Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review - Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey
by Margriet Ruurs
illustrated by Nizar Ali Badr
Date: 2016
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 28
Format: e-book
Source: library

This unique picture book was inspired by the stone artwork of Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr, discovered by chance by Canadian children's writer Margriet Ruurs. The author was immediately impressed by the strong narrative quality of Mr. Badr's work, and, using many of Mr. Badr's already-created pieces, she set out to create a story about the Syrian refugee crisis. Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr's stunning stone images illustrate the story. Orca Book Publishers is pleased to offer this book as a dual-language (English and Arabic) edition.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't think I've ever read a picture book quite like this one. A collaboration between a Canadian author and a Syrian artist, Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey is a picture book that takes a sensitive look at the plight of ordinary families who are forced to flee their homes due to war.

The illustrations are all created with stones and then photographed. Somehow, the artist manages to create living, breathing pictures with rocks that show a family's journey to freedom and safety. Each picture on its own is beautiful enough, but, put all together with the simple but poignant story, this turns into a book that's really a work of art.

I might exercise caution giving a book like this to very young children, as there is one depiction of little stone people who perished in the sea. It might be a little too much for small children, but ones who are old enough to understand the dangers facing these families can see how perilous a journey it is for some. (It's not graphic, really, but it is disturbing when you realize what those stones are depicting.)

Overall, I think this is a very strong picture book about an important topic. Something like this can help foster understanding and empathy. I'd definitely recommend it.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Review - Red's Planet

Red's Planet (Red's Planet #1)
by Eddie Pittman
Date: 2016
Publisher: Amulet Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 192
Format: e-book
Source: library

Red’s Planet, an intergalactic graphic novel fantasy series from award-winning cartoonist Eddie Pittman (writer/story artist for Disney’s hit TV series Phineas and Ferb), is a nonstop adventure with a unique cast of characters unlike any you’ve ever seen before.

Meet Red, a quirky, headstrong 10-year-old who longs to live in her own perfect paradise far away from her annoying foster family. But when a UFO mistakenly kidnaps her, Red finds herself farther away than she could have possibly imagined—across the galaxy and aboard an enormous spaceship owned by the Aquilari, an ancient creature with a taste for rare and unusual treasures. Before Red can be discovered as a stowaway, the great ship crashes on a small deserted planet, leaving her marooned with a menagerie of misfit aliens. With her newfound friend, a small gray alien named Tawee, Red must find a way to survive the hostile castaways, evade the ravenous wildlife, and contend with Goose, the planet’s grumpy, felinoid custodian. Surely this can’t be the paradise she’s been hoping for.

Fans of Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space and Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl will embrace Red’s Planet, a boldly illustrated and imaginative new series for readers of all ages.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a graphic novel that relies heavily on pictures. So heavily, in fact, that many of the characters don't even have names! Even Red herself is only ever identified by her nickname.

The plot is extremely thin, and rather boring. It starts off well enough, after Red runs away from her foster home and gets tossed in the back of a police cruiser. Before she can be returned home, the police car is stolen by aliens, and in an attempt to run from space pirates, the ship ends up on the other side of the galaxy, crashed onto an alien world (which, luckily enough, supports all sorts of oxygen-breathing life forms). Unfortunately, that's about all the plot there is. The various castaway aliens (including Red) wander around on the planet, meet its cranky caretaker, and try to figure out what to do while they wait for rescue. And... that's all you'll get until Book 2.

I wasn't a fan of the writing. Aside from not being able to consistently spell the characters' names, the text had lots of bolded words, seemingly for emphasis... but they often seemed like the wrong words to emphasize, which made the text seem clunky.

There were a few pop culture references that I don't know if middle graders would even get, so at times the book seemed like it was winking at adults... but the cast of characters that looked like it was out of a cartoon for preschoolers just seemed so juvenile; I was never really sure what this book wanted to be.

I wasn't impressed. I don't think I'll be reading any more of this series. The pictures are nice enough, but I need more of a story in the graphic novels I read.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Illustration: 4/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.25 out of 5 ladybugs

Monday, September 24, 2018

Review - My Heart Fills with Happiness

My Heart Fills with Happiness
by Monique Gray Smith
illustrated by Julie Flett
Date: 2016
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: library

The sun on your face. The smell of warm bannock baking in the oven. Holding the hand of someone you love. What fills your heart with happiness? This beautiful board book, with illustrations from celebrated artist Julie Flett, serves as a reminder for little ones and adults alike to reflect on and cherish the moments in life that bring us joy.

International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is the second picture book I've read by this author, the first being You Hold Me Up, which I didn't really like much. I think the pictures in this one were a lot better, helping to illustrate the tender moments in the book. There's really no story, just a collection of happy thoughts. It reads almost like a child's gratitude journal.

There's not much in the way of text (so read-out-loud storytime will be very short), but the pictures are nice to look at and illustrate some cultural traditions that many kids might not know much about.

Overall, it's a cute little book, with a nice message and simple pictures. I'd recommend this one over You Hold Me Up for the illustrations alone.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review - Have You Seen Elephant?

Have You Seen Elephant?
by David Barrow
Date: 2015
Publisher: Gecko Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Elephant wants to play hide and seek. Though readers will deduce that his hiding skills aren't all that good, his human friend plays along.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I guess today is the day for elephants! This is the second picture book I've read about them today (the other one being Pete With No Pants by Rowboat Watkins). Have You Seen Elephant?, however, is the stronger of the two, both in story and in illustration.

Even though Elephant warns the boy that he's very good at hide-and-seek, the boy agrees to play, anyway. Elephant's hiding places are painfully obvious, and although it's not clear if the boy is just humouring him or if he genuinely can't see him, the illustrations still made me smile. And the ending, staying in the same whimsical vein as the rest of the story, is a nice twist.

This is a cute book that kids will probably get a giggle out of. I know I did.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

Review - Pete With No Pants

Pete With No Pants
by Rowboat Watkins
Date: 2017
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Meet Pete.

Pete is gray. He's round. And he's not wearing any pants.

So Pete must be a boulder. Or is he a pigeon? Or a squirrel? Or a cloud?

Join Pete in his quest to answer the world's oldest question: Why do I have to wear pants? Wait, that's the second oldest. Born from the one-of-a-kind imagination of Rowboat Watkins, this hilarious book (the asides just beg to be read aloud) about finding out who you are features a satisfying and touching ending that will encourage young readers to be true to themselves as it reminds the adults in their lives to support them no matter what.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This story seemed a little... thin. Even though it's about an elephant. The gimmick is Pete's (and the other animals') reasoning: he's grey and he's not wearing any pants, so he must be [insert funny object here]. That's amusing, but it doesn't really make for a plot. And the book almost seemed to need one. Pete was looking for a friend to play with, but he didn't have much luck (when the boulders won't respond and the other animals assume he's a boulder himself, well, he's kind of on his own). The "problem" was solved too easily by his own mother; while this is sweet, it doesn't really empower kids at all.

My favourite thing about this was the look of it. The pictures are kind of rustic and rough, but they're also whimsical and cute. I especially liked seeing Pete's bedroom with all the stuff hanging on his walls.

This could have been a really good children's book if the story had had a little more heft to it. As it is, it's more of a novelty, and I don't really have any desire to flip through it again (other than to maybe have another look at the pictures).

Premise: 2/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.5 out of 5

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Review - Big Mushy Happy Lump

Big Mushy Happy Lump (Sarah's Scribbles #2)
by Sarah Andersen
Date: 2017
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: A
Book type: comic collection
Pages: 128
Format: e-book
Source: library

Sarah Andersen's hugely popular, world-famous Sarah's Scribbles comics are for those of us who boast bookstore-ready bodies and Netflix-ready hair, who are always down for all-night reading-in-bed parties and extremely exclusive after-hour one-person music festivals.

In addition to the most recent Sarah's Scribbles fan favorites and dozens of all-new comics, this volume contains illustrated personal essays on Sarah's real-life experiences with anxiety, career, relationships and other adulthood challenges that will remind readers of Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half and Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened. The same uniquely frank, real, yet humorous and uplifting tone that makes Sarah's Scribbles so relatable blooms beautifully in this new longer form.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I know this is the second book in the series, but I figured that since it featured a series of comics, it wouldn't really matter. (It didn't).

For the most part, I enjoyed these. Andersen is very astute, putting into amusing pictures what many young adults are probably thinking. The little illustrated essays near the end of the book were also neat to read.

My one complaint was that there were a couple of comics that seemed to take cheap shots. One went after people who avoid gluten, implying that the only reason to do so is because you're a trendy millennial (which is kind of offensive to people who might have to avoid it for legitimate health reasons, such as celiac disease). Another seemed to bash people who ate organic. I can overlook these things, but they do make the author look a bit ignorant.

Overall, though, this was a cute collection of comics. It looks like there are at least two other books in the series; I'll probably read those, too, if I get the chance.

Quotable moment:


Writing & Editing: 4/5
Illustration: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review - Fake Blood

Fake Blood
by Whitney Gardner
Date: 2018
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reading level:MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 336
Format: e-book
Source: library

A middle schooler comes head-to-head with his vampire slayer crush in this laugh-out-loud funny graphic novel that’s a perfect coming-of-age story for anyone who’s ever felt too young, too small, or too average.

It’s the beginning of the new school year and AJ feels like everyone is changing but him. He hasn’t grown or had any exciting summer adventures like his best friends have. He even has the same crush he’s harbored for years. So AJ decides to take matters into his own hands. But how could a girl like Nia Winters ever like plain vanilla AJ when she only has eyes for vampires?

When AJ and Nia are paired up for a group project on Transylvania, it may be AJ’s chance to win over Nia’s affection by dressing up like the vamp of her dreams. And soon enough he’s got more of Nia’s attention than he bargained for when he learns she’s a slayer.

Now AJ has to worry about self-preservation while also trying to save everyone he cares about from a real-life threat lurking in the shadows of Spoons Middle School.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Awful, awful, awful. I would actually recommend that people avoid this one. Why? Because it's creepy as hell, that's why. I thought this was a contemporary story. And it seems like it is for most of the book. Which makes it really bone-chilling when the love interest (yes, in a middle grade book; that part of the plot seemed too mature... especially when these kids are finger-painting at one point) suddenly tries, in all seriousness, to stab the main character. Then the book devolves into absolute stupidity, with the teacher turning out to be a real vampire who was planning on killing all the kids. (Luckily, the protagonist's 15-year-old sister pops out of nowhere to save the day.)

I thought maybe this would be a book that showed the dangers of trying to change who you are to make someone like you. I just didn't think that it would show someone trying to kill you because you'd changed!

Oh, and the cheap shot at the French was just the icing on the cake. I know it's an American pastime to throw shade in their direction, but come on. This is a middle-grade book. Should we really be encouraging our kids to make fun of other cultures?

I'd give this zero stars if I could. Not even the pictures could save this one for me. The sooner I can get the taste of this one out of my brain, the better.

Plot: 0/5
Characters: 0/5
Pace: 0/5
Writing & Editing: 1/5
Illustration: 1/5
Originality: 1/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall Rating: 0.38 out of 5 ladybugs