Monday, April 6, 2020

Review - Window

Window
by Marion Arbona
Date: 2020
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

In this wordless picture book, extraordinary things are happening behind the windows of the city.

A young girl is walking home from school in a big city. As she gazes up at window after window in the buildings on her route - each one a different shape and size - she imagines what might be going on behind them. By opening the gatefold, readers will get to see inside her imagination. An indoor jungle. A whale in a bathtub. Vampires playing badminton.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a nice little wordless picture book that shows a little girl imagining what's going on behind all the windows she sees as she walks home.

The black-and-white illustrations are detailed and interesting, and tell a story fairly well without using any words at all. I read this as an e-book, however, and it definitely doesn't work as well as it probably does as a paper book. Each spread really needs to be viewed in its entirety, and it looks like there are flaps to lift to reveal the different scenes hiding behind each window. (There are just some features that e-books can't replicate.)

If you can find a paper copy of this, I'd recommend taking a look. As wordless picture books go, it's fairly strong, and kids will have fun seeing the imaginative scenes lurking behind each of the varied windows.

Thank you to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: n/a
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.4 out of 5

Review - I Go Quiet

I Go Quiet
by David Ouimet
Date: 2020
Publisher: Norton Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

How do you find your voice, when no one seems to be listening? A young girl struggles to make herself heard, believing she is too insignificant and misunderstood to communicate with the people in her life.

Anxious about how she thinks she should look and speak, the girl stays silent, turning to books to transport her to a place where she is connected to the world, and where her words hold power. As she soon discovers, her imagination is not far from reality, and the girl realizes that when she is ready to be heard, her voice will ring loud and true.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I Go Quiet is a bit of a trippy picture book that's more suitable for older readers. While there's nothing inappropriate in it, the sentiments are complex and the largely monochrome illustrations might not be that appealing to young children.

This is a book about finding your unique voice in a world of conformity. It's also an homage to reading and expression through words. It's eerily dystopian, and one gets the impression of an oppressed populace (the children all wear mouse masks and large black birds hover ominously around the periphery).

I enjoyed this, even though I don't generally like picture books that seem to be aimed at older readers (and then shelved in the kids' section). But I think this could be a comforting and inspiring book for older kids (middle school and up) who are starting to discover their own uniqueness and are perhaps feeling different or misunderstood.

Quotable moment:


Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 5/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Friday, April 3, 2020

Review - Alice & Gert: An Ant and Grasshopper Story

Alice & Gert: An Ant and Grasshopper Story
by Helaine Becker
illustrated by Dena Seiferling
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

It’s high summer in the meadow where Alice the ant and Gert the grasshopper live. Alice is hard at work preparing for winter, harvesting heavy loads of seeds. Meanwhile, Gert prefers to play, since winter is ages away. Gert dances through the long days of summer, singing, performing, and creating art out of flowers and leaves. Alice tries to convince Gert to work, but Gert wants to have fun—and to entertain Alice, too! She hates to see Alice work so hard.

When winter arrives, Gert’s nest is cold and her food supplies are low. But rather than refusing to share, Alice acknowledges the value of Gert’s work and the beauty of the art that lightened her load. Alice repays Gert’s kindness by sharing her hard-won food.

Based on the classic story of the ant and grasshopper, this is a modern fable with a heartwarming twist that values diverse contributions and honors friendship and the power of art.

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

This is a variation on the story of "The Ant and the Grasshopper"... but with a bit of a twist.

Alice the ant works hard every day to prepare for winter. Gert the grasshopper, on the other hand, prefers to sing, play make-believe, and create art. When winter comes at last, Gert finds that she doesn't have any food saved up. But instead of turning her away to starve, Alice offers to share with her friend; after all, Gert's amusements helped make Alice's work easier, and the ant feels it's only right to share the bounty.

I'm not a fan of the original story in which the grasshopper is punished for being itself. (And let's not forget the fact that a grasshopper doesn't live long enough to experience a summer and a winter.) I wasn't quite sure where the author was going with this, as I saw Gert doing such nice things for Alice while she was working, and I was afraid Alice was going to turn around and be nasty (like in the original story). I'm glad that wasn't what happened.

Alice & Gert is a sweet story about friendship, kindness, sharing, and placing value on non-material things. Fans of fables and animal characters will likely enjoy this one.

Thank you to NetGalley and Owlkids Books for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Review - Elmore and Pinky

Elmore and Pinky (Elmore #2)
by Holly Hobbie
Date: 2020
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

A prickly porcupine searches for a best friend in this sequel to Elmore from Toot & Puddle author Holly Hobbie.

Elmore the porcupine feels warm and comfortable in his neighborhood, and has many friends. But lately he has been feeling that he is missing someone, someone who will always be there -- a best friend. His uncle assures him that those kinds of friendships just happen over time, but determined Elmore goes out in search of one anyway. Then Elmore meets Pinky, a skunk who has a similar problem. Likely companions for Pinky are deterred because...well, he stinks! As the two commiserate and spend time together, they accept each other's shortcomings and develop what each of them wants most: a real friendship with a best friend.

Holly Hobbie tenderly renders these sweet and relatable characters in exquisite watercolor, and has us rooting for them to the end.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

On the surface, this is pretty cute. It's a simple story about a porcupine who's searching for a best friend. He finally finds one in Pinky, a skunk.

There are parts that I liked (like when Pinky's lamenting the fact that he stinks, and Elmore says, "Only in emergencies.") but also parts I didn't. Elmore's uncle tells him that there's a best friend for everyone. I can see that having unintended consequences when lonely children get their hopes up.

The illustrations are pretty cute. The animals are somewhat anthropomorphized, but are still very clearly animals (e.g., the mother bear wears her sunhat to go blueberry-picking, but she's still protective when it comes to her cub).

Overall, I'd probably recommend this to children who already have a best friend. It's a sweet celebration of friendship. Giving a book like this to kids who desperately want a best friend but don't have one, on the other hand, would be kind of cruel.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - Milton & Odie and the Bigger-than-Bigmouth Bass

Milton & Odie and the Bigger-than-Bigmouth Bass
by Mary Ann Fraser
Date: 2019
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

It's ice-fishing season for two very opposite otters. Pessimism, prepare to meet optimism!

On one side of a frozen lake, Odie imagines all the fish he'll catch today. On the other side of the lake, Milton is doubtful he'll catch anything at all. As each otter imagines what lurks--or doesn't lurk--under the ice, opposites attract, attitudes change, and a friendship is formed.

(synopsis from Amazon.ca; see it on Goodreads)

Milton and Odie are a couple of otters who go ice fishing. While Milton is pessimistic and grumpy, Odie is optimistic and cheerful. Milton's failures to catch anything reinforce his belief that there's nothing good under the ice. Odie's failures, on the other hand, simply convince him to keep trying. Eventually, the two otters' paths cross, and they share their skills and viewpoints with each other, collaborating to achieve their goals.

The illustrations of the critters here are really adorable, and the writing is strong. I also like the way the otters' opposite perspectives are portrayed. However, there are some folks for whom this book just isn't going to work. Vegetarian and vegan parents might want to check this one out first before giving it to their children, as the anthropomorphizing of the fish--and the subsequent catching and killing--make for a bit of a disturbing theme. (Yes, I know otters eat fish. But when the fish are portrayed as smiling, playing dress-up, and blowing bubbles with bubblegum, it's rather sad to see the carcass of one illustrated on one of the last pages.)

I'd recommend this, but with reservations. Vegetarians and vegans (or anyone who hates seeing animals harmed) might find it a bit disturbing. Those who enjoy fishing and who aren't bothered by knowing where their food comes from will probably find it more appropriate.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Review - I Do Not Like Stories

I Do Not Like Stories
by Andrew Larsen
illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Here is a boy who is sure of one thing: he does NOT like stories. Not stories about waking up in the morning, or people in space, or fish in the sea, or planes, or trains, or boring old buildings.

We see the boy’s experiences play out over the course of his day. The one thing this contrarian boy loves is his cat—whose day is depicted through graphic panels in a funny, parallel side narrative. The cheerful cat searches for the boy all day, chasing anything yellow, the colour of the boy’s bright backpack, and causing mess and mayhem throughout the city. In the end, the boy concedes he might like a story—if it’s the right one (do you know any stories about a cat?).

Art in a muted palette is accented with pops of yellow in this charming book about how the stories we tell ourselves have the power to shape our days. The visual details support literacy skills, add humor, and are sure to engage young readers—even those who are sure they don’t like stories.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I Do Not Like Stories is basically a boy complaining that he doesn't like stories about... well, everything. The more interesting part of the book is watching the boy's cat, who takes a trip around the city while the boy is in school. At the end of the day, the boy says he might like a story... if it's about a cat.

I found this rather underwhelming. The boy's insistence that he didn't like stories became grating after a while. The pictures seemed uninspiring.

This might appeal to cat lovers, and those who enjoy stories within stories. Quite frankly, though, I think this could've worked just as well without the words; at least then, we wouldn't have had to hear the boy be so negative.

Thank you to NetGalley and Owlkids Books for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Goodnight Moon

Goodnight Moon (Over the Moon #2)
by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Clement Hurd
Date: 1947
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

In a great green room, tucked away in bed, is a little bunny. "Goodnight room, goodnight moon." And to all the familiar things in the softly lit room -- to the picture of the three little bears sitting on chairs, to the clocks and his socks, to the mittens and the kittens, to everything one by one -- the little bunny says goodnight.

In this classic of children's literature, beloved by generations of readers and listeners, the quiet poetry of the words and the gentle, lulling illustrations combine to make a perfect book for the end of the day.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Goodnight Moon was one of my favourite books as a young child. Board books weren't as common back then as they are now, so I had a simple paperback that ended up looking like a dog used it as a chew toy (we didn't have a dog). My copy has long since vanished, and it's been years since I actually read the book, even though I've gifted it a few times to new babies.

This is a charming little classic. The story is very, very simple. If you can even call it a story. It's basically a little bunny saying goodnight to everything in his room, from his mittens and hairbrush to the resident mouse.

The illustrations are garish and plain, and had this book been published today, it probably wouldn't have generated the same following. There are much more aesthetically pleasing books for children out there. However, the gentle rhythm of the little bunny saying goodnight to everything works perfectly for a bedtime read. It's easy to see why this classic has stood the test of time.

Quotable moment:


Premise: 4/5
Meter: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5