Monday, March 25, 2019

Review - Buddy and Earl

Buddy and Earl
by Maureen Fergus
illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Date: 2010
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Buddy does not know what is in the box that Meredith carries into the living room. But when the small, prickly creature says he is a pirate — and that Buddy is a pirate too — the two mismatched friends are off on a grand adventure.

In this first book in the Buddy and Earl series, a dog who likes to play by the rules meets a hedgehog who knows no limits. Their friendship is tender and loyal, and their adventures are funny and imaginative. Maureen Fergus’s text is witty and understated, and Carey Sookocheff’s art emphasizes both the humor and the warmth of this odd and loveable animal couple.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a smart little picture book about a dog and a hedgehog who become friends. Earl the hedgehog is kind of incorrigible, and leads Buddy into a bit of trouble. But it's all in good fun... even if the humans in the house don't realize what's really going on!

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The illustrations are really simple, but the story is cute and the writing is fairly strong. I like seeing Buddy trying to puzzle out exactly what Earl is, and Earl's guesses about Buddy's identity are just as amusing.

This is apparently the first book in a series. I'd love to read some of the others to find out what other sorts of trouble these two can get into!

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.33 out of 5

Review - Fancy Nancy: Chez Nancy

Fancy Nancy: Chez Nancy (Fancy Nancy)
adapted by Nancy Parent
illustrated by the Disney Storybook Art Team
Date: 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Nancy has a new playhouse, and it's time for some ooh-la-la fancy fun! But when one friend wants to be the boss of who can come to play, Nancy has to decide what it means to be a good friend.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Based on the book adaptations I've read so far, I don't think I'd like the TV show. This is another story about Nancy and her family and friends involving decor (the first book I read had the kids decorating the sidewalk with handprints, while this one has them decorating a playhouse). I wonder if there are any other plot points in the show, other than making the Clancy property fancy...

The things that I like about Fancy Nancy just don't come across in these books, and it's the illustrations that really bring the rating down for me. It's not that they're bad... but part of the fun of Fancy Nancy is that she's always wearing some weird and wonderful outfit. Because these illustrations are based on animated characters--who are often dressed the same way all the time--all we see is Nancy in the same outfit: tutu, striped tights, tiara. I much prefer the look of her in the original picture books.

I also don't really like the way Grace is portrayed here. She's the "mean girl" who's made an appearance in other Fancy Nancy titles. The thing is, most of the time, she just comes across as jealous and ignorant, wanting to be part of something, or being a know-it-all. Here, though, she's just cruel. She convinces Nancy to kick JoJo and Freddy out of the playhouse, and then smirks about it afterward and leaves in a huff when Nancy realizes she was wrong to kick out the younger siblings. It's not really the Grace we know from the other books; here, she's simplified to a caricature of a mean girl, and the nuance is lost.

I'm working my way through all the Fancy Nancy titles our library has, and that's really the only reason I picked this one up. It's kind of weak, just like the other Disney Fancy Nancy book I've read so far that was based on the show. Give me Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser's original work any day!

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Review - The Most Magnificent Thing

The Most Magnificent Thing
by Ashley Spires
Date: 2014
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A little girl and her canine assistant set out to make the most magnificent thing. But after much hard work, the end result is not what the girl had in mind. Frustrated, she quits. Her assistant suggests a long walk, and as they walk, it slowly becomes clear what the girl needs to do to succeed. A charming story that will give kids the most magnificent thing: perspective!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I read a number of Ashley Spires's books the other day and quite enjoyed most of them. This was the only one that wasn't immediately available at the library, so I had to wait. I'm glad I did, though, because it's probably my favourite of her books that I've read so far.

This story will be relatable to anyone who's ever done anything creative. Whether it's drawing, writing, or building an invention, sometimes it just doesn't turn out the way you envisioned it in your head. The Most Magnificent Thing explores how frustrating that can be. The little girl is trying to build something (it doesn't become clear what that is until the very last page), but none of her attempts seem to be working. After she gets thoroughly frustrated, her rather zen assistant suggests they take a walk. And after the girl cools down a bit, she can start to see where she went wrong... and where she went right. With renewed enthusiasm, she's able to finally finish her project.

I like the message of taking a step back (and taking a break) to see the project with fresh eyes. Sometimes it's so easy to get caught up in wanting to do something perfectly on the first try that we don't see that what we need is a new perspective.

The illustrations are really cute. I especially like the assistant (the girl's dog); watching his antics is amusing all by itself. (And I love the information about the pictures on the copyright page: "The artwork in this book was rendered digitally with lots of practice, two hissy fits and one all-out tantrum." I think most creative types will be able to relate!)

So this is a really strong picture book about perfectionism and patience. Sometimes books that tackle subjects like this can come off a little preachy. But this one doesn't. It's just plain fun.

Quotable moment:

First, she hires an assistant.


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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Review - Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women

Brilliant Ideas From Wonderful Women
by Aitziber Lopez
illustrated by Luciano Lozano
Date: 2019
Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Discover the stories behind 15 of the twentieth century's key inventions in this fun and informative treasury of trailblazing women, who each made a unique contribution to the history of science and technology.

Car heaters…Monopoly…Disposable diapers…The dishwasher…Kevlar…Maritime flares… Anti-reflective glass…Wifi…Syringes…Submarine periscopes…Diagnostic tests…Lifeboats…Windshield wipers…Ebooks…What do each of these revolutionary inventions have in common? They were all pioneered by women!

Each brilliant idea is presented with biographical information about the brilliant woman who came up with it, including what inspired them. Learn how Martha Coston disguised herself as a man to contact pyrotechnicians and convince them to manufacture her idea for maritime flares, how a New York tram ride on a wet winter’s day led Mary Anderson to invent the windshield wiper, and why Letitia Mumford Geer’s one-hand operated syringe was a medical breakthrough, among other fascinating facts. Full-page illustrations show the inspiration for and use of these incredible inventions in humorous detail.

From lifeboat-inventor, Maria Beasley, to the grandmother of the ebook, Ángela Ruiz Robles, each of the inspiring women in this book achieved their goal of leaving the world a better place than they found it.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wanted to like this book. The basic premise is great. But this is so, so sloppy. I doubt anyone read the e-book before it was put up on NetGalley. It's full of cut-off sentences, terrible punctuation, and outright errors.

There are two instances that I noticed of dates that are 100 years off (the second one being pretty obvious, as someone who was born in 1947 couldn't possibly have had her invention on the Titanic when it sank). For non-fiction books for kids, I want the factual information to be spotless. The punctuation may just have been a translation issue, but it really should've been caught. (So should the random line of Spanish text in the section about Ángela Ruiz Robles's invention.) And there are at least three instances where the text is cut off in mid sentence, probably to preserve formatting and make the book look pretty.

The illustrations are okay, but there are some errors there, too. The page talking about the underwater telescope shows a periscope (they're not the same thing) and the Monopoly game has kids playing with coloured plastic pieces, rather than the tiny metal objects. There's no excuse for that; those pieces are one of the most recognizable things about Monopoly!

Maybe I should've clued in when I saw the publisher. Wide Eyed Editions also published Super Scientists, which I found abysmal from a technical point of view. I expect a lot better from children's non-fiction, and I can't bring myself to recommend any book with this many errors, no matter how great the premise is.

If this book is edited more closely and some of the illustrations are fixed to make it more accurate, it could be decent. I might also put the inventions in a more chronological order, because as it is, they just kind of skip around all over the place and there's no real reason for the arrangement that I can see. In its current form, though, I can't recommend this one at all. Check out Vashti Harrison's Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World instead; it's also about brilliant women, but the execution is far better.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 1/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.33 out of 5

Review - Mama Lion Wins the Race

Mama Lion Wins the Race
by Jon J. Muth
Date: 2017
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 56
Format: e-book
Source: library

Start your engines: the race is on! And Mama Lion and Tigey are off -- with their cool goggles and snazzy sports car!

Racing teams gather from far and wide for this madcap race. But who will win the trophy cup? Will it be the playful Flying Pandinis? The mischievous Knitted Monkey Crew? Or will Mama Lion and Tigey speed past the finish line in first place?

As Tigey says, "winning is winning," but sometimes the journey itself -- filled with ineffable moments of mystery, beauty, and joy -- is even more fun than getting the prize.

With cars inspired by the early days of Italian motor-racing and characters based on his children's beloved toy animals, Jon J Muth has created a uniquely spellbinding book young readers will return to again and again.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. Although it is longer than the average picture book, it didn't really seem that long because of the nice story and beautiful illustrations.

Mama Lion and Tigey, a couple of toys, enter a road race against a number of others, including some sock monkeys and a stuffed bunny on a motorbike. They race through a landscape that looks decidedly Italian (those particular pictures are very pretty), while dealing with car trouble and sabotage from some of the other competitors.

You know those feel-good stories where a competitor in a running race stop to help another, giving up their lead in the process? That's exactly what happens here, and the favour is eventually returned. The title of the book takes on a new meaning that isn't quite as obvious at first glance. Competition and winning turns out to be not as important as friendship and doing the right thing. (And I like the little character quirk of Bun Bun and how it brings the end of the book to a sweet close.)

I haven't read much by Muth, other than Zen Ghosts, which I found to be a little bit creepy with the children being lured to an out-of-the-way house on Halloween. But the illustrations were lovely there, and they're just as strong here. I would check out more of the author's books just for the pictures alone.

Overall, this is a sweet story about friendship, cooperation, and how you really "win" a race.

Quotable moment:

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - When Daddy's Truck Picks Me Up

When Daddy's Truck Picks Me Up
by Jana Novotny Hunter
illustrated by Carol Thompson
Date: 2004
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Daddy drives a big red tanker truck, and he's away on the road a lot. But once in a while, he's near enough to pick up his little boy from preschool. And today is one of those very special days!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Hmm... The premise of this book is cute, but the whole execution didn't really excite me.

Basically, this is a rhyming story about a little boy excitedly waiting for his truck-driver father to pick him up from school. It's easy to see the love the kid has for his dad, and his anticipation of his father picking him up in the big red tanker truck is palpable. Still, it's kind of a small premise to hang a whole book on, as we basically just witness the kid waiting all day.

The illustrations don't really excite me here. They're rough and scribbly, and while they're colourful, I just didn't feel all that drawn to them. As for the rhyming text, it's very clunky. The meter is off, and the words aren't that exciting.

This might find a better audience in kids whose parents travel a lot for work. I'm not sure if it will have that much appeal to anyone else.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.43 out of 5

Review - Old MacDonald Had a Truck

Old MacDonald Had a Truck
by Steve Goetz
illustrated by Eda Kaban
Date: 2016
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Old MacDonald had a farm E-I-E-I-O. And on that farm he had a...TRUCK?! With a DIG DIG here and a SCOOP SCOOP there, this classic folk song just got revved up! Beloved machines—the excavator, dump truck, bulldozer, and more—will have the vehicle-obsessed of all ages reading and singing along.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I was little, I had a couple of friends with a little brother who was absolutely obsessed with trucks. You never saw him without one of his Tonka trucks. Every time I read a book in this vein, I think of that little kid and wonder if he would've liked it!

I kind of like this one myself. It takes the classic song and mixes it up a little. Old MacDonald still has all his animals... but they're helping run the heavy machinery to build a course for his wife's monster truck. (When they broke out the motor grader, I wondered what they could possibly be building!)

The pictures are really cute, done in a retro style by Eda Kaban (illustrator of Pink Is for Boys). Watching the animals engage in all the tasks with the heavy machinery is pretty amusing. And I like the way the E-I-E-I-Os are incorporated into the illustrations.

Overall, this is a strong picture book that'll probably appeal to kids who are really into trucks and machines, as well as those who enjoy a twist on the classic song. For kids who are really into this stuff, I'd recommend this book along with Anna Dewdney's Little Excavator. They're both great fun on the construction site!

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.86 out of 5