Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: The House that Drac Built

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Title: The House That Drac Built
Author: Judy Sierra (website)
Illustrator: Will Hillenbrand (website)
Publisher: Sandpiper
Year: 1998
ISBN: 978-0152018795
Format: Paperback, also available in Hardcover
Pages: 32
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Early Reader

Kid Love Factor: 4/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 3.5/5

The House that Drac Built is a Halloween take on the cumulative nursery rhyme "This is the House that Jack Built".   A more common example of a cumulative nursery rhyme is There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.  These tales start off simply but get progressively more complicated until they become a nice test of memory and in this case an impressive rhyming stream.

This is the house that Drac built.

This is the bat
That lived in the house that Drac built.

This is the cat
That bit the bat
That lived in the house that Drac built.


This is the coffin under the floor,
That fell on the monster whose bloodcurdling roar,
Startled the fearsome manticore,
That wrestled the werewolf,
That chased the cat,
That bit the bat,
That lived in the house that Drac built.

And so on.

Once all the monsters living in Drac's house have been described and their chaos listed, some trick-or-treating kids stop by and show that children are far more frightening to monsters than monsters are to children.  The kids soon have the monsters well in hand and things go back to their normal creepy state in the house that Drac built.

The rhyming text is clever, even if it is closely modelled on the original nursery rhyme.  The illustrations are well done too; the monsters look realistic enough to be believable without being very frightening.  And there's some nice foreshadowing (sometimes by a literal shadow) where you can see a hint of which creature is coming next on the page before it is introduced.

Boo pulled this randomly out of a library shelf one day and it amused him enough that we took it home.  Once we'd gotten into a rhythm reading it, he started loving it.  He seems quite fascinated by the pattern and will happily fill in the blanks when I pause for him.  In fact, I think he could recite the entire final verse from memory, except that he loses interest halfway through if I leave it entirely up to him.  He's not much for monologuing when we're not discussing ceiling fans or sunflowers.

I don't mind the book at all.  I find it quite fun to challenge myself to remember everything without looking.  I also must admit to being amused at my mother's dismay that I was reading something containing the words "Fiend of Bloodygore" to my two-year-old.  Happy Halloween, Mom!

Autism Spectrum Bonus:  Perfect for kids who are fond of Halloween and/or creepy monsters.  It's also perfect for working on memorizing lists and learning patterns.  Since there's so much repetition, you can also use it to try to prompt vocalizations by pausing before finishing lines once your child is familiar with it.

Bottom Line:
Nailed the concept of Halloween down,
With minimal aches in parental crowns,
And the bonus of Grandma's displeased frown,
All thanks to the toddler,
Who made us look,
And have fun with a book,
Named 'The House that Drac Built'.


The House that Drac Built on

The House that Drac Built on

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: Fox in Socks

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Title: Fox in Socks
Author/Illustrator: Dr. Seuss (website)
Publisher: Random House
Year: 1965
ISBN: 978-0394800387
Format: Hardcover, also available in Paperback
Pages: 62
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Early Reader, Pre-teen

Kid Love Factor: 4.5/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 2.5/5

Fox in Socks is probably the most difficult Dr. Seuss book we've ever read.  Mr. Fox in Socks tries to impress (and/or irritate) Mr. Knox with word games the latter doesn't want to play until Mr. Knox blows a gasket and outdoes him. It's full of rhyme, alliterations, tongue twisters, and of course Dr. Seuss's clever illustrations.

Through three cheese trees,
three free fleas flew.
While these fleas flew,
freezy breeze blew.
Freezy breeze made these three trees freeze.
Freezy trees made these trees' cheese freeze.
That's what made these
three free fleas sneeze.

The above is my favourite and yes, I've read it often enough to recite it from memory at a pace that makes me look talented.   Boo is more fond of the chicks with bricks, blocks, and clocks from the beginning than the sneezing fleas, though the tweedle beetle muddle puddle battles at the end gives them a run for their money.

It's fun.  It's fast (once you've read it a few times).  It's painfully irritating if it isn't limited it to once or twice a day, but quite tolerable otherwise.  Well, tolerable unless I have a massive headache or laryngitis, both of which have happened this past week.  Thank you, Boo, for passing on all those fantastic daycare germs!

Boo loves Fox in Socks.  It's one of the first books he would ask for by name ("Read Foss n Soss?"), and he loves asking visitors (his grandparents, our friends, unsuspecting door-to-door salespeople) to read it for him.  Personally, I love this too as it takes the pressure off me and my husband, yet simultaneously makes us look brilliant when we can recite it faster than they can read it.  The six billionth time is the charm, didn't you know?

Autism Spectrum Bonus: This is fantastic for verbal play, both introducing the concept and practicing.  I imagine a lot of young (or adult) Aspies would adore it, and it may also draw the interest of less verbal kids with the somewhat frenetic patterns and rhymes.  Older kids with good verbal memories might enjoy memorizing the tongue twisters and showing off their mad skillz.   It may also help with matching the verbal/written word to the illustrated concept, as the weird and wonderful tongue twisters (Fox in socks on box on Knox; Sue sues hose on Slow Joe Crow's nose) are all drawn out accurately.  As Boo is so familiar with the book (due to the aforementioned six billion readings), it's also good for encouraging more vocalizations by pausing and letting him finish a line or page.

Bottom Line:
Dr. Seuss your book is fun, sir.
My tongue is more than fully numb, sir.


Fox in Socks on

Fox in Socks on

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Moose Tracks

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Title: Moose Tracks
Author: Karma Wilson (website)
Illustrator: Jack E. Davis
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Year: 2006
ISBN: 978-0689834370
Format: Hardcover, also available in Paperback
Pages: 32
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Early Reader
Kid Love Factor: 4/5

Adult Sanity Factor: 3.5/5

Those of you who've been visited Sam and Boo before probably know of our fondness for Karma Wilson (see our reviews of Bear Snores On and The Cow Loves Cookies).  So, when we stumbled upon this in the library, we just had to borrow it for a peek.

Moose Tracks tells the story of an impressive socialite.  It seems he's had a multitude of friends over to visit in the past day, all of whom leave their mark on his property.  The bear leaves hair.  The goose leaves feathers.  The beaver leaves woodchips. The chipmunk leaves nut shells.  But he can't for the life of him figure out who left all the moose tracks, as none of his visiting friends is a moose.  It's a mystery, one that's humorously solved on the final page.

There are moose tracks in my kitchen,
and I'm itchin' to know why!
Some friends dropped over yesterday,
but not one moose stopped by.

Davis does a great job with the pictures.  The illustrations are complex, with lots of fun detail for kids to search through and enjoy.  The animals are a bit cartoony, but still seem quite human.  Boo's fond of finding the ladybug on the last page.

I must admit I don't enjoy this one as much as I do the other two of Wilson's books that we've read.  I'm not entirely sure why; Moose Tracks just doesn't strike me as quite as poetic and memorable.  That being said, the text still flows well and makes for a good read, one that Boo requests frequently.  For some reason it's all he's been wanting to talk about over dinner the last couple of nights...

Boo: Mama read Moose Tracks?
Sam (imagining returning the book to the library covered in pasta sauce): How about we finish dinner first, then read Moose Tracks?
Boo: Dinner first, then Moose Tracks?
Sam: Yep.  Dinner first, then we'll read Moose Tracks.
Boo (ponders this before grabbing two handfuls of spaghetti and jamming them in his maw): Dinner finished!
Sam:  Okay.  New deal.  Wash hands first, then Moose Tracks.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: There's lots here to work with, from identifying the various creatures, to counting moose tracks, to repeating "Moose Tracks", to making a game out of finding details, to talking about all the things each animal friend enjoys doing.  And whatever beliefs you have about how theory of mind relates to autism, I know I'm looking forward to when Boo's old enough to discuss the solution to the moose track mystery and why our unnamed protagonist can't or pretends to not be able to solve it.

Bottom Line:
'Moose Tracks' isn't on my book shelf.
Look, I just can't make it stay.
Boo's always dragging it out,
To read more every day.


Moose Tracks on

Moose Tracks on

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: The Cheerios Play Book

I hope nobody else has caught the fun new cold/flu that's been going around in these parts.  We're on day 5 of coughing/snotting/laryngitis baby, which hasn't been fun for anyone.  Especially since Boo's lack of vocal chord cooperation has dropped my understanding of him from 70% of the time to about 30%.  Frustration all 'round, anyone?
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Title: The Cheerios Play Book
Author/Illustrator: Lee Wade
Publisher: Little Simon
Year: 1998
ISBN: 978-1862910959

Format: Board Book
Pages: 14
Age Range: Baby, Toddler

Kid Love Factor: 3/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 2/5

The Cheerios Play Book is a bit different than most books we've reviewed.  For one, it's a glorified ad campaign.   I'm not the fondest of books that exist merely to sell a product and this one is more blatant than most.  And two, it's not exactly a book that's going to get kids riveted on reading; there's not much of a story, per se.

That being said, what it is good for is practicing manual dexterity, counting, and imagination.  Each layout in the book has an illustration and with photographic Cheerios taking the place of round objects like tires, buttons, glasses, or bubbles.  There are also holes where tots can place real Cheerios (or Nutrios, or generic O cereal; shh, don't tell General Mills) to finish the pictures.

Boo's a bit of a fan.  He doesn't pull the book out very often, but when he does stumble across it, he's instantly in the kitchen where he rifles through the cabinet until he finds the current box of pseudo-Cheerios to lug back with him.  He'll happily dig into the box, pull out a handful, place the Cheerios in the holes, eat them, and move onto the next page.  Woe betides my kitchen and living room floors if I'm not paying attention when all this occurs.  Boo is all the proof physicists need to support chaos theory.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: Apart from a brief period in early neurotypical toddlerhood, this book seems to be entirely Autism Spectrum Bonus.  Assuming your child likes Cheerios or another small roundish food that will fit in the holes, the book is well suited to working on fine motor skills like pincher grasping and object placement.  It's also good for practicing having you child follow a proximal point as you initially direct them to the Cheerios and the holes for them.  Boo's been making progress in recognizing that small shapes, in this case circles, can make up parts of a larger whole.  We're also using it to help introduce counting to Boo; he can already recite an impressive length of numbers (with a few logical errors like twenty-ten following twenty-nine) and can identify the first 25 or so by symbol before he starts getting confused, but he's still not quite making the link that OOOO is four objects, though he can now reliably recognize O, OO, and OOO as one, two, and three, respectively.

We just use the book casually when Boo shows interest, but I can see it being useful in more formalized therapies as well.

Bottom Line:
It's an ad, but if you can overlook that, it's a useful one.


The Cheerios Play Book (Canada)

The Cheerios Play Book (USA)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Possum Magic

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Title: Possum Magic
Author: Mem Fox (website)
Illustrator: Julie Vivas
Publisher: Sandpiper
Year: originally 1983
ISBN: 978-1862910959

Format: Hardcover, also available in Paperback
Pages: 32
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Early Reader
Kid Love Factor: 3.5/5

Adult Sanity Factor: 4/5

Possum Magic is the story of Hush, a young possum whose grandmother used bush magic to make her invisible.  Hush can get into all sorts of mischief and is quite safe from predators, but she longs to see what she looks like.  Grandma Poss unfortunately can't figure out what food is needed to reverse the spell, so Hush and Grandma Poss go on a tour of Australian state capitals and try all sorts of national foods until they find just the right combination to make Hush reappear.

Grandma Poss made bush magic.
She made wombats blue
and kookaburras pink.
She made dingoes smile
and emus shrink.
But the best magic of all...
Was the magic that made Hush INVISIBLE.

There aren't too many books out there that are quite as lyrical as this one.  It almost seems like a song as we read it.  I read it the same way every time and Boo's mesmerized.  There's just enough alliteration to be fun to say without it becoming annoying, though I must admit the magic starts to wear thin circa five times in a row.

The illustrations add amazingly to the story.  They're full of movement and somehow make the animals appear realistic, save for Grandma Poss's apron, slippers, and books, of course.  And Hush's personality shines through, even though she's technically invisible.

Boo isn't quite as fond of this one as he is of Mem Fox's Koala Lou, but we've still read it often enough I can recite the majority by heart.  He especially gets a kick out of repeating a rough estimation of the word 'kookaburra' a hundred bazillion times in a row, though he's quick to tell me to hush up ("Finished singing!") if I dare start "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree...". 

Apparently I should stop waiting by the phone for Broadway to call.

Happily for those of us who aren't experts in Australian cookery, there's a glossary in the back which describes each dish mentioned.  If you notice this glossary right away instead of months later like me, you'll be spared the 0.32-second-long anticipatory wince while waiting for Google to spit back an image of a Lamington that isn't in fact a dead sea anemone on a plate like you for some bizarre reason envisioned.

I'm hoping my Australian cousins never find this entry.  I'll never live it down.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: Any child with a Special Interest in Australia, animals, food, or capital cities will probably be fond of this one.  With older kids, you might be able to have a conversation on why Grandma Poss wanted to protect Hush, and why Hush wants so badly to see herself again.

Bottom Line:
Mem Fox makes book magic.
She makes Boos grin
and Mommies sing.
She makes possums grow
and lyrics ring.
But the best magic of all...
is the magic that makes Australia visible.


Possum Magic at

Possum Magic at

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: Do You Love Me?

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Title: Do You Love Me?
Author/Illustrator: Joost Elffers
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year: 2008
ISBN: 0061667994

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler

Kid Love Factor: 3.5/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 2.5/5

Do You Love Me? is in a rhyming question and answer format between adults and children.  Each page has a question, with the answer on the following layout.  The graphics are simple and computer-generated, but strangely compelling, with an insecure child and a loving adult of various sorts spread throughout.

Do you love me?
Always, dear.
Do you need me?
Ever near.

It's short.  It's sweet.  It's brightly-coloured.  It's pretty much perfect for snuggling the toddler in your life.  And because it's so short, it's not anywhere near as painful to read repeatedly as might otherwise be the case.

Boo always loves the opportunity to answer direct questions, provided you're someone he knows and cares about.  He happily answers "Yes!" or "No-oo" in all the appropriate places.  He's also (thankfully!) a cuddly little creature most of the time, so he took to snuggling during the book like a champ.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: Do You Love Me? is about expressing fondness, love, and affection.  Some little spectrumites may have missed signs of love their parents or caregivers consider obvious; this book, along with some explanation, might help clarify matters. The "Hug me, hold me, snug and tight.  Snuzzle closer, kiss goodnight" section at the end might also help garner you a little extra cuddly affection if there aren't too many sensory issues in the way.  If there are, the 'snuzzle', what I would have inaccurately (and politically incorrectly in Canada) called an "Eskimo kiss" as a child, might give an extra affection-displaying option you haven't previously considered trying.

Bottom Line:
Would you read me?
Often here.


Do You Love Me? on

Do You Love Me? on
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