“Strictly No Elephants” by Lisa Mantchev

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A boy has a pet. It’s a Pet Club Day. Clearly, the boy should head out to the Pet Club, right? Wrong. The boy has a little elephant for a pet and those are excluded. As the two rejected friends walk back home, they meet another pair of unwanted Pet Club members, a girl with a skunk. The children  share their sadness regarding the ungrounded exclusion. However, instead of wasting time on sulking, they decide to open their own Pet Club, where everyone is welcome. Quite a popular Pet Club indeed.

A very relevant story for readers of all ages. Diversity, however present in our lives, is still a controversial topic.  Are we afraid of differences?  Do we find sameness superior? What could happen if we started including instead of excluding?

With her warm and subtle story about loyalty and friendship, complemented by equally warm and subtle illustrations by Teagan Yoo, Lisa Mantchev succeeded in sending a very clear message to our children. She vividly pictured how misleading  and hurtful prejudices can be and how profusely our society could benefit from embracing diversity. Including can be so inspiring.

 

“Maple & Willow Apart” by Lori Nichols

 

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Maple is a big sister and starts a big-girl school. Willow is a little sister and has to stay at home. Maple brings home endless exciting stories about kindergarten. Willow has to learn to have fun around the house by herself. Maple makes new friends at school, Willow meets Pip by an oak tree. Now Willow has stories to share too. As the girls learn to build their separate routines, they realize that they miss each other and find a way to reconnect and share their new worlds. Willow might be too small to go to school with Maple, but Pip isn’t. 

Yesterday was my son’s last day of the summer vacation. However nervous he felt this morning when I dropped him off at school,  I am positive that when I pick him up, he will be bursting with excitement.  I’m sure that his younger brother, a preschooler, will notice the difference between the summer with his brother and the fall without him.   And that’s why we will read the story of Maple and Willow tonight, to remind my boys that they should never allow the school routine to drift them apart.

“Maple and Willow Apart”, with its sweet pencil illustrations, is certainly a heart-warming celebration of the sisterly bond.  And it is a wonderful book to read at this time of the year, to prevent the school-separation drama.

346. “Charlie Hits It Big” by Deborah Blumenthal

Charlie was a little guinea pig with a big dream: Hollywood. He decided to leave his cosy cage and his friend, Sophie, for a glamorous career. How did it work for him? His dream came true, but as he found out, it was not exactly what he had expected… It was time to come back home.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the saying goes. Sometimes we need to leave, in order to know why we should come back.

A delightful story about friendship, dreams of stardom and choosing what’s best for you, whether it is a big life and camera flashes, or a “Fruity-Nut Buffet, Buy 1, Get 1 Free!” with your friend.

Lively tone, a hilarious story and lots of humor in illustrations, by Denise Brunkus.

 

120. “Don’t Need Friends” by Carolyn Crimi

As easy as children get excited about new toys, breaking the ice with new friends does not always come easy. Changing schools or teachers, moving to a new city or country,  as well as saying good-bye to good friends when they have to move away, can be very hard emotionally for a little child. It is good that there are books like the provocatively titled work by Carolyn Crimi, which can be used as a great support tool.

Rat and Possum used to be inseparable, until Possum moved out to another junkyard. Rat turned his sadness into anger and started rejecting any signs of care and friendship from other animals. Finally nobody talked to Rat, no one  invited him to parties and everybody started ignoring the disgruntled rodent, which claimed he didn’t  need any friends. One day, however, Rat met his match, when an equally bitter Dog moved nearby. The two neighbors seemed to attract mutual attention, but bickering and teasing was their only interaction. Until a cruelly cold winter day, when Dog suddenly stopped responding to Rat’s provocations… Actually, Dog’s silence turned out to be the biggest provocation of all, which eventually made Rat share a meal with his grumpy neighbor. More than one meal. “Don’t need many friends,” thought Rat each night as he lay next to Dog. “Just need one.”

Isn’t it a beautiful story about real life dilemmas, so cleverly executed? The junkyard setting and homeless animals bring a very special element to the story. What should be repellent is actually very touching, especially when you add to the mix the expressive illustrations by  Lynn Munsinger. I guess, when things get really bad for us, when we lose a friend, we do feel pretty ratty and all we want to do is to bark at everyone around us. The important thing is not to let this negative phase last too long. There are so many new friends to make everyday. Actually, we don’t even need many. We need one, right?

 

 

 

37. “Hello My Name is Bob” by Linas Alsenas

Bob is orderly, diligent and likes to…sit. Jack is wacky, fearless and can’t sit still. “It’s amazing how two bears who are so different can be friends.” Yet, they are. Very good friends.  And by the way, also quite funny ones. Boring or crazy they can crack you up.

The book is sheer reading pleasure. Dry humor shines through both text and pictures.  My son carries the book around the house asking me to read it over and over again. He keeps quoting it and “wacky” is his new favorite word.

On a serious note, I love the message that the story brings. In the era of celebrities and trend setters, we may not forget that we are all different and we should appreciate our uniqueness. We all have so much to offer even if we think we are useless and pathetic. Opposites attract, after all, so why copycat and imitate? We are not a box of cookies made with the same cookie cutter.  How boring would that be! On the other hand we should also remember that “at the end of the day, we are not THAT different. Jack can be boring, just like me.”