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How to Hug

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Written by Maryann Macdonald, Illustrated by Jana Christy

Marshall Cavendish Children, 2011

When you’re happy or sad, hugs can show how you feel, but hugs can be tricky!

You have to be careful not to hug anyone too tight or in such a way that you get stuck together. It’s important to know when to let go, so that you’re not holding on too long. If someone is angry, you should give them time before you try to hug them. Realize that some people are shy about hugging. Some folks might just want to hold hands or others might want a kiss on the cheek. It’s okay to speak up if you don’t want a hug. There are all kinds of hugs out there and lots of ways to feel about them. The best way to approach them is to open your heart, then open your arms and wrap them around someone.

Guess who

I have no idea who it is!

Author Maryann Macdonald states on her website that she wrote this book while living in France, where she noticed that French people kiss others more than they hug them. This story covers a lot of the basics on hugging, including the fact that it’s not always the right time to hug someone (which is important) and the crucial issue of consent. Towards the end, when it just starts covering different types of hugs, it veers away from the ‘how to’ concept and it loses some steam, in my opinion. Jana Christy’s digital illustrations show nearly all of these hugs happening between children and animals, which gives them all an extra boost of cuteness. I liked the idea of the book more than the execution of it, but all things considered, I have to endorse anything that gets more people hugging.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that hugs can be awesome, but it’s good to know when and how to do it properly.

How to Train a Train

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Written by Jason Carter Eaton, Illustrated by John Rocco

Candlewick Press, 2013

So you want a pet train? Well, of course you do!

If you want to have a train for a pet, you first need to figure out what kind of train works best for you. Then you’ll need to catch one, which can be tricky. Give your train a new name and help it adapt to its new surroundings. You can help settle your train in by reading it stories and playing train sounds to help it get to sleep. Get to know it by finding out what it enjoys and what makes it nervous. Try teaching your train a few tricks and some good manners. Introduce it to your friends’ pets, especially if they are also trains or trucks or planes or even submarines. And when your train is happy, you will know.

Author Jason Carter Eaton proves that the best way to make a silly concept book work is to present it in the same way that you would present it as a serious thing. The book’s narrator is dressed as a safari guide, which gives him the appearance of being an expert on his topic. A lot of the advice offered is the same advice you would give to anyone learning to care for a new puppy or a kitten, so it’s likely to strike a chord with pet owners as well as train aficionados alike.

Party

Even dressed up, your train is probably not welcome at the school dance.

John Rocco’s illustrations are done in graphite, with digital coloring, and they beautifully convey all the details of different types of trains and the environments where you find them. Again, the comic twist of showing these giant machines in backyard pools or leaving mud tracks in the kitchen, just as though they were domesticated, really takes it up a notch. There’s a great note to the reader in the back of the book, pointing out the things in the book that should not be tried at home and should only be done by ‘fully trained illustrated characters.’ It’s a lot of fun.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that all pets, even the strange ones, need care, affection and love to keep them happy and healthy.

How to Hide a Lion

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Written and Illustrated by Helen Stephens

Henry Holt and Company, 2012

One hot day, a lion strolled into town to buy a hat.

When the townspeople see the lion, they are afraid. They come after him and he runs away, finding a place to hide in a backyard playhouse. The house’s owner, a girl called Iris, is not scared of lions, so she tells him he’s too big for the play house and invites him in. They stay very quiet so her parents won’t find out he’s there and she combs out his mane and takes care of his injured paw. They struggle finding a safe place for him to hide in the house and one day, when he’s behind the sofa, her father mentions the lion that was loose in town. When Iris suggests he might be kind, her mother says all lions are mean. Iris comforts the worried lion and reads him a story. Her mother walks in and screams, causing him to run out of the house and find a hiding place in the city, pretending to be a stone lion. He stays perfectly still until he witnesses a robbery and then he leaps into action, foiling the robbers and saving the day. Everyone gathers to thank him and when they ask what he wants as a reward, he asks for a hat, which is why he came there in the first place.

Hat

Yeah, that hat really works.

Author/illustrator Helen Stephens presents two very likeable characters in this story and it’s very easy to draw parallels between the lion in this story and anyone who is feared or outcast simple due to who they are and what people believe about them. Iris shows readers that the important first step is simply not being afraid and taking the time to get to know the unknown before making up your mind. The illustrations are reminiscent of the picture books of my childhood and have a lovely and gentle vintage quality to them, especially in the use of color and movement. There’s a lot to be said for the ending, too, in which the lion’s request is simply to get the hat that he came for in the beginning, showing that the experience, while harrowing for him, hadn’t significantly altered him in any negative ways or made him too full of himself when everyone jumped on the pro-lion bandwagon. There’s a lot to like about this book.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there’s always more to someone than what you imagine from your first impression.

How to Make a Night

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Written by Linda Ashman, Illustrated by Tricia Tusa

HarperCollins, 2004

Bike blew a tire.

It’s one of those days where everything has gone wrong and everyone is feeling crummy. One girl decides to clean everything up and turn things around. She climbs a tree and mops all the clouds from the sky, then throws a rope up to bring the sun down so she can tuck it away for the evening. Then she peels the blue away from the sky, dyes it black, splatters it with gold painted stars and puts it back in place. She makes a moon from a yellow rock and throws it high into the sky. She calls the crickets and owls to sing and stirs up the wind to get the trees swaying. Then she goes back into her house, cleans her room, washes her face and eats supper with her family. After that, it’s time for a bath, pajamas and goodnight kisses from Mom and Dad, so she can get a good night’s sleep before getting up early to take down the moon and put the sun back up.

Author Linda Ashman gets right to the heart of those really hectic days when it seems like something bad has happened to just about everyone and everything is in disarray. Sometimes, as we see in the book, it only takes one person to start making an effort to make things better. In real life, it’s usually a parent who takes on the task but I like that it’s a child in this book, showing kids that they have some agency in the family’s condition. The story is written in a jazzy rhyme scheme that’s fun to read.

Planets

Golf Ball is my favorite planet.

The imagery here is very fanciful, but it works, and even when kids know they can’t really pull down the sun, they will know they can contribute to making things better. Tricia Tusa’s illustrations are as chaotic as this family’s day, with a mix of traditional artwork and photo collage. Some of the photographic images are a little odd, but they fit the offbeat whimsy of the story. The family pictured here is very diverse and at the end of the book, when you see things calmed down, they appear very happy and close. It’s an unusual book, but I really liked it.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that anyone can take the initiative to make things better for those around them.

How to Be a Cat

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Written and Illustrated by Nikki McClure

Abrams Appleseed, 2013

Stretch.

There are a lot of things you have to learn to do to be a cat. The skillset includes self-cleaning, pouncing, being brave, listening, exploring, hunting, tumbling, licking, stalking, chasing, and sometimes just patiently waiting to see what comes next. Every good cat is also accomplished at scratching, feasting and dreaming. As the book moves through each of these skills, we see an older cat and a younger cat who is learning all of these skills.

Stalk

Butterfly, you will be mine!

I have never owned a cat, but it seems to me that author/illustrator Nikki McClure has captured a lot of the essence of cat-ness in this beautiful book. You can’t really call it a ‘story’ as it has no real plot to follow, which seems to go along with being a cat, too. On the acknowledgements page, Ms. McClure tells the story of Bud, a blind cat who ‘came with the house’ she bought in 2001. Although the neighbors had always fed him and cared for him, Bud became her cat and part of her family. She initially created a calendar with her cut paper illustrations of Bud, but then added in new images of the kitten and enhanced them all with digital color to create this book. It’s a lovely celebration of cats, the things they have in common and the way they learn from each other.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there’s a lot involved in being a cat.

How to Share with a Bear

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Written by Eric Pinder, Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015

One cold day, Thomas gathered some pillows and blankets and made a warm cozy cave.

Thomas steps away from his cave to get a flashlight and when he comes back, he finds a bear has moved into his new cave. He puts down a trail of blueberries leading away from his cave and the bear follows the trail, giving Thomas the chance to grab some books and get back to his cave. But when he gets there, the bear’s already beaten him to it. Thomas tries tempting the bear with a back scratcher, filling the sink with bath toys and putting out a bowl of honey oat cereal, and finally he manages to get into the cave. When the bear sees there’s no room for him, he starts to cry and Thomas feels bad. He and the bear, who we now see is actually his little brother in bear pajamas, build a new cave that’s big enough for both of them.

Hall

I love the idea of a little bear just casually walking through the house.

When I read this book for the first time, I was completely surprised by the revelation of the bear being Thomas’ little brother. Author Eric Pinder makes Thomas a really admirable character throughout this story. He never loses his temper at the bear’s presence and all of his efforts to lure the bear away are positive things instead of negative ones. And when he sees his brother upset, he immediately changes up the cave to make it big enough for both of them.

On subsequent reads, I noticed that there were some clues to the bear’s identity sprinkled throughout Stephanie Graegin’s artwork. In addition to the fact that we never see the bear’s face, you’ll notice pictures on the walls of Thomas and his brother and other little clues to let us know there are two kids in this family instead of just one. The last page in the book features an illustrated guide to building your own cave from pillows and blankets. I’m going to go build one now. If you need me, you can find me there.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that it’s great to have cool things of your own, but it’s even better to have good friends you can share with.

How to Find a Fox

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Written and Illustrated by Nilah Magruder

Feiwel and Friends, 2016

How to find a fox:

Find a fox hole.

Hopefully, there will be a fox at home when you come to visit, but if not, you can try putting out a chicken leg and waiting to see if a fox comes along to get it. Look for fox tracks, which look like dog tracks (but sneakier). You can try making fox calls and rolling down a hill (which won’t help you find the foxes, but it’s a fun way to pass the time). You could climb a tree to get a different view and if you see a fox from up there, you have to run fast to catch up with him. If the fox gets away, you can get angry or give up. And then maybe, the fox will find you instead.

Wait

Look at that expression – she is NOT giving up.

This is the debut picture book from author/illustrator Nilah Magruder. The main character here wants to find the fox so that she can take a picture of it and her determination is admirable. I like that we get to see her try some different approaches to finding the fox and while doing so, she has a fun adventure. Of course, in the digitally created artwork, we can see that the fox is always just a step or so ahead of her, outfoxing her time and time again. The artwork and the girl’s general appearance (not to mention the presence of a crafty fox) is really reminiscent of Dora the Explorer, but there doesn’t seem to be any direct connection. This one is not anything really special, but it’s cute.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that sometimes the thing you’re looking for is just waiting for you to be still a moment so it can find you.