Thursday, July 2, 2020

Review - You Are Special

You Are Special
by Sam Loman
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clavis Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Kiki looks in the mirror. She thinks her fur is boring. Then Kiki has an idea. She uses pencils, ink, and paint to make herself colorful. Will her friends think she is special now?

A fun story about appreciating yourself just the way you are. For all children ages 4 and up.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Aside from the somewhat cute illustrations, this is really rather weak. It's the story of a white cat who thinks she's boring because she doesn't have pretty colours like her friends. So she goes and uses various art media to colour and paint herself. Her friends aren't impressed. Eventually, she's all colourful. Then her mother pops her in the tub and tells her she's special just as she is.

While the overall message is fine, it's overshadowed by some weird storytelling choices. Each time Kiki asks a friend if they like her new colours, they blow her off. Based on the illustrations, they're too wrapped up in their own vanity to notice or care (which begs the question of why these are her friends in the first place). I thought the friends' attitude might be addressed, but it wasn't. Another thing that threw me was that the cat was colouring herself with coloured pencils. Paint? Fine. Markers? Okay. But how do you draw on fur with coloured pencils? I'm also not a fan of the emphasis on specialness. Yes, Mommy tells the siblings they're special just as they are... but she'd also just told them they were special because they were all covered in rainbow colours. The message is a bit muddled, and I'm not sure if it's clear enough for 4-year-olds.

Overall, this is weak. Kids might enjoy the illustrations. But the message isn't strong enough (or clear enough) for this to be a book I would recommend.

Thank you to NetGalley and Clavis Publishing for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.67 out of 5

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Review - Slow Moe

Slow Moe
by Deborah Kerbel
illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Date: 2020
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Life moves oh-so-slow when your little brother is a snail. It takes forever to do anything! Really, it's enough to test the patience of even the most understanding big sister. But is Moe just slow or is there something else going on? With charming illustrations by Marianne Ferrer, award-winning author Deborah Kerbel has written a delightful story about love, support and the struggle for tolerance within the often tumultuous sibling relationship.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I guess this book has an audience, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. It's basically about a kid who manipulates the adults around him, and the older sister who enables the behaviour (even though it bothers her, too).

Moe is so slow that his sister views him as a snail. But he's actually only a snail when he's being asked to do things he doesn't want to do. Otherwise, he's a fast kid. The girl thinks her parents haven't noticed that he's actually a kid. She decides to keep the secret because she loves him.

I don't like the message here. Not that the girl should be tattling on her brother or anything, but enabling his disobedience and passive-aggressive behaviour doesn't seem like a healthy thing to do, either.

The pictures are okay. The colour palette is a bit muted, with lots of greens, golds, and browns. They work well enough, but I didn't find them particularly interesting.

This could've been really funny if the message had been tweaked. As it is, though, it made me a bit uncomfortable.

Thank you to NetGalley and Orca Book Publishers for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Monday, June 29, 2020

Review - Paolo, Emperor of Rome

Paolo, Emperor of Rome
by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Claire Keane
Date: 2020
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

A daring dog takes a whirlwind tour of Rome in search of freedom.

Paolo the dachshund is trapped. Though he lives in Rome, a city filled with history and adventure, he is confined to a hair salon. Paolo dreams of the sweet life—la dolce vita—in the Eternal City. And then, one day, he escapes! Paolo throws himself into the city, finding adventure at every turn. Join our hero as he discovers the wonders of Rome: the ruins, the food, the art, the opera, and—of course—the cats.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm really not a fan of children's books in which dogs run away and never return home. Sure, that might be a happy ending for a dog... but it could be a terrifying prospect for a kid who loves their furry companion.

The language in this book is also a bit mismatched with its audience. I don't think young children would understand a good deal of what's being said. At times, this almost reads like a book for adults:

The cat hissed and swiped her claws. Pain spread across Paolo's face. He had been cut, and deeply. But rather than flee, Paolo stood and barked. The cat, frightened by Paolo's indifference to injury, disappeared into the grass.

Paolo hopped from column to column till he stood upon the tallest. "I am Paolo," he said. "The biggest among you has scratched my cheek, and I did not flinch. Will any other cat challenge me?"

The cats were cowed.

(I can already imagine parents having to explain to their kids that, no, the cats were not turned into cows.)

The illustrations didn't impress me much. Rome looks scribbly.

I haven't had a lot of luck with Mac Barnett's books. I know his stuff is popular... but I'm just not seeing why.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Friday, June 26, 2020

Review - When Emily Was Small

When Emily Was Small
by Lauren Soloy
Date: 2020
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A joyful frolic through the garden helps a little girl feel powerful in this beautiful picture book that celebrates nature, inspired by the writings of revered artist Emily Carr.

Emily feels small. Small when her mother tells her not to get her dress dirty, small when she's told to sit up straight, small when she has to sit still in school.

But when she's in the garden, she becomes Small: a wild, fearless, curious and passionate soul, communing with nature and feeling one with herself. She knows there are secrets to be unlocked in nature, and she yearns to discover the mysteries before she has to go back to being small . . . for now.

When Emily Was Small is at once a celebration of freedom, a playful romp through the garden and a contemplation of the mysteries of nature.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a strange book. It's apparently based on a story that Emily Carr wrote herself called "White Currants". I haven't read the original, nor do I have any desire to. Although, I am curious as to whether the original story is as trippy and uncomfortable as this picture book.

To start with, the language is overly flowery and poetic and probably wouldn't be appealing to its audience. Second, the pictures are kind of creepy. Emily herself is bad enough, but then she meets this creature in the bushes that looks like a sharp-toothed wolf. It's supposed to represent wilderness, but for me, it came across more as a predator lurking in the bushes, ready to lure children away.

This picture book is just too weird for my taste. For slightly older readers, I'd recommend Kit Pearson's middle grade novel called A Day of Signs and Wonders. It's also about a young Emily Carr chafing at the expectations of society... but it doesn't devolve into uncomfortable fantasy to get the point across.

Thank you to NetGalley and Tundra Books (NY) for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Review - Little Wise Wolf

Little Wise Wolf
by Gijs van der Hammen
illustrated by Hanneke Siemensma
Date: 2020
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Little Wise Wolf has time for only one thing: reading books. All right, two things: at night he studies the stars. When the other animals come to him to get answers to their difficult questions, Little Wise Wolf has no time for that. Until one day, a raven appears. The king turns out to be seriously ill, and Little Wise Wolf is called on to use his knowledge to make him better again. On the way to the palace it turns out that, although Little Wise Wolf may know a lot about the things he has read in his books, and seen in the stars, he has a lot to learn about the outside world.

A magnificent story about a little wolf, who slowly realises he may not be as wise as he thinks he is, and that the world is much bigger than that contained within his books.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not always impressed with translated picture books. But Little Wise Wolf seems to have survived being translated from the Dutch with most of its charm and message intact.

This is the story of a little wolf who spends so much time studying that he has no time for anything else (or so he thinks). When the king falls ill, he sends for Little Wise Wolf to cure him. The little wolf is hesitant at first; he'd rather stay at home and read more books. But he can't refuse the king, and so he begins his journey. As it turns out, shutting yourself in with books all day doesn't make you much of a navigator, and the little wolf repeatedly gets lost. But his friends show him a kindness and teach him a lesson that will last even after the journey is over.

The scrawled-looking illustrations are kind of cute (even though I'm not always a fan of this style). There's plenty to look at in the pictures. And there's something rather amusing about the wolf in his bright red boots and turquoise satchel.

The message is subtle but clear, and the text is nice and neat. Overall, I would recommend this book, especially for those looking for picture books with messages about kindness and empathy.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - The Day Saida Arrived

The Day Saida Arrived
by Susana Gómez Redondo
illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
Date: 2020
Publisher: Blue Dot Kids Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Two girls forge a forever-friendship by learning each other’s language. The Day Saida Arrived demonstrates the power of language to build bonds beyond borders.

What happens when a new friend arrives who doesn’t speak your language? A young girl searches for the words to help her friend feel welcome and happy in her new home, and along the way learns about differences and similarities in countries and words. The two forge a strong bond while they each learn the other’s language, exploring the world around them.

A joyous, lyrical text—including English translations and pronunciations and the complete Arabic alphabet—offers an accessible, fresh approach to talking about immigration. Paired with lushly vivid illustrations, The Day Saida Arrived demonstrates the power of language to build bonds beyond borders.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The Day Saida Arrived is a lovely little treat for the senses. It combines a basic story about two friends sharing their respective languages with gorgeous illustrations and some basic translations of English and Arabic words.

I'm not entirely sure this will appeal to very young children. The language is steeped in metaphors and comes across as a bit flowery. It's nice, but I question the appeal of the style for younger readers.

The illustrations are colourful, whimsical, and imaginative. If I have one quibble, it's that some of the Arabic words (the English pronunciations, anyway) are kind of hard to read. The cursive font and the distressed sans serif were particularly noticeable in this regard. (I actually had to look one of the words up just to make sure I was reading it right; it should be clearer than that).

Overall, though, this has a lovely premise and a beautiful aesthetic. Readers looking for books on immigration, diversity, and languages might enjoy this one.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Friday, June 19, 2020

Review - When We Are Kind

When We Are Kind
by Monique Gray Smith
illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt
Date: 2020
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

When We Are Kind celebrates simple acts of everyday kindness and encourages children to explore how they feel when they initiate and receive acts of kindness in their lives. Celebrated author Monique Gray Smith has written many books on the topics of resilience and reconciliation and communicates an important message through carefully chosen words for readers of all ages. Beautifully illustrated by artist Nicole Neidhardt, this book encourages children to be kind to others and to themselves.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a lovely little book for young readers that could help foster discussions around what it means to be kind (and also how we feel when we are kind and others are kind to us). In today's world, these are important messages suitable for all ages.

The illustrations depict mostly Indigenous children, which is nice to see. But that doesn't mean that this book can't be enjoyed, appreciated, and learned from by children of all backgrounds.

While the text and messaging are simple, they're also nice and clear. That makes perfect sense. Kindness shouldn't be difficult.

Overall, this is a nice book, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to other readers. It would also make a great classroom read with some follow-up discussion about kindness.

Thank you to NetGalley and Orca Book Publishers 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