Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

This is a strange book and I can’t understand why it’s a classic, but it is. We got multiple copies as gifts when the kids were born, and we got a bit of a nostalgia rush when we looked at it for the first time since we were kids ourselves. But I don’t think the kids liked it much. I don’t recall them ever asking for it when we read stories at bedtime.

Margaret Wise Brown has a unique voice and her rhythm is evident in Goodnight Moon, but this is not one of her best. Yet, it seems every American kid needs to know it.

The L.A. Review of Books has a 75-year retrospective

Sandra Boynton

Sandra Boynton has had children’s books in print for the past 40+ years, ever since publishing “Hippos Go Berserk” in 1977. Her distinctive and very recognizable illustration style may be more familiar from her many, many calendars, coffee mugs, and cards. By her own estimate, she has drawn between 4,000 and 6,000 greeting cards! Her most famous is probably the birthday card that reads, “Hippo Birdie Two Ewes”

We have several of her 60+ children’s board books and they are an easy and popular gift to give and receive. The drawing style is fun and whimsical and the “stories”, as simple as they are, are great for read-along time. Our kids essentially memorize entire books and then can read along with us.

Her most popular books include “Moo, Baa, La La La!”, “The Going to Bed Book”, “Barnyard Dance”, “A to Z”, “Blue Hat, Green Hat”, and “Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs!” A complete list of her books is on her Wikipedia page

She also has several children’s music albums, including:
“Rhinoceros Tap” (1996)
“Philadelphia Chickens” (2002)
“Dog Train” (2005)
“Blue Moo” (2007)
“Boléro Completely Unraveled” (2010)
“Frog Trouble” (2013)
“Hog Wild” (2017)

Our kids love “Philadelphia Chickens” in particular.

More information about her books at sandraboynton.com

And The Atlantic has a charming article on her (2019/11)

Simon

What is it

Simon is a French TV show (translated into British English) for kids about a rabbit boy and his family and friends

Who is it for

The animation in Simon is simple and appealing enough that kids as young as 2 will enjoy it, and the themes presented are appropriate for kids up to age 9 or so.

What Kids Like

Simon is not as sanitized as most American and Canadian shows for kids are these days, and the characters are often bickering and dealing with bullies and other realistic situations. My kids like seeing characters handle scenarios that come up in their own life and thus are more relatable.

What Parents Like

I like that there is a show that hits the sweet spot between the overly safe PBS Kids stuff (e.g. Daniel Tiger) and obnoxiously sassy Cartoon Network/Disney stuff aimed at tweens (e.g. Teen Titans Go!). Simon manages to not talk down to kids but isn’t trying to be cool, either.

As it says on the Simon Wikipedia page:

He’s at an age when little rabbits (and indeed little children!) are starting to come into their own – challenging relationships with parents, embarking upon school life, learning about the world in general, dealing with authority and of course, language.

I also like that it’s a French show. Every culture has a slightly different approach to raising children, which is why I like my kids to see shows like Pocoyo (Spanish), The Fixies (Russian), PJ Masks (French), and Pororo (Korean), each of which gives a glimpse into a world that is not quite the same as the others.

And lastly, the “full” episodes are all 5 minutes, 19 seconds long. This makes the show a bit easier to digest and makes it easier when watching videos close to bedtime. I can say “OK, last one” and know that there will be closure within a few minutes. That’s harder to do with movies or longer shows.

What the Critics Think

IMDB gives Simon 7.9/10

A review at Animation Magazine

Life with Wifey puts Simon among the top 5 shows for kids on Netflix

Who Made it / History

The show is based on books by Stephanie Blake (American-born, living in France) who is best known for books such as “Poo Bum” (2011) and “Stupid Baby” (2012) which were originally published in France and introduce the character of Simon the rabbit.

The show is produced by GO-N Production and premiered on France TV’s Zouzous channel

More on Wikipedia

Where Can I Get it

Simon is streaming on Netflix and there is an official YouTube channel where the episodes are streaming for free.

Llama Llama

What is it

Llama Llama is a book series and an animated series based on the characters from the books.

Llama Llama is a young child with some separation anxiety, learning the basics of interacting with others and overcoming the conflict and resentment toward his mother.

Who is it for

The themes in the books make it ideal for very young children, age 2 to 4. The show is more general and kids as old as 6 might get something out of it

What Kids Like

The main plot of the first book Llama Llama Red Pajama is of a kid who doesn’t want to go to bed, who misses his mom and gets lonely. He screams for her and she comes running, but then scolds him for his “Llama drama”.

Our young kids relate to that very well and became obsessed with the book after having it read to them the first time. The red pajama book is worth sharing with your child. If they like it, you might consider the other books as well. A few others in the series deal with the same theme of the conflict that can arise between parent and child, especially at bedtime.

The appeal to kids is that, of all the kids stories out there, there aren’t many that explore the anguish of being left alone in a dark room at bedtime.

And the TV version also depicts scenarios that are not common in other kids media. For example, in one episode the child (called simply, “llama llama”) throws a fit at a grocery store and makes a mess by knocking items off a shelf. The mother (“mama llama”) then scolds him and makes him clean it up.

What Parents Like

The illustrations are fun and the rhyming language of the text makes it fun to read with a child.

I can’t think of another book, or set of books, that address the particular issue of the child getting angry at the parent. We see young adult literature in which teens defy the parent, but not board books for kids in which the child resents the parent for unfair bedtime practices.

And I like having scenes like the grocery store one described above. It’s good for kids to see depictions of bad behavior in other kids and seeing the consequences of it.

What the Critics Think

Several books in the series have won awards:

  • Llama Llama Red Pajama: Scholastic Parent and Child “100 Greatest Books for Kids” award winner; Bank Street “Best Children’s Book” recipient; Missouri Building Block Award winner; National Public Radio pick; Carolina Children’s Book Award Master List winner (picture book category)
  • Llama Llama Home With Mama: Children’s Choice Book Award “Illustrator of the Year” nominee (2012)
  • Llama Llama Time to Share: Children’s Choice book Award “Illustrator of the Year” nominee (2013); Thriving Family magazine’s Best Family-Friendly Picture Book finalist (2012)
  • Llama Llama Mad at Mama: Missouri Building Block Award winner; winner of Alabama’s Emphasis on Reading program (grades K-1); Book Sense Book of the Year Children’s Illustrated Honor Book (2008)
  • The show has had mixed reviews, with most ratings giving it ~3 stars out of 5.

    Common Sense Media gives the series 5 stars, however

    In some ways, the show doesn’t really distinguish itself from other shows aimed at young children, with themes such as the importance of sharing, how to express frustration, etc. The way that it does distinguish itself is in how it also addresses themes of conflict between a parent and a young child: e.g. the fights that happen at bedtime when the child decides he wants one more thing to eat before bed.

    Concerns/Flaws

    The show can be a bit generic – not bad, but not particularly different from Daniel Tiger or any of the other many, many wholesome kids’ cartoons out there now.

    In the cartoon, the mother is voiced by the actress Jennifer Garner, so to me the show sounds like a long Capital One commercial. Although, after hearing so much of it, I’ve decided that she has a particularly clear and appealing voice.

    Who Made it

    Anna Dewdney wrote and illustrated about two dozen books, most of them in the Llama Llama series

    She died at age 50 in 2016

    More on Wikipedia

    History

    Dewdney illustrated many books for other authors, but Llama Llama Red Pajama was the first one she wrote and illustrated herself in 2005. It almost immediately became an enormous hit.

    An interview with the author at Parenting magazine

    Where Can I Get it

    The books are published by Viking and are available everywhere. The show is on Netflix

    Mouse Paint

    What is it

    Mouse Paint is a charming board book by Ellen Stoll Walsh that teaches primary and secondary colors. It reminded me a bit of the classic Color Kittens although Mouse Paint has its own style.

    Who is it for

    It’s a book to read to a toddler who is interested in colors and is learning color words, so children aged 1 to 3 would get the most out of it.

    What Kids Like

    The drawings are charming and the mice are cute. They are busy, getting into things. I don’t know whether the kids relate to that, but I think so. With books aimed at very young children, it’s often hard to know exactly why they like something. But our 2-year-old asked to read this about five times yesterday, which I consider a positive review.

    What Parents Like

    The art is appealing, enough that my attention is kept, even when reading it for the fifth time. There is just enough going on that the parent and child can have a conversation about what’s happening. The book encourages communication and engages the child, rather than simply letting them passively listen.

    What the Critics Think

    Barnes & Noble gives Mouse Paint 4.1/5
    GoodReads gives Mouse Paint 4.2/5

    Who Made it / History

    Ellen Stoll Walsh is an author and illustrator, who has been creating children’s books for the past several decades from her studio in Baltimore.

    Her other mouse-themed books for young children include Mouse Count, Mouse Shapes, and her Dot and Jabber series. And she uses frog characters as well in books such as Hop Jump

    Mouse Paint was first published in 1989 and remains in print. You should be able to find it easily.

    Plus-Plus

    What is it

    Plus-Plus is a building toy made up of pieces that look like two plus signs: ++

    They are sort of like Legos, but also sort of like Play-doh

    Who is it for

    Anyone old enough to manipulate small objects and also old enough to know not to put little things in their mouth should be old enough to use it, so maybe 4 at the lower end. And anyone who still plays with Legos would enjoy Plus-Plus as well, so maybe 9 at the upper end. It would also be a decent office desk toy / stress reliever.

    The company also makes a larger version (called, simply, “Big”) that is more than twice the size of regular Plus-Plus and is easier for little hands to work with and are too big to choke on. These would be fun for kids as young as 1 year.

    What Kids Like

    The bricks/blocks connect easily and it’s very simple to make a figure or vehicle or whatever. Unlike Lego, which more and more rely on special pieces, Plus-Plus has only one shape and size of brick and this uniformity actually makes it easier to design things because you always have every shape of brick you need.

    Also, Lego requires rectilinear construction because of the way bricks fit together. But Plus-Plus can fit at angles, resulting in more organic, rounder creations.

    Perhaps the most appealing aspect, for some, is that the creations end up looking like Minecraft creations.

    What Parents Like

    I like having multiple options for building toys.

    I like that Plus-Plus are cheap. Because there are no special pieces, Plus-Plus bricks end up costing something like 5¢. The kids like taking toys in the car and on trips and when visiting people, and there is always the risk with Legos that a certain special minifig helmet or something will get lost. With Plus-plus, we can lose a few pieces and no one will notice.

    What the Critics Think

    The toy gets 4.6 stars at Amazon and 4.9 at FatBrain Toys

    The toy has won many awards, including:

    • Popular Mechanics USA “Best of Toy Fair 2019”
    • Mystery Makers highlighted as one of “2019 Most Trendy Products” at New York Toy Fair
    • Learning Express “Best Construction Toy 2018”

    Concerns/Flaws

    I keep comparing Plus-Plus to Legos because the similarities are obvious. Another similarity is that these things get scattered all over the floor and stepping on them is painful. They are a bit of a choking hazard as well for little ones.

    Who Made it/History

    The company was started in 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark and now has an office in Greenville, SC

    Where Can I Get it

    Plus-Plus used to be something of a boutique toy, only available at specialty educational stores, but they are now everywhere: Amazon, Target, Kohl’s etc.

    You can see the toy in action and images of the various sets on their website https://www.plus-plus.com/

    Steam Train, Dream Train

    What is it

    Steam Train, Dream Train is a very charming, beautifully-illustrated book that tells a simple story in verse of a freight train being loaded by animals, explaining all the types of train cars along the way.

    Who is it for

    Kids as young as 2 (or possibly younger) who are in a “train phase” enjoy the images of the train. Slightly older kids enjoy all the details in the pictures showing the animals and cargo, kids a bit older than that enjoy the verse by Sherri Duskey Rinker and can read along. So 2 to 5 is probably ideal. It’s been a fixture on our shelf for years as each kid discovers it.

    What Kids Like

    Trains are always a hit for some kids. The illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld are wonderful and full of details for the kids to pick out.

    What Parents Like

    The theme is of a night train being loaded before bed, and is perfect bedtime reading. The final page makes you ask the question of whether the story you just read is real, or part of a dream.

    The cover is attractive and passes the “Melissa and Doug test” of being appealing enough to show off on a bookshelf.

    I have a fond memory of buying this book soon after it was published, on a lovely, snowy evening in December at Books of Wonder in New York. I read it to our oldest perhaps 50 times over the next few months.

    What the Critics Think

    4.4/5 at Barnes & Noble, 4.1/5 at Goodreads

    Who Made it/History

    Tom Lichtenheld drew the pictures and Sherri Duskey Rinker. They worked together on Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site in 2011 as well.

    Pete the Cat

    What is it

    Pete the Cat is a series of books starring a cool cat and his animal friends.

    Pete the cat is now an icon with his own musical and his own TV show on Amazon Prime.

    Who is it for

    The books are for younger kids, as they tend to focus on simple concepts such as colors, friendship, etc. The show seems to be intended for slightly older kids and has stories and subtle jokes that probably only grown-ups will appreciate.

    What Kids Like

    Regardless of my initial impressions, kids love it. They love the illustration style and the attitude of the main character, Pete, and they love the repetitive say-along style of the writing.

    We have several of the books and frequently check others out of the library.

    What Parents Like

    I first heard of Pete the Cat in 2008 or so. A local bookstore had a huge poster of the cat and books signed by the author. I did not understand the appeal and thought the writing and illustration was so crude and simple that anyone could do it. It made me think that I could write a children’s book if this thing could get published.

    But I haven’t written a children’s book and not only did “I Love My White Shoes” get published, there are now 40+ titles in the Pete the Cat series.

    The show is actually interesting to me. I don’t really have much of an opinion of the books, but the show has a certain sophistication that most kids’ shows lack. The characters talk about presence of mind and consciousness that no other show does. If anything, it hearkens back to Linus’s monologues from Peanuts.

    Many kids’ shows focus on one subject. ‘Peg + Cat’ and ‘Odd Squad’ discuss math, ‘Super Why’ covers reading, ‘Arthur’ covers issues related to responsibility and friendship, ‘Word Girl’ does vocabulary, etc. But ‘Pete the Cat’ is the only one that covers philosophy. In the Halloween episode, characters have lines including, “I’m not dressed as a ghost, I’m dressed as your preconceived idea of a ghost”

    There is also a strong focus on music, and real-life couple Elvis Costello and Diana Krall do the voices for Pate the Cat’s parents.

    What the Critics Think

    The show gets 8.5/10 on IMDB and the books get 4.4/5 on Goodreads

    Who Made it/History

    From Wikipedia:

    The book uses a character first devised by James Dean, an artist active in Atlanta, who drew up Pete in 1999 and in 2006 self-published The Misadventures of Pete the Cat. Litwin wrote a story about and a song for the cat, and the two began a partnership.

    The collaboration between Dean and Litwin was severed in 2011. James Dean and wife Kimberly Dean continue to write and illustrate the Pete the Cat series, now over 40 books, together. Pete the Cat, the animated TV series which was released on September 21, 2018, based on James and Kimberly’s children’s books produced by Alcon, Appian Way and Phineas and Ferb co-creator Swampy Marsh was preceded by a New Years special on December 26, 2017 on Amazon. The cartoon includes the voices of Elvis Costello and Diana Krall.

    Where Can I Get it

    The books are everywhere. The show is on Amazon

    More about the series and the author and illustrator

    Tumble Leaf

    What is it

    Tumble Leaf is a very charming stop-motion animation series about a blue fox living on a shipwreck and his adventures with other animals.

    The animation quality is impressively good. The tone is gentle and sweet.

    If you have any interest in animation or storytelling, the Tumble Leaf page is a fascinating look at how a top-rated stop-motion animation show for children gets made.

    Who is it for

    The target audience is pre-schoolers. There’s a lot to look at so even kids as young as two would get something out of it. Six might be the maximum age.

    What Kids Like

    The animation is very rich with lots of detail, and kids can watch episodes multiple times and see new things. The whimsy and charm of the premise (each day a crab pulls some flotsam from the beach and puts it in the ‘finding box’ on a shipwreck) is captivating.

    What Parents Like

    There is no violence or harsh language or tense situations, but at the same time it’s not dull. The characters engage in creative projects, and although there is no overt education, the show promotes the values of creative problem-solving and discovery.

    What the Critics Think

    According to the series’s website, Tumble Leaf has won 8 emmys and several other awards.

    The show gets 8/10 on IMDB, 5/5 on Common Sense Media, 4.9/5 on Amazon, and 96% on Google.

    Who Made it

    Tumble Leaf is mad by Bix Pix Entertainment which has made many other animations, but none as widely broadcast as Tumble Leaf. Their reel page on Vimeo has many examples of their work.

    History

    Tumble Leaf premiered in 2014 as an Amazon Studios original series based on the short film Miro and is now in its 4th season.

    Where Can I Get it

    The show is streaming on Amazon

    You can see the pilot episode on YouTube and on IMDB.

    Shake a Leg!

    There are so many board books available for little kids, and it’s hard to know in advance which ones kids will actually like.

    This is one of the few that our little ones keep pulling off the shelf

    What is it

    Shake a Leg! is a stanard-sized board book with a dozen spreads with drawings of Sesame Street Muppets rubbing their tummies, patting their heads, etc. With each picture there is an associated movement and sound.

    Who is it for

    This book is ideal for a child that is old enough to be read to and still learning body parts and basic sounds.

    What Kids Like

    The kids like that the book is essentially an ultra-simple yoga routine instruction. Reading it together becomes a fun 5 minutes of movement together.

    What Parents Like

    I like that the book, with its movement, is different from most other books. It gets me out of the chair and it’s fun for both of us.

    What the Critics Think

    GoodReads gives it 4.3/5. Amazon gives it 4.8/5

    Who Made it

    The book was written by Constance Allen, who has written dozens of books based on Sesame Street characters. The illustrations are by Maggie Swanson, who has illustrated several dozen kids’ books, many of which are Sesame Street books.

    History

    The book was first published in 2010 as part of the Big Bird’s Favorite Board Book series.