Sunday, October 21, 2018

Review - Bink & Gollie

Bink & Gollie (Bink & Gollie #1)
by Kate DiCamillo & Alison McGhee
illustrated by Tony Fucile
Date: 2010
Publisher: Candlewick
Reading level: C
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 88
Format: e-book
Source: library

Meet Bink and Gollie, two precocious little girls--one tiny, one tall, and both utterly irrepressible. Setting out from their super-deluxe tree house and powered by plenty of peanut butter (for Bink) and pancakes (for Gollie), they share three comical adventures involving painfully bright socks, an impromptu trek to the Andes, and a most unlikely marvelous companion. No matter where their roller skates take them, at the end of the day they will always be the very best of friends. Full of quick-witted repartee, this brainchild of Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and award-winning author Alison McGhee is a hilarious ode to exuberance and camaraderie, imagination and adventure, brought to life through the delightfully kinetic images of Tony Fucile.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was searching my library's e-book selections for more books by Kate DiCamillo because I've found her to be a reliably good author when I want a children's book that's written well and isn't condescending. I'd never even heard of the Bink & Gollie books before, but the library had #1 and #3 (typical), so I picked up the first one to give it a try. As soon as I was done, I downloaded the third book as well.

This is a super-cute depiction of friendship. The pictures themselves are adorable (I love Gollie's house up in the tree and Bink's wild hair!), but combined with DiCamillo and McGhee's wonderful writing, I felt like I was watching an amazing animated film. I could almost hear Bink's cute little voice in my head (she has some of the best lines). DiCamillo never shies away from using big words, trusting that kids are smart enough to figure out what is meant through context. The result is a story that is enjoyable for a much wider age range than one might normally find in a children's book.

The stories are simple, but they all tie together by the end, and the girls' friendship is reinforced even more. I wish my library had all of the books in the series, because I'd love to read about more of Bink and Gollie's adventures.

Quotable moment:

"Hello, Gollie," said Bink. "Do I smell pancakes?"

"You do not," said Gollie.

"Will I smell pancakes?" said Bink.

"Perhaps a compromise is in order, Bink," said Gollie.

"What's a compromise?" said Bink.

"Use your gray matter, Bink," said Gollie. "You remove your outrageous socks, and I will make pancakes."

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.75 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Review - Alfie: (The Turtle That Disappeared)

Alfie: (The Turtle That Disappeared)
by Thyra Heder
Date: 2017
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

Nia loves Alfie, her pet turtle. But he’s not very soft, he doesn’t do tricks, and he’s pretty quiet. Sometimes she forgets he’s even there! That is until the night before Nia’s seventh birthday, when Alfie disappears! Then, in an innovative switch in point of view, we hear Alfie’s side of the story. He didn’t leave Nia—he’s actually searching for the perfect birthday present for his dear friend. Can he find a gift and make it back in time for the big birthday party?

From the author-illustrator of Fraidyzoo and The Bear Report comes a warm and funny ode to friendship—even when the friends see the relationship, and the world, very differently.

(synopsis from Goodreads)


This book, told in two parts, is just adorable. The illustrations are perfect and tie the narrative into a cohesive whole, and there's a pretty good story, too. I loved Alfie's point of view.

I've read a few picture books about pets lately that haven't exactly put the pets or their owners in a very good light. But in this case, Alfie and Nia are both so sweet, and their friendship is wonderful. After seeing all the trouble Alfie went to in order to find the perfect present, you can't help but be impressed... and rather amused, when you see the twist at the end.

This would be a great addition to any picture book collection, especially for someone who likes books about animals (the dog and the snail are great characters in this book, too). I'd definitely recommend this one!

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.83 out of 5

Review - Why Am I Me?

Why Am I Me?
by Paige Britt
illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
Date: 2017
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Presented as a thoughtful, poetic exchange between two characters -- who don't realize they are thinking and asking the very same questions -- this beautiful celebration of our humanity and diversity invites readers of all ages to imagine a world where there is no you or me, only we.

If the first step toward healing the world is to build bridges of empathy and celebrate rather than discriminate, Why Am I Me? helps foster a much-needed sense of connection, compassion, and love.

(synopsis from Goodreads)


I'm really getting tired of these picture books that are supposedly for children, but are just pretentious vehicles for the author to look smart and woke (or so they think). Merely portraying diversity in the illustrations does not a good book make.

This book could have been interesting, but it's so spare and unsatisfying that it really fails. All it does is repeat a bunch of simple existential questions, provides no answers, and calls it a day. Why am I me and not somebody else? It's something to think about. Who would other people be if they were me? Um... they'd be me, wouldn't they? (Besides, that's a moot point because you can't be anyone else. I really don't see the point of that question.)

For a book that's supposed to make kids think about how we're connected, it's not very strong. As an adult, I was confused by the message and wondered why the book kept asking such weird questions. Yes, it can be good to imagine putting ourselves in other people's shoes, and empathy is important... but there are other ways to get there that aren't so blatant, and other questions to ask that aren't so confusing.

The pictures were just okay for me. The characters are sort of blotchy and uneven, and I get that it's a style choice, but I don't like it here any more than I did in You Hold Me Up, another picture book that aims high but doesn't quite get there.

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 0.83 out of 5

Friday, October 19, 2018

Review - Lines

Lines
by Suzy Lee
Date: 2017
Publisher: Chronicle Books (CA)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

It starts with a line. Whether made by the tip of a pencil or the blade of a skate, the magic starts there.

And magic once again flows from the pencil and imagination of internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee. With the lightest of touches, this masterwork blurs the lines between real and imagined, reminding us why Lee's books have been lauded around the world, recognized on New York Times Best Illustrated Books lists and nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international honor given to children's book creators. This seemingly simple story about a young skater on a frozen pond will charm the youngest of readers while simultaneously astounding book enthusiasts of any age.

(synopsis from Goodreads)


Sorry, but... I don't get it.

I'm not new to wordless picture books. I actually quite like them. But this one fell really flat for me. Unlike books like I Walk with Vanessa (which has a story with a message), Journey (which is just a great adventure), or even Flora and the Flamingo (which can be forgiven for having a thin story because its pictures are so darn cute), Lines didn't have anything to engage me. The pictures were rather boring, and the "story" wasn't really anything. And I found it confusing. Was the skater the artist? Or was it the person holding the pencil? What's the significance of the pond at the end? Or the stack of drawings? This is a children's picture book; I shouldn't have to think so hard for it to make sense.

I have a feeling that, had I encountered this as a kid, I would've read it once and then promptly forgotten about it. It's the sort of thing that adults will probably appreciate more than kids (although, I can't say that this adult enjoyed it that much, either).


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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.6 out of 5

Review - Pillowland

Pillowland
by Laurie Berkner
illustrated by Camille Garoche
Date: 2017
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Laurie Berkner, “the queen of children’s music” (People), pairs the lyrics of her beloved hit with Camille Garoche’s gentle illustrations in this winning bedtime picture book—a must-have for fans of Laurie’s music and all things soft and sweet.

I know a place, a kingdom far away,
where people wear pajamas every night and every day.
Where all the houses, the buildings, and the trees
are made of fluffy pillows that are soft as they can be.

Laurie Berkner’s treasured song “Pillowland” is now a beautiful picture book! Featuring magical, lush art by Camille Garoche, Pillowland carries readers away to a feather-fluffed dream world where bedtime is always a grand adventure.

We’re going to land in Pillowland!

(synopsis from Goodreads)


This is a book based on a song, which makes a straightforward reading a little awkward. When there's poem-like text, I'd like it to flow a little more; since this is a song rather than a poem, it's not entirely in one form (like couplets or quatrains), which makes it a little difficult to read aloud and have it sound right.

The pictures, though, I thought were really cute. They're a combination of photographs and cut-out drawings, which really gives a unique mixed-media look. The characters are cute and diverse, and the whole colour scheme is very relaxing and perfect for bedtime reading.

Sheet music for the song is included at the end of the book, but I think a book like this needs to come with the actual music (either a CD, a digital file, or a link of some sort). I looked up the song on YouTube and found a video of Laurie Berkner singing it, and that really helped me wrap my head around the meter and timing of the words.

Overall, it's a cute book, but it could definitely be improved by adding a way for kids to experience the song while they're looking at the pictures.


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Review - Ferocious Fluffity: A Mighty Bite-y Class Pet

Ferocious Fluffity: A Mighty Bite-y Class Pet
by Erica S. Perl
illustrated by Henry Cole
Date: 2016
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Mr. Drake’s second grade class has a new class pet. Fluffity appears to be a cute and docile hamster—but the kids soon discover that she is not the cuddly pet they expected. From the moment her cage door opens, Fluffity becomes FEROCIOUS—biting and chasing everyone down the hall and into the library! Will the class be able to tame this beast and bring peace back to their school? The bestselling team behind Chicken Butt! and Chicken Butt’s Back! has crafted another laugh-out-loud tale that’s sure to be a hit with any child who’s ever wanted a pet. Erica Perl’s pitch-perfect rhymes and Henry Cole’s over-the-top animal character make for the perfect classroom read-aloud.

(synopsis from Goodreads)


This is pretty funny, and teaches a valuable lesson about respecting your pets. Sometimes, children's books try too hard to be funny, and they just end up seeming stupid. Ferocious Fluffity strikes just the right balance, however; it's relatable, it's cute, it has hilarious illustrations, and there's a great rhyming text to top it all off.

Don't be fooled by that innocent little face, though: Fluffity is a beast.


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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.29 out of 5

Review - There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey!

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey! (There Was an Old Lady)
by Lucille Colandro
illustrated by Jared D. Lee
Date: 2016
Publisher: Cartwheel Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

The old lady is at it again, and this time she's swallowing a Turkey... she's always been quirky!

You won't believe why this old lady swallowed a turkey, a ball, a hat, a balloon, a boat, some wheels, and a horn of plenty!

Read this book and find out why!

(synopsis from Goodreads)


Okay, I get that this is based on that poem about the old lady who swallowed a fly. But this is just bad. And the old lady, with her hinged jaw that she uses to gobble up (heh) a live turkey is just disturbing. She swallows turkeys and boats and balloons and hats because she's "quirky"? It sounds to me like the old lady has pica, and she really should get that checked out.

And there's a whole series of these books? Yikes. I wasn't that impressed with what I saw here. A ball, a hat, and wheels aren't exactly interesting things to swallow, and I couldn't figure out how they were even connected at first. She eventually regurgitates them all to make a parade float, but... Actually, no. Just no. This is ridiculously stupid.

If you like watching old people swallow things and then barf them back up, you might like this book. Otherwise, you probably won't.

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.17 out of 5

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review - This Is Not a Valentine

This Is Not a Valentine
by Carter Higgins
illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
Date: 2017
Publisher: Chronicle Books (CA)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

This book is not a valentine. It doesn't have lacey edges or sugary hearts. But it is full of lucky rocks, secret hiding spots, and gumball machine treasures. This is a book about waiting in line and wishing for cinnamon buns. About recognizing that if you care so much about someone not thinking you care, maybe you really do. But wait--isn't that exactly what love is about? Maybe this book is sort of a valentine after all. A testament to handmade, wacky, bashful, honest love--sure to win over the hearts of all readers--this offering from debut picture book author Carter Higgins and children's book veteran Lucy Ruth Cummins is the perfect gift to celebrate every relationship, from parent to child, sibling to sibling, partner to partner, crush to crush.

(synopsis from Goodreads)


There were parts of this book that I liked, but there were some others that seemed kind of problematic, and the whole thing felt a bit uneven to me.

Mainly, the thing I noticed is that the book feels dated. There are mentions of cursive (which isn't even taught anymore), a kid giving the jelly side of her PB&J to her friend (let's hope he doesn't have a deadly peanut allergy), and the mention of a number of old-fashioned games (that I'm not even sure are played anymore). As an adult, all of those things would be something I could imagine being in a book written for kids when I was a kid myself... decades ago. So it almost seems like a case of the author being a little out of touch.

Some of the "non-Valentines" are sweet, like the cheap ring that matches the girl's best shoelaces or the self-portrait she draws for the boy, even though the green marker was the only one that worked. The idea of this book is nice, showing that tokens of affection don't always have to be traditional, store-bought gifts or cards; in these cases, it really is the thought behind the "non-Valentines" that counts.

The artwork... was odd. The kids are fine, and they represent sort of a middle ground. There are a few illustrations that are ultra-realistic in comparison, and then a few (like the bus driver! What is up with the bus driver?!) that are so basic that it almost looked like someone forgot to finish them. So the visual aspect of the book seemed very uneven.

Overall, this wasn't terrible, and I thought the underlying premise was sweet. But the dated feeling and inconsistent artwork kind of brought my rating down a bit.


Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Review - I've Loved You Since Forever

I've Loved You Since Forever
by Hoda Kotb
illustrated by Suzie Mason
Date: 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

New York Times #1 Bestseller!

I've Loved You Since Forever is a celebratory and poetic testament to the timeless love felt between parent and child. This beautiful picture book is inspired by Today show co-anchor Hoda Kotb's heartwarming adoption of her baby girl, Haley Joy.

With Kotb's lyrical text and stunning pictures by Suzie Mason, young ones and parents will want to snuggle up and read the pages of this book together, over and over again.

In the universe,

there was you and

there was me,

waiting for the day our

stars would meet...

(synopsis from Goodreads)


This is a really, really quick read (seriously, it probably took me under a minute to get through). But it's a book I might go back to again, since the sentiment, the words, and the pictures are all quite strong. I can see this being a bedtime favourite, with kids looking at the cute pictures of young animals and their parents, and the gentle rhythmic narrative lulling them to sleep.

This one would make a lovely baby gift, too.


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.86 out of 5

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Review - It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village
by Hillary Rodham Clinton
illustrated by Marla Frazee
Date: 2017
Publisher: Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

“What does it take to change the world?”

Former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first book for young readers, inspired by the themes of her classic New York Times bestselling book It Takes a Village, and illustrated by two-time Caldecott Honor recipient Marla Frazee, asks readers what can they do to make the world a better place?

It Takes a Village tells the heartwarming and universal story of a diverse community coming together to make a difference. All kinds of people working together, playing together, and living together in harmony makes a better village and many villages coming together can make a better world. Together we can build a better life for one another. Together we can change our world.

The book will resonate with children and families and through the generations as it encourages readers to look for a way they can make a difference. It is a book that you will surely want to read again and again, a book you will want to share and a book that will inspire.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's funny how I seem to find library e-books in clusters. One day, I read a couple of books about elephants. Another day, I read a couple of books whose titles started with How to.... Today, I came across picture books by both Hillary Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea. I read Chelsea's first, which may have been a mistake... because it make her mom's look weak in comparison.

This seems to be the sort of picture book that's aimed at adults more than kids. Yes, kids are smart. Yes, community and cooperation are important. But, you know what? Most kids already know these things, so a book like this is kind of pointless; the intended audience won't get a lot out of it, and the people who really need such a book will write it off as beneath them. I couldn't help feeling a little confused, too, as I was reading it. Although I understood the overall message, there were certain lines that felt out of place, and more political than they needed to be:


Children are
born believers.
And citizens, too.

(I have nothing against those words, but I question their value in a picture book. What does that comment about citizenship even mean in the context of building a playground?)

I'd encountered the illustrator's work before in The Boss Baby, but here, the pictures didn't really work for me. They're cute, but the background skies that have been drawn in kind of gave the pictures an ominous feel (at least for me), and sort of made the whole thing look dull. So I wasn't really a fan.

This isn't a bad book, but it's not a great one, either. Sorry, Hillary, but Chelsea's got you beat in the picture-book department.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.83 out of 5

Review - She Persisted

She Persisted
by Chelsea Clinton
illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Date: 2017
Publisher: Philomel Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Chelsea Clinton introduces tiny feminists, mini activists and little kids who are ready to take on the world to thirteen inspirational women who never took no for an answer, and who always, inevitably and without fail, persisted.

Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what’s right, even when they have to fight to be heard. In early 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to be silenced in the Senate inspired a spontaneous celebration of women who persevered in the face of adversity. In this book, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. They all certainly persisted.

She Persisted is for everyone who has ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down, for everyone who has ever tried to reach for the stars but was told to sit down, and for everyone who has ever been made to feel unworthy or unimportant or small.

With vivid, compelling art by Alexandra Boiger, this book shows readers that no matter what obstacles may be in their paths, they shouldn’t give up on their dreams. Persistence is power.

This book features: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor—and one special cameo.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book was actually a fairly pleasant surprise. I'm always a little wary when it comes to celebrity picture books. I did enjoy Barack Obama's turn as a children's book author, so I thought I'd give this one a try. And though I'm not American, I still found the subject matter interesting.

She Persisted presents 13 women who achieved their goals despite the odds being stacked against them. Some of them--Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey--I wasn't surprised to see. But there were a few women that I'd never even heard of before, such as Clara Lemlich, Maria Tallchief, and Claudette Colvin. I was also surprised to learn that Apgar scores were named after a woman; I'd always assumed the system was devised by a man, which goes to show why books like this are needed.

Each quick vignette is accompanied by a quote from the person in question, and the book is illustrated beautifully. This would be a great gift for a girl, even if she's not American (although there is a second book called She Persisted Around the World, which looks a little more global).

Highly recommended!


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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.67 out of 5

Monday, October 15, 2018

Review - Yellow Kayak

Yellow Kayak
by Nina Laden
illustrated by Melissa Castrillón
Date: 2018
Publisher: Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A child and his beloved best friend go on a grand sea adventure in this magical picture book by the author and artist who created If I Had a Little Dream.

You just never know what a new day will hold if you are brave enough to find out. On one quiet afternoon, a boy and his special friend’s unexpected adventure bring joy and excitement and sights never imagined. And the best part of any adventure is returning home with stories to tell and you best friend at your side.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The cover drew me in, but unfortunately, that's about the only thing I liked about this book.

Yes, the illustrations are cute. But I have a big problem with them: they don't match the text on multiple occasions! And you just know that kids are going to notice something like that. It starts on the very first page with the text:

Yellow kayak.
Blue sky.
Paddle swiftly.
Wave good-bye.

Now, what colour does the sky appear to you? Because it looks pink to me.



I suppose you could argue that the turquoise stuff is the sky, but I interpreted that as clouds... and I'd be surprised if I was the only one who did.

Later in the book, it happens again:

Yellow kayak.
Gray sky.
Paddle carefully.
Seagulls cry.

This time, it's even more confusing, as grey isn't even in the colour palette... but you could perhaps argue that, this time, the sky is navy:


There are also some elements that I found confusing (on the second page, there's a picture of what looks like a beached whale, which horrified me at first; it took a few seconds of looking to realize it was a badly drawn seal). At one point, there's a smiling shark below the boat, and neither the boy nor his friend seem particularly worried (in fact, the giraffe's sticking his head below the surface!)... but then, when some whales come along, they're suddenly in danger:

Hulking monsters.
Spray blows.
Circle round.
Danger grows.

Hulking monsters? Danger? Is this some sort of pro-whaling propaganda, or has the author just come off of reading Moby Dick?

And then there's the whole ridiculous premise, with a boy and his giraffe friend going off by themselves in a boat (arguably not a kayak, since they use one single-bladed paddle, while most kayakers use a double-bladed one). Who lets their kid go off in a boat by themselves (I'm assuming the giraffe is imaginary because... well, why would there be a giraffe in the Pacific Northwest?) when there's a storm coming, and doesn't call the Coast Guard when they don't return home that night? There isn't even anyone waiting for them when they return (despite one of the first lines of the book, which talks about waving goodbye). It's just too unbelievable.

This book is going to make kids ask a lot of questions, but that's probably going to be more annoying than beneficial. And I wouldn't blame them one bit; so much about this book makes no sense, so you're left with no choice but to say, "What?!"

Premise: 1/5
Meter: 3/5
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.86 out of 5

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review - Idea Jar

Idea Jar
by Adam Lehrhaupt
illustrated by Deb Pilutti
Date: 2017
Publisher: Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

From the author of Warning: Do Not Open This Book comes a lively story about a teacher’s special jar where her students keep their story ideas—but watch out when those ideas go on the loose!

The idea jar is where students keep their ideas—anything from a Viking to a space robot to a giant dragon. These ideas can be combined to make new exciting stories. But watch out when the ideas escape the jar—they might get a little rowdy! Adam Lehrhaupt’s newest picture book is sure to inspire creativity, imagination, and adventure.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I didn't like this. Aside from the statement that there are no bad story ideas (which is demonstrably false), it's too chaotic and cluttered. Yes, an idea jar can be helpful. But there's also knowing when to stop adding ingredients so you don't spoil your recipe. This book seems to take the position that more is better, leading to a "story" about a viking, a space robot, a dragon, and a horseless cowgirl. I think it's important to be able to take one idea and really polish it... rather than just adding other random ideas to make it more interesting.

The illustrations didn't wow me, either (especially the stereotypical viking with his stupid horned helmet).

I wouldn't bother with this one again. It's a shame, because it had the potential to be really interesting.

Premise: 1/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.67 out of 5

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Review - I Walk with Vanessa

I Walk with Vanessa
by Kerascoët
Date: 2018
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

This simple yet powerful picture book--from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team--tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events, I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. With themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless and profound feel-good story will resonate with readers young and old.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I didn't realize when I picked up this book that it's a wordless picture book. But, sometimes, those can be really powerful.

I Walk with Vanessa tells a story about a girl who is new to town. Nobody really seems to welcome her, and even worse, a bully picks on her after school. Another little girl notices this, and it troubles her. So, the next day, she starts a chain of kindness that ends up impacting many.

The illustrations are quite cute, and an interesting thing is done with the colour palette as the wave of kindness spreads. There's a nice little discussion at the end, more for parents who might be reading the book with their kids, but still worthwhile. I especially liked the bit that differentiated between tattling and telling, for kids who might be worried about getting accused of the former while trying to help: "Tattling is getting someone in trouble, and telling is getting someone out of trouble.

Overall, this is a really strong picture book, even though it doesn't have any text. The pictures are more than enough to tell the story and convey the emotions of the characters. I would definitely recommend this one.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Grandma's Purse

Grandma's Purse
by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Date: 2018
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Spend the day with Mimi and her granddaughter in this charming picture book about the magic found in Mimi's favorite accessory, perfect for readers who love How to Babysit a Grandma!

When Grandma Mimi comes to visit, she always brings warm hugs, sweet treats...and her purse. You never know what she'll have in there--fancy jewelry, tokens from around the world, or something special just for her granddaughter. It might look like a normal bag from the outside, but Mimi and her granddaughter know that it's pure magic!

In this adorable, energetic ode to visits from grandma, beloved picture book creator Vanessa Brantley Newton shows how an ordinary day can become extraordinary.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

There's something almost universal about grandmas and their purses. Even though it's been a while since I was young enough to be fascinated by what could be in my grandmothers' purses, this book brought back memories (especially of things like fuzz-covered mints and gum; they're like a requirement or something).

The illustrations in this book are simply adorable. And I loved seeing what was in Grandma's purse. Her flip-phone was especially funny:

"Your phone looks like a toy."

"It has my friends' phone numbers on it--
what else would I need it for?!"

This is the second book I've read that was illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (the other one being One Love). The style is different, but overall I liked this book much better. It's a cute slice-of-life story about a relatable topic.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Friday, October 12, 2018

Review - Thunder Horse

Thunder Horse
by Eve Bunting
illustrated by Dennis Nolan
Date: 2017
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

When a girl receives a small horse from her aunt, she doesn't quite know what to do with it. It turns out that this horse is a very special horse: it has wings.

As the horse grows and grows, so does the girl's love for it, but as everyone knows, sometimes you have to let go of those you love so they can grow in their own way. But you can always hope they come back to you someday.

Eve Bunting's Thunder Horse is a beautifully crafted tale that will work its way in to the hearts of readers, and the good thing is, they never have to let it go.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've never been a real horse lover, so I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this book. But it turned out to be one of the best picture books I've read in a while!

Aside from the question of where the girl's aunt gets the horse (is she trafficking in endangered species?), the story is basic and sweet. The girl is entrusted with the horse, with the warning that he will one day grow up and want to leave; her love would keep him until that happened. So the girl proceeds to raise the tiny horse as a pet, feeding him and giving him his vitamins, walking him on a leash, taking him to school for show-and-tell, and eventually riding him through the skies.

The prose is pretty enough, but the illustrations are absolutely wonderful, especially when the horse is small enough to be treated as a house pet. The pictures are done in soft colours, and everything looks quite realistic, in a dreamy sort of way. Some readers will probably enjoy this book simply for the illustrations alone.

Beautiful pictures, an interesting premise, and a timeless message make this one of the stronger picture books I've read recently. I'd love to try some of the other books by both the author and the illustrator.

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.67 out of 5

Review - The Cottingley Fairies

The Cottingley Fairies
by Ana Sender
Date: 2019
Publisher: NorthSouth Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Fairies exist and these girls have proof!

Elsie and Frances feel sad for adults who simply can’t see the magic in the forests around them. If only they could see what we see. Taking photos is like opening windows...

And that’s just what they did.

In 1918, Elsie Wright and her cousin Frances Griffith photographed fairies in their garden, in the small village of Cottingley (Yorkshire). Without expecting it, many people paid attention—including renowned writer and spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although initially reluctant, the famous author convinced a large part of public opinion.

This is the story, narrated by Elsie herself, of the true events.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I just wasn't a fan of this one. With a book like this, I expected more magical illustrations. Instead, these looked like the scribbles that I used to do when I was a kid, down to the uneven coloured-pencil fills and that weird overlap darkening you often get with markers. Some of the pictures looked more amateurish than others, which led to the book feeling kind of uneven.

The story fell sort of flat for me, too. Arthur Conan Doyle comes off looking rather stupid for believing and pushing the narrative so hard. (If you've ever seen the original photos, you'll probably agree that it's pretty obvious they're fake.) The fact that two little girls were able to fool so many people could've made for an interesting story, but that's not the direction this story took. In this book, the fairies were real all along, and while the girls did take photos of fake paper fairies, they admitted to their deceit (unlike it real life, where they kept up the charade for decades).

The subject matter is interesting, but the execution just didn't work for me here.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review - I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness

I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness
by Susan Verde
illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Date: 2017
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

When the world feels chaotic, find peace within through an accessible mindfulness practice from the bestselling picture-book dream team that brought us I Am Yoga. Express emotions through direct speech. Find empathy through imagination. Connect with the earth. Wonder at the beauty of the natural world. Breathe, taste, smell, touch, and be present.

Perfect for the classroom or for bedtime, Susan Verde’s gentle, concrete narration and Peter H. Reynolds’s expressive watercolor illustrations bring the tenets of mindfulness to a kid-friendly level. Featuring an author’s note about the importance of mindfulness and a guided meditation for children, I Am Peace will help readers of all ages feel grounded and restored.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Most of these self-help books for kids don't work that well for me. I'm an adult, so I should be able to get something out of them. But, often, the message is confusing or weak, and I'm left feeling rather unsatisfied.

This book was written and illustrated by the same team that did The Water Princess, which I really liked. But I'm afraid I Am Peace fell a bit flat for me, for a number of reasons. First, the illustrations aren't as good. The Water Princess had beautiful backgrounds; in this book, the character is placed against a white background. While the illustrations are striking and colourful, I also found them kind of boring. Second, the first two-thirds of the book are way too airy-fairy. Only at around the 67% mark do we start to get some good suggestions about practicing mindfulness (noticing what your senses are telling you, etc.). It seems way too late, and I was already getting frustrated with the book at that point; I can't imagine kids would have much more patience (especially if they actually need a book on mindfulness).

There is a guided meditation in the back of the book that sounds okay. It's mostly about noticing your breathing. It's simple enough for kids to follow, and adults might get something out of it as well.

But I still question the value of a book like this, especially if it's just handed to a kid without any discussion. Much of the first part of the book is taken up by the boy letting his worries go, without much instruction on how to do that; if it were that easy, we wouldn't need books like this in the first place.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.67 out of 5

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review - Robots, Robots Everywhere

Robots, Robots Everywhere
by Sue Fliess
illustrated by Bob Staake
Date: 2013
Publisher: Golden Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: library

"On the ground and in the air, /Robots, robots everywhere!
Up in space, beneath the seas, /Robots make discoveries..."

So begins this rollicking Little Golden Book featuring robots of all kinds, from ones up in space to the ones we use at home. With bold, colorful artwork by award-winner Bob Staake, it's a perfect introduction to the fascinating subject of today's real robots!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is one of the newer Little Golden Books, being published in 2013. I can only imagine what the kids who read the original books back in the 1940s would have thought of this one!

Robots, Robots Everywhere is a cute rhyming book with colourful, detailed illustrations about various types of robots. It reminds me of a school report I had to do when I was around seven on the subject of robots. They're basically machines that do work... so that includes everything from milking machines to today's robot vacuums. Some examples of robots we might see in the future (such as human-like robot playmates and robot dogs) are also included.

The rhythm of the text is quite nice, and there's plenty to look at in the pictures. This would be a great book for kids who are interested in robots and technology.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Review - The Poky Little Puppy

The Poky Little Puppy
by Janette Sebring Lowrey
illustrated by Gustav Tenggren
Date: 1942
Publisher: Golden Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: library

One of the original 12 Little Golden Books, The Poky Little Puppy has sold nearly 15 million copies since 1942, making it one of the most popular children’s books of all time. Now this curious little puppy is ready to win the hearts and minds of a new generation of kids.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This might be the bestselling picture book of all time, but I think it's starting to show its age. It might be sacrilege to even suggest, but I think it could use some updates.

I have no issue with the pictures (which are cute) or the basic story (which is repetitive, but fairly entertaining). My unease stems from the feeding of desserts to dogs... especially the chocolate custard. That's a dangerous idea to be giving little kids, as chocolate is toxic to dogs. Besides, dogs don't need rice pudding or strawberry shortcake, either. I would love to see an updated version where the puppies are eager for their treat of peanut butter or beef jerky (you know, something more appropriate and that won't potentially kill them).

So I can't wholeheartedly recommend this one. It's fun to read as an adult for nostalgia, but I'd be very hesitant to give it to a child without sitting down and explaining that it's very dangerous to give Fido chocolate.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.5 out of 5

Review - Violet and Victor Write the Most Fabulous Fairy Tale

Violet and Victor Write the Most Fabulous Fairy Tale
by Alice Kuipers
illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Date: 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Violet and Victor work together to write a truly enchanted tale!

Violet is determined to write the most fabulous fairy tale that has ever been imagined! Her twin, Victor, is not in the mood for make-believe.

"I was born in a castle!" Violet says.
"You were born in a hospital," Victor replies.

But when an evil witch arrives in Violet's story, will Victor help write an ending that saves the day? Join the twins on an adventure through Fairy Tale Kingdom as they celebrate the joy of storytelling and reading!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a really weird book for me, because I loved the illustrations, but absolutely hated the story. Actually, the story itself wasn't bad; it was the characters that really ruined it for me.

Victor is a pedantic little twit who keeps trying to ruin Violet's fairy tale. She ends up salvaging it only by stroking his fragile male ego (making him a prince in the story and letting him have his way). I was pretty appalled, actually; this is a children's book that seems to teach that girls should defer to the wishes of the males in their lives. What makes it even worse is that Violet's the older twin; so, basically, she's teaching her little brother that he can be a brat and get away with it because women will always let him win.

No thanks. The story is definitely not for me. But the illustrations... See, this is where I'm conflicted. They are so colourful, creative, and interesting that I just wanted to keep looking at the pages. The illustrator used a variety of techniques, and the note at the end explains how she was inspired by European as well as Australian Aboriginal artwork to come up with the pictures for the book. I've never seen anything quite like it, and I loved the overall look of the book.

So it was really a mixed bag for me. As it was, it just seemed like a great example of male fragility and how our society teaches girls to coddle it... which is not a message I want to see in children's books.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.67 out of 5

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review - Miss Rumphius

Miss Rumphius
by Barbara Cooney
Date: 1981
Publisher: Puffin Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A beloved classic—written by a beloved Caldecott winner—is lovelier than ever!

Barbara Cooney's story of Alice Rumphius, who longed to travel the world, live in a house by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful, has a timeless quality that resonates with each new generation. The countless lupines that bloom along the coast of Maine are the legacy of the real Miss Rumphius, the Lupine Lady, who scattered lupine seeds everywhere she went. Miss Rumphius received the American Book Award in the year of publication.

To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of two-time Caldecott winner Barbara Cooney's best-loved book, the illustrations have been reoriginated, going back to the original art to ensure state-of-the-art reproduction of Cooney's exquisite artwork. The art for Miss Rumphius has a permanent home in the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Here's another 1980s picture book that I somehow missed when I was a kid. I hadn't heard of Miss Rumphius before, but the cover was intriguing.

This is a gentle little story about a girl who grows up with the aim of doing three things: go to faraway places, live beside the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful. The illustrations clearly show the progression of time, probably from the Victorian era to the "present" day (keep in mind that this was published in 1981). It's refreshing to see a female character who doesn't necessarily want to get married and have babies (which is what would have been expected of a woman at that time). Miss Rumphius lives a pretty modern life, travelling solo and seeing the wonders of the world (and making friends along the way). When she finally retires and gets her place by the sea, there's only one thing left to do: make the world more beautiful. What she does is simple, but it perfectly fulfills her original goal.

The pictures are really lovely here. There's plenty to look at. As I said before, the illustrations really help move the story along. Some of my favourites were Miss Rumphius working in the library, the results of her beautification project, and when she's telling her story to the next generation in a room full of reminders of her life.

This is a strong picture book. It has quite a bit of text, but it would probably still be a manageable bedtime read.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5

Monday, October 8, 2018

Review - How to Be a Hero

How to Be a Hero
by Florence Parry Heide
illustrated by Chuck Groenink
Date: 2016
Publisher: Chronicle Books (CA)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Once upon a time, there was a nice boy and his name was Gideon. He lived in a nice house, and he had nice parents and lots of toys. But Gideon wasn't satisfied. He wanted to be a hero. You know, a hero, with his name on the front page of the newspaper. That sort of thing. So how does anyone get to be a hero, anyway? Heroes have to be strong. Heroes have to be brave. Heroes have to be clever. Don't they? With wry humor, Florence Parry Heide and Chuck Groenink explore how we choose our idols in a witty story that leaves it to readers to decide the real nature of heroism.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a bit of a different book. I'm not sure how much younger kids would get out of it without some sort of discussion with an adult. But the message is interesting.

Gideon wants to be a hero, but the poor kid doesn't even seem to know what that means beyond getting accolades and having your picture in the newspaper. His ideas about being a hero seem to come mostly from fairy tales (rescue the princess, etc.). Eventually, he comes to realize that, often, being a hero often boils down to being in the right place at the right time. (Not that this helps him in the slightest, which leads to the amusing and thought-provoking conclusion to the book.)

The illustrations are okay, nothing special... but they're an integral part of the story, and the book wouldn't work without them (you'll see what I mean if you read it).

Overall, this is an interesting children's book that has a rather grown-up message, but it's presented in a way that kids can probably understand, especially if they have an adult work through it with them.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5