Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review - Margot and the Moon Landing

Margot and the Moon Landing
by A. C. Fitzpatrick
illustrated by Erika Medina
Date: 2020
Publisher: Annick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A universal story about speaking, listening and being heard.

Margot loves space. Astronauts, the stars, and especially the moon landing. So she can’t understand why all of her attempts to communicate her passion fall on disinterested ears. Her mom is patient but distracted; her classmates would rather play kickball; and her teacher just wants her to focus and pay attention in class. Even so, Margot wishes she never had to talk about anything but space ever again.

When she wakes up one morning and discovers she can only recite Neil Armstrong’s famous speech from the moon landing, Margot realizes she has an even bigger problem. How can Margot get everyone to pay attention and—more importantly—to hear what she’s really trying to say? This powerful picture book debut plays with themes of listening and communication to highlight the importance of a space of one’s own, no matter what your passion may be.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm actually a little bit surprised by this one... and not in a good way. While the underlying ideas about listening are fine, there's another way this book can be interpreted, and it leads to some very uncomfortable messages.

Margot is obsessed with space. All she wants to do is read about it. When she's not reading about it, she's talking about it... even if it's not an appropriate time or place. One day, she wakes up and the only things that come out of her mouth are parts of Neil Armstrong's famous speech. Nobody thinks anything's wrong, because she's always talked about space before, anyway. She goes home, frustrated, and writes out all her worries on her wall (even though she knows that's wrong). Her mother reads what she's written, her normal words come back, and her mother encourages her love of spacey things.

What I'm having a problem with here is that Margot could be interpreted as being on the autism spectrum. She has a fixed, narrow interest. She doesn't want to do anything else; when the other kids try to engage her in other activities, she just blurts space facts at them. She doesn't seem to be able to read other people or gauge situations, and tries to share her space facts at inappropriate times (like during a kickball game, or when she's called on in math class). She's aware she's different, but she doesn't seem to know what to do about it. Now, it wouldn't be a problem if Margot were autistic... except for the fact that the story seems to punish her for it. Through some supernatural justice system, she's condemned to repeat Neil Armstrong's speech as punishment for... what? Being obsessed with space? This punishment doesn't really serve to teach her anything (she's still just as obsessed with space at the end of the book, and presumably annoying her classmates with random facts). I almost got the feeling that there's supposed to be a "boy who cried wolf" thing going on here. But that's rather unfair, given the way the character is set up. In essence, Margot ends up being punished for her autism.

The pictures are fine, but I just don't feel right about the story. If it had taken a slightly different approach and perhaps addressed the elephant in the room, it might have worked better. Instead, we're left with a story about a girl who's punished for something that's out of her control. (Had she shown an ability to rein in her perseveration, I might have viewed her character a little differently. But since she seemed incapable of doing so, it felt unfair for her to be punished for it.)

I'm afraid I can't recommend this one.

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Review - I Got You a Present!

I Got You a Present!
by Mike Erskine-Kellie & Susan McLennan
illustrated by Cale Atkinson
Date: 2020
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A quest for the perfect birthday present leads to ever grander (and ever more imperfect) gift ideas in this clever metafiction story that's hilarious any day of the year.

"I wanted to get you the greatest present ever," our narrator tells us. But somehow, none of the best ideas seemed to pan out. First, there was the pair of hand-knitted birthday socks (have you ever tried knitting birthday socks?). Then, the ten-scoop ice cream cone (a disaster to carry), the magic kit (it disappeared, just like magic!), the apple juice-fueled jet pack (still a few kinks to work out) and the dinosaur (I couldn't find one anywhere). And now, time has run out, and our narrator still has nothing to give. Or, maybe there is something after all. Something that contains all those awesome gifts in one. Something that can be enjoyed again and again, just by turning the pages...

In their debut picture book, Emmy Award-winning children's television writers Mike Erskine-Kellie and Susan McLennan have created a laugh-out-loud story filled with heart. The metafiction approach (speaking directly to "you") and fun story together with the antic exuberance of Cale Atkinson's bold and colorful illustrations make this a lively read-aloud that will keep even the youngest children engaged. Though a book about finding the perfect birthday present is itself the perfect birthday present, it's also simply a delightful read for any time of year. It also offers an excellent character education lesson on perseverance.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

At first glance, I thought this was a story about an obnoxious lying duck. But then I got to the end and... I get it.

The narrator, a duck, tells you (the reader) all about how they set out to get you the perfect gift. They tried making things. They tried buying things. But something always went wrong. No matter how simple or outlandish the gift, there's always an excuse as to why it isn't being given to you. Until... there's a meta twist. I won't spoil it.

The illustrations by Cale Atkinson, whose work I previously encountered in Sir Simon: Super Scarer, are fine, with a somewhat retro style and cute details throughout. I'm not sure if I really love them, but they do work well to illustrate the story.

Overall, this is an interesting twist on a picture book that focuses on birthdays and gift-giving... with an unexpected ending that ties everything together.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - My Ocean Is Blue

My Ocean Is Blue
by Darren Lebeuf
illustrated by Ashley Barron
Date: 2020
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

"This is my ocean," the young girl begins as she heads over the dunes with her mother. Then, as they pass the whole day at the seaside, she lyrically describes her ocean in simple, sensory detail. It's both "slimy" and "sandy," "sparkly" and "dull." It has wonderful sounds, as it "splashes and crashes and echoes and squawks." And it contains so many colors, from "rusted orange" to "runaway red," "faded white" to "polished green." Though "mostly it's blue." Nothing the girl experiences escapes her careful observation and appreciation. And at day's end, she can't wait for her next trip to the beach.

Author Darren Lebeuf, an award-winning photographer, uses spare text and a rhythmic style to create an evocative read-aloud. The vivid adjectives, both concrete and abstract, will inspire children to try to capture in words what they notice not only at the ocean, but in any natural setting. The bright, richly colored cut-paper collage illustrations by Ashley Barron add a captivating visual texture and depth to the story. The portrayal of a girl with a physical disability enjoying and actively participating in a day at the beach encourages all children to do the same in their own lives, while also offering a character education lesson in adaptability. This book has strong curriculum ties to primary nature units and life science lessons on oceans and the seaside, and it offers a perfect focus for nature-based education and outdoor classrooms.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

From the team that brought us My Forest Is Green comes this lovely companion volume that focuses on the seaside.

A little girl goes with her mother (or perhaps aunt or friend) to the seaside. While there, she explores everything the ocean and beach have to offer, comparing and contrasting its qualities. The ocean can be many different things at different times, or even all at once.

Ashley Barron's beautiful cut-paper illustrations are just as lovely here as they were in My Forest Is Green. She's quickly becoming one of my favourite picture-book illustrators.

This is a strong book that celebrates marine habitats. There's no plot, really, but the premise doesn't need one. The book's strength is its ability to show a child fully experiencing the ocean landscape over the course of one magical day.

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

Monday, November 18, 2019

Review - Lucky Dogs: Shake Paws

Lucky Dogs: Shake Paws
by Cody L. Clark
illustrated by Kate Fallahee
Date: 2019
Publisher: Cody L. Clark
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Just when Mayor Ruby thought Dogwood was the quietest town on the planet, she discovers an uproar of emotion from the residents. Wiley, the new snout in town has created the friction. It is up to Mayor Ruby to pull Dogwood back together!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This picture book has the kernel of a good idea and charming illustrations. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of issues, mostly of the technical variety.

The dogs of Dogwood are hanging out at their favourite restaurant when a strange dog shows up and orders the spiciest thing on the menu. He looks intimidating, and the other dogs are wary of the stranger. But the mayor, Ruby, introduces herself and finds out why the new dog has come to town. Then the dogs greet their new friend and accept him into the pack, and they all have fun in the snow.

I can see that the author was trying to be punny, and there is the potential for a lot of good wordplay here. But it's kind of overshadowed by the technical issues with the writing. Commas aren't used very well, some sentences are kind of fragmented, and the adverb use is a little much. The new dog is also never properly introduced. One moment he's "the strange dog", and the next he's suddenly "Wiley". I'm also not clear on why one of the other dogs demanded Wiley leave after he ate the chowder; I actually thought I might have missed a page, because it didn't seem related to what had come immediately before.

The illustrations are the strongest part of the book. The dogs have great facial expressions, and there are plenty of different breeds represented.

Overall, I'm not that impressed. The story is too simple (and a little preachy) and the writing isn't that strong. The basic idea of the book is okay... but the execution is a bit lacking.

Thank you to NetGalley and Cody L. Clark for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Review - Good News! It's Christmas!

Good News! It's Christmas!
by Glenys Nellist
illustrated by Lizzie Walkley
Date: 2019
Publisher: Discovery House
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 18
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Good News! It’s Christmas! is a playful and joyful introduction to the Christmas story. Written by Glenys Nellist, the best-selling and award-winning author of Love Letters from God, the simple, skilled rhythm of the text makes it an ideal read-aloud experience for both parent and child. With its vivid images and biblical narrative of Jesus’s birth, this book makes a perfect gift for the little ones in your life.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is the third book I've read by this author-illustrator duo, and it's probably my favourite. Good News! It's Christmas! tells a simplified version of the Christmas story for young readers using strong rhyming text and cute illustrations. There's not a lot of detail, and plenty of plot elements are left out... but for very young children, it gets the basic idea across.

I'd recommend this to those looking for kid-friendly versions of the nativity of Jesus, or for those looking for sweet picture books that celebrate the more religious side of Christmas.

Thank you to NetGalley and Discovery House for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.43 out of 5

Review - Don't Let Go!

Don't Let Go!
by √Člisabeth Eudes-Pascal
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

It’s a frosty day at the beach, and a polar bear family is at play among the ice floes. The cubs splash around, all except the youngest, who’s nervously hanging onto his dad in the water. He’s just not ready to swim on his own. Despite encouragement from Dad, the cub is insistent: “Don’t let go!”

Maybe a flotation device would help? One by one, the little bear adds a lifesaver, a flutter board, a pool noodle, and a rubber ball to his body, all while clutching his dad. Eventually, the cub is so loaded down with large and colorful toys that his dad is able to sneak away unnoticed. But will he still be afraid to float on his own?

This simple, funny story is told in speech bubbles and illustrations. Full of color, laughter, and polar bears in vibrant swimsuits, this is a playful and lighthearted exploration of the challenges of independence.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a picture book done in graphic novel format featuring a little bear who won't let go of his father.

While I appreciate that this might be true to life and give parents a chuckle, I wasn't really impressed by the premise. The little bear is annoying, and the repetition just reinforces his obnoxiousness. I kind of wanted the father to just toss the kid into the water by the halfway point. It's not that he can't swim; he's just super clingy (and, as is shown on the last pages, he's simply being a manipulative brat).

The pictures are kind of unintentionally hilarious. The polar bears look pretty much like humans with bear heads, leading to an uncanny quality that put me in mind of the title character in Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present. (If those illustrations freak you out, you might have issues with Don't Let Go!).

For readers who like repetition and quirky pictures of overly anthropomorphized bears, this might be a winner. There's really nothing wrong with it; I just personally didn't like it all that much.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Review - Golden Threads

Golden Threads
by Suzanne Del Rizzo
illustrated by Miki Sato
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

When a storm sweeps Emi’s beloved stuffed fox away from their mountain home, he ends up tattered and alone on a distant shore. A kind old man finds the fox and gives it to his granddaughter, Kiko. As she recovers from an injury of her own, Kiko mends the fox lovingly with golden thread.

As the seasons pass, Kiko cares for the fox as her own. But after discovering his origins, she sets out, with her grandfather’s help, to bring the fox back to its original home. Once together, Emi and Kiko piece together the fox’s journey and find delight in their newly forged connections.

Golden Threads is inspired by the Japanese art form of kintsugi, or golden joinery, where broken pottery is repaired with resin painted gold. Kintsugi values repairing, rather than replacing, believing that the cracks give the broken item its story. This book is also a warm celebration of wabi-sabi, the Japanese idea that there is beauty in things that may be incomplete or imperfect.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

If you can read Golden Threads without getting a little choked up, you might have a heart of stone. This is a sweet story about friendship, being lost and then found again, and above all else, healing.

A little stuffed fox tells his story to the reader of the day he was taken from his little girl, Emi, by a storm. On the far side of a lake, a grandfather finds the battered toy and takes him home to Kiko, who's dealing with her own injury. The fox worries that Emi won't want him in his current state. Kiko understands, and sets about making repairs, using golden thread to stitch up all of his tears and wounds. Kiko also knows that someone is bound to be looking for the special little fox, and months later, she and her grandfather set out to find his true home.

The story is lovely enough, but the illustrations are really special. They look like paper and fabric collage, which is perfect for showing the little fox's broken and healed states.

I really enjoyed this one. I'd recommend it to readers looking for books about beloved toys, and those who enjoy books like The Velveteen Rabbit or The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.5 out of 5