Friday, August 23, 2019

Review - Little Juniper Makes It BIG

Little Juniper Makes It BIG
by Aidan Cassie
Date: 2019
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Aidan Cassie, the creator of Sterling, Best Dog Ever, employs her pitch-perfect humor and heartwarming illustrations here again to help little ones love themselves at any size in Little Juniper Makes It BIG.

What Juniper lacks in size, she makes up for in heart. And her heart is dead-set on growing up and getting taller. She's tired of having to reach for the cookie jar or use a stepping stool for the toilet. Everything in Juniper's world seems to be made for adults. Ugh!

Juniper is industrious, however, and builds several silly contraptions to help reach her goals. But it isn't until she makes a fun new friend at school, Clove, who is even smaller than Juniper, that she is able to see her world from a new perspective--and appreciate all sizes, big or small.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I absolutely loved Sterling, Best Dog Ever. It's one of my top picture-book reads of 2019. So I went into Little Juniper Makes It BIG with some trepidation, because I wasn't sure if this second book by Cassie would be anywhere near as good. Could it be? To my great relief, the answer is a resounding, "YES!"

Little Juniper Makes It BIG is about an anthropomorphized raccoon child who finds that everything in her world is too big. She falls in the toilet. She can't reach the sink. She can't loot the cookie jar. Her mother assures her that she will grow, but Juniper is impatient. It isn't until she becomes friends with tiny Clove, a squirrel, that she gets a bit of perspective and realizes that being small can have its advantages.

The story is cute enough, but the illustrations just take it over the top. They're adorable, with just the right amount of humour. And I loved seeing the Hudson's Bay point blanket on Juniper's bed! (It's a nice little touch from this Canadian author.)

I really loved this book, and I can't wait to see what Cassie brings us next!

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.83 out of 5

Review - Kind Mr Bear

Kind Mr Bear
by Steve Smallman
Date: 2019
Publisher: QEB Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Kind Mr Bear is very kind. He does everything he can to help people. But the animals in the forest start to take him for granted, and when he gets sick, he finds himself all alone in his cave. Will anyone help him?

This touching story from award-winning author/illustrator Steve Smallman shows that when it comes to true friends, kindness is something to give as well as receive.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a very simple, very short story about a kindly old bear who looks after everyone else in the forest. But when he gets sick, he finds himself all alone. It isn't until the animals realize how much he's done for them that they realize how good of a friend he's been... and how they can be good friends in return.

Like I said, the story is very simple. Where this book shines is in the adorable illustrations. I really don't have any complaint there.

This being an ARC, though, there are a few problems. There's a typo on the back cover, at least one in the dialogue (which is also unnecessarily italicized), and the parents' guide at the back is for another book (which appears to be another of Smallman's titles, The Not-So-Brave Penguin). If these issues are dealt with, this could be a fairly strong picture book for young children about kindness and not taking our friends for granted.

Thank you to NetGalley and QEB Publishing 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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review - There's Room for Everyone

There's Room for Everyone
by Anahita Teymorian
Date: 2019
Publisher: Tiny Owl Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A child grows and discovers the world. As he lies awake at night, he sees there’s enough room in the sky for all the stars and the moon. When he visits the ocean, he sees there is enough room for all the fish, even for the whales. As he grows up, he doesn’t understand why people fight for space. Surely, if we are kinder to one another, there will always be room for everyone? This is a beautiful and profound picture book — a testament of our time and a touching allegory for war and the refugee crisis.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book starts out with a flawed premise that I find difficult to get past. You know how some people argue that overpopulation isn't a problem because you could fit every human being on Earth into the state of Texas? That's basically the idea this book runs with, ignoring the fact that people aren't fighting over space; they're fighting over resources. Otherwise, we'd all be buying up acreage in the Sahara and building our dream homes there.

This flawed premise is taken even further and applied to animals. The book states that there's plenty of room for all the animals, conveniently ignoring the fact that different animals require different habitats. Sure, there's enough space for orangutans in Indonesia, but we keep destroying their habitat. If you destroy an animal's habitat, it might have a difficult (or impossible) time living somewhere else.

The pictures really don't work for me. On the very first spread, there's a picture of the child in his mother's womb. He's either holding a doll or an underdeveloped twin (in either case, it's really odd and kind of creepy). The mother is holding a book entitled How Keep Babys. I don't think I'd trust a book that doesn't even have a coherent title. On the same spread, there are two very phallic images. One is a slipper. The other is... Actually, I have no idea what the other one is. Maybe a sock? It looks like a hairy penis. The rest of the illustrations are plagued by unrealistic proportions and weird perspective issues. In one picture, the boy is staring up at the moon. His arms are so long his hands nearly touch his ankles, and his feet are facing in two different directions! Animals wear jewellery and carry handbags, there's a man on the subway who looks like he has no bones (and, again, his arms are so long his hands are dragging on the floor), and for some reason, the library has floating tables (it's also apparently a place where you're supposed to take off your socks).

The synopsis makes the book sound like a profound statement about war and the refugee crisis, but the premise is so flawed that it doesn't work. While there's technically room for everyone, there aren't always enough resources (or enough resources in the right places)... and that's the real issue driving our current problems. 

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.5 out of 5

Review - Wonder Mole's Scent Costume Party

Wonder Mole's Scent Costume Party
by Pato Mena
Date: 2019
Publisher: nubeOcho
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Moles are blind, so their costume parties are a bit different. They wear perfumes of different animals/characters instead of clothing costumes! Weasel sees her opportunity and tries to sneak into Wonder Mole’s party for a mole dinner. She is wearing the most convincing weasel costume, but will she get caught in the act? A fun and quirky tale that tests your senses and imagination.

(synopsis from NetGalley; see it on Goodreads)

This story has a rather unique premise: when moles have costume parties, they base their costumes largely on scent (since they don't see very well). So when Wonder Mole has a party, all his friends show up wearing various animal scents: giraffe, penguin, frog, horse, etc. A hungry weasel sees an opportunity and sneaks into the party. The moles just think the weasel is another mole in costume, but the weasel has plans to eat a couple of moles for dinner. He joins the celebrations, and even makes it to the final round of the costume competition. But will he be found out before he can satisfy his hunger?

The story is simple and rather silly (how would a mole recognize a rhinoceros costume? Have they been around lots of rhinoceroses?) but the real strength here is the pictures. The weasel is hilarious, and his facial expressions (especially at the end) made me smile. He may have gotten more than he bargained for by sneaking into that party!

While the story is basically just a clever premise wrapped up in a sparse story and some bold illustrations, it kind of works. Kids who are able to just go with the story (and not keep wondering how the moles could recognize all those diverse animal scents, like I was) will probably be amused and entertained. 

Thank you to NetGalley and nubeOcho for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Review - What Wonders Do You See... When You Dream?

What Wonders Do You See... When You Dream?
by Justine Avery
illustrated by Liuba Syrotiuk
Date: 2019
Publisher: Suteki Creative
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 35
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

The day has ended. Hasn't it been splendid? But now, it's time--to be sure--for an entirely different adventure.

This is an invitation to a new nighttime ritual, a going-to-bed book that reminds us all that bedtime can be the most wonderful time of all...

The spellbinding style and alluring rhythm of Justine Avery's writing are brought to life by Liuba Syrotiuk's dreamlike watercolor illustrations to inspire children and adults to set aside the day's excitement and drift into the adventure of sleep itself.

What Wonders Do You See... When You Dream? encourages calm and creativity, relaxation and imagination, and welcomes young and old alike to the blissful, magical time of bedtime.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not sure what to make of this one. It just seems very uneven all around. Some parts of the rhyming text almost work... but others don't. Some of the illustrations are cute and dreamy... but others seem cluttered and chaotic with no real focus.

The text starts out seeming to want to rhyme, but there are points in the story where the rhymes are dubious at best, and other times when a rhyming scheme is abandoned completely. It almost sounds like beat poetry in a few places, and I'm not sure if kids really like that sort of thing. Also, I can't quite tell what the point of the story is supposed to be. That you go to bed and then have adventures? First of all, I'm not sure that's the best idea when you're trying to wind kids down to get them to sleep. Second, the book implies that only children dream, which is just weird (either that, or children are the only ones who have imaginations, which is also weird). To be honest, I couldn't quite tell if this book was advocating sleep and dreaming or encouraging children to come up with imaginary adventures right at bedtime. I think that could've been clearer.

There's also one page that could have some parents doing a double take if their vocabulary isn't very large, as there are a number of words that sound close to a particular racial slur:

Give the niggles a good wriggle, and stifle every sniggle.

The pictures themselves are kind of pretty at first glance. They're really colourful, the kids' pajamas are adorable (especially the girl's), and there are lots of things to look at. Perhaps too many. I was also thrown a bit by the random words on a couple of the pages, like "SLEEP" and "TOYS". Are they placeholders? Or are they supposed to be part of the illustrations? There's also a page that features creepy eyes under the bed, which could be a bit scary for some readers (it's not really explained what they are, so kids' imaginations might run wild).

Overall, this is a book that has potential, but I don't think it's quite ready just yet. The text (especially the rhyme and meter) needs to be cleaned up a bit, and the overall tone needs to be a little calmer. I don't know how many parents are going to appreciate a book that gets their kids all hyped up about going to bed. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Suteki Creative for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.43 out of 5

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Review - If Pluto Was a Pea

If Pluto Was a Pea
by Gabrielle Prendergast
illustrated by Rebecca Gerlings
Date: 2019
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Join two curious kids as they explore their backyard, and contemplate their place within our vast universe in this adorable picture book that’s full of comparisons to help kids understand cosmic size.

If Pluto was a pea…
the Sun would be like a tent,
Mercury would be a marble,
and Earth would be a golf ball.


Pluto is the smallest planet in our solar system, but how small is small? As it turns out, it only takes the contents of a lunchbox and a backyard to find out.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

All right, kids. Repeat after me:

If Pluto were a pea.
If Pluto were a pea.
If Pluto were a pea.

Got it? Good.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about the book itself. The premise is actually kind of neat. It's all about comparative sizes. If Pluto were the size of a pea, then the Earth would be the size of a golf ball, Mars would be the size of an acorn, Jupiter would be the size of a beach ball, etc. This is all framed by two kids and their camping trip; each of the objects mentioned is encountered and pictured, along with measurements.

I like the idea. I sort of like the illustrations. But I just can't get past that grammar. It's on pretty much every spread of the book, teaching a new generation of children to avoid the subjunctive verb tense. Pluto can never literally be a pea... and so the correct word here should be "were". If the text simply changed that one word, then this is one book I could wholeheartedly recommend.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - Gaia Blues

Gaia Blues
by Gud
Date: 2011
Publisher: Europe Comics
Reading level: A
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 64
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Gaia is the ancient name of our Earth, a place now endangered by growing human pollution. A family of polar bears is about to discover what are the effects of this situation, in a story told entirely with no words.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is depressing and fatalistic. The blurb on the back cover reads: "Will Gaia save herself from the nefarious effects of Mankind? Perhaps there is a solution..." What's Gaia's solution? Melt all the ice and flood the planet. There's just one problem with that: there's not enough ice in the world to do what this book shows.

Yes, humans suck. We've treated this planet like a garbage can. We've polluted the atmosphere. We've mucked up the oceans. We've decimated the forests. We've polluted the land, and then seem surprised when we get sick living in a toxic environment. But what good does a book like this do? There are no suggestions, no solutions. According to this, we just have to get used to living on solar-powered boats. Or maybe on an island of floating garbage.

This just didn't impress me. It didn't shock me, or tell me anything I didn't already know. The fact that it's aimed at adults is even worse; viewed as such, it seems condescending. It's also defeatist, but at the same time judgmental, almost as if the book is scolding the reader for wrecking the planet.

But if you're going to offer just condemnation rather than helpful solutions, you're kind of part of the problem.

Thank you to NetGalley and Europe Comics for providing a digital ARC.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: n/a
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 1/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.29 out of 5 ladybugs

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Review - Hats Are Not for Cats!

Hats Are Not for Cats!
by Jacqueline K. Rayner
Date: 2019
Publisher: Clarion Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Are hats for cats? A big, bossy dog and a determined cat disagree. This funny rhyming romp—with a large cast of cats and hats—leads readers to the perfect conclusion: hats are for everyone!

A big, severe, plaid-hat-wearing dog insists that the small black cat in the red fez shouldn't be wearing a hat—any kind of hat—because hats are for dogs. His patronizing tirade doesn’t convince this cat, however. Defiantly, she wears an assortment of hats, described in the gleeful rhyming text, and brings in other cats to join the protest. The silliness of both text and pictures offers a cheerful take on bossiness and managing conflict, with a win-win resolution.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book is just plain goofy... but in a good way. A bossy dog spends much of the narrative telling a cat that cats don't wear hats. And the cat seems to be trying to prove the dog wrong by wearing everything from shower caps to sombreros! Eventually, the cat has had enough and fights back... much to the chagrin of the dog. But there are enough hats for everybody, so this one ends on a happy note.

There's really not much story, and the rhyming text is clunky at times... but the pictures are so silly and fun that you can't help but be sucked in. I'm sure kids will love looking at all the wacky hats that the cat wears throughout the book.

This is a great example of a simple premise done really well. There's not much of a moral, a message, or even a story. But it's got animals wearing goofy hats. What's not to love?

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.71 out of 5

Review - Pinky's Fair Day

Pinky's Fair Day
by Valeri Gorbachev
Date: 2019
Publisher: Star Bright Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Whimsical illustrations in bright watercolors are sure to delight readers as they learn about the intrinsic rewards of helping others.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

If this book had actually been about "the intrinsic rewards of helping others", I might've liked it more than I did. As it is, this is simply a book about a narcissistic little pig who only helps others because it benefits him.

Pinky (a pig... and the only character in the book with a name that isn't just a descriptor of his species) finds out from the Hedgehog brothers that they were complimented for being good helpers. He wants someone to tell him he's a good helper, too, so he goes around to his neighbours and tries to help. But each time, he just makes a mess of things, and when he's told he's not a good helper, he just says, "I tried my best." Then he meets up with Cat and Dog, who are obviously bad news. When they try to carjack the puppet wagon, Pinky squeals, and Cat and Dog run away. Then he's told he's a good helper.

I thought maybe there would be more after that, something that would show Pinky that helping just for the sake of helping is a good thing. But what does he do next? He runs off to brag to the Hedgehog brothers that someone called him a good helper.

The illustrations almost remind me of something you'd find in a 1960s picture book. They're passable, but not special. Combined with the unsophisticated story and annoying main character, they're not quite enough to make this book a winner.

This story just seems to teach kids to expect accolades for everything. Never mind kindness or doing something because it needs to be done. Apparently, the only reason to help others is so they'll stroke your ego. I'm sorry, but that's just not the type of message I want to see in children's books.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Review - Dinosaurs Count

Dinosaurs Count
by S. J. Bushue
illustrated by Cassie Allen
Date: 2019
Publisher: Star Bright Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 19
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Dinosaurs Count is a fun-filled numerical journey to the prehistoric land of dinosaurs. Together, young readers and baby dinosaurs learn to count 1-10 using tails, claws, wings, toes, and other body parts. Each scene depicts a cuddly creature paired with its name and pronunciation. The color palettes of the numerals and respective body parts match to help children easily identify and recognize them. The text also features exciting facts about each dinosaur and an illustrated size chart.

Cassie Allen’s illustrations gently introduce children to a range of dinosaur species, from recognizable favorites (Tyrannosaurus Rex) to recently discovered anomalies (Changyuraptor). Each creature is shy, inquisitive, and eager to explore its surroundings—much like the young explorers who will delightfully read this book.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute counting book featuring baby dinosaurs. Each spread features a picture of a newly hatched beast, their name, and a number that corresponds to something about the dinosaur (feathers, claws, wings, etc.).

The back of the book has information about each dinosaur, along with a comparative size chart. That part of the book may be a little beyond the audience (it's a book for teaching numbers, after all), but it's still interesting.

Phonetic pronunciations are included for all the dinosaur species (thank goodness!) but I'm completely baffled by the one for the velociraptor. How do you pronounce it? For me, it's ve-LOSS-i-rap-tor. In this book? It's VELL-os-EE-rap-TOR. I don't know where that even came from, but I'm pretty sure it's incorrect.

Aside from that, though, this is a cute little book. Kids who love dinosaurs will probably enjoy this one (even if they just want to skip to the end and read the little blurbs).

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - An ABC of Equality

An ABC of Equality
by Chana Ginelle Ewing
illustrated by Paulina Morgan
Date: 2019
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 52
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A is for Ability, B is for Belief, C is for Class. All people have the right to be treated fairly, no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they come from. An ABC of Equality introduces complicated concepts surrounding social justice to the youngest of children.

From A to Z, simple explanations accompanied by engaging artwork teach children about the world we live in and how to navigate our way through it. Each right-hand page includes a brightly decorated letter with the word it stands for and an encouraging slogan. On the left, a colorful illustration and bite-size text sum up the concept. Cheerful people from a range of backgrounds, ethnicities, and abilities lead the way through the alphabet.

L is for LGBTQIA. Find the words that make you, you.
N is for No. No means no.
P is for Privilege. Be aware of your advantages.
X is for Xenophobia. Ask questions and you’ll see there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Celebrate your Differences, ask more Questions, share your Kindness, and learn to Understand the world.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Sometimes the best intentions can go horribly awry. That's the case here, with An ABC of Equality. Intended for "the youngest of children", this is a confusing book that offers muddled definitions and paints an unrealistic vision of the world.

Starting early on, the book makes many demonstrably false statements such as:

People who identify as women have the same rights as people who identify as men.

It goes on to become even more confusing:

We're all human beings because of abilities like standing, talking, laughing, and pointing your finger.

Sorry, non-verbal kids in wheelchairs who were born without hands. You're not human. Or... are you?

Even if we have different abilities, we're all human beings.

Things don't get any clearer going forward. Many of the definitions for the words seem to be rather utopian. They're the way things should be, not how they actually are. I mean, I'm not asking for a depressing alphabet book, but this just doesn't seem to reflect the reality of our world at all. I'm tempted to think that the whole book was written from a place of privilege. It's entirely possible, given the author's somewhat strange definition of "privilege":

Privilege is when a human being receives benefits and advantages based on a category like gender or class or an ability like seeing and hearing.

Gender or class? Yes, of course gender and class come into play with privilege. But seeing and hearing? Privilege is usually talked about as something that's enjoyed by a smaller group of people. In painstakingly avoiding the words "disability" and "disabled" (they don't appear anywhere in the book), the author seems to be trying to redefine "privilege" when what she really means is "advantage".

The problems don't end there. Some definitions are really vague and/or confusing (A value is an expression of how to live a belief.) or don't make sense at all (A question is the opposite of a belief.). And then we get to S and T. S is for "sex". Unfortunately, "sex" gets conflated with "gender". And T is for "transgender". But then the book implies that non-binary people are transgender. Confused yet?

The icing on the cake is Z, which tries to introduce the gender-neutral pronoun "ze". To toddlers. You know, the kids who still construct sentences like, "Me want cookie." For good measure, "zir" is thrown in there, too, without any explanation.

I would never try to read this to a toddler. Older kids would probably get more out of it, but the age group who might be able to decipher the mangled word definitions would likely think this is a book for babies and avoid it. So I really don't know who this book is going to work for. As an adult, I was annoyed by all the questionable definitions and awkward phrasing. I can only imagine that children would be hopelessly confused. The intention here is good... but perhaps trying to teach these social-justice concepts to toddlers was a little too ambitious.

Thank you to NetGalley and Frances Lincoln Children's Books for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.33 out of 5

Monday, August 19, 2019

Review - Bad Kitty Takes the Test

Bad Kitty Takes the Test (Bad Kitty)
by Nick Bruel
Date: 2019
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Reading level: C
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 160
Format: e-book
Source: library

It's something everyone has to do at least once. Kitty is no different. In this new edition of the beloved, bestselling Bad Kitty series, Bad Kitty faces... a test!

Based on her previous bad behavior, the Society of Cat Aptitude has determined that Kitty is not only a bad kitty but a bad cat. In order to redeem her feline status, Kitty must take an aptitude test to determine if she deserves to be a cat. If she fails, she will no longer be able to be a cat. With the help of Chatty Kitty, who is the instructor at Cat School, and Uncle Murray, who thinks he's just there to renew his driver's license, Kitty learns all about being a cat and a little about herself.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was under the impression that the Bad Kitty books were all picture books. But this is more of a graphic novel for kids. I know this character and series are popular, but after reading this particular installment, I can't really see why. For one thing, Kitty barely features in the middle part of the book! That's taken up with a rather ridiculous plot about chickens trying to achieve world domination through #2 pencils. The story tries way too hard to be funny, and while it might tickle the funny bone of a child, it's not going to have much appeal for older readers.

Basically, Kitty fails at being a cat and needs to take a test to get her cat license back. So she goes to a class to prepare for the test. The test administrator turns out to be a chicken, and he demands that everyone in the class lay an egg in order to pass. Kitty must resort to cheating if she wants to remain a cat.

There's a rather confusing message about cheating here, as Kitty really had no choice (because the test itself was dishonest). The ambiguity might be okay in a book for adults, but I don't know what kids are supposed to take from this part of the plot.

The illustrations are amusing, but not all that interesting. I could take them or leave them.

I think I need to find the original Bad Kitty picture book. This graphic novel doesn't appear to be a very good representative of the rest of the series.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.38 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Review - Meet the Group of Seven

Meet the Group of Seven
by David Wistow & Kelly McKinley
Date: 1999
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

In the early twentieth century, a group of Toronto artists became friends. They shared a love of traveling and exploring Canada's landscape. Their paintings were very different from the art of the time, capturing not just how the landscape looked, but how it made the artists feel as well. In 1920, they exhibited their work together for the first time, calling themselves the Group of Seven. While some people were excited by their use of bright colors and rough brushstrokes, others were horrified by their strange styles. It took years for appreciation of their work to grow. But today, the Group of Seven are some of Canada's best-loved artists.

Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven's first exhibition, here's a reissue of a must-have reference, produced in collaboration with the Art Gallery of Ontario. Filled with illustrations, photographs and stunning reproductions of more than forty masterpieces, the book describes how the group formed, how and where they painted, their influence on Canadian art and more. It offers a perfect introduction to critical thinking about visual arts and biographies of artists. It's also an excellent social studies resource on Canadian heritage and history.

Original Group of Seven artists: Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald and Frederick H. Varley.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I thought this looked like an interesting non-fiction picture book. Unfortunately, I found it to be an utter bore. It reads very "young", and yet I don't know how many children in that age group are going to find this book of dry facts and art criticism very entertaining.

By far, the most interesting parts of this book are the bit about Tom Thomson's untimely death and the theories surrounding it (ironic, since he wasn't even an official member of the Group) and the brief examples of other non-Group art that was being done at the time as well as after. Aside from the short bios of the men, most of the rest of the book is taken up by reproductions of their work and--most annoyingly--explanations of what the paintings mean. Unfortunately, these interpretations are undermined by the section that talks about how everyone interprets art differently. (This is part of why the book seems "young" to me. There's almost a hand-holding aspect throughout much of it, where the authors have to tell the reader what the paintings mean. Why bother, if everything's open to interpretation?)

I think part of the problem is that I don't really like most of the Group's work. When I mentioned to my mom that I was reading this book, she told me that I'd been to see a Group of Seven exhibit. (She was partly joking. I was an infant at the time, so I obviously don't remember it!) She also said she wasn't that impressed with the paintings, and that she preferred Emily Carr's work instead. Carr is mentioned in this book, as she was acquainted with some of the Group, and her art is in the same sort of vein. But I must admit, I'm of the same opinion as my mom; Carr's work is much more pleasing to the eye, and I think I would've rather read a book about her.

Unless someone really loves the aesthetic of the Group of Seven, they're probably going to have a hard time engaging with this book. It's dry, pedantic, and a little condescending. The layout and look of the book are fine... but if you're not all that interested in the subject matter, none of that's going to make much of a difference.

Thank you to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Review - Spot & Dot

Spot & Dot (Spot the Cat #2)
by Henry Cole
Date: 2019
Publisher: Little Simon
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

From beloved author-illustrator Henry Cole comes the stunning follow-up to Spot, the Cat. In this beautiful wordless picture book, Spot the cat finds a dog named Dot who’s off on her own adventure through the city!

In Henry Cole’s vivid wordless picture book Spot, the Cat, readers joined Spot on a journey through a city that began with him following a bird outside his window.

This time, a dog named Dot draws Spot from his window. As we follow Spot and Dot on their wordless journey, we quickly realize that it’s Dot the dog who is missing this time, and Spot is trying to get her back home. We follow these two on a different journey through the city as they weave in and out of a bakery, a library, a busy park, and more. And with a surprise twist at the end, we realize that “home” for both cat and dog was never very far away.

With detailed black-and-white illustrations, readers will love following Spot and Dot on their adventure and cheering for the sweet reunion at the end.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This wordless picture book almost has a Where's Waldo? vibe to it. The detailed black-and-white illustrations have so much to look at, besides the dog and cat who are running through each picture. While the story is fairly basic, the book is fun to peruse. Can you pick out Spot and Dot as they make their way through the city?

I don't know what else I can say about this one. For a wordless picture book, it's done fairly well. If you like seek-and-find illustrations, you might like this book, too. Now I'm kind of curious about the first book in the series...

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.6 out of 5

Review - My Tiny Pet

My Tiny Pet
by Jessie Hartland
Date: 2019
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A witty celebration of the tiny tardigrade, a microscopic creature that looks like a bear

Living in a tiny house has one huge drawback--no space for pets. So when a little girl's parents announce that it's time for the family to simplify, downsizing from a huge home in the city to a tiny house in the woods, it's quite a blow--after all, she's grown quite fond of her pet poodles, cats, tarantula, snake, hedgehogs, mice, birds, fish, octopus, rabbits, pony, pig, and turtles. Fortunately, she finds them all good homes, and she has to admit that she enjoys her new simpler life.

There's just one thing: She still really wants just one pet.

At first the answer is no. But using a little scientific savvy, she finds one that could be just the right fit--how could anyone turn down a pet smaller than an ant's eye that doesn't need special food or toys or walking, and will always be small enough to squeeze into their home, no matter how much they downsize?

Jessie Hartland creatively blends fantasy and science in a far-out story that bursts with exuberance. Her whimsical art celebrates one very thoughtful, persistent little girl and introduces readers to the tiny tardigrade, with its fascinating array of survival skills.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The concept of this book is sort of cute. Who ever considered a tardigrade as a pet? Kids will learn quite a bit about these nifty little creatures... as long as they can stomach the sight of them (this might be an issue for more sensitive readers).

In this story, a child with lots of pets is forced to give them all up when her parents decide to downsize. Living in a tiny house is okay... but the girl still really wants a pet. Her parents, however, don't budge... until she brings up the idea of the microscopic tardigrade, or "water bear". It's the perfect pet for a tiny house. Actually, it's the perfect pet if you want something you can take anywhere, since it's so small. (The only downside is that you need a microscope if you want to actually be able to look at your pet.)

While I like the overall premise and the child's clever decision to get a tardigrade for a pet, I do not like the parents' actions in this one. After moving to a tiny house at the beginning of the book, forcing the child to give up all of her more traditional pets, the pair decide that their tiny house (with just one room and a sleeping loft) isn't nearly small enough, so they decide to move into a treehouse in the forest. The kid doesn't really care because she can keep her tardigrade, but at what point does this obsession with tiny spaces start to look like child neglect? What happens when she's a teenager? Is she going to be okay sleeping squished between her parents on a cot that folds out from the wall? (The fact that these people downsized by choice and not out of necessity just makes them come across like pretentious rich folk who are trying to virtue signal by living like they're on the border of homelessness. It's rather distasteful. Tiny houses are fine, but I don't like seeing people forcing their children to live in cramped spaces--and taking away their animal companions--when they don't actually need to.)

So this one was just okay for me. I like the concept of the tardigrade as a practical pet that can fit in any living space, no matter how small... but I don't like the reason the girl had to resort to a pet like that in the first place.

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.83 out of 5

Review - The Elephant in the Sukkah

The Elephant in the Sukkah
by Sherri Mandell
illustrated by Ivana Kuman
Date: 2019
Publisher: Kar-Ben Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Henry, once a happy circus elephant, feels lonely and sad at the farm for old elephants, where nobody wants to hear him sing. One evening, he follows the sound of music and singing to the Brenner family's sukkah. At last, a place where he might sing. But Henry cannot fit inside the sukkah! Ori knows it's a mitzvah to invite guests, and he gets a big idea about how to include Henry in the Sukkot fun.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a story about the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. I'd actually never heard of it before, and I wondered whether the book would explain what it was all about (or if it would be suitable only for Jewish readers). But The Elephant in the Sukkah offers a very clear overview of the holiday--in the story and in the note at the end--so even non-Jewish readers can enjoy and appreciate the story.

Henry is a circus elephant. Not your typical one, mind you. His job in the circus is to sing! But when he gets old, he's shunted off to a farm for old elephants (who are kind of hilarious with their elderly ways... and reading glasses). Henry continues to sing, but the other elephants don't really appreciate his gifts. One night, he hears music coming from somewhere nearby. When he leaves the farm to investigate, he finds the Brenner family and their sukkah. Henry doesn't know what a sukkah is, so Ori, the youngest Brenner child, must explain it to his new friend. The Brenners invite Henry to join them in the sukkah, but there's just one problem: Henry's a great big elephant and won't fit! But Ori eventually comes up with a clever solution... one that's even sanctioned by the Talmud!

This is the kind of religious picture book I like. It's factual rather than faith-based, and offers information rather than proselytizing, making it suitable for a wide audience. The concepts of the sukkah and Sekkot are clearly explained and wrapped up in an amusing story about an elephant's forced retirement. I'm not the biggest fan of the style of the pictures, but they do their job and get the point across.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. If you're looking for books to teach kids about different cultural or religious traditions, this might be one to check out. Even as an adult reader, I learned something I didn't know before, and I always love it when a picture book has that effect.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - Get Off That Camel!

Get Off That Camel!
by A. H. Benjamin
illustrated by Krishna Bala Shenoi
Date: 2019
Publisher: Karadi Tales
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 24
Format: e-book
Source: library

From the time Meena was a baby, she's been obsessed with camels. This fixation becomes stronger when she's gifted a real camel for her birthday. Thrilled with her new pet, Meena simply refuses to get off that camel!

This delightful story by veteran children's author A. H. Benjamin is accompanied by Krishna Bala Shenoi's vibrant, colorful illustrations, and promises to take readers on a ride they'll never forget.

(synopsis from back cover; see it on Goodreads)

This adorable picture book comes to us from India. I have no idea how my local library got their hands on a copy, but I'm glad they did. Get Off That Camel! is a cute story about a little girl and her beloved pet.

Meena is absolutely obsessed with camels. So when her parents get her a real one, naturally, she rides it everywhere. Meena's having a great time... but her family, friends, and community aren't so enamoured with her cameline pal. Soon, the camel has been banned from pretty much all public spaces, and Meena's parent haul her off to the doctor to see what can be done. Predictably, the doctor says that there's nothing wrong with the girl. As for the camel... well, you'll just have to read the book and find out what happens.

The story is simple, but the illustrations are precious. A decidedly Indian flavour is infused throughout the pictures, and the characters themselves are so cute. Watching the camel try to sit at a school desk or take a bath in the bathtub is super amusing; there are so many scenarios in here where camels just don't fit, but that's what makes them so funny.

I'm not sure about the general availability of this book for North American audiences, and it barely even has a presence on Goodreads. That's a shame, because Get Off That Camel! has plenty to offer young readers... including a loving message of doing right by our animal friends.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Friday, August 16, 2019

Review - They Say Blue

They Say Blue
by Jillian Tamaki
Date: 2018
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 52
Format: e-book
Source: library

In captivating paintings full of movement and transformation, Tamaki follows a young girl through a year or a day as she examines the colors in the world around her. Egg yolks are sunny orange as expected, yet water cupped in her hands isn’t blue like they say. But maybe a blue whale is blue. She doesn’t know, she hasn’t seen one. Playful and philosophical, They Say Blue is a book about color as well as perspective, about the things we can see and the things we can only wonder at.

This first picture book from celebrated illustrator Jillian Tamaki will find equal appreciation among kids and collectors.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a simple little concept book about colours and seasons. There's not a lot of story; rather, it's a collection of musings by a little girl about the nature of colours, the changing of the seasons, and the existence of wonders in the natural world.

I enjoyed looking at the pictures in this one. Kids probably will, too. I'm not sure about the appeal of the narrative for younger readers, though. As an adult, I enjoyed it. But it might be a little too philosophical for very young children.

Overall, I'd probably recommend this one to older picture-book readers. It's a little beyond the "learning colours" stage, which is where many books about colour seem to be aimed.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - There's a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake

There's a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake
by Loren Long
Date: 2018
Publisher: Philomel Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Built for giggles and fun read-alouds, this classic children's song has been adapted by #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator of Love and Otis, Loren Long!

"One to visit again and again..." -- Publishers Weekly


There's a log on the bottom of the lake
There's a log on the bottom of the lake
There's a log?
There's a log!
There's a log on the bottom of the lake.


But it turns out there's a a whole lot more than just a log on the bottom of this lake!

A cumulative text featuring repetition and tongue-twisters combine with gorgeous illustrations from New York Times bestselling illustrator Loren Long for a book kids will clamor for at storytime. Endpapers include sheet music and lyrics for kids and parents to have their own singalong!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I don't know that I've ever heard this version of the cumulative song before. The way I know it, it goes: "There's a hole in the bottom of the sea." In any case, the idea is the same here. Cute pictures and amusing commentary from a snail and turtle add a bit more fun to what is essentially just an illustrated song.

You'll probably get an earworm from reading this one, but just in case you aren't tired of it by the end, there's some sheet music included. I think the real strength of this one is the illustrations, though, and the little opinionated duo that appears on every page.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Review - The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart & Chris Raschka
illustrated by Chris Raschka
Date: 2019
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

From Caldecott Medalist and New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Chris Raschka comes a gorgeously illustrated retelling of Mozart’s classic opera, The Magic Flute.

The Magic Flute is the favorite choice of many opera lovers. But ask any of them to tell you the rambunctious, mystical, and downright oddball story of the opera and no two tellers will agree.

Enter Chris Raschka, an opera goer himself. His stunning version of the original plot and the otherworldly events which inspired Mozart’s glorious music showcases his interpretation from the storytelling front curtain at the start, to the radiant finale at the end. Readers will be exclaiming, Bravo!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Full disclosure: I'm not a Chris Raschka fan at all. In fact, I've pretty much hated every book of his that I've read. So why did I read this one? The subject matter. I wanted to see how he would turn Mozart's classic opera into a children's story.

When I was a kid, we had a cassette tape (yeah, yeah, yeah... I'm old) of a little production by Classical Kids called Mozart's Magic Fantasy. It used The Magic Flute as the basis of the story and then built around it. After reading Raschka's book, I think I understand why Mozart's Magic Fantasy was done the way it was: the original story is dated, sexist, nonsensical, and probably wouldn't interest children very much since it's all about horny people pining for each other.

I hate the illustrations, but your mileage may vary. However, I thought some of the little asides that Raschka threw in were unnecessary. And sexist:


Here, he's basically saying that girls are cowards. Remind me again what year it is? (Yes, I know the opera is old. But those illustrations aren't. Raschka could've just left us with the text, but instead he had to try to be cute. Sorry, but sexist stereotypes aren't cute.)

After this point, everything gets really awful, with a character committing sexual assault on a sleeping girl, people deciding they want to kill themselves because they can't have the boy/girl they want, and Papageno deciding to "settle" for an old woman because loving an "old sourpuss" is better than being alone (so now we're getting ageist, too!). I'm still confused over who the good guys and the bad guys are supposed to be here; aside from Monostatos (who's obviously bad), it's kind of unclear. However, I don't know if it's unclear because the original opera is unclear, or if Raschka just did a really poor job in retelling the story.

I'm kind of annoyed with Mozart, too, after reading this book. Maybe if Raschka hadn't emphasized all the sexist crap, I might've liked this one more. The story could've been updated, and the basic plot would've remained intact. As it is, though, this is pretty awful. I'm continually amazed at how Raschka manages to disturb me with his books (*cough*Arlene Sardine*cough*). I'm also baffled by the fact that his works are so popular.

I'm afraid I just don't get it.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 0/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.17 out of 5

Review - Pond

Pond
by Jim LaMarche
Date: 2016
Publisher: Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: hardcover
Source: library

When Matt is out for a late winter hike he sees a trickle of water in the old deserted and junk-filled dirt pit at the edge of his neighborhood. Matt imagines the pond that must once have been there, shining in the early spring light, freezing in the winter for skating and the perfect place for swimming in the summer.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a simple, gentle story about three children who restore a pond to its former natural state. Written and illustrated by Jim LaMarche, it offers some beautiful imagery to go along with its environmental message.

Although the overall look of the book is soft and dreamy, this isn't one of my favourite LaMarche titles. The illustrations are actually rather hit-or-miss for me. Most are fairly distant perspectives, showing people at a distance or in full-body poses. The exception, however, is one beautiful spread that features closeups of the three children's faces, and it's absolutely gorgeous; the expressions are priceless. I'd say the book is worth taking a look at for that illustration alone. Unfortunately, there's really only the one "wow" moment here, so I was somewhat disappointed.

The story itself is very basic. The children remove junk, get the water moving in the right direction again, find a boat, and share their discovery with animals and humans alike. The bit about the heart stone is cute, but I'm not sure it's really enough to save the otherwise threadbare story.

Overall, this isn't one of LaMarche's better works. I think I enjoyed all of the other titles he's written and/or illustrated more than this one. Still, if you're a fan of his work, you'll still want to check this one out. It's still a decent picture book; it just pales in comparison to some of his others.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5