Monday, June 17, 2019

Review - The Little Guys

The Little Guys
by Vera Brosgol
Date: 2019
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

An adorable cautionary tale from Caldecott Honoree Vera Brosgol

We are the Little Guys.
Yes, we are small. But there are a lot of us.
Together we are strong, and we can get all we need.


The Little Guys might be small, but they aim to be mighty.

As they head off to find breakfast, they can conquer anything through teamwork―cross deep waters, dig through obstacles, and climb the tallest trees. Nothing can stop them!

But as they begin to amass more than they need, the creatures in the forest ponder―what happens when no one can stop the Little Guys?

This slyly funny and rambunctious read-aloud explores how strength in numbers only works when the whole community unites together.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Sorry, but I don't get it. The Little Guys are a bunch of greedy parasites who destroy the homes of the rest of the woodland creatures in their attempt to amass everything. When they go too far, the rest of the creatures help them. It makes no sense. It would be like someone treating their termites as pets and feeding them their prized rocking chair. When a bunch of tiny, unstoppable creatures threatens your own existence, you don't stop to help them; you call a freaking exterminator.

I don't even know what these Little Guys are supposed to be, anyway. The have the strength and cooperation of ants, but they look like acorns. It's just weird.

The story is so weak that I almost wonder if Brosgol was just doodling, came up with a cute acorn character, and then decided to write a whole book around the sketch. Unfortunately, there's not much here. What could've been a good story about greed and redemption ended up being a glorification of a nuisance. Just because something is small doesn't mean it's desirable. Ask anyone who's been the victim of a virus.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Review - When Molly Drew Dogs

When Molly Drew Dogs
by Deborah Kerbel
illustrated by Lis Xu
Date: 2019
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

On the night before the first day of school, a pack of stray dogs moves into Molly’s head. They are friendly, but a bit wild. They scamper through her thoughts, yap at the door to her dreams, and scratch at her brain, begging to be let out. So Molly starts to draw them.

When Molly draws dogs, she feels better—but not everyone can see the value of her strange habit. Her teacher tells her to focus. A special tutor urges her to concentrate. But Molly can’t erase the dogs, even if she wants to. As her anxiety peaks, Molly runs away. Once she is found, safe and sound, people around Molly realize the protective power of her pack and how the dogs help tame her troubled feelings.

Inspired by the Japanese folktale, "The Boy Who Drew Cats," this story celebrates the healing powers of art and imagination while touching on important issues of anxiety, mental health, and ways to cope with emotions.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've come across a few picture books like this, ones that encourage children to run away when they have strong feelings. Those were older, though, and I assumed that idea was a relic from another time. Apparently not. Here we have a story in which a young girl is unable to concentrate. She's obviously creative, but adults just want to make her conform. When she doesn't, they lose their patience. So she runs away and puts herself in a potentially dangerous situation.

I just can't recommend a book with this kind of message. I hoped there would be something about accepting yourself and your gifts, but instead we got a supernatural twist that doesn't translate to real life at all, and an abrupt happy-ever-after ending that comes out of nowhere. Molly presumably still can't concentrate... but because her magic dogs chased away a robber, she gets a free pass in school? How is that supposed to help kids who might be struggling with ADHD or learning disabilities?

The pictures left me kind of cold. Nearly everyone is androgynous (and I'm not sure if that was a style choice or just from a lack of skill) and the dogs are scribbly. Some pages looked like a toddler was let loose with a pencil. It's just not very pleasing to the eye.

Overall, this was a disappointment. I'm really tired of reading books that are supposedly about dealing with emotions, only to find that the only coping skill offered boils down to "run away".

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.83 out of 5

Review - You're in Good Paws

You're in Good Paws
by Maureen Fergus
illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Date: 2019
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

When Leo arrives at the hospital, he is surprised to find it run by animals! A hilarious story featuring animals in human situations, perfect for fans of Zootopia and A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

Slightly distracted parents accidentally take their son, Leo, to the animal hospital to get his tonsils out.

Luckily, taking care of a human doesn't ruffle any feathers among the hospital staff. The chicken at the admissions desk is welcoming, the bear orderly is friendly and wise Dr. Stan inspires tremendous confidence despite being a mouse. Is the plastic cone really necessary, though?

In this sweet and hilarious story, a child discovers that a trip to the hospital can be a positive experience--even when the hospital isn't quite up to code...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is pretty amusing. Leo's parents accidentally take him to the animal hospital to have his tonsils out. Now, this isn't just a hospital for animals... it's also a hospital run by animals! There are lots of cute touches with this premise, including an anesthesiologist sheep, a nurse who gives ear skritches, and a mouse surgeon who doesn't have opposable thumbs. I'm not sure if tonsillectomies are a common part of veterinary medicine, so I don't know how Dr. Stan knew how to do one (let alone one on a human)!

There's plenty of fun stuff to look at in the pictures. The waiting room full of patients awaiting their own surgeries is pretty funny. After surgery, that snake needs some other sort of therapy, because he's clearly got some sort of eating disorder...

I don't know why Leo's parents are so clueless, but it makes for a fun premise. The book does actually show a plausible hospital experience (intake, getting weighed and having vitals taken, what happens before and after surgery, etc.), so it might be a good book for kids who are facing their own surgery.

I quite enjoyed this one. Thank goodness Leo's parents didn't take him to the regular children's hospital, or we wouldn't have had such a neat little story.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Just Helping My Dad

Just Helping My Dad (Little Critter Readers)
by Mercer Mayer
Date: 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Join Mercer Mayer's classic and beloved character, Little Critter, as he spends the whole day with his dad in this My First I Can Read book!

From getting rid of a beehive to working in the yard and going to the store, Little Critter wants to be the world's best helper. Things might not always go as planned, but that doesn't stop Little Critter from trying his hardest!

Little Critter: Just Helping My Dad is a My First I Can Read book, which means it's perfect for shared reading with young children.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Who is the audience for this book? I certainly wouldn't give it to a child. Little Critter spends all day modelling terrible behaviour, from spray-painting the house to trying to whack a beehive with a baseball bat, all under the guise of "helping". Oh, and who left the car windows open before Little Critter decided to wash the car? (Paying better attention could've saved Dad a lot of headaches.) Adults will probably find this book more amusing than kids. There aren't enough consequences shown to make this a decent book for kids; it's more of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink between parents about their rambunctious kids' antics. (Some of those antics are downright dangerous, though. Who lets a preschooler play with a lawnmower that can take off on its own? That's a recipe for severed toes right there.)

The pictures are fine, but I just don't like the story. Little Critter might mean well, but his parents should know him better and stay on top of things. He probably caused hundreds of dollars of damage, and it's played for laughs. I'm not impressed.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Review - Hop on Pop

Hop on Pop
by Dr. Seuss
Date: 1963
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 72
Format: e-book
Source: library

Loved by generations, this “simplest Seuss for youngest use” is a Beginner Book classic. See Red and Ned and Ted and Ed in a bed. And giggle as Pat sits on a hat and on a cat and on a bat . . . but a cactus? Pat must NOT sit on that! This classic Beginner Book makes an ideal gift for Seuss fans and is an especially good way to show Pop some love on Father’s Day!

Originally created by Dr. Seuss, Beginner Books encourage children to read all by themselves, with simple words and illustrations that give clues to their meaning.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

It's books like this that make me glad I don't have children that I'd have to read them to! Hop on Pop is the mental equivalent of listening to fingernails scratch across a blackboard... in a bouncy rhythm.

I guess this book is meant to teach kids how to read simple words. But the way it's laid out is a bit confusing at times, and I suspect that those with dyslexia might have a hard time with it. I'm also not a fan of the simplified--but grammatically incorrect--sentences that are peppered throughout. If we're trying to teach kids language, this isn't the way to go about it.

Like many picture books from this era, this is also way too long. My mom has mentioned to me that she always dreaded reading books like Are You My Mother? to us because they just went on and on. For whatever reason, books from the 1960s and 1970s are about twice the length of today's average picture book. Perhaps they hadn't yet figured out that kids often have a fairly short attention span.

Dr. Seuss books can be fun, but I think I prefer the ones that have an actual story. There's no story here. It's just a bunch of words and illustrations.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5

Review - My Papi Has a Motorcycle

My Papi Has a Motorcycle
by Isabel Quintero
illustrated by Zeke Peña
Date: 2019
Publisher: Kokila
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

A celebration of the love between a father and daughter, and of a vibrant immigrant neighborhood, by an award-winning author and illustrator duo.

When Daisy Ramona zooms around her neighborhood with her papi on his motorcycle, she sees the people and places she's always known. She also sees a community that is rapidly changing around her.

But as the sun sets purple-blue-gold behind Daisy Ramona and her papi, she knows that the love she feels will always be there.

With vivid illustrations and text bursting with heart, My Papi Has a Motorcycle is a young girl's love letter to her hardworking dad and to memories of home that we hold close in the midst of change.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This picture book has the feel of a graphic novel in places, with the illustrations and onomatopoeia (sometimes in Spanish!) and the general flow of the story. It's a sweet little slice of life featuring a girl and her father and their daily motorcycle ride.

The text really brings the story to life, and although some of the words and imagery might be a little flowery and poetic for the youngest readers, the illustrations are fun to look at and will keep kids engaged. I personally really enjoy books with a feeling of nostalgia like this, even if it's a nostalgia that I can't relate to; when I'm hankering for shaved ice and the smell of sawdust and the whisper of the leaves of the lemon trees, then I know the author and illustrator have done their job.

Ultimately, this is a book about family, memories, and change. The story might be a little gentle and simple for some, but it's well worth reading. (The author's note at the end about the real city depicted in the book is a great addition and an interesting read.)

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Review - Alma and the Beast

Alma and the Beast
by Esmé Shapiro
Date: 2019
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 44
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Alma's beautiful, hairy world is turned upside down by the arrival of a stranger. From the utterly original imagination of the author-illustrator of Ooko comes a story about celebrating differences and making new friends. For fans of Where the Wild Things Are and Wild.

Alma lives happily in her hairy world, where she can braid the trees, comb the grass, pet the roof and feed her plumpooshkie butterfly. Until one day . . . a hairless, button-nosed beast appears in the garden! At first Alma is scared but when she realizes the beast is lost and misses her hairless home, Alma offers to help her find her way back. As the two take a fantastical journey through the red-headed woods and the bearded mushroom glen to the beast's bald abode, they discover that they are much more alike than different.

This quirky and charming story about friendship, tolerance and perspective invites readers into a surreal, fantastical world that evokes Alice in Wonderland, Where the Wild Things Are and The Lorax.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is definitely an imaginative book, set in parallel worlds that are both like and unlike our own.

Despite what you might expect from the title and cover illustration, Alma is, in fact, the "beast" (at least, from a human point of view). This is where I ran into a bit of trouble. The little girl is the beast from Alma's point of view, and since that's the point of view where the book starts, the little girl is continually referred to as "the beast". Now, maybe it's just me, but every time I saw that terminology, I thought of Alma... so I had to continually correct myself as I was reading the story. I get that the beastliness is a matter of perspective, but my brain just didn't want to cooperate.

I really like Alma's world, though, where everything is hairy. In fact, that's how she spends her days: braiding the trees, combing the grass, and petting the roof ("as one does when the days grow chilly and pink"). The parallels between the worlds are cute, too, showing that even though we have differences, we also have similarities.

I think the artwork in this one is going to be hit or miss for a lot of people. The colour palette is interesting, and there are plenty of things to look at, but the style is very distinct and I wonder if some kids might find it a bit creepy (I think I would have as a young reader).

But I do like the message about differences and similarities and perspective. It's a cute book, if you find you're a fan of the illustrations.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - The Clothesline

The Clothesline
by Orbie
Date: 2019
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 64
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

This is a story about a little boy who lives above a convenience store with his mom. When he goes to spend his pocket money on candy—only when Mom’s not looking—he gives the knot on the clothesline by the outdoor stairs a good yank (it makes the best sound). One day, he tugs a little too hard, and takes the stairs a little too fast, and—whiiiiiz!—gets stuck hanging smack in the middle of the clothesline.

He cries for help, but Mom doesn’t hear. He waits for someone to save him, but only a black cat slinks by. His arm gets tired—but if he hangs on with both hands, he’ll risk dropping his coins! It’s a true dilemma. Finally, he cries out so loudly that he tumbles to the ground. He still spends his pocket money on candy. But he NEVER touches the clothesline again.

Told in sequential illustrations with simple text and vibrant sound effects, this is a suspenseful narrative offering an accessible entry point to early graphic novels and a lighthearted, laugh-out-loud reminder of the consequences of our choices.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This might be a bit longer than the average picture book, but it's a fast read, and pretty entertaining.

Reggie is five years old. He likes to help his mom. He also likes to tweak the knot on the clothesline as he runs past it down the stairs. One day, he loses his footing and has to grab the knot... which sends him sailing out into the yard, dangling like a piece of laundry. His mom doesn't hear him, so he's forced to wait for some other form of help to arrive. It never does, though...

While I'm not entirely sure Reggie's voice is that of a five-year-old boy, it's sweet nonetheless. He learns a good lesson from his misadventure, which is shown in the final pages; I like seeing that, especially in a kids' book. The illustrations are funny and appealing, showing the various emotions of a young child who's found himself in a scary (for him, anyway) situation.

This is a great story about consequences, problem solving, and learning from past mistakes. But it's all packaged in a kid-friendly format (although adults will probably get a chuckle out of this one as well).

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.17 out of 5

Review - The Bureau of Misplaced Dads

The Bureau of Misplaced Dads
by Éric Veillé
illustrated by Pauline Martin
Date: 2013
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

When a boy's father goes missing, he looks for him at The Bureau of Misplaced Dads, where at least 20 or 30 dads wander in every day and wait for their kids to fetch them. There are bearded dads, a dad named Michael and even a Super Dad, but none of them belong to the boy. He is about to lose hope when he suddenly remembers what he and his father were playing just before the disappearance. Like the best dads, this book is a little bit kooky and a whole lot of fun.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

What a silly little book! But it's pretty funny, too.

A boy's father goes missing, and he's told to go look for him at the Bureau of Misplaced Dads, which is sort of like a lost-and-found for hapless paternal caregivers. Dads apparently wander in off the street after being misplaced. Sometimes they cry (so they're given juice and cookies), but there are plenty of other things for the dads to do while they wait for their kids to come and collect them. Sometimes, the Bureau even releases a few into the wild!

The kooky story isn't going to be to everyone's taste, but I quite enjoyed it. The illustrations aren't anything special, but it's kind of fun to see all the different dads (from a Super Dad to a dad who always looks like he's just gotten out of bed to a dad named Michael).

Not to worry, though: the story does have a happy ending. But getting there and seeing this wacky lost-and-found for fathers is a fun ride.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Dad, I Love You Because...

Dad, I Love You Because...
by Laura D. MacCallum & Rhea MacCallum
illustrated by Fabrice Florens
Date: 2018
Publisher: Peathraichean Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

An ideal gift for the Dad who has everything!

Featuring the adorable illustrations of Australian artist, Fabrice Florens, Dad, I Love You Because... expresses shared moments between a father and his growing children, with scenes ranging from teaching them to walk, teaching them to drive, and everything in between and beyond. This bright and colorful book is an ideal way for children of all ages to tell the person they call "Dad" just how much he is appreciated. Dad, I Love You Because... is sure to be a cherished gift, perfect for Father's Day, Dad's birthday, or any day that you want to convey your gratitude for your Dad and all he has done for you.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

As a personal gift for the authors' father (which this was), this book is fine. As a product intended for public consumption, it's not.

Dad, I Love You Because... has no real story. It's basically one long, run-on sentence detailing the various things the authors' father did for them. Some of the things are pretty personal and aren't going to apply to everyone. There are mentions of Dad playing the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, too, which might not be appropriate for some younger readers.

I'm not a fan of this style of illustration at all. The rest of the book's aesthetic isn't much better. The free font (I don't know the name of it, but it's one I've seen many time before) just makes the book look really self-published.

I'm sure the MacCallums' father was thrilled with this gift. But the book is a little too personal and specific to be a great gift for the general public. Kids would do better to write their own book to give to their fathers for birthdays, Father's Day, etc. so they can personalize it for their own specific circumstances.

Thank you to NetGalley and Peathraichean Publishing for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.17 out of 5

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Review - The Trouble with Time Travel

The Trouble with Time Travel
by Stephen W. Martin
illustrated by Cornelia Li
Date: 2019
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Max and her dog, Boomer, are in trouble. Big trouble. Max has accidentally smashed an heirloom vase: the only treasure her great-great-great-great-great-great-grandma managed to save when her houseboat sank 234 years ago. Max can come clean—or, she can build a time machine! If she travels to the past and smashes the vase then, there will be nothing for her to break in the future. Brilliant!

In the time machine—surprisingly easy to construct—Max and Boomer bump around to the past and the future, tangle the string of time, and crash into the ancestral houseboat, promptly sinking it. And in the past, the vase remains intact. Disheartened, Max and Boomer return to the moment just before their adventure began, to warn themselves NOT to build a time machine. Duly warned, Max tosses a Frisbee for Boomer, directly in the direction of the vase…

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Don't read the synopsis if you don't want to be spoiled! It basically gives the whole plot away.

This is actually a pretty fun book about time travel for kids. Max and her dog accidentally break an heirloom vase. Rather than come clean about it, Max decides that it'll be easier to build a time machine. (The story does rather expect you to suspend disbelief.) So Max and her dog have a few adventures before finally arriving at the right time and place... only to have everything go wrong.

I'm not sure how a kid smart enough to build a time machine can't see the obvious solution to her problem (i.e., go back in time and tell herself not to throw that Frisbee), but you kind of just have to go with it. I enjoyed the story otherwise.

The illustrations really bring this one to life. Cornelia Li's cartoonish pictures are colourful, detailed, and appealing.

This is a pretty fun picture book that highlights some of the perils of time travel. If naughty kids ever figure out how to build their own time machines... we're all going to be in trouble.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Review - Upsy-Daisy, Baby!

Upsy-Daisy, Baby!
by Susan Hughes
illustrated by Ashley Barron
Date: 2019
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Around the world, little ones are carried in many different ways: in slings, on shoulders, in backpacks, on hips, in baskets, and in loving arms. Upsy-Daisy, Baby! depicts ten places around the world, from Afghanistan to northern Canada, Peru to West Africa. In each place, a mom, dad, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or sibling lovingly carries a baby.

With various family configurations and settings ranging from a busy outdoor market to a high-rise apartment kitchen, the book wholeheartedly celebrates diversity. Gorgeous cut-paper collage art adds warmth and brightness, and brings the lyrical text to life. Repetition of the phrase “Upsy-daisy” on each spread lends familiarity, and reminds readers that love for a little one is a universal feeling.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The collage illustrations in this book are gorgeous, and probably the highlight of the book. I was looking forward to seeing the various ways in which people around the world carry their babies, and while that was shown, I feel like I didn't learn much. Part of the problem is the sparse text. None of the locations or cultures are actually named, so you have to guess at where they're supposed to be. (I can see how adding that would've cluttered up the text, but a page of notes at the end detailing the various locations would've been nice.)

Aside from perhaps making children want to haul around their baby sibling in a basket hanging from a pole, this is probably a safe bet for a book that young kids are going to enjoy. There are plenty of cute babies and colourful locations to look at.

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

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 - Small Rain: Verses from the Bible

Small Rain: Verses from the Bible
selected by Jessie Orton Jones
illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones
Date: 1943
Publisher: Viking Children's Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 56
Format: e-book
Source: Open Library

This book contains quotes from the King James version of the Bible, and is illustrated with scenes from modern life which small children can recognize and understand.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

A Goodreads friend mentioned this book in reference to the diverse selection of children portrayed within. While it might not be that diverse by today's standards, it's not completely white, either, which was probably quite unusual for the time it was published... in the 1940s! There are a number of children of colour portrayed alongside their white friends, and all of the kids are... well, just being kids.

The strength of this book is its artwork, and I can see why it got the Caldecott Honor in 1944. The children are adorable, and even though the pictures are limited in their colour palette, they're engaging and sweet. The text, on the other hand, is where the book kind of falls apart. Some of these verses are going to be difficult for even Christian kids to swallow. The stilted language of the King James version of the Bible is used, with all its thees and thous, making for a bit of a slog and quite a few places that will trip up the tongue. The Golden Rule is there, though you could be forgiven for not noticing; I kind of doubt that most of the audience for this book is going to be able to understand:

Be ye kind one to another,
Tenderhearted, forgiving one another.

All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you,
Do ye even so to them.

I mean, the accompanying illustration is adorable, but I'm barely able to make sense of that collection of words as an adult! Grammar has changed since the early 1600s; if you want children to understand the Bible, you probably shouldn't use the King James text!

I wouldn't mind seeing if this author illustrated anything else, because her drawings of children are very cute. But I'm afraid the text in this one just doesn't do it for me. I'm not going to critique the Bible here, but I just don't feel like these verses (and the language they're written in) are suitable for a children's picture book. This would probably be a hard sell even for today's Christian kids.

Quotable moment:

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 2.83 out of 5

Friday, June 14, 2019

Review - Unicorn of Many Hats

Unicorn of Many Hats (Heavenly Nostrils #7)
by Dana Simpson
Date: 2018
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
Reading level: MG
Book type: comic collection
Pages: 176
Format: e-book
Source: library

Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is no ordinary unicorn. She has Wi-Fi-enabled appendages. She’s the most enchanted babysitter of all time. She’s published numerous scholarly articles on the “shimmering” versus “glimmering” debate. She is, in short, a unicorn of many hats.

Phoebe and her exceptional hooved pal are back in this all-new collection of comics! Laugh alongside the lovable duo as they question the idea of “coolness,” gain a deeper appreciation for the power of friendship, and put off summer reading assignments for as long as physically possible.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Thank goodness we're back to our regularly scheduled program format! I really did not like Phoebe and Her Unicorn in The Magic Storm. All the cleverness and maturity was gone, and we were left with an insipid graphic novel for very young children. Unicorn of Many Hats returns to the format of the other books in the series, which is that of a comic collection. There are a few stories that extend over a few panels, but also a number of standalone strips. I far prefer this; the characters of Phoebe and Marigold are back to the way they were, and all is right with the world again.

There's not much more to say. This is another enjoyable entry in the series. Now I guess I have to see if the library has the next one...

Quotable moment:


Writing & Editing: 4/5
Illustration: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs

Review - Rules of the Wild: An Unruly Book of Manners

Rules of the Wild: An Unruly Book of Manners
by Bridget Levin
illustrated by Amanda Shepherd
Date: 2004
Publisher: Chronicle Books (CA)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: library

Playing in the dirt, staying up all night, and leaving clothes strewn across the floor are not a problem if you're a wild animal. Dunking food, burping, and splashing no problem either. Human kids, who are expected to follow rules, rules, rules, will squeal with delight as the pages reveal wild animals getting away with all kinds of outlandish behavior and will relish "knowing better!"

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book takes some very Western assumptions about manners, combines them with the idea of wild animals, adds some stilted verse with weird verb tenses, and tries to make kids laugh. It might be a funny book for kids, but adults are likely to pick up on some of its issues.

The main problem I have with this book is that it doesn't really do anything about teaching manners. It just shows all the things the child could do if they had various animals for parents. The chart in the back, showing what different animals (and humans) are allowed to do, just adds insult to injury. Human children are not allowed to do anything, apparently; they're not allowed to splash each other while swimming, make loud noises, burp out loud, or dunk food in their drinks. I expect to see this kind of "children should be seen and not heard" thing in books from the 1800s... not ones published in the 2000s. There's also the fact that some of these "rude" things are only considered rude in Western culture; burping out loud is a positive thing in certain Asian countries, for example. I'm not even sure what to make of the last one; is dunking your Oreo in milk now considered a no-no?

To be honest, I barely even registered the pictures when I read it the first time. I was too distracted by the weird way the text was written:

Mother Dolphin would nod,
"Splashing is fine."
Father Lion exclaim,
"That roar sounds divine!"

That's not a typo. It seems like it should be "exclaims", but the verb tenses are weird. This happens in more than one spot. It may technically be correct as a subjunctive form or something, but it sounds odd.

Overall, I didn't really like this one. The overwhelming feeling I came away with is that kids aren't allowed to do anything. This just seems like one person's idea of how they think children should behave... ignoring the fact that manners vary by culture.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Review - The Beginner's Guide to Running Away from Home

The Beginner's Guide to Running Away from Home
by Jennifer LaRue Huget
illustrated by Red Nose Studio
Date: 2013
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

What kid hasn’t wanted to make their parents feel sorry for treating him badly?

And how better to accomplish this than to run away? Here’s a guide showing how, from what to pack (gum–then you won’t have to brush your teeth) to how to survive (don’t think about your cozy bed). Ultimately, though, readers will see that there really is no place like home. Like Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, here’s a spot-on portrait of a kid who’s had it.

And like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, it’s also a journey inside a creative kid’s imagination: that special place where parents aren’t allowed without permission.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book made me super uncomfortable. Sure, kids sometimes get fed up with their families and threaten to run away. And while this book does tread a careful line with safety and the boy does eventually realize he's better off at home, I don't like the overall message that seems to encourage running away to solve your problems, as well as the fact that it sort of trivializes the whole "running away from home" thing, reducing it to the result of silly problems when there are children who feel compelled to run away for their own safety or well-being.

The illustrations are unique enough that they sort of carry the book, but I don't find them particularly pleasing to look at. Some of them are downright creepy. I can appreciate the work that went into them, but they're not something I really want to look at again.

If there's an audience for this book at all, it's older kids who'll be able to grasp the idea that running away doesn't solve your problems. Still, that'll also be the age when running away because your mom threw out your candy wrappers starts to seem like an overreaction. So I'm not quite sure if the audience is a match for the subject matter in this case.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Review - Sharon, Lois & Bram's Skinnamarink

Sharon, Lois & Bram's Skinnamarink
by Sharon Hampson, Lois Lilienstein, Bram Morrison & Randi Hampson
illustrated by Qin Leng
Date: 2019
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Based on the classic folk song made famous by a beloved trio of children's entertainers, this picture book is best sung aloud! "Skinnamarink" is a timeless anthem of love and inclusion.

What does "skinnamarink" mean? You may not find its definition in a dictionary, but the meaning is clear to the generations of children who sang along: friendship, happiness, sharing, community and, ultimately, love. This song has been sung in weddings and in classrooms. It can be fun and silly - especially with the accompanying actions! And it has a way of bringing people together.

Through Qin Leng's wonderfully imaginative illustrations, this delightful picture book tells the story of a community coming together. Young and old, from little mice to a big elephant, people and animals gather into a spontaneous parade as they follow the sound of music.

Sharon, Lois and Bram formed as a trio of children's entertainers in Toronto in 1978 and went on to create two top-rated children's television shows, most notably The Elephant Show, and to release 21 full-length albums (many of which reached gold, platinum, double platinum and triple platinum). In 2018, Sharon and Bram celebrated their 40th anniversary and they continue to entertain children and share their message of love.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book brings back so many memories! Being a child of the '80s, Sharon, Lois & Bram provided part of the soundtrack to my early years. "Skinnamarink" is probably their most famous song, and it's a fun one, complete with actions that accompany the words. This book takes that simple song, adds some new verses, and illustrates the whole thing to near perfection.

I must say, I was a bit nervous when I read that there were some new verses here. But they fit in perfectly with the original song. (And the book would've been really short without them!) The rhyme and rhythm is just about perfect, and if you're familiar with the original song, you can see the ease with which the new words work.

Qin Leng's illustrations are sort of messy-looking, but also childlike and very fun. So many people (and creatures!) get into the song, so by the end of the book, everyone's running around with a smile on their face and love in their heart. It might sound corny, but it's true. This book made me smile... and I hope this song will make a whole new generation of kids smile, too.

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.71 out of 5

Review - What Does It Mean to Be Safe?

What Does It Mean to Be Safe?
by Rana DiOrio
illustrated by Zhen Liu
Date: 2019
Publisher: Little Pickle Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley


(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is one of those kids' books that's probably best read by an adult and child together.

Rana DiOrio and Zhen Liu take us through many different ways we can be and feel safe. It's not about building walls (I like that bit!) but instead about empowerment. The text tells kids what being or feeling safe means, and the accompanying illustrations play out the words.

Aside from the adorable illustrations, though, the highlight of the book for me was the stuff at the end in which each point from the book was elaborated upon with examples. This is why I say it's probably best read with an adult and child together. Those end notes could spark some interesting discussions (and add clarity for the child) about situations that are pertinent in the child's own life.

Tackling the concepts of inclusivity, consent, and bullying (among others), What Does It Mean to Be Safe? is a strong title for teaching about personal safety, as well as the safety of others.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little Pickle Press for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - The Great Compromise

The Great Compromise
by Julia Cook
illustrated by Kyle Merriman
Date: 2019
Publisher: Boys Town Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 34
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Cora June and her classmate, Wilson, are locked in a battle of wills. Each one desperately wants to be the ultimate decider. They scream at each other about whether to play dodgeball or soccer at recess. They get into a tug of war over a Popsicle. Each wants to dictate where to go on the next class trip! Can these two opinionated, wanna-be leaders compromise or agree to anything?

Using rhymes and relatable situations, this story offers valuable lessons about the power of compromise and why the best leaders are never afraid to negotiate. The Great Compromise is the latest addition to the Leader I’ll Be series by award-winning author and education expert Julia Cook.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a book that's supposedly about the topic of compromise. Unfortunately, the message is muddied and could be potentially confusing to a child (or to anyone who doesn't know the actual definition of compromise).

Cora June and Wilson keep arguing over everything. First, they get paired up for the Fantastic Flavor Feast and have to bring in a dish of their favourite food. (This seems like a project designed to create conflict, but I digress.) Cora June wants to bring spaghetti, but Wilson's advocating for tacos. Then at recess, Cora June wants to play dodge ball, but Wilson wants to play soccer. Again, they clash. Then there's a decision about the class trip; Cora June picks the zoo, but Wilson wants to see the State Capitol. The final straw is when a classmate hands out popsicles and there are only two left: one blue and one red. Of course Cora June and Wilson start to fight over the blue one.

It's at this point that their teacher gets fed up with the constant bickering. She sits them down and tells them they need to learn how to compromise. She proceeds to do this by... flipping a coin.

Let's pause for a second and look at the definition of "compromise":

to make a deal in which each side makes concessions

So how does flipping a coin constitute a compromise? It doesn't. That's the first confusing part of the story. But it gets worse. The teacher then goes on to say:

Your wants and your needs get compromised,
so others can get their way.

Now, that is a valid definition of "compromise", but probably not the one the book intended to talk about. In fact, the very first point in the parents' section at the back states:

Compromise does not mean surrendering something of value just to maintain peace.

And yet, that's pretty much what the aforementioned text is advocating! The notes then go on to aim for a "win-win" situation rather than a "win-lose" one... but if you're making concessions so that others can get their way, you're not going to have a "win-win". (For that matter, you're not going to have anything but a "win-lose" situation if you flip a coin. I'm still confused as to how that has anything to do with compromise, no matter how you define it.)

Okay... now that the confusing stuff is out of the way, let's talk about the rest of the book. I really do like the illustrations. They're cute and colourful, the characters have great facial expressions, and the pictures are likely to be appealing to kids. I'm not sure if I would've gone with red and blue (it politicizes things a bit too much), but kids may not notice that aspect, anyway.

The writing is... strange. Parts of the text are in rhyme (and in italics), but others aren't. Since this is the first of these books that I've read, my first impression of this is that it seems a bit lazy, almost as if the author couldn't be bothered to work to make the whole thing rhyme. Maybe it's just the style that was used in the rest of the series, though (which would make it weird if it were changed now).

I think I might've liked this one better had it not specifically used the word "compromise". The story is really about solving social problems. By narrowing it to the concept of compromise, it confuses the issue and even makes it look wrong in places. It's too bad, because the actual solutions--and the actual compromises that are included--are actually pretty good. Well, in theory; I don't know if "spacos" are all that tasty...

Thank you to NetGalley and Boys Town Press for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.57 out of 5

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Review - Ella May Does It Her Way

Ella May Does It Her Way
by Mick Jackson
illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier
Date: 2019
Publisher: words & pictures
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Hello and welcome to Ella May, the girl who likes to do things her way. In the first of this brilliant new series all about an imaginative, strong-willed girl character with her own ideas, Ella May tries walking backward, just to see how it feels. In her bedroom she tries reading her books backward, and after dinner she goes backward up to the bathroom and climbs backward into bed. When Ella goes backward up the slide and backward over the castle, Ella’s mum decides to turn around and walk backward next to Ella, to make it easier for them to talk. Pretty soon, half the town is walking backward in a giant, backward-walking procession. Where will it end?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not sure if I like this book. On the one hand, the message is good. On the other hand, the message is not so good. (Confused yet?)

Ella May is apparently not like other girls because she likes dinosaurs, insects, and apples. One day, her mother encourages her to try a new food. This leads to her wanting to try something else that's new... so she starts walking backwards. She does this for days, playing backwards on the playground and going up the stairs backwards. One day, her mum decides to try it. When others see the two of them walking backwards, they decide to join in. Soon, the whole town is walking backwards with Ella and her mum.

So what's wrong with that? Well, as soon as Ella sees everyone doing this, she doesn't want to do it anymore. She turns into one of those pretentious teenagers who have to be unique at all costs (often, ironically, ending up the same as all the other "unique" kids). I like the message about trying new things... but I really don't like the message of abandoning new things just because other people start doing them, too. Uniqueness is fine... but not if it means having to give up things you really enjoy. (Which leads me to wonder: did Ella really enjoy walking backwards? Or was she just doing it to be different?)

The pictures, in their limited colour palette, are pretty cute. The diversity of the folks in the town is refreshing.

So, while I do think that trying new things is great, I feel that that particular message is undermined by the uniqueness-at-all-costs one. Why can't kids just do something because they enjoy it? Teaching kids that they won't be special if they do things the same way as others isn't exactly a great message, either.

Thank you to NetGalley and words & pictures for providing a digital ARC.

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 - The Adventures of Honey & Leon

The Adventures of Honey & Leon
by Alan Cumming
illustrated by Grant Shaffer
Date: 2017
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

Actor and New York Times bestselling author Alan Cumming and artist Grant Shaffer imagine what their dogs do when they’re not around—and it’s no surprise that the dogs aspire to lead lives as action-packed and glamorous as their dads’!

Honey and Leon are rescue mutts who love their dads very much. But their dads often have to go away on glamorous and important business, which worries the dogs. Honey and Leon are done staying home and fretting—they’re off on a dad-protecting adventure! Careful to remain incognito, the two pups shadow their dads on a trip across the sea, keeping them out of danger at every turn! How did they survive without Honey and Leon’s protection for this long?!

Alan Cumming and Grant Shaffer wrote this story as a tribute to their own dogs, based on their frequent conversations about what Honey and Leon get up to while they’re away.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The Adventures of Honey & Leon reminds me a bit of the film The Secret Life of Pets. It imagines what happens when Honey and Leon's two dads pack their bags and go on a trip without them. But dogs are supposed to protect people, right? How can Honey and Leon protect their dads if they're not around to do so? So the two dogs make a plan to follow their dads (to France, apparently), trying to keep out of sight so that they won't get caught. Honey makes it a little more difficult for them at one point, and there's a cute twist at the end that made me smile.

The illustrations are decent, and there are some cute touches (like the newspaper called The Ruffington Post and the labels on the dads' airplane meals). It's fun trying to spot the two dogs as they sneakily try to follow their dads throughout the vacation.

Celebrity-written picture books can be a mixed bag. The last one I read wasn't that great. But this one is actually pretty entertaining. Dog lovers, fans of movies like The Secret Life of Pets, and anyone who's ever wondered what their dog gets up to when they're left alone will probably enjoy this book.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President
by Sophie Siers
illustrated by Anne Villeneuve
Date: 2019
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 35
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Sam has to share a room with his disruptive and all-around undesirable big brother, and he is NOT happy about it. One night, when Sam hears about the president’s plans to build a border wall, it inspires what Sam thinks is a perfectly reasonable solution to his own problem: he needs to build a wall, too.

Told as a series of letters addressed to the president, the story shows Sam working through his thoughts and feelings about his plan to build a dividing wall in his bedroom. He debates pros and cons, learns about other walls built through the ages, and slowly comes around to a new perspective as he begins to see that the best solutions involve communication, compromise, and negotiating ways to make things work.

With an undertone of subtle humor, this story is at once a simple tale about a common gripe of siblinghood and a modern fable sure to spark conversations about tolerance, learning to live with others, and the importance of recognizing other points of view.

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

This book takes a gentle swipe at Donald Trump and his policies--the border wall, in particular. Kids must be very confused at times when a person who's supposed to be a role model is advocating doing things that their own parents have spent years trying to dissuade them from.

In this story, Sam is fed up with his older brother. They have to share a room, so when Sam hears Trump (who isn't named, by the way; it's clearly him, though, and his hair does make a cameo) talking about building a border wall to keep out "undesirable" people, he thinks it might be the perfect solution to his sibling problem, too. But as Sam talks about it with his family, friends, and teachers, and learns more about walls and what they do (and have done, especially in the past) he comes to realize that maybe a wall isn't such a great idea after all. Sam's final letter wishes the president well with his own wall and suggests that maybe a small one would do. (Ah, the naivete of youth...)

Because Trump isn't actually named in the book, that aspect of the story might go over some kids' heads (especially if they're not familiar with Trump and his policies). It's interesting that this appears to be a New Zealand title originally; the version I read is from a Canadian publisher. I wonder how many American children will get a chance to read this subtly subversive book and maybe question their president's stubborn, xenophobic policies. Dear Mr. President frames the matter as sibling rivalry, but it's easy to see the parallels. Cooperation, communication, and negotiation should never be partisan issues. Maybe Trump needs someone to send him a copy of this book!

Overall, this is a clever little book with a timely message. Even after Trump's presidency is but a memory, this book will still have value... both historically and in a smaller--but still important--family-dynamics sort of way.

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

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review - It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

It Began With a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Julie Morstad
Date: 2019
Publisher: Tundra Books (NY)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Gyo Fujikawa's iconic children's books are beloved all over the world. Now it's time for Gyo's story to be told -- a story of artistic talent that refused to be constrained by rules or expectations.

Growing up quiet and lonely at the beginning of the twentieth century, Gyo learned from her relatives the ways in which both women and Japanese people lacked opportunity. Her teachers and family believed in her and sent her to art school and later Japan, where her talent flourished. But while Gyo's career grew and led her to work for Walt Disney Studios, World War II began, and with it, her family's internment. But Gyo never stopped fighting -- for herself, her vision, her family and her readers -- and later wrote and illustrated the first children's book to feature children of different races interacting together.

This luminous new book beautifully and openly touches on Gyo's difficult experiences and growth. Through Julie Morstad's exquisite illustrations, alternating between striking black-and-white linework and lush colour, and Kyo Maclear's artful and accessible writing, the story of this cherished figure is told at last.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

That cover isn't exactly enticing, and I might not have requested this book had it not been for the subject matter, and the author and illustrator involved.

The illustrations on the inside are much more engaging, and even downright beautiful in spots. I sometimes have a hard time with picture-book biographies of artists, especially when they seem to be used as a vehicle to showcase the work of yet another artist. But in this case, Julie Morstad's illustrations really work. She depicts Gyo and her family during her childhood, highlighting the girl's love of drawing and art. (It doesn't hurt that Morstad's style isn't wildly different from Fujikawa's, especially when she's drawing children and babies.)

Gyo was spared being sent to an internment camp during World War Two because of location (having been sent to New York City by the Walt Disney Company for work). Would we have had her lovely collection of work had she been in California in 1942? It's hard to say. But the experience did shape her, as her family ended up in the camps, and of course she experienced racism because of the way she looked (she was actually born in California, which makes the idea of sending her to a camp as a foreign enemy all the more ridiculous).

I didn't realize that her book Babies was one of the first to depict a diverse selection of children. The publisher balked at first because of this! But it went on to become a bestseller, proving that there's room for everyone in children's publishing.

There's a nice biographical section at the back with a timeline of her life and a few photographs. The only thing this book is really missing are some samples of Fujikawa's art (although, there may be copyright issues involved with that, so I won't hold that against the book).

Overall, this is a strong picture-book biography about a woman whose art many people may have encountered in their childhood. If you're a fan of Fujikawa's work (or even if you're not), you might find this to be an interesting read.

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.5 out of 5