Fart avoidance tips are offered in most bean recipes. It seems this is an earnest concern among bean consumers. Crescent Dragonwagon addresses the topic (i.e. the fermentation of oligosaccharides by intestinal bacteria and controlling the volume/fragrance of any resulting gas) in the preliminary chapter of her new cookbook, Bean by Bean; after we're reassured that nothing too unladylike will result from the cooking and eating of her bean recipes, we're treated to more than 175 of them--starring fresh beans, canned beans, dried beans, tofu, and miso in soups, spreads, salads, stews, and desserts.

Bean by Bean arrived just as I hit the bean wall. My family eats beans for dinner at least twice a week, and usually three. Four if you count tofu and tempeh. One night: black beans and rice. Another night: channa masala. Another night: leftover black beans as tacos or burritos. And then: some sort of thing with fried tofu and ginger and soy sauce. And hummus, of course, is always on stand-by for lunch and cocktail hour.

This book made me ready to explore some new bean territory. An African soup with peanuts, navy beans, habanero, and greens (kale chopped to "polite mouth size") and a miso-based bread spread were at the top of my must-eat list, as was this Dragonwagon-approved purchase: No-Bacon Bacon Salt from baconsalt.com. You can trust Crescent Dragonwagon–she obviously loves sharing good food and will not give you a bum steer. She even includes an entire section of hummuses, dips, and spreads. They're perfect for doubling and eating all week on sandwiches or cucumber slices or crackers, and make me feel so smart and thrifty for planning ahead.

No one explores a culinary nook like Crescent Dragonwagon. Her book of a million recipes for cornbread is, counterintuitively, not a waste of space (how many cornbread recipes does one home really need?) but instead is more often splayed open on the counter–actively in use!–than tucked in on a shelf. (The answer to that question is 200+.) Likewise, 175 bean recipes sounds overwhelming but is not. Until you approach the chapter on dessert. But the peanut is a legume (a bean! Hallelujah!) so we begin with Peanut Butter Cup Brownies, and then are gentled into cookies with garbanzo flour, and only after that do we arrive at an uncharacteristically complicated recipe for Red Bean Ice Cream.

Almost all of the Bean by Bean recipes are easy to make. Cooking with dried beans takes time, but not the cook's time–they work it out pretty much on their own. To peruse some recipes from the book, visit this link to Tom Ashbrook's interview with the author. And then you can listen to the show while you make beans.

The details:
Bean by Bean

by Crescent Dragonwagon
2011 by Workman $16

So many chilly, gray afternoons. One method for combatting midwinter malaise is to play England: I Have a Stiff Upper Lip About These Gray/Grey Days and a Platter Full of Scones as Well. Just when our primal need for carbs an cozy beverages is peaking, Duck and Bunny has introduced a twist to its usual giddy afternoon tea: After School Tea.

Like Duck and Bunny's standard fabulous tea, After School Tea includes finger sandwiches, sweets, and cup after cup of tea. After School Tea tea selections are all caffeine-free (bedtime's coming up, you know) with tantalizing names: Chocolate Chai Rooibos, Vanilla Chamomile, and Pomegranate Pear--a gorgeous, bright pink tea--were our group's selections. Hot cocoa is also possible, but the astonishingly wise adults at our table kept that on the down low.

Finger sandwiches in kid-friendly-but-still-interesting combinations: banana with peanut butter and honey, cream cheese and jam with fresh strawberries, and ham and cheese with caramel mustard are sized right for sampling multiples. Although each sandwich is gone in a few dainty bites, taken together it's a lot of food. Only someone with the metabolism of a third grader could be hungry enough at 3:00PM to taste it all.

Scones presented with chocolate-raspberry jam and soft butter for slathering (rather than Devonshire cream, as in the adult tea) were my favorite. Shortbread cookies edged in rainbow nonpariels were gobbled up before some of us knew they'd arrived. At the end of our tea came cupcakes. Darling mini cupcakes. Flavors vary by day; for our party, choices included carrot and red velvet.

Duck and Bunny remains fancy and hip, with ceilings trimmed in lengths of white feather boa, sparkly silver ornaments, dangling milk glass chandeliers and plump white pillows--somehow managing to be both cozy and LaToya Jackson-ready at the same time. These surroundings transform a delicious, giant snack into a complete sensory experience.

The details:

Duck and Bunny's After School Tea
$15 per child
Tuesdays through Friday, 3:00-5:00PM
312 Wickenden Street, Providence
(401) 270-3300

Editor's note: Duck and Bunny invited Kidoinfo to preview After School Tea. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews and we only publish information about things we've tried and liked.

Reviewed by Katy Killilea

The totally fun blog They Draw & Cook is now a book!

If you like to draw and cook, you are probably familiar with this international site of cookies, carrots, and quirk. Much snugglier than a screen, the sturdy book version features illustrated recipes (107 of them) from cook-artists who live all over the world. As on the blog, each cook-artist has a distinct style---some pages look like favorite children's book illustrations, others more like beautifully designed packaging; some are silly, some are graceful, others are bizarre---to clue you in to the mood of the dish.

The nerdy animal chefs, gorgeous lettering, and surprising ingredients of each recipe are contained within one double page spread, so the cooking is---by necessity---pretty straightforward. Young kitchen helpers get a warm welcome into the most delicious, dangerous room in the house: a laying hen declares "BUKKER" as the first step toward creating the Bacon & Egg Toastie ("a bit of a cheeky cure for the evil hangover"); Mormon Funeral Potatoes are illustrated with, among other things, a hearse bearing an Idaho potato and "OH MY HECK! SOMEBODY DIED!"; the Pie with Plums recipe uses very few words, but features lots of wooly-socked gnomish sort-of ladies demonstrating the way to measure, mix, and stir.

For weary cooks in a five o'clock slump, there are plenty of low-commitment, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantry ideas. Monkey Banana Cream! (pictured) is a good example: no cooking, minimal equipment, plenty of room for improvising, plus a low key monkey in striped bathing trunks.

Perhaps even better than the reading and cooking is the possibility of having your own illustrated recipe included on the blog or even in the next book! The requirements for submission are straightforward, so you can mark the boundaries on your paper and begin creating!

The details:

They Draw & Cook: 107 Recipes Illustrated by Artists from Around the World
Edited by Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell
October 2012 by Weldon Owen $20

Diagnosis day, at the Museum of Science

Two words that look yucky together: child and diagnosis. I had the wind knocked out of me by a diagnosis of head lice two years ago, and found myself searching the night sky for clues: Why me? More recently, my eight year old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and I had precisely the same response, although this time the anguish unfolded in Hasbro hospital instead of the vermin shampoo department of CVS. Why me?

Parenting is, of course, full of surprises of all flavors–joys and sorrows. My sorrows have always been numerous: poop got on my new sweater and our babysitter left for college and someone stole our stroller off of the porch and lice. But disease? I didn't sign up for any diseases. But we got one. So I can vouch for the cliche: Everyone Thinks This Stuff is for Other People but it is Quite Possibly for All of Us. (Sorry.)

It started in August with a shortage of drinking glasses. We were always running out. I noticed Bud using the water dispenser in the fridge door a lot, but it didn't seem strange. It was hot. We were all thirsty.

Later in August, we went to the Boston Museum of Science. There were Tamarin monkeys, but Bud seemed distracted and didn't want to observe them for long. Instead, he wanted to go to the bubbler. Soon after, right in the middle of a childbirth movie, he asked for another drink. Partway through a really cool exhibit on optical illusions, he wanted to go to the bubbler again. And then again, after much too short a time watching billiard balls careen through the Museum’s giant Rube Goldberg contraption.

And so, after many drinks, bathroom breaks, futile nudges of encouragement, and possibly a tiny scrap of enthusiasm for science, we agreed that we'd had, as a family, enough of whatever it was we’d been attempting to experience at the Museum of Science.

On the way up to the top of the parking garage, our older son was chatting away about the Museum’s live owl show, and did they really used to make orange juice from a can and dilute it with water, and on the way home can we listen to Judge John Hodgman? Eventually I noticed that Bud was silent and slowing down. He was attempting to rest his head on the staircase's grubby metal handrail. I stopped holding his hand, and held him instead near the armpit, like a bouncer. Come on, honey. He started to cry. “Water! Water! I need water!” It was obvious something was way off.

Entering the hospital felt like a scam, but everyone working there seemed to think we belonged. It was as if they'd been expecting us. The room, the equipment, the staff were all lined up and ready. They gave us each an ID bracelet and that was it: we were admitted to Hasbro Children’s Hospital. Where the unlucky people go with their children.

Each medical professional we met spoke as if Bud was a genuine patient. The blonde doctor in the ER with the Barcelona accent. The head resident in green tennis shoes with mustard-yellow piping. The nurses bustling in and out to hunt for one good vein on Bud's inner elbows. They gave him an IV. That seemed extreme. Kind people told us different numbers that meant nothing to us, and said how lucky we were that we brought Bud in when we did, before his health had deteriorated further. It all seemed a bit over the top.

I was sure a laboratory error would be discovered and we'd laugh all they way home. Why did this hospital persist in wanting us so much? The feeling was familiar, like being asked to square dance in fifth grade by a clueless, swaggering boy with dandruff and B.O. He thinks I'm going to dance with him?! I am so out of here.

My first whisper of an inkling that the hospital people knew something came once we were out of the ER and up on the fifth floor, where the certifiably sick children go. Bud was hooked up to a tangle of tubes. Wearing a children’s hospital-issue pajama top featuring a pattern of bears or dogs or bear-dogs. No longer begging for water. Watching Dennis the Menace on DVD. Calmly requesting a bean and cheese burrito.

Jango Fett gets an insulin injection before trick or treating.

In the three months since then, Bud has become completely accustomed to injections and blood tests, and his dad and I have become almost completely accustomed to administering them. We have a somewhat complicated rigamarole of eating/insulin/always having medicine on hand, and have close email relationships with both the school nurse and the pediatric endocrinology team at Hasbro. It all feels pretty normal.

Now that diabetes is firmly situated in our lives, the world feels so full of potential. For disaster–so many bad things might happen! It's self indulgent and shameful, but my mind wanders to all of the things going haywire in other kids we know, and whirls up a soothing list of things to which I prefer Type 1 diabetes. I inventory this mental list for comfort, whenever I'm beginning to feel cursed. The list includes, but is not limited to: cancer, congenital heart conditions, deafness, autism spectrum disorders, obesity, warts, ADHD, peanut allergy, wheelie sneakers, dirty fingernails, extremely chapped lips, and Pixar motif backpacks.

Given the choice, any reasonable parent would saddle their child with a Lightning McQueen bag rather than a chronic disease. But no parent would trade their sick kid for a healthy one, because then it wouldn't be their kid anymore. I've spent many sleepless nights wishing diabetes away, but I've settled into believing a Bud without diabetes wouldn't really be a Bud at all. And so we happily accept diabetes and whatever else comes with the package, fingers crossed that we get to keep the kid.

It would be dreadful to run out of this deadpan goodness any time soon. We dole it out slowly. Avoiding a binge doesn't take much willpower, because they're practically impossible to find. Even Amazon doesn't have many in stock: Andy Stanton's series of books about the daft, cruel Mr. Gum, who hates "children, animals, fun, and corn on the cob." (On the other hand, it's not all hate–Mr. Gum loves the BBC television show "Bag of Sticks," which features a 30-minute shot of sticks. In a bag.) The books also feature a fairy (she's rough), a dog named Jake (he's kind and oblivious), and rhymes, which make us choke and cry (in a good way).

To date, there are nine books in the series. The Ocean State Library System carries the first and fifth books (thank you, book-selecting geniuses of Westerly and North Smithfield) and the first book on CD (at the Jesse M. Smith library in Harrisville). Read by the author, this audiobook is a fantastic introduction to the series, perfect for a road trip.

We have collected books #1, 2, 3 and...#6. They are uniformly silly, laugh-out-loud funny, and kind of appalling while still being good-natured. "Low fat yogurt!" is used as an expletive. Winners of many fine English awards, including the Roald Dahl FUNNY PRIZE, these are books any elementary school-age child's family can fall right into. That is, they're easy to read, but have a fizzy, sophisticated sense of humor that parents will happily read out loud to children way past their bedtimes. Unless they've been doing situps, everyone will wake up with sore abs. Numerous vignette illustrations, burbling with the same energy as the books' language, will buoy an independent reader who's new to chapter books.

Mr. Gum has been around since 2006, and it seems impossible that he hasn't taken over the Scholastic Book catalog and the literary lives of American children yet. We need Mr. Gum.

For more on the exquisite Mr. Gum, see Nick Hornby's column in the June 2011 issue of The Believer.

The details:

You're a Bad Man, Mr. Gum  (and eight more in the series)
by Andy Stanton. Illustrated by David Tazzyman
$8-$10US per volume




The cut-paper artwork of Nikki McClure is immediately recognizable. And magical. How can her work be so subtle and subdued when the lines are so heavy and the colors so bold? Despite the thickness and opacity, McClure is able to reveal the precise facial expression of the discerning apple shopper and the rumpled softness of the lacinato kale leaf. Good thing she has these mysterious revelatory skills, because her new picture book is about people shopping for food.

In the gorgeous To Market, To Market, McClure documents one mother-child trip to one farmer's market in the Pacific Northwest. Aside from the smoked wild salmon, there's plenty the shoppers at Lippit Park and the White Church and Coastal Growers Market share with shoppers at McClure's market: heaps of produce; reminders to refrain from more than one free sample cube of cheese; muscular arms with sleeve tattoos; and the virtuous feeling of eating pastry while shopping for local, sustainable, organic vegetables.

The book begins, as so many days do, with a grocery list. And what a relief! This could easily have been, but is decidedly not, another vegetable-pushing children's book: Apples, Kale, Smoked Salmon, Honey, Blueberry Turnover, Napkins, Cheese. Armed with their shopping basket and this list, the balanced-diet adhering mother and child explore the market, finding each item on their list and then sharing the story behind that item's existence: the people who grew the food; the guys who rolled the dough; the bees who fanned nectar with their wings; the goat whose milk was suctioned with a hose. Each item on the list is illustrated with a full-page bleed, underlining the feeling of abundance.

The book ends with a table full of family and friends enjoying a colorful meal, and with words worth sharing at any meal--whether that meal is a bowl of Lucky Charms, Thai takeout, or tomatoes and beans from a generous neighbor: We remember all the people and all the creatures who worked to make this feast. Thank you for this sustenance.

The details:
To Market, To Market
by Nikki McClure
2011 by Abrams Books for Young Readers $18

Kidoinfo's list of local independent book stores is right here.

From observing her cooking class, you might assume Leah Cherry is some kind of children's cooking fairy. Pretty as a princess (a princess in a ponytail, apron, and clogs) and able to hold the attention of many children at once, she is, in fact, human. For most of her adult life, Leah has worked in farmer-friendly restaurants, summer camps, and even a children's garden at an elementary school in Waimea, Hawaii. Her current passion, teaching kids to cook, weaves all of these interests together. But hers is no ordinary children's cooking class, with no clown face made of raisins or house built with nutella and saltines. Leah uses real food, and gets children on the path to creating real meals.

The class begins with introductions. Ten children and Leah's assistant Elaina take turns holding a wooden spoon and speaking, sharing their name and a favorite fruit. Each child is given a Chef's Journal and a freshly sharpened Dixon Ticonderoga, perfect for note taking. Then they start cooking.

Step by step, with carefully planned ingredients, and plenty for each child to do, the class first learns to make ranch dressing. Everyone gets to chop some scallions (with scissors), measure ingredients, and shake things together in a Mason jar. Hairy ends of the scallions and other little bits are set aside for the compost pile. While they're concocting the dressing, Leah asks, "Who here likes salad?" All of the children raise their hands, some enthusiastically, others dutifully. Elaina admits that she does not like tomatoes. "But every year when they're in season, I taste one to see if I like it. So far, I still don't like them. But I'm going to keep trying because, well, you never know!" Phew! What a relief to the fake salad lovers that the teacher's assistant herself doesn't like tomatoes.

Next the class makes pinwheel sandwiches with lavash, hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce. One little salad lover asks, "Do we have to eat the sandwich?" Leah's response: "Of course not! But part of cooking is trying new things. Even if you don't like something that's in the sandwich, you might like it when it's all together." It's all so reasonable and non-threatening, I can almost imagine one of my kids abandoning his Cheerio-Peanut Butter-Bacon diet child to sample a pinwheel.

Before the class sits down to eat, Leah leads them in cleaning up their work areas, washing their hands, and setting tables with white tablecloths, cloth napkins, and cups of water. Again, there's plenty for everyone to do and they all participate. With help from the class, Leah offers a helpful review of table manners, and turns on some soothing dinner music. Then they are ready to eat.

The kids eat their pinwheel sandwiches and some salad greens from Baby Greens, picked that morning just a few miles away, with the freshly made ranch dressing. Leah and Elaina lead them in charming dinner conversation. "Who knows where olive oil comes from?" (JAMAICA!) and "Do you know any farmers?" With Leah as their gentle guide, the children are perfectly at ease. She emphasizes things like composting, local produce, and reusable napkins–as well as kindness, politeness, and cleanliness–throughout the class, with a very light touch. Miraculously, no droning martyr appears, as often happens when adults who care about these issues address an audience of children.

After eating, Leah and Elaina lead a craft project, teaching the children to decoupage a glass jar. The kids are encouraged to use it as a vase for their dining table, a pencil cup, or to store dried beans. In another class, children decorated cloth napkins to with paints and potato stamps. Leah's projects are always environmentally friendly, and are lasting mementos of the good times they had in class. The kids also leave with their Chef's Journals–some filled with notes by the end of the class--and copies of the recipes used that day.

Leah looks forward to offering more cooking classes this fall, and wants to incorporate more "grandparent skills" into her course catalog. Sewing, woodworking, making natural cleaning products, and preserving fruits and vegetables are all on her mind for future classes. This summer Leah will be teaching two food-related craft classes at Kreatelier: on Saturday July 30th, making a reusable lunch bag, and on Saturday August 27th, making a chef's apron. These classes will be held from 9:30 AM - Noon. Registration well in advance is recommended.

The details:

To get on Leah Cherry's newsletter list, contact emmalinedesigns@gmail.com
Cooking classes for kids ages 6-8 and 9-11, $30 per 2-hour session


Bad things happen to good people, and sometimes those good people are our friends and neighbors. Other times our friends and neighbors might even have good earth-shattering news: the arrival a baby or two--or eight! In cases like these our instinct is to feed them. But what to make?

We Newborn Babyasked our friends and neighbors what they remember as good choices during their own times of need. The main theme that emerged: whatever it is, make it easy to use or to pop in the freezer for another day. And make it easy to understand: a neat label with a list of ingredients and instructions for heating and serving makes your item worry-free, even if it's as simple as "Fruit Salad: pineapple, honeydew melon, pomegranate seeds. Serve chilled or at room temperature." Pack food in dishes you won't miss, or in disposable containers. No bewildered family should be washing, cataloging, and returning a bunch of empty pots and pans.

Boy eating macaroini and cheeseWhen a friend's spouse or parent dies, providing something their children will want to eat (a safe, no-flair macaroni and cheese) might be more helpful than stirring up a batch of your friend's favorite broccoli rabe risotto. ("At least my children were getting nutritious meals, even though I felt like I'd never want to eat again.")

Some suggestions from the wise:

Perfect add-ons to any meal (things that are easy to take in here or there, in little bites, for those without much time, appetite, or focus):

And don't forget the...

NGood Neighbor Cookbookeed more specific ideas? The Good Neighbor Cookbook is filled with ideas for the most human moments in our lives. Divided into chapters by life-shattering event (e.g. new baby, illness, death), an appropriate, deliverable meal is easy to find. Surely these are worthwhile rewards for giving birth: Smoothie Kits, Easy Bake Eggplant Lasagne (recipe provided below), and any of three crisp salads, each with a custom vinaigrette. At the other end of the human frailty spectrum are comfort foods: Smoky Corn Chowder, Sweet Potato Torta, Fresh Apple Cake. There is a page in the "Condolences" chapter with a list of things to deliver if you are unable to cook: wine, chocolate, crackers and cheese...This list of ways we can try to help someone (however feebly) in the wake of a tragedy (however enormous) is the perfect nudge to do something when you're not sure what's right.

I'm pretty sure I'm not a good neighbor. I didn't bring anything to my across-the-street-neighbor whose name I never really new (Elaine? Eileen?) when her boyfriend (Chip? Mitch?) died, other than the funeral bouquet a florist erroneously left on my porch. Now she has moved away. If I had it to do over again, I like to think I'd bring the chocolate. Or this, reprinted with permission from the publisher:

Easy-Bake Eggplant Lasagne from The Good Neighbor Cookbook
Serves 8
The eggplant in this scrumptious and substantial meatless main dish is baked rather than fried–you get all the flavor without the guilt. The lasagne makes for wonderful leftovers and freezes well for up to 2 months.
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes with juice
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground
black pepper
2½ cups dried bread crumbs
½ cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
4 large eggs, beaten
1 large eggplant, cut into ¼-inch- thick rounds
1½ cups (6 ounces) grated mozzarella cheese
1½ cups (6 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese
¼ cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ½ teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring often, until softened and light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes (decrease the heat, as necessary, to prevent scorching). Add the tomatoes, oregano, sugar, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and ½ teaspoon of the salt and simmer, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs, the remaining ½ cup oil, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Place the flour and eggs in separate bowls. Dip the eggplant slices first into the flour, then into the eggs, and finally into the bread crumb mixture, pressing to help them adhere. Arrange in an even layer on 2 baking sheets and bake until tender and crispy, 12 to 15 minutes.

In a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, spread 1½ cups of the sauce over the bottom. Layer half of the eggplant over the sauce, then add another 1½ cups of sauce. Sprinkle with half of each cheese. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, sauce, and cheeses. Bake until heated through and bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes.

Cook’s Tip:
Refrigerate, tightly wrapped, for up to 4 days. To reheat, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 400°F until heated through, about 30 minutes. Freeze, unbaked and tightly wrapped with foil, for up to 2 months. Bake directly from the freezer, covered, for about 1 hour.

–From The Good Neighbor Cookbook by Sara Quessenberry and Suzanne Schlosberg/2010 Andrews McMeel Publishing $17

Ed. Note: Andrews McMeel sent Kidoinfo a review copy of this book. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews and only runs reviews of things we have tried and liked.

Newborn photo courtesy of Anna Sawin Photography.

People love handwritten letters and bemoan their scarcity. Thank goodness part of our population is still cranking out handwritten letters in significant quantities: the birthday girls and boys. Our children are keeping the handwritten letter alive with their scrawly stacks of thank you notes.

At our house, this ritual is never painless. Even with fresh Sharpies and Wallace & Gromit foldover notes, it's not much fun. (Although pads of 40 are available at Ocean State Job Lot for $1.) How about Star Wars? Surely Darth Vader will brighten the letter writer's mood. But no. For my kids, writing thank you notes on Star Wars stationery is like making a Kaopectate sandwich on Seven Stars bread. Until this week, nothing made the task of writing thank you notes any less disgusting.

This week we got some new stationery. KnockKnock pads for kids feature the same kinds of checkbox and fill-in-the-blank forms as their adult products. (Such as the D-bag Citation or the much kinder High Five note: "You made toast.") The pads for kids are slightly more earnest but still fun and funny. And they do, miraculously, make letter writing less painful.

And so we are now using the Hi There pad when handwritten communications are in order. It starts "Dear______" and can go in several directions from there. ("Hi," or "Thank you," or "Sorry" or "_______.") This might remind you of the great scene in Diary of a Wimpy Kid wherein the protagonist designs his own fill-in-the-blank style thank you cards. They work well up to a point, but the system quickly breaks down: "Thank you so much for the PANTS. My friends will be so jealous that I have my very own PANTS." This will not happen with the Hi There pad. The genius copywriters and designers at KnockKnock give a child enough blank space and flexibility to get any message across gracefully.

For all involved, it's a winner. The reluctant writer gets just enough of an epistolary head start to feel like he's getting away with something, the recipient gets a handwritten letter that's more than a robotic "Thank you for the present. Love, Lily," and the parent gets 40 sheets and 60 assorted stickers for eight bucks. Also available in formats for book reports, sharing feelings, and creating imaginary characters.

Pads are 6 x 9 inches. Each has 40 sheets, 60 stickers featuring 5 designs, and a cotton ribbon hanger
Cost: $8

Editors note: KnockKnock sent samples for our consideration. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews.

I am sure I'd love a Kindle. Actually, no. I'm not at all sure I'd love it, but I'm pretty sure I'm ready to stop hearing about how super they are. Many people like paper and ink books as art objects, or because the binding glue smells good, or for the feel of the paper against their fingers, or because they're mementos with sentimental value that are fairly easy to store, compared with stuffed animals. But what I like best about books in their traditional form is that they can be scavenged.

On our winter vacation, sunhatted people of all ages gazed at Nooks. The casual/nosy passerby had no idea what these moms and grandpas and teens and toddlers were reading, but could be quite sure that, upon completion, whatever it was wouldn't be left behind with the wet towels and empty sunscreen tubes. When someone finishes a book on a device, they don't leave it in a heap of junk or loan it to a stranger. Add to this non-sharing the impossibility of learning, in the normal way, what the people around us are reading (i.e. from glancing surreptitiously at the back of the rectangular item being held by those reading in proximity to us.)

Lane Smith's It's a Book addresses the book format issue very satisfyingly. This is a deliciously peevish yet lighthearted children's story starring a monkey, a mouse, and a "tech-savvy jackass" who have different ideas of what a book is and can be and should be. Throughout the story, the jackass (who is a donkey but also, unabashedly, a total jackass) pesters the monkey about his book. Does it have wifi? Apps? Can it tweet? How do you turn it on? Does it have a mouse? The patient monkey calmly replies over and over again, "No. It's a book." It's fun to read out loud, as most children's books starring an imbecile are. And it leaves readers feeling that, hey, this paper and ink book is pretty nice. The video about It's a Book is very pleasant too, if a bit antithetical to this celebration of books as books.

Another new release that tickles the idea of what a book is and can be and should be is Herve Tullet's Press Here. In a simple white square format, readers are invited to press dots, shake and tilt the book, blow on it, clap, and witness thrillingly reasonable results as they turn each page. Simple colors and great pacing draw readers in, even those old enough to know that tapping a painted dot on a non-iPadded page can't make it multiply. It's pure fun, at any age, to see what the artist has created. (Want to see? Watch the trailer!)

What do you and your kids like best about books–or about your e-readers? Share your thoughts with us by posting your comments.

The details:
Press Here
by Herve Tullet
2011 Chronicle Books $15

It's A Book

by Lane Smith
2010 Roaring Brook Press $13

Editor's note: Chronicle Books sent a review copy for our consideration. Kidoinfo never accepts payment for reviews.

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