Flying Cats, Rainy Days, and a Tribe of Kids

Flying cats? Rainy days? Tribe of Kids? Yes, this could totally be an afternoon at our house. No, I’m not kidding. However, as exciting as our days might be this is a peek into our stack of picture books that we have enjoyed lately. I have many books to share but thought I’d highlight a few favorites before they head back to the library.

Caramba – Marie-Louise Gay – As soon as I began reading this one, my children were asking if this was the same author/illustrator that wrote Stella and Sam. We might have a few Stella and Sam fans here. Caramba is just your typical furry, fluffy cat that looks fabulous in suspenders. Caramba just has one problem. He can’t do what all the other cats can do. Fly. Poor Caramba. He tries and tries to fly like all the other cats but from landing on his face in the grass to crashing into Grandpa’s lap, flying isn’t working out well for Caramba. Cousins step in to help Caramba learn to fly. Unfortunately the lesson doesn’t go quite as planned. It all ends with a huge splash.

Perhaps Caramba was written to celebrate differences and to encourage us to embrace our individuality. Or not? We just enjoyed a fun story about flying cats, trying hard when things are a bit difficult, and the value of a good friend. And, sadly, our cats here don’t fly either.

Puddle – Hyewon Yum – There is nothing like a rainy day to make us a little grumpy at times, right? Rain can make a day seem so dull and dreary. Then the boredom sets in  and nothing indoors will do. Until mom brings out a bit of paper and crayons. A mom and her young son end up having great fun taking turns drawing pictures of what they would do in the rain. After creating such a delightful picture, even including jumping in puddles, what else could they do but go out in the rain? A picture comes to life!

Such a simple, quick read but so enjoyable. An excellent read for a rainy day especially if you an go outside after reading. It would also work well to encourage a bit of art. Children could take turns drawing what they would do at the park, in the backyard, or in the snow. Then make their creations come to life!

There is a Tribe of Kids – Lane Smith – Every week or two, I go through the New Books listings on my library’s home page. Most of the time I have particular books I am looking for but sometimes I’m just browsing for a book or two that catches my eye. This is how I stumbled across There is a Tribe of Kids. For several years, we have called our family by the title of Tribe. How could I resist this title?!?  It turned out to be a favorite book that we have read and looked at over and over again.

Simple text presents various groupings of animals to a young boy: bed of clams, parade of elephants, formation of rocks, and of course a tribe of kids. The beauty of this book is not only in its simplicity of text but the lovely illustrations; charming and sometimes funny when you notice the details. This is perhaps what has drawn my children to this book again and again. My almost two year old loves to flip through the pages and it inspired my ten year old to create a few sketches of her own. She loved the style of the tribe of kids. A beautiful read that appeals to a variety of ages.  It shouldn’t have been surprising that this book has become a favorite. We are fans of Lane Smith’s Grandpa Green. A beautiful, sweet story that shares about aging and memories.

Drawn by Hannah – 10



The Key to Extraordinary

Two years ago I read aloud A Snicker of Magic (Natalie Lloyd) to my children and we all loved it immensely. Who could resist Felicity and her love of words? Midnight Gulch, with its magic and ice cream, was a town you just wanted to visit. I was interested to see future books by Ms. Lloyd. Several weeks ago I was scanning the library shelves for a few good books to take home and the spine of a book caught my eye. Something about the colors and the style pulled at my memories.

Ah, Natalie Lloyd had written a new book and somehow I had missed this news! The Key to Extraordinary was released in February of this year. I was surprised to find it tucked snugly between other books instead of on display with fellow new publications. My plan was to read it aloud but we were deep in the middle of a couple other read alouds so the timing was off. Naturally I did what any book lover would do and read it for myself. And I must say that is was a delightful read.

Emma lives with her Granny Blue (who drives a motorcycle)  and helps run the Boneyard Cafe. (An appropriate name when you are next to a cemetery). If you stop by the Cafe on Saturday, Emma will take you on a guided tour of the cemetery. The tour ends with a delicious cookie courtesy of the Cafe.

While Emma is a spunky, adventurous, quirky girl who is growing concerned that she will never have her Destiny Dream. A couple of years before, Emma’s mother passed away leaving Emma with a family legacy. Emma was a Wildflower like so many before her. This means that Emma will have a Destiny Dream and that dream will reveal to Emma her destiny, her gift, her purpose. Emma longs for the dream to come so she doesn’t fail her mother and the other Wildflowers.

And how will Granny Blue and Emma save the Boneyard Cafe? Times are hard and Granny Blue is struggling to keep the Cafe open for business. This is Emma’s home, full of memories of her mom, she can’t bear the thought of it being gone.

As with A Snicker of Magic, Lloyd once again brings us engaging, delightful, fun characters along with beautiful words and witty humor that will have you laughing and smiling as you read. I will confess that I even teared up once or twice. This is a story of family and friendship. About realizing that it is the small, ordinary moments in life that are important and life changing. And your destiny? Well, you’ll have to wait and read.

There is a theme of magic woven through out this story. Emma is convinced there is a ghost that visits the Boneyard Cafe but she can never catch him. It usually ends up being her brother making the magical, special hot chocolate; Granny Blue’s secret brew.  There are magical plants that can carry messages through the years. The magic is really love and friendship and memories living and moving around us.

After I finished, Extraordinary worked its way through the female readers in our home. My 10 and 12 year old daughters loved it. My ten year old daughter loves to read but is extremely selective about what engages her.  She said that she loved The Key to Extraordinary more than A Snicker of Magic because this one has more adventure. She also observed a fact that I missed. A character from A Snicker of Magic pops up in The Key to Extraordinary. I totally missed it!

Even my teen girls read and enjoyed The Key to Extraordinary. No matter your age who can resist a wonderfully told story of friendship, destiny, and hot chocolate? I think you should read it and let me know what you think.

Ruby Lee and Me

Ruby Lee and Me (Shannon Hitchcock) takes us back to 1969 in North Carolina. It is the summer before Sarah Beth Willis’s sixth grade year and her summer takes some unexpected turns. Along with her sister, Robin, being involved in a terrible accident, school integration is stirring up emotions that may effect her friendship with Ruby Lee.

The cover is initially what drew me to this book. My daughter (10) enjoys reading but it can be challenging to find books that capture her interest. I was hoping the story of Ruby Lee and Me would appeal to her more selective reading taste. While it isn’t always possible, I do try to pre-read books that my younger children will be reading. Ruby Lee and Me was a quick and easy read.

I will confess that I was a bit disappointed in Ruby Lee and Me. First, I think the book synopsis is misleading. After reading the book synopsis, I thought that the majority of this book would deal with Ruby Lee and Sarah dealing with their friendship in a newly integrated school. I fully expected the new black teacher, Mrs. Smyre, to play a role in the changes happening.  This was not the case. I think integration played second fiddle to Robin’s (Sarah’s sister) accident and the guilt that Sarah was carrying over that. Throughout the book, family members warn Ruby Lee and Sarah that they can’t act as friends at school. Toward the end of the book, when school finally begins, it only deals with the school’s Open House night where you get to meet the teachers.

At one point in the story, Ruby Lee and Sarah get into an argument. Sarah calls Ruby Lee a name that she knows will hurt Ruby Lee deeply. Now Sarah has this added guilt of hurting her friend. After the school’s Open House, this same word has been written on Mrs. Smyre’s car (The “n” slang word).

In the end, Sarah confesses to her parents the guilt she feels in her responsibility of Robin’s accident. She is quickly reassured that there is no blame on her. Sarah is also able to make amends with Ruby Lee as well.

My daughters, 10 and 12, both read Ruby Lee and Me and they both enjoyed it. My twelve year old did come to me and ask what the word was that Sarah called Ruby and that was written on the teacher’s car. We had a bit of discussion on that word, the power of words, and how the tongue is a powerful weapon that can wound deeply.

I feel Sarah’s story could have been more meaningful if the author had chosen one story line to follow. With the accident, integration, and even some boy/girl relationship introduced, pieces seemed to be tacked on and not developed fully.  Again my girls enjoyed reading the book and it would likely serve well as an easy summer read. It is aimed at ages 9-12 and I think the younger age would benefit the most. While not well developed, it could be used as a springboard for some discussion on emotions such as guilt, friendship, and integration.