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June 2011

Conversing with Picture Books

June 10, 2011 | Claire | Comments (2)

My son and I love picture books that make us laugh. One thing that especially amuses us is when the characters in a picture book notice we're there.  There's something about the unexpectedness of it, along with the invitation to respond, that's so entertaining. Here are some of our favourite books for young people which invite the reader to become part of the story.

Mo Willems really kick-started this kind of storyline with his popular Pigeon books.  The first one, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, began with a bus driver addressing the audience and explaining that he needs to leave for a few moments.  Can we watch his bus for him?  We can?  Great!  Above all, the bus driver warns, "don't let the pigeon drive the bus!"  The rest of the book consists of the persistent  pigeon trying to persuade his readers that it's really okay if he drives that bus.  As the book jacket points out, "at last, a book you can say no to!". 


Published in 2003, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!  was a smash hit and won multiple book awards.  Willems followed up with the equally interactive Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! and The Pigeon Wants a Puppy!  

Willems explores this same concept slightly differently in We Are In a Book!  Part of his Elephant and Piggie early reader series, We Are In a Book!  starts out with Elephant and Piggie noticing someone watching them.  It's not a monster, they conclude after a closer examination of us, it's a Reader!  They are in a book!  And that means they have power!  They can make us say all sorts of silly things!


All is fun and games until pessimist Elephant realizes that the book will eventually end.  Panic ensues ("this book is going too fast!", Elephant moans, "I have more to give!") until Piggie comes up with a brilliant solution.  After all, a book can always be read again, right? 

In Do Not Open This Book! by Michaela Muntean, the joke comes out of our opposition to the cranky main character.   The book's protagonist, a pig who is trying to write a story, scolds us on the first page. "Excuse me, but who do you think you are, opening this book when the cover clearly says DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK!?  If a sign on a door reads DO NOT ENTER, do you enter?"  As we continue to distract him by reading the book, the pig becomes more and more irate. 


After much complaining about our presence, the pig realizes that we have actually helped him write the story and goes happily to bed to dream of book awards. 

Speaking of book awards, David Wiesner's stunning and inventive version of The Three Pigs  earned him his second Caldecott medal and my undying admiration.  In this remarkable adaptation of the traditional story, the wolf's huffing and puffing  blows the first little pig right into the margins of the book, where he's safe.  He quickly gets his brothers to leave the story as the wolf, increasingly baffled,  tries to act out his part as if nothing were wrong.  The pigs get to cavort in an imaginative space filled with books and possibilities, and when one of them spots us for a brief moment and says, "I think...someone's out there", it's a quiet wink to us, the co-conspirators in their adventure.  3pigs I won't spoil the story by saying more, except that Wiesner has been interviewed as saying that his inspiration for The Three Pigs was a childhood memory of watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon where Elmer chases Bugs right out of the story.  The idea had stuck with him ever since.

Do your kids have any favourite books that they can talk back to? 

Yoga for Moms and Other Deserving People

June 3, 2011 | Claire | Comments (2)

I don't know about the other parents out there, but when I had my children, I cut down on self-care quite a bit.  My first child didn't sleep through the night until she was two and a half, and by the time my second was born, I was close to forty and carrying a few too many pounds.  Compound that with a chronic back problem, kids that never wanted to lose sight of me and a busy work schedule and somehow negotiating exercise into my life became more than I could manage. Fast-forward a few years and here I am--out-of-shape.  Yoga to the rescue!

Lilias TPL has some great yoga material aimed at easing newbies like me into a safe yoga practise.  One of my favourites is Lilias!  Yoga Gets Better With Age by Lillias Folan.  With clear pictures and instructions, a friendly voice and an emphasis on safety, Lilias makes me feel like I am in good hands. 

Another writer I find useful is Miriam Austin.  Her Cool Yoga Tricks shows you how to use simple props like belts, yoga blocks, a rolled-up blanket or even a wall to successfully support your body in poses that can be challenging for those of us just starting out.  I haven't read her earlier book, Yoga for Wimps:  Poses for the Flexibly Impaired, but I plan to check it out soon.  O Magazine says that Austin "knows how to coax flexibility from a steel girder".  That would be me! 

Insight Sarah Power's Insight Yoga is a little more philosophical and explores the ideas of chi and energy meridians as they relate to yoga.  She is a practitioner of the yin style of yoga, in which poses are held for longer periods in order to stretch tendons as well as muscle groups. 

A relatively new book, Anywhere, Anytime, Any Body Yoga by Emily Slonina, aims to help people fit yoga into their daily lives without necessarily carving out long blocks of time to do so.  Her book features many  poses that can be done in chairs, including office chairs or wheelchairs, as well as more traditional standing poses.  She uses models of  all ages and body types, and reminds us that "a few minutes here and a few minutes there will add up and can make a difference in the quality of our lives." 

It's embarrassing to admit, but I often have trouble with poses that involve forward bends because my belly is on the round side and tends to crush my diaphragm if I go too far forward.  Mega Yoga:  The First Yoga Program for Curvy Women is written by Megan Garcia,  an experienced yoga teacher who is also a plus-size model.   She has modified many classic poses to accomodate bodies like mine.  More power to her! 

Mother I can't help but notice a new trend in yoga--parent and child yoga practise.  I wish I'd gotten into this when my kids were young.  If I could turn back time, I'd check out titles like Baby Massage and Yoga by Anita Epple or Yoga for Mother and Baby by Francoise Barbira-Freedman. 

For those of us who want to capture the experience of being in class rather than making up our own routines, a yoga DVD might be the way to go.  I recommend Yoga for Wimps or Yin and Yang YogaI'm also planning to check out Yoga in Bed:  20 Asanas to do in PyjamasSounds relaxing!

What are your favourite yoga books or DVDs?