I Have to Go!

Yesterday was a warmish, if slightly windy, brisk-feeling day.  I felt invigorated, and talked earnestly about a beautiful, deep, soul-enhancing book.  Today is grey, rainy, and I feel the need for lightness, laughter, and a bit of silliness.  Or that’s what I thought when I picked up today’s book.  Then I thought a bit more, and realized maybe there’s less of a difference between yesterday and today than I’d thought.

Let’s talk about Robert Munsch— Bob Munsch, as I grew up thinking about him, because, well, he felt like a friend.  I think all Canadian kids felt like he was our friend, honestly: Who spoke for us when we wanted markers?  Bob Munsch (Purple, Green and Yellow).  Who spoke for us when we got muddy?  Bob Munsch (Mud Puddle)!  Who, always and forever, told us we were loved?  Bob Munsch (Love You Forever).  I don’t think it’s quite easy for adults to understand exactly what Bob Munsch means to kids.  I remember going to one of his storytelling tours when he came through the bustling metropolis of Moncton, NB, and I was a kid growing up in the little town of Sackville, NB about 30 minutes’ drive away (wait– in those days I think it was 45 minutes away: that was before the big highway).  I loved my little town, and Moncton was a bit scary, but Bob Munsch was coming to talk, and I was thrilled.  I didn’t get to meet him in person, but, somehow, it still felt like he was talking just to me.  His voice and personality have that quality (to hear him read, click those titles up above), and it permeates his books, too.  He’s an adult who knows how to talk to kids, and if you’re that kind of adult, you’re special.  And kids will love you.  Every Canadian kid I know loves Bob Munsch.

Americans?  Well, those Americans I know who know Bob Munsch also love him.  I can count those Americans on the fingers of two hands– um: my cousin, my aunt, my other cousin, my uncle… um…

See, this is just another one of those cases where something really, really good didn’t quite cross the border properly.  And I want to tell you why it’s so good it’s worth seeking out.  The book we’re talking about is one of the current favourites of my Changeling, who is quite interested in the topic these days: I Have to Go!, story by Robert Munsch, art by Michael Martchenko. 

I Have to Go!

Do you know what?  I’m going to recommend a little homework.  Click that link, and listen to the story first.  It’s not every day that I can give you the story I’m about to read, but today I can, so give it a listen– it’s only a few minutes long.  Have you listened?  Good.  Now, here’s a secret: this is not exactly the story in the book on my desk, the one you can buy here.  That’s because Bob Munsch is telling the story, developing the story as he listens to his audience, and, in fact, you can hear the story of how the book happened right at the end.  That, in a nutshell, is Bob Munsch.  The listener, the understanding storyteller, the mediator between child and adult.

Why do I say mediator?  Well, think about another aspect of that recording– and, yeah, yeah, we’ll get to the story soon, but I want to talk about Bob Munsch right now.  Did you hear something behind the story?  The audience?  Did you hear the kids talking and sharing their stories?  I love that.  Did you hear when the kids laughed?  I love that, too.  Did you hear the adults laughing?  That’s why I’m an evangelist for Bob Munsch.  Folks: not every kids’ book out there has kid and parent laughing together through the same experiences.  Remember when my kid used up all the sheets in my house when she had her stomach flu?  I know I grossed some of you out with that.  Bob Munsch has all of you laughing at that, kids and parents both, and it gives you courage to live and go at it another day.  More than that, he gives your kid the language to talk to you: You heard those kids chanting with him: “I have to go pee!”  My Changeling does that, too… sometimes.  And when she does, I can carry her at the speed of lightning to the bathroom, and, hey, presto!  A diaper saved is a diaper earned!

What is it we’re laughing at, though?  There’s a kid (his name is Andrew in the book), his parents are desperate for him to let them know when he has to go pee, but the kid refuses.  No, no, no, no, no!  He has decided never to go pee again!  (Guys, I haven’t even opened this book yet– the words are ingrained.)  This pattern repeats throughout the tale, the parents are exasperated, Andrew is doing his own thing… and at the end, he turns the tables on the grownups, asking his grandfather if he has to go pee.  And the grandfather is not exasperated.  He listens, and he answers honestly: “Why, yes, I think I do.”  Note that, in the book, this beautiful moment is reinforced by Michael Martchenko’s illustration, showing the two of them smiling warmly at each other, holding hands, on the way to the bathroom.

There are two points I want to make about this.  First, I want to answer my own question (what are we laughing at?) and second, I want to add an observation about what Bob Munsch is teaching us.  I think we’ll see they’re related.

For my first point, let me point out how realistic these scenes are.  Andrew is being a kid, the parents are being parents.  When Andrew goes outside they “put on Andrew’s snowsuit.  It had five zippers, 10 buckles and 17 snaps.  It took them half an hour to get the snowsuit on.”  And then he throws one snowball and yells, “I HAVE TO GO PEE.”  Kids giggle, parents sigh and laugh simultaneously.  We all look at it and say, “THAT’S ME!!!”  And so we laugh, because it’s familiar.

But I think there’s something else, and that brings me to my second point.  When we say, “That’s me!”  Well, we’re also saying: “I’m not alone.”  It’s a feeling of relief.  “I’m not the only kid who wets the bed.”  “I’m not the only parent who weeps at 3 am with damp, filthy sheets and a deliriously exhausted child at my ankles.”  And what Bob Munsch is teaching us is: “It’s OK.  Be honest.  No one is completely whole and perfect.”

And that brings me to my final point: Bob Munsch has been open about his struggles with depression and addiction.  When I found out about that, a little part of me said, “I’m not alone.  If Bob Munsch has done so much, and spoken to me so much, while he’s been struggling, then I’ll be OK, too.”  Addiction isn’t a problem of mine, but depression is, and I’m humbled by how much Bob Munsch has accomplished by his openness, his generosity, his honesty.  He writes about this on his own website, in his own words, and finishes, “I hope that everyone will talk to their kids honestly, listen to them, and help them do their best with their own challenges.”  No, I’m not crying.  (Yes, I am.)

Listen to Bob Munsch, people, and buy his books.  Get them down south of the border, if you can.  We need his honesty, his openness, his warmth down here quite as much as Canada does.  We’re all people, we all need books like these.  I know my Changeling’s life will be better for Bob Munsch, just as mine has been, and I hope other kids will be able to say the same.

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The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs

Today is most unusual in this little corner of children’s book blogging.  Normally I choose books to write about by a carefully honed algorithm of “oh, this book’s great, I really feel like talking about this one!”  Yesterday, Annabelle inspired me.  “Yes,” thought I, “she’s so amazing!  Who’s another kick-ass female protagonist in children’s books?”  And my absolute favourite, bar none, popped right into my head: Jillian Jiggs.  There are a number of books about Jillian Jiggs, but the one that was easiest to hand today, and which I truly believe best illustrates her as a kick-ass female protagonist is The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs, written and illustrated by Phoebe Gilman.  Note that I linked you to AbeBooks, because that’s the easiest place to get it these days (oh boy, anger’s bubbling…).  Here’s the Scholastic Canada page, but how you actually order it is a mystery to me.  You basically can’t find it in the United States (growl…), and if I don’t stop myself right here I’m going to end up using language most unsuitable for a mild-mannered blogger of charming children’s books because holy fuck why is it so hard to find this book south of the border?  Someone, please, get to marketing this book pronto or I may have to start a cross-border march: “Bring Us Jillian!”  (Note that these are pictures from my camera, since it’s hard to find good pictures online.)

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OK, let’s start off by thinking about those words “kick-ass female protagonist.”  I want to be clear right here, right now: I’m not talking about a trying-so-hard didactic book about how “a girl can do that, too, you know!”  That’s boring and insulting to everyone.  Of course a girl can “do that, too” (except in exceedingly specialized cases inappropriate for children’s books), and I don’t admire patronizing dreck.  I’m talking about a good book: a book which is about a kid who has crazy ideas, follows through on them, grapples with challenges, and comes out triumphant.  Her name is Jillian Jiggs, and I love her.  I love that she’s a little bit crazy and thoughtless (what kid isn’t?), I love that she reminds me of some of my favourite people rolled into one (crazy ideas like my sister, bubbly like my best friend, problem-solver like another one of my friends…), and I love that she cheerfully pitches into her projects head-first because what could possibly go wrong?  I love that she acts quickly and faces consequences later– and there are consequences, because this is life.  I love that she is, in every way, a real child, but maybe does some of the things we dream of, as children, but don’t quite dare to do.  When I was little, I know that I dreamed through Jillian Jiggs, much as I did through Pippi Longstocking, later.

So, what are her crazy ideas?  Well, one day, Jillian Jiggs cleans up her room (wonder of wonders!), and, in the process she finds a jar full of buttons that look just like the noses of pigs.  She makes little pigs out of tights and plans to sell them.  She makes all kinds of little pigs, in all kinds of outfits– lady pigs in old-fashioned lace, vampires, pirates, and babies.  She even names them!  (Oh, you know where this is going, don’t you?)  She and her crew (her little sister and her friends, Rachel and Peter) gather all the pigs and march down the street to sell the pigs.  Her customers line up with dimes in hand, ready to buy her entire stock… and then crisis hits: Jillian Jiggs loves her pigs.  How can she sell them?  But the mind of the truly creative entrepreneur finds a way!  How about selling a how-to lesson, instead?  (Seriously, someone get Craftsy on the phone with Jillian Jiggs!  This could be big…)  The disappointed and angry customers (and Phoebe, genius that she was, shows you the whole range of emotions on those little faces) become happy customers, and everyone’s satisfied.

That’s the basic story, and I think you can see how plucky and creative Jillian is.  But that doesn’t nearly get across the exuberance and joy of the book: that comes through the lovely rhyming  couplets, Phoebe Gilman’s extraordinary art, and the unspoken message, reinforced by a tutorial at the end, that you can do it, too.  Go on, give it a try!  Even without being able to understand the tutorial page, my Changeling announced that she wanted to make a pig, too: Jillian’s excitement is palpable throughout the book, the gleam of the next great idea fairly bounces from page to page, and it inspires you without ever directly instructing you to be inspired.  How about a doctor? or robots! or maybe a princess.

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Each page murmurs quietly, “How could you dress a pig to get that idea across?”  And then the illustrations fill in the gaps: the stub of a pencil becomes the pirate’s wooden leg, while pipe cleaners make robot antennae.  Anything is possible in the world of “Jillian, Jillian, Jillian Jiggs,/ Maker of wonderful, marvelous pigs!”  And, you know, she gets caught up in her own work, too: “She might still be sitting there, sewing away,/ Except Rachel and Peter came over to play.”  We all love the pigs.

OK, scroll back up and read those lines aloud.  Then tell me: doesn’t that feel and sound good?  The whole book is that fun to read, especially when you get to do Jillian’s voice: “‘I simply can’t do it.  It’s over. I’m through…’/ Then all of a sudden she knew what to do./ Step right up, friends! Have lots of fun!/ Sew your own pigs! Learn how it’s done!'”  And, with that, Jillian takes her disappointed customers and turns the situation around.  (Note that, as with Here Babies, There Babies, you and your child should be able to find someone who looks like you at some point in the book; it just reflects life honestly, without making a fuss.)  A very successful startup, run by a creative and charming CEO, indeed, and one of Canada’s foremost proponents of the textile arts.  I love it.

I don’t know if I even think this is the very, very best of Phoebe Gilman’s books.  I have a special soft spot for Grandma and the Pirates, and for The Balloon Tree, and the original Jillian Jiggs book is fantastic, too, and then there’s the one book which did make it south of the border: Something from Nothing.  How to quantify which is the best?  Oy.  Look, give me a break, I am but a humble kids’ book blogger.  Another day I’ll write about another of her books, and then you can amiably argue over which is better– I sure as hell don’t know.  But, right now, while I was thinking about Annabelle, about tough girls who can go for it and do great things?  Jillian’s pig project reminded me a lot of the first day I sat down to write here for the first time: “Hey, here’s an idea!  Let’s go for it.”  And I hope the Changeling will have her own moments of “Hey, why not?” too.

Oh, and don’t let me forget– I need to rustle up some pig components.  I don’t think I have any spare tights in the house…

The Tea Party in the Woods

I sometimes wonder if other people grew up in families with a favourite time period.  Ours was the Romantic period, I often think.  Let me explain: I don’t mean that my family’s house was furnished in a particular way (although our living room furniture is lovely) or that my parents dressed us in replica 19th C clothes, or that they dressed up.  They’re very practical, sensible people and would raise their eyebrows at the suggestion (or will send me a caustic email if they read this).  What I mean is that living in our house was an immersion course in love of the Romantics: there was an awful lot of Romantic music and literature around, and I grew up knowing that if you were talking about the “fantastic” in Romantic literature then there are certain rules or keys to look out for.  My favourite was always that when the fantastic episode was over, it could almost never have happened… almost, except that there might be one sign which would raise doubt: a rose in the wrong place, for example.  Did it, or did it not?  (Hey, if I got this wrong, Daddy, you can correct me.  After all, I never studied this stuff, I just grew up hearing you talk about it!)

The Tea Party in the Woods, written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi could almost be a starter story in the fantastic.  Almost, except that it defies adult expectations.  This book, the other Kids Can Press book I found at the Harvard Book Store, is translated from the Japanese, with the English edition edited by Yvette Ghione and Katie Scott.  It is beautiful to read, and beautiful to look at.

Tea Party in the Woods

The story goes that a girl, Kikko, realizes that her father has left the house without the pie he meant to bring to her grandmother.  She runs after him with the pie only to realize, at last, that she has followed a bear, not her father, and has ended up at a strange tea party of animals in the woods.  In her rush, she had crushed the original pie, so the animals provide her with a new one assembled from the tea party, and guide her safely to her grandmother’s house.  The illustrations are all a soft, dreamlike black and white, with pops of vibrant colour in Kikko’s red hat and mittens and yellow hair, as well as occasional red and yellow sparks among the animals.

Any adult reader, educated by the experience of reading Alice in Wonderland, watching The Nutcracker, or just spending five minutes talking to my parents, would go in with certain expectations.  The animals are evidently a quasi-dream sequence: maybe they are there, maybe they aren’t!  We know this because the soft, charcoal-like dreaminess of the forest tells us that we’re in for dreams here.  Of course this is going to be your child’s first book about the fantastic and she’s going to learn the rules of that type of story.  (Let me note that the Kids Can Press page I linked to above even says, “The ambiguous ending — in which it is not clear whether Kikko imagined the tea party or if the animals simply disappeared back into the woods — provides a terrific opportunity for children to weigh in on what they think happened.”  I think it’s lovely that they let parents think that!)  Well, the thing is that Kikko is very clear at the end about what happened:

“You’re never alone in the woods,” Kikko answered, smiling.

She was sure her new friends were listening.

I love that ending, fiercely and passionately.  She knows what’s going on.  This is no Alice waking up and having a curious dream.  This is no poor, messed-up Dorothy.  Kikko is confident, she’s clear on what’s happened, and she’s moving forward, smiling, surrounded by friends.  She shares her red and yellow with the animals in the woods, and they all share the dreamy black and white.  Kikko, the animals, your children reading this–all of them know the rules here: what you think has happened, has happened.  Don’t doubt, don’t be scared, it’s fine.  The bear is a bear, even if he is wearing a coat and hat.  The parents?  We’re the ones at sea.  We, lured on by years of reading ambiguities and dreams, expect doubts, distrust straightforwardness.  Kikko surprises us, and I have never, ever been happier to be surprised.

I thought this was going to be a lovely, sweet book.  I expected a fairytale tenderness and shyness, maybe with just that special tinge of the strange and fantastic.  I got that, but I got something more: I got a confidence in dreams and reliance on the fantastic which I hadn’t experienced since… oh, I don’t know.  I guess maybe I had that when I first heard La symphonie fantastique?  Before I got really sick of the second movement when 96.3 FM in Toronto played only the second movement every single day of the week, blast them.  In any case, The Tea Party in the Woods restored a sense that strange things really can have happened for sure, that children really can rely on their senses– and that sense and nonsense aren’t so far apart.

What’s really special, though, is that reading it with the Changeling made it so clear that we were each reading with our own, very different, experiences.  I noticed no surprise in her: talking bears aren’t so unusual, and so she went along with Kikko very happily, and the whole thing made sense.  Her only concern was in accurately identifying every single blasted animal in the book, and there are a lot of them (note to parents: maybe spend some time looking up the animals first so that you can answer questions readily and actually get through the story in under an hour); she didn’t mind about the ending at all.  I was the one who felt surprise.  I was the one who had my world shaken up.  She was on solid ground, among her own kind.

That’s a special moment to experience, watching your child’s confidence while you learn something.  This book puts the power in the child’s hands, and that?  That’s truly fantastic.

Here Babies, There Babies

I recently learned that a former colleague of mine, a good friend, had just had a baby girl.  I was thrilled; this is a young woman who will make a wonderful mother, and I wish her and her new family all the best.  If you’re the sort to believe in auras, then I’m almost positive that the cloud around my head would have looked like fluffy pink bunny rabbits and woolly lambkins with baby kittens purring on their backs as I walked over to my dresser drawer and pulled it open.  A new baby!  Then I sighed.  Darn, I was down to only one copy of Here Babies, There Babies, by Nancy Cohen, illustrated by Carmen Mok and I needed… let’s see: there was a birthday present coming up, and then another two new babies (second babies in the family, so even more important), so that makes four total.  I decided to order four copies so I’d still have one in reserve.

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To express myself more plainly, Here Babies, There Babies is one of my go-to baby present books, particularly for parents expecting a second baby.  But first, a note: Yes, I do know the author, Nancy Cohen, quite well.  In point of fact, I think she’s seen me crawling around in diapers, although I don’t remember my diaper days with particular clarity.  That said, I knew her both as a family friend and as a wonderful children’s librarian.  I knew her as my mother’s collaborator when they rewrote children’s stories as little plays for us to act out.  I knew her, basically, in her role as Person Who Knows About Kids’ Books.  She and my mother had, and have, a lot to talk about in that regard, and are probably jointly responsible for the sinking foundations of this house as I fill it with ever-increasing numbers of children’s books.

So, yes, I do know and like her.  I also happen to really, really like this book– more importantly, the Changeling really, really likes this book.  And I want to think about why we like it so much that it has rapidly became a book I need to have to hand in my dresser the way I need flour in my pantry.  I mean, really, this is what they need at the grocery store, right?  Imagine being able to call your husband and say, “Yes, I’m down to two eggs, so please get another dozen and a big bag of flour.  Oh, and a few potatoes, and I’ve only got one copy of Here Babies, There Babies, so could you get another two of that?  Thanks, see you at 5:30, then!”  Aren’t grocery stores supposed to stock essentials, after all?  If they can branch out to light bulbs, why not kids’ books?  While I’m dreaming, they could start putting all the cheese in the same place and stop putting the eggs where toddlers can reach them.  (I can never go back to that grocery store again.)

Wait, we were talking about the book, right?  Well, here’s the thing.  The book is exactly like that.  It’s about life: life with babies.  Babies are part of our ordinary life and the world as it is, even if the people who stick poles precisely in the centre of the sidewalk so that there’s no way that the leanest of umbrella strollers could possibly fit around them don’t see it that way, and this book crystallizes that very basic concept into simple rhymes and soft, lovely images.  We start by opening up to a slice of a street: we see babies and toddlers in a few different locations (café, bus, bike) and are told that babies are everywhere: “Here babies, there babies/ See them everywhere babies.”  (Read that aloud: the charming lilt you hear and feel continues through the book, and really is that lovely to read throughout.)  Then it gets more specific as we watch babies in various common places: stores, libraries, strollers, one reading stories with Daddy, two taking naps… and then back to the bird’s-eye view of town seeing babies everywhere!  The premise is absurdly practical and simple, and one I honestly haven’t seen in any other book: we live in a world that includes babies.

If you’re a small child, particularly a child in a very adult world (I speak feelingly: we live near Cambridge, MA), you may well want to see yourself as part of the world you live in, and a book like this is a great way to do that.  It just tells you that you belong: you belong in the grocery store, you belong on the street, you belong in the café, you belong in the town!  (As a parent, I can sometimes use the reminder, too… yes, I am allowed to have my child in the café with me, thanks.)  The pictures are a perfect accompaniment, showing babies from tiny little ones to toddlers, babies in carriers, strollers, cars, bikes, etc.  Boys or girls of any race should be able to find themselves and their families in here.  It’s a lovely mirror of the text: we live in a world that includes babies, all babies– oh look, here you are, too!  A word of warning on that point, though: I was, as usual, flipping through the book I was writing about here to think about the interaction between illustration and text, and I kept pausing to sigh, murmur about the cuteness, and basically feel my heart melt over and over again.  For female readers: I don’t think this book can induce ovulation, but I’m also not 100% sure it can’t.  Studies so far are inconclusive on that point.  For all readers: if your heart doesn’t melt at any point as you read this book then you may want to check your pulse– are you sure you’re alive?

Before I stop, I just want to highlight a couple of points already mentioned.  First, the lovely rhythm.  That rhythm makes it fun to read aloud to extremely young children, rocking in a chair while they coo at the pictures.  It also makes it fun for older toddlers, 18 months and up.  The Changeling loves to engage with the text: she recites it, she also builds on it: “Babies in the bath!  Babies play with ducks!”  And so on.  It’s a simple rhythm, but lively, and it’s one of the first books which got the Changeling playing with adding to the text that was there already.  (Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie is also good for this… another Canadian, too.)

The second point I wanted to bring forward was why I so frequently give this as a gift to parents expecting a second baby.  As I said, this is the only book I know which has its basic message that we live in a world with babies.  It’s just natural to have babies around!  That’s our world.  I think that’s a great concept for first babies to get used to when they’re expecting the next one to come along.  This is our world, a world with babies… and soon we’ll be adding one more.

This is a book I’d love to see around more.  It’s from Nimbus, a Canadian publisher, and if Kids Can Press could just give them a few tips on getting their books onto those nice displays at the Harvard Book Store that would be fantastic, thanks so much!  You’ll note that I, unusually for me, linked to Amazon up there.  That’s because it really is the easiest way to get this one, but do call up your local bookstore and ask them to order it in.  Ask for three copies, because you just don’t know when you may need an extra one.  And ask them to stock it because there really are babies everywhere, and it’s good to talk about that.

Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds

I’m a Canadian girl, born and bred, and by “bred” I mean “brought up reading all the classics of Canadian children’s literature.”  After a few years living in the USA, I know perfectly well that when I tell Americans that I get a fixed, frozen smile while my polite interlocutor rapidly shuffles through the bookshelves of memory while thinking, “Crap, what did I miss?”  Let me save you the pain of that moment: Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing definitely made it south of the border, and so did Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever (give me a second, even typing the title brings tears to my eyes), so you may have heard of those.  Both authors wrote lots of other fantastic books which aren’t so common here, and maybe I’ll write about them and all the other great ones (like Dennis Lee, ooh, and Borrowed Black) another time.  The problem is, lots of Canadian books really just don’t make it south of that irritating border.  That’s why I was totally thrilled when, on two separate occasions, I got home with books I’d grabbed from prominent, face-out displays at the Harvard Book Store, opened them up, and saw they came from Kids Can Press!  Good on you, Kids Can Press, for getting your excellent books down here where I can buy them.  Let us scatter our writings across the world: bread, circuses, and good books for everyone!

Let’s talk about one of those books: Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds, text and illustrations by Marianne Dubuc; translated by Yvette Ghione.  This book is simply charming.  Let me start by complimenting the translator: I had no idea I was reading a translation until I finished the book, flipped to see who had published it, and read: “English translation by Yvette Ghione.”  Please keep translating, Yvette, OK?  You make me want to read the French just to see if it can be as smooth and sometimes witty as your translation.

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But what makes this book stand out for me as a book?  Well, the story is about a mouse who takes the post to all the other animals around and then brings the last package home and it turns out it’s a gift for his son, Milo.  (Yes, a narrow, logical-minded reader might ask why he carried the package around with him all day instead of hiding it under the bed or something, but let’s not be that way, OK?  Maybe he just forgot he had it at the bottom of his cart.  Shut up and read the story.)  It’s a simple, straightforward story, and Marianne Dubuc uses it in an ingenious way: she takes the reader along with her to learn about various animal homes.  Let’s look at a rabbit burrow, or a snake’s house, or a squirrel’s nest, or various birds’ nests!

Well, that’s cute, but don’t we have nature books to do that?  There are all kinds of great Eyewitness books, or A Bird Is a Bird, or any number of others, right?  Well, that’s what I love about this one: it’s not a nature book.  It never forgets that it’s a whimsical, charming work of fiction.  The rabbits have a nice house above ground with a rooftop garden… and then a ladder leading down to various burrows beneath the ground, including a cute and clever lavatory.  It’s a sensible lavatory: you get a chance to look at rabbit poop.  It’s a nonsensical lavatory: do rabbits normally sit on a toilet reading the newspaper?  The birds each have their own rather fantastical nests, including the thieving magpie’s den with a “WANTED” poster on the tree.  In short, each page has a nugget or two of natural sciences if you want that (Mr. Postmouse is thrilled he doesn’t have to go to Mr. Snake’s house, his natural predator), but happily plunges into the absurd, too (Mr. Postmouse stops for lunch with his friend Mr. Dragon).  And yet the whole work has the same kind of natural logic that you find in Richard Scarry’s books: it makes sense in its own world, and is rich, full, and textured.

Mr. Postmouse has another special meaning to me: this is the first book the Changeling chose entirely for herself.  She spotted it on the display, made a beeline for it, grabbed it down, begged me to read it to her, and instantly said, “This is the book I want to take home with me.”  (Of course I said yes.  I mean, I’m writing about it right now, aren’t I?  And, oh all right, my heart melted within me.  I’m only a book-loving mama, I’m not made of stone, y’know.)  So, that’s the heart of the Changeling’s review here: it grabbed her immediately.  From what she tells me about it, I’d say she loves the richness of detail in the illustrations as much as I do: “And there’s a bird!  And the bird has a swing!  It’s a yellow bird.  And there’s apples!  Is that a tree and an umbrella?  The umbrella is beside the tree.”

Each page is full of things to explore, so let me warn you: this isn’t a quick book to read.  This is a book for cuddles, and giggles, and a leisurely chat as you go from animal house to animal house.  Let Mr. Postmouse show you around, and check out each bit of sense and nonsense as you go.

And Kids Can Press?  Please keep doing what you’re doing, and maybe pass on a few tips to Nimbus and the others up there.