Monday, October 21, 2019

Review - Freda and the Blue Beetle

Freda and the Blue Beetle
by Sophie Gilmore
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Freda lives in a town where people are always telling her to be more careful. But Freda loves to explore—which is how, one day, she discovers an injured beetle. She names him Ernest, feeds him, and befriends him. They become inseparable as Ernest grows ever bigger and stronger.

Noticing Ernest’s now-enormous size, the townspeople put him to work. But Ernest is strange, and has a strong appetite, and when a prize ewe goes missing, people start to talk. Freda listens to their appeals and sends her beloved friend away. But when a terrible storm puts the villagers in real danger, Freda knows who can help—and she stands up and says so. After Ernest uses his unique strength to save the day, everyone wants him to stay. But maybe this time, Freda and Ernest choose to listen to their hearts.

Illustrated in watercolor and gouache, this is a fantastical modern fable about the value of listening to your heart, not always listening to others, and making your own voice heard.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a bit of a surreal tale about a girl named Freda and her friend, a giant blue beetle named Ernest. Freda is a girl who doesn't listen. She climbs trees and swims in dangerous waters. The townspeople think she's going to come to harm, but she often makes fascinating discoveries as a result of her disobedience. One day, she finds a little blue beetle with a broken wing. She takes him home, nurses him back to health, and gives him a name. But Ernest grows quickly, and when he proves to be strong, the villagers put him to work. That growth and strength relies on being fed, though, and after a prized sheep goes missing (and Ernest is blamed for eating it), he is cast out of the village. It isn't until a calamity befalls the village and Ernest comes to the rescue that the townspeople start to see his value (or, rather, how he can benefit them). The story ends with Freda making an unusual, though completely logical, choice.

I'm not sure about the message in this one. It might be just a bit too nuanced for younger readers. (It's basically: Don't listen to your elders if they're being self-serving bigots.) Learning when not to listen is an important skill, but I'd be concerned that some kids might take that too far. Discernment is key. As an adult, I like the message just fine, as I think it's important; we shouldn't listen to our elders if what they're telling us to do is potentially harmful. I just wonder if that message is clear enough in this particular book.

Overall, though, I think this could be a good picture book for slightly older kids who are starting to learn more about boundaries (and that adults--even if they have good intentions--aren't always right).

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: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

Review - Lali's Feather

Lali's Feather
by Farhana Zia
illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Date: 2020
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

This endearing story of identification and values shows the rewards in looking closely and thinking imaginatively.

Lali finds a little feather in the field. Is it lost? Lali sets out to find feather a home, but one bird after another rejects it. The feather is too small for Rooster, too slow for Crow, and too plain for Peacock. Once Lali decides to keep the little feather and discovers all the things she can do with it, the other birds begin to recognize its value.

Farahan Zia's charming tale employs an inventive circular structure that reveals the importance of looking beyond first impressions. Illustrator Stephanie Fizer Coleman brings this delightful story of imagination and inspiration to life.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Jai Ho! What an adorable book! Comparisons to Cao Wenxuan's Feather are going to be inevitable, though this is, in my opinion, a far better book.

Lali finds a feather in the field. She doesn't know who it belongs to, so she sets out to find its owner. Each bird that she encounters tells her it's not theirs (and why it couldn't be). Having no luck, Lali decides to simply have fun with the feather. She writes with it, sweeps with it, fans the fire, and even torments her family with it. But when the feather is lost, the rest of the birds come to the rescue in a delightful display of empathy and friendship. And after all that, the story ends with the promise of another adventure.

Unlike the aforementioned Feather, this book is far more lighthearted and appealing. The illustrations are fun and colourful. Hindi interjections are sprinkled throughout and, combined with the pictures, they give the book a definite Indian flair. It's likely to be much more engaging to children, with the relatable main character.

Overall, this is a strong picture book showing a little girl searching for a lost feather's home, as well as highlighting the value of seemingly insignificant things, like a dropped feather. I'd definitely recommend this one.

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.5 out of 5

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Review - Salsa Lullaby

Salsa Lullaby
by Jen Arena
illustrated by Erika Meza
Date: 2019
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

How to get baby to sleep? Mami and Papi will try anything in this bouncy, loving, bilingual lullaby that gently says good night in both Spanish and English.

Mami starts a salsa song.
Papi keeps the beat.
Baby loves this lullaby,
moves those dancing feet.

Baila, baby, baila!
Dance, dance, dance.


When nighttime falls, it's time for baby to go to sleep. In this household, that means it's also time for mama, papa, and baby to baila/dance, canta/sing, salta/jump, and more all the way to bedtime!

This bouncy bilingual text and gorgeous, inviting illustrations gently wind down to make this a bedtime favorite no matter what language families say "good night" in!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Setting aside the wisdom of winding a baby up with salsa music right before bed, this is actually a really cute book featuring a family of three (four, if you count the dog) as they get ready for the baby's bedtime. Mami puts some music on, and then they go through the process of getting the kid settled down for the night: having a bottle, getting out a favourite toy, the dog lying down beside the crib as a protector. The exuberance and fun of the rituals come across clearly on the pages.

The illustrations, done in a limited colour palette by Erika Meza, are lots of fun. They have a distinctly animated feel to them, which I like. The baby and the dog are super cute.

This is a charming bedtime book that shows a loving family. As long as you don't actually put salsa music on when you read it to your kids at bedtime, you should be fine.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.71 out of 5

Review - Little Red Rhyming Hood

Little Red Rhyming Hood
by Sue Fliess
illustrated by Petros Bouloubasis
Date: 2019
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Because Little Red only speaks in verse, it's tough for her to make friends. The schoolyard bully, Big Brad Wolf, is always picking on her. One day, her grandma shows her a flyer for a poetry contest, and Little Red thinks it could be her big chance to make a friend. But on the day of the contest, Big Brad Wolf sneaks up on Little Red and scares the rhyme right out of her—and into him! How will they rhyme their way out of this dilemma?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute take on the story of Little Red Riding Hood, featuring a little girl in a red hoodie who can't stop rhyming and a bully named Big Brad Wolf. Brad torments Little Red every day, but she tries to ignore him... until one day, he scares the rhymes right out of her and into him! It's the day of the big poetry contest, too. Brad is freaked out by speaking in rhyme, so Little Red agrees to try to help him.

I quite liked this book, except for one line that sort of implies that boys are mean to girls because they like them. It's time we get rid of that dangerous idea. Other than that, though, the story is cute and the illustrations are pleasant. I enjoyed the twists on the classic story (especially with the grandmother and her red hoodie). The rhymes and prose are pretty solid, too. So, overall, I would recommend this one, with just slight reservations. (Yes, Brad does eventually learn he doesn't have to scare a girl to be close to her, but the fact that the book gets a little close to the old "boys will be boys" stereotype makes me a little uncomfortable.)

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - Druscilla's Halloween

Druscilla's Halloween
by Sally M. Walker
illustrated by Lee White
Date: 2009
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

Did witches always ride brooms? No! In fact, long, long ago, witches crept about on tiptoe. On Halloween, they would scare children and cast spells... but always from the ground. No witch ever thought of flying--no witch until Druscilla. Druscilla was an old witch with the loudest, creakiest knees anyone had ever heard. But she was determined not to let anything spoil her element of surprise. One Halloween, after many failed attempts at sneaking up on unsuspecting villagers, Druscilla made a discovery that changed the course of witch history.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is sort of an origin story regarding why witches fly on broomsticks. It's not historically accurate, but it is rather fun.

Long ago, witches didn't fly on broomsticks. They tiptoed and snuck up on people to scare them. But Druscilla was old, and her knees creaked. A lot. Their audible pops and snaps meant that she couldn't sneak up on anybody. But Halloween was coming, and she was a witch, so she had to figure out a way to join in the hijinks. Various methods failed her... and then she stumbled across a solution where she was least expecting it.

It's a fun little story with cute illustrations that are fun to look at. I liked seeing how the witches prepared for Halloween (it involves styling products and cats), and it was amusing to see how Druscilla's knees acted as a warning to everyone about her approach. (I don't really agree with some other reviewers that this book makes fun of the disabled. Noisy knees on their own aren't exactly a disability; they're just a nuisance. Druscilla says it herself when she talks to them: "Hush, you treacherous old knees. You're robbing me of the element of surprise." She gets around just fine. She's just... loud.)

This is a fun Halloween book that offers a different spin on why witches fly on broomsticks. It's cute and clever, and kids will probably enjoy it. (It's also nice to see a Halloween story that isn't focused on candy.)

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.5 out of 5

Review - The Unicorn Whisperer

The Unicorn Whisperer (Heavenly Nostrils #10)
by Dana Simpson
Date: 2019
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: MG
Book type: comic collection
Pages: 176
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Welcome back to the hilarious and heartwarming world of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, where readers of all ages can always find a friend to lend a magical helping hand — or hoof.

For 9-year-old Phoebe Howell and her sparkling companion, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, every day is an adventure. In this latest installation of Dana Simpson's award-winning Phoebe and Her Unicorn series, Phoebe navigates the challenges of school life with a little help from her unicorn friend, who is always ready with the perfect spell for the occasion. But as the magic spells mount up, both Phoebe and Marigold find themselves wondering if sometimes they might be taking things just a little too far...

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Here's yet another enjoyable collection of comics about Phoebe and Marigold. All the things that make the previous collections are so enjoyable are here: the cultural references, the humour, the stories, the secondary characters... (I love Todd! Rar.)

I've read most of the series this year, and I think it's one of my favourite comics. Keep 'em coming, Dana Simpson!

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

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

Enjoyment: 34/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 ladybugs

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Review - Cinderella

Cinderella
by Kinuko Y. Craft
Date: 2000
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

This brilliant edition of a timeless story is sure to become the favorite of a generation. Readers young and old will be enchanted by the vision and mastery of Kinuko Y. Craft's luminous paintings, inspired by the lavish artwork of late seventeenth-century France and embellished with extraordinary borders and ornamentation. Rich with radiant color and astonishing detail, here is a dream come true for anyone who has ever believed in living happily ever after.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The stunning cover of this book is what drew me in. Cinderella, illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft, is a lovely, classic take on the familiar fairy tale. It's fairly heavy on the text for a picture book, but it reads like a bedtime story and doesn't tax the reader at all. The illustrations are intricately detailed, and though the highlight is probably the cover image, there is still plenty to look at and enjoy within. The pictures have an old-fashioned look to them, which perfectly complements the classic story.

I'd definitely recommend this one to those looking for good fairy tale retellings, especially those who like versions that stay close to the original.

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 - The Shadow in the Moon

The Shadow in the Moon: A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival
by Christina Matula
illustrated by Pearl Law
Date: 2018
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

A unique blend of traditional folklore and contemporary customs brings the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival to life.

Two sisters and their grandmother celebrate a popular Chinese holiday with family. Their favorite part? Mooncakes, of course--along with Ah-ma's story of the ancient Chinese tale of Hou Yi, a brave young archer, and his wife, Chang'E. A long, long time ago, Hou Yi rescued the earth from the heat of ten suns. The Immortals rewarded him with a magic potion that could let him live in the sky with them forever. But when a thief tries to steal the potion, what will Chang'E do to keep it out of dangerous hands? The sisters are mesmerized by Ah-ma's retelling and the fact that the very mooncakes they enjoy each holiday are a symbol of this legend's bravest soul.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I really enjoy books like this. The Shadow in the Moon is based on an old Chinese folktale about Hou Yi and his wife, Chang'e. The story is told to two modern-day little girls by their grandmother. It's not a story I've ever heard before, and what I love about this book is that it makes the story accessible to children who aren't familiar with the original folktale or the traditions that sprung up around it. Sometimes books with a cultural focus can assume too much previous knowledge, rendering them suitable only to those who are already a part of that particular culture. That isn't the case here.

The story-within-a-story works well here, as Ah-ma's tale is precipitated by a question about the lady depicted on the mooncakes the family is eating. The narrative is well done, with lovely writing. The illustrations are simple, but effective. There's an author's note at the back that explains a little bit more about the Mid-Autumn Festival. And there's also a recipe for red-bean mooncakes that doesn't look too daunting.

All in all, this is a nice holiday book for kids. It's smart, accessible, and entertaining. It might also make you hungry for mooncakes.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.83 out of 5

Friday, October 18, 2019

Review - The Kitten, The Cat & The Apple

The Kitten, The Cat & The Apple
by Nicholas Tana
illustrated by Matthew Molleur
Date: 2019
Publisher: New Classics Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A “puuurfect” read-a-loud book for adults and children (ages 1-5) who like picture books and cats. For adults who like stories about parents and children; especially, adults who like subtle philosophical messages in their children's stories. Great for cat-loving families or a child that has just experienced getting their first cat or kitten. Useful to child therapists who may want to use the book to teach about feeling comfortable with anxiety and boredom. See: https://www.readbrightly.com/cat-books-for-kids/ and https://sammyapproves.com/kids-cat-books/

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The synopsis promises a lot more than it delivers. I can't see any adult (other than the craziest of cat people) liking this book. It's just a boring story about--appropriately enough--boredom. The kitten is bored. The cat suggests different things for it to do. But the kitten won't nap because it's not tired. And it won't eat because it's not hungry. The cat engages it in a game of apple-swiping, after which the kitten eats the apple and goes to sleep. Zzzz...

Sure, the kitten can represent a young child and their refrain of, "I'm bored!" But is that really what parents want to read about? Picture books can have good stories and still appeal to a wide range of ages. They don't always need "subtle philosophical messages", either (although, I will admit that I'm struggling to figure out what that is in this case).

The illustrations don't really excite me. They're simple paper collages highlighted with a black pen. The colour palette is fairly limited, and there's not much to look at other than the cats, the apple, and the apple's resident worm.

I don't think books about boredom are supposed to bore the reader. Doesn't that kind of undermine the message? The cat says it never gets bored "because, there's always new things to do... and new ways to do it." It may be right. Unfortunately, that means putting down this book and finding something more interesting.

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 1.5 out of 5

Review - Pierre & Paul: Avalanche!

Pierre & Paul: Avalanche!
by Caroline Adderson
illustrated by Alice Carter
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Told half in French and half in English, switching continuously between both languages. Simple text and contextual clues make the story easy to understand for emergent readers in both languages. Excellent resource for French-immersion students.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a very simple--almost to the point of being ridiculously boring--story that's basically just a vehicle for teaching language. As such, I don't really see it having broad appeal beyond the classroom.

Pierre and Paul are friends. They're also explorers. They imagine they're climbing the Himalayas. But nobody remembered to bring a snack! So they go to Pierre's house to make one. They decide to make a sandwich, which ends up so big that they end up climbing it like a mountain. But then the mountain collapses... into a salad.

Like I said, the story is pretty weak. The value in this comes from the inclusion of both French and English to tell the story. The languages switch back and forth, in what is probably a natural way for bilingual readers. I can see this being of use in French-immersion classrooms, or for children who are learning both languages.

That said, however, it's going to be confusing for readers whose main language is English. Not only do you have to contend with all the French words, you also have to adapt to the totally bizarre (to those used to English, anyway) punctuation. Extra spaces around the punctuation marks, dialogue where the speech attributions aren't set off, and em dashes for continuing dialogue are bound to be confusing for those not familiar with these conventions. I took years of French immersion in elementary school, and continued learning up to the university level, and I still have trouble with sentences like this:

« Ça ne fait rien, dit Pierre. Il prend un grand bol. Voilà ! »

In English, it would be as if I wrote:

" It doesn't matter, says Pierre. He gets a big bowl. Voilà ! "

Aside from the punctuation weirdness, there's that action sentence right in the middle that's not spoken and isn't set off in any way. French speakers are surely used to this, but English speakers won't be. The fact that there are also sentence fragments that are half English and half French doesn't help:

Ham and fromage.

Laitue et cucumber.

Zut alors! Talk about making a monolingual reader's brain hurt.

So, like I said, this would probably work best for kids who are learning the language or are already bilingual. The weakness of the story, though, might bore those who are already fluent in English and French.

Thank you to NetGalley and Owlkids Books 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

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Review - A Last Goodbye

A Last Goodbye
by Elin Kelsey
illustrated by Soyeon Kim
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

How do we say goodbye to a loved one after they die? This book broaches a difficult topic in a heartfelt way by exploring the beauty in how animals mourn. From elephants to whales, parrots to bonobos, and lemurs to humans, we all have rituals to commemorate our loved ones and to lift each other up in difficult times.

New from the award-winning team behind You Are Stardust, Wild Ideas, and You Are Never Alone, this book gently recognizes death as a natural part of life for humans and all animals. Written in spare, poetic language and illustrated with stunning dioramas, it draws out our similarities with other animals as it honors the universal experience of mourning. The touching and uplifting book ends on a hopeful note, showing how we live on both in memories and on the planet, our bodies nourishing new life in the Earth and the oceans.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This series of books by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim is so different and interesting! All of the ones I've read so far have been gentle reminders about our place in this interconnected universe. A Last Goodbye, which shows how various animals love and grieve, is no different. It reminds us that, though we might look different from a whale or a dog, we all share rich emotional lives. We love our friends and family, and we grieve when we have to say goodbye.

I didn't love the pictures here quite as much as I did in You Are Stardust and You Are Never Alone. They're still lovely, but they're not quite as interesting (and they're a lot sadder). However, they complement the gentle rhythm of the text perfectly, and the whole book works as a result.

This would be a nice book for children who have suffered a loss, or for anyone who is interested in how some animals grieve.

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

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

Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall: 4.67 out of 5

Review - Unicorn Training

Unicorn Training
by Amanda Brandon
illustrated by Mike Byrne
Date: 2019
Publisher: QED Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 28
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Tilly Teasel loves working at the Unicorn Rescue Center but what she really wants, more than anything else, is a unicorn of her very own.

When Splodge shows up at the center, looking a bit scruffy and a little sad, Tilly decides he’s perfect! When she brings him home, however, Mr. and Mrs. Teasel aren’t so convinced especially when he eats Mr. Teasel’s slippers, whines all night and gets sparkly hoof prints all over the couch! Will Tilly convince her parents that all Splodge needs is a little training?

A touching story about patience, perseverance, and the responsibility of owning a pet.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Unicorn Training is about the responsibility of pet ownership. Really, the animal could be everything (in fact, if you switch the unicorn out for a dog, the story still works). Tilly does everything she can to try to turn Splodge into the perfect pet. But it takes perseverance and patience (and a lot of treats) to make this happen.

My complaints about this book are mostly of the technical variety. For some reason, a new trend in picture books seems to be italicizing people's speech. I don't understand the purpose of this, and it could potentially confuse kids who are just learning what italics are actually used for. I'm also not completely impressed with the grammar; it's a bit shaky in places. And, finally, I really don't see the purpose of the last page with tips for parents. The "projects" for kids are kind of boring, and I don't see many parents actually sitting down with their children to do them. (That part of the book might be better for teachers, but again, the "projects" aren't very interesting.)

I can see this being a good book for kids whose parents are looking into getting a pet. It shows the importance of taking responsibility for the critter under your care. The illustrations are cute, too, and there are just enough poop and fart jokes to amuse kids. Because of the technical issues with the writing, I think this might work best as a read-aloud book (so that nobody gets confused by sentence fragments or the weird use of italics).

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 2.83 out of 5

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Review - Go to School, Little Monster

Go to School, Little Monster
by Helen Ketteman
illustrated by Bonnie Leick
Date: 2015
Publisher: Two Lions
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Welcome, Little Monster, to your first day of school.

Little Monster is going to school for the very first time. That means he’ll be meeting all the other little monsters, including one who has really big teeth and draws scary pictures. Who will ride the ogres and dragons with Little Monster at recess, and listen with him during story time? And what happens when—gulp—Little Monster realizes he forgot his lunch? It’s a good thing Mr. Drool is there to guide Little Monster the whole day through. Helen Ketteman’s soothing rhymes and Bonnie Leick’s sweet watercolor illustrations combine to create a reassuring first-day-of-school story that’s perfect for little monsters everywhere.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I have to say, I don't like this one as much as Goodnight, Little Monster. The illustrations are more extreme (some of them are so gnarly that they're a bit hard to look at), and the reassuring presence of Little Monster's mom is missing; she isn't there to drop him off or pick him up, and the poor kid doesn't even have a lunch!

The messages about making new friends and trying new things are good, and Little Monster himself is cute... but the rest of the kids are a bit scary (especially Fang, who doesn't appear to talk, but communicates through violent drawings). This book is definitely for an older audience than Goodnight, Little Monster; in fact, I'd be afraid this book might scare preschoolers about school!

So this was a bit of a disappointment. I'm sure some kids will love it (especially if they're not disturbed by the pictures), but it's definitely not as strong as the bedtime book featuring this character.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.29 out of 5

Review - Goodnight, Little Monster

Goodnight, Little Monster
by Helen Ketteman
illustrated by Bonnie Leick
Date: 2010
Publisher: Two Lions
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Little Monster needs to get ready for bed. That means howling at the moon, scrubbing his scales, getting into his creepy PJs, and enjoying a nice snack before bed: worm juice and baked beetle bread. And, of course, Little Monster’s mother is nearby to tuck Little Monster into bed and turn on his night-light—because even little monsters can be afraid of the dark. Bonnie Leick’s soft, child-friendly illustrations rendered in watercolor bring a new and quiet twist to the evening’s bedtime ritual. Sweet dreams, Little Monster!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've read a number of bedtime picture books now, and at this point, they're all starting to look the same. That's why I was pleasantly surprised by Goodnight, Little Monster, which is a basic bedtime-routine story that's given a new twist by having the main character be a cute little monster. As he gets ready for bed, we see him take a bath (being careful to wash his tail), eat a monster-friendly snack, brush his fangs, and even check for children under the bed.

The rhyming text is actually pretty good (it shouldn't surprise me, but it does; there are so many books out there with iffy rhyme and meter), and the story itself, while basic, is cute enough. Where this book really shines, though, is with the illustrations. Little Monster is pretty adorable, and not really scary; it's nice that it shows him being just as afraid of children as children might be of monsters! (There are spiders and bats and eyeballs all over the place, so the pictures might not be everyone's cup of tea. But, really, Leick has made those things about as cute and non-threatening as they're going to get!)

I quite enjoyed this one. If you're looking for a bedtime book that's a little different, you might want to give Goodnight, Little Monster a try.

Quotable moment:


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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.57 out of 5

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Review - Fear the Bunny

Fear the Bunny
by Richard T. Morris
illustrated by Priscilla Burris
Date: 2019
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

Bunnies—not tigers—rule the forest in this adorable take on William Blake’s classic poem.

Bunnies, bunnies, burning bright
In the forests of the night—


Wait, bunnies?! Yes, bunnies.

Tigers may be the most feared animal in some forests, but in this one, they fear the bunny. One hapless tiger finds this idea preposterous—what are they going to do? Nibble on his tail? Bop him on the head? Cute him to death? Fear the bunny—HA! Make no mistake, though: Richard Morris’ reimagining of William Blake’s famous poem turns the tables, and teaches one testy tiger a little rabbit-respect!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a cute introduction to William Blake's poem "The Tyger". In the story, a tiger overhears the other woodland creatures reciting the poem, but in their version, it's bunnies, not tigers, that are to be feared. The tiger thinks this is ridiculous, and scoffs as the rest of the creatures hide from the approaching leporine monsters. He soon learns his lesson and finds out why it's wise to "fear the bunny".

To be honest, I'm still not sure why we're supposed to fear the bunnies; that part isn't really explained. The fun part of this book, however, is the lead-up to the appearance of the bunnies and the tiger's disbelief at the other animals' reactions.

The original poem is included at the back, which is helpful (especially for kids, who may not have read it before). The illustrations are simple, but rather cute. They work well enough here to illustrate the events of the story.

Overall, I liked this, but didn't love it. It's an amusing introduction to Blake's poem, though, which uses the unexpected to make a funny narrative.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

Review - Monsters Are Afraid of Babies

Monsters Are Afraid of Babies
by Nicholas Tana
illustrated by Elise Leutwyler & Jessica Abbott
Date: 2019
Publisher: New Classics Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 28
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A boy learns to face his fear of monsters after discovering that monsters are afraid of his baby sister. Inspired by a child’s imagination, this children’s picture book published by New Classics Books contains a timeless, rhythmical tale accompanied by beautiful illustrations. Simple enough for kids but profound enough for parents, readers will learn that the fears we have of others are often the same fears others have of us. A must for every child's bookshelf.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a simple, fun picture book in rhyme that helps give young children a reason to be grateful for the presence of their baby sibling. The very things about babies that drive kids nuts (the smells, the sounds, the icky things that come out of every orifice) are the same things that keep monsters away. Why? Because monsters are afraid of babies!

There really isn't a lot of text, and some of the rhymes are tenuous, at best. But the illustrations are pretty amusing, and the overall sentiment is cute. If parents can't convince their older children that the squawking, pooping, toy-breaking new additions are actually a good thing, this book might help.

Overall, this is a cute little read for young children, especially those with baby siblings. (I'm not sure it would work as well for monster-fearing kids who don't have a baby in the house. What are you supposed to do then?)

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - You Can't Scare Me

You Can't Scare Me
by Bonnie Grubman
illustrated by Judi Abbot
Date: 2020
Publisher: Clavis Publishing
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Best friends Walter and Willy are having a sleepover. Walter thinks it’s fun to scare Willy. But what happens when the tables get turned?

A barely scary story about friendship and respect. For best friends ages 4 and up.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

The synopsis claims that this is "a barely scary story about friendship and respect". Unfortunately, there's little respect shown, and Walter and Willy behave terribly toward one another. I don't think the scenario in this book is one I want to see kids emulating. The description would be more accurate if it said this was "a disturbing story about revenge and boundary violation".

Walter keeps scaring Willy, even though Willy repeatedly tells Walter he doesn't like it. He threatens to leave if Walter doesn't knock it off. Walter promises he will. But then, of course, he breaks that promise. (Little jerk.) Willy goes home and refuses to speak to Walter.

That could've been the beginning of a nice lesson about respect. Unfortunately, the story decided to go with a revenge angle. Willy shows up at Walter's door dressed as a wolf. Walter is terrified, thinking that Willy has been eaten and that he's going to be next. But then Willy reveals himself and they both have a good laugh about it.

I'm sorry, but I don't see what's so funny. A wolf showing up at a pig's doorstep has got to be one of the most terrifying, traumatic things ever. It's probably the pig equivalent of a bloody guy with a chainsaw or a suicide bomber showing up on a human's doorstep. How this ties in with respect is anyone's guess; neither pig seems to care about his friend's feelings at all.

The pictures are cute, and this could've been a good story if the narrative had taken a few different turns. As it is, though, it doesn't teach the respect it claims to, and actually encourages children to violate others' boundaries for a laugh.

Nope. This just isn't good enough.

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

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

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall: 2 out of 5

Monday, October 14, 2019

Review - How to Make a Shark Smile

How to Make a Shark Smile
by Shawn Achor & Amy Blankson
illustrated by Claudia Ranucci
Date: 2020
Publisher: Little Pickle Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

It takes big actions to make big changes. Or does it? In How to Make a Shark Smile, residents of an aquarium learn that sometimes a smile is all it takes to make a world of difference. Awash with charming illustrations, this delightful tale will show children that happiness is a choice they get to make for themselves.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

My feelings about this book are a bit conflicted. On the one hand, it has adorable illustrations and an overall good message about gratitude and being positive. On the other hand, the way the book glosses over bullying and encourages children to put themselves in dangerous situations while simultaneously ignoring actual mental illness makes this a potentially problematic read.

As someone who has dealt with mental illness (and depression in particular), the idea that we can choose to be happy has always felt like a bit of a slap in the face. What happens when a child is told over and over that they could be happy if they just tried a little harder? Their self-esteem takes a hit, that's what. They start to wonder if there's something wrong with them because they seem to be doing all the right things, but they're still under a cloud. This book perpetuates that mindset, and takes it even further by conflating fear with sadness.

The other fish in the tank seem to have a very good reason to be wary and frightened of Snark the shark. He is a shark, after all, and sharks eat fish. When Ripple the dolphin comes along and basically just tells them to get over themselves, I kind of wanted to slap her. The blowfish does point out that Ripple doesn't need to be as afraid because she's bigger and therefore not as vulnerable. But, as good as this observation is, it's not really used. Ripple continues to urge the others to get over their fear, basically telling them to ignore their own instincts. I'm not sure this is the best message... especially when it comes to bullying.

Because Snark could be seen as a bully, the way the blowfish is forced to face him is a bit cringe-worthy. If a child walks up to their own bully and tries the stunt shown in the book, they're liable to get punched in the face. Children need to learn how to discern safe situations from unsafe ones... and books like this--which basically imply that all situations are safe--don't really help.

Like I said, though, the illustrations are really cute. I love the facial expressions on the characters. And the aquarium's world is rendered in colourful detail. There's not much to dislike about the pictures in this book.

But the message is muddled and has the potential to cause more problems than it solves. By all means, search for the good in each day and keep track of the things you're grateful for. But don't expect doing that to be a magical cure for depression, or for it to resolve issues with bullies. Sometimes, kids are right to be afraid; we should let them listen to their gut rather than try to override their instincts.

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

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.17 out of 5

Review - The Kingdom of Glee

The Kingdom of Glee
by Nicholas Tana
illustrated by Jessica Abbott & Elise Leutwyler
Date: 2019
Publisher: New Classics Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 42
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A mean wizard sends three monsters to torment the Kingdom of Glee led by King Gentle, with the hope of discovering: why the people living there are so happy? One-by-one the monsters’ plans are spoiled, until the wizard succeeds in discovering a secret that changes his life, forever. This stunning addition to the New Classics Books collection contains a heartfelt story with gorgeous illustrations destined to delight both children and adults for years to come.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a simple, colourful picture book with a message that kind of hits the reader over the head. The resolution is facile and unrealistic... but kids might enjoy it more than adults.

In the Kingdom of Glee, everyone is happy because they share and care and love one another. In the neighbouring Kingdom of Angry lives a wizard who thinks that the people of Glee are happy because they have gold. (I don't know why he thinks this; he just does.) So he sends monsters to torment Glee, hoping that when they're done, King Gentle will give up his gold. But, of course, that's not what happens. King Gentle turns the monsters around, leading to the conclusion where the final monster tells the wizard the real secret to Glee's happiness... and the wizard accepts it without question and everyone lives happily ever after.

It's really too easy of a resolution, and deeply unsatisfying. The wizard could've at least shown a bit of doubt, or pushed back a bit. His turnaround is so sudden that I thought that maybe he was faking it as a way to further antagonize King Gentle and his people. But... no. What you see is what you get.

Because of this, I don't think any but the youngest of readers would really enjoy the story. The illustrations are colourful and sort of cute (and show a lot of diversity for a fairy-tale kingdom), but the story is too trite to really work as a moral fable. (Also on the topic of the illustrations, I'm not crazy about the cover. I wish it had some of the characters on it. A picture of a castle doesn't really do much to intrigue potential readers.)

Thank you to NetGalley and New Classics Books 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

Review - What's Down There?

What's Down There?
by Alex Waldron
Date: 2019
Publisher: Ruby Tuesday Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book non-fiction
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

All the grown-ups make up cute little names. But nobody seems to call it the same. In their Fantastic World, Stevie and her cousins, Fred & Woody, discover there is lots to learn about girl bodies with some help from Big Nan, who knows everything!

• Huge talking point right now - the charity, Eve Appeal, says girls need to use the right words ‘from the start’, that opening up conversations gives women the best chance of a healthy life, and that 44% of parents regularly use euphemisms such as ‘front bottom’ and ‘fairy’ instead of correct terms: https://dailym.ai/2kT9FNp

• Funny, engaging text and cool, hand-drawn illustrations – injecting humour through honesty to break through any nervousness around the topics covered by the Fred & Woody series

• Designed to be read-alone, or read-together, at home and in the classroom

• Initiates honest, realistic, helpful conversations from an early age

• Incredibly useful section at the back of each book packed with tips and ideas for the grown-ups to get the most from the book for their little ones, written by a highly-trained Relationships and Sex Education Trainer (Relationships Education is compulsory in UK primary and secondary schools: http://bit.ly/GovGuidelines)

• Boosts body confidence, awareness and understanding of health and hygiene, safeguarding and consent. Shows children that we are all different and perfect in our own way, in all shapes and sizes, and that their body is just that – theirs!

The Fred & Woody books are perfect for all parents, carers and pre- and primary school educators who wish to initiate honest, realistic and age-appropriate conversations with young children about their private parts and the important issues of consent and staying safe.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book is confusing. And I say that as an adult who knows the names for everything that's "down there".

First of all, if this is supposed to be about using correct terminology, why is the title What's Down There?... and why is the companion book called That's My Willy?

Second, the author does lip service to gender dysphoria, but the book itself is pretty trans-exclusionary. The subtitle alone (A book about girl bodies for curious kids) should be enough of a warning, but things don't get any better on the inside:

[A vulva and vagina] are both important parts of MY body.
They make Stevie a girl and Big Nan a lady.

Third, the book is confusing. It's told all in rhyme, in the first person. But there's no indication of when other people are talking. Stevie starts out as the narrator... so I was confused by the following line:

But what's down there? What's its name?
Ours is a penis but yours isn't the same.

This is actually Stevie's cousins talking, but it's not indicated in any way. (As for the first bit I quoted above, I think that was Big Nan talking. But she's confusing things even more by referring to herself in the third person.)

Things get even worse when vaginas are compared to caves, oysters, and treasure chests. Can we please not do that?

The illustrations are... well, I don't even know if they'd be legal in certain jurisdictions. There are naked children, plus lots of pictures of hairy vulvas (oh, and that's another thing; the book implies that vulvas are hairy... but for this target audience, that doesn't make a lot of sense). The illustrations are all black line drawings on what looks like brown paper. They're not very interesting.

Finally, how am I supposed to take the grandfather seriously when his name is PooPops? That kind of makes me want to vomit, actually. (To my North American ears, that sounds like a popsicle made of crap. I wasn't aware that "poo" meant something different in the UK, but maybe it does. I can't think why you'd name a grandpa after feces otherwise.)

Sadly, this just doesn't cut it. While it is important to teach children the correct names for their anatomy, the message gets a bit undermined when you keep using the term "down there". This book is also unsuitable for anyone but cisgender children, so keep that in mind if you want to give it a try.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.14 out of 5

Review - I Broke My Butt!

I Broke My Butt!
by Dawn McMillan
illustrated by Ross Kinnaird
Date: 2019
Publisher: Dover Publications
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

The inventive young hero from the bestselling I Need a New Butt! is back and this time he has accidentally glued a serving tray to his behind — and he's tickled pink! See, it's great for sliding down hills, surfing big waves, and other booty-full fun and games. Now all his friends want one too! Another cracked farce from the cheeky team of Dawn McMillan and Ross Kinnaird.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is apparently the second book about this cheeky (sorry) kid. I haven't read the first one, but this seems to stand well enough on its own.

In somewhat clunky rhyme, the narrator tells us his tale of woe. He's fallen and broken his butt. I mean, it's shattered in pieces. When he takes off his pants, those pieces go tumbling onto the floor. So what does he do? He glues them back together. Unfortunately, when he goes to glue his butt back on, the tray he was using as a work surface becomes adhered to him as well. But he soon finds a way to make the best of things, even eventually deciding that having a tray glued to your butt has more benefits than drawbacks.

I have to admit, I cracked (sorry) a few smiles while reading this. It's not fancy literature, and the narrative gets kind of weak toward the end. But young kids will probably gobble this up and be glued to their seats during storytime. It's fun for a few laughs.

Thank you to NetGalley and Dover Publications for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

Review - All the Dear Little Animals

All the Dear Little Animals
by Ulf Nilsson
illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Date: 2009
Publisher: Gecko Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 36
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

This is a picture book for children aged five and up, and covers a difficult subject in an unsentimental way. It describes exactly the way children resolve big issues--through play.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Apparently, European authors like writing children's books about death. When I think back over the ones I've read recently, most seem to have been written by Europeans. Many of those books are translated, which may be part of the reason I've yet to really love any of them; something is usually lost in translation.

That seems to be the case here in All the Dear Little Animals, which (intentionally or not) comes across as overly Christian, potentially traumatizing, and a bit narcissistic. One day, feeling bored, Esther and her friend (the narrator) start a funeral business for the neighbourhood's dead creatures. Esther buries them, while her friend writes poems to honour them. But Esther soon gets tired of burying insects, and annoyed that people won't recognize her virtue (or pay her for her services). All is well, however, when they find a dead hare and then a stunned blackbird. By the end of the day, the kids are feeling overly proud of themselves... but the book ends by implying that all this funeral business was just a whim, and the kids are going to move on to doing something else.

I get that maybe the book's trying to show kids as they really are, but children don't come off very well here. Some of the statements made reminded me a little too much of Trump:

We were very kind and good, looking after the dead animals. We were the nicest people in the world.

A few more things bothered me about this one. First is the fact that Esther felt the need to bury everything, ignoring the fact that nature takes care of these things in its own way. Insects, birds, and rodents won't break down as well if they're encased in cigar boxes (or suitcases!). Second, I don't like the way the Christian view of burial is pushed. This could've been an opportunity to teach about various death practices... but instead, all the dead critters get burials with hymns. And that's after they're baptized. Third, I don't like the way sleeping and death are conflated. That's a recipe for trauma and sleepless nights right there. And fourth... oh, poor Little One. When a bird flies into a window and stops moving, it isn't necessarily dead. Sometimes it's just stunned. But the kids buried it anyway!

The illustrations here are kind of cute, but I'm really not a fan of the narrative. It has the potential to be confusing for young children, and it features a very unlikable protagonist in Esther. When all is said and done, she just comes across as someone who does "good" deeds because she wants recognition... not because it's the right thing to do. (The fact that the funeral business is abandoned the very next day pretty much undermines any message about kindness or respect for the dead.)

Overall, I don't think I'd recommend this one. For some better books about death and/or grieving, you might try Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, Maybe Dying Is Like Becoming a Butterfly by Pimm van Hest, Always Remember by Cece Meng, or My Big, Dumb, Invisible Dragon by Angie Lucas.

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

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

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.33 out of 5