Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins

Today I'm reviewing a book we own called Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, by Al Perkins and illustrated by Eric Gurney.  It is a 22-page board book first published in 1969, and it's one of these books like those by P. D. Eastman that are somehow affiliated with Dr. Seuss.  We've had the book since before my son was born, so I've been getting to know it for close to three years.  It's showing signs of its age; the edges are frayed, the spine is half gone, and the book kind of wobbles as you read it.   There's a reason we read this book so much, and it's one of the many things we learned at a place called Isis Parenting.

We took several classes at the now defunct Isis Parenting (you can read all about its closing in Fortune Magazine) and in one class they recommended we each choose one book to read every night as part of the bedtime routine.  The more consistent the bedtime routine the better, and this was the book I chose to read every night as part of the routine.  There were some days when I read it to my son three times a day: before morning nap, before afternoon nap, and before going to bed for the night.

The book is relatively simple and tells a story of musical monkeys assembling to play (mostly) the drums.  Some monkeys turn up who play banjos and fiddles, but in the end it's millions of monkeys with millions of drums as far as the eye can see.  There is a rhythm to the prose, and when I found it sometimes the hardest part was turning the pages fast enough to keep the beat.  Soon I had the book memorized and it was an easy go-to book.  This is a good trick if you are away from home on business and need to read books to your child over the phone.  You can buy two copies of a book and bring one with you while your child reads the other at home, but if you forget your copy or something happens to it you can instead recite a book like this.

I think it's interesting to note that a lot of these old stories that have been turned into board books have also been shortened from the original book.  In searching for it on google I saw some images of pages that aren't in the board book, and I would be interested to get a copy of the full book and see if the rhythm is the same.

I also found several different readings and/or animations on youtube, and liked this one the best.  This is the board book version, so some of the pages from the original are not there.  It's interesting to hear someone else read the book and compare it to my own inflection when I read it.  The rhythm in the video is the same but this guy has actual drum accompaniment.

The bottom line: this book is like a member of our family.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Urban Babies Wear Black by Michelle Sinclair Colman

This week we got Urban Babies Wear Black by Michelle Sinclair Colman and illustrated by Nathalie Dion from the library.  I can't decide if it is a tongue-in-cheek look at babies doing things that are stereotyped as urban (in a yuppie kind of way) or meant to be true.  The book is 18 pages long and has words on the left with a picture on the right.  It begins with the titular urban babies wear black and has the babies doing yoga, visiting art galleries, jogging (in a stroller), drinking latte, enjoying architecture, appreciating fine dining, going to the opera, and taking a taxi at the end of the day.  

I think the art is cool and very expressive, but I'm not completely happy with some of the messages.  There are many reasons children shouldn't drink coffee, and the page pictured below contradicts us when we tell our son he's too young for coffee.  

Babies shouldn't drink lattes.
When the baby is appreciating fine dining the child has his finger pointed in the air and is shouting "garçon" while being spoon-fed peas by a pair of ultra-skinny arms… it's not the way we'd want our child to treat people.  I think it speaks to my main problem with this book: I think it is targeted not at the child but at the parents.  It's like another book that was popular a few years ago called Go The F--k To Sleep, not meant for the kids' enjoyment but the parents'.  If I had a friend obsessed with living in the city and being "urban" and they just had a baby I would get them this book as a joke.  And if they used it as some kind of urban baby bible to brainwash their child into liking opera and being a snob I would be sad.

I do really enjoy the art in this book, it has a cool and distinct style.  I read that the artist, Nathalie Dion, is from Montreal, and would be interested to know if she had any particular city in mind when she created the illustrations.

The art is very cool

I do think the book is cute and somewhat humorous, but we read these books for our kids so I have to go with how they react to it.   My 10-month old isn't really that into it, nor has it captured the interest of my 2 1/2 year old.  It's a quick read and I'm not upset by its playful jest about urban babies, but I wouldn't need to purchase this book for myself (or take it out of the library again).  There are more in the series about beach babies, country babies, foodie babies, and more.  Any of them would probably make good gifts to make fun of people who want their kids to identify with those labels.

The bottom line: this book is okay.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu

This week we took out this board book at the library by Yusuke Yonezu: We Love Each Other.  Board books are great because they can withstand the rough handling of young children, and my 10-month old insists on holding her own book during story time.  My 2 1/2 year old is capable of turning the pages of a regular picture book, but he still creases them and tears them occasionally so I still lean towards reading board books with them.
We Love Each Other is an adorable and simple book with cut out pages that turn two animals, who (as the title would suggest) love each other, into a geometric shape.  Shapes include a heart, triangle, circle, semi-circle, trapezoid, square, and rectangle.  The pictures are cute and the expressions of the animals change so they are smiling when they are together on their final page.  The book is 28 pages long but only has words every fourth page, so it can be a quick read.  

In searching for images of the book I found another site that named this their book of the week on February 12, 2014.  The images below demonstrating how the cut out pages work come from the make light home made photography blog:

The cover (the right side of the birds is cut out)

On the first page the birds are apart

Then brought together again revealing a heart

The blog suggests this book for Valentine's Day, which is a fantastic idea.  Here are some more images from the book demonstrating the artwork and how the animals become shapes:  

The rabbits form a trapezoid
Two rectangular bears...
...make a square
The back cover

I also found this article from the New York Times with a paragraph (the second in the article) devoted to the book.  The article, Love for the Littlest by Sarah Harrison Smith, was published on February 5, 2014 and puts my review to shame in its eloquence and ability to stay on topic.  Seriously, read this:

In “We Love Each Other,” a board book, the Japanese artist Yusuke Yonezu (“A Cup for Everyone”) uses clever cutouts to convey — without ever stating outright — the message that loves completes us. As readers flip the glossy cardboard pages, animals first shown next to empty spaces meet their mirror images, and the happy couple together form a new shape. Two little red birds snuggle side by side to create a heart; blue mice, with their noses in the air, lean in to construct a triangle; a big elephant and a little one combine to make a semicircle; and so on. At last, a group of cats break the pattern because, as parents well know, sometimes one plus one equals three. Yonezu incorporates simple sentences that may be within reach of some early readers, but his ingenious pictures are the main attraction.

Smith's review reveals a shortcoming of the book for single parent families, as this final image of the cats might be exclusionary.

My children really like this book, and love the pictures.  It's a quick read and has cute and familiar animals.  This is a great book for Valentine's Day.

The bottom line: we like this book.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gerber Baby Photo Contest 2014

So the Gerber Baby Photo Contest is on again, and this time you don't have to vote through facebook or some other social media site but directly on the gerber website. Follow this link (https://gerber.promo.eprize.com/photosearch2014/) to vote or register your child for the contest.

My whole write up about the thing somehow got deleted by blogger, and it's really hard to rewrite something you already finished and published but then somehow disappeared.

You can find the winners of the contest by following this link (http://bit.ly/1qGTtWS) after January 30, 2015.  So that means you have to wait.  People always want to know how many votes their child has, but all you can do is wait until the winners are announced at the end of January.  Our child participated in the contest in 2012, and if you want to read all about it then check out my 2012 post.

Mommy! Mommy! by Taro Gomi

It's been such a long time since I've written about my child that now I have to say children because we've had a second child.  Over the months we've started going to the local library's story hour every week, and read quite a few new children's books.  I thought it might be a good way for me to ease back into writing here if I shared some of my favorite books - books that we take out over and over again or have purchased because we liked them so much.  I'll review one book per post to keep things manageable, and try to talk about a variety of topics.  Maybe I'll develop some categories to use in considering each book, but now things are getting complicated and I want to let this evolve on its own.

Mommy! Mommy! by Taro Gomi

The first book I have chosen is Mommy! Mommy! by Taro Gomi, a book we borrowed from the library.  It's a board book, and 11 pages long.  Taro Gomi is the author and artist, and when you open the book the left and right sides of the page form one image.  The images are simple and very cute, and the story is almost like dialog to a game of hide-and-seek between some baby chickens and their mother.  The chicks mistake a flower and some kind of warthog thing for their mother and say oops, and I don't want to spoil the ending but they do eventually find their mother.  The book averages a little more than two words to a page, in part because of a five-word last page.  It is the simplicity of this book that makes it so good, and there are a lot of cute little details in the art that seems familiar but different in a way.

This is a book that has all of its publishing information on the back cover, and I learned a lot from it before I googled the artist and learned even more.  The back cover reads:

"Babies know their mommies anywhere.  See, there she is right- wait, that's not Mommy!  Acclaimed author and illustrator Taro Gomi creates a playful world where readers follow two chicks on a search through the barnyard for their mother hen."

The book also has an original copyright of 2004 being published in Japan by Crayon House Co., Ltd.  It was first published in the United States in 2013 by Chronicle Books LLC., and was translated by Chronicle Books.  So I thought that was cool, and it may have explained some of the art.

When I googled Gomi I instantly recognized his book Everyone Poops, which I think is well known in the United States.  I didn't have it as a child, but I'm sure over the years I've seen it in the houses of friends with younger siblings.  He also has a storybook The Crocodile and the Dentist that looks familiar to me, and I think when we go to the library again I will look for more books by Taro Gomi.

My 2.5 year old likes the book, and my 9-month old loves the book as well.  She sits and watches the book the entire time, unlike when we're reading some wordier books and she tries to squirm away.

Both of my children love Mommy! Mommy! by Taro Gomi, and the book provides a lot of opportunity for silliness with its adorable art.  It can be an introduction to Gomi's work and to Japanese art and culture.  There's a simple grammar lesson there too, as the hen says at first "here I am," then later switches to "there you are."

The bottom line: we like this book a lot.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pictures Taken With Smartphones Pose Security Risks

Here's a news piece from Action News NBC about a new technology that allows people to track you based on the pictures you post.  It's not a bad idea to disable geotracking on your phone, but in the tradition of TV news the story is meant to incite fear among its viewers… but it never hurts to be careful when posting.

I'm not the first one to post about this - check out this blog entry from kyeos.wordpress.com (Keeping My Eye on the Sparrow Photography).

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Baby Sign Language

I'm sure I've alluded to signing with our baby before, but it's a very complicated subject, and to be honest I wanted to see if we'd be successful before writing about it.  None of us are hard of hearing, but I've heard that it can make the terrible twos easier as well as enable more meaningful communication at an earlier age.  In fact, I may have first heard about it from one of the "Meet the Fockers" movies, as seen in this clip:

Robert DeNiro's character demonstrates baby sign language

My wife gave me a sign language kit - a book, flashcards, and a DVD.  It was a good start, but there is more to the methodology of how to teach a child to sign, especially when you are not a native (or at all experienced) signer.

My sister-in-law got this book/DVD combo from her local library, Sign with your Baby by Dr. Joseph Garcia.  I read some of the book but never watched the DVD, although it had some good information.  Many of the signs overlapped with the kit my wife had given me, but it had more about the methodology of teaching sign language.  It was from this book that I learned that some baby signing systems do not use actual ASL (the language adults use) but their own sign languages, designed specifically for babies.  This seemed crazy to me… like teaching your child baby talk on purpose, thus limiting their interaction with others.  I want my child to learn the ASL that people hard of hearing use, not some made-up baby sign language.  We've probably all heard of the bogus interpreter at the Nelson Mandela tribute; to me this is the equivalent of baby sign languages that aren't ASL.

I think I should take a moment to talk about the advantages of raising bilingual or multilingual children. The only disadvantage I've heard of is that sometimes it can delay speech, simply because if the child can already communicate there is little reason to learn to speak.  I'm currently studying to become a teacher, and one of the courses I've taken is about teaching students whose native language is not English, aka ELLs (English Language Learners).  At first it is difficult for these students to manage both learning a language and the content of their grade level, but once they become fluent they excel in both languages.  The same applies to ASL, which is a language all its own with grammar and syntax and everything that makes it a distinct language.  I'm also trying to learn ASL simultaneously for a variety of reasons, not least of which is because it's a great way to communicate with another person who signs without others knowing what you're saying.

Eventually I went to my local library and took a look through the teach baby to sign books there, and found one that was fantastic.  The Baby Signing Book by Sara Bingham not only has 450 ASL signs, but has a very useful guide on how to introduce the signs to your child.  I'll admit that I didn't follow it exactly, but part of it involved writing in the book and I didn't own it and don't want to get banned from my library.

If I remember correctly, the book recommended starting when your child is 3-4 months old and choosing 8-10 signs for common things you do with your child.  I chose things like eat, drink, milk, sleep, all done, please, sorry, thank you, you're welcome, good, hungry, change (for diaper change), I love you, sleep, bed, music, and others that I could use several times a day.  I realize that's more than 8-10 signs, but once you are comfortable making those signs and have them memorized the book says to add a new sign every week to build your vocabulary.  Your child won't start signing until later, but they're learning from everything you do and will surprise you when they start signing.

One lesson from The Baby Signing Book that I liked was that it's never too late to start signing.  This was a great book that really got into the specifics of signing with your child, and had places to record when you start using a sign with your child, when you first observe your child making the sign, and lots of great instruction.  If you're going to purchase one baby signing book, this is the one.

What I'm about to reveal is the breakthrough discovery of this whole process.  I found a website with hundreds of words in ASL with videos to accompany them, and the whole thing is free!  Everyone out there is trying to capitalize on this baby signing trend by selling charts and flash cards and books and DVDs, but this is a website that is "a labor of love" by the author, Jolanta Lapiak.  In her words: "Jolanta Lapiak is an ASL instructor and ASL/Ameslan literary artist specializing in sign language. Born a native signer to native signers (family and communities from Europe to North America), my work is a labor of love and passion for sign language."

The website is http://www.handspeak.com.  Every word has a small video demonstrating how to sign the word starring Ms. Lapiak, and they also have facebook and twitter accounts, and more videos on youtube as well.  I make sure to visit http://www.handspeak.com/word/ every day (for the ASL word of the day) to build my vocabulary.  Some days they don't update the word and it might be the word from the day before, but the site is completely free!  If the word of the day is a repeat, just click on one of the hundreds of other words and make your own word of the day!  I cannot say enough good things about this site.  If you have any questions there is contact information for Ms. Lapiak right on the site, and I've only sent a message once but she got right back to me and really just wants to help people learn ASL.  There are lessons that cover grammar from beginner to advanced, and this really is the place that everyone should go to learn ASL.  In case there is any confusion, one more time, go to:

I'm not getting any kind of kickback from sending people here, it's just a great site that I visit (almost) every day, and if you're serious about learning ASL with your child this is the place to go.  My final endorsement for this site is one of the many videos you can find on youtube with Ms. Lapiak signing with her child.  In this video her daughter is 1 year 7 months old, and if you have any doubts about ASL for kids you weren't paying close enough attention:

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