Monday, July 22, 2019

Review - If I Were A Robot

If I Were A Robot
by Scott Gordon
illustrated by DepositPhotos.com
Date: 2012
Publisher: S. E. Gordon
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 54
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Have you ever dreamed of being a robot? What would you do? How would you do it? And most importantly, what would you create with your newfound powers?

Find out what a young boy discovers when he visits the land of dreams, and builds his own vision of the future. From the author of My Little Pet Dragon, My Crazy Pet Frog and Ninja Robot Repairmen. Over 40 pages in all.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I love how the synopsis declares, "Over 40 pages in all!" As if quantity is the important thing here.

That attitude shows in this slapdash "story" about a boy imagining what he would do if he were a robot. The first part is boring, but not terrible. He'd have a suit of armour and fancy weapons so he could fend off pirates and the Evil Overlord's army (whoever they are). He'd have a secret workshop and design rockets to reach distant worlds. He'd even build himself a robot dog for company. But then, in the latter half of the story, things get weird and existential. Suddenly, the narrative switches to almost all dialogue, and we get to read a conversation between a disembodied voice that echoes "into eternity" and the boy (who's now a rusty old robot stuck on a planet all by himself). The boy decides he doesn't want to be a robot and joins his father for dinner.

Because this book is put together with stock imagery from various illustrators, it has no cohesive style. There are plenty of pictures similar to what we see on the cover... but also plastic-looking 3D-rendered humans, random sparkles on a gradient background, paintings of rusty robots, pictures of planets, Dalí-esque imagery, and computer-generated sci-fi landscapes. The book looks like it's having an identity crisis.

This author is certainly prolific, and while I'm sure his own kids probably enjoy his attempts at picture-book writing, I don't think these titles are really suitable for public consumption. This is actually the second book I've read by this author, and I'm probably less impressed with this one than I was with the first. I'm just glad I picked this one up as a freebie; I'd be really annoyed right now, otherwise!

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 0.83 out of 5

Review - Redwood and Ponytail

Redwood and Ponytail
by K. A. Holt
Date: 2019
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: verse novel
Pages: 424
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Told in verse in two voices, with a chorus of fellow students, this is a story of two girls, opposites in many ways, who are drawn to each other; Kate appears to be a stereotypical cheerleader with a sleek ponytail and a perfectly polished persona, Tam is tall, athletic and frequently mistaken for a boy, but their deepening friendship inevitably changes and reveals them in ways they did not anticipate.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Minor Spoilers! To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

It's been a while since I read a book this long. But, being that this is a novel in verse, it reads fairly quickly.

Redwood and Ponytail is the story of two middle-school girls and their discovering of their sexuality. I enjoyed most of this story, but there are a couple of things that prevented me from really liking the book.

First, there's the issue of the audience not quite matching the writing. I can see how the author was in a tricky place here. This is supposed to be about two girls discovering they like girls. It's more likely for this to happen in middle school than in high school. However, the girls just don't read like 11- and 12-year-olds. Their internal thoughts are too adult, too poetic, and too wise. I kept having to remind myself that I was reading about young teenagers. One of the secondary characters, Becca, actually sounded more her age for most of the book (until the end when she started sounding overly mature, just like all the others). I'm not really sure if there's a way to fix this mismatch. Set the book in high school, and readers will wonder why Kate and Tam didn't realize they were gay earlier. Keep it in middle school, and readers will wonder why they speak like adult poets. It's a no-win situation.

Second, and probably far more problematic, is the fact that one character publicly outs another. Based on the acknowledgments, it appears that the author herself is gay... and so I would've expected this to be handled better. Now, I'm not gay myself, but even I know that it's a huge no-no to out another person. I just don't think this part of the story was satisfactorily addressed. Sure, in this case, it moved the plot along, and perhaps the person being outed wasn't that bothered by it. But, in not addressing the violation, it sort of condones the action; I'd worry that kids (because that's the intended audience) might think it's okay to out each other in front of the rest of their peers.

Some stuff I do like about this book are the switching points of view (even though there are places where the author breaks her own established convention in the formatting, which was a bit confusing), as well as the inclusion of the "chorus". This almost seems Shakespearean, with classmates Alex, Alyx, and Alexx sharing their observations on the drama going down between Tam and Kate.

And there is plenty of drama, driven by the colourful cast of characters. There's Kate's mom, an utterly superficial woman who seems to care more about her kitchen renovation than her daughter's happiness. There's Tam's mom, who's pretty much the opposite, almost smothering in her well-meaning attempts to be cool and relatable. There are Kate's cheerleading squad and her estranged sister. There are Tam's quirky neighbours and her best friend, Levi. All of these secondary characters, as well as the leads, drive the narrative forward, sometimes in interesting ways. I do kind of wish the storyline with Jill, Kate's sister, had a little more to it; that was one thread that sort of fizzled out when I thought it might be going somewhere more interesting.

I think, perhaps, I'm not the audience for this. I'm not sure how the poetic language is going to play with the intended audience (middle-school girls), but if they can get something out of the story, that's great. I just wish the issue of outing gay friends had been better dealt with; that part alone makes me hesitant to recommend this one overall.

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

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Anna and the Tooth Fairy

Anna and the Tooth Fairy
by Maureen Wright
illustrated by Anna Chernyshova
Date: 2017
Publisher: Two Lions
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Anna has a loose tooth—and the Tooth Fairy will be coming to visit soon! As Anna’s excitement grows, she realizes that Sophie, her baby sister, must be a Tooth Fairy in training. Sophie is always up at night, her rattle looks just like a magic wand, and she’s even learning to fly! So Anna begins to teach her little sister all the skills she’ll need to be the best Tooth Fairy ever. But what will happen when Sophie is no longer in training? Will she go away? It’s up to the big sister to make sure that never happens!

Maureen Wright’s charming text and Anna Chernyshova’s adorable artwork combine in this sweet story of sibling friendship.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

In Anna and the Tooth Fairy, a little girl becomes convinced that her baby sister is training to be a Tooth Fairy. But she's worried because it means her sister will have to leave and won't be able to play with her anymore. So the girl tries various methods to prevent her tooth from falling out. Eventually, she's reassured by her mother that her little sister isn't going to go anywhere.

I'm not sure if the mom realized why Anna was so worried. Anna tells her mother only that, if she loses her tooth, Sophie will have to go away. The mom simply reassures her that the baby isn't going anywhere; she probably just thinks her kid got a weird cause-and-effect thought in her head for some reason. Nowhere does Anna explain to her parents that she thinks the baby is a future Tooth Fairy. I kind of wish she had, because that could've been a good opportunity to teach kids about clearly communicating their feelings when they're worried about something.

The illustrations are really cute, and aside from a strange continuity hiccup in the beginning, they follow the story rather well. I like the colourful, cartoon-like style. There's something almost retro about them, too, which I find kind of appealing.

Overall, this is a decent story about a little girl's assumptions. It's amusing enough, and although I didn't love it, I can see it having appeal to kids (especially ones who are at the tooth-losing age).

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Review - You Are My Happy

You Are My Happy
by Hoda Kotb
illustrated by Suzie Mason
Date: 2019
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

From Hoda Kotb, the Today show co-anchor and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of I’ve Loved You Since Forever, comes a book about gratitude for the things in life—both big and small—that bring us happiness.

As mama bear and her cub cuddle together before closing their eyes for a good night’s sleep, they reflect on the everyday wonders of life that make them happy.

Inspired by her own nighttime routine with her daughter, Haley Joy, Kotb creates another beautiful treasure for parents and children to enjoy together. With charming and lush illustrations from bestselling artist Suzie Mason, this soothing yet playful lullaby explores the simple joy of taking a moment to be grateful.

Perfect for fans of Ainsley Earhardt, Kelly Clarkson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Jimmy Fallon’s books for children.

(synopsis from Goodreads)


I read I've Loved You Since Forever, the other book by this duo, last year. I don't think I like You Are My Happy quite as much. The writing isn't as strong (the use of the word "for" at the beginning of each sentiment is awkward), and I didn't feel very engaged with the text.

However, it would be a nice book to read together for winding down before bedtime. The illustrations are cute and appealing, and there are plenty of adorable animals to look at.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.29 out of 5

Review - The Lazy Rabbit

The Lazy Rabbit
by Wilkie J. Martin
illustrated by Tanja Russita
Date: 2019
Publisher: The Witcherley Book Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 28
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

One bright morning, when the fresh scents and gentle warmth of early spring filled the air, Vole and Rabbit met on the road.

A cautionary modern fable about a vole and a rabbit telling a tale about the potential perils of laziness.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Yikes! Call the trauma counsellor.

I just finished reading All In the Same Boat by the same author and illustrator, and I thought it was unnecessarily dark for a children's book. The Lazy Rabbit is, if such a thing is possible, even worse! Not only does the rabbit die, his skin gets turned into a pillow and his companion returns to their campsite to find a trail of blood.

I think these books might have worked better a couple hundred years ago. There's a definite grim (Grimm?) feeling to them, with dire consequences for negative personality traits such as greed and laziness. I'm also not sure how easily kids will be able to relate to the animal characters, as anthropomorphized as they are; it's not like kids need to worry about being eaten if they're too lazy to clean up their room.

Perhaps these books will have an audience among hardy kids who like a bit of darkness in their picture books. However, sensitive readers are likely in for a bit of a shock. (I might not have had such a problem with this book if not for the bloody watercolour trail smeared across one spread. That's just a bit too much.)

Thank you to NetGalley and The Witcherley Book Company for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.33 out of 5

Review - All In the Same Boat

All In the Same Boat
by Wilkie J. Martin
illustrated by Tanja Russita
Date: 2019
Publisher: The Witcherley Book Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

It so happened that a big ship went down in a terrible storm.

By chance and good fortune, Rat, Mouse and Gerbil scrambled safely into an empty lifeboat.

A cautionary fable about greed featuring a rat, a mouse and a gerbil.

A tale about overuse of resources by the powerful at the expense of the small and vulnerable.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Whoa. This is dark.

Essentially, this is a little fable about three animals who get stuck in a boat with limited supplies. Rat is greedy and takes more than his fair share. And... that's about it.

There's no real reason for Rat's change of heart at the end. His greed is so strong, it leads him to eat one of his companions. There's nothing in the text that suggests why he would suddenly understand the error of his ways, other than a scolding from the remaining companion.

The body count in this book is high. Arguably, everyone dies. It's a really strange thing to see in a children's picture book, and it makes the whole story rather pointless. If the last remaining character doesn't have long to live, anyway, the lesson becomes essentially meaningless. Maybe they all should've eaten and drank their fill and at least enjoyed themselves if their days were already numbered.

The illustrations are rough but passable, and with a better story, they might have worked. I'm just struggling to see the point of such a pointless story. If you want to convey a message about greed, there needs to be more emphasis on long-term consequences; otherwise, readers may question the need to rein in that greed in the first place.

Thank you to NetGalley and The Witcherley Book Company for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.33 out of 5

Friday, July 19, 2019

Review - The Night Is Yours

The Night Is Yours
by Abdul-Razak Zachariah
illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo
Date: 2019
Publisher: Dial Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: library

From the New York Times bestselling illustrator of I Am Enough, this glowing, empowering picture book about a nighttime hide-and-seek game celebrates blackness and self-confidence.

Little one, so calm and so happy, the darkness of the night is yours like the darkness of your skin.

This lyrical text, narrated to a young girl named Amani by her father, follows her as she plays an evening game of hide-and-seek with friends at her apartment complex. The moon's glow helps Amani find the last hidden child, and seems almost like a partner to her in her game, as well as a spotlight pointing out her beauty and strength.

This is a gorgeous bedtime read-aloud about joy and family love and community, and most of all about feeling great in your own skin.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The night is an extension of your skin,
all of you children,
blending in when you want it to
and popping out when you want it to,

because the darkness of the night is yours
like the darkness of your skin.

As you might be able to tell from those lines, this is actually a picture book better suited to adults. I just can't see that children are going to enjoy this or even relate much to it. The text is too poetic (and not in a good way), and the whole thing reads like an adult's romanticized version of childhood. What little kid, when all of her friends have gone inside for the evening, wants to sit out all by herself and dreamily contemplate the night's silence? The child comes across as idealized and not very realistic.

The illustrations are a mixed bag for me. Some of them are quite cute, but others are plagued by perspective issues. I'm also not sure if the combination of attempted realism for the human figures and buildings versus the extreme abstraction for the plants really works; it almost looks like two illustrators are working with different styles at the same time.

I understand what the author was trying to do here, but it doesn't work for a children's book. Picture books are usually for children... but this book seems like it was written entirely for their parents.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.67 out of 5