Monday, December 3, 2007

Back Off - Leave Me Alone: A GRUMPY BIRD Review

Article by Scott Tingley, December 03, 2007

Holy cow I’m in a bad mood. And the only cure is cute, colourful animals.

That’s what I said.

Cute colourful animals.

A few months ago, I had the good fortune to be able to observe artist Jeremy Tankard give a comic creating workshop to a group of middle and high school students during the Fry [Literature] Festival. The hour or two he did with Jimmy Beaulieu (a better site, but in French) was a pretty big influence on how I have conducted my comic creating workshops ever since.

But the only thing that has to do with what I am talking about here is the part where I was introduced to Mr. Tankard’s children’s book, Grumpy Bird.

Bird wakes up feeling grumpy. Too grumpy to eat or play -- too grumpy even to fly. “Looks like I'm walking today,” says Bird. He walks past Sheep, who offers to keep him company. He walks past Rabbit, who also could use a walk. Raccoon, Beaver, and Fox join in, too.

Before he knows it, a little exercise and companionship help Bird shake his bad mood. From

This is everything I look for in a kid’s storybook. It’s got: goofy, wildly colourful art; a funny cast of characters (Canadian Tankard included a beaver! Yay Canada!); and a grumpy protagonist looking like a dork (my life J ).

Alright! I can’t take it any more! I am a complete sell out! After Tankard’s workshop I hung around and had him draw a sketch for both my class and for me (I have one in my class and one hanging behind me as I type right now). My only regret is that I didn’t have him draw me a sketch of the little girl superhero he has on his business cards for my daughter. I’m such a sell out. Sigh.

I don’t care.

I like my sketches, and I wouldn’t have wasted my time if I didn’t like what I saw….So there.

I like Grumpy Bird. You might too. You can find it in Canada’s November PreK-K (which you can still order from) Scholastic order form for 5$ each. A good deal for a book you can get a lot of mileage out of in an early years guidance/health class (Grumpy behaviour and how to beat it. The lesson practically writes itself).

Even if you are not a sell out like me, you will probably enjoy Grumpy Bird. I promise nothing though. So back off chump……See what I did there? I ended on a grumpy note. I’m clever like that.


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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Big and Little - or - Mariah Won't Give Me Back My Book!

Article by Scott Tingley, November 01, 2007

Blame Mariah. I might be telling you a whole bunch of positive (or negative, I suppose) things about a new book I just got in the mail, but as soon as I opened it my almost three year old daughter took it from me and she won’t give it back. “I’m reading my book, Daddy,” she says. Sheesh.

If things had gone differently I might be using this space right now to tell you that Big and Little by John Stadler is a really great book for preschoolers. I might be telling you that the pages are made of high quality cardstock that will likely hold up to repeated readings by kids with sticky hands. I might be telling you that the illustrations are simple, cute and vibrantly colored. I might be telling you that Ellie the Elephant and the Ringmaster mouse pull a really fun bait-and-switch that might even surprise YOU. But NO. Mariah won’t give me my book back!

Okay, I obviously got the book back, but not until she went to bed. It is a nice looking, compact book with an attractive cover, all of which, apparently, are appealing to almost three year olds.

Mariah was too busy reading the book herself, so I don’t know how many times I will have to read it too her, but I predict 5 times tomorrow.

Juvenile Fiction; 32 pages; August 28, 2007; $9.99us; ISBN: 978-0-375-84175-0 (0-375-84175-X)

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Alphabet From A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! : A Review That Rambles On For A While And Then Finally Gets Down To It For A Paragraph Or Two

Article by Scott and Nancy Tingley, October 12, 2007

I wonder if he would sign it for me. I wonder if he would actually sign it for me. He’s rushing for a plane and I pull out a copy of The Alphabet From A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! He stops in his tracks – the shock of someone having his new children’s book in his hand in an airport being too odd to pass without acknowledging - and signs my book “To my new best friend, the guy in the airport. Love Steve Martin”


Sorry – I went somewhere for a second. Confirming that he is one of the coolest celebrities on the planet, I once heard that when rushed he won’t sign autographs, but he will give you a personalized business card that says: “'This certifies that you've had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite and colorful.”

I want to ambush him. At an airport. Book in hand. Maybe not.

Odd wandering thought #2. I should have written this whole review in alliteration. Whenever a Superman comic featuring Bizarro gets reviewed there very often is a section of the piece dedicated to talking in Bizarro speak: (taken from Wikipedia) "Me am going to kill you" would mean "I will save you" in Bizarro speech, etc…..


We are about 200 words into a review of The Alphabet From A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! and I haven’t actually done any reviewing yet. Better get to it.

The Alphabet From A to Y With Bonus Letter Z! is a new children’s book by superstar Steve Martin (Did you know he has Grammy’s for his banjo playing?) and longtime New Yorker artist Roz Chast. I am always dubious when I come across a storybook written by a celebrity, but I really like Martin’s work and I knew that he had written a number of books and screenplays so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Aren’t I wonderful?

This clever alphabet book is written using alliteration and an art style that I am not sure will appeal to younger readers, but will to an older crowd – grade 5 or so and up. I’m not sure if that is where the creators were going with this, but I think it is a good idea. Not everyone in upper elementary school is a good reader, and not everyone wants to be caught reading Dr. Seuss’ ABC. The difficult word choices, style of art and subject matter make this well suited for an upper elementary lesson on alliteration, or as an ESL reading selection.

You can see a few pages by downloading this PDF from Doubleday.

That said, I know I had to read it twice as soon as my 3 year old daughter saw it in the mail. So what do I know? I’ll let you knbow what my grade 3 students think when I bring it in for them. I won’t use them for my reviews directly, but I would be interested in what they think of it – and maybe so would you.

Look for the “wrapping paper” in the inside covers for the letters that didn’t actually make the cut (like the umlaut). I could use another book to just tell me what they are.

Funny thing. I jumbled the letters to alphabet earlier and came up with analphabet. I noticed that the computer thought it was a correctly spelled word, so I looked it up. Apparently, analphabet mean: an illiterate person who does not know the alphabet.


The Alphabet From A to Y With Bonus Letter Z!

Written by Steve Martin and Roz Chast
Juvenile Fiction | Flying Dolphin Press | Hardcover | October 2007 | $17.95 | 978-0-385-51662-4 (0-385-51662-2)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Squirrelly Gray and the Awesome Dust Jacket

Article by Scott Tingley, September 29, 2007

Now THAT is a NICE quality dust jacket.

You don't see many reviews that start by talking about the quality of paper used for a book's dust jacket. You certainly don't see it in reviews for books that are any good. Sure, you might see it in a piece where the reviewer has been told write up a book that really stinks and is looking for something good to say (By the way, when opening an awful gift in front of the giver, the correct and foolproof response is for you to enthusiastically say: “Would you look at that! Would you just look at that! Wow. Just look at that.” You will thank me this holiday season).

This is not such a book. This book is as cool as monkeys fighting robots.


The creator of the book, James Kochalka, is an indy comic creator famous for comics like Peanutbutter & Jeremy and…..Monkey vs Robot! As wild and fun as his books are, some are for a youngish audience and others are so far from being for kids it's unreal (I am speaking of his superhero comic – funny, but woah!). I was really pleased to see that he had done a book specifically for kids. I was even more pleased when the book turned out to be good…….and what a dust jacket.

With a dust jacket like that Kochalka could have phoned it in, but no, he went and made something kids would like. The book follows a pattern of rhyming text on the left and a comic page on the right. This allows him to go with his strengths as a comic storyteller, but also to play with language in the longer poetry/text pieces. This is my first exposure to that side of the creator and he does a fine job. The poetry is light, but there seems to be a bit of the edge that is found in the best works for children. The comic pages can be read independently of the text and vice versa – but together the book is a lot more fun.

So, what happens? Well, Suirrelly Gray wiggles away his front teeth, prompting the tooth fairy to come. She gets caught in a spider's web. Gray saves her. There is a magic acorn involved and the thing that helped him get the nut causes him problems with the nut – so, enter a hungry fox! Actually, it all turns out to be a legend. A legend telling the tale of what I will leave for you to discover.

Squirrelly Gray is a must read, must share. It is funny and wacky in the tradition of Jon Scieszka , but completely Kolchalka. Even with a quality dust jacket like that he pulled out all the stops.

This got an immediate two “Read it”s from daughter Mariah. Not bad for a book that just entered my home this afternoon.

Random House Books for Young Readers
Hardcover · Ages 2-7 · August 28, 2007 · $12.99
978-0-375-83975-7 (0-375-83975-5)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Police Cloud: Okay, I’ll read it….AGAIN!

Review by Scott Tingley

Hokey Smokes, am I glad this book is cool beans or I would be seriously sick of it right now (please keep reading despite the odd word choices in this sentence...please). For instance, there are only so many times a man can read Care Bears What Makes You Happy? before contemplating the positive merits of book burning.

Some of my favorite books and comics (both for kids and adults) employ the use of “child logic” to tell the story. This can be crazy and fun and a completely natural way to tell a story. If you have ever tried to get a classroom of six year olds to write individual or whole class stories that make sense, you know what I’m talking about. Teachers have to spend a long time explaining to new writers that you can’t have aliens come down and blow everything up in EVERY story. And how did everyone get into the kitchen when they were just out swimming at the beach? And who is Charlie and why are the two of you flying over the desert in a hot air balloon when you were just in school last sentence?

Kid logic stories are a lot of fun to read (when the kids are not about to write state/province standardized tests J ) and The Police Cloud is no exception. A cloud becomes a police officer (on the recommendation of his friend, the police helicopter) and hijinks ensue. Nothing seems to work out but then it all works out in the end with the help of a panicking burning building. Phew! The story is silly and solid and simple and the amazing art goes along for the crazy ride.

The art is bright and alive and it sticks to the same child logic of the writing. For instance, things change size to fit the scenarios all the time. One minute the police chief is regular sized in his office and the next he is outdoors and as big as the tallest high-rises. I think author/illustrator Christoph Niemann is my new favorite find of the year. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with yet.

It is crazy fun, and my little girl loved it. It is a quick read, which is great because she won’t stop asking to have it read. Over and over and over and over (get the point?) again. When I first brought it home we read it at least five times before bed.

So Mariah gives this one 543 out of 543 “read it again”s

That one will be hard to beat.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Summerhouse Time Review

Note: I wrote this right before starting back to school this September 4th.

I am a public school teacher. Some days end with me feeling like I've been kicked in the gut, but I love my job so much. I have no say when I take it, but I have the best vacation package of almost anyone (no, we don't technically get paid during the summer, but this is not the place for such arguments). I have to start work again tomorrow. Life stinks.

That would have been a better beginning for my Moxie Maxwell review, but it also fits with Summerhouse Time, another creatively put together end-of-summer-book that has nothing at all to do with comic books.

Every year a rented pink cottage full of family, swapping stories, and riding waves mean Summerhouse Time for Sophie. Best of all is sharing a room with her favorite cousin and laughing and trading secrets like two happy peas in a cousin pod. Sophie can't wait! But when she asks the now-a-teenager Colleen if she's looking forward to their time together, Colleen just says "I guess so."

What? It's the best time of the year, the time they both love. In just a little bit, they will all be together in the cottage on the beach. Will this year be just as wonderful, just like always?

The story is sweet and genuine. The whole extended family goes off for a month to live in a single cottage; one aunt and uncle set is fighting a bit too much, another aunt loses her job, something is wrong with dad and the favorite cousin is being standoffish. Oh, and Sophie has a thing for a boy back home and anyone she confides in comes back with “But you're only eleven.” I like how all of the conflicts are dealt with and nicely resolved, but none are treated as trivial. The book is written with the POV of an eleven year old. All of these problems are bigger and more real to an eleven year old – especially the thing with the BOY. It was real without being too heavy. It is a perfect summertime cottage book.

At first glance I thought this was a book of summertime poetry and I almost didn't read any further than a quick flip. That would have been a mistake, because not only would I have missed a charming book full of real problems that kids can relate to, but I would have missed a book that could be used to inspire young and old writers to write. The format was at least as enjoyable to me as the story. Most chapters are only 30-100 words in length and there are lots of black and white sketches throughout. This is the kind of book that I could see being written during a summer vacation at the cottage. As talented as the writer, Eileen Spinelli is, the best compliment I can give is that the writing, illustrations (by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff), and format make the reader come away with a feeling of “I could do that” or “Why didn't I think of that?”

This is an inspiring little (aprox 7x5 inches) book that would be suitable for readers aged 9-12. I think it might be better enjoyed by girls, but it is not necessarily written and intended for girls. I liked it.

Ages 9-12, 224 pages, Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 22, 2007), ISBN-10: 375840613, ISBN-13: 978-0375840616

Friday, August 31, 2007

A is for Awesome Idea! - or - W is for What Took You So Long?

Don't panic comic book people. Drop the mylar bag and board, put the comic down on the floor and back away slowly. DO NOT attempt to rescue the comic from your child even if one has jelly covered fingers and one is going to chew the jelly off. This comic book is not for you. Take a deep breath and walk away....then walk back and read it to someone that fits comfortably on your knee.

Well it's about time! A couple of years ago when I began the Comics in the Classroom website, and before I learned about boundaries (and well before I learned to sometimes keep my mouth shut and my typing fingers to myself when communicating with creators) I mentioned to a couple of publishers that it would be interesting if their characters were put into board books so us comic fans would have something other than merchandise to buy the very young children in our lives. They said that was a good idea and left it at that. Oh well. Two years later and I know of no other comic related board books other that the Atlas series from Angel Gate Press .

I just read ATLAS: ABC'S FOR SUPERHEROES , one of four board books written by Darren G. Davis and featuring the costumed hero Atlas. This thing is great. A is for Action; B is for Blast . It is written for ages 1-6 and most of the 26 entries have them in mind. There are a few that I wish were different though. For instance: P is for my phone bill which I think I forgot to pay , and R is for the red tape I have to deal with after I catch the bad guys. Kids are nearly out of the target age range before they worry much about the concept of ph=f and red tape is a bit tricky to explain to a four year old. But this is just nitpicky stuff. The pictures are vibrant and the entries are fun. That and it's a board book! Why hasn't everyone thought of this?

The price listed is $8, which is on par with all of the other board books kicking around my living room right now.

My nearly 3 yr old daughter gave this 2 READ IT PLEASE 's and my not nearly 1 yr old son kept trying to chew it. So, great recomendations from them.

BTW, this is the only ABC book that I can remember that has a relevant and sensible X entry. Can you guess what it is?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Review: Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little

Was anyone else out there worried that there might not be something for those readers that have outgrown Pinky Dinky Doo (she's new and she is awesome sauce) and are about to outgrow Junie B. Jones (if one can truly outgrow JBJ)? I was one of those, wondering who would take up the torch and fill in the roll of the precocious young girl wise beyond her years. But no more. I have found her, and her name is Moxy Maxwell.

“Now, Moxy loved the read books. She loved to read book so much that sometimes she would stay up all night and read. It's just that Moxy like to read what she wanted to read and not what someone told her to read.” (from back cover) Moxy has been assigned to read Stuart Little during the summer before grade 4 starts (there will even be a quiz on the first day!) and despite her best efforts, she has not read a single page. She has tried everything and she has taken it with her everywhere. She has tried every thing…except actually trying to read it – despite threats from her mother and the fact that it is now the day before school! Moxy has to figure a way out of this – preferably a way that does not include reading a page of SL.

The supporting cast of the book find themselves drawn into the procrastinating plans of the scheming nine year old. Some simple and sensible plans, like cleaning her room before getting started, and some more complex plans, like planting a peach orchard (I won't ruin it and tell you why). This is the world of Moxy Maxwell, and although she is certainly not a copy of the popular character, I think readers will understand why I say that fans of Junie B. Jones will likely enjoy Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little . The biggest endorsement that I can give is that as I was nearing the end of the book I got a bit nervous about how Gifford was going to wrap this up in a satisfactory way. Don't worry though, she does a good job.

Peggy Gifford has written a very clever book for readers aged 7 or 8-11. The narrator sees Moxy's point of view on most things, which leads to some humorous reading, and despite the name of this column, there are a lot of pictures throughout the book. Photographs (by Valorie Fisher) are taken by Moxy's twin brother and used to punctuate key moments of the tale.

I will be reading this book during the first month of school this year and I just thought up a great little project my grade 3's will do to go with it (and we will then send it out to Peggy Gifford and Valorie Fisher). I will update this to let you know how it went. I have taught most of these kids before and I know that there are some huge Junie Jones fans (both boys and girls), so I am interested to see their reactions. The book is perfect for struggling readers since the chapters are so short (including Chapter 7, which consists of the word "NO."), but the book gets funnier the better the reader can read.

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little
by Peggy Gifford
Photographed by Valorie Fisher

Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2007
104 pages
ISBN: 0375839151

Ages 8-11

Welcome to the New Branch of Comics In The Classroom...But With No Comics

As an elementary teacher I come across a lot more kids books than comics on a daily basis so I thought I would set up a blog and start reviewing them. I have done a couple of reviews on the main site already, but I thought they would be better suited here.

Chapter books will be reviewed by me and when applicable I will let you know what my grade 3 class thought of it.

Children's picture books will be reviewed by my wife and I with the help of our daughter,2 3/4 year old Mariah. I will let you know how many times she made us re-read the book before having to distract her with something :)

If you are a creator or publisher interested in having us review your books, you can contact us at If you have read a great new book that you think we should review, please email us the name of the book, creators and publisher.

Let us know what you think,
Scott Tingley
administrator of and