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

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

Holes

What is it

Holes is a “young adult mystery comedy novel” that was also made into a movie, about a boy working digging holes in what is essentially a juvenile prison camp. There is a parallel story that takes place exactly 100 years earlier, involving some of the characters’ ancestors.

Who is it for

The target audience is young adolescents, although younger kids will enjoy the movie.

The book and movie have some strong language (e.g. “damn”) and some themes (e.g. homelessness, racism) that may be difficult for younger readers/viewers to process.

Most of the main characters are boys and many of the themes involve the relationships between boys, so I think Holes is essentially a book about and for boys.

What Kids Like

Kids like the honesty. The book is rare in how it depicts events such as bullying, being “the new kid”, and dealing with cruel adults – in a way that is realistic without being cynical. Similarly, characters in the story endure racism and other forms or cruelty in a way seldom seen in children’s literature.

The plot is also very rich, including scenes in the Wild West, a treasure hunt, a mountain climb, wacky inventions, strange characters, and everything is resolved very satisfyingly in the end.

What Parents Like

I like the complexity of the plot, which has enough going on for adults to enjoy (and not just sit through).

And the depictions of bullying, racism, and other themes are really good, sparking interesting conversation.

The audiobook version is very good, read by actor Kerry Beyer, and has been a welcome CD to play in the car.

What the Critics Think

Paraphrased from the Holes Wikipedia entry:

It won the 1998 U.S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the 1999 Newbery Medal for the year’s “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”. It also won the William Allen White Children’s Book Award in 2001. It was ranked number 6 among all-time children’s novels by School Library Journal in 2012.

The Holes Novel gets 3.9/5 on Goodreads, 5/5 on Common Sense Media, 4.6/5 on Barnes & Noble, and 87% on Google.

The Holes Movie gets 7.1/10 on IMDb, 78% on Rotten Tomatoes, 71% on Metacritic, and 92% on Google.

Concerns/Flaws

There is some strong language and there are some violent scenes.

Who Made it

Holes was written by Louis Sachar, who may be best known for the Wayside School series (Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Wayside School is Falling Down, and Wayside School Gets A Little Stranger) which has since been made into an animated TV series.

The 2003 Disney movie was directed by Andrew Davis and starred Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette, Tim Blake Nelson and Shia LaBeouf. I thought Jon Voight was just great in his role of “Mr. Sir”. And Shia LaBeouf really shined in his role, with a quality of acting rarely seen in child actors.

The audiobook came out in 2016 and was read by Kerry Beyer.

History

Holes was written in 1998 by Louis Sachar after finishing the third and final novel in his Wayside School series. The Disney movie came out in 2003. Both book and movie seem as fresh and relevant today as they did twenty years ago.

Where Can I Get it

The book is available everywhere.

Amazon’s Audible service has the audiobook

Google has a sample/preview of the book

And the trailer for the movie is on YouTube:

The movie is available for streaming on Amazon

The Book with No Pictures

What is it

The Book with No Pictures indeed has no pictures, but uses variations in typeface and color to create a very entertaining story that is a hit with young kids

The story is not about a character, but is instead about itself – about a book that has no pictures.

Who is it for

This is one that is meant to be read by an adult to children, so even children who can’t yet read will enjoy it. I would say ages 3 to 7.

What Kids Like

This book has been a hit with our 3-year-old and our 6-year-old, getting lots of laughs.

The premise is that the book ‘makes’ the parent say silly words and phrases against their wishes, which in a way puts the kids in charge.

What Parents Like

The book requires some acting on the readers part, and plays with the roles of parent and child in a fun way.

The Book with No Pictures isn’t about learning to read, or about a particular character, but is almost unique in how it’s about the relationship between parents and kids.

What the Critics Think

The Book with No Pictures gets 4.4/5 on Goodreads, 4.8/5 at Target, 4.6/5 at Barnes & Noble, and 91% on Google.

It was nominated for the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards Best Picture Books

Concerns/Flaws

It was a hit at the pre-school as well, although the one teacher didn’t like the book’s use of the word, “butt”.

Warning: the book tends to animate, rather than calm the children, so is not a book to put them to bed.

Who Made it

The book was written by B. J. Novak, perhaps best known for his role in the TV show “The Office”.

Here he is reading it:

Published in 2014. More information at the official website

Where Can I Get it

The Book with No Pictures is available just about everywhere.

You can see a sample/preview on Google

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.

His Shoes Were Far Too Tight

This book is a collection of absurd poems by Edward Lear, selected from his two books of nonsense literature, “A Book of Nonsense” (1846) and “Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets” (1871). The most famous of Lear’s poems is “The Owl and the Pussycat”. Many readers who don’t know Lear will know that poem.

Perhaps because the works predate many copyright laws, many of Lear’s poems have been reprinted over the years without attribution. I recall a book of rhymes from my childhood with one his:

I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life
They do taste rather funny
But it keeps them on the knife.

This verse is sometimes attributed to Ogden Nash and sometimes to Anonymous and sometimes even to someone else who predates Lear himself.

The book was edited/selected/curated by Daniel Pinkwater. Daniel Pinkwater is known to me by his books from the 1970s, such as Lizard Music and The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. I haven’t introduced my kids to those yet.

Because the writing of His Shoes Were Far Too Tight is so old, and the illustration style is so “artistic” (i.e. the opposite of the simplistic style of many modern kids’ books, such as those Mo Willems) I thought my kids wouldn’t like it. I’ve tried Alice in Wonderland with them and they couldn’t get into it. But to my surprise, they did. The illustrations by Calef Brown are complex and interesting and the stories are at the right level of absurdity for kids – where it feels like you know what’s happening but there are also things that just don’t make sense.

My kids favorite story was that of the Pobble Who Has No Toes, and asked to hear it again the next day.

It’s a fun, silly book without much depth to it. But because the writing is old enough to be considered ‘classic’ you can feel like you’re providing your kids with sophisticated culture when you read it.

There are other collections of Lear’s poems, but this has the nice illustrations and Pinkwater intro, so is at least as nice an edition as any other.

The kids have yet to ask me what ‘runcible’ means, and that is an indicator of the absurdity of the verses. There are so many strange, hard-to-understand aspects of the rhymes that an unfamiliar word does not stand out.