Sunday, July 22, 2018

Review - Pink Is for Boys

Pink Is for Boys
by Robb Pearlman
illustrated by Eda Kaban
Date: 2018
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

An empowering and educational picture book that proves colors are for everyone, regardless of gender.

Pink is for boys... and girls... and everyone! This timely and beautiful picture book rethinks and reframes the stereotypical blue/pink gender binary and empowers kids-and their grown-ups-to express themselves in every color of the rainbow. Featuring a diverse group of relatable characters, Pink Is for Boys invites and encourages girls and boys to enjoy what they love to do, whether it's racing cars and playing baseball, or loving unicorns and dressing up. Vibrant illustrations help children learn and identify the myriad colors that surround them every day, from the orange of a popsicle, to the green of a grassy field, all the way up to the wonder of a multicolored rainbow.

Parents and kids will delight in Robb Pearlman's sweet, simple script, as well as its powerful message: life is not color-coded.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I wanted to like this one. In some ways, I did. The text is simple and straight to the point, and the illustrations are very, very cute. Pink for girls and blue for boys is a fairly recent idea; before that, it was the other way around. I was looking forward to a book that smashes those gender conventions and lets kids know they can wear (and like) whatever colour they please.

But... when you have a book that's supposed to be about demolishing gender stereotypes, it's not great to see them reinforced within the first few pages! While there is diversity in ethnicity (many children of colour are represented) and abilities (there's a boy in a wheelchair), it's very much a Western representation of children. The very first colour (pink) has children of both genders dressing up in their fancy clothes... which, for every single girl on the pages, means a dress. To make matters worse, the next colour (blue) is implied as being for sports uniforms. So there's still a subconscious gender divide: pink is for "girly" activities like fancy dance parties, and blue is for "boyish" activities like sports. Maybe if the book hadn't started with those two colours, I wouldn't have noticed this issue as much as I did. But, once I saw it, I couldn't unsee it. That made me read the rest with a more jaded eye. While the girls do wear pants and shorts as casual clothes, any time they're dressed up, they're in a dress. Boys are always in bifurcated garments (so don't expect to see any kilts or sarongs here).

I guess this book is heading in the right direction. The illustrations are so cute that they kind of saved it for me. The overall message is nice, but I think things could've been shaken up even more to really shatter those gender stereotypes. When we get a book with a little boy in a bright pink sarong and a little girl in a fancy blue three-piece suit and a non-binary kid wearing whatever they choose simply because they like it, then we'll really have made some progress.

Quotable moment:

Pink is for boys.
And girls.

And bows
on fancy clothes.

Blue is for girls.
And boys.

And uniforms
on a team.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review - Brother. Prince. Snake.

Brother. Prince. Snake.
by Cecil Castellucci
Date: 2012
Publisher: Tor.com
Reading level: YA
Book type: short story
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Tor.com

A retelling of the Prince Lindwurm fairy tale, Brother Prince Snake is a story of love, sibling rivalry, and how a monster became King.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I came across this obscure fairy tale just a few days ago on Sarah Beth Durst's page of... well, obscure fairy tales. (If you haven't checked those out, I highly recommend it. The commentary is hilarious.) The story has a sort of "Beauty and the Beast" vibe with some of its themes... although the poor girl in this one has to overlook a lot more than just some fur and horns; this Prince Lindwurm guy sounds totally disgusting.

But he's actually not, at least not in Castellucci's version of the story, which is told by the creature himself. This character has a heart and a soul, even if nobody can see it past his hideous physical appearance. While I thought it would be difficult to relate to a woman-eating monster, his gentle heart and his love for reading won me over. I mean, sure, he's basically a snake with wings (which makes me wonder about the jacket he was wearing at one point), but he's intelligent and compassionate, and who wouldn't love a guy who'll stay up all night talking about books?

As with many of the Tor short stories, there are a few typos, but the rest of the writing is pretty good. And the pace is great. Sometimes when I'm reading one of these, the 32 pages seem more like 320; that wasn't the case here. I was pleasantly surprised at how fast the story clipped along.

Overall, this is one of the stronger Tor short stories I've read. If you like fairy tales, you might enjoy this one, too.

Quotable moment:

"When I see a book, my heart races as though I'm in love," Irinia said.

"It makes me sad that not every book is good," I said. "Not every book can be loved."

"But when I pull a book off a shelf, and examine it, turning it this way and that, inspecting the cover, flipping through the pages and glancing at the words as they flash by, a thought here and a sentence there and I know that there is potential between those pages for love. Even if in my opinion the book is bad, someone else may find it good. Isn't that like love?"

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs



Saturday, July 14, 2018

Review - Love

Love
by Matt de la Peña
illustrated by Loren Long
Date: 2018
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

From Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long comes a story about the strongest bond there is and the diverse and powerful ways it connects us all.

"In the beginning there is light
and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed
and the sound of their voices is love.
...
A cab driver plays love softly on his radio
while you bounce in back with the bumps of the city
and everything smells new, and it smells like life."

In this heartfelt celebration of love, Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that's soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

You know how, if you say a word over and over again for long enough, it starts to lose its meaning? Unfortunately, I think that's what happened here. In this book everything is love, and while on some level that might be true, it's a message that would probably ring hollow when your parents are fighting or your building is burning down or you have a nightmare after seeing something awful on TV. Equating all of those things with love didn't make much sense to me as an adult, and I'm not sure it would make much sense to kids, either.

However, the artwork in this one is just lovely. I really like Long's illustration style (I encountered it before in Barack Obama's delightful picture book, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters). The cast of characters is culturally, economically, and socially diverse, and the charming pictures save what would otherwise be a confusing and confused narrative.

Have a look at this one for the illustrations, but don't expect too much from the writing.

Quotable moment:

In a crowded concrete park,
you toddle toward summer sprinklers
while older kids skip rope
and run up the slide, and soon
you are running among them,
and the echo of your laughter is love.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - Mighty Moby

Mighty Moby
by Barbara DaCosta
illustrated by Ed Young
Date: 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

A Moby Dick-inspired picture book adventure unlike any you've ever seen--with a surprise ending--from Caldecott Medal-winning artist Ed Young.

Deep in the dark ocean, Mighty Moby lurks. Up above the ocean waves, a one-legged captain pursues the whale he clashed with long ago.

Mighty Moby and the captain are soon locked in another battle... but things aren't always what they seem.

Caldecott Medalist Ed Young brings us a dynamically interactive story with a surprise twist that will have you rocking along to the waves of the ocean.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Well, that was a waste of a few minutes. From the rough mixed-media artwork to the boring text (some of which you can't even read well because of where and how it's formatted), this book left me kind of cold. The "twist" didn't impress me, either.

Unless you're hoping to get your children to read Moby Dick at some point, you probably won't find much of interest here. Neither will kids, I suspect.

Quotable moment:

The sailors sat
scared and silent,
as the whaleboats rocked
upon the rolling waves,

when came

a rumbling

a rushing

an
earthquake
rising
from
the
deep--
THE
WHALE!

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.83 out of 5

Review - Somewhere Else

Somewhere Else
by Gus Gordon
Date: 2017
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

George has absolutely no interest in exploring the world. None at all.

He's far too busy enjoying his home life and baking delicious pastries. Or so he tells all his friends when they invite him along on their wonderful adventures.

But when George's friend Pascal digs a little deeper, the real reason George refuses to travel away from home is finally revealed...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute story about a bird (a duck?) named George Laurent who likes to bake, so much so that he's always too busy to fly anywhere like all the other birds. The story was simple, but sweet, and I liked the secondary character, Pascal Lombard. He's a bear, so he doesn't fly anywhere, but he still yearns to travel.

The artwork is really neat in this one. It's a combination of illustration and collage, with much of the material seeming to have come from old catalogues.

The writing is okay... until about 3/4 of the way through, and then the author--for some reason--thought it would be a good idea to have a character "smile" their dialogue. Not only is this incorrect (and impossible, as a smile is silent), but it's also one of my biggest pet peeves. I hate seeing this sort of thing in children's books especially; the last thing we need is yet another generation thinking this error is acceptable.

Overall, though, this was a cute story with unique artwork, and I quite enjoyed it.

Quotable moment:

As the seasons passed by, everyone stopped asking
George if he wanted to go somewhere else with them.
He was far too busy, it seemed.


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Little Humans

Little Humans
by Brandon Stanton
Date: 2014
Publisher: Macmillan Australia
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: library

Street photographer and storyteller extraordinaire Brandon Stanton is the creator of the wildly popular blog "Humans of New York." He is also the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Humans of New York.

To create Little Humans, he's combined an original narrative with some of his favorite children's photos from the blog, in addition to all-new exclusive portraits. The result is a hip, heartwarming ode to little humans everywhere.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not sure what the point of this children's book is supposed to be. Yes, the photos are lovely, but the book could've benefited from a stronger narrative to tie everything together. As it is, it's so weak that kids will probably only enjoy this book if they like looking at photos of other kids. The rhymes are clumsy and inconsistent, and I can't really take a book seriously when it throws in a misspelling like "alright".

Overall, this one is pretty forgettable. For a more interesting book that features photos of real children, try to find Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley's Children Just Like Me instead.

Quotable moment:

Little humans can put on a show,
to make you proud of what they know!

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.14 out of 5

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Review - In a Small Kingdom

In a Small Kingdom
by Tomie dePaola
illustrated by Doug Salati
Date: 2018
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

In a small kingdom along an ancient road, a bell rings out. The beloved king has died, leaving his magnificent and powerful Imperial Robe to his heir, the young prince.

But when the prince’s jealous older half-brother steals the Imperial Robe, slashing it to bits, the prince can no longer rule—and the small kingdom is in great danger. Now the young prince must find another source of power and of strength—and he finds it in a surprising place.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

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

I know I read a lot of Tomie dePaola books when I was a small child, but I don't really remember any of them. When I saw this relatively recent title at the library, I thought I'd give it a try.

The story is simple (maybe a little too simple) and the themes are... well, nice, but I felt like something was lacking. The book reads like a fairytale, and yet the resolution is too easy. The villain runs away before he can be caught, never to be seen or heard from again. I would've liked to see a little more development of that part of the story; as it is, it's pretty unsatisfying.

The illustrations were just okay, and they needed to be really great to make up for the thin story. Overall, this book was mediocre and not very memorable.

Quotable moment:

The young prince's older half brother seethed with jealousy. "The old king was my father too," he said to himself. "How dare he choose my half brother to be king?"

In an instant the angry half brother knew what he would do. Without the Robe, the young prince cannot rule, he thought. He is too young, too weak. But I am not.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.5 out of 5