Monkey Business

“Have you ever wondered why monkeys have such a reputation for being mischievous?  Well, quite frankly, it is a title well deserved…

Monkeys lie to each other.  When searching for food, monkeys often travel in groups with a leader at the front.  If this leader has a dishonest streak and discovers a delicious treat, sometimes they will tell their fellow monkeys that they’ve seen a predator.  All of the other monkeys will scatter to safety whilst the leader casually gobbles the treat alone.  Sneaky little devils!”
One of the challenging things about reading with children is that they expect you to have all the answers to their questions.  But in Mad About Monkeys, written and illustrated by Owen Davey, questions are answered before they even think them up.   This gorgeous and informative book is a delight from cover to cover. 
Fantastic and simple way to understand that humans are primates but not monkeys
The book defines monkeys, when they evolved, their habitats and what they eat. 
Davey’s writing style is engaging and conversational as he explains the differences between Old and New World monkeys, how monkeys socialize, their size and peculiarities.  He gives a brief look at monkeys in mythology. 
He ends with a sobering but hopeful look at the shrinking habitat of monkeys due to deforestation. 
Davey even answers questions kids might be too embarrassed to ask, such as “Why such colorful bums?”  In my case, the question lead to much hilarity in discussing the difference between American and British English and the many words there are for bottoms.
The stylized illustrations are warm and detailed.  Text and pictures are interwoven, so it’s easy to get immersed in the page.  My scans do them no justice, you really must see them live — luckily that’s as easy as going to your bookstore or library.  This book would be a wonderful gift for a reluctant or avid reader — it works on many levels.
It’s published by Flying Eye, so the design is exceptional, with compelling end papers and title page.
End paper

Title Page
On his website, Davey says:
“I am an award-winning Freelance Illustrator, living & working in Leicester, UK. I have a First Class BA(Hons) Degree in Illustration from Falmouth University. I am the illustrator for the fiendishly addictive puzzle game TwoDots which has been #1 in over 70 countries. I was also the illustrator for Tinybop’s brilliantly fun Robot Factory app. My work has been published in every continent except Antarctica, including picture books in UK, America, Australia, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Portugal, China & South Korea…. In my spare time, I write and play in a band called LOM, bake cakes & quickly consume them, swim & run, play nerdy computer games, read books intended for teenagers or children, and watch a variety of HBO programmes in my pyjamas.”

I recently bought the book Build A Robot: Build 3 Wind-up Robots That Walk, Wiggle and Wave, by Steve Parker, that Davey illustrated and designed cardboard robots for.  Published by Templar books in 2014, it was a great hit with one of my video game addicted 10 year old friends.  The book has history of robots, integrates the illustrations with the text  and it has the excellent interactive element.  So far, my friend and I have built two of the robots and he’s totally sold on the idea of interactive books – since when you finish the challenge of building the robot, it’s something real that you can play with even when your mom won’t let you have any more screen time.  And the designs are fantastic. 
From monkeys to robots, Owen Davey is definitely an illustrator and writer to look out for. 

A Gardener of Delight

Karishma, my 6 year old neighbor at Bridge Meadows, was delighted when The Little Gardner by Emily Hughes was published.  Hughes’ book Wild is one of Karishma’s favorite and she helped me review it here.  Now she has another favorite book.

The Little Gardneris different from Wild on the surface, but it still shows the affinity children have with nature and wild things. It features a very small boy who lives in a very big garden.  He works and works in the garden.  
It’s his home and from the garden he gets everything he needs.  He is friends with worms and snails.  He tries to tend to his beloved plants and they depend on him, but he can’t manage on his own. 
The one thing he seems to have the most success with is a flower, a magnificent zinnia, which isn’t something he can eat, but it brings him happiness and gives him hope.  It means everything to the little gardener.
A big girl notices this flower.  She lives on the edge of the garden and she sees that the garden needs help.  Inspired by the beauty of the zinnia, she begins to tend to the garden, too.  This help is the bit of magic that the garden needs to flourish.   
Children are often faced with tasks that are too difficult for them, no matter how hard they try.  This story subtly validates the experience of failure while keeping a sense of hope blooming.  I’m very impressed at how Hughes addresses the deep feelings of insecurity children have.  In The Little Gardner, she shows how the efforts little ones make, even if they don’t entirely succeed, inspire those bigger than they are. 
In her book Wild, Hughes brought out the idea that keeping a bit of wildness in your soul may not be such a bad thing.  In The Little Gardner, she shows how befriending nature and tending to a garden keeps hope in your heart. 
Karishma and I both loved this book.  The illustrations are of dense and we notice something new each time we read it.  We like that the girl who helps save the garden has dark skin.  As in Wild, Karishma likes to read the last line of the book first, and see how important a little gardener, or any little person can be.  It helps her navigate a sometimes confusing world.  It’s also inspired her to water and talk to plants during this hot summer.   She can’t wait to see the next book by Emily Hughes.
This book was published by Flying Eye Books and is beautifully bound, with a flower printed in white on the red binding.  You can see more of their books here.  
Here’s a video about my community Bridge Meadows in Portland, Oregon, which is set up to help children get adopted out of foster care: 
Thanks for reading my blog.  Now go read a book – in a garden if at all possible.

Rilla Alexander and Her Idea

I got the opportunity to meet the children’s book maker Rilla Alexander at Green Bean Books recently.  She was there to read her book Her Idea, (from Flying Eye Books) a lively picture book about how to work on all those wonderful ideas we have.

I went with two boys from my neighborhood, Bridge Meadows, Tomas and Noah Tanatchangsang, ages 5 and 9, respectively — though they look much older with their mustaches bought for $1. at the Green Bean mustache vending machine.

Rilla engaged the boys immediately and talked with them about their own art.  They talked about dragons, dinosaurs and making books.  She showed them a recent sketch of an alligator of hers on her cell phone.   
The book she was going to share with us came from ideas about a book with eyes, a book about ideas, and a book that is a book about books.  All merged together in Her Idea

It stars her alter ego, Sozi, a little masked girl, who has lots of ideas.   
Her Ideahas a die cut cover for the ideas to jump in and out of.

Karishma stopped by earlier and enjoyed the interactive elements of the cover

Take off the book cover, and you see its personality.

Sozi has boatloads of ideas.

She’s all gung-ho to work on those ideas.

But working  proves more difficult than Sozi realized.

She dissolves into lethargy with so many wadded up pieces of paper they become a big beast.  But a book brings her hope and a way her capture her ideas.

And other stuff, too!

I love that Rilla writes books that honor books.  Her first book, The Best Book in the World, was about the way a book can pull you in, even in the midst of the busiest of days.

For Her Idea, Rilla designed little idea toys.

She brough squillions of ideas

She also brought a big book for us to fill with ideas.

Noah’s idea was to go to the moon to see the stars

Tomas’s idea was for a yellow tricerotops named Banana

Her Idea is a fun read for kids and former kids alike, because we all have great ideas up to the point when we have to work on them.  Rilla has a great video on the creative process and this book on Vimeo, which you can see here:
We had such a good time with Rilla’s presentation, Tomas asked me if we could go back next week-end to see that cool lady again.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to see Rilla right away, but we can always go to the programs at Green Bean, an independent children’s bookstore here in Portland, Oregon.

You can find out more about them and their events here;

It’s easy to get lost in a great book

And a great book gets a good laugh!
Rilla is from Australia, has lived in Berlin and is now a resident of Portland, Oregon.  She’s a designer and graphic artist whose work has appeared on everything from “toys to teacup to busses and buildings.”  Her website is here:  
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Personal Space and the Need for a Hug

A few days ago, my 6 year old neighbor, Karishma, wanted me to help her with her homework.  We did a little math, a little letter and word recognition, and a little reading.  She wanted to read her new favorite book, Hug Me, by Simona Ciraolo, published by Flying Eye Books, 2014.
I read it to her a few weeks ago when she was here with her 12 year old sister.  The sister didn’t think she’d be interested, but as I started reading, she sat beside us and wanted to see the pictures, too.  She was moved enough by it to say, “Awww,” more than once.
Hug Me is a remarkable book that tells a complex tale in charming drawings and poetic prose. “Felipe was descended from an old and famous family who liked to look good and always behaved properly.”
It’s the story of the universal need for affection and friendship, even if we are somewhat prickly.  Using a little cactus as the main character puts an interesting spin on it.  He’s prickly because of he descended from a prickly family.  Who hasn’t felt estranged from their family of origin?  Who hasn’t felt at least somewhat trapped by their ancestry?
I live in Bridge Meadows, a community made up of blended families that are adopting children out of the foster care system.  Some families have all adopted children.  Some have adopted children in addition to their birth children.  I live in the senior housing component, and we elders serve as helpers to the families.  I mentor kids, teach them art, and read with them. 
She sounds out all the words, even “uaahhh.”
I’ve read this story over a dozen times in the past few weeks to kids from ages 2 to 12, and they’re all gripped by it.  I now keep it in the book-bag I carry with me when I’m in the community center or else I’m chastised for not having it.  
Since many of the kids have been in foster care and counselling, they love that the Ciraolo uses the term “personal space.”  Many have had their personal space violated in the past, but they still want to be close to family and friends.
They love that in the end, Felipe knows exactly what to do.  His past loneliness has made him a better person.  (In his honor, a few of the kids and I may start a cactus and rock  garden this summer.)   They also LOVE the pictures.  It’s amazing to me, too, how much expression Ciraolo creates in her characters.  Even a simple dandelion has a personality in this story.
Karishma happens to be one of the children who has been with her birth family for her whole life.  She has foster sisters and her mom had a baby a little over a year ago.  When we read the book together, I asked her if she ever felt like she needed a hug and didn’t get one.  She first said no.  Then she flipped through the book again, and said, “Well, since my sister was born.  Sometimes she won’t hug me and sometimes everyone hugs her and forgets me.”
I told her the same thing happened to me when my little brother was born.  Now I know how important hugs are. 
“Me, too,” Karishma said.  “That’s why we’re so happy.”
I’m pretty sure if you read Hug Me, you’ll be happy, too.
Hug Me has been on numerous best book lists of 2014. You can read more about Simona Ciraolo on her website here

Flying Eye Books is based in England and publishes innovative books that introduce children to great graphics and compelling stories.  They published the inspiring Welcome to Your Awesome Robot by Viviane Schwarz, which you can read about in this blog post.   

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