Saturday, January 18, 2020

Review - The Ultimate Survival Guide to Bedtime Monsters

The Ultimate Survival Guide to Bedtime Monsters
by Mitch Frost
illustrated by Daron Parton
Date: 2020
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Do you lie awake at night worrying about monsters?

Donut monsters? Blue monsters? DANCING ROBOT MONSTERS?!

Then this is the book for you! Follow these ten easy steps and you'll never be bothered by monsters again. Not even carrot monsters.

Perfect for anyone, big or small, who's ever been afraid of what might be lurking under the bed.

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

This monster book is just okay. The pictures are passably cute (and not too scary) and the text is decent from a technical standpoint. But... it contradicts itself, discourages rereads, and generally just nullifies itself.

What do I mean? Well, basically, this is an instruction manual for keeping bedtime monsters at bay. Right off the bat, the audience is going to be limited because not all kids are worried about this. Anyway, the book gives steps on how to keep those pesky monsters from bothering you. It's a thinly veiled attempt to get kids to clean their rooms and brush their teeth. Which brings me to the first problem. Step 1 has kids tidying up their rooms because monsters hate messes (there's nowhere for them to hide). But then Step 5 has kids surrounding themselves with oodles of their toys because monsters hate big crowds. So are we trying to get kids to keep their rooms tidy or not?

A number of the steps are pretty pointless (and not really steps at all). Step 3 is, "Forget about dancing robot monsters. They don't exist." (Except in kids' minds where you've just planted the idea. Moving on...) Step 6 instructs readers to ignore the hairy monsters because they're vain and just want to play with their hair all night. Step 9 tells us not to worry about monsters shaped like doughnuts (they're more afraid of you than you are of them). Step 10 tells kids to take their socks off because they don't need them (monsters can't grab ankles because their arms are too weak... and so is this logic for going barefoot).

But then we get to the biggest head-scratcher of them all. As a bonus, the book apparently functions as a monster force-field that encompasses the entire house. All you have to do is read the book and close it and you're instantly protected from monsters! You don't have to bother cleaning your room or brushing your teeth. The book does all the hard work of monster repelling for you. (The last page tells us that these steps now work on closet monsters, too. I should hope so; closets are generally indoors, and would be inside the force-field.)

If a kid is really into monsters (i.e., loves them rather than fears them), this might be an okay book. But the lack of logic and the self-neutralizing nature of some of the steps is kind of confusing. I've read better books that deal with this topic.

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Review - The Fish Who Found the Sea

The Fish Who Found the Sea
by Alan Watts
illustrated by Khoa Le
Date: 2020
Publisher: Sounds True
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A rediscovered treasure for a new generation: the first and only story for children ever written by Alan Watts.

Alan Watts, beloved for bringing a childlike wonder to the spiritual journey, once wrote a story for children. The Fish Who Found the Sea brings this delightful and wise parable to life for a new generation. Presented with new art from award-winning illustrator Khoa Le, here is a story as timely as it is entertaining—sharing a key message about getting into harmony with the flow of life.

In this tale of a tail, we meet a fish with a curiously familiar problem—he’s gotten himself so mixed up that he spends all his time chasing himself in circles! Only the Great Sea knows how to help our poor fish get out of the mess he’s created with his own runaway thoughts. Here is a parable that perfectly captures the wit and wisdom that have made Alan Watts a timeless teacher we will never outgrow.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The fish was sure that if he relaxed the chase for a moment he would plunge headlong into the abyss, and so he redoubled his efforts to save himself, in spite of the fact that he became more and more tired and disgusted every minute.

Soon he saw that he was in a hideous dilemma: he must either fall into the abyss or go on chasing his tail. Both alternatives were equally horrifying.

He waved his fins in panic and prepared to die.

This is not a children's book. It's an illustrated spiritual parable for grownups written by an author who really doesn't seem to understand kids if he thinks that they want to read a story about existential terror that uses words like "obtruded". That sound you hear is lots of tiny feet pounding on the floor as they try to escape this so-called children's storybook.

If it were marketed to adults, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But as it's being marketed to kids, I have to take into account its suitability for the age group. The illustrations are lovely... but the text will go so far over kids' heads as to be essentially meaningless. And for those kids who do understand some of it, it could be scary. The author even seems to appeal to the little worrywarts with the following suggestion:

You know how it is when you start thinking about something you do automatically, such as breathing, or riding a bike: you begin to get confused.

The fish goes on to think he's forgotten how to swim. Just what we need: little kids worrying that they're going to get confused and forget how to breathe.

I'd recommend this to teens and up. It's not a children's book, despite how it's being marketed.

Thank you to NetGalley and Sounds True for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.17 out of 5

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Review - The New Neighbors

The New Neighbors
by Sarah McIntyre
Date: 2019
Publisher: Penguin Workshop
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

New neighbors have moved into the ground floor of a bustling apartment building. The bunnies upstairs are excited, but what will the other residents think? Sarah McIntyre's funny, light-hearted tale reveals there's no room for prejudice.

The bunnies upstairs are thrilled to find out that rats have moved into the first-floor apartment. But when other neighbors discover the news, excitement soon turns to jitters, panic, and worse! As the residents descend the stairs to investigate, the rats prepare a yummy dessert. Will all of the animals make the rats leave, or can fear be conquered with delicious, homemade cake?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a story about racism. It's not subtle, but it is awfully cute.

When the bunnies learn that a family of rats has moved in downstairs, they're excited. They go and let their neighbours know. But the neighbours aren't quite as open to the idea of rats in the building. In fact, they have all sorts of preconceived notions about them, and feel it's their duty to warn everyone else. So the party makes its way downstairs, collecting more animals (and more prejudices) as they go. By the time they reach the rats' apartment, they've whipped themselves into a frenzy imagining the dirty, smelly, thieving, dangerous neighbours who are going to steal all their stuff and make the building collapse. But when the door opens, they're greeted by a tidy, friendly rat couple who invite them all in for cake. Embarrassed, the other animals realize that they've let their ideas about rats colour their thinking. A lesson is learned by all (except the bunnies, who didn't really have a problem in the first place).

The pictures are cute, with plenty of details and lots to look at. I enjoyed the visual aspect of the book probably a little more than the text. The text is fairly strong, but it's not subtle at all, and the things the other animals say about the rats before they know any better are kind of cringe-worthy. I also felt a bit uncomfortable when one of the rats says they were worried about what their new neighbours might have thought of them, and one of the bunnies responds with... well, a lie. (I don't know if the bunnies just weren't aware of the prejudices of the others, or if they were just trying to be tactful. In any case, I'm not sure what the correct response would be in that situation. Do you admit you were a racist jerk... or do you lie to make it look like you weren't?)

Hopefully, kids will pick up on the allegory. It could lead to some good discussions about how we shouldn't judge people before we've even met them. Overall, this is a cute book with a good message. I enjoyed it.

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

Monday, January 13, 2020

Review - The Big Buna Bash

The Big Buna Bash
by Sara C. Arnold
illustrated by Roberta Malasomma
Date: 2020
Publisher: Brandylane Publishers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

When Almaz makes a mistake in school, she's really embarrassed! Other kids tease her because they don't understand her Ethiopian culture. How can she use her family's traditions to make friends? She needs to host a BIG BUNA BASH!

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

While I do appreciate what this book was trying to do, I don't think it really works. The description of the buna party and its cultural significance is all fine. My issues with this have more to do with cultural appropriation and the obvious Western bias of the author.

When Almaz calls out an answer in class (she does not make a mistake; I don't know why the synopsis even says that), she's ridiculed by the ignorant students. So she decides to host a buna party to give them a taste of one aspect of her Ethiopian culture. At first, the other kids don't seem interested, but after Almaz explains it to them, they decide to come to the party. Everyone has a great time, and we find out that Almaz's name means "diamond" (that's random, but whatever).

The problems started early for me when roll-call was happening and Almaz wishes she had a "regular" name. She's been at the school for under a month, so she's either been acculturated mind-blowingly quickly, or this is the author's bias peeking through.

Then the teacher wants everyone to come up with words that contain the "oo" sound. Almaz comes up with "buna" (which is apparently her "mistake"; I'm still not sure why). Some kids at the back of the room begin to laugh at her (she calls them "dorky boys"; I guess teaching kids not to call each other names is beyond the scope of this book), and she gets embarrassed. Things don't get any better as the day goes on. At lunch, some boys mock her by making baboon noises under the table. (They're not called out for their racism, either. That seems like a weird thing not to address in a children's book about acceptance.)

At the party, the first thing one of the guests asks is if Almaz's mother can braid her hair. Then the kids alternately disparage the tradition of buna and gush over it (which may be a fairly realistic reaction from antsy kids, but it's kind of confusing in a picture book).

The illustrations are really not my cup of tea (or... coffee?). Although they're bright and colourful, I would've preferred to see something that had a more Ethiopian flair. There's also little consistency when it comes to proportions; in some illustrations, the characters look top-heavy with their huge heads... but in other pictures, the body-head ratio looks more normal.

I did learn a little bit about buna, so that's something. I just wish that the story and illustrations had been stronger to go along with the interesting topic. (And it would've been nice if it hadn't felt like I was reading a non-Ethiopian's idea of an Ethiopian child's story.)

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Review - Crocodile's Crossing

Crocodile's Crossing: A Search for Home
by Yoeri Slegers
Date: 2020
Publisher: Flyaway Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Crocodile is tired, scared, and hopeful as he searches for his new home.

Everything will be better where I’m going! he thinks. But where is that?

Crocodile’s Crossing: A Search for Home introduces children to the complex topic of immigration. Featuring bright artwork packed with playful details, this thoughtful tale sensitively portrays the challenges faced by refugees and other newcomers.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a simple little story about a crocodile searching for a new home after trouble comes to his homeland.

It's basically a metaphor about refugees, told in an accessible way with a nice crocodile as the main character. After leaving his home, he finds it difficult to fit in anywhere. Others judge him for his appearance, and he struggles to find his place. Eventually, some mice open their hearts to him and he finds what he's been looking for. Only one thing is missing: his family.

The story is very simple, but effective. I was a little confused about Crocodile's age, though. I assumed, since this is a children's book, that he was young. But then he left his family behind and set out on his own. (I know this happens, but it's kind of a scary concept, especially since he's depicted as sort of floundering without any support or kindness shown to him.) At the end, though, it appears that he has a wife and child. I'm not sure if kids are going to be able to relate to that; perhaps it would have been better to tell the story from his child's point of view.

This would definitely be a good book to start a conversation about refugees and the reasons they might have for leaving their homes behind. Overall, it's a solid book (if fairly forgettable).

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Review - Grandma's Girl

Grandma's Girl
by Susanna Leonard Hill
illustrated by Laura Bobbiesi
Date: 2020
Publisher: Sourcebooks Wonderland
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Nothing truly compares to the special bond between grandma and granddaughter. With heartwarming rhymes and beautiful illustrations of diverse grandmothers and granddaughters, Grandma's Girl is the perfect way to bring generations together. It's a touching story about all the things a young girl learns and becomes, and how Grandma understands, because she's been there before.

Of all the most marvelous things in this world
There are few that can truly compare
To the heartwarming, special, unbreakable bond
That a grandma and granddaughter share.


(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

I've read a few books in this vein now, so I'm starting to be able to rank them. This book falls somewhere in the middle. It has a sweet sentiment and cute illustrations, but it seems overly long and has sections of clunky rhyme.

This would be a nice book for little girls who still have living grandmas. The final copy will apparently have some stationery so the grandmother can write a letter to her granddaughter. That's fine, but it further limits the audience to kids who have good relationships with their grandmothers. As this is already aimed solely at girls with living grandmas, anything that further excludes potential readers might not be a great thing.

But if this book fits your needs, there's really nothing wrong with it. Similar books a grandma might want to check out for her grandkids are It's Good to Have a Grandma by Maryann Macdonald and Priscilla Burris or Grandma's Christmas Wish by Helen Foster James and Petra Brown, both of which approach the topic from a more gender-neutral perspective (for those grandmas who don't actually have any granddaughters).

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Wonderland for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Review - Please Don't Say An X Word

Please Don't Say An X Word
by W. Nikola-Lisa
Date: 2020
Publisher: Gyroscope Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 27
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

In the tradition of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, W. Nikola-Lisa has written a concept picture book that presents the alphabet—all out of order and such—with each page comprised of three letters of the alphabet (very alliterative and funny) ending with the phrase, "Please don't say an X word," which, it is revealed (but only later), are "bad... angry... hurtful..." words (words YOU shouldn't say), leaving the reader to ponder more interesting words, words that are ”silly,” “fancy,” and considerably more “tongue-tickling”—and more appropriate and intellectually stimulating—than the usual four-letter words that we hurl at each other.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book really misses the mark. Look, I love wordplay. Especially when it's done so cleverly in kids' books that it's accessible to young readers as well as older ones. But the concept here is so high that it's going to have a hangover later. What we have here is an alphabet book that's trying to be literary and cute. It doesn't work.

The problem is that X words are never defined, other than that they're the words we use to hurt others. Unfortunately, the rest of the book talks about F words, N words, and S words as "fancy", "nifty", and "silly" (respectively). When you approach a child and say the phrase "F word", what do you think their first thought is going to be? (Hint: probably not "fluffy", "ferocious", or "finagle".) When you attach "word" to a letter of the alphabet, it brings with it a certain connotation (usually negative). The whole premise of the book is based around this (i.e., "X words"), so I don't understand why the author thought that implying that the N word is "nifty" would go over very well.

The book goes on to instruct kids in how to speak to each other:

You know these [X] words...

BAD words.
ANGRY words.
HURTFUL words.

Words YOU shouldn't say.

So the next time you're about to say an X word,
stop and think
(I mean, how'd you like it if someone called you an X word?).

Instead, say
a silly word,
a fancy word...

Did this book seriously just encourage children to use the S and F words?

Seriously. That's F-worded up.

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

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 0.83 out of 5