Monday, October 20, 2014

"It's OK to be different" books for kids

It's been a little while since I've reviewed any children's books. I like to offer up a few recommendations in batches with a common theme. In this case, all four of these books use animals to teach children it's OK to be different, to go against the grain and express your truest self. And sometimes, the courage of one original helps free others from unnecessary conformity. As an added bonus, all of these books are lovely to look at, provide a good dose of humor and were enjoyable for my boys and for me even after several reads.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Mr. Tiger lives in a Victorian-styled town of hushed, buttoned-up, social norm-abiding animals. One day, Mr. Tiger does the unthinkable and sheds his dapper suit to roam free in the wild. Onlookers gape, friends tsk and mothers cover their youngster's eyes with their paws. But the once restrained feline can't resist this taste of freedom and adventure. Will Mr. Tiger be forever banished from civilization for following his inner urging? Will any of the other townsfolk ever experience the bliss of the jungle? I won't give away the conclusion, of course.

As a side note, I really like the clean, bright, geometric style of Brown's illustrations. If you enjoy Mr. Tiger, check out My Teacher is a Monster (No, I'm Not), which promotes acceptance, and The Curious Garden, which celebrates life in the midst of urban adversity.

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems

The flip-side of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, the protagonist in this zany Willems tale secretly enjoys putting on clothes. As much as other naked mole rats deride Wilbur for his risque fashion statements (such as wearing a suit), he can't resist the feeling of fabric on his furless skin. Plus, he argues, when he gets dressed up he can be fancy, or cool.. or even an astronaut!  The story comes to a head when the mole rats appeal to their venerable leader, who questions poor Wilbur at a public hearing. Wilbur's simple response has a dramatic effect! This book helps open up discussions about doing things because we've always done them that way. It also allows you to discuss with children when it might be OK to buck the social norm.

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Gaston is the oddball in his refined French poodle family: Mrs. Poodle, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo and Ooh La La. Even though Gaston has trouble matching his sisters' abilities to Yip (not Yap) and to sip (Never slurp), he still enjoys the security of a loving home. One day, Gaston's identity is shaken as the Poodle family run into a Bulldog family, also with four puppies: Ricky, Rocky, Bruno and.... Antoinette, who happens to be a poodle. The moment is decidedly awkward, and without any discussion, Antoinette and Gaston trade places and families as they leave the park. Though Gaston and Antoinette look like they belong in their new arrangements, they struggle to truly fit in and miss their real families.

This story is a great opener for talking about how we can't judge others by appearances. All the characters in this canine tale come to the right conclusions at the end, making it a good book for talking about adoption.

Froodle by Antoinette Portis

Everyone knows that little brown birds are supposed to say "peep," but Little Brown Bird "didn't want to sing the same old song." When she busts out a boisterous "Froodle sproodle!" Crow tries to intimidate her back into the appropriate behavior for little brown birds. Little Brown Bird doesn't relent. In fact, she comes up with even more outlandish bird song until the entire neighborhood takes notice.

I think this is the only book of the four that I definitely enjoyed more than my boys. I've had this aspiration to become a bird watcher when I'm old and retired, and I pride myself on having a pretty good ear for bird calls, so the subject of Froodle piqued my interest immediately. But educationally, this book opens up a discussion about experimentation, facing peer pressure and perhaps even observing animal behavior in nature.

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