Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: There was an old lady who swallowed a fly

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Title: There was an old lady who swallowed a fly
Author/Illustrator: Pam Adams
Publisher: Child’s Play International
ISBN: 978-0859530217
Format: Board Book, also in paperback and hardcover
Pages: 18
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler
Kid Love Factor: 4/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 2.5/5

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly once sat solidly in the list of Boo’s favourite books; for many months, we ‘read’ it together almost every evening. I use the term read loosely in this case. Because this is such a classic children’s story/song, I don’t actually pay much attention to the words. In fact, once Boo can read for himself, we’re going to need a long discussion on regional differences and why Mommy sings the story slightly ‘wrong’.

The titular old lady appears on the cover, smiling benevolently at all who behold her. She’s rather eclectically dressed and can’t be described as anything less than morbidly obese. Which is about what you’d expect from someone who can swallow an entire cow, I suppose. Also visible is a small blue fly in the center of her belly.

Once you open the cover, you’re again greeted by the same image. But this time, the fly in her belly is visible due to a hole in this page and all the ones that follow it. The fly is actually part of the illustration on page 16. Opposite, there’s a brightly coloured page with another picture of our poor little blue fly, this time flying and sans elderly gastric juices, but with a big green spider on a nearby web.

The following page is similar, only this time the hole in the old lady’s stomach on the right is large enough that you can now see the green spider that surrounds the fly on page 16. On the left is the spider with an approaching robin.

The book continues like this, all the way through the traditional bird, cat, dog, cow, and horse verses. Each animal is pictured on the appropriate page, with a foreshadowing image of the next animal in the sequence beside it. The hole on the right continues to get larger to let you see each surrounding animal, and the hole on the left nicely reminds you of the previous verses on the off chance you haven’t already read or sung the lyrics 87,631 times already. The spiral text may be good practice for those just starting to get a handle on this whole reading gig, too.

After the final verse, there's an extra double page spread that repeats the entire song and has a picture of the old lady chasing a horse, who's chasing a cow, who's chasing a dog, etc.

Although I’m very fond of the illustration of the old lady herself, I can’t say the animals thrill me very much. They’re quite stylized, which they have to be to fit in the not-exactly-natural setting they find themselves in, but I don’t find most of them to be aesthetically pleasing. Boo, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to mind at all. The drawings and backgrounds are certainly brightly coloured, which provides ample visual stimulation.

On the up side, the spider picture is stylized enough that even an arachnophobe like me has no trouble looking at it. Though come to think of it, maybe this book is the reason I'm having the trouble I am with this one.

As I said, I don’t typically read this book to Boo; I sing the song as I was taught it. There are only minor differences between this book’s version and the one I grew up with, the main one of which lets me add a bit of a game to the song. Every time we sing the line about the spider, which is “wiggled and jiggled and giggled inside her” in my version (as opposed to “wriggled and wriggled and jiggled”), Boo gets tickle attacked. This results in loud baby laughter just in time for the word ‘giggled’. Great for building interactions and anticipation as well as basic animal labelling.

There was
An old lady
Who swallowed a horse.

She’s dead, of course.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: The book is very brightly coloured, which may appeal either more or less to those with sensory processing differences than to the more neurotypical among us. There are lots of opportunities to encourage imitation through animal noises, gestures, or signs. The repetitive nature of the book may also be good for prompting otherwise rare vocalizations. This was one of the first books to allow Boo to anticipate and seek out contact. Before long, he'd be leaning into us when we got to the spider line, anticipating his tickle. If we were singing the song while doing something else, he'd always make sure to come within arms' reach for the spider's segment as well, just so we'd make him giggle. Very rewarding interaction (i.e. pure glee) for his parents, and fun for him. For older and/or more verbal children, there can be discussions about the old lady's viewpoint and why she thought eating all those animals was a good idea even when your child clearly knows differently. Some kids may also be interested in talking about why the ending is humourous.

Bottom Line:
There was a cute board book with colours and holes,
Not bad, all told.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly on

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly on

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: Dig Dig Digging by Margaret Mayo

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Title: Dig Dig Digging

Author: Margaret Mayo
Illustrator: Alex Ayliffe
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Year: 2006
ISBN: 978-0805079852
Format: Board Book
Pages: 22
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler
Kid Love Factor: 5/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 3/5

Dig Dig Digging is full of the large vehicles that many toddlers love, complete with rhythmic, onomatopoeic phrasing.

Diggers are good at dig, dig, digging,
scooping up the earth, and lifting and tipping.
They make huge holes with their dig, dig, digging.
They can work all day.

The book goes through 10 different machines, from construction vehicles like diggers and road rollers to emergency vehicles like fire engines to service vehicles like garbage trucks. Each spread of pages describes the machine and what it's good at, then finishes with "They can work all day".

It's cute, it's catchy, it's...kinda irritating. It's also Boo's favourite right now. With lots of action words and sound effects, this book is practically made for expanding toddler vocabularies and imitation. Not to mention their recognition of vehicles. The illustrations are colourful and effective but not very detailed. True vehicle-lovers will likely demand more-photorealistic options, but Boo is thus far content and now very excited to see a garbage truck on the street, something he'd never before been interested in.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: The abundance of verbs is great for expanding language or comprehension, an especially nice bonus if you're struggling to introduce action words to a very concrete thinker. There's also lots of machine-noise words for encouraging imitation. Boo enjoys yelling out "They can work all day!" when I pause for him at the end of each page; it didn't take him long to work out the pattern. The brightly coloured pictures also include the people who are necessary for the machines to run, which might be good to point out to little ones who are normally too intent on fascinating vehicles to notice things as boring as people.

Bottom Line:
Dig Dig Digging is often repeating,
Pages turning, toddler grinning, vrooming and beeping,
Soon we'll be perfect at machine-like creaking,
We'll be reading all day.


Dig Dig Digging on

Dig Dig Digging on

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Yikes!!! by Robert Florczak

Yikes!!! at
Yikes!!! at
Title: Yikes!!!
Author/Illustrator: Robert Florczak
Publisher: Blue Sky Press
Year: 2003
ISBN: 978-0590050432
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Early Reader
Kid Love Factor: 4/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 2.5/5

Yikes!!! isn't so much a story as it is an experience. A young boy (or girl, if you prefer; the character is fairly androgenous and is only identified as a boy in the summary at the end of the book) explores "wild and dangerous places" and finds exotic animals along the way. For most of the pages, the only text is an exclamation of Oops! or Uh Oh! or Wow! It's the pictures that make this book amazing.

Full of detail and almost photographic in nature, the illustations show an abundance of dangerous animals in vivid colour with intriguing perspective. The protagonist swings with orangatans, dodges an irate tiger, nearly walks into a giant spider's web, and narrowly escapes a crocodile's jaws. But never fear, it's revealed at the end that the kid is merely dreaming these heart-pounding adventures; he or she is actually asleep under a tree in the backyard.

This one is bound to appeal to any young wildlife lover for sheer coolness factor. As a warning to adults, be prepared for your kid to hone in on whatever type of animal gives you the screaming heebies as his or her favourite. I know Boo fell in love with the giant (bird-eating!) orb-weaver - a perfect match to my arachnophobia issues. I've been trying to ensure he doesn't develop the fear as well, but I may have seriously overplayed my pseudo-enjoyment of gigantic spiders. Either that or the Spiderman shoes and trike helmet were a big mistake...

The last page of the book contains a summary which identifies all the animals portrayed, including those in the background. It also indicates which ones the US Wildlife Service considers to be endangered or threatened, which could be a great start to a kid-friendly conservation discussion.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: There are a wide variety of well-drawn facial expressions on the protagonist from joy to surprise to fear, yielding lots of opportunity to discuss how the kid is feeling and why he or she might be feeling that way. And you can bet this book will appeal to any kid with a Special Interest in animals, in particular creepy crawlies, but also primates and reptiles. I think Yikes!!! solidifies my need to find a local shrink who specializes in adult phobias; Boo seems to be headed towards a love of arachnids and if I want to be able to join in without becoming an Ativan addict, it's time to say goodbye to the irrational fear.

Bottom Line: Wow!!!


Yikes!!! on
Yikes!!! on

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review: Chicky Chicky Chook Chook

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Title: Chicky Chicky Chook Chook
Author/Illustrator: Cathy MacLennan
Publisher: Boxer Books
Year: 2007
ISBN: 978-1905417407
Format: Hardcover, also available in paperback
Pages: 32
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler
Kid Love Factor: 4/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 1/5

Chicky Chicky Chook Chook is full of quick onomatopoeic phrases and rhymes and follows some fluffy baby chicks, furry kittens, and fuzzy bees while they peck, scatter, and buzz through the pages. The rambunctious little characters play themselves into a nap, only to be interrupted by a summer thunder storm, which quickly drenches them. Luckily, a strong breeze and some warm sun dry everyone off just in time to go to sleep.

The swirling paint colours and animated depictions of the animals hint at African influences and are well matched to the almost frenetic text. Good luck removing some of the phrases once they get lodged in your brain…

Boo loved the rhythm, the rhymes, and the repetition, and eagerly requested the story be read to him over and over again. I, on the other hand, was about ready to end myself when I saw him coming towards me with it. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a cute book and great fun for toddlers. Just don’t expect extreme gratefulness from the parental set if you gift it to their toddler. I was more than happy when it came time to return this one to the library, though I'm sure we'll be borrowing it again if Boo lays eyes on it at a future visit.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: There's not much more than what's appealing to most toddlers. The quick rhythms and rhymes may appeal to kids who crave extra auditory stimulation, and as the story is mostly nonsense, it should be just as entertaining to those who may be behind in communication as it is those who are not.  Though I must admit, now that Boo's verbal communication is stronger and he's displaying significant echolalia, I'm kinda dreading the next time we take this out from the library.

Bottom Line:
Chicky Chicky Chook Chook, toddler fun!
Chicky Chicky Chook Chook, Mommy's done!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: Tiger

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Title: Tiger
Author/ Illustrator: Nick Butterworth
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0007261666
Format: Board Book, also available in Paperback and Hardcover
Pages: 26
Age Range: Baby, Toddler, Preschooler
Kid Love Factor: 4/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 4/5

Tiger is about a little, striped kitten named Tiger who likes to pretend he’s a real tiger. The pages alternate between Tiger pretending to do tigery things and a 'real' tiger doing those things. For example:

Tiger pretends that his funny little tigery meow…
Is a loud, scary, tigery ROAR!

The narrative doesn’t rhyme, but it has a definite rhythmic metre which is easy to fall into and can be mesmerizing for the baby set. The refrain ‘Just like a real tiger’ is oft-repeated, but not so much that it becomes tedious. The wording is simple in most places, but doesn’t dumb itself down very far. It’s one of the only baby books I’ve seen that has a word as long as ‘extraordinarily’, yet it doesn’t seem out of place. 

Boo is very fond of the pictures. As an adult, I have to agree. The illustrations are stunning and suit the story phenomenally well. Tiger is cute without being cartoony, and the real tiger is just gorgeously drawn.

I’ve already mentioned the rhythmic metre of the narrative, but much of the joy and humour of this book is non-verbal. The illustrations seem to have a metre all their own, if that’s possible. Everything between the two sides of the story is mimicked. Tiger has a blue butterfly companion. The real tiger spends time near a little blue bird. Tiger is frightened when he creeps too close to a nesting swan whose long neck is sinuous and threatening. The real tiger is frightened by a mama elephant; her trunk is reminiscent of the swan’s neck. The story ends with Tiger curling up in his sleeping box, and the real tiger curls up around him, flattening the box.

My favourite part is the following two pages:

Tiger doesn’t play with wool. (Picture of Tiger heroically resisting the call of a ball of pink wool).
Real tigers don’t play with wool. (Picture of a real tiger heroically trying to disentangle him or herself from a messy web of pink wool.)

Boo started staring at this book quite awhile before most others. I’d say it’s good for babies as young as two-months-old for visual and verbal stimulation, though they’ll really start to enjoy it at about 10-11 months. I can tell you this 30-*cough*-year-old still loves the pictures. And I’d wager ‘extraordinarily’ is a great stretching word for advancing little readers.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: Tiger pretending to be a real tiger is a great starting point for introducing or elaborating on pretend play. This was the book that introduced Boo to the concept of imitating animals sounds. He’s a professional ROARer now. The illustrated similes and humour may appeal to kids who are more visually than orally oriented. Also, the page which explains in text that real tigers don’t play with wool while the illustration shows a tiger clearly playing with it might help introduce with the slippery concept of irony to those who tend to be concrete thinkers.

Bottom line:  Tiger is extraordinarily appealing. Just like a real book.


Tiger on
Tiger on

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In search of decent phrasing...

I’m searching for phrasing to cover concepts in the autism spectrum which are often described as “high functioning” or “verbal” or “responsive” (et cetera) that is more inclusive and less offensive. The concept of high and low functioning is nebulous at best, given that it’s only one aspect of a complex set that define how autistic people think and dream and interact with the world. And tying high functioning to the ability or desire to verbalize doesn’t make too much sense to me, either. I’ve currently settled on “more typically interactive” to get across kids that will understand and/or participate (verbally or otherwise) in conversations like the one described in my Bear Snores On Review, but I’d value other opinions on better options.

Please feel free to comment with your views.

Review: Bear Snores On

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Title: Bear Snores On
Author: Karma Wilson(website)
Illustrator: Jane Chapman
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1442416574
Format: Hardcover, paperback, board book
Pages: 40
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Early Reader
Kid Love Factor: 4/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 4.5/5

Caution: this is currently my very favourite children’s picture book. This review may be more about gushing praise than reviewing, per se. It’s kind of embarrassing, really. Sorry.

Bears Snores On is the story of a brown bear slumbering through his winter hibernation while other animals sneak into his cave one by one to escape the harsh weather:

“An itty-bitty mouse, pitter-pat, tip-toe, creep-crawls in the cave from the fluff-cold snow.”

In no time at all, there’s a party going on beside poor snoozing Bear. It doesn’t’ seem to matter how much noise the group makes, the refrain is always the same:

“But the bear snores on!”

Never fear, eventually something does wake Bear wake up, though he’s not a very happy camper once he realizes what’s been going on. Full of alliteration, clever rhymes, onomatopoeia, and simply gorgeous illustrations, Bear Snores On is a parent’s delight to read and a wonderfully engaging story for children both visually and rhythmically. I sincerely wish all of Boo’s favourite books were like this. I’m very sensitive to metre in children’s stories; Bear Snores On has one of the best rhythms I’ve come across by far.

If you have any reason at all to follow children’s literature, make sure you don’t miss this one.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: The catchy rhythm/rhyme will help draw attention, and the oft-repeated ‘chorus’ of “But the bear snores on!” may draw out vocalizations and imitation; it certainly did in our house. There are also plenty of great action words for building vocabularies and pretend play. For older and more typically interactive kids, conversations about why Bear is upset when he wakes up and how the other animals make him feel better may be beneficial for social development.

Bottom line:
For an elegant book where a look should be took,
Try the Bear Snores On!


Bear Snores On at
Bear Snores On at

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review: The Snail and the Whale

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Title: The Snail and the Whale

Author: Julia Donaldson (website)
Illustrator: Axel Scheffler
Publisher: Macmillan’s Children’s Books
Year: 2004
ISBN: 978-0803729223
Format: Hardcover, also available in Paperback and Board Book
Pages: 32
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler, Early Reader
Kid Love Factor: 4/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 4/5

In The Snail and the Whale, a tiny snail clings to a smooth, black rock and, unlike her more sheltered friends and family, dreams of seeing the world. Luckily, she manages to catch the attention of a passing humpback whale with a note and he takes her on a journey to see amazing sights in wondrous locations. All this beauty and excitement leave the poor snail feeling insignificant, until the whale encounters racing speedboats and accidently beaches himself in a bay. The snail uses her cursive writing skills to save the day, proving that anyone, no matter how small, can make a difference in this world.

A humpback whale, immensely long,
Who sang to the snail a wonderful song,
Of shimmering ice and coral caves,
And shooting stars and enormous waves.

The Snail and the Whale has a wonderful rhythmic metre in addition to its rhyme. There’s a lilting and rollicking feel to the words that complements the book’s nautical theme. The vibrant pictures are full of detail and personality without being so overwhelming as to eclipse the text. And while the main moral of the story refers to how even the smallest among us can make a big impact in the world, there are secondary lessons about dreaming beyond initial circumstances, taking chances to grow, the importance of communication and literacy, and the impact of humanity on nature.

The book is probably most appropriate as a read-aloud story for toddlers and preschoolers, but will serve as enjoyable visual and auditory stimulation for babies as well as an excellent story for practicing primary readers.

Boo loves pointing out the various creatures (Octopus! Shark! Teacher!) and happily waves bye bye to the helpful villagers near the end of the book. He also likes to zig and zoom like a speedboat, which is both cute and exhausting to watch.

As a parent, you will have to read this one repeatedly. But The Snail and the Whale is written well enough that this doesn’t become a chore until the fifth or sixth (or seventh!) time in a row.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: I'll confess there's not much I can think of for this book that would be of more use to those on the spectrum than those who aren't. Anyone with a Special Interest in ocean animals will likely love it.  For older kids, the idea that only one snail of the whole snail "flock" wanted to move beyond her boundaries and explore the world might be a good starting point for a discussion on differences in opinions and personalities between individuals. And while taking risks in order to grow as a person is a good lesson for any child, it might be even more important for kids with autism.

Bottom Line:
A whale of a tale, told of a snail,
And her exotic adventures beyond the pale,
With pristine locales and human-caused strife,
Reminds us what's important in life.


The Snail and the Whale on
The Snail and the Whale on

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review: Goodnight Faces: A Book of Masks

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Title: Goodnight Faces: A Book of Masks

Author: Lucy Schultz
Illustrator: Ana Larranaga
Publisher: Innovative Kids
Year: 2007
ISBN: 978-1584766728
Format: Board Book
Pages: 12
Age Range: Baby, Toddler
Kid Love Factor: 3.5/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 2/5

Goodnight Faces: A Book of Masks is designed to stimulate interaction between an adult and a young child. When the book is opened, there are two holes for the adult's eyes to peep through, and as the pages turn an assortment of ‘masks’ transform the adult into the characters inside, allowing for bedtime games of peekaboo.

“The man in the moon in the sky so deep says, "Now it's time to go to sleep."

Each two-page spread features a single rhyming line and an illustrated character (the moon, a bird, a mouse, a puppy, a teddy bear, and a house) going to sleep. The illustrations are simple, designed more to emphasize the eyes that will be looking through them than telling a story on their own. With the proper amount of vocal (and ocular) animation, you should be able to get your baby or toddler giggling up a storm in no time. The 'story' is short enough that it's a quick trick to memorize it and be able to play along without having to actively read, a necessity as you'll spend most of your time looking through the back of the book. As children get older, they'll likely start trying to 'read' it to you, holding it to their own faces and pretending to be the characters themselves. Which is great, because you’ll be more than tired of reciting it yourself.

Autism Spectrum Bonus: Because of the mask concept, this book may encourage eye contact or pseudo-eye contact in kids who find it stressful while minimizing distracting information from the rest of the face.  It's also great for introducing or emphasizing the concept of pretending to be something else.

Bottom Line: The mommy with the book in front of her nose wishes she had more interesting prose.


Goodnight Faces on
Goodnight Faces on

Review: A Cuddle for Little Duck

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Title: A Cuddle for Little Duck

Author: Claire Freedman
Illustrator: Caroline Pedler (website)
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-545-07797-2
Format: padded board book
Pages: 18
Age Range: Toddler, Preschooler
Kid Love Factor: 3.5/5
Adult Sanity Factor: 3/5

A Cuddle for Little Duck was gifted to us for Boo’s first birthday, to go along with his ducky themed party. Since it was obviously chosen to suit the invitations we’d sent out, I didn’t have high-expectations of the story itself.

Turns out I was wrong. The whole family is quite fond of the book. As the mother of a toddler, it strikes a chord right from the opening lines:

The sun is up and so am I,
I’ve woken Mommy too!
I just can’t wait to start the day:
We’ve lots to see and do.

Oh, yeah. Being woken up at the crack of dawn. How well I know it.

A Cuddle for Little Duck then goes through how curiosity-driven Little Duck spends his (or her; the book is in first person and maintains gender-neutrality) day. Waddling to the river for a swim, running through the meadow chasing bugs, getting startled by a frog, resting with Mommy in the shade, playing games with other ducklings, waddling back to the nest, and finally snuggling up with Mommy to sleep until the new day starts.

The story is told from Little Duck’s point of view, with a simple yet well-executed four-line ABCB rhyming scheme on each spread of pages. The pictures are cute without being nauseatingly saccharine. They appear to have originally been oil paintings; each one illustrates the accompanying rhyme perfectly, and includes plenty of setting-appropriate background stuff to point to interested little people like ladybugs, wild-flowers, and fluttering moths.

Boo really enjoys this book, often waddling over to me with it so he can hear it again. So often, in fact, that I believe the whole story may have become a permanent fixture in my head. The kind of thing I’ll remember randomly when I’m 87, along with Hamlet’s soliloquy from Grade 9 English class and the lyrics to the German song Da Da Da.

Y’know, the types of things that’ll eventually convince Boo to put me in a home…

Autism Spectrum Bonus: The book describes everyday activities for Little Duck, many of which will be familiar or at least imaginable for kids on the spectrum. We've had good luck using Little Duck's experience with the frog to demonstrate and describe the emotion "surprised". And one of Boo's first obviously anticipitory gestures was throwing his hands up and attempting a "Hooray" when we arrived at the appropriate page. He'll also now wiggle along as Little Duck amuses his (or her) friends, as well as wish Little Duck and Mommy Duck good night when we get to the last page. All in all, the book has been a good platform for encouraging interaction with both the characters and whoever's reading.

Bottom line:

This charming book of ducky-kind,
A parent can enjoy.
Explore the day with Little Duck,
To please your girl or boy.


A Cuddle for Little Duck on
A Cuddle for Little Duck on
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