An Owl, a Seed and a Bunch of Mythical Mammals

Three new children's books sure to delight (with belly laughs)

(photo: Register Files)

My 4-year-old is convinced that the review books come for him. There's no dissuading him. And in the latest piles of children’s books, I've found some gems that I find myself wanting to reread, too.

At the top of the pile is The Seed Who Was Afraid to Be Planted (Sophia, 2019), my farm boy’s current favorite. The premise is pretty simple: The seed likes being in the drawer and doesn't want to be planted. Spoiler alert: He changes his mind by the end of the story. 

What's delightful here is how the rhyming works, how the pictures captivate, how the story ⏤ read repeatedly for small humans before bedtime ⏤ starts to tease out deeper thoughts in your own mind. My 8-year-old put down his own book (a Geronimo Stilton or I Survived book, I'm quite sure) and came hopping over to read with us. (If that doesn't speak to the strength of the text, nothing will.)

There's something very tactile about a seed being planted and becoming a tree. We're surrounded by fields and watching videos quite often about farming. My little guy knows how this works. And yet, he's hooked. He's paying attention. He's engaged.

His face lights up as the seed realizes that being planted isn't such a bad thing. He doesn't rush to turn the pages, because there's so much to see in the pictures. He snuggles closer at the end, not quite done, even though the book is finished.

And then there's Guess Who's in the Manger? (Pauline, 2019), the story of a barn owl in Bethlehem. Yes, we're reading Christmas stories. But who can resist? There's a reason we all love the Christmas story, after all: travel and animals and babies! Oh, and that miracle of the Incarnation. :) 

The owl is the main character, and he's found at the beginning in a dark, gloomy, boring stable. Only an ox and a donkey are there, and though the pictures are cute, you get the distinct feeling that our friend the owl is looking for something better. In particular, he wants some light. (As a midwesterner, I can't blame him. Those dark December days are GLOOMY.)

Turns out, he gets it when Joseph and Mary need to stop for the night in his barn. He's out searching for a light for the barn when they get there, and as he makes his way back to the stable, thinking he's failed, he sees the glow.

It's delightful, and we love the action of the owl. And baby Jesus? We want to hold him.

"Is that YOUR baby Jesus, Mom?" my guy asks me.

"Yep," I answer. "And he's YOUR baby Jesus, too!"

"Does that mean I get to hold him?" he shouts excitedly.

"Uh, well, that's up to Mama Mary," I counter.

Rounding out my trifecta of books for you today is my current favorite, Mr. Mehan's Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals (TAN, 2019). The kids can ask me to read it to them, but it's MY book. I haven't laughed this hard since the last Terry Pratchett book, and maybe not even then (we haven't done Terry Pratchett readalouds...yet...).

Matthew Mehan must be some sort of a guy, and TAN must be some sort of a publisher: This book is a GEM, the sort I expect to find from the big city publishers. (That's a compliment. A high one.)

The book is a compendium of mammals, and I guess they don't exist, though I remain unconvinced. We've been laughing about Angogrobugunkalungstis since we started reading, and we've had to reread some of them a couple of times. (Because it's fun to read out loud. And it's fun to hear it.'s FUN. A book that's FUN.)

There are so many layers to this book: The letters of the alphabet are interwoven with the animals, and many have a full-page illustration. They're described in verse (no surprise that Mr. Mehan has a Ph.D. in Shakespeare's teachings on poetry), and the rereading reminds me of a revisit to a favorite photo. You notice things as you glance back, like a game of "I Spy." 

Once you've made it through the alphabet of mammals, you're not done ⏤ not even close! There are 46 pages of glossary (and it's a glossary worth reading front-to-back and then back-to-front), a two-page description of each of the alphabetical letters (yes, there's more than meets the eye), and even an “I Spy” game you can play throughout the book.

Did I mention that there's a website that supports the book?

Truly, this may be one of my favorite books of 2019. Or maybe ever.