Archive for category Family Fridays

Family Fridays – Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Ages: 9 and up

Blurb for the first book:

The Lightning Thief

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.


I will try very hard to restrain my enthusiasm during this post, or we could all be here for a while. At least I would be, the rest of you would probably give up and head to greener pastures after the first 1,000 words. The Percy Jackson series is one of my all time favorite series. Though written for middle school aged children, the books appeal to children, teenagers, young adults, and not so young adults. They are, quite simply, amazing. The characters are more lifelike than just about any other author’s I can think of (Lindsay Buroker being another excellent example). Percy’s narration is clever, hilarious, snarky, and maintains a very realistic voice for an early teens boy. The world building is interesting, unique, and thorough without being overwhelming or tedious. The plots are well executed and you see characters develop (and not just physically) throughout the series.

Another thing I liked about it: Percy and most of the rest of the demigod children are ADHD and Dyslexic. Riordan takes these challenges and turns them into advantages in Percy’s new reality. I love that – a reminder that not all of us are wired the same way, and that can be a good thing. Also, in a later series, one of the demigods is lactose intolerant. Represent!

Something you see quite often with book series written for this age group is that the themes and characters become more mature and darker as the series progresses. Here there is a little bit of that, but not nearly as much as, say, Harry Potter. A child who can handle the first book emotionally will be able to handle the last book as well, which is not necessarily the case with the Harry Potter series. The bottom line is that I cannot think of anything negative to say about these books. Some books you just read with a big smile on your face, and for me, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books are way at the top of that list.

Random side notes:

The five books in this series in order are: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse, The Battle of the Labyrinth, and The Last Olympian. There is a continuing series, The Heroes of Olympus, which features some of the Camp Halfblood gang as well as some new characters. It is also excellent, but even though the age ranges given for it at various online sources is the same as the original series, it feels older to me (the characters are in high school now and, for example, focuses more on girlfriend/boyfriend relationships) – not a bad thing, but something to be aware of if you started Percy Jackson with children on the younger end of the spectrum.

I debated on whether to make this a regular post or a Family Fridays post. Although I feel like any age of fantasy (or even book) lover would be able to enjoy this series, I decided to post it under FFs because this is something the whole family could enjoy together.

Riordan sold the creative rights to the movies, had nothing to do with them, and claims he hasn’t even watched them. As of now only the first movie is out, with plans to release the second later this year. The first movie was terrible. I cannot even begin to describe how much I hated it. They took much of what made the book so great and either ignored it or did the opposite. In the interests of fairness, I have met people who really liked the movie.

Riordan also has an adult mystery series, which is quite good, but not something I’d care to read with a nine year old. So make sure you know which brand of Riordan you’re getting.

Whew – kept it under a thousand words…but not by much.




Family Fridays – Babar’s Museum of Art by Laurent de Brunhoff

Book: Babar’s Museum of Art by Laurent De Brunhoff

Series: Babar

Genre: Children’s General

Ages: 4 – adult


Everyone who loves art, Babar, or children will love Babar’s Museum of Art. The old train station in Celesteville stands empty—should it be torn down? “No!” declare Celeste and Babar, who decide to turn it into an art museum. Their children (like many young museum-goers) have a lot of questions about art: “Does it have to be pretty? Does it have to be old? Does it have to make sense?” Celeste’s patient answers explain the basic ideas of art appreciation. Babar and Celeste’s generous donations to the new museum include witty and striking elephant-inspired version of Michelangelo’s Creation of Man, George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, and Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, along with many other celebrated paintings. Children and adults will want to visit Babar’s Museum of Art again and again!


Here are some things I love passionately: the Orsay Museum in Paris, elephants, and children’s literature. This book combines those three things into a children’s book about great art featuring elephants housed in an Orsay-like structure. I actually came across this book first in a college course. It was essentially art appreciation, but the professors took it very seriously. We were to explore themes like “what is Art?” (with a capital A). I dropped that course. I don’t understand research papers based on subjective things like art appreciation. Fiction, I get. Research papers based on the physical or social sciences, I get. Fine arts papers, not so much. As far as I can tell it involves researching which noted scholars have opinions similar to yours, and then quoting them in MLA format. This might be part of why it became necessary for me to drop this course.

Anyways, the best thing that came out of that course was this book. It is amazing. It can be used up and down the age spectrum, taken very literally with the younger children (it’s a story about elephants going to the museum), then explored in more depth with older children (or adults). What are the differences between this painting and the original? What do you think of the answers to the young elephants’ questions about art?

The elephant representations of famous works of art are subtle and very funny. This book would be a great read before visiting a museum, during a homeschool (or any school, for that matter) class on art, or just for fun.


Leave a comment

Family Fridays – Elephant and Piggie Series by Mo Willems

Genre: Children’s General

Ages: 4-8


I have yet to read a book by Mo Willems that I haven’t absolutely adored. His Elephant and Piggie Series was created for early readers, with lots of short, repeated words, no contractions, life lessons appropriate for the age group – and it still manages to be fun. The stories are cute, the characters are likeable, and the drawings are simple but powerful. My two favorites in the series (so far, at least!) are We Are in a Book! and Today I Will Fly! I especially love the We Are in a Book! because it reminds me a little of The Monster At the End of the Book, which was one of my husband’s favorite books growing up. I like both of these because they draw attention to the idea of the book itself and the interaction between the child (or adult) and the physical book. A sort of meta reading experience if you will.

I think the age range is about right, though you can obviously read these books to your younger children as well. There isn’t anything remotely scary about them (at least not any of the ones I’ve read). I can easily see a four year old reading the book by his or herself, especially after a little coaching.

Side note: The elephant is name Gerald after the author’s favorite singer. Elephant Gerald. Say it out loud quickly a couple of times. The piggie’s name is Piggie. I can respect that.


Leave a comment

Family Fridays – Avatar: The Last Airbender TV Series

TV Show: Avatar: The Last Airbender (this has nothing to do with the James Cameron Avatar movie)

Genre: Children’s Fantasy/Anime

Ages: 8-10 on up, depending on the child


Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Only the Avatar was the master of all four elements. Only he could stop the ruthless Fire Nation from conquering the world. But when the world needed him most, he disappeared. Until now… On the South Pole, a lone Water Tribe village struggles to survive. It’s here that a young Waterbender named Katara and her warrior brother Sokka rescue a strange boy named Aang from a cavernous iceberg. Not only is Aang an Airbender–a race of people no one has seen in a century–but they soon discover that Aang is also the long lost Avatar. Now it’s up to Katara and Sokka to make sure Aang faces his destiny to save the tribe–and himself. Did we mention he’s only 12?


My husband and I have watched all three seasons of this more than once. It’s a fun show that has great world building, some beautiful art, and interesting characters. I’m going to call the style “anime-lite.” I am not an anime lover (though I am an animal lover) – I’ve tried a couple of different shows and could just never get into any of them. This show has some of the overly stylized elements of anime, some episodes more than others, but they didn’t annoy me as they often do.

This is a classic “good vs. evil” saga, and there are some darker episodes (this is, after all, about a world war), but if your child is used to watching superhero cartoons, this is pretty tame by those standards. It takes the traditional four elements, adds a touch of magic, and then makes them into martial art forms. There are some really great themes explored that go beyond the usual friendship, love, loyalty, etc. For example, Aang, the main character, really struggles with how to bring peace to the world but still remain true to his nonviolent beliefs. Also there is a flying bison.

It is aimed at the younger generation, but if you are a fantasy fan, it’s definitely worth checking out at any age. It’s available on Netflix as well as all the usual suspects online.

Side Note: There was a movie adaptation, which looked terrible, so I haven’t seen it. Reviewers have not been kind to it. There is also a continuation of the series called “The Legend of Korra” which takes place a couple of generations later than the original series. This is much darker and has a steampunk edge to it. I found it to be too much stress for very little emotional payoff. I’m told that it got better a couple of episodes in, but life is too short to watch shows you don’t like.


, ,

Leave a comment

Family Fridays – The Relatives Came

Book: The Relatives Came

Genre: Children – General

Ages: 2-3 on up


In a rainbow-colored station wagon that smelled like a real car, the relatives came. When they arrived, they hugged and hugged from the kitchen to the front room. All summer they tended the garden and ate up all the strawberries and melons. They plucked banjos and strummed guitars.

When they finally had to leave, they were sad, but not for long. They all knew they would be together next summer.


Warning: reading this book may inspire phone calls to parents and grandparents or, worse, may cause you to take leave of your senses and go on a long road trip with small children. Proceed at your own peril.

For this Memorial Day weekend, I’d like to recommend The Relatives Came. This is a really sweet book about the love of extended family. It resonated with me as a child because although we never lived close geographically to any of our aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents, whenever we did get the chance to visit, we made up for lost time. It resonates with me as a new mom for much the same reasons. Although fortunate enough to live close to one of my brothers, most of our family is spread out across the country and beyond. When my baby was born, every single member of both my and my husband’s families found space in their schedules and budgets to make the trek out to meet him. All of those visits were so special to me.

The Relatives Came celebrates those people who are willing to leave hearth and home and those people who are willing to host lots of extra people, all in order to maintain and strengthen family bonds. The story and the illustrations both are beautiful. This would be a great book to read with a child before visiting or being visited by family, and would also make a great hostess gift if your family goes a-visiting.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an 11 hour road trip with a five month old to get ready for…


1 Comment

Family Fridays – Five of my favourite board books

Confession: I love books for babies. When I was pregnant, I wasn’t tempted by baby gadgets, nursery decor, or clothes (well, not TOO badly by clothes – have you seen those tiny little jeans?!?), but books were a whole nother story (pun definitely intended). I acquired a LOT of baby and children’s books as I waddled happily around Barnes and Noble. Plus, because anyone who’s known me longer than about two seconds knows that I love to read, I was given several baby books during my pregnancy. Needless to say, Mr. Baby has quite the impressive library for one whose main goal with books is to gnaw on them. There are so many great books out there for kids of all ages, but here are five of my current favourite board books for very young children, in alphabetical order.

1. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Authors: Bill Martin, Jr. and  John Archambault,  Illustrator: Lois Ehlert) – I think every kid should have an alphabet book, and I love this one. It has a fun rhythm, cute little story, and bold, easy to read letters. Because of the high contrast and clearly defined pictures, babies can focus on the pictures from a young age.

2. Little Blue Truck (Author: Alice Schertle, Illustrator: Jill McElmurray) – I had never heard of this book before it was given to me as a baby shower gift. The style of the illustrations (which are lovely) will probably do better with toddler aged children. For what it’s worth, I’ve been reading it to my son almost from day one, but he doesn’t seem to be able to focus on the pictures as well as the other books listed here (he’s 4 months). I’m already looking forward to reading it to him when he’s older and can understand the sweet story and enjoy my attempts at animal noises.

3. Look Look Outside (Peter Linenthal) – This is part of the “Look Look” series. It is designed to appeal to very young babies, with  simple, high contrast pictures. I don’t know the science behind how infants see, but I can say that my son was looking at these pictures much earlier than other books.  The only thing I don’t like about it is that it is VERY short (the whole book is basically a sentence – and not even one of my epic runon sentences, either!).

4.Paddington (Author: Michael Bond, Illustrator: R.W. Alley) – Oh Paddington, how I love you. I have a board book (this version) which covers about the first two chapters in the original, full length book. I love the story and the illustrations, and it’s nice to have a board book that takes longer than 30 seconds to read. If you finally get the baby settled and interested in what you’re reading, it’s annoying to have to switch books frequently.

5.The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle) – I absolutely adore Eric Carle’s work. This was, in fact, the very first thing I bought when I found out I was pregnant. The story is fun, the illustrations are beautiful and richly textured, and it’s got different sized pages which will be fun for older babies to play with.

What are your favourite books to read to babies and toddlers?

, , ,

Leave a comment

Family Fridays – Star Wars Edition

Ok, so today is May the third, which means that tomorrow is May the fourth. As in, May the Fourth Be With You, also known as Star Wars Day. (See CollegeHumor’s take here.  Since this is a Family Fridays feature, I’ll warn you that there is a “b-” word in there.) So for today’s Family Friday I’m going to celebrate Star Wars. I will spare you all a rant detailing George Lucas’s many sins after first releasing the original three movies…except to say that of all the horrible things he did to the original movies, I think the worst one is inserting random flashes of light during fight sequences. For those of us who tend to be headache-prone, this was not only completely unnecessary and distracting, but also potentially painful.

Anyways, the original movies are really fun family movies. Apart from the dialog they’re just great. Some of the effects look a bit aged now, and the splicing in of later technology was not done very well, but this epic, “Good Shall Triumph” saga is well worth sitting through a few bumps in the road. All three are rated PG, and the most risqué thing in all three films is Carrie Fisher wearing a metal bikini. There is fighting and death, but also some great themes of friendship, loyalty, redemption, good vs. evil, family bonds and so on. The newer movies seemed much more graphic to me than the original trilogy. When I did some research online, I saw that people were letting their kids watch Star Wars as early as five years old (or younger!), and some were waiting until ten years old. I wish I remember how old I was when I first saw them, but I do remember being very afraid of Darth Vader. Then again, I’ve always been kind of a wuss. I don’t know what we’ll do with our son – he loves the soundtrack; sometimes the Imperial March (Vader theme) was the only thing that would calm him down and get him to sleep (should I be worried that he has a natural affinity towards evil?). I personally would probably lean more towards waiting until he’s closer to ten than five, but my husband may have other ideas.

I haven’t read any of the adult books set in the Star Wars universe, but for Christmas last year my brother gave me a book called Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown. It is absolutely genius. It’s a collection of one page cartoons (so it doesn’t follow a story line), exploring the theme of how Darth Vader would go about his business if he also was raising young Luke Skywalker. Many are laugh out loud funny, some are poignantly sweet, and if some make you tear up a little bit (hey, I was nine months pregnant!), just remember how the story ends. [As an aside, my other brother gave me “Goodnight, iPad”, which deserves its own post. It was an excellent Christmas.]

This weekend, treat yourself to a trip down memory lane and watch Star Wars. After you’ve done so, check out Darth Vader and Son. And whatever you do, remember: “May the Fourth be with you!” Force. I meant Force.

, , ,

Leave a comment