reviews and stories about parenting with picture books





On Wednesday morning we went to story hour at the library. Our children’s librarian is everything I love about Meg Ryan as the Storybook Lady in You’ve Got Mail, and more.

Miss B. reads, asks questions and leads the kids in songs and movements. She even incorporates science and math.

After story hour, Miss. B guides the little ones into the children’s section to get stamps on their hands (imagine the paparazzi trailing a movie star), while the moms disperse amongst the stacks (bins, in the children’s section) looking for good books.

Have you ever watched moms picking out books for their kids?

There are hundreds and hundreds of books to choose from, but somehow, with a glance to the cover, a flip through the first few pages, and a hurried-half reading of an excerpt if there is still any doubt, Mom A picks Book 1.

Mom B picks Book 2.

Mom C had considered Book 1 and Book 2, but chooses instead, Book 3.

By now children a, b, c, d, e, f and g have either saturated their shirts in the child-sized drinking fountain (my son), piled up their own stack of twenty of books that “look good!” (my daughter) or, if they not my kids, are sitting quietly doing puzzles or playing on the computers.

Book picking is an art and a science, and it has to be done FAST.

I’m getting better at it. Just as I’ve finally learned that a list for the grocery store is essential, so too is a bit of prepping before picking books.

For him? Her? Both?

To be read at breakfast? Lunch? Bedtime?

To jazz us up, or quiet us down?




The next book in a series? Or by a particular author? Illustrator?

If I don’t want to walk out of the library with twenty new titles, or out of the bookstore broke, it helps to have a plan.

But sometimes, it is also fun to walk in and see what jumps off the shelf.

The books I am blogging about today are not recipients of starred reviews. Rather, with glances to their covers, quick flips through their first few pages, and rushed half-readings of a few excerpts they made their way into my bag. They have proved (after months of reading them many times) to be perfect additions to our growing collection of books about TRUCKS.

Red Truck by Kersten Hamilton, illustrated by Valeria Petrone (Viking, 2008)

When I update my Top Ten List, Red Truck will be given its rightful place there.

A day without Red Truck is rare.

This book is a hit in our house for one reason: conflict—conflict of the man versus nature (or rather bus versus nature) variety.

The book begins: “Red truck is a tow truck, a work truck, not a show truck,” and continues: “Falling rain, melting snow, a rising creek—our bus won’t go!”

There is a real problem here. This bus, full of school children, is stuck, and (although not before the kids are safely exited) is slipping backwards down the hill.

For my son, the conflict is the heart of this story. But consider also the it is the way this short, straightforward board book is written—with onomatopoeia, rhymes, suspenseful questions: “Can Red Truck make it up the hill?” and satisfying answers that we can both shout out: “Red Truck can! Red Truck Will!” and…

my son is on the edge of his breakfast seat.

His waffles are getting cold, his cereal soggy, but Red Truck is action/suspense writing for two year-old boys at its best, and my son isn’t going to miss a word, or a picture, until Red Truck does his job, saves the bus, and becomes our “hero for a rainy day.”

The Happy Man and His Dump Truck, by Miryam, illustrated by Tibor Gergely (Random House, Inc)

This Little Golden Book Classic (1950) copyright renewed (1978) and now printed as a board book had me at “Whee.”

Repetitive phrases that kids can shout out are as exciting as farm animals (especially ones that moo and quack) in picture books. This book has both.

Well, sort of…

It begins: “Once upon a time there was a man who had a dump truck. Every time he saw a friend, he would wave his had and tip the dumper. One day he was riding along in his dump truck, singing a happy song, when he met a pig going along the road.  ‘Would you like a ride in my dump truck?’ he asked. ‘Oh, thank you!’ said the pig.’”

“After they had gone a little way down the road, the man saw his friend. He waved his hand and tipped the dumper. ‘Whee,’ said the pig,” sliding gleefully down the raised truck bed.

When the farmer drives past pig’s friends, he invites them to come along for a ride. Soon enough, the farmer sees another friend, waves, and tips the dumper.

I can feel my lips quickly purse and then pull back into the wide beginning of a “Weee…”

I begin the high-pitched squeal…

But when I look down on the page…

There is no WEEE!

The animals are sliding down the truck bed. But they aren’t wee-ing!

I am disappointed, but the problem is easily solved:  I improvise: “Weee! Weee!”

And now, of course, whenever we get to a page where animals are sliding down the dumper (it happens for a third and final time near the end of the book) my son “weees!” too.

I had the rare experience of being alone with my son the first time we read this book. The next day, when my daughter was up early enough to join us for breakfast, we read it again. When we got to the first tip of the dumper, my son yelled out “weee” even before I did.

My daughter dropped her waffle and stared at us. I could tell she was thinking: “How did he know that was coming? How did he know!?”

For the first time in the history of PBH, Will was teaching Katy the best way to read a book.

My son sensed the magnitude of the situation, and “Weeeeeed!” again with all his heart.

The Little Dump Truck by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Bob Kolar (Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2009).

The Little Dump Truck is lacking conflict, “weees” and talking farm animals, but it is beautifully designed.

The illustrations of “chunky,”  digital, anthropomorphized construction vehicles and a driver named “Hard Hat Pete” are so much fun to look at.

My kids also enjoy the shape (a perfect square) and feel of the pages (thick) of this short, rhyming text that drives readers through the day of a dump truck (complete with a gas station stop and cup of coffee for Hard Hat Pete).

This is a quieter book, but our collection wouldn’t be complete without it.

Conflict, “wee,” great art–and we are truckin’.

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