The Secret Life of Walter Kitty by Barbara Jean Hicks (illustrated by Dan Santat)

Walter the cat (or, as he’d rather be known, Fang) introduces the reader to his world. We meet his person, Mrs. Biddle, her husband, and Walter’s active imagination.

My son loves cats, so we always try to grab at least one picture book about cats on our weekly library visit. Unfortunately, so many of them portray the cats as jerks, which my son finds confusing and a little distressing. Walter Kitty is one of those. Walter/Fang is mean-spirited and, while he eventually admits that he loves the Biddles, he puts up a posture of not caring for them that made my son feel uncomfortable.

All the humour of the story turns on Walter/Fang doing something the Biddles don’t want him doing.

That said, I did enjoy the artwork, and Walter/Fang’s facial expressions are great. I think that a less sensitive kid might find it funny, so I don’t want to say that it’s a bad book. But for us, this definitely wasn’t a hit.

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Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

Read: 20 February, 2014

As a child, I never liked the Winnie the Pooh books. My father thinks that it’s because the dumbed-down Disney versions came out at around the same time and spoiled me, which is quite possible.

Thankfully, I’ve had the opportunity to read them again as an adult, as I’ve just finished reading the first book – Winnie-the-Pooh – to my son. He’s quite enjoyed the stories, which is a little surprising because at his age (he’ll be 3 in a few weeks), he doesn’t often have the patients for such a high test-to-picture ratio.

For my own part, I really enjoyed it, and I found it very interesting to see the “new” perspective on all the characters. Eeyore especially, I think, got a bit of a short stick when it came to the Disney version. He is hilarious!

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Who Has What? by Robie H. Harris (illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott)

This is the story of a little boy, Gus, and little girl, Nellie, on a trip to the beach. While there, they talk about their bodies, and the things that are similar and different between males and females.

To begin with, the book talks about how we use our bodies, and I was very impressed (though it saddens me a bit that I should see this as impressive) that these were phrased as similarities. Boys and girls both like to swing, catch frogs, make lots of noise, take their dollies for a walk, run fast, play with stuffed animals, etc. It’s a real acknowledgement that preferences are not indications of sex/gender. More than that, it didn’t seek to give it’s “we can do lots of different things regardless of gender” simply by giving girls permission to do things that are often categorised as boy activities, rather than letting the permissions go both ways.

Next, the book covers the parts of a body that are the same in both males and females, and then expands the comparison to dogs. I thought that was quite neat. The comparison continued on into the listing of sex-specific physical traits, where the little girl is seen changing into her bathing suit with her female dog beside her, and their parts are both labelled, then the same scene for the little boy.

The level of the discussion is totally appropriate for a toddler. It’s not overly detailed, but matter-of-factly labels and describes the visible parts, and then gives an explanation of the internal ones (such as testicles, ovaries, uterus, etc). If parents are squeamish about the proper labelling of sex organs, I think that having a book for them to read out would be very helpful.

There were quite a few other things that I quite liked about the book, such as how it showed a woman breastfeeding, a father bottle-feeding his baby, a mixed-race family, and even a woman wearing a hijab. No explicit attention is drawn to several of these details, but they are there for parents to discuss if they wish (or, at the very least, just serve to counter some of the “normativity” found in so many children’s books).

I really enjoyed reading this book with my son, and I think it’s a great resource for toddlers and preschoolers.

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Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers (illustrated by Marla Frazee)

I quite like this book, though my kid is less than impressed. I think it may just be a quirk of his that he’s not that interested in looking at pictures of babies. I know that some of his friends are just absolutely entranced.

The text is fine, nothing special. Each page begins with “Every day, everywhere, babies are…” and names something that babies might experience, like being fed, being carried, being loved, being kissed, etc. Then there are examples of many different ways that this might happen. For example, babies might be fed by bottle, by breast, or by spoon.

Where this book really shines is in the illustrations. I absolutely loved how diverse they are, showing a baby with two (exhausted) mothers, or a crowd shot that includes two men walking hand in hand, or a white mother with two babies of colour, etc.

In both the text and the pictures, this book strongly promotes the idea that different is not scary or bad, and provides ample opportunities for discussions. As I parent, I could easily take up a whole story time just talking about one page.

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Story Time for Little Porcupine by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

This is a sweet little picture book about a baby porcupine being taken to bed and telling stories with her/his father.

The length is good for a toddler, long enough for my kid to lull (and perhaps even fall asleep) before he has to get up and choose another book, but with few enough words per page that he wasn’t getting bored between illustrations.

Speaking of the illustrations, they were a little simplistic (with not a lot going on in the background) but very expressive, with lots of facial expressions showing a range of emotions.

I found the subject of the story very interesting, personally. The premise is that the father and his kid are telling stories to each other, and it was nice to give the child some creative voice. The stories themselves focused on the adventures of the Big Porcupine – the sun with a face – and follow the patterns of ‘Just So’ stories – the first being about how Big Porcupine got his quills (the sun’s rays), for example. The stories reminded me of El-ahrairah from Watership Down.

This is a book that my son and I were both able to enjoy together.

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