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.

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.

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.

    In most 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 is 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.

    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.

    I’m Just No Good at Rhyming

    I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups

    What is it
    I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is a book in the same vein as Shel Silverstein and Edward Lear, with clever wordplay and nonsense verses that often have profound thoughts buried in silly verse.

    Who is it for

    It’s for families that read together. I found that this is a book that the kids much prefer to be read aloud by an adult, rather than read on their own.

    The silliness is over the heads of the very young, so 5 may be the lower limit. Older kids who are competent readers and writers would also enjoy it.

    What Kids Like

    They like the silliness of it, the monsters, and the occasional whiff of possible violence. Many of the poems suggest at tantalizing secrets.

    They also like the whimsical illustrations by Lane Smith

    The cover of the book has an endorsement by B.J. Novak, who wrote “The Book with No Pictures”, which remains one of our kids’ favorites. This endorsement helped sell the book to my kids and convince them to give it a try.

    What Parents Like

    I like that ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’ text is so appealing to my kids. And I genuinely like some of the poems. Many are like the best of Dr. Suess, causing me to stop and think a bit. My favorite is the eleven-stanza “A Short Saga” which has some of the absurd humor of the song “Oh, Susannah!” but goes beyond that.

    The sun that night was freezing hot,
    The ground was soaking dry.
    I met a man where he was not
    And greeted him good-bye.

    With shaven beard combed in a mess
    And hair as black as snow,
    All bundled up in nakedness
    And moving blazing snow

    I said, “Then let’s have never met.”
    To this, he nodded “No.”
    “This night, I’ll vividly forget.
    Until back then, hello.”

    What the Critics Think

    The critics love it.

    Reviews at
    * School Library Journal
    * School Library Journal (by a different reviewer)
    * Book Depository

    * NPR has an interview with the author

    * GoodReads gives it 4.35 stars
    * GoodReads gives it 5/5

    Who Made it / History

    From the publisher’s website:

    Chris Harris is a writer and executive producer for How I Met Your Mother and The Great Indoors, and a writer for The Late Show with David Letterman. His pieces have appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, ESPN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and on NPR. He was also the author of the anti-travel guide Don’t Go Europe! He lives in Los Angeles.

    Lane Smith wrote and illustrated Grandpa Green, which was a 2012 Caldecott Honor book, and It’s a Book, which has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. His other works include the national bestsellers Madam President and John, Paul, George & Ben, the Caldecott Honor winner The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, Math Curse, and Science Verse, among others. His books have been New York Times Best Illustrated Books on four occasions. In 2012 the Eric Carle Museum named him an Honor Artist for lifelong innovation in the field of children’s books, and in 2014 he received the Society of Illustrators Lifetime Achievement award. Lane and his wife, book designer Molly Leach, live in rural Connecticut.

    Where Can I Get it

    I’m Just No Good at Rhyming is available at most major bookstores and Amazon.

    You can find educator kits at the publisher’s website

    And you can preview the book at Google Books

    Pig Will and Pig Won’t

    My dad got this book for my kids. He fondly remembered reading it to my brother and me when we were young.

    What is it

    Pig Will and Pig Won’t is a simple book about two brothers, one of whom behaves well while the other does not. The good pig gets rewarded and the bad pig changes his ways because he wants rewards as well. Although this sounds a bit Machiavellian for a kids book — teaching them that good behavior is a quid-pro-quo situation where treats are ‘bought’ by not misbehaving — the story is fun, sweet, and engaging.

    Anyone who remembers Goofus and Gallant from the Highlights for Children magazine on the coffee table at the pediatrician’s office will recognize the theme.

    Who is it for

    All kids could use a reminder about the importance of good behavior, but we noticed the book resonated particularly well with our oldest, who is frequently chastised for behavior. The story and language is quite simple, so only younger kids will get much out of it.

    What Kids Like

    The kids like the classic Richard Scarry drawing style. They always enjoy looking at the details in his illustrations. And they like that the characters ‘win’ in the end.

    What Parents Like

    There really are not many engaging books that depict good manners. So many books now focus on space and STEM and try to be fun without really giving examples of how to act. Perhaps books on manners is an old-fashioned idea.

    What the Critics Think

    Goodreads gives it 4/5

    Who Made it

    Richard Scarry wrote and illustrated over 300 books until his death in 1994. He trained as an artist in Philadelphia before moving to Switzerland and many of his books take place in a kind of idealized Swiss village.

    His most famous characters are Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm.

    Where Can I Get it

    Google has a preview

    The Great Paper Caper

    Caution: Reading this book with your kids will probably make them want to start folding paper airplanes (and you will want to as well), so may not be ideal for bedtime reading.

    What is it

    The Great Paper Caper is a unique book, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, previously known for “The Incredible Book-Eating Boy” and many other titles.

    Most of the creatures (plus one kid) of the forest work together to solve the mystery of why so many tree branches are disappearing.

    Who is it for

    This is a fun one for non-readers and beginning readers as well as more mature readers. The story is not that complex, but most of the plot is implicit and the very young may not understand what’s going on. For example, on one page we see an owl alighting upon a branch, and a few pages later we see the owl trying to do so again, but no branch is there. Inferring that someone has sawn off the branch is a mental leap that very young kids can’t make.

    While younger kids focus on the animals and the overt aspects of the pictures, older kids focus more on the bear and his motivations.

    What Kids Like

    The book is very dense with details. Even the inside cover includes instructions for different paper airplanes (and the instructions on the inside of the back cover are different from the ones on the front). So they like poring over the drawings, studying the details.

    The book is also very varied in how it approaches storytelling. A few pages have overt descriptions of what is happening, other pages rely entirely on images to tell the story. Part of the book is a kid-level police procedural while others parts are a touching, almost somber exploration of the motivation of the “villain” in the story.

    And of course, they get inspired to make their own paper airplanes.

    What Parents Like

    I’m generally a fan of auteur works like this, where the pictures are drawn by the person who wrote the story. Having a single vision for art and word makes it a more personal and unique creation. Collaborative works can be wonderful, but they are more likely to have that taste of where the creative decisions were made by committee. This book does not have that problem, and the occasional weirdness or inconsistency in style makes it that much more interesting for both adults and kids.

    This is also fun to read because there are multiple ways to do so. Because so much of the story is told through pictures, I can choose to either describe the actions in detail, or briefly, or I can just stick to the text and let the kids figure out the meaning of the pictures on their own.

    The book hints at issues such as mistrust and guilt, and if you take the time the book can spawn some interesting conversations with your kids.

    The book is even used as a teaching resource to explore issues such as empathy and creativity

    What the Critics Think

    “The Great Paper Caper” gets 4/5 on Goodreads

    Publishers Weekly has a review, as does The School Library Journal

    Who Made it

    Oliver Jeffers is an Irish artist (born in Australia and now living in Brooklyn) also known for his childrens’ book illustrations, most famous for the pictures in “The Day the Crayons Quit” by Drew Daywalt, and also for the pictures in “The Boy in the Striped Pajames” by John Boyne.

    Jeffers has many of his own books as well, that he wrote and illustrated on his own.

    He has been putting out two or three books each year since 2004.

    Where Can I Get it

    Google has a preview

    Harper Collins has an mp3 of the audiobook version

    On Beyond Zebra!

    Dr. Seuss wrote more than 60 books, many of them selling 10 million or copies or more over the past several decades. While “On Beyond Zebra!” has never been as popular as “The Cat in the Hat” or “Green Eggs and Ham”, it is one of his better ones, in my opinion.

    I don’t actually recall how we got this added to our collection, but it was probably a gift. And of all the Dr. Seuss books on our shelf, this is the one the kids pull out most frequently. “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” is fun, and we read that to the kids when they are very young, but they lose interest in that once they begin learning to read on their own.

    And while I frequently push for titles such as “Bartholomew and the Oobleck”, that just doesn’t resonate with the kids as much as “On Beyond Zebra!”

    What is it

    The book is typical of most of Dr. Seuss’s books, where each page is a nearly standalone depiction of a whimsical creature in a whimsical location, with a few lines of verse. In the case of this book, however, each page is also devoted to an exotic novel letter. That is, the book suggests there are letters that come after ‘Z’, which are needed to spell these creatures and their locations.

    Who is it for

    “On Beyond Zebra!” is ideal for kids in the first few years of learning to read. I would say ages 4 to 7

    What Kids Like

    The kids like the exotic creatures, such as the cow with 98 udders or the “Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs” that float around as living stepping stones. They also like the invented letters. For new readers, the standard alphabet is already strange and foreign, so introducing them to ever stranger, more foreign letters actually gives them confidence about the standard letters that they do know.

    What Parents Like

    It’s a book that’s fun to read, and the images are so fantastical that I’m able to maintain my interest. And more than many other books, “On Beyond Zebra!” inspires questions about words and animals.

    What the Critics Think

    Goodreads gives “On Beyond Zebra!” 4 out 5

    Oliver Jeffers has

    Concerns/Flaws

    Some of Dr. Suess’s books have not aged well, with depictions of people or cultures or places that are now seen as offensive. This book has none of that, however.

    Google has a preview

    Someone has taken the time to add the “Seussian” letters of “On Beyond Zebra!” to the Unicode standard: http://www.evertype.com/standards/csur/seuss.html

    The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes

    What is it

    ‘The Wild Robot’ and its sequel ‘The Wild Robot Escapes’ is a very charming 2-part (so far) series about a sentient robot surviving in the wilderness, written and illustrated by Peter Brown.

    Who is it for

    The official website gives the recommended ages of 8 to 11, but every one of us enjoyed the audio book, even the 4-year-old. The books are chapter books, with occasional (wonderful) illustrations, so young readers who are used to a lot of pictures won’t want to read it. But the story is deep enough that adults and older children would enjoy it.

    What Kids Like

    It has robots, and fighting, and talking animals, but also feels like a “grown-up” story in some ways. Characters suffer and get distressed. Some characters die. This is all handled very well, and is not upsetting to kids.

    What Parents Like

    The story is surprisingly rich and deep for a book aimed at children. While the story on the surface may seem simple and childish, the themes of identity and purpose and community are thought-provoking.

    The audiobooks were rare examples of stories that both adults and kids were eager to continue listening to.

    What the Critics Think

    4.1/5 on Goodreads, 4.9/5 on Barnes & Noble, 4/5 on Common Sense Media, and 96% on Google.

    The relatively lower Goodreads score was a surprise to me, but I think some of their readers aren’t into robots.

    Who Made it

    The books were written and illustrated by Peter Brown, known for simpler books including “The Curious Garden”, “Children Make Terrible Pets”, and “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild”.

    The audio books were read by Kate Atwater / Kathleen McInerney (I think it’s the same person, but am not sure). The audio books are excellent for long car trips.

    History

    Peter Brown has a fairly detailed write-up of the process of creating the book. Interesting to aspiring writers or anyone curious about the process.

    "However, I wanted to tell a different kind of robot story. I wanted to tell the story of a robot who finds harmony in the last place you’d expect. I wanted to tell a robot nature story."

    "For this to truly be a “robot nature story” Roz would need to encounter a wide variety of natural elements. And the story would have to take place in the future to explain the existence of intelligent robots. I imagined how the wilderness might look in a few hundred years, and two things occurred to me: 1) because of climate change and rising sea levels, animals from far and wide might eventually be forced together as they all seek higher ground, and 2) some of that higher ground might become completely surrounded by water, forming new islands. With that in mind, I set the story far in the future, on a rugged northern island that was formed by rising seas, and that had a diverse array of weather and flora and fauna."

    "The Wild Robot is the story of Rozzum unit 7134, a robot who wakes up for the very first time to find that she’s alone on a remote, wild island. Roz doesn’t know how she got there, or where she came from: she only knows that she wants to stay alive. And by robotically studying her environment she learns everything she needs to know. She learns how to move through the wilderness, how to avoid danger, she even learns how to communicate with the animals. But the most important lesson Roz learns is that kindness can be a survival skill. And she uses kindness to develop friends and a family and a peaceful life for herself. Until her mysterious past catches up with her.

    It took eight years, but I finally found an answer to the question that led me down this path. What would an intelligent robot do in the wilderness? She’d make the wilderness her home."

    Where Can I Get it

    You can read a preview here although it does not include the illustrations.

    The books and audio books are everywhere.

    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.

    Stinky and Dirty

    What is it

    Stinky and Dirty is a show based on characters from a couple of books, about a garbage truck and an excavator who solve problems together.

    Who is it for

    The show is good for kids of most ages, maybe 3-8.

    What Kids Like

    My kids like the celebration of filth, which is unusual among kids’ shows. Sometimes toys and games rely on the yuck factor, with slime boogers and fart noises, but ‘Stinky and Dirty’ manage to involve mess and rot and dirt without being gross.

    The show is also good about how it presents problems and engages the viewer to think of possible solutions along with the characters.

    What Parents Like

    Years ago we got the original book called “I Stink!” that the kids liked enough to ask for it multiple nights in a row, although I initially didn’t care for it. It seemed a celebration of noise and filth that I just didn’t find amusing when trying to put little ones down for the night.

    A few years later I saw that Amazon was premiering a new kids’ show called Stinky and Dirty that had animation that looked an awful lot like the book, and sure enough, the show is a spinoff of the book and its sequel. I suppose that’s a dream for many children’s book authors and illustrators, to have their work turned into a show.

    I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I and the kids really like it.

    The books are quite simple, running through the alphabet and showing vehicles making vehicle sounds. But the show is about teamwork and problem-solving, in a way that isn’t done on other shows.

    The animation style is unique. It’s 3D but texture-mapped to look like paper illustrations.

    The characters drive around together solving problems. Several times each episode, one of the characters asks, “What if…?” And this makes it a great example for problem-solving. Their efforts don’t always work out, but they keep trying.

    I also like that the show is following in the somewhat recent tradition of using veteran actors for the voices (Martin Short on ‘The Cat in the Hat’, Christopher Lloyd and Gilbert Gottfried on ‘Cyberchase’, Elvis Costello on ‘Pete the Cat’). In this case, Wallace Shawn (Vizzini from ‘The Princess Bride’ and Rex the dinosaur from the Toy Story movies) plays Tall the crane.

    What the Critics Think

    7.1/10 on IMDB, 5/5 on Common Sense Media

    Who Made it/History

    The original book was written by author Kate Mcmullan and illustrated by her husband, actor Jim McMullan.

    The show is made for Amazon, by Guy Toubes, who has written for lots of kids’ shows including ‘Odd Squad’, ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie’, and ‘Chuck and Friends’.

    Where Can I Get it

    You can watch the first episode on YouTube

    The show is streaming on Amazon Prime.

    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