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  • Children's book reviews by Jennifer Sykes

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Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino


When I first saw the title Doug Unplugged, I was able to guess the moral of this story.  On the cover, there was an adorable young robot boy holding the plug of his cord and smiling.  I have so often had to lecture my young girls about walking away from devices that I made a very simple rule for video games or computers:  If it’s not for school, no electronic devices may be used from Monday to Friday, and may only be used during limited hours on weekends… unless there’s a storm, blizzard, or robot invasion.  So I admit I come to this book with some bias.  I like my kids to “unplug.”

Doug is a sweet little robot whose robot parents want him to be as smart as possible.  They plug him in every morning so he can download all the information he could possibly need.  One day, as he was sitting there downloading, he gets distracted by a pigeon.  His curiosity gets the best of him, and he unplugs!  He wanders around his city, truly experiencing life, nature, and even friendship and love.  All those nuances and intangibles he can’t learn from his daily download are easily perceived and understood from just one day of adventure.

While this is pretty parent-oriented subject matter, Dan Yaccarino has created a very interesting story for young children from preschool to early elementary level.  His illustrations are wonderful and very Jestons-esque in their simplicity and “futuristic” appeal.  Children will be able to relate to Doug and his experiences, and maybe they’ll reflect and see that they better understand and enjoy learning when they actively participate and experience things.  This is a great book to kick off summer.  As well all pry the iEverythings and handheld games out of the grasp of our little ones, we can remind them of the fun and friendship Doug finds when he unplugs.

Perfectly Percy by Paul Schmid


perfectlypercyIf you were a very prickly porcupine whose favorite thing in the whole world was a balloon, I’d tell you that you were not setting yourself up for happiness.  But in the delightful picture book Perfectly Percy, we find just such a situation… and a happy ending.

Percy loves balloons.  He’s also covered in sharp quills, and at the beginning of the story, a lovely blue balloon meets its demise.  Poor Percy.  But he’s not one to mope or give up.  He problem-solves, he seeks the wisdom of his older sister Pearl (featured in Schmid’s previous book, Hugs from Pearl), and he stays calm.  He finds a solution in an unlikely place, and all that persistence and patience pays off.

This is a very charming story that gives a great example of cause and effect.  Toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners can learn from Percy.  He doesn’t melt down or stomp when his favorite thing is ruined.  He doesn’t cry when he can’t figure out a way to enjoy his balloon.  He deals with his sadness in a constructive way, and he makes his own success.

The sweet and simple illustrations, also by Schmid, show this adorable porcupine, and his feelings and actions, in an accessible way.   A lighthearted and non-preachy tale about disappointment, frustration, and solving life’s little problems is a perfect read for young children who face these challenges several times a day.  Even if they don’t follow Percy’s lead, they’re sure to enjoy hearing about someone who feels the same way as they often do.

Swimming to the Moon by Jeff McMahon

moonPoetry is a form of literature that we often forget about, but it’s one of the most adaptable and enjoyable varieties to read with kids.  It’s also a form of reading that isn’t too intimidating to young readers — stanzas are less overwhelming that paragraphs.  And it inspires young writers in a way that doesn’t have to come with strict rules about punctuation and form.

So it was with great pleasure that I read Swimming to the Moon by Jeff McMahon.  He brings silliness and wit to poems about kid-familiar subjects like elevator rides, friendly dares, wearing clothes in funny ways, and playing outside.  These are poems that range from whimsical to slapstick goofy, and they are sure to delight a broad range of personalities.

The poems are full of rhyme — kids love rhyme — and are very fun to read aloud.  My daughter and I took turns reading to one another, and she quickly would dissolve into giggles. There are over 100 poems in this text, so there are plenty of turns to be had and plenty of silly  sessions to spread over many days.

The charming illustrations by Jessica Warrick offer great snapshots of some of the best moments in the poetry.  Swimming to the Moon is a bit like Shel Silverstein’s volumes of poetry, and it will offer pleasant re-readability for years to come in much the same ways.

While the sub-title of the book is A Collection of Rhymes Without Reason, I say there is definitely a reason for reading this book — it’s fun!  Your kids will broaden their literary horizons and giggle all the way through it.  I know my daughter has big plans to lie under a tree and read these poems in the summer sun… and maybe she’ll even be inspired to pick up a pen and write some of her own.

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