Circle Time Circle Time Book Reviews
Mind Your

everyday etiquette for everyday kids
My Dog Never Says Please -- What Do You Say, Dear?
It's a Spoon, Not a Shovel -- Princess Penelope's Parrot
Me First -- Manners -- Big Black Bear
The Bad Good Manners Book -- Monster Manners
        What are good manners? In our house, it doesn't really matter which fork you use, as long as you don't use it to stab your little brother's hand to keep him from taking the last drumstick. When you live with a houseful of young kids, you tend to focus on the basics. For us, the basic rule was written a long time ago, and it works perfectly well today: treat other people the way you would like to be treated.
        The books on this list aren't going to teach your kids enough to get them through a state dinner at the White House, but they will help you reinforce the good manners you know are lurking down deep inside of them, and have a little fun in the process.
Kathy Bennett

My Dog Never Says Please by Suzanne Williams, illus. by Tedd Arnold
original copyright 1997
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating five
ISBN 0803716796 - hard cover -- Order this Book from
ISBN 0803716818 - library binding -- Order this Book from
          Ginnie Mae's got a tough life. Her ma's picky about things like saying please and wearing shoes. Her little brother, Jack, is so perfect "he ha[s] a little halo over his head." Her dog, Ol' Red, seems to have things a lot easier. "My dog never says 'please,'" muses Ginnie Mae, "and no one thinks a thing about it."
          Finally, after a night of being told to mind her manners, eat like a lady, clean her room, and put on her shoes, Ginnie Mae declares she'd rather be a dog. Humored by her parents, she moves in with Ol' Red, to a life of treeing cats, digging holes, sleeping in the doghouse, and begging for scraps. "Ol' Red's real good about sharing. . . I think he's even given me some of his fleas."
          Kibbles can't compare to her ma's cooking, however, and when it starts to rain, Ginnie Mae starts to reconsider her care-free lifestyle. "Pa says I can go back to being myself anytime I've a mind to. So maybe I'll just saunter on in and wash up for supper," she decides.
          This story has some great comic moments that make my four-year-old laugh out loud, and even bring a smile to his oh-so-sophisticated six-year-old sister's face. I like the fact that even though the story is told through Ginnie Mae's voice, Ma and Pa are presented as perfectly reasonable parents. More importantly, the author, Suzanne Williams, lets the story play to it's logical outcome without moralizing. She allows her readers to draw for themselves the conclusion that good manners are a fair trade-off for the blessings of civilization.
          Tedd Arnold's illustrations are priceless, adding wry humor to an already amusing story. He gives us Ginnie Mae at the dinner table, the food flying everywhere, and Ginnie Mae and Ol' Red sitting side by side on their haunches, scratching at fleas. Funniest of all is the teeth-baring grin Ginnie Mae gives her annoying little brother at the end of the book, and his startled reaction to it.
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (

What Do You Say, Dear? written by Sesyle Joslin, illus. by Maurice Sendak
original copyright 1958
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating five
ISBN 0060230746 - library binding -- Order this Book from
ISBN 0064431126 - paperback -- Order this Book from
          If there were a "classic" picture book on manners, it would be this one. By putting two kids in a variety of outlandish situations, author Sesyle Joslin teaches manners with grace and elegance.
          The book is a series of vignettes, each posing the question, "What do you say, dear?" For example, "You are a cowboy riding around the range. Suddenly, Bad-Nose Bill comes up behind you with a gun. He says, 'Would you like me to shoot a hole in your head?'
          "What do you say, dear?"
          The polite young cowboy replies, "No, thank you."
          The unruffled hero and heroine always provide the proper response. If only adults could have such impeccable manners!
          Maurice Sendak's illustrations made this a Caldecott Honor Book. Done in back and white, with shades of gray and blue, the illustrations aren't nearly as detailed as the ones Sendak did in Where the Wild Things Are. Still, he manages to give a gentleman crocodile just the right beguiling smile as it accepts the heroine's apology for accidentally bumping into it.
          This book is a sentimental favorite of mine, because I adored it as a child. It's one of the few picture books from my childhood that I enjoy just as much as I enjoy books written within the past ten years. More importantly, my kids love it as much as they love the other books on this list.
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (

It's a Spoon, Not a Shovel written by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner
original copyright 1995
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating four
ISBN 0803714955 - library binding -- Order this Book from
ISBN 0803714947 - hard cover -- Order this Book from
ISBN 0140564276 - paperback (not yet published) -- Pre-Order this Book from
          In a similar vein to Sesyle Joslin's, the husband and wife team of Caralyn and Mark Buehner serve up silly situations in It's a Spoon, Not a Shovel. A variety of animals encounter social situations not too far from that experienced by the average child. Maybe your child doesn't eat mashed crickets for lunch (unless he's at that stage where everything goes into the mouth), but it wouldn't hurt him to know the proper way to ask for the salt.
          Every silly situation is followed by a short quiz in which the reader must select the appropriate response. My kids had never been confronted by a multiple choice quiz before, but once they got the hang of it, they got every answer right, which really isn't that tough. One of the answers is correct, one is an obvious example of bad manners, and one is completely off the wall. For example: "Karla Kangaroo is playing hide-and-leap in some bushes. She doesn't see Harold Hyena making mud rabbits and she hops right on top of them!
          "'Oh! Karla cries:
          "a. 'I'm sorry.'
          "b. 'Clowns have big red noses.'
          "c. 'You stupid hyena! Only pigs play in the mud!'
          "Harold is saddened at the loss of his bunnies, but graciously replies:
          "d. 'You have big stinky feet!'
          "e. 'That's all right.'
          "f. 'Little red cars go beep, beep, beep.'"
          My four year old especially loved the part about "big, stinky feet," probably because that's what he'd love to yell at his sister if she ever jumped on his mud rabbits. However, he had no problem getting the right answers (which, by the way, are 'a' and 'e').
          There are twenty questions in all, and each scenario is accompanied and enhanced by Mark Buehner detailed illustrations. For example, When Lambert Lamb joins Wolfgang Wolf and his three brothers for dinner, Little Red Riding Hood is just passing by outside. Three tiny houses line the mantle piece -- one of straw, one of sticks, and one of bricks. The table is set for four, and the correct answer is, "We're so glad to have you for dinner, Lambert." Just in case you can't figure out the right answer, the corresponding letter is hidden in each illustration. So very well hidden, that there's an answer key in the back giving the correct answer and the location of each visual clue.
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (

Princess Penelope's Parrot written by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
original copyright 1996
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating five
ISBN 3095783208 - hard cover -- Order this Book from
          Rather than being general books about proper behavior, Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger's books look at a specific character trait and explore the trouble that trait can lead to. In Princess Penelope's Parrot, they show what can happen when unkind remarks and bad manners come home to roost. Penelope is the world's most pampered (and consequently spoiled) princess. She gets fabulous birthday presents, such as jeweled roller blades, a peacock feather bathing suit, and a beautiful parrot in a golden cage. You'd think she'd be grateful for all this opulence, but she's not. She spots the parrot and squawks, "GIMME, GIMME, GIMME."
          Princess Penelope is used to getting her way, so when her parrot doesn't talk, she gets angry. "SPEAK, OR I'LL RATTLE YOUR CAGE," she threatens. Still no word from the parrot. Further threats and insults don't coax the bird to speak. Finally, Penelope gives up with a cry of, "STUPID BUZZARD."
          That's about the time that Princess Penelope learns that Prince Percival is planning to pay her a visit. Although still a child, Penelope already has in mind marriage to Percival, the richest prince in the land. Determined to make a great first impression, Penelope gussies herself up in her fanciest dress and highest heels. "As she clippy-clopped about, tidying her room (leaving out only her most expensive toys), she came across the parrot. Stupid Buzzard, she thought. Would the prince be impressed by this useless bird? Absolutely not. Never. So she hid the parrot behind the curtains."
          Prince Percival arrives and presents Penelope with a bouquet of roses. "GIMME, GIMME, GIMME," says the parrot from behind the curtains. By the time the parrot repeats all the sweet phrases he's learned from Penelope, Percival has flown the coop. Just before the parrot joins him, it hops up to Penelope and says, "STUPID BUZZARD."
          Lynn Munsinger's illustrations are hilarious! Princess Penelope looks every bit the type of child that you never want to see show up on your doorstep -- snitty and self-satisfied. I suspect that she may have used live models for the tantrum scenes, since she's got the foot stomping and fist raising down pat.
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (

Me First written by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
original copyright 1992
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating four
ISBN 3095587069 - library binding -- Order this Book from
ISBN 0395720222 - paperback -- Order this Book from
          This is another look at problem traits from the team responsible for Princess Penelope's Parrot. In Me First, Pinkerton the pig is pushy. He always wants to be first -- first on the playground, first in the cafeteria line, first on the bus. When his Pig Scout troop goes to the beach, Pinkerton is first on the sand, "first in the water, first out of the water and first into the picnic basket." During a postprandial hike across the dunes, the Pig Scouts hear a voice calling, "Who would care for a sandwich?" At least, that's what they think they heard.
          Pinkerton races off ahead of the others so he can be first. "ME FIRST!" he shrieks. He rolls down the hill and lands face to face with a Sandwitch, "a small creature with a bump on her nose and fur on her toes." When Pinkerton inquires about the sandwich he heard someone offer, she tells him, "You're looking at her... I am a Sandwitch and I live in the sand, and you said you would care for a Sandwitch, so here I am. Care for me."
          The Sandwitch has plenty of work for Pinkerton. She gives him the honor of being the first to powder her nose, the first to comb her toes, the first to wash her dishes, the first to sweep her castle, the first to do her laundry, the first to curl her hair, the first to tuck her in, and the first to tell her a bedtime story.
          Poor Pinkerton's too pooped to tell a proper bedtime story, so the Sandwitch gives him a suggestion. Why not a story about a pushy pig who always wants to be first? As you may guess, the story ends with the pushy pig admitting that being first is not always best.
          Lynn Munsinger's illustrations perfectly capture Pinkerton's personality. He runs along the beach, Pig Scout kerchief flying behind him, his badge proclaiming him #1. The Sandwitch is green and warty enough to be a witch, but too cute to be scary.
          Only one thing keeps me from giving this book a full five stars. The moral seems to be that always wanting to be first is bad because you might be first to do something that's not so much fun. I'd rather my kids learn that it's more fair and more fun to take turns.
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (

Manners written and illustrated by Aliki
original copyright 1990
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating four
ISBN 0688091997 - library binding -- Order this Book from
ISBN 0688091989 - hard cover -- Order this Book from
ISBN 0688045790 - paperback -- Order this Book from
          Manners: "Some people have them. Some people don't." Aliki's book illustrates true to life examples of thehaves and the have-nots in a way that small children can understand
          Without too much moralizing, Aliki first defines manners ("the way you treat others") and illustrates why good manners are important ("[t]hey make others want to be with you"). The rest of the book involves kids modeling good and bad manners, and shows the consequences of each type of behavior. For instance, a page entitled "the Grabber" shows two boys fighting over a toy pickup truck. When the truck gets broken, one boy is mad, the other is in tears, and an onlooker remarks, "Now nobody has it." In "I'm Sorry," a boy pushes a girl out of his way and she falls. At first he is angry and unrepentant, but then, when she suggests an apology is in order, he softens. As the girl explains, "'I'm sorry' makes it better.
          I like this book because it gives concrete examples of situations my children may find themselves in and serves as a great jumping off place for a discussion of behavior. The stories are presented in a comic book style, with a picture for nearly every line of dialogue, which really engaged my kids' attention.
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (

Big Black Bear written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee
original copyright 1993
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating four
ISBN 0395663598 - library binding -- Order this Book from
ISBN 0395779421 - paperback -- Order this Book from
          Sometimes my children disappear, only to be replaced by four wild animals, who, though still adorably cute, are entirely lacking in the social graces. More often than not, this transformation takes place just about dinnertime, and I wouldn't be surprised if a similar transformation inspired Wong Herbert Yee's Big Black Bear.
          A hungry bear follows the scent of a fresh-baked pie from the woods to a little girl's house.
          "Big Black Bear knocked upon the door.
          "Little Girl asked, 'Who're you looking for?'
          "'I'm tired and hungry,' whined Big Black Bear.
          "'Give me some FOOD and a Big Soft Chair!'
          "'Come in, please.
          "'Wipe you paws on the mat.'
          "'I'm a BIG BLACK BEAR -- I don't have to do that!'"
          Big Black Bear continues flouting all the niceties the little girl asks him to observe. If you've ever heard, "you can't make me" from one of your beloved children, you'll understand just how exasperated the little girl gets at his defiance. Just as Big Black Bear threatens to eat the little girl, in walks Big Black Bear's mama. Turns out even black bears have a few rules they need to follow.
          Under mama bear's gaze, Little Black Bear (formerly known as Big Black Bear) apologizes for his rudeness and cleans up his mess. Then, ever so politely, he asks for more pie.
          Wong Herbert Yee's simple illustrations effectively convey the ruckus caused by Big Black Bear. The door is knocked off it's hinges. Paw prints and jelly beans are all over the floor. The "nyah-nyah-nyah" expression on Big Black Bear's face as he stuffs bread and pie into his mouth is exactly the one that sets my teeth on edge.
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (

The Bad Good Manners Book written and illustrated by Babette Cole
original copyright 1995
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating four
ISBN 0803720065 - hard cover -- Order this Book from
          After the etiquette lecture and the demonstration of proper placement of silverware, it might be time to break out a book that's just for fun. In The Bad Good Manners Book, Babette Cole's verses are witty; her illustrations are wonderfully silly, and she paraphrases my favorite rule on proper behavior as, "Do as you would be done by others . . . as much as you possibly can!"
          The book starts with a list of "don'ts" which, standing alone, would be merely amusing, but coupled with the accompanying illustrations drive my kids from giggles to guffaws. "Don't leave the water running in the bathroom" is perfectly good advice, but the illustration of a mother downstairs washing dishes in the kitchen sink and wondering about the drips from the room above, where her son is swimming in the bathroom with his fins and snorkel, makes this advice unforgettable. The "do's" are equally funny.
          Ms. Cole's detailed illustrations are always the best part of her books. The characters in the story, the dogs and cats, even the paintings on the walls have wonderful, expressive faces.
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (

Monster Manners written by Bethany Roberts, illustrated by Andrew Glass
original copyright 1996
recommended age level - preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating four
ISBN 0395698502 - library binding -- Order this Book from
ISBN 0395866227 - paperback -- Order this Book from
          Quick, name the most unmannerly group of characters on earth. No, besides a bunch preschoolers overdue for a nap. Monsters, right? According to Bethany Roberts, even monsters have manners sometimes.
          This book, written in verse, shows monsters at their worst and at their best. For example, "They might be very messy, / and leave things where they drop. / But they sometimes clean their rooms / and dust and scrub and mop." Every activity the monsters do is something kids can relate to, such as tearing up toys on bad manners days, and happily putting them away and repairing the broken ones on good manners days.
          Andrew Glass's monsters are warm and fuzzy. No need to worry about nightmares from this book. In fact, these monsters are an awful lot like little kids, who may sometimes forget their manners, but sometimes they don't. We as adults should always recognize that kids, even our own, can't be perfectly well-behaved 100% of the time.
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (

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