Sunday, September 20, 2020

Review - Piglette

Piglette

by Katelyn Aronson
illustrated by Eva Byrne
Date: 2020
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Will a pristine piglet find perfection in Paris?

Piglette can be a bit particular by her siblings' standards. She always wants everything to be perfect. While her many brothers and sisters like rolling in the mud, Piglette prefers pampering in a mud bath. While her siblings eat slop, Piglette prefers pastries. But what she's most passionate about is flowers. She loves to smell the lilies and lilacs in the pasture. So Piglette decides her precise nose is destined for the perfume shops of Paris!

But Piglette soon realizes that there's nothing more precious than the pleasant scents of home, and she finds a way to bring a little Parisian perfection back where she belongs. Debut author Kateyln Aronson and #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator Eva Byrne have created an unforgettable, playful piglet who stays true to herself and the message that home is where the heart is.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Piglette is the seventh piglet born on a farm in France. She doesn't like the piggish things her siblings do, however. She's a lot more... well, refined. The first chance she gets, she leaves for Paris, where she lives a glamorous life working for a perfumery. Everything is great... for a while. But soon the city loses its lustre and Piglette longs for the countryside. When she returns home, though, she misses the city. Will she be able to bring together the two places that she loves?

I'm not sure why I didn't love this one more. The illustrations are adorable and the text is fairly strong. Maybe I'm just picking up on Piglette's indecision and uncertainty. She spends the book trying to figure out where, exactly, she belongs... and by the end, I'm not convinced that she knows.

Overall, this is a cute picture book. Lovers of pig fiction will eat it up.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - One Golden Rule at School

One Golden Rule at School: A Counting Book

by Selina Alko
Date: 2020
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Award-winning creator Selina Alko's One Golden Rule at School is a charming story that's two books in one--a counting book and a school primer for little ones.

Young children experience a day of preschool, beginning with morning meeting, story time, and art projects, then on to outside play, puzzles, and snack and nap time, ending with a heartwarming golden rule.

Set against the familiar and dynamic backdrop of a daily school adventure, this vibrant counting book showcases a diverse and inclusive classroom of learners. The text counters from one to ten and back again while the back matter counts higher to twenty.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a rhyming counting book that focusses on a day at school. The text counts upward from one to ten, with most pages reinforcing the number more than once, before counting back down again to one. The illustrations are collages and feature a diverse class of students.

I was a bit taken aback by the first page for "6". Parents who are sensitive about 9/11 might want to be aware that the page features a little girl in a hijab with a sign about a skyscraper... which another child is throwing paper airplanes at. This might be viewed as tone-deaf and distasteful by some.

Other than that, the meter is good and I don't have any complaints with the illustrations; they're fun to look at. The overall premise is fine and the text and pictures work well together as they show young children what a typical day at school might be like. I'm not sure that the "golden rule" part of it really works; it seems tacked on more than anything and doesn't really integrate with the text. But it's always a nice message to see in picture books, even if it isn't the focus like it should be.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Review - Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress

by Christine Baldacchino
illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant
Date: 2014
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Morris has a great imagination. He paints amazing pictures and he loves his classroom's dress-up center, especially the tangerine dress. It reminds him of tigers, the sun and his mother's hair.

The other children don't understand--dresses, they say, are for girls. And Morris certainly isn't welcome in the spaceship his classmates are building--astronauts, they say, don't wear dresses.

One day Morris has a tummy ache, and his mother lets him stay home from school. He stays in bed reading about elephants, and her dreams about a space adventure with his cat, Moo. Inspired by his dream, Morris paints a fantastic picture, and everything begins to change when he takes it to school.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Kids can be little stinkers. Especially when they're so steeped in gender stereotypes that they make other kids' lives miserable. Gender is kind of weird, if you think about it. Based on the bodies we're born with, society assigns us a set of rules that we're supposed to follow. And if you don't follow them... well, trouble often ensues.

That's the case here for Morris, who absolutely adores the tangerine dress in his classroom's dress-up center. It swishes and crinkles and reminds him of his mom's hair. But the other kids don't get it. The girls make fun of him. The boys refuse to engage with him, afraid they'll end up as girls if they play with a boy in a dress. Morris ends up with a stomachache and stays home from school. But then he paints a picture about a grand adventure and ends up sharing that with the other kids... who come to realize that it doesn't matter what you're wearing, as long as you're having fun.

The message is nice. I like the way that Morris's affection for the dress was tied into his love for other things that the dress reminded him of (his mother, tigers, etc.). The pictures highlight the text well.

Overall, this is a good story that teaches compassion, empathy, and kindness. Oh, and that astronauts can so wear dresses.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Review - Rain Boy

Rain Boy

by Dylan Glynn
Date: 2020
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

A heartfelt picture book about differences, acceptance, and loving yourself for who you are.

Wherever he goes, Rain Boy brings wet—which means he's not very popular. Sun Kidd brings sunshine everywhere she goes, so everyone loves her. Only Sun Kidd sees what's special about Rain Boy. But when she invites him to her birthday party, disaster strikes, and Rain Boy storms. Now the world is nothing but rain. Will the other kids ever love Rain Boy for being himself? And. more importantly, can Rain Boy learn to love his rain? Debut author and illustrator Dylan Glynn's colorful and evocative illustrations color this story with all the emotions of the rainbow in this universal story of reaching out to those who look different from you, making new friends, and learning to love yourself.

• Important lessons on acceptance, bullying, self-reliance and empathy told in a beautifully illustrated, accessible story
• A great read-aloud book for families of children struggling to fit in and find their self-confidence
• Perfect book for educators, caregivers, and librarians to help with lessons on bullying, kindness, LGBQT themes, and friendship

Fans of One, The Big Umbrella, and Be Kind will find Rain Boy's striking artwork and positive message an important addition to their bookshelf.

• Read-aloud books for kids age 3–5
• #ownvoices
• Kindness books for kids

(synopsis from Goodreads)

LGBQT themes? Um... excuse me? How does a book about an anthropomorphized cloud have LGBQT themes?

This is bizarre. I think it's supposed to be about bullying, but it's just strange. Rain Boy is an actual cloud. He rains on everything and the kids don't like him. Sun Kidd is a little black girl who glows (or something) and everybody likes her. So Rain Boy gets pissed off and causes it to rain for months, until everybody comes to like the rain. Then he peeks outside (it's not explained how he made it rain while he was inside) and sees people having fun. The book ends with "So the next time you're feeling down and your world is dark and gray... just look up." Because tilting your head back solves all your problems? I don't even know.

Rain Boy ruined the birthday party. He ruined the presents. He melted the cake. He soaked the basement. Sure, the other kids could've been kinder, but getting mad at Rain Boy for doing those things isn't the same thing as bullying. The word "bullying" becomes more and more meaningless when it's used like this. Rain Boy wasn't bullied. He was simply unpopular... and understandably so. If a kid gets invited to a birthday party and then throws all the presents in the pool and pees in the punch, it's not "bullying" when the other kids get angry. It's justified annoyance, and they shouldn't have to be friends with a kid like that if they don't want to.

I just don't get the characters, either. Rain Boy is a floating raincloud. Sun Kidd is a human child. Why isn't she just the sun? What a weird choice.

The writing isn't technically too bad, but the message is weak. And the illustrations are really not my thing. They're so scribbly and frenetic, and most of the characters look either deranged or angry. The pictures aren't appealing to look at.

Overall, I'd skip this one. There are better books out there about friendship and bullying.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.33 out of 5

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Review - If You Give a Deer a Carrot

If You Give a Deer a Carrot

by Paul Pineapple
illustrated by Balarupa Studio
Date: 2020
Publisher: Paul Pineapple
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 15
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Feeding deer leads to lunacy -- but it only gets worse when you stop!

A girl feeds a deer on her front lawn. The next day there are two deer...a family...a herd. A stag crashes through her window. A herd chases her car. Her parents are upset. Her sister is insanely jealous. But if she stops handing out carrots, what kind of mischief will those deer get into next?

Written in rhyming quatrains, with ebullient, absurd illustrations, If You Give a Deer a Carrot will make your kids spit out their milk laughing.

Order If You Give a Deer a Carrot and share a laugh with your kids today.

(synopsis from Amazon.ca; see it on Goodreads)

Quite frankly, I'm surprised Mr. Pineapple hasn't been sued.

If You Give a Deer a Carrot has the same premise (and even the same title structure) as Laura Joffe Numeroff's If You Give... series in which one act of giving leads to a cascade of related events. Unfortunately, it doesn't measure up. It doesn't even come close.

The meter is off. The illustrations are boring. The deer are more scary than cute. I thought maybe this was going to be a parody with the deer going postal on the humans... but then I remembered that this was a children's book. (Too bad. That could've been hilarious.)

Premise: 2/5
Meter: 2/5
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 0/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.43 out of 5

Review - Butterball Goes to the Beach

Butterball Goes to the Beach

by Julia Seaborn
Date: 2019
Publisher: Ocean Reeve Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 17
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

This story picture book is about a curious fun-loving poodle, called Butterball, who can’t wait to go to the beach. She has fun playing and makes new friends with some unusual sea creatures. Why should she stop playing when she’s having so much fun? But then Butterball’s seaside adventure goes slightly wrong and her new found friends must come to her rescue. This easy to read picture book, with cute illustrations, features some basic literacy, comprehension and numeracy skill development as well as some fun activity pages. Young readers will enjoy the activities at the end of the book.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Some little kids like anything. That doesn't mean they should be exposed to crap. Sorry if that sounds harsh. But I honestly cannot believe that this trainwreck of grammar has such a high rating on Goodreads and Amazon. There are two editors listed on the copyright page... and yet the book is absolutely riddled with errors.

The story is bland. The illustrations are unappealing. The last few pages are padded with stupid questions for kids to answer and a few activities (colouring, connect-the-dots, etc.)

This was a freebie, so all I wasted was my time. Still. This needed a lot of work before it was released to the public. It may have had editors... but I question whether they were professional ones.

Premise: 2/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 0/5
Illustrations: 1/5
Originality: 1/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 0.67 out of 5

Friday, September 11, 2020

Review - Firebirds

Firebirds
edited by Sharyn November
Date: 2003
Publisher: Firebird
Reading level: YA
Book type: short stories
Pages: 421
Format: e-book
Source: library

Firebird-the imprint-is dedicated to publishing the best fantasy and science fiction for teenage and adult readers. Firebirds is an equally special anthology. Its sixteen original stories showcase some of the genre's most admired authors, including multiple award-winners Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, Lloyd Alexander, Nancy Farmer, Meredith Ann Pierce, and Patricia A. McKillip. Here you will find a sparkling range of writing, from dark humor to high sword and sorcery to traditional ballads-something for every sort of reader. Finally, to make this anthology even more of a standout, it appears first as a deluxe, jacketed hardcover. Welcome to Firebirds-a must-have for fans of contemporary speculative fiction.

Edited by Sharyn November.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've had this hardcover sitting on my shelf for... well, I think I bought it shortly after it came out, so it's been over at decade, at least. I don't even know if I read any of the stories at that time. I figured I should probably get around to doing that!

Here are my thoughts on the individual stories:

"Cotillion" by Delia Sherman

This is a variation on the "Tam Lin" story, in which a girl named Janet has to save a young man from being a fairy sacrifice. I didn't love it, but part of that was because I was a bit confused about the setting. I guess we were supposed to figure out that it was set in 1969 just from a vague Vietnam reference and the way the main character was dressed (honestly, I thought she was just retro). I've read a few variations on this story, and to be honest, I didn't think this one really offered anything new or unique.


"The Baby in the Night Deposit Box" by Megan Whalen Turner

I thought I might enjoy this one because I really love the author's The Thief. This definitely does have an interesting premise (a baby is mysteriously left in a deposit box at the local bank). The baby--who eventually grows to be a young woman and the hero of her own story--is black, which isn't an issue... except that it's revealed kind of late, resulting in a sort of violent mental adjustment for the reader. (I like knowing what the characters look like from the beginning.)


"Beauty" by Sherwood Smith

Here's a story by the author of another of my childhood favourites, Wren to the Rescue. I didn't realize until I read the author's note at the end of it that it's based on characters from another of her series. It doesn't really matter, though; this story can stand on its own. And now I'm kind of curious about the world it's set in and the characters it follows. (I mean, there was a guy who got turned into a tree. Now I really want to know the details of how that happened!)


"Mariposa" by Nancy Springer

I guess not every story can be a winner. I can sort of see what the author was trying to do here, but it didn't quite work. The story comes across as dated, repetitive, sexist, and slightly racist. The basic premise is that girls tend to lose their souls in the pursuit of being what society says they should be. I mean, you could look at it that way... but I also got the uneasy feeling that the story was also implying women were weak and silly for letting this happen. (Also, the phrase "remembering as if cozening back a dream" is used twice. That prose is so purple, it probably needs to let out the breath it didn't realize it was holding.)


"Max Mondrosch" by Lloyd Alexander

I guess I was expecting a little more fantasy from this particular author. With the exception of the ending (which could also be viewed as simply metaphorical), there's really nothing fantastical about this story. It's really more of a tragicomedy about a man trying (and failing) to find a job. It's well written and a quick read, but I don't think it really fits in this anthology of fantasy and sci-fi.


"The Fall of Ys" by Meredith Ann Pierce

This is actually one of the stronger stories in this collection. It's inspired by an old Celtic myth, but changed up a bit so that it's not so misogynistic (the author's note at the end explains the original; wow... women just couldn't win). It reads like an old fairy tale, and I quite liked the style. It's one of the shorter stories in the book, but I wouldn't have minded if it had been a little longer.


"Medusa" by Michael Cadnum

This story is too short. It's also kind of misogynistic and victim-blamey. It's interesting that what would've been okay in 2003 raises red flags in 2020. Basically, this is a retelling of the Medusa myth from Medusa's point of view. Athena is the villain, cursing Medusa because she dared to have consensual sex with a hot god. So the poor cursed girl turns her family to stone (and presumably lots of others, too, although that part is glossed over) and then we get to the point where Perseus chops her head off. With her last thought, Medusa begs Athena to give her the life she deserves... and Athena turns her into a rock. WTF? She deserves an eternity as a rock because some goddess got her peplos in a twist and cursed her? Whatever.


"The Black Fox" by Emma Bull (adaptation) and Charles Vess (illustrations)

This one struck me as kind of unnecessary. It's an old ballad given a graphic-novel treatment. The poem is included, and after reading it, I can't really see why anyone would want to go to all the trouble of illustrating it; it's pretty boring. Charles Vess apparently did a whole series of these illustrated adaptations for a book. That's probably where this one should've remained. It doesn't quite fit here. It's all English snobbery with the devil thrown in at the end... and it's odd, to say the least.


"Byndley" by Patricia A. McKillip

This is well-written, standard fantasy fare about a wizard named Reck who's trying to find a way into a magical realm so he can return something he stole from the faeries many years ago. While I wasn't blown away, I wasn't irked by anything, either, and quite enjoyed the writing style. I might have to check out more of McKillip's work in the future.


"The Lady of the Ice Garden" by Kara Dalkey

While this retelling of "The Snow Queen", set in ancient Japan, is well written, it suffers from trying so hard to be feminist that it comes across as misandristic. Coupled with the statutory rape of a 13-year-old boy, the themes here aren't really appropriate for inclusion in a YA anthology. (And if you're hoping for something akin to Frozen, you'd best look elsewhere. Not that Frozen is even a good example of a retelling of "The Snow Queen". But I digress. "The Lady of the Ice Garden" is dark, depressing, and left me feeling like I'd just wasted a few minutes of my life.)


"Hope Chest" by Garth Nix

This almost seems like it could've been written today as a commentary on charismatic politicians who threaten society. It seems to be an alternate history/fantasy sort of story about an abandoned girl who comes to town with an unopenable trunk. When she finally gets it open at age sixteen, she finds that it's full of guns. She then tries to take back the brainwashed town in a bloody display of marksmanship.

This is really gory, and focusses so much on the guns that I was about ready to scream. (I don't know what it is with some authors and their need to describe the guns in such excruciating detail. It's a gun. We get the idea.) Being a young adult story, it also featured the much-hated phrase about the unrealized held breath. Overall, it had some interesting moments, but I doubt I would ever read it again.


"Chasing the Wind" by Elizabeth E. Wein

This story is a complete rip-off. It's pure historical fiction, so I don't know what it's doing in a sci-fi/fantasy anthology. (In the author's note, she says something about how she started writing a Somali-inspired alternate history fantasy... then decided she really wanted to write about "aeroplanes". Okay, so write about "aeroplanes" on your own time and write something in the assigned genre for inclusion here! I really don't get why this was allowed.)

And the story wasn't even that good. Aside from Martha wishing she were a Mary (it's a Biblical reference), there's no character development. It's just three people (and a couple of barfing cats) taking a plane ride across Kenya. There's little conflict, and the only interesting parts of the characters' histories are merely hinted at. This was a waste of time.


"Little Dot" by Diana Wynne Jones

This is probably my favourite story in the book, and it's about cats. Since I don't like cats, that says something about my enjoyment of the rest of the book.

But this is a cute little story, told from the point of view of a cat named Little Dot, about a group of rescued cats, their wizard, and a beast that's stalking the neighbourhood. Magic and hijinks ensue. This was as strong as I expected it to be (it's Diana Wynne Jones, after all) and I quite enjoyed the feline characters, despite my initial misgivings.


"Remember Me" by Nancy Farmer

A strange story about an unusual sister and an odd camping trip. I usually enjoy Nancy Farmer's writing, and I did enjoy this story (even though it was quite short).


"Flotsam" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

This is awful. The writing is stilted, the dialogue is even worse, and the whole thing comes across like it was written by a time traveller from the 1950s. (The bully's name--in a contemporary fantasy--is Shoog Kelly! I kept waiting for him to whip out his comb and give his hair a tweak.) Full of insignificant and confusing details (who gets changed in the hall closet when there's a perfectly good bathroom a couple of steps away?), this story is a whole lot of "skip it".

"The Flying Woman" by Laurel Winter

This story struck me as a bit sexist. The main character is a girl, but it's her brother who has all the power and the emotional journey. As a result, the main character seems like a bit of an accessory, there only to prop up the male secondary character. Basically, a sister and brother are sent to a deserted island because they can find and use magic (respectively). One day, a winged woman washes ashore. The brother appears to fall in love with her (probably because she's the only female around who isn't his sister). The winged woman is miserable and just wants to leave. She eventually does, and there's some sort of weird emotional resolution from the main character that doesn't seem to follow from the rest of the story (no matter how much the author might explain it in the note at the end; if you have to explain what you meant, and the reader still doesn't see it, you didn't do a very good job with the story itself).


Overall, I'm disappointed. This is supposed to be an anthology of fantasy and science fiction, yet there were no science fiction stories that I could see, and "Chasing the Wind" is historical fiction with zero fantasy elements whatsoever.

If you're looking for fantasy stories, you might want to check out this collection. Just be aware that some of them seem a bit dated. If you're looking for science fiction, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Overall: 2.34 out of 5