Frankie Works the Night Shift by Lisa Westberg Peters

It’s late, and the hardware store is closed for the night. Except for one… Frankie, the cat. At first, Frankie “does chores”, usually making more of a mess than he helps. Then Frankie spots an intruder – a mouse – and his real work begins!

So the story line isn’t scintillating. It’s funny enough for a kid. Better yet, the artwork is a mix of artwork and real-life photography, which my kids found very appealing. There’s a bit of counting 1-to-10, but it’s not integral to the text. All in all, a fun little story, one the kids asked for several times over the course of the week, but not exceptional.

Oh, and the intruder mouse? Safely chased out the back door. Nobody gets eaten in this story, for the sake of the tenderhearted.

Available on Amazon

Frankie Works the Night Shift by Lisa Westberg Peters, illustrated by Jennifer Taylor. Greenwillow Books, 2010.

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If A Chicken Stayed For Supper by Carrie Weston

Mommy Fox kisses her five little foxes goodbye, promising to bring home chicken for supper. After a while, the kits get tired of waiting in the den and go outside to play in the dark. They run into a problem when one kit disappears, and after much wailing and crying are finally helped out by a kindly neighbor – Mother Hen. The kits talk her into taking them safely back to their den, where they find Mommy Fox waiting, and no chicken supper to eat. How will they repay Mother Hen’s kindness — by serving her up for supper?

If A Chicken Stayed For Supper surprises you with that little dilemma at the end. Up until that point, it’s simply a fun story of children who get into trouble and scare themselves when they disobey Mommy’s rules. The whole “missing kit” problem is an exercise in counting, and it’s fun to help a child figure out what they’re doing wrong. My kids certainly love it when they can “be smarter” than a story’s character. Eventually Mother Hen gets them all safely home, and suddenly there’s this new tension of a predator-prey encounter. In fact, I definitely recommend you make sure your child understands that when Mommy Fox promised to “bring home chicken for supper” that she’s going off to hunt — if a child doesn’t understand that part, the final resolution won’t be as understandable.

Can we draw from  the eventual dinner party — vegetable soup served to chickens and foxes alike — a message that vegetarianism is good? Perhaps, though I’d say that’s a stretch. A more accurate moral would be the innocence of children bringing fighting adults together, but even that exaggerates what the story actually says. There’s no indication that the meal is anything more than a temporary truce, a momentary accord. I actually appreciated that — it doesn’t go for the “easy answer”.

So, what did the kids think of it? Simple fun. It’s colorful, well paced, has a silly little puzzle to figure out, and a nice warm ending. They don’t need more than that to enjoy a story.

Available on Amazon

If A Chicken Stayed For Supper by Carrie Weston, illustrated by Sophie Fatus. Holiday House, 2007.

Tiggy Tiger Brave Explorer by Claire Freedman

Young Tiggy is out on the prowl, exploring the jungle. He can leap and pounce and prowl, and he’s practicing hard on his growl. He visits lots of his animal friends, who show him the brave things they do as well. Tiggy thinks their antics are a little too scary, and each friend assures him there’s nothing to be afraid of, because Mom is always there for a quick rescue. Eventually Tiggy stumbles across Mr. Grumpy Thumpy Rhinoceros, but he won’t run away. Why? Because Mom will keep him safe!

OK, this is a fun book to read. I simply loved playing up the not-quite-grownup tiger growls. There’s lots of other fun animals, and the way Tiggy is drawn is just adorable. My kids enjoyed it, too. Good action, enough predictability, and of course they had to growl, too. This is a book they’ve asked for more than once.

I’m seriously torn about the advisability of the story line. It’s great to encourage a child to try something new, step out and be a little brave, knowing that a parent won’t let him get hurt. But I really, really don’t like the scene with Tiggy and Mr. Grumpy Thumpy Rhinoceros. All his friends are urging him to run away from the danger, and Tiggy just ignores them, knowing that his mom will deal with the threat. I can think of way too many instances where I *want* the kids to run away from danger.

I’m tagging this book “Preschoolers” because I think there’s a element of conversation needed after the story; discuss when it’s okay to try something scary and when it’s important to simply stay safe.

Available on Amazon

Tiggy Tiger Brave Explorer by Claire Freeman, illustrated by Cecilia Johnson. Barron’s, 2002.

Have You Got My Purr? by Judy West

Kitten wakes up one morning and discovers her purr is missing. Mama tells to just wait, her purr will show up soon. However, Kitten can’t just wait, and she goes out to see which of the animals on the farm might have taken her purr.

Then follows a rather predictable sequence of visiting all the farm animals, good for practicing animal sounds with your child. A pleasant surprise is when Kitten visits Mouse, because she has to be extra careful to show Mouse that she’s hunting for her purr, not her dinner.

By the end of the day, Kitten is worn out, foot sore, and still purr-less. Owl suggests she go home to her mama, and Kitten can’t believe that Mama might have had her purr all along! Alas, it’s not so, but a bit of motherly advice and some warm, tender mama love helps Kitten discover that her purr has been with her all along.

In my opinion, the sweet, tender ending elevates Have You Got My Purr? above the usual farmyard animal stories. It leaves a warm, snuggly feeling, making this book especially suited for bedtime.  A nice book to return to frequently.

Available on Amazon

Have You Got My Purr? by Judy West, illustrated by Tim Warnes. Little Tiger Press, 2000.

Potty Animals: What To Know When You’ve Gotta Go! by Hope Vestergaard

You’ve worked hard for way too long to get your little one to use the potty. Finally, you celebrate with the family, you throw away the diapers, and you breathe a sigh of relief.

Shortly thereafter, you come to the dismaying realization that there’s a whole lot more to this business that your darling doesn’t yet know. Things like “don’t take all day” and “go before you get in your carseat” and “use the potty, not a tree”. Oh my, the potty-train-in-a-day books never mentioned all THIS!

Fortunately, Potty Animals: What To Know When You’ve Gotta Go! steps neatly into this gap. Each two-page spread features a preschoolish animal who has an unfortunate bad habit that needs to be corrected. “Close the door, Farley” ends one such spread. It’s little details like this that can drive a parent to nag, isn’t it? Never again, now you can let the book do the telling!

As for readability, this book is nicely done as well. The text rhymes well, and the subject matter is quite giggly to a small child. Plus, with a few read-throughs, you child will probably enjoy reminding the characters of the closing “rule” on each page. They do like to think they’re smarter than the other kids, don’t they? The illustrations are colorful and cartoonish, playing well with the humorous theme of the book.

I’d suggest this book is one that deserves a place on your bookshelf and regular readings for quite some time.

Available on Amazon

Potty Animals: What To Know When You’ve Gotta Go! by Hope Vestergaard, illustrated by Valeria Petrone. Sterling, 2010.

Earth Day Birthday by Pattie Schnetzler

Earth Day Birthday is a book the kids might like more than you do. The main theme is a poem set to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Didn’t we get enough of that one in December? Anyway, each of the twelve days features a different animal from North America. Most will be familiar to most children, but I would be surprised if you get all the way through without at least one “What’s that?” question.

The biggest strength of Earth Day Birthday is the gorgeous illustrations by Chad Wallace. Truly art-quality work, and the animals are only slightly idealized. Wallace’s bio notes at the end indicates that Earth Day Birthday is the fourth children’s book he’s done; I’ll be looking for the rest.

As for the text, it’s a fair match to the song, but not overly inspired. I found myself faltering occasionally – just how does the “four calling birds” verse go? – but in case you get totally lost the music is provided in the back.

The message of Earth Day Birthday seems a bit unpolished. It’s as if the author got through all twelve verses and then suddenly realized she didn’t actually *say* anything. The summary page tells children,

On the day known as Earth Day, as every day should be, we care for creatures as our family.

Take from that what you will.

The final page is a short informative article about the origin of Earth Day (and it mentions “giving thanks” for the Earth, which is nice but shallow), followed by a few simple ideas for things a child can do to celebrate Earth Day.

Available on Amazon

Earth Day Birthday by Pattie Schnetzler, illustrated by Chad Wallace. Dawn Publications, 2003.

While The World Is Sleeping by Pamela Duncan Edwards

A small child takes a fantasy flight with a giant owl to see all the animals who live their secret lives at night. It’s a simple premise, but a complex book.

First, the illustrations are well done. They’re realistic, but not quite reality, giving a good impression of a dream. The text rhymes nicely, with a repeating phrase (the title of the book, While The World Is Sleeping) at the end of each page. There’s some opportunity for dramatization, if you make a try at “wonder” but there’s not a lot of variety. The emotion is pretty much constant throughout.

Although While The World Is Sleeping is a book you can simply read straight through, there’s also wonderful opportunities for discussion. First, what in the world are all these animals doing up all night? Considering how many bedtime books portray the overnight hours as a time when everyone, everwhere sleeps, this is a refreshing (and more truthful) change. If your child is of a scientific bent, try introducing the ideas of noctural (active at night) and diurnal (active in the day). You can bring it up again on your next evening car ride or walk, relating the story to real life.

Second, there’s a good amount of rather advanced vocabulary. Journey, stag, vale, fowl, sleek, bandit, slinking, glides… although I think a younger child can enjoy the story through just the pictures and the impression of the words, an older child will get more out of it if you can explain these words. Fortunately, the pictures will give you good ways to “show” the words – “bandit” is a raccoon with a furry mask around his eyes, for example.

Overall, a good story to return to several times; each time your child is likely to understand it, and therefore enjoy it, more.

Available on Amazon

While The World Is Sleeping by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Daniel Kirk. Orchard Books, 2010.