Kid's Stuff -- Books About Growing Up
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"All By Myself"
Written by Aliki
Illustrated by Aliki
(Harper Collins, 2000)
A nice, super-well behaved little boy named Peter goes through his daily rituals, waking, dressing, eating, going potty, going to school, etc. all by himself. The theme of independence ("by myself!") could be more strongly stressed in the text, but that's no biggie... What matters is the book's exuberant, celebratory tone, which shows a happy, model child doing various everyday activities... The pictures are nice & easy to follow... And what parents wouldn't wish to have as nice a child as this? Good role modeling and a lot of fun things to point out discuss while reading the book with your child. (B+)

"I Used To Be The Baby"
Written by Robin Ballard
Illustrated by Robin Ballard
(Greenwillow, 2002)

A nice, straightforward story about an older child (maybe three or four years old?) who is adjusting to his new role as the "big" one... He's a model sibling, playing with the baby, helping feed him and take him to the park, reading him books, and everything in between. It's nice, uncomplicated modeling for positive behavior... The only sour note for the more overprotective among us is one page in which the kids are parked in front of the TV... Other than that, though, everything in here is positive and appropriate, if a bit overly idealistic. Not dramatically engaging or particularly exciting, but good, functional pro-baby propaganda. (B)

Written by Kate Banks
Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007)

A coming-of-age story about a fox pup who is under the care of two loving parents, but is eager to see the world for itself. After spending a year learning to hunt and to hide and to store food for the winter, the little fox emerges in its second Spring as a young adult, and is told by the parents now is the time. The story is a more conventional narrative than the typical Banks-Hallensleben outing -- the text is a little flat, but the artwork is luminous. There are a few minor quibbles -- the way Banks words it, it almost seems like the entire story takes place in a single day; also, overprotectivoid parents must be prepared to admit that critters kill critters, for this is a nature book that mentions killing, although nothing violent or upsetting is shown in the pictures. Hallensleben does a fabulous job -- each panel evokes a sense of wonder and warmth that will instantly draw you in. Nice book -- would make a great companion to Joyce Carol Oates's Where Is Little Reynard. (B)

"Little Gorilla"
Written by Ruth Lercher Bornstein
Illustrated by Ruth Lercher Bornstein
(Clarion, 1976)

A delightful birthday book that reflects -- with surprising emotional depth -- on the anxieties of growing old. Little Gorilla is just about the cutest little critter in the whole jungle, and all the animals love him. His parents and relatives, the giraffes, elephants, birds and even the boa constrictors dote on the fuzzy little guy. But what about when he grows up and gets all hairy and big? Yup. They still love him then! Everybody comes to his birthday party and sings and shares cake, and Little Gorilla knows he's still the same person, just a little bigger. The artwork is perfectly suited to this sweet, simple story -- bold, blocky and colorful, the information leaps off the page, easy to understand and quite inviting. A true classic, with deservingly long-lived appeal. (A)

"Am I Big Or Little?"
Written by Margaret Park Bridges
Illustrated by Tracy Dockray
(SeaStar, 2000)

This one grapples with one of the big questions of the toddler set: am I a little baby or a big kid? Trouble is, the text doesn't really delve that deeply into the psychology of getting "big," opting instead for would-be uber-cuteness, with couplets like, "You're little enough to stand on my feet when we dance/But I'm big enough to hold on tight when you spin me" and "You're little enough to crawl under your bed/But I'm big enough to reach out and tickle you!" The preciousness of the writing is accentuated by the artwork, which is a bit too Hallmark-cardlike for me. For the right families, this book is probably a real gem, others may simply find it cloying and shallow. Also, I'm not a big fan of split-narrative texts, like this one, where the mother says something on one page, and the child's point of view follows on the next. It's a hard trick to pull off well, and Bridges' text doesn't quite do it for me. (C-)

"The Runaway Bunny"
Written by Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrated by Clement Hurd
(Harper Collins, 1942)

What a creepy book! Clunky, too. A baby bunny tells its mother its going to run away from her, and whatever fantastical premise he comes up with -- I'll become a bird and fly away, etc. -- the mother bird counters by saying how she'll catch the baby again. Both aspects, the running away and the element of parental control, come off as slightly pathological... On the surface this is a tale of parental love, but the tone is all wrong. Instead of providing loving boundaries, the mother rabbit seems to bully and control her child. The need to separate oneself and assert individuality is important for small children, and parents need to be able to give them some mental space to feel that they are their own people. This book is all about denying that developmental stage, and nullifying the ego of the child. The mama bunny may be demonstrating her love and concern, but she's also ignoring the emotional life of her child. It's a very old-fashioned and rigid view of parent-child dynamics; in adddition the storytelling is really clumsy and leaden. Many people consider this a classic of the genre -- notably the publisher, which has kept it in print since it first came out -- but most people I've talked to just can't stand it. Me, too.
Me: (D-)
The rest of the world: (?)

"Ruby In Her Own Time"
Written by Jonathan Emmett
Illustrated by Rebecca Harry
(Scholastic Books, 2004)

Is your kid taking his or her time learning to walk, or talk, or brush their teeth, or eat with a spoon, or memorizing the circumference of Venus or the table of elements? Tired of having friends and family ask when some specific developmental "milestone" will be attained? Then this is the book for you! Ruby is a little duckling who takes her time learning to swim and fly, even though her siblings have charged forth and mastered these things already. Ruby just waits and does things when she wants to... And every time she picks up a new skill, she masters it and does it better than the other kids -- she swims faster, flies higher, etc. Ruby's parents have to learn patience and to trust that their child will flourish after all, but that she doesn't need to be rushed. It's a nice lesson, especially in our current hyper-uber-competitive climate in which pre-verbal children are expected to interview for daycare as if they were seeking to get into Oxford or Yale. Ruby is a great fable written in defense of (so-called) late bloomers: Let kids be kids! The actual text has a few rough patches, but the sentiment is tops, in my book. (B)

"Walk On! A Guide For Of All Ages"
Written by Marla Frazee
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
(Harcourt, 2006)

A tongue-in-cheek how-to guide for babies who want to become toddlers... Told, with great earnestness, from the baby's point of view, this actually is a functional primer on how to learn to walk, taking the process step by step and encouraging little ones to be brave and move forward. This book probably has a pretty short shelf-life, though: if your kid has already been walking for a while, this stuff is old news... But if you read and talk a lot to your pre-toddler, and believe that they are basically "getting" everything you say to them, this could be a prefect book for a kid on the cusp of taking off... This doesn't quite have the lightness of touch and universality of Frazee's Everywhere Babies, but it's still awfully cute, and a pretty good peptalk. Worth checking out. (B)

"Baby Talk"
Written by Fred Haitt
Illustrated by Mark Graham
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1999)

Joey, a four-ish, five-ish year old boy, has a new baby brother and is initially uncomfortable around the newcomer, declining to help feed it or change its daipers, etc. But Joey finds his niche in the baby's life when he starts responding to the infant's babbling, and helps teach it to talk. A perfect book to read to a toddler old enough look back at their own verbal development and both laugh and relish the chance to dip back into the old vocabulary of "agoo" and "ageek." Also, the complexity of the social relationship of the two siblings is rich and fascinating. Great artwork by Mark Graham, too. This one was a big hit in our household, with lots of "read-it-again" action. (A)

"Little One Step"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 2003)
A nice, cute book about learning to walk -- three ducklings are lost in a forest, and the youngest gets them back home, doing the "one step, one step" walk that his older brother teaches him. I like the art, the outline of the story is nice, and the message was well-received by my kid, who was learning to walk at the time. The actual book is a little clunky, though -- it starts abruptly, with no prologue (first line: " 'We're lost!' said the oldest duckling.") and the art doesn't always compliment the text as well as it could. Still, it's a sweet story, and certainly worth picking up if walking is the new big event in your family... Also a nice metaphor for problem-solving, confidence-building and perseverence in general. (B-)

"Jacob's Tree"
Written by Holly Keller
Illustrated by Holly Keller
(Greenwillow, 1999)

A delightful book about growing up featuring a little bear/boy named Jacob who is impatient to do all the things his older sister and brother can do, and slips into a funk when a new pair of overalls from his grandmother is too big for him to wear. Winter comes, and the family hibernates, and in the spring, just like Mama said, the Jacob has grown tall enough to do many of the things he wanted to do: he can climb the jungle gym with his siblings, see over the edge of the bathroom mirror, and even wear his cool, new, red overalls! Every emotional note is struck just right -- a very sweet book with a very positive tone. (A)

"I Can't Talk Yet, But When I Do..."
Written by Julie Markes
Illustrated by Laura Rader
(Harper Collins, 2003)

A little, preverbal baby thinks about all the things it would like to say, many of them directed to an older sibling who teaches, plays with and protects her, giving her love even when there are moments of friction. A really lovely story about growth, self-awareness and positive sibling relations. Sweet. Highly recommended... and also a great book for babies who are developing their verbal skills. My girl really loved this one, and asked for it to be read over and over. (A+)

"So Few Of Me"
Written by Peter Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Reynolds
(Candlewick, 2006)

A charming, genuinely funny book that recaptures the elegant, offhand magic of Reynolds' earlier gem, The Dot. Here a young man named Leo finds himself swamped under rapidly multiplying to-do lists and chores -- schoolwork, laundry, classes, cooking -- and he idly thinks to himself, how nice it would be if there were two of me, so I could do all my work faster. Well, poof! then there are two of him... then three... and eventually ten Leos, all running around, taking out the trash, studying calculus, rushing to soccer practice, making more to-do lists and trying to coordinate all their Leo labors... It turns out, though, that the more of you are, the harder and more hectic it gets: Leo winds up spending as much time managing his doppelgangers as he does getting any actual work done! A funny, gentle, incisive look at the modern problems of overbooked, overscheduled people everywhere, both kids and adults. The solution Leo comes up with is pretty nice, and the story is a great, entertaining read. I love Reynolds' artwork, too, especially how it evokes Jules Fieffer's old cartoons. Another highly recommended book from a guy who's rapidly becoming one of my favorite new children's book artists. (A)

"Emily Just In Time"
Written by Jan Slepian
Illustrated by Glo Coalson
(Putnam/Philomel, 1998)

I absolutely love Glo Coalson's artwork, and the gently rendered transitions from toddler to pre-teen than are subtly placed in this story are what make this book so touching. The story is sweet, too, about a little girl named Emily who grows "from not-being-able to now-she-can," learning how to go down the slide, do somersaults, and -- ultimately -- to spend the night away from home. The story is sweet, although the text is rather clunky... I regularly shorten various pages and change the wording, but my daughter loves this book. She was especially drawn to it because she has a little rocking chair just like the one in the book, and had just learned how to sit in it when we first picked Emily up. This might not be for everyone, but our family really likes it. (B+)

"Old Blue Buggy"
Written by Fran Swift
Illustrated by Carol Thompson
(Penguin/Dutton, 2003)

A sweet story about a free-spirit mom and her little boy, Henry, who find an old-fashioned blue pram at a yard sale, and how they use it as their stroller for several years, until it's time to give it up. A nice portrait of how strollers become both surrogate homes and shopping carts, and how seemingly junky items can be recycled and put to good use. The ending, in which both mother and son realize they have outgrown their old friend, is handled beautifully -- it's sentimental bit not maudlin, and is one of the finer portrayals of this kind of passing-of-time themes I've seen. A great tool for bringing up and easing into similar transitions for post-toddler children. Carol Thompson's warm, expressive artwork is a perfect compliment to the text. (A)

"The Brass Ring"
Written by Nancy Tafuri
Illustrated by Nancy Tafuri
(Greenwillow, 1996)

A nice book in which a young girl lists all the things she can do now that she is "big," like ride a bicycle (albeit one with training wheels), back-float in the water, build sand castles, make new friends, etc. Her favorite thing is to visit the merry-go-round and get on by herself... Choosing her favorite horse, she rides again and again, and even reaches out to grab the brass ring and win a free ride. Tafuri's artwork doesn't wow be, but it does the trick, and the text is lovely. Great book for kids who are starting to think of themselves as "big girls" or "big boys." (B)

Written by Richard Torrey
Illustrated by Richard Torrey
(Harper Collins, 2009)

A sweet, simple book about an almost-six year old named Jack who can "almost" do a bunch of stuff: make his own breakfast, ride a big bike, win the big baseball game, etc. There are a few pages that deal with his locking horns with his older brother, so if you've got an only child that part might not resonate, but overall the book is about yearning for growth and independence. Nice message with a good, straightforward, humorous delivery. Recommended! (By the way, if you like the Jack character, he continues on into two other books, Why and Because...) (B+)

"Once There Were Giants"
Written by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Penny Dale
(Delacorte, 1989)

What? I wasn't crying or getting all teary... honest! Here's a book with a little girl who grows from being an infant surrounded by "giants" (her parents and family) into a toddler, a child, a schoolchild, an athlete, and young woman, and -- ultimately -- into a "giant" herself, with a baby of her own. It's a real three-hankie weeper; if this one doesn't getcha right in the gut, then you've got a heart of stone. This book also boasts beautiful artwork that ably supports the text -- you see the little girl grow right before your eyes -- and Penny Dale's depictation of the young tomboy's pugnacious side (when she's seen scrapping with her older brother) will ring true for anyone who grew up in a large family. A very nice book, although on some level it may have been written a bit more for the benefit of parents than for children. (A)

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