Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Reviews: “Bunny Rabbit in the Sunlight” and “My Woodland Wish”

If your kids love Caspar Babypants‘ music as much as mine do, you’re doubtless already familiar with the work of his wife, artist Kate Endle. Not only has she been responsible for each Caspar Babypants album cover, she’s also a busy Etsy shopkeeper and thriving illustrator of children’s books like Trout Are Made of Trees and Bella and the Bunny.

Now, Kate and Caspar are expanding their partnership, and the first fruits of their labor are here: Bunny Rabbit in the Sunlight, a beautiful, simply written bedtime story, and My Woodland Wish, the tale of a girl who wishes she could play with the animals in the woods around her house. Both books come with a URL where you can download an mp3 to go with the story.

Both books are fairly similar, in that they focus on the outdoors, feature stories built from easy-to-understand rhymes, and include plenty of lovely Endle artwork. The main difference between the two is that Rabbit in the Sunlight is a board book, and the shorter of the two — it’s the kind of thing you’ll pull out before bed for your favorite toddler — while My Woodland Wish offers more of a full-fledged narrative.

Their differences are less meaningful than their similarities, however — both books capture the peaceful, gentle spirit of Caspar Babypants’ music, and feature some of Endle’s loveliest work. I took the books out on a Sunday morning when my kids were running wild, and they calmed right down, eagerly identifying animals on the pages and absorbing the soothing rhythm of the stories.

Both books have been beautifully assembled by Sasquatch Press, particularly Bunny Rabbit in the Sunlight, which was printed with a really pleasant-looking matte finish on the boards. They’re affordably priced — you can own them both for less than $25 through Amazon — and they come with some wonderful free music. Don’t miss the chance to help support a pair of talented independent artists (and give your family a couple of great gifts in the process).

Book/CD Review: “Sunday in Kyoto”

51NR43fS3yL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1]You may never have heard of Gilles Vigneault, but he’s a cultural icon in Canada, particularly in Quebec, where his music so popular that one of his songs has replaced “Happy Birthday” as the birthday party anthem of choice. One of Vigneault’s fans is Roland Stringer, founder of publishing company The Secret Mountain; he’s referred to Vigneault as “French Canada’s Pete Seeger,” and now, he’s giving Vigneault a chance to raise his profile with American listeners — and readers — with Secret Mountain’s latest beautifully packaged book/CD combo, Sunday in Kyoto.

A collection of 14 Vigneault songs performed by Canadian singers including Patrick Watson, Thomas Hellman, Coral Egan, and Vigneault’s daughter Jessica, Kyoto highlights Gilles’ gentle whimsy; the title track, for instance, is about a Cajun musician who lives in Kyoto with his Japanese wife, where they lead jam sessions and perform for Buddhist monks (“Let me tell you about Yoshi / Fingers dancing on the harp / Has a pond of swimming carp / Just don’t say the word ‘sushi'”). Other songs continue in the same vein, from the sprightly “When the Danse Began” to the mock-operatic “Four Eggs” and effortlessly catchy “The Great Big Kite.” The arrangements are clean and jazzy, with charmingly silly vocal contributions from the singers, and the lyrics manage to be appropriate and educational while also avoiding your typical well-worn kids’ music subjects (one notable exception is “One, Two, Three, ABCD,” which will use copious amounts of Jew’s harp and lyrics about bovine peeing and farting to squeeze gales of laughter out of your children). Continue reading

Book Review: Wendell Berry, “Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World”

Wendell Berry – Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World (2009, Counterpoint)
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This is a beautiful little book, and the calmest, gentlest illustrated short story about a mouse fighting for its life against a terrible flood that you are ever likely to read.

That should come as no surprise to longtime fans and followers of Berry’s prolific output, which reflects the pride and commitment to tradition of his agrarian lifestyle.

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In his nonfiction work, Berry has argued for the merits of a philosophy he calls “solving for pattern,” which is a fancy way of saying that you should try to solve as many problems as possible at once – and do so in such a way as to minimize the likelihood of additional problems.

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It’s sort of a mouthful, but it’s a beautifully simple school of thought, and it resonates throughout Whitefoot‘s 60 pages. Berry’s placid text, which meshes wonderfully with Davis Te Selle’s beautiful pencil illustrations, follows the journey of a mouse named Whitefoot as she gathers food, builds a nest, and manages to survive a flood that carries her far beyond her home. She does this by doing as little as possible — in other words, by following her instincts. In a passage about something as simple as Whitefoot building her nest, Berry extols the virtues of simplicity and thrift:

She molded the cup of the next exactly to fit by pressing against it with her body. She made it snug. She did her work according to an ancient, honorable principle: Enough is enough. She worked and lived without extravagance and without waste. Her nest was a neat small cup the size of herself asleep.

He concludes the paragraph with the most beautiful phrase of all: “Her sleep was an act of faith and a giving of thanks.”

As you may be able to tell, Berry’s writing makes few concessions for younger audiences; to some parents, Whitefoot may seem impenetrably…adult. But I read it to my three-year-old, and she loved it — I’m sure she wasn’t able to absorb the subtext of Berry’s message, or perhaps even its broader themes, but she understood what was happening, and she absolutely loved the illustrations, squealing with delight every time we turned to another page with a picture of the adorable little mouse.

It isn’t as eye-catching as the work of Eric Carle or Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman, but it’s no less instructive, and it may very well stay with your young readers much longer — sort of along the lines of The Giving Tree, albeit lacking quite the emotional impact. Like I said: A beautiful little book.