go ahead and  find out for yourself. Your laughs are guaranteed as you go from one absurd idea and crazy picture to another.

I am disappointed with one thing, though, the rhyming. Although the pattern mimics the one in “Moose on the Loose”, this time it doesn’t have the same appeal in my opinion. It is much more inconsistent, which takes away from the overall flow and rhythm.

85. “Biscuit Visits the Big City” by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

If your little reader is a fan of a friendly puppy, Biscuit,  likes big cities, or hot-dogs, this book has it all.

Biscuit and his companion pay a visit to a friend in a big city. There is so much to discover: tall buildings, fast cars, lots of people… One has to be very careful.  Suddenly the dog runs away. The girl starts to worry that her puppy will get lost, but in fact, the dog has just found their friend faster. It is a very special friend. He sells hot-dogs, so everyone gets a special treat. Including Biscuit. Go figure. 

My son loves the “Biscuit” series. Since he starts showing interest in reading by himself, the simple lines and helpful pictures by Pat Schories are just a perfect fit. Besides, “Biscuit Visits the Big City” is a great introduction to the wild world of bigger towns. One needs to switch on different instincts when surrounded by sky-scrapers, honking taxi cabs and neon lights.  And last but not least, Biscuit is the guy who talked my son into eating hot-dogs. My husband tried many times, but failed. So did my mother. But when recently my little picky eater suddenly wanted a hot-dog, “the same like Biscuit”, we all knew who made my son truly an American boy.

84. “A Train Goes Clickety- Clack” by Jonathan London

For a grown-up a train can be delayed or on time, empty or crowded, quiet or noisy. We keep it simple and factual. But when you are a child, the train analysis goes much deeper. A train can go “chugga-chugga” or “clickety-clack”, or even “jiggly-rumba” Its wheels can clatter, couplings clang and whistles choo-choo. There is a whole new vocabulary connected with those long and mighty machines. Don’t ask me why, but little boys and girls alike, can spend hours pushing little wagons around the train table,  watching movies about talking trains or reading books, if  only they feature a little engine. That’s how engaging trains are!

What would we do without your invention, Mr. James Watt! Writers would be deprived of a big chunk of their source of inspiration! Luckily we do have trains. Jonathan London wrote a great picture book about them,  Denis Roche illustrated the book with bright pictures, and hopefully you will read it to your child. Not only is it a fun read-aloud, but it is also a great way to introduce children to the concept of opposites: fast-slow, up-down, old-new.

83. “Miles To Go” by Jamie Harper

I still remember the excitement when we bought our son his first proper toy car. It was a red truck with a trailer. My son has been playing with it for two years now and he can’t get bored, even though his car collection has grown dramatically in the meantime. As I noticed some toys can’t be outgrown. A little red and yellow plastic coupe is yet another example. My son just loves taking rides in his vehicle. He parks it next to our car in the garage and he fills it with up at the sprinkler station. We will be moving out soon and the red-yellow car is going to be shipped as well, of course.

Something tells me that you can easily relate to what I am talking about. If not,  “Miles To Go” will paint a real picture.

Miles drives his car to school. His drive is far more exciting than regular commute. He honks at Gus, the dog, (not today though, the horn doesn’t work), drops the mail into a mailbox, give his car a wash in a puddle, successfully avoids a head-on collision with a  four-wheeler, goes through a green tunnel and parks safely next to Otto’s scooter. What a joy ride!

If your child has any interest in cars, bikes or any other kind of vehicles, this book is a real must-read. The pictures are bright, amusing and very engaging. My son loves the street maps showing the route Miles takes to get to school and back. And the story is such a reality show. Miles is every child and every child is Miles.

82. “Oink?” by Margie Palatini

Thomas and Joseph were the perfect pigs. They were sloppy, lazy and very happy about it. Unfortunately, their neighbors didn’t agree with the pigs’ way of living. How can they be happy without a freshly painted fence? Hens wondered. Rabbit couldn’t believe in happiness without a green diet of carrots and lettuce, and Duck found a daily swim a crucial element of happy. At first the intervention team tried just to guide and motivate the pigs to make improvements, but since Joseph and Thomas did it the pig-way, the neighbors had to take charge. In the end, the Hens painted their fence, Rabbit picked fresh vegetables and Duck dug out a water hole.  The hard workers were as tired as proud of themselves and the pigs… were happily rolling in the mud again.

How many times has someone told you that you would be happier, healthier, or more successful  doing things their way? Somehow, people always know us better than we do. My mom always saw a medical career ahead of me (her own unfulfilled dream), my meat-loving husband feels sorry for me missing out on juicy steak, and my friends claim that living far from my roots makes me homesick.  Isn’t it a unique human trait, to measure others with our own measuring cups? I realize it is very difficult to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, can’t we try just  a bit harder? There are so many ways to happiness and the best one is our own.

81. “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” by Laura Numeroff

My son eats donuts because of his dad’s guilty eating habits. Whenever they would go out and about, “just the boys”, they would end up having donuts. My son knows muffins, partly due to my own sweet tooth, but mainly thanks to Laura Numeroff.

What will happen if you give a moose a muffin? Of course, he will ask for jam to go with it, right? And then he will want another muffin. Or perhaps a whole new batch. The beast might end up in your kitchen, wearing your sweater. You might get involved in making scenery for some wacky puppet show. Someone might say BOO at some point and there will be lots of cleaning up to do. As you can tell, treating a moose with one muffin can bear serious consequences, so think twice.

The book is a real treat, baked with the best quality ingredients. There is nothing predictable about the story (unless you have already read it sixty-seventh times, and I bet you eventually will). Every line is a surprising bite that will make your little reader burst with laughter. The humorous pictures by Felicia Bond go with the story like blackberry jam with muffins. You just want more and more of this yummy reading delight and so you keep reading it. I would say, it is a rather safe addition, so just go for it.


80. “Here Comes Gosling” by Sandy Asher

It’s time to call on our friends Froggie and Rabbit again. What are they up to this time?

Well, Froggie and Rabbit were getting ready for a visit of Goose, Gander and their new baby, Gosling. Froggie was hyper excited. Not about waiting, though. ” Wait… can’t wait… gotta wait… gonna wait.” Luckily, Rabbit had the whole waiting time filled with activities, like choosing a picnic spot or fixing lunch. Froggie realized that waiting was quite fun! And then the guests arrived and Gosling’s excruciating and unstoppable  honking began. Froggie decided that he could perfectly wait a bit longer, and as he as he did,  he hummed a little song and danced a little dance. Before long, Gosling’s screaming stopped. Froggie earned a goosey kiss form a happy baby and the whole party had a great picnic with a cake and games, until the baby gave a goosey snore and it was time to say  ‘Toodle-oo’.

Waiting is surely not what children do best, isn’t it? The whole concept of time seems so puzzling to the little ones. Although my son fully operates on tomorrow, later and next week, I am not really sure how he comprehends those words. I still remember my own confusion as far as the notion of time. Once, I was waiting for my favorite cartoon to start. My dad told me it would begin “in ten minutes”. I was asking him if it was the time yet, basically every thirty seconds.

Now, although I get the idea of time pretty well, I even now that it can fly, I still have some issues with waiting. I like to have a plan, but at the same time, waiting for too long builds up such high expectations of the awaited event, that it takes away the fun of it. I always want my birthdays to be happy days, for example. And then I get so stressed out and my big day turns out a cranky day.

Anyways, “Here Comes Gosling” is a wonderful way of bridging the concept of waiting to children. Especially to those expecting the arrival their younger siblings…

79. “At the End of the Rainbow” by A. H. Benjamine

Fox and Badger set out to the end of the rainbow to find treasure. They were convinced it would be something of high value, like gold or jewelry. On their way, they met a Squirrel. She called her acorns ‘treasure’. But that was not what Badger and Fox were looking for. Then, they met Mother Duck with her treasure, Duckling, and Old Hare with his treasure, memories, but the treasure hunters were still convinced that those were not REAL treasure. Until the rain made them take a break from their pursuit and think. The treasure they were searching for was just there…

The story is real treasure itself. It makes you smile, it makes you feel good and it makes you think. What is the real value in our lives? Is it all the money we are trying to make? Is it a new car, a new house, fancy clothes? Every day we work hard to achieve what? What is waiting for us at the end of the day?

Perhaps we need a little break. Perhaps we need to stop just for a minute and revision our priorities and goals. Perhaps our pursuit of material happiness is fata morgana, an illusive mirage. Perhaps we have already found our treasure?

I have found mine. Mother Duck and Old Hare know what I mean. What is your treasure?


78. “The Little Engine That Could” edited by Watty Piper

To balance off the harsh lesson taught in the book featured yesterday, let’s have a moment of optimism with the embodiment of positive thinking, the surprisingly capable Little Engine. Although this classic is on the daily reading agenda in our house, I have been in two minds about bringing it up.  America was raised on “The Little Engine That Could”. Why to bring up a story that has been read through and through by every American family for over a century now? Well, perhaps not only American parents are going to read this post. And secondly, perhaps some American parents need a little reminder that the good old books haven’t gone bad.

“The Little Engine That Could” is our staple good-night story. Since my son knows it word by word, we start with a short summary. My little reader looks at the first picture and tells me all about the engines: the red one pulling a train of toys and food for good little boys and girls over the mountain, is the one that gets broken down. And the shiny new engine is a proud passenger engine, unwilling to help the toys to get over the hill. The big black engine is the freight engine and behind her, there is the old, rusty engine, too tired to pull the train. And then my son’s eyes light up and he points to the good-hearted and strong-willed little blue engine, which successfully brings the train over the mountain and to the children. Where there is a will, there is a way, as the saying goes. Isn’t that a message a children’s story should convey?

I hope my son will always choose a little blue engine as a role model. I hope I will always remember to do the same. It is so easy to get caught up in our own routine and priorities that helping others, which should be our basic instinct, becomes burdensome.  We are too busy, too tired, we need to go to work, watch our favorite show, sleep in a bit longer… There is no way we can find time and energy should you need help. Perhaps, it is time to change the attitude, though. We can be the engine with a power to make someone smile.

77. “Ugly Fish” by Kara LaReau

Ugly Fish was the only fish in the tank and he liked it this way. Teensy Fish wanted to move in. She had good intentions to stay on friendly terms with Ugly Fish, but the selfish Ugly Fish couldn’t care less about company and ate her. Kissy Fish, Stripy and Spotty Fish, they all shared the same fate. Ugly Fish had the whole tank for himself again. He thought he would be happy, but instead he missed the “intruders”. He wished he had a playmate. And then his wish came true. Not exactly, though… The new fish had a wish of his own…

And here is the thing with this book: it is surely a unique take on children’s literature. It is funny, but it is twisted. Usually, picture books are like Hollywood movies, with a happy ending. Not this one. Actually, my sensitive boy covers himself with a blanket by the end of the story. He is genuinely scared of the Shiny Fish! The story is surely engaging, but it is creepy, indeed. Especially when the black humor is reinforced by the not-so-cute  illustrations.

As far as the message, the book does teach an important life lesson. Don’t treat others the way you don’t want to be treated yourself. Be nice, be generous, share with others. The others might become your friends. But, I have to admit, perhaps “Ugly Fish” is not the most suited parable for sweet  preschoolers, is it? Life is cruel, no doubt about it, but isn’t there enough time to learn about it a bit later?

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