Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Review - Dragons in Love

Dragons in Love
by Alexandre Lacroix
illustrated by Ronan Badel
Date: 2019
Publisher: words & pictures
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Drake is playing happily in the park when a little girl kisses him on the snout and a fire begins to roar inside him. What should he do with his new-found emotions? Perhaps his dad will be able to give him some advice…

Dragons in Love is a funny and moving story about young love and the bonds between fathers and children, with a positive message—and all the magic and mayhem you’d hope for in a tale about dragons.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I have to say, this is a weird little book. I don't think it's really appropriate for its intended audience, and I don't really feel comfortable recommending it in the #MeToo era.

The plot/premise is all over the place. At first, it seems like a story about a little dragon awakening to feelings of love/lust. But then it turns into a story about bullying. So I'm really not sure what the point was supposed to be.

I had problems almost from the beginning, when Violet kisses Drake on the snout without his permission. I know this is something little kids sometimes do, and this is why teaching about consent early is an important thing. Poor Drake is so "hot and confused", and he ends up flying around and breathing fire (which appears to be what happens when dragons get aroused, if his father's story about meeting his mother is anything to go by). I really didn't like the passage that read:

My friend Violet kissed me. It didn't hurt. In fact it felt soft.

What a horrible message to give kids who might be subjected to sexual abuse. If it doesn't physically hurt, it's okay?

I was just as confused as Drake for much of the rest of the book. He seems to be most worried about his body's reaction to the kiss, and not the fact that his so-called friend put him in an uncomfortable position to begin with. Everything is "fixed" at the end with another kiss, this time from Drake, to which Violet gives consent. (I have to wonder: if the genders were reversed, would more people see the initial kiss as problematic?)

The illustrations are kind of cute and have a very European feel. I like seeing Drake's dad in his wife-beater (although I'm not sure why you need underwear if you don't wear any other type of clothing). But the whole consent issue just rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe this sort of message still flies in Europe, but I don't think we should be teaching kids that it's okay to kiss their friends without consent. A whole discussion could've been had about how Violet's actions made Drake uncomfortable because of the lack of consent; instead, the focus was on his confusion because of how his body responded. It was kind of a missed opportunity.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.67 out of 5

Review - Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package

Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package (Tales from Deckawoo Drive #4)
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Date: 2017
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: illustrated chapter book
Pages: 112
Format: e-book
Source: library

What will it take for a cynical older sister to realize she’s a born accordion player — with music in her heart? Eugenia Lincoln is a practical person with no time for gee-gaws, whoop-de-whoops, or frivolity. When an unexpected package containing an accordion arrives at her house, she is determined to have nothing to do with it. But her plans to sell the accordion, destroy the accordion, and give the accordion away all end in frustration. How can Eugenia stop being tormented by this troublesome package? Might she discover that a bit of unforeseen frivolity could be surprisingly... joyous?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

And so we come to the end of all the Deckawoo Drive books. I'm a little disappointed that I didn't like this one more. But there were a couple of things that marred my enjoyment of the story.

The first (and main) issue I had is with consent. Eugenia Lincoln receives a mysterious accordion from an unknown source. Then an accordion teacher shows up on her doorstep. She's adamant that she doesn't want anything to do with the accordion, but nobody will take "no" for an answer. This culminates in the according teacher putting his arms around her and putting his fingers over hers on the keys, which made me really uncomfortable. Her wishes (and personal space) should've been respected. (The fact that she eventually comes around and the accordion becomes a blessing rather than a curse is beside the point. If we allow people to do things without consent and excuse that behaviour by saying it's good for the victim, it could lead to all sorts of problems.)

My other quibble is minor, but it was still disappointing. This book, unlike all the others, doesn't end with the eating of hot buttered toast! What the...?!

Overall, this is an okay book, but definitely not my favourite of the series. That honour belongs to Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? While I do like the fact that this book helped develop Eugenia Lincoln's character a little more, I don't like that it had to be at the expense of her own autonomy. She's pretty much manipulated throughout the book, and while that could be viewed as her getting her just deserts (she really is an overbearing woman), it also kind of rubbed me the wrong way.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.38 out of 5

Review - Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever.

Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever.
edited by Betsy Bird
Date: 2017
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Reading level: MG
Book type: short stories, essays & comics
Pages: 220
Format: e-book
Source: library

Funny Girl is a collection of uproarious stories, rollicking comics, rib-tickling wit, and more, from 25 of today’s funniest female writers for kids.

What could be funnier than family? Read stories about Ursula Brown's grandmother driving her on a road trip to disaster, Lisa Brown's little brother getting a Tic-Tac stuck up his nose, and Carmen Agra Deedy's mom setting the bathtub on fire.

What could be funnier than friends? Pretty much nothing, as Rita Williams-Garcia shows two besties hatching a bird-brained scheme to get on to a TV talk show, and Deborah Underwood introduces a dynamic dog-and-cat duo teaming up on a pet advice column.

What could be funnier than YOU? Tell your future with Mad Libs, discover your Chinese Zodiac sign with Lenore Look, and learn the best tricks of the comedy trade from professional humorists like Adrianne Chalepah and Delaney Yeager.

With clever contributions from award-winning and bestselling authors including Cece Bell, Sophie Blackall, Libba Bray, Shannon Hale, Lisa Graff, and Raina Telgemeier, this anthology of funny girls will make you laugh until you cry. Or cry until you laugh. Or maybe you won't cry at all. Either way, you'll definitely laugh.

Funny Girl isn’t just an anthology: it’s a cause, a mission, a movement. Girls are funny. Now it’s time for the world to know it.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a bit different. Here's an anthology that incorporates short stories with essays, comics, and more.

Here are my thoughts on the individual pieces:

"How to Tell a Joke" by Delaney Yeager & Mackenzie Yeager

This is sort of a how-to on joke telling. Unfortunately, it isn't funny. In fact, it's kind of offensive. Apparently, Mackenzie was really struck by an amputee former drug addict who came to talk to her school. Many of the jokes in this piece revolve around that. Are those really her jokes to tell? (It seems more like she's making fun of people with disabilities for her own benefit.) And the implication that any joke is funny if you tell it with confidence sounds like a great way for budding comedians to really get themselves into trouble. Not a great way to start off the book.

"In Which Young Raina Learns a Lesson" by Raina Telgemeier

This is a short comic that tells a story about the artist being stung by a bee. I don't know if I'm supposed to feel sorry for her, especially since she stomps on the bee for no apparent reason. I couldn't help feeling a little bit of Schadenfreude when she learned her lesson. Karma's a bitch.

"Dear Grandpa: Give Me Money" by Alison DeCamp

I'm still cringing. In trying way too hard to be funny, the author just made the child come off as a spoiled little monster. She insults her grandfather throughout, all the while whining for money and even stooping so low as to threaten his cat. The grandfather takes it all in stride, but I had to wonder if he was regretting having the child who produced this insufferable annoyance. Not funny. Not sorry.

"Grandma in Oil Country: A True Story" by Ursula Vernon

This story is actually pretty funny. It's one of those road trips where everything that can go wrong does, and it ends with mud and lightning and a terrifying clown in the backseat. I'm not sure what the pictures are all about (I haven't read any of the author's other stuff), but they're kind of cute.

"One Hot Mess" by Carmen Agra Deedy

Great flaming bathtubs! This story is pretty amusing. It probably wasn't at the time, but it's likely something the family (as well as all the kids who witnessed the incident) have been laughing about ever since.

"Fleamail" by Deborah Underwood

This advice column shtick is actually kind of cute. Rover (a dog... obviously) gives Bella (a cat) some advice on how to get adopted from a shelter. The advice ends up having unexpected consequences for both of them.

"A Most Serious Recitation of the Poem 'Trees'" by Cece Bell

Aside from the goofiness of seeing the altered photos, this one is actually fairly stupid. The pig is annoying, and I'm not really sure what the point is. Kids might find it funny, though.

"Things Could Be Verse" by Kelly DiPucchio

This is actually three poems. The first one, "Bad Hair Day", made me laugh out loud. It's probably worth picking up this book just for that poem alone. "My Secret" is sort of observational humour about bra shopping; it's fairly entertaining. "Breakaway" isn't all that funny; unless you're still in school, you probably won't feel much about it.

"Swimming Is for Other Kids" by Akilah Hughes

Yikes! Poor Akilah. This little memoir details a harrowingly embarrassing incident involving a backyard pool, a cannonball, and a purple bikini. It's mortifying more than funny, but it's well written.

"Dear Bella and Rover" by Deborah Underwood

The cat and dog from "Fleamail" are back, this time offering up advice to a parrot who's sick of crackers. Bella's advice is perhaps more helpful than Rover's; all the dog wants to do is eat the unwanted crackers.

"The Thumb Incident" by Meghan McCarthy

This is a short comic anecdote about the time the author was using a stapler and accidentally stapled her thumb. Either there's some exaggeration involved, or the school was grossly negligent in letting a child use a high-powered stapler that was able to send the staple right into the bone. In any case, it's a somewhat amusing story, but not exactly laugh-out-loud funny.

"Desdemona and Sparks Go All In" by Rita Williams-Garcia & Michelle Garcia

I don't like stories that try to be funny. This is one of those. The plot is ridiculous, and the middle schoolers aren't realistic (I get that it's a school for the gifted, but if 12-year-olds were really doing stuff like the kids in this story, we'd be living in some sort of utopia by now). Also, I couldn't get over the names. I know there are really idiotic parents who give their kids names like Sparkle, but pairing her with a Desdemona is a little much.

"7 Things I Thought Were (Think Are) Funny but Were Really Kind of Sad, and That All Happened to My Little Brother" by Lisa Brown

This woman is easily amused if she thinks an acorn falling on her brother's head is funny. (Personally, I don't think her knocking out his tooth with a mini-golf club and him crashing their dad's car into a brick wall are particularly funny, either.) The first and last panels are funny because of the parallelism, but I wish the other five in the middle had actually been amusing.

"Babysitting Nightmare" by Shannon Hale

I don't even know what this story is doing in this book. It's not funny. If it was supposed to be, it was trying way too hard... and it failed, anyway. (It almost seems like it wanted to be a horror story, but it wasn't particularly scary, either.) The writing wasn't terrible, but the story was stupid.

"Dear Bella and Rover (Again)" by Deborah Underwood

The cat and dog duo are at it again, this time offering advice to a snail who can't keep up with her friends. Rover's comments are probably the most amusing here. There's not much else to say; this one is really short.

"Can We Talk About Whiskers?" by Jennifer L. Holm, art by Matthew Holm

This one's fine for fans of Babymouse, I guess, but I can't count myself in that group. (Also, she's supposed to be in middle school, but she's going out to movies unchaperoned and bugging for whisker extensions. Seems more like high school to me, but that's kind of par for the course for this book.)

"Brown Girl Pop Quiz: All of the Above" by Mitali Perkins

This is sort of cute. I learned a few things, too. While it's not laugh-out-loud funny, it's certainly amusing in a few spots.

"Over and Out" by Lisa Graff

This story is just disgusting and sets a bad example. Basically, a kid accidentally poops on her sister's bra, and then has to get rid of the evidence. This leads to a number of incidents that are probably supposed to be funny, but aren't. At one point, she feeds chocolate to the neighbour's dog. Then, at the end, she flushes the bra down the toilet. I hope it floods and she has to pay for the plumber and any damage to the bathroom. (What the hell was wrong with the garbage chute?)

"Doodle" by Amy Ignatow

This is just an interesting little tidbit (in the form of a comic) about the importance of doodling. It was misspelled as "dooding" once, which I'm assuming was just a typo (if not, it was an attempt to be funny that didn't work).

"Fleamail Pawed-cast" by Deborah Underwood

Our favourite advice columnists are back, this time teaching a lesson to a couple of fighting fish. Just like all the other stories involving this duo, this one is short but sweet.

"How to Play Imaginary Games" by Leila Sales

This one is utterly repulsive. It's not funny at all, and makes fun of people in some of the worst situations imaginable. Being poisoned is funny? Starving is funny? Dying of consumption is funny? Why not call that last game "Auschwitz" and be done with it? (Wow. Who the hell thought this one was a good idea?)

"Great Expectations" by Christine Mari Inzer

Boring and kind of stupid, this is just a short comic about a middle-school kid being visited by her future self. All she cares about is the fact that she doesn't yet have a boyfriend. It's not funny so much as exasperating.

"A Public Service Announcement About Your Period from Sarah T. Wrigley, age 12¾" by Libba Bray

Aside from the mental image of a tampon Acropolis swelling up with apple juice, this one didn't offer much in the way of laughs. It's another fictional story, which I'm starting to dread (they're just not very strong in this book).

"The Smart Girl's Guide to the Chinese Zodiac" by Lenore Look

This one was kind of annoying. There were so many puns and jokes, and I'm not sure how many of them middle-grade kids would actually pick up on. It's probably not all that accurate a look at the Chinese zodiac, anyway.

"Bad Luck Dress" by Charise Mericle Harper

This is the second comic in this book that has a typo. Aside from that, this is a silly story about superstition. I mean, I get it; I once had a pair of shoes that were some sort of supernatural dog-poop magnet. Eventually, after hosing off the soles yet again, I accidentally forgot about them and they got left out in the rain. Serves them right for walking me straight into piles of dog poop, I guess. (I got rid of them after that, convinced they had some sort of evil poop-sensing powers.)

"The World's Most Awkward Mermaid" by Sophie Blackall

This is a fairly funny story about tween girls and bad fashion choices in (probably) the 1980s. (Who else remembers batwing sleeves?) I kind of wish this one was longer, or that the author had written another story for the book.

"Tell Your Future with Mad Libs®"

Do kids today understand how to do Mad Libs? In any case, this one could be fairly amusing if you were to play around with it with your friends (there were no instructions given, though, so readers might not get the most out of this one).

"My Life Being Funny (and How You Can Do It, Too)" by Adrianne Chalepah

This piece is a few more amusing anecdotes taken from real-life experiences. It was just okay for me, well written but not laugh-out-loud funny like I hoped.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the real-life stories. Some of the comics were okay. Most of the fictional short stories, however, just fell flat. They seemed like they were trying too hard to be funny. Some of them weren't funny at all; for me, "disgusting" or "scary" doesn't equal "funny".

Unfortunately, the book starts with a couple of the least funny pieces. It's too bad, because there are probably going to be some readers who get turned off and abandon the book before they get to the good stuff.

Overall: 2.45 out of 5

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Review - The Cask of Amontillado

The Cask of Amontillado
by Edgar Allan Poe
Date: 1846
Publisher: Feedbooks
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 10
Format: e-book

"The Cask of Amontillado" (sometimes spelled "The Casque of Amontillado") is a short story, written by Edgar Allan Poe and first published in the November 1846 issue of Godey's Lady's Book.

The story is set in a nameless Italian city in an unspecified year (possibly sometime during the eighteenth century) and concerns the deadly revenge taken by the narrator on a friend who he claims has insulted him. Like several of Poe's stories, and in keeping with the 19th-century fascination with the subject, the narrative revolves around a person being buried alive – in this case, by immurement.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I haven't read a lot of Poe's works. I think we read "The Tell-Tale Heart" in high school at some point, and I read "The Raven" a few years back. "The Cask of Amontillado" is a short story that I'd heard of, but never read. It was short, so I thought I'd give it a try.

It's creepy, not least because it's told from the first-person point of view of a murderer. Montresor is likely a psychopath, as he seems to get a chilling amount of satisfaction from listening to the suffering of his victim, Fortunato. And there's no real reason for burying the poor guy behind a wall; all we get for motive is something about a vague insult. (Can you imagine if Montresor lived in the era of the Internet? He'd never have enough hours in the day to plot against and kill all the people who "wronged" him!)

Maybe this seemed scarier to 19th-century audiences. Perhaps we're a bit more desensitized to murder because we hear about so many graphic ones in our media. Getting walled up in a crypt is psychologically horrifying, probably because of the amount of time it would take for the victim to die... all while knowing they're about to. Still, I can think of worse ways to go.

The prose is kind of verbose in spots, and isn't all that easy to read. But the story itself moves along at a good pace, and we get a decent idea of what kind of characters we're dealing with. I can't say I was blown away by this one, but I always like to read well-known classics, if only so I can understand the cultural references made by other works.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.71 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Ivy in Bloom: The Poetry of Spring from Great Poets and Writers from the Past

Ivy in Bloom: The Poetry of Spring from Great Poets and Writers from the Past
by Vanita Oelschlager
illustrated by Kristin Blackwood
Date: 2009
Publisher: Vanita Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Ivy in Bloom captures the weariness of a young girl tired of a long winter. "I stare out the window," she says on the first spread of brown and gray, "looking for birds or flowers / or even warm showers / but I don't see any such thing." But then Spring comes when "March is out of breath snow melting to flowery waters and watery flowers spring rose from its wintry rest." And Ivy's "heart dances with daffodils." As these words also dance across each spread, Ivy's world erupts into a riot of color.

Ivy in Bloom introduces the poetry of Dickinson, Longfellow, Browning, Wordsworth, Frost and others. Excerpts from their writings, as seen through Ivy's eyes, will open up poetry as a way for children to express their own feelings about the changing of seasons. This book includes longer excerpts and brief bios of each author.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book was a bit of a disappointment. The poetry written by Oelschlager pales in comparison to the original source material. At the back of the book, the original poems are included, with the words that were incorporated into Oelschlager's poems highlighted in green. Unfortunately, many of the more evocative words were cut out (leaving behind more banal words like "sun", "heart", and even "from"); there were so many beautiful passages that could've been included in the actual book. I suspect the author was trying to keep the language simple for kids, but when I saw what was cut out versus what was included, it all seemed a bit condescending to me.

The illustrations didn't impress me. The process did... but not the final result. Everything ends up looking a bit amateurish. (I almost think it would've worked better as straight black-and-white linoleum block prints. There wouldn't have been the ramping-up of colour as the book went from winter to spring, but I think perhaps the whole thing wouldn't have looked so Photoshopped.)

If your child is truly interested in poetry, go back to the original source material, especially A. A. Milne's works (one of which is sampled from in this book). His poems in When We Were Very Young (not When We Were Young, as this book erroneously states) and Now We Are Six are lovely and whimsical, and far more interesting than the bland imitations of famous works that are presented here.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.29 out of 5

Review - The Boy and the Egg

The Boy and the Egg
by Ellen DeLange
illustrated by Martina Heiduczek
Date: 2019
Publisher: Clavis
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A boy discovers an egg and wonders what is inside. Could it be a turtle? A dinosaur? A new pet?

Filled with humor and wonder this imaginative picture book is for nature lovers big and small.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

At first, I was really enjoying this book. The pictures are really cute, and the boy's musings on what might be inside the egg are creative. But then... he starts to get kind of selfish. I suspected we might have a problem when he hoped it would be a crocodile because he "always wanted to train a wild animal to do tricks". Then I realized that the boy isn't just a caring little guy who wants to take care of an abandoned egg because it's the right thing to do. The things he thinks about that might be in the egg always have to benefit him. Ostrich? He could ride it to school. Dinosaur? He could impress his friends. When it turns out to be a gosling, he's disappointed... before he realizes that he can use this poor little creature for his own gain. He can swim with it and teach it to do tricks, and it will follow him everywhere! Then the kid has the gall to say they will be friends forever. I really don't like how this potential friendship is portrayed as a one-way street; the poor gosling is just going to end up being a status-symbol accessory. The book never points out that this is a problematic way to view and treat animals. (They're not just here for our benefit!)

So that aspect of the book was really disappointing because the illustrations are really nice. With different text, I probably could've rated this book higher. I don't have a problem with the boy thinking about what could be in the egg; what turned me off was how he would then think about how those potential hatchlings could benefit him.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review - What the World Needs Now Is Love

What the World Needs Now Is Love
by Burt Bacharach & Hal David
illustrated by Mary Kate McDevitt
Date: 2017
Publisher: Penguin Workshop
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

For anyone who needs to be reminded of the power of love, this beautiful book is the perfect gift!

With its soothing lyrics and calming tones, "What the World Needs Now Is Love" has become a beloved song worldwide since its release in 1965. Now, for the first time ever, these captivating lyrics are in book form accompanied by gorgeous illustrations, and perfectly packaged with a ribbon enclosure.

Both a reminder of the importance of love and a call to make the world a better place, this book is the perfect gift for anyone you care about—or for yourself when you need some gentle comfort.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I like the idea of this book in theory: take a lovely song from the 1960s and add some illustrations to make it more accessible for kids.

Unfortunately, I really didn't like the illustrations. They're colourful and show a nice degree of diversity... but I also found them a bit ugly. I think it could've really been something special if the illustrations had been in a more realistic style. Even a series of beautiful photographs to emphasize the words could've worked. As it is, however, the illustrations just left me bored, and I found myself rushing to get through the book rather than really taking the time to look at it and absorb the words. (That's probably not the response the publisher was going for.)

It's too bad about the illustrations, because the song has a timely message. Love really is the only thing that there's just too little of. Unfortunately, I couldn't find much to love here, either.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.86 out of 5